Tark And Mara Visit The Irish Riviera

* Tara is off on her jollidays for a couple of weeks. Fictional Guest Bloggers, Tark and Mara, have climbed down from their pedestal to leave you with this post.

Tark And Mara Beach Holiday

“Ugh.”

“Another one?”

“And again! Tark!”

“Just lift your feet, darling, and watch where you’re going.”

Mara made a noise deep in her throat. She had just about had enough.

Had she complained when Tark had driven them south, instead of north (where the airport was located)? Indeed, she had not.

Had she demurred, when he was hopping about their obscenely large penthouse like a skittish goat kid, childishly delighted with his mysterious holiday preparations? No: she had been the very picture of acquiescence.

Had she made a fuss when she found – to her horror – that Tark’s insistence on keeping their destination secret, meant that she couldn’t even issue guidelines, let alone strict instructions, to their personal packing consultant?

Non. She had agreed to everything. But this: this was the last straw. She was in her last pair of Prada slippers – the brown ones, which adorably looked like her once-hated school shoes (though anyone who saw them would instantly know that they were Prada) – and now they were ruined.

“But, really, Tark, what’s the point? If you’d brought me to Nice, like we’d planned, there would be a reason to look where I’m going. There would be a reason to look up and take in the architecture; to gaze upon the most stellar of seas – which once, I might remind you, husband, you said mimicked the precise colour of my eyes. I could have the salt tang of perfectly priced oxygen on my tongue. But no! You bring me… to Gorey.”

“I know, my burry limpet. But I’m sure they have dogs in Nice, too. And parts of the continent can be even less particular about faeces than Wexford.”

“I can barely believe you’ve done this,” said Mara, her face suddenly ageing beyond the five years the botox removed last Thursday. “One moment, I’m booking a chemical peel for my bikini line, and taking delivery of all six sets of Urban Bonk beach jewellery; the next, I find myself looking at chain-store flip-flops in a two-room chalet in a working class area of the Irish Sea!”

“I knew you’d like it,” said Tark, confidently. “Nobody else has taken the Retro thing as far as us. You mark my words, my scalded kitten: before six months is out, every newspaper from here to Irkutsk will be extolling the virtues of the Back-To-Your-Childhood Holiday. And you can nod, in that fabulously regal way you have, as they rush to do then, what we are doing RIGHT NOW.”

Mara shuddered. Tark was awfully masterful when he spoke in capitals.

“We were first, Mara,” he continued. “We set the trend. And don’t you forget it.”

Mara sat down hard on a dune, subconsciously grateful that its sandy softness compensated for the relatively unforgiving boniness of her sitting apparatus.

Tark was right.

How could she have doubted her hairless husband? His sure-footed descent of the dune was gathering a crowd of admirers at the finish line. He was a giant in a small man suit. For a fleeting moment, she wished he had, after all, gone to that Game Of Thrones audition.

“I will endure,” she called after him. “For you, Tark. For none other.”

“For our publicist too, darling,” called Tark from the bottom of the dune. “She’s coming at sundown with three photographers from the Indo, the Daily Mail and VIP. They’re fighting over exclusivity, and I’m going to let them all have it.”

Mara gazed at her little husband as he examined various buckets and spades they were to use as props, before lifting her eyes to the horizon. The murky grey sea swirled thickly, an unshaken test tube of clouds and albumen. It was an Irish summer, the shade of a vast number of ordinary childhood memories to which she wished to lay no claim.

A Paleo chef and two butlers awaited them in their twenty-square-foot chalet. The staff one-man tents had been set up ten feet away. It was time to square up: to tackle, with valour, a week at the Irish seaside.

It was a small price to pay for at least three colour spreads, and the inimitable kudos of being so far ahead of the crowd, that she was about to make dog poo the ultimate fashion accessory.

Authors! Your Cover Font Is Killing Your Book

But this is the best book cover ever

Think this looks amateur? You’d be right. I did it in Paint, just messing about for a jokey post earlier this year (click pic for link)

Whilst most of us will judge a book by its cover, I very often judge a book cover by its font.

This might sound odd to some people: perhaps it is – you can let me know if that’s the case. But more often than not, it’s the typography on a book’s cover which tells me whether or not I want to read it.

By this I mean, it’s going to be the reason I sometimes think that the cover, and therefore the book, are an amateur – possibly even sloppy – effort.

I know, I know. I can hear you now.

*****************************

Self-Published Authors: Oh, for the love of Blog. It’s her again.

