Monday, 3 August 2020



I can't stress enough how essential this is. The wrong title, the wrong image(s), the wrong design, the wrong colours: all these can affect sales of your novel.

Heavens, I've made enough mistakes myself, so I do know what I'm writing about!

It's probably easiest to explain by example, so here's one of of mine that gets noticed, and one that doesn't.

THE MYSTERY OF CRAVEN MANOR. This is my most  successful book, an adventure story for middle range children, and I think the following are what makes it attract attention:
a) The word 'Mystery' in the title.
b) The name of the house (Craven - fearful)
c) The house in darkness, all bar a few lit windows - creates atmosphere.
d) The night sky, with just a few stars. (The stars were actually incorporated in the font that I chose.

These all say what's in the tin, and the whole effect is atmospheric.


This book is one of my own favourites.
It's about a single, thirty-something young woman, a lowly care worker in a retirement home, still a virgin and the only one of her gorgeous all-female family who looks like her Dad.
It's a feel-good, romantic success story, but you'd never guess it from the title and cover.
Is Dingo a dog? Is it a biography of a composer? Is it about the legal profession?
Nothing explains the story. The all-black cover is not exactly inviting, the small image of a Will even less so.
If I had the time and the energy I'd pull it out, design a new cover, choose a new title, and re-publish it. I did, however, use black again (or rather, a series of darks) in THE GIRL IN THE ATTIC, but there the idea was to create mystery and atmosphere, and I hope it was effective.
 (Note: If you're publishing an Amazon, remember that book covers are shown as small thumbprints, so do make sure the words and images are sharp, clear and contrast well with the background.)
You can view all my other book covers on the MY BOOKS page above.(I will be posting more information about designing book covers in August, so please keep checking). 


Monday, 27 July 2020



These are the search terms that direct potential readers to your book, and although they're not as visible as Amazon's classifications, they're equally important.

When you self-publish your book you can provide seven keywords (Note: each can be a single word or a phrase). Choose carefully. Remember there are literally millions of books available on Amazon. The more direct the path to yours, the better!)

As with categories, keywords can be changed at any time, so if you're not satisfied with your initial choices, you can make a new selection. I do this frequently, in the hope of bringing my own books to the attention of new readers.

Below are some of my current choices for CABBAGE BOY, which is a humorous fantasy novel for teenagers.

Family life - Obsessive compulsive disorder
Teenage sex - Allotments  - Line dancing
Mutants  -  DNA

It's likely I'm still not on the best track, but I'm hoping that in a roundabout way these keywords might attract readers from the outer circle, ie parents. My thinking is as follows: allotments, line dancing, DNA and obsessive compulsive disorder are subjects that their parents might be investigating. Hopefully, they'll discover my book (either directly on Amazon books or through Google) and perhaps buy to read themselves and then pass on to their offspring. Pipe dreams perhaps?

Choosing keywords (and categories - see Part One) is time consuming and tedious, but necessary and helpful when you're in competition with so many other books (4.5 million last time I checked!)




Monday, 20 July 2020



It's easy to classify your books if you write a police procedural novel or a time travel fantasy or a conventional romance where two young people meet, hate and misunderstand each other but fall into each other's arms in the last chapter.

But how do you classify a book which crosses over from one genre to another, or even a third - or (in the case of one of mine, The Family on Pineapple Island) can be read by parents to their youngest children, yet equally can be read by parents and grandparents for their own enjoyment?

There are books that defy any classification. Sometimes they are exceptional and become best sellers, but often they sink into oblivion. However, even if they fit a classification, it's still a writer's minefield.

If you're self-publishing via KDP, Amazon's publishing arm, take time to work through their quite comprehensive selection lists. It's helpful to select a category which at least directs readers on to the right path leading to your book. However, if it's a particularly popular category, readers might never reach your new baby.

Take ROMANCE as an example. There are thousands and thousands of novels in this category, listed in order of popularity, page after page after page. It's a known fact that the majority of potential readers give up on the list after scrolling through the first ten pages. So how will readers find your newly published novel?

