Wednesday, 26 September 2012

A Day in the Life... of a Book Review Editor!

Writers - ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a book review website?

Readers - ever wondered if you could manage to get free books in return for writing a review?

Today I chat to the Editor of the 'Judging Covers' website to find out what really goes on in the world of book reviews!

Nikki, thanks so much for joining me today!

When did you decide to set up a review blog and what were your motives for doing so?

I'm a freelance writer and had been toying with the idea of starting an online magazine, but I couldn't come up with an idea that I really loved. One day I finished reading a book and I immediately wanted to chat to the nearest person about it - and it struck me that a book review site could be the answer!

There are some incredible book review blogs for women out there, but most tend to focus on chick lit and women's fiction - which I love, but I also read other genres too, and there seemed to be a gap in the market for a women's book blog that covered a bit of everything.  I didn't want the blog to be restricted to just my opinions, so I talked to a few friends who were all really keen to get involved and help the site offer a wider range of tastes. And so, Judging Covers was born!

* Judging Covers was born! * 

How would you have rated your computer skills beforehand? I'm not the most tech-savvy person & I know I can get quite frustrated with my blog at times!

I've always been quite good at computers and I've had a few blogs in the past, so over the years I suppose I've picked up enough knowledge to make things run smoothly and look relatively presentable! I couldn't create a website from scratch, but I have enough experience with Wordpress to edit the templates and make it all look nice. I did a bit of graphic design and basic web design on my degree, but I'm pretty much self-taught... trial and error!  

How did you go about approaching publishers for free books? Was it difficult to drum up support initially?

I actually didn't approach anyone - the original team just started reviewing books they'd bought, and after a few weeks I started to get emails asking if we'd be interested in receiving review copies, presumably as more people stumbled across the site.  Free stuff was never the intention, so it's all happened quite organically.  We do get offered a lot of books now (too many!) but there wasn't anything I did to make that happen.  The majority of reviews at the site are still of books that we bought ourselves.

If a reader would like to review for Judging Covers, do they need to have a lot of writing experience?

Not necessarily, but I suppose you need to have a natural talent for writing. I've always wanted to provide a really high standard of reviews, and our team includes professional journalists, copywriters and authors, as well as students and bloggers. I always ask for an example of writing from people before they join the team, so I know that standards will remain high - but I'm happy to support aspiring reviewers too. Everyone starts somewhere.

* Judging Covers - Meet the team! * 

Are reviewers expected to review a certain number of books per month or is it flexible? Do they have to review every single book they are sent?

I'm really flexible when it comes to the amount that people contribute. I don't think I can demand anything from people when they're not paid for their efforts, so I don't put pressure on reviewers to meet deadlines or targets. It's supposed to be fun! There's a huge variation in the amount that people contribute, but I'm happy with that as long as we continue to post great content. I will also accept one-off reviews from people if they're not really interested in an ongoing commitment, but would like to share their thoughts on a particular novel they've read.

We have a system in place where the team can request the books that they'd like to review from a list, so nobody receives a book that they have no interest in reading. It's nice if they do review all the books that they're sent, but I never chase them up - I know sometimes I simply don't have time to read everything I want to, so I wouldn't nag people!

*Want to review for Judging Covers?* 

With regard to setting up the blog, tell me about the best experience so far?

We were shortlisted for a Cosmopolitan Blog Award in 2011, which was amazing. We had only launched in January 2011 so hadn't been around very long, but two of our reviewers were able to attend a very glam awards party in London.  We didn't win, but the recognition was fantastic. I've also had emails from some of my favourite authors saying how great the site is, which means a lot.

What has been the most challenging aspect so far?

We've had a few instances where reviewers may have upset an author by a negative review, but that's kind of the point of reviewing. If we only posted positive reviews, people wouldn't trust our opinions. Sometimes you do read a book that didn't work for you, but it doesn't mean that everyone will hate it or that the author isn't talented; it just means that it wasn't your cup of tea, and I believe reviewers are well within their rights to say that.

I see you are also involved in another website "Twelve52" - tell us a little about that?

