Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Your Favourite Book of All Time (Open Call)

It's that time again. Last year around about this time, I asked you all what your favourite book of all time was, and the winner was one I'd never heard of before: That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis.

It went so well, that I thought we'd do it all over again.

So here we go: I'd like you all to fill out the form below, and tell me what you would say your favourite book of all time is.

I'm looking for individual books only. Don't vote for a whole series, please - you must decide which individual book in that series is your favourite, and enter that instead.

I'll keep this open call running for a month, until 6 Jan 2020. Then I'll crunch the numbers, and announce the shortlist, here on this blog the next day.

If you'd like to be one of the first people to know when the shortlist is out, be sure you enter your email address into the form, after your vote. That's completely optional, of course, and if you do enter it, I promise to only use it to send you the shortlist and final results when they're out. After which, I will delete your address from my database.

Does that all make sense? Sound good? Very well, then. Go! :-)

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Don't Promote Ebooks on Black Friday

As an author, it might not surprise you to learn that I read a lot of stuff online about marketing. Mostly book marketing, and in fact, mostly ebook marketing (since that’s a self-published author’s bread and butter).

I got an email the other day from a respected marketing company, asking authors if we ran Black Friday promotions for our ebooks. “Don’t,” said the email, “because nobody’s shopping online on Black Friday. They’re all out in brick and mortar stores.”

Now, I know Black Friday is a relatively recent development in South Africa (say, the last three or four years), but physical shopping in a physical store is just not something I’ve ever associated with the day. I did it once, when I went to Checkers with my dad and came out with a year’s supply of pool chemicals. But that was years ago now, and I’ve not done it again. Then, about two years ago we bought something at a physical store on Black Friday, but it wasn’t on Black Friday promotion, so it doesn’t count.

But my wife and I eagerly anticipate Black Friday weekend every year, knowing that we’re going to pick up some amazing deals. This year we’re looking for new cell phones. But we’re going to check all the online retailers; we have no intention of leaving the house to go shopping.

Of course, I’m probably a big outlier here, because in general, I do very little “brick and mortar” shopping anymore. Groceries and clothes, and that’s about it.
Is this still a thing? Do people still flock to physical stores on major shopping days like Black Friday?

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Do you lick your fingers to turn the pages? On judginess and book shaming

This will be a ranty post. Also, let me preface it with the fact that the vast majority of the books I read are ebooks. I seldom, if ever, read books printed on paper anymore.

I saw a post the other day, from someone pointing out how ebooks are better than paper books. It went like this:

"Do you lick your finger before turning a page? If so how many germs are transferred, would you do this with a library book or a friend's book? Or just your own? Long live ebooks!"

First, I'm going to answer the question as written, and explain why I personally don't think it's an issue. Then I'm going to talk a little about why I think questions like that are dangerous and unnecessary.

Do I lick my fingers before turning a page?

No, not as a rule. I've been known to do so if the pages stick, but I know there are people who do it as a habit. And it doesn't matter if it's their own book, a friend's book, a library book, or one they found in a secondhand bookstore.

But here’s the thing: people have been doing that for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. For as long as paper books have existed, in fact. Now I wish I could tell you that nobody’s ever died from reading a book because someone before them licked their fingers and turned a page, but I can’t because I don’t know. My gut tells me it’d be rare, though — rare enough for it not to matter.

And when I think of that question, I think about the (somewhat, but not quite related) habit of licking stamps. Sure, we rarely send letters these days, but if you ever did, I guarantee you licked the stamps before you stuck them on the envelope. So every letter you received contained someone else's saliva. And what if you collect stamps? Your stamp book contains hundreds or thousands of DNA samples from other people.

I’m reminded of those memes on social media, giving examples of all the things we used to do as kids which people frown upon now, and how we turned out all right, regardless.

In fact, I grew up believing that exposure to germs is necessary — crucially important — to the development of a healthy immune system. All the way through primary school, I was the kid who was always putting things in his mouth. I would chew on pencils and suck on erasers. I would literally tear pieces of paper out of my workbooks and chew them. Some might consider that a symptom of a mental disorder, but I grew out of it (or I just discovered cigarettes in high school, granting a social acceptability to my oral fixation), and I turned out okay.

Aside from that, we stuck our tongues on iced-over soccer goalposts. We pressed our lips on the hot Slasto and timed how long it took for our spit to evaporate. We skinned our knees and our fathers (sometimes our friends’ fathers) spat on them. We made and ate mud pies, many of which probably contained dog mess. We swam in slimy dams. The list goes on.

Even today, as adults, there are about a million ways we're exposed to germs every day. The man you just shook hands with? What if he went to the toilet five minutes ago and didn't wash his hands properly? Or maybe the other person he shook hands with five minutes before had just finished masturbating?

Or perhaps the lady sitting next to you in church or the cinema just coughed into her fist, shooting her germ-laden spittle a hundred and eighty degrees towards you.

