Category Archives: Alex James

Lighthouse School Visit

Thank you for your welcome!

Lighthouse School Photo 1


Lighthouse School Photo 2
Lighthouse School Photo 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Some of my books photographed in the Lighthouse School library, as well as a display.)

On 4th November 2016 I had the pleasure of visiting the Lighthouse School, which is a school in Cookridge, Leeds for young people with an autistic spectrum condition or related communication disorder.

I was kindly invited and welcomed by teachers Caroline Maston and Lisa Mitchell. I was there to speak about my experiences as a writer in the hope that I could help encourage the students. I had an informal talk with several of the students, who asked well considered questions, such as how long it takes me to write a story, how I keep my writing going, and what advice I would give to young authors. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the school and meeting the teachers and students; there was a nice atmosphere and I would be happy to visit again.

I hope the students continue with their interest in writing, and I’m sure they have a lot to write about 🙂

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Nonsense Writing 2016 – 1

Nonsense unchecked writing. There probably isn’t ‘air’ in space, right?

The gargantuan ships came within proximity of each other, lambasting shell after shell of explosive matter, amid crashing systems and tumultuous tremors. The vacuum of space seemed thick with their presence, stuffy, and with volatile air.

System failures resounded, giving the interior of the ships a voice they didn’t have before. The metallic purple of their hulls glinted in splashes of sparks and ruptured at the slightest impact, puncturing the curved shape and forcing it ever inward, threatening to crumble.

Face-to-face, the enemies could see one another through the gaping mouths of the front of their ships, which were the same model. However, no shells or missiles could penetrate the space-glass panels. Despite the scorch marks and minor dents, the array of panels, which stretched for a kilometre, stood proudly intact and resilient against the unleashed weaponry.

Similar panels, though grey and ceramic, coated the floor on the inside of each ship, where enemy could stare at enemy, as they worked cohesively to undermine one another via an assortment of buttons on blocky misshapen  machines stripped with the bright colours red, blue, and yellow.

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Is Inkitt the right platform for writers?


Kroll Magnificence Image1 (2)Are you a writer looking for reviews or thinking about getting published? Actively approaching reader communities is a good way to get feedback on your complete story, or for a sample or excerpt. Engaging reader community websites might be your next step towards adding those finishing touches, reaching new readers, or getting published. The following blog post will cover my experience of data-driven publisher and reader community Inkitt, and their recent Story Peak Contest, where three writers can win a publishing offer from them. I’ll address the positive and the negative aspects of the contest and what my thoughts are on Inkitt as a publishing company, which will hopefully give you some insights into how to make the most of the contest in achieving your writing aims or book marketing aims.

Should I enter the Story Peak Contest? That was the first question on my mind. A little research on Google on what other sites say about Inkitt leads to quite mixed results, and there wasn’t enough convincing information on either side to encourage me to fully decide one way or the other. The sites that were positive cited how amazing the platform was for connecting with readers and getting their stories noticed, and that some writers were going to eagerly upload their latest story to future contests. However, I spent more time looking at the negative points on sites, to see if there were any valid concerns before I entered their latest contest. Some cynical sites will tell you they are notorious spammers, that you’re giving away first English language rights by uploading your content to their site, or that it’s silly to ‘publish’ your story on Inkitt for them to maybe offer you a ‘publishing’ deal afterward. Some of us have become so suspicious of new start-up publishing companies that our attitude is to dismiss them out of hand, and based on what I’ve experienced or seen I can understand.

Before I entered their contest, I asked a few questions to see if they could clear up some of my concerns about the above points. The responses I got were prompt and friendly, though perhaps a little vague. Sometimes different people would answer my questions, which was confusing, but at least they had names and job descriptions. I was soon wondering if I was asking stupid questions. The reason for this is because the instructions on their website are short and simple, Spartan one might say and we writers like to ask questions and worry about the details. A few things came back to my mind to reassure me: All Rights Reserved was posted beside the writer’s name on every story uploaded to the Inkitt website; and on the few occasions in the past when they have contacted my writer website, they have been friendly and reasonable. I haven’t been spammed by Inkitt on Twitter.