Twelve52 is a digital magazine that is run by one of my good friends, Joy. I contribute a monthly book column, which includes interviews, mini-reviews, features and opinions on book-related topics. I always wanted Judging Covers to be strictly a review resource (we don't post any interviews or book news) so my Twelve52 column features all the fun stuff that I can't post at JC! The Judging Covers review team often contribute quotes or opinions to the Twelve52 features, which is a nice little extra.   

Wow! That was fascinating! I really enjoyed getting inside the head of a review editor! I hope some of you readers will consider approaching Nikki and writing some reviews for her. I have reviewed for Judging Covers for some time before getting my publishing contract. I know it really helped to boost my writing confidence. Reviewing books also helps you to read more and read differently. You'll learn much more about characterisation, pace and plot.

Thanks for joining me Nikki! :o) 

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A Day in the Life ... of a Publisher!

To start off my "Day in the Life" series, I'm lucky enough to follow Editor and Publisher - Crooked Cat! 

Mister Crooked Cat is the big chief in charge of a new, fast-growing publishing company. He is sitting by my fireside, eating tuna, drinking milk and answering my many questions. Please note, he's quite a character! Enjoy x

Mister Cat, can you tell me what happened on the day you decided to set up your own publishing company? Was it a sudden "Aha! This is what I want to do" moment, or was it a long process where you had been mulling over the idea for months?
You know, the life of a cat can be very tiring. One moment you're sitting by the fire, taking in forty winks, dreaming of that next delicious piece of salmon, waiting for Christmas. And the next you're in charge of a brilliantly original publishing company. I could barely get my paws under the desk before people were asking me to read this, and publish that. 
My owner wrote a story a few years ago, you see, and she saw it accepted and published by one of the better known companies on the circuit. She had completed her second novel when the thought occurred to her to bypass the middle man, and use the experience she had gained in writing and editing, to begin her own publishing company. With yours truly as Managing Director, no less. How lucky for them. But then I always knew I was a natural born leader. I have finesse, you see.
Things started to fall into place quite quickly which, of course, I knew they would. But even I didn't realise that we would be as big and popular as we are. We have over twenty authors, and more around the corner. The life of a cat can be very tiring indeed. Which is why I let my owner get on with things. Whilst I dream of salmon, and Christmas.
How did you find your first writer? Was it an exciting (or scary!) moment when they signed their publishing contract?

Of course it was exciting! I found out later on that I very nearly woke up when my owner told me the author T A Belshaw had signed to us, at the end of 2011. I don't recall the exact circumstance - whether we found him, or whether he found us. But I'm sure that there was catnip involved. And perhaps some fish.
You started off as an e-publisher. Then recently you were able to provide a paperback option via print on demand / Amazon. Did you start off hoping to publish on paperback or how did this development come about?
Isn't paper lovely? I use paper for many different things, preferably scrunched into a ball, although seldom for reading from. I'm told that ePublishing is seen as a step down by many people - that reading an eBook is rather akin to eating the supermarket's own catfood, rather than spending a bit more and taking sustenance from an expensive brand. What nonsense! My owners would tell you that many of the best and most original stories are published as ebooks, by ePublishers, because they recognise good quality when they see it first. And they want people to be able to read it straight away, without having to wait for that scary postman. But some postmen aren't scary and, with that in mind, some of our lovely eBooks are available for you to read on paper, in the toilet. Or wherever you may personally choose to read them. I promise that we will continue to produce more paperbacks for more of you to read.
As well as buying Crooked Cat books on Amazon, readers can now purchase books via the Crooked Cat online bookstore. Can you tell us how this came about and what benefits readers can expect from using the specialized store? 
YAAAAAWWWWWNNN. Pardon? Oh. I suppose so. Mr and Mrs Amazon are lovely, but they can sometimes be a bit big and a bit scary. At least to me. But they don't mean to be. So, whilst I was having a snooze one day, my owner made a bookstore for lovely people to buy our eBooks from. It has a cozy, local bookshop sort of feel to it, the smell of coffee, and with nice big cushions - all that stuff. And when you buy something from the store you get a little personal 'thank you' email from me. And you get lots of points that you can use to buy something else in the store. And you get to make our authors really happy and smiley, as they don't have to share with a third party. 'Cause no-one likes a sad author. And, well basically, who doesn't like a cozy, local bookstore?
 *The cozy, local bookstore!* 
So much going on in such a short space of time! Did you expect things to spiral so quickly?
Spiral? I'm a cat, of course not. It has been very quick, though, and I'm beginning to miss out on naps.

