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the master

Things move on. Gone are the days of Feedbooks when any old noob indy could self publish on there for free and have a hundred downloads by morning. Feedbooks is still going but for the self publishing indy it died ages ago. Stats suggest very few readers find their way to my stuff any more so I do’t bother with it – might as well stuff it in a drawer for all the good it will do.  But all is not lost: there’s always Free Ebooks.

This is another of those sites you can load your fiction onto. The model is a simple one – thousands of writers provide free content around which the site owners serve advertising and marketing packages which pay for site’s upkeep. Like Smashwords they want your manuscripts in MS word format, but don’t seem as fussy over the formatting – or it may be that I’m submitting stuff that’s already passed the Smashword’s meat-grinder test.

Downloads are encouraging – quite a spike early on, levelling off to a few clicks per day thereafter. I suspect it’ll be like Smashwords in the longer term, eventually flat-lining at a thousand clicks or so with only the occasional flutter thereafter. Yes, they want you to sign up for their marketing packages and all that, but I’m not going to advise you to ignore them because you know it’s a cardinal rule writers never pay publishers anything, don’t you? As for Free Ebooks paying you, well, there is an option for readers to donate through Paypal, but I wouldn’t expect more than the price of a cup of coffee now and then, and it’s certainly not worth giving up the day job.

Smashwords is still very much alive and well of course, and well worth submitting to if only for the free ISBN, and Wattpad is picking up in a strange kind of way too, though it requires a bit of engagement on your part, being more of a community thing, but that’s cute and I’m finding it has a nice feedback vibe for stuff you put on there piecemeal. I’ve been trying out the Sea View Cafe on it for a while now – at least up to the point where it got quagmired in my usual three-way polyamory trap – more on that in the next blog. I can recommend it for early drafts, but again it’s not going to change your life much. And once a story’s done on there, well,… it’s done and you might as well delete it.

So yes, things move on, but they’re not dying out. Online and digital are still the only way to go for the majority of unaffiliated wannabe writers. I predict the only bookshops in a decade’s time will be charity shops selling increasingly dog eared and spine busted samples of that old paper-tech, that actual books will have become an upmarket thing, paperbacks costing thirty quid a go. And us ordinary folk will have no recourse to libraries anymore, so this mad bagatelle of free online stuff will be our daily fayre.

So don’t despair, you young uns might have robots to contend with for your day-jobs by then, but at the end of it you’ll still be able to kick back of a night inside your cosy plastic nano-pod, with whatever passes for a mobile phone, and read, and think how: quaint, those days of paper. Hopefully some my stuff will still be around, scraped up by the content farming sites. And maybe amongst my writings you’ll discover a lost world where people fell in love face to face rather than dialling partners up via an app, a world where our dreams still meant something and we used to laugh at the idea of cars driving themselves.

So, anyway, if you’re a writer looking to share some ideas, some stories, do check out Free Ebooks! It’s like Smashwords, and a bit of a dead-zone as far as feedback’s concerned, though I have picked up a couple of four-stars. But if you want people to talk to you about what you write as you write it, go to Wattpad. Whatever you do though don’t get hung up on the mechanics of self publishing, on the clicks and stats at the expense of,… well,… writing. Just get your stuff on the Internet any which way you can and whoever was meant to read it will find it.

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durleston wood cover smallIt was Mark Twain who said: “Write without pay until somebody offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this circumstance with the most implicit confidence as the sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.”

I disagree, but then I would – having been writing willingly without pay for considerably longer than three years. Indeed I write these days without actively seeking any pay at all. As a round rebuttal of Mark Twain’s opinion on the matter, I offer instead the five rules of contemporary independent authorship:

 

 

1) Writers write.

2) If you can’t get anyone to pay, it’s okay to write for nothing, for as long as you want.

3) Publishers pay writers. (Sometimes).

4) Writers never pay publishers. Anything. (Ever).

5) Writers need not saw wood.