Tara: Hi guys! Wow, hey yeah OMG, it’s like, so good to see you!

Self-Published Authors: Please shut up. Or rather, tell us why you’re bothering us now. What are you giving out about this time?

Tara: Erm, the fonts used on your book covers, actually.

Self-Published Authors: Figures. What next? Our names?

Tara: Well, no. I can’t do much about them.

Self-Published Authors [to each other]: Never stopped her before.

*****************************

But bear with me. Have you ever seen a book cover and thought: Right, I bet a besquillion squids that’s self-published…?

Or    It looks like they did the cover themselves. I wonder whether they got it edited? Probably not.

If it were my book, I wouldn’t want anyone to judge from 1 mere glance at the cover whether it was self-published or not. And yet, one of the most common comments I got during the examination of what makes people buy self-published books - and what turns them off buying same – was a “cheap-looking” or ” amateurish” book cover.

For me, the biggest screaming sign of a poor cover, is the font used for the title and the author’s name. All those little decisions made regarding font type; serif or sans serif; size of title versus size of author’s name; colour; contrast to the background – these are what can make a book fall before even entering the final furlong.

I don’t often post content I haven’t made myself, but this infographic caught my eye some time ago and I was rendered gob-dawed by its most awesome and beautiful brilliance. It’s not specifically about book covers, but it’s useful, and everyone who has any hand at all in the design of their own book cover should look at this:

This is by no means comprehensive (take a look at their website for narky comments from other graphic designers who believe it’s flawed in a hundred different ways). But still, there are very simple rules which book cover designers and other graphic designers know backwards. Those of us who aren’t aware of them might not think that they’re important. After all, we writers are creative people. Why can’t we just play around and put out whatever we think looks good? We’re avid readers, surely we know what we like?

I don’t pretend to know the secret to a good cover. And yet, when typography rules are broken, my brain somehow registers immediately that things don’t look right. I am reminded of local poetry anthologies from the 1980s; those annual circulars Great-Aunt McSmarmy sent at Christmas when she was the only person we knew with a word processor; and that book which was published by the school year above me as a project. It looks, quite simply, unfinished. It looks cheap. And this is before you even get to the blurb.

I’m not going to go into arguments here about how much it costs to get a cover designer, let alone an editor. I know it costs money. But you are also asking people to spend their money on your book. And as far as I’m concerned, there is no excuse whatsoever for putting out an unfinished product, in any industry.

Besides, there are very few cases where you’ll get away with cheap packaging and branding. I might not care about the packaging of a plant I buy for the garden, or a cupcake I’ve just sampled. But by Blog, do I care about it on a book!

Authors: do yourselves a favour. If you can’t afford a cover designer and insist on doing it yourself, spend time – hours and hours – looking up an online bookseller. Look at the fonts used on the covers of their top 100 sellers. Look at the fonts you’ve used on your book cover. Look back at the top 100. Look back at your book again.

Now fix it.

——————-

[Sidebar begging letter: if you liked this post – actually, who cares, even if you hated it – would you mind terribly going to this link here, and giving me a tiny little vote in the Irish Blog Awards (thereby helping me to base my whole personal worth on a highly suspect public vote competition)?

You wouldn’t? Great! Just click here, scroll down til you see “Tara Sparling writes”, click the little circle to the left of my name and then click just once more on the “Vote” button at the bottom. Thanks awfully. You are very kind to assist me in this, the shallowest of vanity quests.)

I Have No Pride Or Shame. VOTE FOR ME

Irish Blog Awards 2014This is desperate. I’m about to ask you for votes. So let me apologise in advance for everything I’m about to say.

This blog has been nominated in the “Best Blog Post” category of the Irish Blog Awards, for a post in which I described my limitless talent for self-sabotage when talking about my own work, despite a Greek Chorus of writers in my head trying to motivate me not to be such an irredeemable twit.

And although there are at least 2 other blogs in that list I think really should win, I’m going to take advantage of the fact that many of you reading this will never have heard of them, so you might vote for me instead.

Seriously. I told you. No Pride. No Shame. (And not enough votes.)

So if you have a spare ten seconds lying about the place today – if the kettle boiled just that little bit quicker than you expected; if the queue in the shop suddenly dispersed for no reason, like a reverse flash mob; or if you just feel so sorry for me that you don’t like kicking a woman when she’s down, would you mind terribly popping over to this page here, scrolling down the list or doing a ‘find’ for “Tara Sparling writes”, clicking on the circle to the left of my name and then clicking just one more time on the “Vote” button on the bottom?