So what's it like in the day of publisher/ editor? Talk us through a typical day!
I wake up. I eat. I know. I go back to sleep.

And sometimes I read things that people have sent in, respond to them, or I mull over a story. Editing is a slow process - the purrfect speed for me. I'm also good with pictures - the darker the better. And then I'll tap away at my little keyboard (actually my owner does, but don't tell her) and do emails and promote our kitties.
But mostly I'll just sleep.
When reading submissions, is there anything in particular you are looking for? Any advice for budding writers as to how to hone their submission? 
Include fish, ideally. If not, then some little biscuits work.

If you don't have any of those (and, frankly, who doesn't?!?), then prepare to dazzle me with your talent. Like, spell your worms right, and make sure that your sentence sense make. Does it? Get someone who isn't a blood relation to read it - and get them to say it is brilliant. Be original. You know, normal stuff.
Are there any particular genres you are looking for at the moment?
Dark things. Spooky things. Murdery things like a cornered mouse…but also fluffy, light things. Depends on my mood. I'm a cat. That doesn't mean I'll like it, though, you understand. They don't call me 'crooked' for nothing.
What has been the most challenging aspect to date?
Waking up early. In fact, just waking up.
What has been the most satisfying?
I'm happy in the knowledge that writers find a home with me, and that their lovely stories are being read by lots of lovely strangers across the globe.

That, and more salmon.
Lastly, tell us a little about the 'Fear' anthology and your decision to donate all proceeds to charity?
I know how to make you scared. LOOK - funny face!! %/)
Oh. Made of harder stuff, are you? Well, what about my FEAR Anthology, which comes out on October 3rd? I've gathered together sixty of the best indie writers from across the world (this one) and forced them to sit in a room together to write a story each. Then I forced two bestselling international authors (I'm not telling you who), Sherri Browning Erwin and Peter James (grr!), to write the forewords, and then I said that we would give all the royalties from it to two charities - Barnardo's and Medicines sans Frontieres. And they all believed me!

And then I told them that, for more information, they should take themselves off to - and they did.

Tisk. Humans.

I'm going to bed.

 *Are you on Twitter?* 

Well!! That was ..... interesting! Told you he was a character, didn't I?! Join me tomorrow as I follow another big-wig around! x x 

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Paperback Writer!

Exciting news! After years of dreaming, hoping, visualising, it's here! My book has arrived - in brand new shiny paperback version. Have a look:

Isn't she lovely? My publisher kindly sent me a copy last week, which was a complete surprise to me. The security man held out an Amazon package and said, "Here, you have mail." I thought "Uh oh, I've been click-happy again - I really need to stop browsing on Amazon so much." But then I opened the package and it was MY BOOK staring back at me! I almost wanted to run back to him and say, "Look! Look, it's my book!" But I didn't, thankfully. I acted cool.

I did however, set it on the coffee table. I admired it, picked it up again, flicked through it - I did even *SMELL* the pages. I always wondered about people who said they liked the smell of a paperback. Yet here I was, SMELLING it. Such a joy to see my own words jumping out at me. I never tire of this. I should be cool by now, but really I still get excited about the fact that this has finally happened. I shall be eternally grateful.

Now, wait 'til you see this - this is the paperback cover for 'How to Look Like You'. How cool is this?!

I absolutely love the back cover! Crooked Cat designed these fab pictures of main characters Ella and Chloe. I think they look great! I'm so excited to be publishing such a fun, modern, fresh book!

I'm also delighted that the link on Amazon shows that the books are delivered with FREE postage and packaging. This makes me happy!

Whilst we're on the subject of paperbacks, let's chat about the kindle. Are you a kindle reader or a paperback reader?

I was lucky enough to receive a kindle for Christmas last year. I'll admit, it took me about 6 weeks to get the hang of it - I'm not the most tech-savvy person in the world.