Most of us who write online for free are doing more than avoiding sawing wood. What we’re doing is bypassing a system that stands in our way. We’re seeking readers without having to negotiate the quaint arcana of the commercial publishing world. We write for free because experience has taught us that to seek payment from others is to close the door on our self expression, that to persist we might as well slide our work to the bottom of a drawer where it will remain for ever unread. Perhaps we lack the necessary persistence, perhaps we lack the talent. But neither of these cautionaries matter. We do it because we can. And in doing it we will find readers.

We can do it in a number of ways:

In the first instance, we can pedal our wares from the margins of our blogs. Click the cover-pic and you get a download from the public folder of our Dropbox thing. Simple. This way our work is completely independent and virtually immortal. Our stuff stays online until the sun goes supernova. The downside is unless you can game the system to achieve a monumental blog following, downloads are likely to be small. I manage a few per week. Not great, but who cares?

For more readers, you sign up to websites who grant a bigger exposure in exchange for plastering your stuff with advertising, or by tempting you into paying for “author services” like editing, proof reading, or marketing. Need I repeat my advice not to pay anyone anything in order to publish your work? It’s one thing to write for nothing, quite another for it to cost you money. The other thing to bear in mind when considering such sites is how many downloads you’re likely to achieve. There’s no point in signing up if their download rates are no better than your self served blog.

I use Feedbooks, Smashwords, and Wattpad. Feedbooks was always the best for downloads – even stuff I’ve had on there for years was still getting ten or fifteen downloads a week. I say “was” because it looks like Feedbooks is now dead so far as indys are concerned. Smashwords is less successful, but still garners a steady, if more modest exposure to potential readers. Wattpad,… well, Wattpad is a strange one. Put a novel on there in one lump and you’ll be lucky to get a single hit, ever. Put it up a chapter at a time over a period of months and you’ll do much better, at least until that final chapter goes up and then you’ll get not a dickie bird again. There’s a social media angle to Wattpad of course. Virtual networking. You like theirs,and they like yours. You need to use it to get the best from it, but I’m usually too busy with other stuff, like writing. I’m also an unreformed introvert who finds anything “social” a bit awkward.

Just recently I’ve been looking at other avenues, namely Free eBooks.net, putting my novel “In Dureleston Wood” on there by way of an experiment. The Free eBooks’ business model requires both writers and readers to sign-up. Readers are limited to five downloads per month unless they pay for VIP membership. Writers who contribute get VIP membership automatically, which suggests to me this may end up being a writer’s only hangout.

But anyway,..

Unlike Smashwords, there’s no option to charge for your work, but that doesn’t bother me. You can add a donate button so readers can tip you via your Paypal Account, should they feel so inclined, but let’s not fool ourselves over the potential of that. The site is heavy on advertising and it’s keen to sign us up for a premium marketing package, but again that violates my principles, so we won’t be going there.

Upload is simple, requiring a .doc formatted manuscript and a cover pic. Then you fill out your blurb and it’s done. Publication isn’t immediate – the info says it can take up to three working days for a submission to be “considered”, but a quick scan of what’s already on offer reveals there’s a lot of crap on there so I wouldn’t worry too much about being rejected. I wasn’t overly optimistic regarding my potential for downloads. I’ve tired various sites like this before and managed no more than a dozen hits in a year – but I achieved my dozen here after the first day. The rate will probably dwindle over time, but so far it looks like Free eBooks and I can do business without violating too many of my principles.

And without sawing any wood.

 

 

 

 

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bookshopcoverAs a self publishing writer willing to give his work away in exchange for establishing a readership, Feedbooks is where it all began, back in 2007. You loaded your story up to the Feedbooks site, and it became available at once to a worldwide audience, downloadable directly to smartphones, tablet computers and kindles. If free fiction was your bag, reading it or writing it, Feedbooks is where you went.

In those early days, when the web was a little more anarchic with its dreams, Feedbooks was hot stuff, and I moved a lot of stories through them. But no longer. My Aldiko and Moonreader apps now link only to Feedbook’s paid content,  or legacy works that have entered the public domain due to copyright expiry. Contemporary, free, original titles are no longer accessible from the platforms they were aimed at.

You can still get at them from the non-mobile webpage version of the site, but the graphics are winking out one by one, and there’s a sense of something falling down, falling over and being left to rot.

