Inside the Writer’s Mind: The New Normal

Cartoon strip

I hope everyone out there is coping with the terrible effects of the coronavirus. It’s a worrying time for us all. Writers are probably more used to self-isolating than other people because of the nature of their work, requiring solitude during the writing process, but nobody wanted this level of social distancing. I feel like I’m venturing out into a different world every time I step outside and see people wearing face masks.

I’m hopeful, though. The situation won’t last forever. I just hope that after it’s over things don’t return to exactly how they were before. We can all live in a better world if we learn from this experience. Life after lockdown doesn’t have to be the same.

It can be something better.

Clockwork Cairo – steampunk anthology

Clockwork Cairo – launched today

Clockwork Cairo was published on June 1st.

Clockwork Cairo is a new anthology of Egyptian-themed steampunk stories edited by Matthew Bright. It features stories by twenty writers exploring the mysterious world of steam-powered souks, clockwork bazaars, sinister pyramids and battling airships.

The contributors are Gail Carriger, Sarah Caulfield, Jonathan Green, Tiffany Trent, Zan Lee, Chaz Brenchley, David Barnett, Nisi Shawl, Benjanun Sriduankaew, George Mann, Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine, Matthew Bright, Rod Duncan, Christopher Parvin, M.J. Lyons, Anne Jensenrriger, John Moralee (me!), E. Catherine Tobler and K. Tempest Bradford.

More information about this exciting new book can be found at the publisher’s website: Twopenny Press.

Amazon US
Amazon UK

Dude, where’s my book?

Unless you are a celebrity or already a bestselling author, nobody looks up your name on Amazon (and other retailers), so you are entirely dependent on whether or not readers can accidentally find your book when they are browsing.

The title, keywords and category are the only way of getting your book seen by customers – so you have to choose wisely.

Since one of my books hadn’t been selling for months, I decided to look for it via the usual methods – keywords and categories – just to see how easy it was to find it by browsing like a customer.

The book was called Crowning Achievements: The Legend of King Arthur – a very historically inaccurate and irreverent fantasy novel for fans of light fantasy and historical parodies.

In theory my King Arthur novel should have been listed if I searched for my chosen keywords – but these often produce huge lists of books. Common keywords like “fantasy” and “historical” might produce a list of thousands of books – so it makes sense to narrow the focus with more specific words and phrases.

Typing “King Arthur” produced too many results.

Typing “Crowning Achievements” produced memoirs about dentistry.

I knew what my keywords were, of course, so I expected to find my book listed somewhere if I used them for searching. One of them was “Arthurian” because my book is a fantasy about King Arthur. Amazon suggests “Arthurian” as a keyword if you read their help guide. Amazon lets you have two categories and six keywords – which can be used to put your book into narrower categories.

Doing a search resulted in 75 pages of results. My book wasn’t on the first page or the second one, which is about as far as a normal customer will go to find something. Nobody ever looks at all 75 pages. Therefore, my keyword was totally useless.

I decided to look up my book via the other major method of finding books – clicking on categories until I reached fantasy>arthurian.

Here’s a picture of my search results, starting with five million ebooks. I whittled the number down bit by bit …


Ah! Only 5 books! My book had to be in that category because it perfectly described what it was about.

I clicked on the link and looked at the page of results. I’ve blurred the image – but you can see the books.

Mine wasn’t there.

To say I was a little bit puzzled is an understatement. How could anyone browsing find my book if I can’t find it when I know the search keywords?

Amazingly, two of the five books were not remotely suitable for the category. They were werewolf-shifter romances set in the modern world.

Why were they listed – but my book wasn’t?

I chose appropriate keywords that put my book under “fantasy”, “historical”,” Arthurian”, “Merlin”, “King Arthur” and “humor”. (The American spelling of “humour” was required by Amazon). I followed their guidelines to make sure my book could be found in the right place – but it wasn’t anywhere.

Evidently, some kind of magic had made it invisible.

I’ve now gone back to Kindle Direct Publishing to make some keywords changes. I’ve also changed the title around so it is now The Legend of King Arthur: Crowning Achievements.

Hopefully, it will be more visible now – but if it isn’t, here’s a link to it for anyone interested.

The Legend of King Arthur on Amazon US

Amazon UK


Inside the writer’s mind – library cutbacks

Comic strip about writing and library cutbacks.