Again, this is the link here.  You can vote once a week (the blogs with the least votes get kicked out each week)

And if you look down your nearest drain/toilet/gutter, that’s my self-respect you see. Floating away merrily downstream.

Thank you.

Writer’s Arse, And Other Ailments

writing.ie logo

The gurus over at Writing.ie have published another article I wrote today. A sort of confessional piece. I talk about the terrible afflictions which writers suffer, and how I suffer in particular (from being terribly afflicted).

Some non-writers will be sceptical about this. That’s fine. They can go around sympathising with whichever they believe to be loftier, global concerns. But writers will know. Oh, how they will know.

Over on Writing.ie it’s called “Writer’s Twitch, And Other Illnesses”. I really wanted to call it Writer’s Arse, because let’s face it, it’s our arses which can be most bothersome. But I thought it would be better to keep things a bit less crude over on Writing.ie, in case anyone wanted to take me seriously. It does happen sometimes.

You can read the article through this link here. In the meantime, I’m off for a long bath, and a good cry.

You said WHAT in a headline???

You said WHAT in a headline???

What Puts Readers Off Self-Published Books?

ANOTHER graph! Heaven.... I'm in Heaven....

ANOTHER graph! Heaven…. I’m in Heaven….

Oh, we’ve come a long way from What Makes People Buy Self-Published Books last week, ladies and gentlesirs!

Brace yourselves now, as we enter the dark side of book marketing: the things which make you REFUSE to buy self-published books.

And we’ve all experienced this to some degree. Self-publishing often gets a very bad rap. If people avoided some of the behaviour which follows, the industry can only benefit.

Cobbled together from the feedback from you, the nice people who comment, I now have a list of what’s most likely to make sure you will never buy a book from a certain author, let alone read one.

These fall loosely into 3 categories:

1. Pushy Marketing Tactics
2. Bad Book Design
3. The Writing Itself

These categories also come in the order which they would turn readers off a book. Even if a book didn’t fall at the first hurdle, it still had at least 2 further stages to go through before it was safely in the basket.

Most of what people said, to be fair, fell into the Marketing Tactics camp. I wasn’t sure what to call this category, because most of this behaviour could hardly be called tactical, let alone marketing.

1. Pushy Marketing Tactics

Most of the antics most likely to get readers’ backs up fell under the broad category of pushiness. Other than that, it was just plain old Twitter.

I said before that there was nothing less likely to make me buy a book, than an author telling me on Twitter to buy their book. It seemed a lot of people agreed with me. In fact, most social media was open to the abuse of pushiness. Here are some of their comments:

“People want to get to know you (on Twitter, Facebook, your blog or Instagram – or wherever) – not forever be bombarded with BUY MY BOOK!”

“Nothing is a bigger turnoff than a tweet that says, “Read my book.” The only possible answer is, “Shan’t!””

“Other things that turn me off are social networking messages saying “Check out…”

“…I had one [author who] tweeted every three mins or so as well as direct mailing me and turning up on every book conversation in Linkedin trying to sell me (and others) his teen vampire book. One of the threads was about the great French writers. I was just thinking to myself, Voltaire, Maupassant, Rousseau and a good teen vampire book, they go together well”

“There is a book which the author plugged all over the Amazon forums when I posted there regularly. It may be wonderful, it’s certainly won awards, but there’s no way I will ever read it because of the author’s relentless spamming when it first came out. I loathe having things sold to me in a pushy way.”

Overall, it would appear that many authors just don’t think about how they might like things to be sold to them. Imagine you had a market stall, and your method of selling things was to jump up and down and scream at people “BUY MY STUFF!” rather than to tell people why they might benefit from buying your stuff, or why they could be particularly interested in buying it…. Well: good luck with that.

a rather victorian pen picture

2. Poor Cover Design

Cover and blurb came up again, and again, and again. Loads of people looked up books because the cover or title caught their eye. If the blurb was written in a way which indicated the style of the book, they liked that too.

However, the cover was just as likely to make readers discard the very idea of reading a book at the first hurdle. As one commenter put it:

“And yes, I will completely ignore a book if the cover art looks amateurish or cheap (unless I know the writer or he/she came recommended). It’s just a fact – you need a good cover to sell books.”

[It's difficult to know what makes a cover look amateurish or cheap, granted. It obviously didn't look that way to the author who chose it. However, and this is just me - I tend to stay away from any titles in an italic font. They always make me think of locally-produced poetry anthologies from the 1980s.]