You can lessen the odds by choosing a sub-category, eg Romantic Comedy, or Romantic Historical or Romantic Contemporary, but these still include thousands of books already on sale. This is where keywords help (See Part Two).

You're allowed a second category. My novel AFFAIR WITH AN ANGEL is a sort of romance, but it's also a fantasy, as the title suggests. Check out this category (below). As you see, there are several options. Choose the one that's most specific - and if you're lucky, that may also be one where you're not competing with thousands of others.

Collections & Anthologies
Dark Fantasy

It's a time-consuming exercise and you may never be completely satisfied, but the good news is that you can change your novel's categories at any time if you're not happy.

Interesting note: The first 100 books in any category are listed as Best Sellers. I've not personally investigated but apparently there are some categories which contain fewer than 100 books. If your book fits into one of these categories it will automatically be classified as a best seller!

If you want to take this further, and have the time, check out the following links:


Monday, 13 July 2020


Fat Bottomed Girls

I love all Queen's music but this is the piece I think of when I've had an extra long writing session at the laptop - sometimes up to three hours without moving a gluteus maximus.
Yet after I've dragged myself away, exhausted, exercise isn't the first thing on my mind. Or even the second.
Chocolate comes first, coffee second - or maybe a glass of wine. After that, even more exhausted, I throw myself down on the couch or the rug and watch something mindless on television.
I envy those writers who are blessed with an iron discipline and will set out for a five mile run or a  ten mile cycle after a session. Are you one of them?
Usually all I want to do when I've had my chocolate, coffee and wine is to get back to the laptop and write the next chapter -
OR  - write another blog post. And next week I'll be starting a new multi-part blog series on HOW TO SELF-PUBLISH YOUR FIRST NOVEL (AND GET IT NOTICED). I hope to cover as many aspects as possible, so if you have any comments or requests, please contact me or comment on this blog.

Monday, 6 July 2020


As there was such a good response to my recent post ‘What’s Wrong With Seniors Writing About Sex?’ I thought I’d carry on with a bit of exploration along that track.

You may not be aware that an annual prize has been awarded since 1993 for the worst description of a sex scene in a novel. It’s the most notorious ‘booby’ prize in the literary world (the worst offenders more often being male writers).

Previous nominees have included a famous horror author (Stephen King), an Oscar-nominated actor (Ethan Hawke), an Ivor Novello award winner (Nick Cave) and - surprisingly - a former Prime Minister (Tony Blair).

I’ve put together a few of the more laughable or cringeworthy examples. Here we go:

Victoria was like a deep nocturnal forest that I strode through without knowing where I was going, through woodland, amid ferns, under tall shivering trees, far from any path. There were noises, puddles, odours, dampness, shapes that vanished, treetops overhanging our bodies.’

He clung to her, crying, and then made love to her and went far inside her and she begged him to go deeper, and no longer afraid of injuring her, he went deep in mind and body, among crowded organ cavities, past the contours of her lungs and liver, and, shimmying past her heart, he felt her perfection.’

I yearned again for the cogs of her Iron Maiden to grind my glans around inside her like an opera singer with a mouth lozenge.’

This last one is more explicit, but it did make me laugh!

She felt him aware of his size and weight. His care not to hurt her. She moved to accommodate him and felt the blind probings before he slipped inside her. He was bigger than she had remembered. She tilted her hips and felt the weight of his balls on her... what? Small expanse of skin between vagina and anus. Perineum – was that it? Her mind screamed: Shut up, Lucy! You’re not doing the Cosmopolitan crossword now.’

You can Google the Bad Sex in Fiction Award for more examples. These are just a taster. 

Monday, 29 June 2020



This month one of my short stories (All Of Us Here) won First Place and was published in WRITING Magazine.

I thought you might like to know the inside story of how it was created.