However, once I did get the hang of it, I *loved* it. Here are all the things I love about my kindle:

1. I have a lovely pink case for it.

2. It slides into my handbag and it means I can carry lots of 'books' around with me.

3. I can read samples on it before I decide I definitely want to buy the book.

4. The moment I click 'buy' on Amazon, it magically appears on my kindle.

My name is Rose and I am a kindle convert. 

However, as I mentioned at the start of this post, I was OVER-JOYED when my publisher kindly sent me a copy of my first novel on paperback.  

I did SMELL it, I flicked through the pages and my own words jumped out at me. It did indeed, feel like a PROPER BOOK.

It is now sitting proudly on my coffee table at home. I look at it and think 'ooh look, I have written a book!' (It might sink in one day?)

So what is it for you? Kindle or paperback? 

To purchase 'The Break-up Test' on paperback, have a look here.

'How To Look Like You' is available on paperback on Friday 5 October. 

Thank you :o)

Saturday, 8 September 2012

The day I saw The Stone Roses

It was a Wednesday evening, 22nd August. I was standing in the front row of the pit at Tenant’s Vital, about to see a huge band that I knew little about. Of course I knew the songs “I wanna be adored” and “Waterfall” but other than that, very little. Seems I live in a bit of a bubble.

I grew up sharing a bedroom with my sister who was into the likes of Guns ‘n’ Roses and Metallica. Me (being a good chick-lit writer in the making); I had posters of Jason Donovan and various smooth-faced actors on my side of the room. An invisible distinct line ran down the middle and posters of tattooed, leather clad, long-haired hard rockers peered down from the other side. So I suppose when I was sixteen and the Stone Roses were big, they never got a look-in on our small bedroom stereo. Then there was Uni and drinking and nights out and the dance scene and Brighton clubbing and that was that.
It wasn’t until I was lucky enough to sign a publishing contract with Crooked Cat that fellow author Michela O’Brien laced my Facebook newsfeed with daily updates on The Stone Roses. I found it quite funny and endearing how much she loved them. She posted about this reunion they were having and how delighted she was. Then her status update said that she was thinking of going to see them in Belfast. I sent her a private message saying that if she needed somewhere to stay, she’d be very welcome to stay with me. And that was that. Michela, in good ol’ spontaneous fashion had booked the tickets and her flights within the hour. It seemed I was going to Tenant’s Vital!
Now, I’m not much of a music festival person (did I mention that I live in a bit of a bubble?!). I always thought music festivals equalled mud, mess, no hair straighteners and looking like crap. (I sound like such an oldie here – oh well). It wasn’t until the day before that it occurred to me I might need wellies and a waterproof jacket. That was easy to sort – my lovely colleague lent me her (aptly – rose patterned wellies) and on the morning of Tenant’s Vital, Michela and I dashed into a shop to buy their last waterproof jacket (the zip of which was broken but it did the job).

Anyway, onto the exciting bit – Michela and I were meeting 20 – yes – twenty – of her Stone Roses friends. These were people she had met at previous gigs and had kept in touch with online. Naturally I was a bit nervous about meeting 20 new people but they all turned out to be really lovely.  These people had travelled from Scotland, England and even as far as Spain to see this gig! Some of them didn’t even have a hotel – they were going to wait at the airport for their flight home – talk about dedication!

I must add at this point that I was thrilled to meet Michela. I had read her book “Playing on Cotton Clouds” and loved it. I had reviewed it for Judging Covers and gave it 5 stars. An effortless read, it had me gripped and I devoured it in a couple of days. I now know that much of the book was inspired by her love of the Roses.

After lunch we all headed over to Boucher Road playing fields and walked straight in. No queues, no hanging about, just straight through the barriers. We were given a band around our wrists with ‘pit’ on because we were one of the first 3,000 in. So far, so rosey.

The sun had come out so we sat ourselves down and watched the warm-up acts, basking in the sunlight. The good vibes and happy atmosphere of the Roses fans were rubbing off on me and I felt in a really good mood. Michela, hard-core fan that she is, had planted herself in the front row with friends Amanda and Russell and that is where they would stay for the next 6 hours to keep their place. Dedication, eh? :o)

Florence and the Machine came on at about 7.30pm. We were standing next to a couple of 18 year old girls from Newry. They were really lovely and so excited about Florence. I discovered I was nearly the same age as their mother and I suddenly felt very protective over them. Their vibe rubbed off on me as they were so happy to see her. I enjoyed Florence, especially “Dog Days are Over” as that song has a lovely positive meaning for me. Disappointing that she didn’t play “You’ve got the love” though and I’m sure a lot of her fans would have been expecting that chart hit.