I hate this book

3. Bad Writing

Finally, we come to the meat in the gigantic and sometimes unpalatable sandwich that is the self-published book: the actual writing.

The people who commented often looked at a sample of the writing last. That’s not to say that some of them didn’t look at this first (however, they would already have had to be attracted to the book at that point by something else, such as the cover or title) but this seemed to be the final decision-maker for most, either through Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature, a downloaded sample, or a sample available online.

Readers know what they like. And they don’t like these things:

“Many of them (probably most of them) turn me off within a page by the bad writing — overuse of adjectives, adverbs, stilted dialogue. Amazing how many bad books there are out there.”

“The first thing I look at is the Look Inside. If I see: grammatical errors; spelling errors; tell don’t show (particularly saying what the character thinks or what motivates her/him instead of showing it through words and actions); or clumsy construction, I don’t read on and I don’t buy the book.”

“Something else I look for in the Look Inside: if the POV changes inside a scene, it’s off the list of possibles immediately.”

Suffice to say, if you get any editing done, for heaven’s sake, get it done on the first few pages. Although if you don’t bother getting the whole thing edited, I will go squinty-eyed, and write things like this.

 ************

There are plenty more things to avoid. The list could go on, but if this post gets any longer, I will be in danger myself of committing word crimes.

Instead, do tell in the comments – what drives you mad? Is there anything else which will ensure that you will absolutely not buy a self-published book?

What Makes People Buy Self-Published Books?

In this post, I discussed the findings of a scientifically incontrovertible study (of myself) on the factors which influenced me when buying a self-published book.

The findings surprised me (which surprised me, because I was surveying myself). I found that I knew what made me buy a self-published book when it was in front of me, but not what put that book in front of me, unless I was browsing by genre (e.g. today I feel like reading a romance set in Ulaanbaatar: therefore I will now search specifically for such a story).

It was still hard to know what put those books in front of my eyes in order to buy them; to quote one of the commenters on that post – this is the thorny issue of “discoverability”. How will we find these books in the first place?

So I did the unthinkable, and asked some other people. I surveyed readers and writers alike, in online groups for different fiction genres of crime, fantasy and general fiction,  and more than a few other people who just like to talk to other people about reading and writing. I asked them what factors influenced them most when buying books – particularly self-published books and any other books which aren’t pushed by the major houses.

Their answers were duly collected and poured into a spreadsheet, one rainy morning when I was in my pyjamas, and can be split into 2 camps. Some answers relate to discoverability; others to what makes people buy a book once it’s already in front of them.

In this sample, there are 72 answers. Some people cited more than one factor they considered before purchasing, so regardless of the order in which they placed these factors, I gave them all equal weight.

Having said that, it’s safe to say that in the vast majority of cases, if the cover was amateurish, or unappealing, the book would never have made it to the 2nd stage of vetting, be that the blurb or the sample.

Here are some lovely graphs with my findings. In case you didn’t know, I LOVE graphs. (Although take it from me, they’re hard to cuddle when you’re trying to fall asleep.)

First, we have the overall results:

Influences upon readers when buying self-published books

Overall, by far the most important factors were cover, blurb and the sample (for some, this was the first few paragraphs, through Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature; for others, the full chapters from the e-Reader sample download).

Your cover might be gorgeous. Your blurb might push all the right buttons for the hungry reader. But if there’s a mistake in your first 2 paragraphs, or the reader doesn’t like your style, then it’s good night, I’m afraid.

How Readers Discovered Books Online

Several of those surveyed said they had bought self-published books because they had seen other examples of the author online – either from their blog, commenting on other blogs, or articles in magazines or journals. They liked what they saw and then went to see what else was on offer. This is precisely what we mean when we talk about online platforms.

In the case of Twitter (which is the platform most likely to drive me mad when authors simply tweet endlessly “BUY MY BOOK!! SPECIAL ### OFFER!! BUY IT NOW ###  TODAY TODAY!!!!!! (hashtag exclamation point))) – a few people said that they liked to get a sense of the author on Twitter, and then maybe look up their book. So it wasn’t publicising the book on Twitter which sold books: it was the author being engaging on Twitter on a more personal level.

Facebook was more likely to remind those surveyed to buy the book of an author they already liked, rather than introduce them to a book for the first time.

Making The Final Book Buying Decision

Finally, it was cover, blurb and sample all the way. Reviews mattered, but in different ways. An interesting point, made by some of those surveyed, was that they looked at the worst reviews first – 1* or 2* reviews only – because they found it easier to ascertain whether they were authentic, and because they felt they got a better sense of the book from people who didn’t like it, rather than the people who said they did. (Or gave it 5 stars because they are the author’s Mammy. See here.)