And what if one of those people were to swipe their cellphone, tablet, or ereader screen and then hand it to you so you could look at something? That's a fairly common occurrence, and it might just be the electronic equivalent of licking the pages in a paper book before turning them.

I suppose technically, any of these things could kill you, but I do firmly believe that, unless you have a compromised immune system (through being very young, very old, or having an auto-immune condition, for example), being exposed to them in moderation can only strengthen you. Unless you’re in China, maybe, and you have to wear a surgical mask to leave the house!

Having said all this, I understand a little about phobias. I’m deathly afraid of spiders and marginally afraid of heights (although I love to fly, because once you’re no longer connected to the ground by anything, the height doesn’t matter anymore).

Germophobia, though? Nah, that's never been one of mine. I suppose there are lots of perfectly logical reasons to fear germs. More than spiders or heights, maybe. But they've never been something I've concerned myself with.

Note that I fully expect to be inundated with comments, from people who know people who have died from every one of those things I mentioned. Also, I wouldn't recommend swimming in slimy dams full of effluent, because the level of toxicity in our liquid waste is far higher today than when we were kids. But my point stands: exercise a little common sense and expose yourself to everyday bacteria in moderation, and you'll build a strong, healthy immune system... unless you have a condition that compromises your immune system, as I pointed out. Also, cue the obligatory disclaimers about me not being a medical professional, and me not offering medical advice!

Why is this such a problem?

Many people hold religious-level feelings about book formats and will defend to the death their distaste for one over another. This most often manifests as paper book die-hards attacking consumers of ebooks and audiobooks, sometimes going so far as to imply that ebooks aren't real books.

If we're not careful (and I've been guilty of this too), we ebook and audiobook fans could fall into the trap of "fighting back" and lashing out, and I don't think that's helpful.

The problem is, when asking a question/making a statement like the one that sparked this post, unless you’re careful about your wording and intonation, it can come across as “judgy” or “preachy”. Mocking of people who still prefer to read off paper.

That's tantamount to disparaging someone for enjoying Fifty Shades of Gray, or for liking pulp fantasy or Klingon-human romance or something. That's called Book Shaming. And it's not cool.

We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Personally, I always strive to keep my wording along the lines of why I prefer ebooks, or why I don't read paper books anymore, without trying to prescribe what other people should or shouldn't do, or poke fun at them for doing or not doing certain things.

As readers, let's stick together. The reading is the important bit, not the format on which we consume books. Let's go out into the world and show all our non-reading friends how important reading is, and how much fun it can be.

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

I Was Interviewed on Caxton Radio

If you follow me on social media, or you subscribe to my email newsletter, you'll probably know that they interviewed me on radio this past Monday (11 November). Sorry about this post being a day late - I wanted to wait until after my interview to write it, but then I ended up being too busy yesterday.

It was for a local streaming-only station called Caxton Radio, based in Emperor's Palace, and it was my first... Well, there was an "almost interview" for a radio station in Cape Town a few years ago, but that fell through. Besides, that one would've been a phone interview only, and this one was in studio, so even if that one had happened, this would've still been my real one!

The DJ was Paul Rotherham, whom I've known for many years; we've been interacting on social media since the very early 2000s, and I first met him in person easily ten years ago; when he worked at another radio station based out of Montecasino, my wife and I used to sit and chat with him in his studio sometimes, while he was off air.

This is the first time we've ever spoken on air, though, and I have to tell you, the man is just as much the consummate professional I've always known him to be.

He didn't brief me beforehand about the questions he was going to ask. On the one hand, I thought that a little strange, based on what I've heard from friends who've been interviewed (not by Paul) before. On the other hand, I think it's much better that way. I was super nervous going into the interview, and the fact that he just asked his questions casually made me almost forget about all those nameless, faceless people out there in radioland who could be listening.

We discussed my Retinitis Pigmentosa, because he didn't know I had it, and then he just asked a bunch of questions about me and my books. Questions which, as I said, put me completely at ease and made me feel like I was just chatting to a friend.

I brought in a copy of one of my books, Heaven and Earth: Paranormal Flash Fiction, and we chatted about that a bit, and he even (scree!) read the back blurb of it on air. Now that was a surreal experience, let me tell you!

I gave away a copy of that one on Twitter, with people having to listen in, and follow both me and Paul:
After the interview, the two of us had a quick meeting. I'm not prepared to divulge the details of said meeting yet, but suffice it to say, if you listened to the interview, you can probably guess.

It was really nice to just chat, and to once again be reminded that these so-called "celebrities" are real people, just like you and me. Just regular joes (and janes) who happen to be doing what they love.

By the way, for higher resolution pics (and more pics), feel free to check out my Facebook album. Click here.

So thank you, Paul, for a wonderful interview and a productive discussion. Here's to many more!