I entered the Story Peak Contest early August 2016, with my title Kroll: Magnificence, in the hopes of getting feedback from prospective readers. In the contest, only 100 readers can reserve copies of your story, so if you’re concerned that the entire reading community out there are going to read your latest creation, then don’t be. Those who don’t reserve a copy can only see a short sample. Your job is to build your readership from the ground up, persuading your already existing fans or maybe new fans to reserve their copy, read your story, and leave feedback on the Inkitt site, in the space of about a month. No, you don’t have much time, and if you haven’t got many friends and family who are willing to read your story, you’re going to really have to put in the legwork if you’re going to get anywhere. Indeed, my experience in this contest taught me the same lesson again about reaching readers: the onus is on you. Readers aren’t going to magically gravitate to your story, and then go out of their way to read your story and leave feedback; they need a reason and you need to give them that reason. As a result, getting through the ‘first round’ is not the cakewalk you’d expect it to be. 15 copies of my title disappeared like hot cakes, and I had a real belief I was overtaking the other titles and would get through with ease, but I was wrong. After my preliminary efforts, only 3 more copies were reserved for the remaining three weeks, and I only had myself to blame for my lack of effort. I don’t see it as a failure because it gave me an excuse to ask for feedback on Kroll. More on that below…

Okay, so the positive

Inkitt do take on board writer feedback. Their contest rules, including prior and existing contests, have changed in response to writer feedback, which shows they are prepared to listen and adapt accordingly. Despite their supposed reliance on an objective algorithm, they aren’t uncompromising with writers.

During the contest, I was emailed to be informed I was given a second chance to build my readership when a ‘second round’ to the Story Peak Contest was going to be added, extending the contest. Inkitt also gave writers more control over who was allowed to reserve a copy, encouraging a system whereby only those who submit feedback/reviews would keep their copy. I welcomed this change because it meant writers could control their involvement in the contest and build reader loyalty. After all, 100 readers is the official aim of the contest, but reviews are the main goal of every writer and could well determine success if you manage to get your 100 readers and move to the second round.

Inkitt does provide a handy dashboard for analysing your analytics, and a promotion to-do list that points writers in the right direction to build a readership. It encourages you to succeed, and doesn’t discriminate (at least until the second round).

Whenever I asked Inkitt questions, the people responding would reply in a friendly and efficient manner, and were happy to address my issues. I was under the impression Inkitt were a writer-friendly company determined to adapt to succeed. Though some have doubted their publishing experience and background online, they have a drive to succeed by interacting with a multitude to writers and they seem to be catching on how to we think and responding positively to our needs by changing contest models.

Entering the contest was a worry for me at first. Do I upload my whole unpublished story? Is it wise to do that on a website I know so little about? However, it gave me the motivation to ask friends and family for feedback, and some were more than happy to be asked, for which I was thankful. In a publishing industry where there are no guarantees with book marketing, the simple goals of the contest gave me the push I needed to make an effort on my own behalf to get some reviews. Thanks Inkitt! I went into the contest with nobody having read more than a chapter of Kroll, and came out of the contest with over five people having read at least five chapters, if not the whole thing. It doesn’t sound vastly impressive for a writer, but considering Kroll: Magnificence is an unpublished story that I haven’t shared, I did feel I made reader connections with friends and that I came out of the contest with a sack (of reviews).

The negative parts

When you have your 100 readers, and hopefully, some well earnt good reviews, you advance to the next round where Inkitt will decide who gets published based on their algorithm/system for measuring reader engagement. ‘Algorithm’ can be off-putting for writers, who many mistrust exactly how Inkitt will perceive your story’s success to make it more of a success… Furthermore, it is a source of anxiety what will become of your story if you make it to the next round. Do you just sit tight and wait, and how long do you wait for? How will the second round be carried out? These questions are not answered on the Inkitt website.