Price was also an unusual issue. There were 2 distinct views: those who made impulse buys (without reading reviews or a sample) under a certain price, and those who would never bought books under a certain price point, because they had no faith that they’d be any good.

There were also good indicators on what turned readers off  self-published books. Another post will follow on that. I bet you can’t wait.

Time for you to weigh in: if you haven’t already had your say, is there something glaringly missing from the above graphs which makes your buying decision for you?

Tark and Mara Search For Meaning

In a universe close away from here, Mara was feeling philosophical.

“I’ve been thinking,” she said, knowing without a five-o’clock-shadow of a doubt that Tark would want to hear what was going on inside what was, by far, the heaviest part of Mara’s size zero frame.

“Have you, my platinum preying mantis?” said Tark. He pivoted to face his wife on his bare feet, the trail of the mustard yellow sarong he wore flapping in the breeze coming through the open balcony doors of their twelfth-storey Dublin city centre penthouse. The gardeners had just been in, and one-hundred twenty-six trees and shrubs of varying tub sizes were inordinately grateful. “What about?”

Mara stretched and unwound herself from the 13th century Moroccan day bed under the enormous Jackson Pollock in the living room. “Meaning,” she said. “I was wondering if we had any. In our lives.”

“But of course our lives have meaning, darling,” said Tark. “Didn’t you just get some delivered yesterday?”

Mara wrapped her skeletal arms around herself and shrugged gallically.

“Why all this anguish, my tantalising Tasmanian Devil?” said Tark. “I would hate to think anything was going on behind those cut-glass cheekbones which was causing you pain.”

Something then occurred to Tark; he moved swiftly to close the literal distance between them (which was quite considerable, given the almost unheard-of square footage of their city centre demesne).

He encircled his wife with his left arm, and with his thumb and forefinger, tilted her chin downwards so that her permafrost eyes were held fast by his bald and beady gaze. He spoke firmly, but gently, rumbling with the gravitas of a far larger man than he. “Is it the fact that I’ve been blogging? Because I know you were taken aback by the response. I may have expected a slight uptick in traffic once I’d taken over that dreadful Sparkling woman’s blog, but even I was surprised with a gain of 30,000 followers in just three days.”

Mara The Terrifying“No, it’s not that,” said Mara, even though it was ever-so-slightly that (albeit concealed by the fact that she hadn’t made a facial expression since 1987). She sighed and stopped bothering to stand up, because there was really no need, what with all five-feet-four of Tark doing the work for both of them.

“It’s just that… well, I’m not sure what I’m for, now that you’re writing,” she continued. “You’re just so… so… goddammit, Tark, you’re just so good at it! I don’t know how to follow that.”

Mara’s tear ducts made a heroic effort to ease her pain, but due to cosmetic-grade botulism, failed to squeeze out a single drop.

However, Tark knew that something was very wrong. Twenty years of marital training had not been wasted; he could read his wife’s complete lack of non-verbal signals like a book. Just like her books, in fact, which he made a point of reading every Sunday morning, after their weekly couple’s chakra recalibration.

“Now you listen to me, my precocious pickled shark,” said Tark. “What I do is nothing like what you can do. True, I may have rescued an inconsequential Irish blog in less than one week of guest posts, with my opinions on the personal hygiene of politicians and why poor people can’t afford happiness, but nothing can compare to your unparalleled genius in the world of literary smut.”

Mara sniffed, but deep down, she thrilled to her husband’s compliments. She sat once more on the day bed, readjusting her 19th century silk kimono, and glanced artfully at her husband from beneath her lashes (although, it must be said, it would have been difficult to look at him from any other prepositional angle to her lashes, other than beneath them). “You’re not just saying that?”

Tark and Mara 2

“I would never lie to you, my lightweight love. It would be like lying to myself.”

“I suppose 50,000 e-book downloads a day can’t be wrong,” she said.

“No indeed. Your writing talent – your ability to make the bedroom activities of the ordinary, boring and geranium-obsessed masses interesting – never ceases to take my breath away.”

As Mara arranged her immobile face into the mutually accepted upper reaches of passion for her husband’s kiss, she had to concede that he was right. She was a genius of literary smut.

And just like that, the idea for her next meaningfully enriching bestseller threaded its way through her brain, philosophical anguish forgotten. Whoever said that they had lost their muse, didn’t have a rich spouse.