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Featured South African Indie Authors

If you're a member of my monthly email newsletter, you'll know that each month, I select one South African independent (indie) author to feature. But it occurred to me that I didn't have anywhere to store a complete, exhaustive list of all the authors I've featured.

Until now.

I'll be updating this blog post every month, as I feature new authors, so check back here often, and hopefully find your next favourite.

These people are all South African born, but I can't promise they are living in South Africa as you're reading this (they were at the time I featured them, however). Similarly, most were IndieWide authors at the time I featured them, but I can't promise they still are.

Without further ado, here's the list, in alphabetical order by surname. Click on a name to visit the author's Goodreads page. Happy reading:
Note: I've included pen names where I'm aware of them, but also only where the pen name in question has its own distinct Goodreads page. If you know of any pen names which I'm not aware of, please let me know in the comments, and I'll update this post.

I hope you find your next favourite author!

(This post was first created on Tuesday, 5 November 2019. See below for last updated date.)

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Authors Re-Reading Their Old Work

I’ve been re-reading some of my old fiction lately, and like many authors, I’ve been cringing. Because the writing is terrible.

The stories are still good, but the grammar sucks, there are way too many commas, I re-use the same words over and over again, there’s too much passive voice....

Basically, it reads like an amateur wrote it. And considering I wrote some of it seven years ago, that’s exactly what I was.

So what sparked this sudden interest in my old work, you ask? Well, (you heard it here first) I’m planning to give one of them away for Halloween on Thursday.

If you know my work, you can probably guess which one I’m talking about, but the thing is, I’m expecting the vast majority of people who pick it up to have never heard of me before. And since the purpose of the giveaway will be to convince people to a) review it, and b) buy my other stuff, it needs to be the best it can be.

So I’m thinking of re-editing it. I’ll be keeping the story intact, but I’ll be changing some grammar, language, and style.

As a reader, do you think that’s a good idea?

Do you appreciate it when other authors do this, and do you even notice?

The problem is that, if I did it, it would be for the ebook only. At least at first, because re-issuing print books is expensive....

But that shouldn’t be a problem, right? I mean, should it?

Oh, and that cover image? That's me, cringing as I read those old stories. I can't believe anybody actually paid money to read them back in the day. And didn't even ask for a refund!

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Reading Multiple Books at Once

As you'll remember, a friend challenged me last week to read a chick-lit book. Which I did, but I already had some books lined up to read and I didn't want to set them aside. So I decided to further challenge myself to read my challenge book at the same time as the others.

This isn't something I normally do, but I know some people in the group I told you about who do it all the time, so I asked them for some advice. How do you do it? How do you keep track? How do you decide which book you will read at any point in time?

I got a few different answers:

Some people like to consume their books in different formats. They'll have one paper book, one ebook, and one audiobook on the go, and then it's just a question of which one they want to open at any point.

Or perhaps they won't take their paper book with them when they go out, so while waiting in a queue at the bank, the ebook's the way to go. Sitting in traffic, it'll be the audiobook. And when they're home, they'll read the paper one.

I understand the attraction to that, but it wouldn't work for me, for two reasons. First, on account of my eyesight, I seldom read paper books, so those are out. And I dislike audiobooks because I struggle to pay attention to something while I'm busy with something else.

My second problem with the above is I'm seldom anywhere but at home. I don't get out much, largely because of the aforementioned visual disability. And when I do, I'm always with other people and engaging with them, so there wouldn't be time to read.

Some people read different books depending on their activity. This is like the above, except it is irrelevant of format; they'll read one book while they're eating lunch, another while sitting on the toilet, another while waiting to pick their daughter up from netball practice, for example.

This also sounds reasonable, but I just don't get that many opportunities to read. This may be too much information, but I read on the toilet, and I read for a while after work, while waiting for my wife to get home. And that's mostly it.

I could read one book on one day, and another on the next, but I'm obsessed with updating my reading progress on Goodreads every day (although I don't always manage), and I think I'd feel bad if I updated my progress for only one book at a time.

What I ended up doing was reading my regular book on the toilet, and, because I wanted to get the challenge book out of the way as quickly as possible, reading that one in the afternoons. Still, every time I picked up one book, I felt guilty because I wasn't reading the other one.

I think reading speed also has a part to play. I read a mid-length novel (say 350-400 pages) in around a week. Which I used to think was fast, but I also know that some people on the group I mentioned read a lot faster than that. It's not out of the question for them to read a book of that length in a day! And that's not because their lives are less busy or they have more time to read; they just read that fast.

I suppose if I was reading a 350-400 page novel every day, it'd be way less of an issue for me. As it stands, I found it difficult.

How about you? Do you read multiple books at the same time? Do you have any of the same hang-ups as me, and if so, how do you manage them?

Cover image: Vintage photo created by freepik - www.freepik.com