There has been no announcement by Feedbooks, but this is not unexpected. Their support, indeed their interest in the free stuff we’ve given them over the years has been generally poor. In the early days independent authors provided a wealth of free content that got Feedbooks on the map, got their business model off the ground, and we’ve been ignored ever since the paid stuff came online. That they’ve finally ditched us comes as no surprise – my only real surprise being it’s taken so long.

I do feel a keen disappointment in this because their penetration of the market has always been really good. If you wanted readers Feedbooks found them for you. Smashwords couldn’t match it, and Wattpad was even worse. It’ll be a chillier place I fear in the search for readers from now on. But as authors we should not despair. Readers like free stuff, and they’ll get it wherever they can. Smashwords here they come?

I hope so.

Is Feedbooks dead?

For authors of free original content, sadly, yes it is.

 

 

 

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350178bced2740617291e725a0b2159fresNet9_n7So,..

He led me into the wood, along the tunnelled path through which we could see the garden gate. Beyond it was the blue grey slate of the house itself, and the green front door – images first seen one clear spring morning a decade ago. It was coming back now, memories I thought I’d laid to rest, but I felt a terrible pressure in my chest, something trying to burst free, and I hung back, afraid I could not bring myself to cross the threshold into that strange world again.

Lamarr prattled pompously, not yet aware I was shrinking ever further behind. “It needs an awful lot of work to bring it up to standard of course,” he was saying. “It must be freezing here in Winter. And of course the road, such as it is, gets blocked at the first hint of bad weather.”

Incongruous in his suit, he produced an impressive bunch of keys and proceeded to try the lock, but to his surprise found the door already open. He walked in, and I followed, half closing my eyes as the breath of the place took me. Then I nearly ran into the back of him when he pulled up sharp. I was confused at first and thoroughly self absorbed, so I did not immediately register what he was staring at. Slowly, I followed his gaze and it was then I saw her: a woman, standing at the foot of the stairs, one hand on the banister rail.

She was in her early thirties perhaps, dressed in the long tweed skirt and the blouse I remembered Beatrice wearing that first night long ago. She even wore the little silver clasp at her throat, a string of pearls hanging over the jut of an ample bosom. Her hair was long and dark, and tied up in the Edwardian fashion, exactly as Beatrice’s had been. The look of her, the feel, the mood of the woman in this house,… it was startling and for an instant my heart leaped to an inevitable conclusion. It had all been a mistake! Beatrice was alive! She was there, waiting to welcome me back, about to smile in greeting,… except Beatrice would have been much older now,… like me.

The colour had completely drained from Lamarr’s face and I guessed he was thinking the same. The woman, for a moment, seemed similarly transfixed by us, but then she let out a startling growl, cat like, primitive, and she sprang at us, bowling us aside like skittles before making her escape through the open door. As she passed, I felt a tremendous strength and a heat, and I caught the scent of soap, of lavender. My God – the scent of Beatrice! But above all, even in the violence of the moment, I had felt the cool, starchy smoothness of her blouse upon my skin and then my heart had folded upon itself, leaving me numb with a shock that ran far deeper than Lamarr could ever have guessed.

I was too shaken by it to even think of chasing her, always supposing I could have run more than a hundred yards in the first place. Instead I gazed out as she tore down the path, the heavy skirt held high, her legs bare and efficiently muscular, like a hill runner’s, like a wild animal’s. She looked back once, as her hair fell, and a single beam of sunlight cut clean through the dross of decades to illuminate her face, to still my heart.

I wanted to say that I knew this woman, that I had known her all my life, known her for many lives, but clearly I did not know her at all.

***

More old ground this week, dipping in and out of this story. First published in 2007, I still worry about it. I worry about my future possible grandchildren and great grandchildren reading it and saying: “What? Grandad Graeme wrote that.” And then they’ll look at this dribbly old guy in his worn out Harris Tweeds, smelling of mint imperials and wee and they’ll go “EWWW!”

But then every generation has the problem of thinking it invented sex. As for the rest of it,  all two hundred thousand words of it, it’s far from perfect, but at least when I read it I still know where I’m coming from, and where in the long run I’m probably heading.