Shameful Cutbacks For Libraries

Last Friday, I was shocked to learn my local council intends to close two of the three libraries in my region. That will mean I’ll have to travel thirty minutes to the remaining one, which is something I won’t do, even though I love reading. It’s just not practical for me to travel so far. Instead, I’ll be forced to buy every book that I want to read, which will severely limit what I choose because I don’t have an infinite budget. I won’t discover any new authors by casually browsing until I find something new and exciting. I won’t learn obscure facts from giant reference books. I won’t try something different because it was free to borrow. Instead, my reading will be limited to only those books I can afford to buy.

Unfortunately, libraries are closing all over the country – in vast numbers. The government are slashing the number to save cash – allegedly.

When I was little, my dad used to take me to the local library so I could borrow loads of books on every subject under the sun. I love books today because I was exposed to so many when I was younger. If those books had not been free to read, I would not have read them and learnt to expand my imagination.

It’s incomprehensible to me any civilised society would close libraries when the benefits of keeping them open are so obvious. Libraries are a vital resource. Reading books develops critical thinking. It educates children. It provides pleasure and stimulates the mind.

Without libraries, future generations will be less educated than the current one, creating more problems than it solves, so it makes no sense to close them, no matter how bad the state of the economy. Employers always complain about the poor level of education of graduates unable to spell basic words and form grammatical sentences. Investing more in libraries will help solve that problem. The government needs to invest more in libraries – much, much more – if they want to reduce crime and poverty and improve society. Cutting back the number of libraries to save money costs more money in the long term. It’s insane. No libraries should be closed to “save” money.

It’s a false economy.

A big, ugly lie.

Closing libraries closes minds.

Does anyone want that?

We need to keep libraries OPEN.

We’ll be far worse off if they close.



Writing to Sell – Notes from a Workshop

Useful advice about writing and selling science fiction.


In April 2013, I attended a “Writing to Sell” workshop at the 52nd Natcon Convention in Canberra. This workshop focused on factors to think about when writing short-form fiction for the professional speculative fiction market. The following contains some of the tips I gleaned and, while most of them are familiar and self-explanatory (writer 101 stuff), there were a couple of pointers I hadn’t thought of so I thought I’d share.

Obviously, the usual rules apply. There is no one way to get published and no ‘formula’ per se to writing fiction (after all, if there was, everyone would be doing it). There is also hard work involved. Like any of the arts, writing is a skill that takes time and practice to master.

1) Your work should come across as professional (fail to do this and you won’t get a look in)

– Make sure your grammar and spelling…

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The Top 50 Sites for Indie and Self-Published Authors

A great list of 50 useful websites!

Jens Thoughts

I stumbled across this fantastic resource and wanted to share with you. I’d love to hear any feedback.

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Ten Rules For Writing Crime Fiction (and when to break them)

joke about formulaic fiction

Ten Rules For Writing a Traditional Murder Mystery

1) There must be a murder. (Suicides and accidents won’t do.)
2) A detective – amateur or pro – must solve it.
3) The detective can’t be the killer.
4) The murderer can’t be a total stranger.
5) There must be only one killer – with perhaps an assistant helping out with an alibi.
6) The reader should be able to guess the killer’s identity if they spot the clues.
7) The identity of the killer is revealed only at the end of the story.
8) The detective solves the case with little help from anyone else.
9) The murderer must have a strong motive.
10) The murderer conveniently confesses when faced with the evidence, making a conviction guaranteed.

A large number of very good stories have been written by obeying these ‘rules’, but the danger of sticking to the rules is you can produce formulaic fiction.
I loved reading Agatha Christie novels when I was at school, but I lost interest once I started solving them too quickly. After reading about thirty novels, I just knew the character with the unshakeable alibi was the killer. And I just knew the character with no motive had one hidden. It started to feel like I was reading the same book over and over.

Agatha Christie’s most memorable stories were the ones where she broke her own readers’ expectations by making the murderer the detective or the narrator or a character supposedly killed earlier in the story. Everyone remembers The Murder on the Orient Express for its unique resolution – while other more formulaic novels are forgotten.
A writing formula can be a useful tool if used as a framework for a solid plot – but if it is too strictly followed nothing new will be produced and readers will become bored.
I’ve never understood why a writer would want to write the same story again and again. If you want to do that, you might as well just change the names in a book and republish that. It’s the literary equivalent of remaking a successful movie.
Writing should be like a science experiment. Try something different each time to see what works best for you. A new formula might result in a breakthrough.
You might have some failures along the way – but at least you will not repeat yourself.
There should only be one unbreakable rule for writing.
Never write the same story twice.