Personally, I like to see a publishing company that specialises in certain types of books because it gives me the confidence that my story, and me as a writer, would fit with what the publisher stands for or publishes. Inkitt’s positive every-writer-is-welcome was nice, but if I was offered a publishing deal would I be convinced I was with the right people and company? In their contest description, they do imply they can act as a bridge between A-list publishers and writers, but there are no guarantees here. I’m sure the arrangement would work very well if your story has an exploding readership. Coupled with Inkitt’s promotion, it could work to your advantage. But if readers and reader engagement ebbs then you’re going to see the contest, or your efforts in promoting the contest, as being the main reasons you built a decent readership. I suppose in some ways it depends on the publishing contract and what they can do for you.

Some readers I was in communication with felt it was inconvenient to read from the Inkitt website, which is a problem that may be somewhat rectified once the Inkitt app has been released. Some also were put off by the idea of reading a whole story in approximately one month, but for the sake of a contest I don’t see how this feature could be improved.

On the Inkitt website, I had overlooked the fact that they imply that in a publishing contract you would give your rights to Inkitt, presumably instead of licensing them, and you would get them back if Inkitt didn’t sell 1000 books in twelve months. Some writers might be uncomfortable with this arrangement, but this is only if you are offered a publishing deal. To reiterate, you don’t surrender any rights by uploading your excerpt or your entire story onto the Inkitt website.

Overall verdict

The people who work at Inkitt are writer-friendly in that they listen to writers’ needs, change their contest models, and are happy to explain any issues with prompt replies. This gives me confidence and trust in their company. Their contests are amazing concepts for bringing readers towards their website, and therefore for fostering a future reading community, like Wattpad perhaps. Not only are the contests improving, but they keep targeting different types of readers, which is smart of them.

The people I reached out to were curious about Inkitt, and wanted to learn more. Writers end up being advocates for Inkitt in the hope they can translate this into advancement in the contest, and crucially, more feedback for their complete story.

If you’re looking for a fast way to gain new readers automatically, forget it! You must put in the time to promote your story and reach out to existing or new readers, even if you’re using Inkitt’s handy dashboard. Though it doesn’t state that the reader must read the entire story to write a review, I would recommend asking them to read the first five chapters, especially if they have to read on the Inkitt website.

What happens if you have 100 readers and some decent and positive feedback, after all your efforts? You might get a publishing deal with Inkitt, which might be a good thing, once you’ve seen what it entails and how they can help you reach even more readers. They do the editing, design, and even run the marketing campaigns. Unfortunately, more details or at least an FAQ section isn’t available to view, so I’d recommend to Inkitt that they write something to that effect. Their new website design states that they are a revolutionary literary agent, which is a well-considered angle, if they hope to pitch your story to A-list/traditional publishers, where your story would be published a second time and Inkitt would be the middle-man. If you trust Inkitt, they could work well as literary agents, but you need to be sure they can deliver as literary agents, who usually have a lot of connections and past experience in publishing or are members of an association. They also need to write why they are best placed to become your literary agent. At the moment, there is no guarantee that an A-list publisher would make an agreement with Inkitt, though they have done for past titles published by Inkitt (Bright Star by Erin Swan for example) as is currently visible in a slideshow on their website. As a writer I assumed popularity would interest A-list publishers, but exactly how much popularity is necessary? No, I’m sorry but we writers need more than just a “maybe” made clear to all of us. We need to know in detail what’s great about being published by Inkitt, what’s great about Inkitt as our literary agent, and what’s great about our chances of being published by an A-list publisher in terms of what they can do for us. It might give us writers more motivation to succeed in the contests.

http://www.inkitt.com

Kroll: Magnificence five-chapter excerpt on Inkitt

(If you liked this article, please consider reading my five-chapter excerpt of Kroll: Magnificence on Inkitt and providing me with feedback.)

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Outcast Journeys – Fantasy Box Set – Preorder and Release

Outcast Journeys - Fantasy Box Set

That’s right folks, I’m one of the contributing authors to Outcast Journeys, a fantasy box set with an epic twist. You can find my heroic epic fantasy Roc Isle: The Descent in the collection alongside such titles as Leros of the Underworld:The Tournament by Nathan Anton and Rys Rising by Tracy Falbe.