The picture is adapted from a photograph of the great American Silent Acress Lillian Gish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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maisondulacAnyway,… there she was, centre-stage, hemmed in between a pair of frightful old waxworks – namely her parents, Monsieur and Madame Lafayette. Madame was one of those jowly old dames who appear permanently displeased, while her husband had the dry, superior air of an old-school academic. Madame had just noticed something on her dessert spoon and, with one eyebrow arched in disapproval, was tipping the spoon towards her husband for him to inspect and share in her low opinion of the standards they were having to endure. I caught the word, ‘sale’,.. dirty! He shook his head and tutted in dutiful dismay. Personally, I’ve never known a better presented hotel than La Maison, and since it so clearly failed to measure up to their expectations I supposed nothing ever would.

Gabrielle had the look of a child that night, and she was so quiet, so undemonstrative, she went unnoticed between her more animated parents. She was pale, looked even a little sickly, and was dressed in an unflattering blouse and an unfashionable skirt that would have better suited someone her mother’s age. This was in stark contrast to the Italian girls on the neighbouring table who were dressed, shall we say, less modestly but considerably more in vogue. However, like the Italian girls, Gabrielle was hardly a child – she must have been in her early thirties – yet she appeared shrunken, the full bloom of her womanhood arrested, and she had become instead a flower rendered papery thin and transparent for want of sunshine.

The only hint that all was not lost was her hair, which had the colour and the fertile sheen of a freshly opened chestnut. It would have been voluminous, I thought, except for now it was severely fastened up. Surely if there was any spirit left in Gabrielle, it had fled her body years ago, and resided now exclusively in those lovely chestnut tresses. What a pleasure it would be, I thought, to see her let that hair down, and let the spirit of her secret self flow back into those sickly bones.
Her eyes never left the table – not even when her parents spoke to her, and I noticed Madame had the habit of fussing with Gabrielle’s table setting, as if the girl could not be trusted to leave things tidy. I found this deeply irritating, though I don’t know why because these people were nothing to me. All the same I wondered how she managed to bear it so patiently.

After dinner I lingered over coffee, watching as she left the dining room, still captured safe between them, noting also how she walked with a pronounced stoop, as if wary of low ceilings, that she was embarrassed by her height, afraid to rise up to the stature of which she was surely capable. And beneath the rather ill fitting clothes, I’m ashamed to say I joined the dots and reconstructed the outline of an attractive figure, generously curved,… curiously desirable,…

Actually, although it might read like a story, this incident is taken pretty much from the observations of a lone man in the dining room of an hotel. Namely me. It also forms the opening of my novel “The Last Guests of La Maison Du Lac”, written decades later, and by which it becomes more of a half-truth, before blurring out altogether into the realms of a purer form of fiction.

Her name was probably not Gabrielle, nor did I see her again after she left the dining room that evening. But the impression of her lingered subliminally, and she was to provide a powder keg of inspiration for a further two hundred thousand words, much later in life. It was an English hotel in reality, but I moved it to Switzerland, fashioned it roughly along the lines of another place I’d stayed in on Lake Lucerne. I did this because the dining room of that Swiss establishment had a view of the lake and a snow capped Pilatus, which I renamed because location wasn’t important in the geographical sense – only a dramatic and mysterious remoteness.

Then in April 2010, as I penned this opening, an Icelandic volcano, the Eyjafjallajökull, erupted and for a period of 6 days, grounded every aircraft in northern and western Europe. This bit is also true, but if I’d made that bit up – I mean about the eruption – no one would have believed me because it was too fantastic. It was the first time since Bleriot the skies were empty of flying machines – a sudden and extraordinary thing that caused chaos. This gave me permission to try other unsettling ideas, like how about an X class solar flare which combines with the outfall of that volcano to produce an electromagnetic pulse, one that that wipes out every microchip in the northern hemisphere? Cars, planes, computers, memory cards, watches, everything electronic,… gone! Overnight.