It started with a trigger dictated by the WRITING team. The first line had to be “They weren’t like me.” After that your story could run in any direction you chose, provided its length was no less than 1500 words, no more than 1700 words. This allows the magazine to feature it as a double page spread plus a pictorial heading and a little blurb and photo of the author. (WARNING: In case you're planning to enter a competition, this is a strict rule. Never exceed the limit or fall short of the minimum wordage. If you do, your submission will be binned!))

At first I considered the obvious. A science fiction theme: alliens, creatures from another universe. Or perhaps a fantasy: creatures half-human, half-amphibian, who lived in a sunken world. Then, closer to home, I thought about people from a distant part of the globe, aliens in my own country.

And then I began to think about people from the same family who had become alienated from each other. There could be many reasons but I decided on abuse, perhaps because it’s become so prevalent during lockdown. I thought about those who had got away and those who were still trapped, how their personalities might be affected, and how bitterness might arise between them.

There had to be a meeting between them. Once I’d got that, my characters began to come alive. This doesn't happen with every story or novel, but when it does it's the most wonderful feeling. I can see them, hear them, anticipate their emotions and reactions.

When I started writing I had planned a happy ending, a new life for the last victim. But I got to thinking of the devastating effect long term abuse could have on its victim, how it could destroy confidence, dissolve courage and optimism, and leave that victim still bound by invisible chains.

So the ending was not what I originally intended, but it was the one my main character dictated, and it surprised me as much as it might surprise some readers.

(To read ALL OF US HERE, click above on the READ A SHORT STORY page. If you have any comments - or criticisms - please leave them here.)

Monday, 22 June 2020



How do you distinguish one character's dialogue from another? If you Google you'll find lots of authors and tutors giving their suggestions. There's useful advice there and it's tempting to apply it to characters all the way through the story but I think the important point is to SUGGEST rather than to hammer the differences home in every line of dialogue, which can become tedious and could slow down the pace of your story.
On the other hand, distinctive individual dialogue often develops as you get to know the characters in your story, knowing them so well eventually that you actually hear their voices inside your head!

I thought I'd have another look at some of my own writing and see if I could find some examples. How about doing the same with your own work, isolating the odd conversation from the story itself and seeing if it works? The following, though, are mostly just single sentences.

'Delighted, my dear. Take a pew.' This is a well-educated middle class older man.
'The guys all seemed so juvenile, apart from the usual creepy gang of hasbeens with their eyes on stalks.' A young woman, worldly but no longer a teenager.
'I ate half a caterpillar once. It was sweet. Like sugar. One of those long thin green ones, it was.' A small boy.
'That is a pity. Because I do not think your parents will wish to entertain your friend at this time.' An educated but non-English rather sinister man.
'Child - you are a child, are you not? Child, do you realise to whom you are speaking?' A conceited pompous fantasy character.
'Dickheads! Fuckwits! Arseholes! Just because a girl doesn't look like Beyonce, she doesn't have to take that sort of crap!' An angry tearful seventeen year old girl.

Normally it's not really a good idea to use slang or jargon of the moment, because it dates so quickly. Of course, if your story's set in the future you could invent your own. Think of The Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess).

Individuality depends on many things. A well educated, well read person will have a much greater vocabulary at their fingertips, at the other extreme a kid from a deprived area may struggle to find more than a few dozen words, relying heavily on the F-word. An older person may use words and phrases seldom heard amongst the younger generation and may - or may not - be more polite, more tentative. Syntax - the order of words in a sentence - may figure heavily. Grammar, dropped aitches and gees, mispronunciation, rushed, self-interrupted or slow and deliberate- all of these might be used, but again occasionally rather than continually.

Dialect can be a problem. likewise a character whose home language isn't English. Suggest occasionally - and avoid cliches (Och aye! for a Scotsman, n'est-ce-pas at the end of every sentence for a Frenchman. Syntax is useful here, again used occasionally.

I hope this is helpful. Setting it down has certainly helped me, making me think more deeply about my own characters.