If you’re an avid fan of fantasy reads that take you into the conflict zone, battling against huge armies,  searching for the person you know you are, battling good vs.evil, immersed in hellish caverns in dark realms, going on quests with fairies and magical monsters; then look no further than Outcast Journeys.

Outcast Journeys was brought together with authors whose works share the same theme – outcasts going on journeys – and reflects a diverse range of writing talent from the newest and boldest independent voices in fantasy fiction, many of whom have extraordinary fan-bases.

Are you an outcast? Have you ever felt like an outcast in the world, eking out an existence but not necessarily living as you want to. Go on an incredible fantasy journey into the realms of warriors, fantasy beings, and adventurers. Join the struggle to become who you are and to find your place in an ever-changing landscape.

ONLY $0.99!

Preorder before August 2nd  at your favourite retailer and receive Outcast Journeys before everyone else!

Amazon

Kindle US https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01IFKP3JY
Kindle UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01IFKP3JY
Kindle AU https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B01IFKP3JY
Kindle CA https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B01IFKP3JY
Kindle DE https://www.amazon.de/dp/B01IFKP3JY
Kindle NL https://www.amazon.nl/dp/B01IFKP3JY
Kindle FR https://www.amazon.fr/dp/B01IFKP3JY
Kindle IT https://www.amazon.it/dp/B01IFKP3JY
Kindle ES https://www.amazon.es/dp/B01IFKP3JY

Google Play

https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Tracy_Falbe_Outcast_Journeys?id=wFavDAAAQBAJ

Apple iBooks

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/outcast-journeys-fantasy-sci/id1132254573?mt=11

Barnes & Noble Nook

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/outcast-journeys-tracy-falbe/1124079091?ean=2940153116204

Kobo Books

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/outcast-journeys-fantasy-and-sci-fi-box-set-by-eight-great-authors

Smashwords

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/648407

 

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**”How to Get Published” at Bradford Literature Festival 2016**

On Saturday 21st May, I went to the Bradford Literature Festival to attend a panel about How to Get Published. I got the impression that the idea of the festival was to reach out and encourage new voices in under-represented groups. Indeed, there appeared to be a diverse mix of people in the audience, and I gathered from the questions asked that many seemed to be unpublished writers. Overall the event was 1h15 minutes long and went smoothly.

On the panel were two authors: Nikesh Shukla and Michael Stewart, who was also moderating. There were two publishers: Lisa Milton, executive of HarperCollins Harlequin Division, and Kevin Duffy, founder of independent publisher Bluemoose Books.

Upon the commencement of the panel’s talk, it was difficult to hear some of the speakers at first, but after somebody complained this was no longer a noticeable issue. As can be expected there was a lot of advice about dealing with rejection. If I recall correctly, Michael Stewart said something on the lines of rejection being a good thing because it can strengthen your submission. I agree with this to an extent, but let’s face it most literary agents do not provide feedback on your submission. You’re left in the dark wondering why you were rejected; indeed there might not have been anything particularly wrong or unappealing about your submission; perhaps your idea was not right for the literary agent’s subjective tastes or they were looking for something else. It would have been interesting to hear scheduled speaker Nelle Andrew’s (literary agent from PetersFraserDunlop) opinion on this, but she was missing from the panel for some reason.

There was a bit of good-natured back and forth between independent publisher Kevin Duffy and traditional publisher Lisa Milton. It was not unexpected, and some of the exchanges did remind me a bit of Labour and Conservative at Question Time, but thankfully it wasn’t that annoying. Kevin Duffy asked Lisa Milton about whether money influenced which books she selected for publication, but she cleared this up quite well by insisting that publishers always have to make a case for every book they choose before approaching sales/marketing teams.