And then again I was thinking about buying an old car, an MGB, a vehicle that predates just about every modern convenience. In the end I didn’t buy it, but it got me thinking how such a vehicle would be unaffected by  electromagnetic pulses, and I’d find myself being the only visitor to La Maison not now stranded. But what kind of Europe would I find outside the calm oasis of La Maison, and with a thousand miles of uncertain roads to drive between me and Blighty? And what if the peculiarly oppressed Gabrielle came to me and asked that, when I leave, will I take her with me, because she wants to escape her monstrous parents?

What kind of story would that then be, I wonder? And how much stranger could I make it?

Writing is a melting pot of seemingly unconnected ideas, encounters, events. They all go into the pot. Life and memory stir them. Reflection over the keyboard produces strange, sometimes alchemical effects as these disjointed things, sometimes decades apart, join to form an unexpectedly coherent and informative narrative. It’s as if our lives are not played out solely in linear time – that what happens today might not make sense right now, but only later when tacked onto something else that happens twenty years later. Truth or fiction? Well, it’s a bit of both usually, the boundaries blurred, smeared out across time and space, and the writer doesn’t care. It’s just a story after all.

You can link to the novel from the right of the page. It’s free. No sweat. I had a great time writing it. On the Richter scale of fictional strangeness, I put La Maison at around a nine. And boy that Gabrielle,… she really was something else.

Keep well.

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between the tidesFor a writer who’s determined to give their work away, there are still only two online ebook “publishers” worth considering – one of them is Smashwords, the other is Feedbooks. For the independent writer who isn’t interested in going pro, it’s the readership that counts, so a publisher has to deliver on that score or it’s not worth us signing up. They have to deliver the downloads. End of story.

There are other ebook publishers out there  – some of them will even contact you and ask to feature your work – and I’ve tried most of them, but if I get a couple of downloads a month from their sites I think myself lucky. Feedbooks and Smashwords still deliver the goods, and they don’t require your potential readers to sign up and divulge personal details in order to get at your stuff either – which may be the reason for their success. Your readers just click on the site, the books are displayed at once – no nags, no nonsense – and away they go. If they didn’t deliver the downloads you’d be as well self publishing via links from your blog to a public Dropbox folder. I shift my non-fiction titles this way. It’s not great, but it works as well as most other so called ebook publishing sites in terms of download rates.

As for who’s best, Feedbooks and Smashwords, that’s not an easy question to answer. Certainly Smashwords is most vociferous in sticking up for the independent non-pro author, while I feel these days Feedbooks looks upon us more as a loss leader to suck in the punters while they focus on pedalling the “real stuff” from the pros. Feedbooks stats have also been broken for years now so it’s not easy to work out what our true downloads are. So far as I can figure it out they take a snapshot on a Saturday night and whatever that day’s downloads have been, they add it to our running total, basically ignoring the other six days of the week.

So, the thing to remember with Feedbooks is you’re most likely getting more downloads than they’re telling you, which is silly because downloads are the only thing of interest to a writer when we’re giving our stuff away, and we might be tempted to pull our work from asny platform where we think it’s being ignored. I’ve queried this with Feedbooks, got sucked into the tech-query-ticket thing, to be told it was all fixed and the matter closed. Well, it’s not fixed and I can only surmise this state of affairs persists because it’s too expensive to fix. I half expect Feedbooks to pull the plug on their “original” (i.e. independent and free) content in the future, and surmise the only reason it’s still there is because it costs nothing to maintain. Personally, I’ve had a good run with Feedbooks and it would be a bit churlish to make an issue of it now, so I won’t and will continue to enjoy the ride as long as it’s working. You can dig for the actual download figures by looking at the graphs and totting up the dailies, but no one’s that obsessed – well, not all the time anyway.

Out of interest, and for this blog piece, I totted up the true download figures for my novel “Between the Tides”, which has been on Feedbooks and Smashwords getting on for a couple of years now. It’s still achieving about 40 downloads a month on Feedbooks, about 12 on Smashwords. It’s a similar story for my other stuff as well. All told then, Feedbooks may no longer be the champion of the independent author it once was – bigger fish to fry and all that – but it’s still better at achieving the downloads for you and worth sticking with, which is why I’ve just added “Fall of Night” on there as well, and why I’ll still advise any aspiring independent to use Feedbooks if they’re not interested in the money and just want to get their book out there.