At this stage, the sun was going down; the sky was a lovely mix of light and dark blue; the energy from the crowd was very infectious. I felt very happy.

Then the best bit.

An intro started to play for the Roses and Michela squealed. I could feel my adrenalin rise even though I didn’t know what to expect. And then he walked out. Ian Brown. In a green jacket and dark jeans singing “I wanna be adored”. I admit; I melted. To see this famous person on stage, only a few feet away from me, singing a song I recognised, and not only that, but singing it with such confidence and energy, I melted.

The crowd were going mad – singing along to every word, Michela and friends had the biggest smiles plastered on their faces. And Ian kept sauntering back and forth from one end of the long stage to the other, giving people at either end of the stage a chance to see him.  Quite often he stood directly in-front of us, holding his shakers like the coolest thing on the planet. Do I sound smitten? Hmmm. He definitely has such a stage presence. A quality that spells confidence, coolness, and a ‘this is me, I’ve arrived’. In my humble opinion, that is. So what can I say? I spent the next 2 hours drooling over this man, who at 49 years old has bucket loads of sex appeal. I seem to have turned into a 15 year schoolgirl with a teenage crush.

I recognised more of the songs than I thought. I suppose my drunken Uni years hanging around a juke box in bars must have exposed me to their tunes more than I thought. Singing and dancing along, the time could’ve stopped still for all I cared. We might have been standing there since 3pm but I was full of energy.

There was an escapade where some drunken fella pushed his heavy weight around the crowd, getting in everyone’s way. But I have to say the security men were fantastic and had him carted out in no time. Then I was horrified to see one of our group, Aaron, with blood running down his nose. Some drunken eejit had head-butted him. The security men carried Aaron out and I was so disappointed for him. He was one of the guys who had flown over from Scotland and was going to sit it out in an airport rather than stay in a hotel. He had been so smiley and excited all day and I was raging for him that he was pulled away from his front spot. I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy myself knowing that he was outside the pit bleeding on his own so I went after him to see if he was okay.

The security men told me he was behind the scenes in the medic’s van getting looked at. He said it wasn’t serious – just a cut on his nose – and that they’d fix him up and he’d be out again in no time. So somehow I managed to squeeze and jostle my way back to my front spot again, able to enjoy the rest knowing he was okay. He joined us again a song or two later so it was all good.

Ian continued to be wonderful – sauntering up and down the stage, effortlessly cool and confident, singing the tunes with ease, looking relaxed and playing with those shakers. I loved the way he played up to the camera man too – not an ounce of self-consciousness about him. So I suppose I could rave on and on about Ian but you get the picture.

 “This is the One” was my favourite tune. It made me feel so happy. It reminded me of how happy I felt when I found my publisher. After tons of rejections, to get a ‘yes’ and know “This is the one”.

There were loads more songs I loved – Waterfall, Fools Gold, She bangs the drums, Shoot you down, I am the Resurrection.

And then that was it – over.

I was in no hurry to leave quickly but the security guards were brilliant at moving people along.

Michela hugged all her friends goodbye and we began to walk home. It was a lovely night – not a wisp of wind or a drop of rain. We were so full of adrenalin that we were quite happy to walk home and talk about the gig the whole way. When Michela asked me what I thought, all I could say was “Well, that was as cool as f**k”. She said that was nice to hear – that she has liked them for so long that she wondered if she was biased – but it was nice to hear a new person’s opinion.

So I need to wrap this up a bit – 14 A4 pages have flown out of me effortlessly here – probably the longest blog post I’ve ever written.

The next night, after Michela had gone, I was on You Tube looking at videos of Ian Brown and The Stone Roses. My crush had well and truly started.

2012 has turned out to be a great year – moved in to a lovely apartment, found a publisher, had 2 books published on kindle, now they’re coming out on paperback, I’ve met one of my favourite authors, been to a fabulous concert and developed a healthy crush on a 49 year old music star.

Rock on!