A female writer demanded to know why she had been rejected by Kevin Duffy, to which he supposedly replied, “It wasn’t my cup of tea”. There was good advice given to her about the importance of getting people you trust to give you honest and constructive criticism/feedback. It must have been tough to hear this from the panel, and the panel maybe jumped to conclusions about the type of writer the lady was because she had written her manuscript in such a short time, which might have been unfair (even if what they said were things a lot of writers need to hear). However, in the defence of new writers, what the panel didn’t state was how difficult it is because not every writer has a network of trusted friends who are prepared to read through an entire novel for them and give them honest feedback. Finding “trusted, reliable, and honest” people who are willing to go out of their way to spend time to help isn’t easy. Perhaps some more profound advice on this could have been given, other than directing us to the latest Writers and Artists Yearbook. Furthermore, once new writers have written a story, they are told repeatedly to look back through it, but to know how to do this you need to understand or research about writing craft. Just telling new writers to look at it again with fresh eyes might not be enough. They might need to read about revision, take courses, or begin similar professions.

This sparked a debate on making sure your writing is ready for submission. Nikesh Shukla was very vocal here, and much of what he said made a lot of sense and chimed well with my experience of writing: you’ve got to develop your idea and message, and understand your work to make sure that you know what you’ve written. I agreed with his points. It’s no good having nearly one-hundred thousand words on a page if you don’t understand the significance of what you have written, why it’s unique, or if your planning and research might not be expressed the way you intend it to be. At this point, Lisa Milton concurred with, “You’ve got to know your whole story, even before you write it”.

Part of the point of the event was intended to encourage new writers, and break the cycle of mainstream publishing where ethnic minorities and women are often excluded. One lady spoke up about whether an agent or publisher needs to know the gender of the writer, which just goes to show the fear that if you are a female writer then you might have less chance of being represented by an agent or published. I don’t think you need to explicitly state your gender in submissions, and if you have a name that is neutral it might help, even though sometimes literary agents and publishers insist on you using your real name. However, I believe you have more chance of securing an agent if you are able to convince them that you know your subject well, and for this you might have to include who you are, background expertise, or achievements. Understandably this means you don’t have to mention your gender, but the recipient of your submission will likely have enough information to know who you are. Yet this doesn’t mean I think you should go out of your way to hide your gender if the need arises! I’m not knowledgeable about the submission process for Bluemoose Books, but all of this is contrary to what Kevin Duffy said about his only having the information about the book upon which to judge submissions. Regarding ethnic minority under-representation, somebody in the audience complained that successful books from African, Asian, or Indian writers typically have to have a strong current of magic, mysticism, or an overly strong protagonist to be taken on board by publishers rather than if they would submit a story being from the point-of-view of an ordinary person.

Nikesh Shukla was strong on these arguments as well, insisting that unless people from the aforementioned groups submit to agents and become a part of the industry, rather than distancing themselves from it by seeing the books currently on shelves as unrepresentative of their writing and perspectives, then the cycle will continue with similar authors being published. Lisa Milton said she encourages writers from different backgrounds, which is nice to hear, but unless Lisa Milton is starting initiatives to help encourage unrepresented groups or unless HarperCollins has open submission periods, then I’m afraid little will change. That being said, it was still nice of her and the panel to make time to come to Bradford and for an appearance, which does enable transparency between what could be seen as the bottom and top of writing and publishing.

At the end of the event, most stragglers wanted to speak to Lisa Milton, which I wasn’t surprised at, being the executive of a traditional publisher. I didn’t have any pressing questions to ask the panel, but a few ladies approached me and handed out leaflets about a new publishing company (Dandylion Publishing) they have launched, for which they are looking for new writers. What I liked about them was the motivation and drive they had, competing for the writers, some of whom only had eyes for the panel.

I happily took a leaflet, and looked up the Dandylion Publishing website. It just goes to show that despite new perspectives on the traditional route to publication; Writers and Artists’ Yearbook, submitting to an agent, rejections; there are other ways to publish and get maybe get feedback if we are open-minded to book publishing as a whole. It would have been very interesting if the ladies of Dandylion Publishing had been on the panel, and to hear what they would have to say about improving writing and preparing material “good enough” for publication. I say this as well because, though Nikesh Shukla had experimented with crowdfunding, presumably his non-traditional route, most of the panel seemed to channel the conversation in the traditional submitting to an agent route, as if all writers had been thinking about that exact route.