Meanwhile, Smashwords is actually shaping the ebook market and making a real difference to indy authors collectively, while not quite achieving the same penetration for us individually. If Smashwords could work out how Feedbooks achieve their downloads (the true figure) for the same book by the same unknown author, they’d be offering us the best of both worlds: a rallying voice and an efficient channel for our work.

Smashwords or Feedbooks? Obviously the answer is both.

But in all this studying of the market, remember, a writer is a person who writes.

So go away now,

and write!

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Lavender and the Rose CoverMy sincere thanks go to all of you who have written to me over the years, or commented on my novel The Lavender and the Rose. First published in 2008, I’ve been revising it this last few weeks, with a view to putting it up on Smashwords. As always, it’s been a pleasure hooking up with these characters again, and reminding myself of what we got up to back then. The Lavender and the Rose is a special story for me, being also the record of a shift in my personal, psychological outlook – no longer hanging on, but letting go; no longer maintaining a tight grip on who and what I thought I was, or wanted to be; no longer afraid of revealing what I might actually be, underneath. Instead I record in this story, a gloriously mad splitting apart into all the varied fragments of myself – bits I vaguely suspected were in there, and bits I was entirely unaware of.

A man is walking alone at dusk in the remote hills of Westmorland, an ancient county in the North of England. Coming down to a quiet mountain tarn, he discovers a woman, dressed entirely in Victorian costume, apparently waiting for him:

“Are you real?” I breathed, half expecting she would turn to smoke and disappear.

I remember she focused upon me with one eyebrow slightly raised, querying, challenging, inquisitive: “What would you do if I said not?”

She sounded real enough. “I don’t know. Are you telling me you’re not real?”

She lowered her gaze to the waters of the tarn. “Not at the moment,” she said.

“Then I’m seeing things?”

“Yes, I’m pure fantasy.”

I’m not sure what the remaining two hundred thousand words will read like to anyone who has not lived this story, as I have lived it. It will be compellingly mysterious I hope. Most commentators have said kind things about it, and it’s from this I take comfort that I am not imposing something on the world that is merely self indulgent. That said, it is a literary novel, not a thriller; if you’re expecting guns and fast cars and globe trotting assassins, you’ll probably find it a bit turgid.

It is a story in the Romantic tradition, and an explanation to myself why it is I feel and think and see things the way I do. Its genesis marks also the point at which two distinct personalities emerged from my psyche – the day-job Michael, and the other, the one who writes and who is gradually taking over the primary host personality. I am becoming him, as the characters in the Lavender and Rose also became something other than their host personalities. Or perhaps these were the people we were meant to grow into anyway, but something stopped us along the way.

The day-job Michael lives his regular sort of life, a nine to five, modern sort of life, a life spent mostly fitting in with the world of forms, which means doing things that are incomprehensible to him. This used to make him ill. He was sure he wasn’t meant to live that way, and aspire to nothing greater than what the material world seemed to offer. In tackling the Lavender and the Rose, the Michael who writes escaped, and began to live the kind of life the day-job Michael needed him to in order for them both to survive. Balance was duly restored, but only by adopting a view of life that was distinctly old fashioned and Romantic.

Romanticism is a very long essay with only vague conclusions. But it contains within it a spiritual philosophy, loosely defined and having no real interest in belief, nor evangelism. I am a mystic. I sense a connection between an essentially immortal part of myself and the universe, and I choose to both explore and express that connection in ways that are distinctly off-piste. I find clues to it in Buddhism, Daoism, Hinduism, also neo-paganism, and Hermeticism. But I find it too in art and in the natural world, its pulse running through all things. But it is a presence realised only when the world is viewed through the lens of the Romantic imagination.

The grand old age of Romanticism was officially declared over in 1850, coinciding with the passing of William Wordsworth. But nobody informed the Romantics, and there are still a lot of us around.

The Lavender and the Rose was a great pleasure to write and has been a great pleasure to revisit. It’s available for free in various formats at Feedbooks, or in its newly revised edition – containing fewer typos, I hope – at Smashwords.

 

Michael Graeme

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