There can be opportunities at such events for aspiring and existing authors.

(@s are on Twitter.com)

Bradford Literary Festival – @BradfordLitFest and bradfordliteraturefestival.co.uk

Dandylion Publishing – @DandylionReads – dandylionpublishing.co.uk

Kevin Duffy – @Ofmooseandmen

Bluemoosebooks.com

Lisa Milton – @Lmrhjb

Nikesh Shukla – @nikeshshukla

Michael Stewart – @headspam

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***Numerous pieces of writing? Can’t tie them in together?***

Having many pieces of writing won’t be a problem for all writers. Some plan on single projects at a time, or focus intensely on research and planning before embarking on any form of prose. Then there are those, like myself, who conjure a lot of different writings up, but can struggle to develop these writings into a story or link them together into series, if they are similar. Sometimes different writings are just different writings, and may require a rewrite or significant changes in structure to come together in a logical coherent way.
I’ve stumbled across this problem with my new unpublished Marcellus series, where these new projects don’t quite mesh with already-published novel Marcellus: The Mantle. The Mantle is set in the solar system and is first-contact sci-fi (sound familiar?) while my new series has no relevance to the solar system or humanity. There are completely different characters in The Mantle, and in this even the identity of Marcellus is a mystery. As opposed to my new series that is mostly from Marcellus’ point-of-view. However, the problem is that I’m very attached to some of the ideas in The Mantle, and fitting it into my new series like a jigsaw puzzle doesn’t make obvious sense at this stage. It took an alarmingly long time for me to reach the conclusion that I should be looking to incorporate “specific” ideas from The Mantle into my new Marcellus series. This of course meant not directly linking them together, at least until events transpire where such a link would make sense, so distancing them is my strategy for the time being.
It’s also useful to speak to somebody you know or trust about your world or ideas. They can help bring an outsider’s perspective, and make you see your strengths and shortcomings. It can also help you to describe, and therefore understand your story better. My brother, who knows his sci-fi and fantasy very well, helped me see that Marcellus: The Mantle could be a spin-off to my series that hasn’t been published yet. Through his help, I also came to realise that I focus almost exclusively on Marcellus’ point-of-view and personality in my unpublished Marcellus novels. Where other characters come in, they are mainly used to infuse conspiracy, action, or otherwise move the plot forward. It may also be important, if I am to successfully continue with Marcellus, to bring in an important new and interesting character…
I hope this has helped you come up with strategies to tie in similar writings, and that this particular problem does not worry you to a great extent.

Marcellus: The Mantle

Marcellus (unpublished)

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Alex James at Waterstones Leeds Mini-Con

Alex James at Waterstones Leeds Mini-Con - past event

Eminent author Alex James will be at Waterstones Leeds Mini-Con on Thursday 28th January 2016, between 18.45 – 21.00 pm.

I’ll be accompanied by brother Nathan Anton, who is also an author. We’ll be sharing a stall and signing our sci-fi and fantasy books for those interested. You don’t have to buy a book though, it’d be fine to just say hi 🙂

Waterstones Leeds Mini-Con is a fun and well-organised event with stalls, games, competitions, and quizzes; and I’ve had the pleasure of attending the event a few times.

See the Waterstones Leeds Mini-Con facebook event page for more information.

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Yes, that really is his name!

The Antpod Faction by Alex James

Bobikoo had been framed. It had been as simple as that. The only political crime he had committed was the black-market business. He would hit a few deliveries of Command metasources – they never checked or cared too much anyway – and trade them for personal privileges that he shared with Zeika. They were both planning on making some newly-mades, and extending the family.”

Excerpt from The Antpod Faction: 2nd Edition by Alex James

Have you read any hilarious names in books? Comment below with them.

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