Friday, December 30, 2011

Be the first to read my sequel!

If you are biting your nails because you can't wait to get your hands on the sequel to No Wings Attached, here's a chance to do so very soon. Or if you haven't read the first book yet and are curious what it's all about, but didn't get around to buy it, fear not, with a bit of luck you'll be able to snuggle up with the romantic comedy this weekend.

Read2Review is hosting a book give away today. And the lucky winner will receive No Wings Attached right now, and Candlelight Sinner in January, pre release. You'll be the first to read it and it's for free. All you need to do is answer a simple question and spread the word, then the books will be yours. And who knows, maybe I'll throw in another two for two more lucky winners?

So, what are you waiting for? Tell everyone who can't run fast enough and keep your fingers crossed.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Tip of the week: How to do major rewrites

Major rewrites was something alien to me. I must admit having had the huge task before me for the first time, I had my struggles in the beginnings. I get easily confused if you give me three sheets of paper, let alone doing it on screen. Everyone has a different system and I received some advice which, frankly, didn't help me. I never edit on paper, for it doesn't have a better effect than on screen, at least not for me. I'm talking major edits: deleting huge chunks, moving/rewriting/adding scenes or characters. That's nothing you could do on paper, at least I can't.

Since I'm an editor myself, I often make my clients do the same, but they have an advantage: I tell them where or what to cut or add or even how. So they have guidance. Something I didn't have. Okay, that's not entirely true; I had a few wonderful people reading the book and giving feedback. They confirmed where I thought the book might need work. And I can officially say that, at some point, the book bored me stiff. And I couldn't even blame someone else for it, no, it was all my fault. Luckily, I followed my own advice and didn't touch the book for several months, which results in me reading with (almost) fresh eyes and that again resulted in my deleting an impressive 9k. 

Here's how I tackled the massive undertaking:
First, I copied the complete book into a new document and saved it
Then I read through it and made comments on what to add along the way (highlighted them in yellow) and deleted all the boring bit and bobs.
A few things I wanted to keep to use later, I copied into another document named miscellaneous
When I had finished reading the whole book, I started to rearrange scenes; I had one in the end that I wanted to place smack bang in the middle of the book and did exactly that.
That drastic move meant I needed to iron out the seams so it wouldn't confuse the reader later.
After that I went to find the yellow highlighted comments and added a scene, character or prose, depending on what the comment said. I wrote those in a new document to make corrections easier.

This concept seems to work for me and I will use it in future, if I ever need to do a heavy rewrite again. I'm not finished yet, but I refilled 2k of the 9k I lost. I might not make the 76k I had before, but it doesn't matter. 72k is a good size, too. As long as it's a tight and enjoyable read.

How do you go about it? The same? Completely different? What's your secret weapon?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

No Christmas for me

I mean it: no Christmas for me. To those of you who have read my book Excuse me, where is the exit? know already, that I'm not the biggest fan of Christmas; far too stressfull and most families end up drunk or fighting or both. I prefer to use the time and -- for once -- peace in the house to get some work done.

How can you not like Christmas, you wonder? Well, apart from the fact that I'm not religious, I think it's fake and spiralled out of control, into a commercial day. Nothing's about love and sharing anymore, instead it's about who's got the biggest, most expensive presents. The charities run riot and fall over each other in the supermarkets to appeal to the good heart of people. I personally think people who have much more than others should share when they can, on every day of the year. If all who have more would think about those who have nothing every day of the year, the world would be a better place.

Many say: oh it's just for the children. Yes, it's nice to have the Christmas tree and have the children sitting on Father Christmas's knee, but why do they need all the masses of presents from their parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles? To me, that's training them from an early age that Christmas means a lot of presents. It trains them to become materialistic.I don't think that's the meaning of the fest.

Don't get me wrong, I do like the idea of getting together, sharing food, wine, love and laughter, but which family really has these idyllic days? In many families it's pure stress, mother spends all day in the kitchen, kids come home, eat, take their presents and leave for the party with friends.

I wonder how many people are actually out there, celebrating what they have in each other. I personally love surprising people on any time of the year, by giving them a little something as well as telling them how much they mean to me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sweet & Sour Lentils gone wrong

Recently, luck walked out on me, and in a hurry to get away it must have stumbled over the cable of my fridge freezer, pulling the plug. When I came home with a bag full of shopping, I found the food in my freezer defrosted and had to throw away quite a bit, the rest is going to be used in a cooking marathon over the next few days.
Today, I decided to use the bacon and duck breast; to go with it, I thought sweet & sour lentils would be a great idea. And as I'm a bit of a Blumenthal, always trying new things, I added apples to the lentils.
Here's the thing: if you ever have people coming round your house and you want it to be their last visit here's the recipe that'll make sure of it:

I used: 
soaked green lentils
half a red onion (chopped)
three slices of smoked bacon (diced)
a small apple (chopped)
a far too generous amount of vinegar (it wasn't on purpose, I swear)
an equally good amount of honey to make it look like you know what you're doing
vegetable stock

Sweat the onions and bacon in some oil, add the lentils and apples, cover with the stock, then let it simmer until the fluid is gone. Turn the heat off when you put the meat in the pan.

Score the skin of the duck breast, season with salt and pepper. Heat a pan with a bit of oil, then put the breast in the pan, skin side down. Fry for about two or three minutes, turn the heat down to medium. Turn the breast and leave it for another three minutes. Depending on the thickness and how you like it, keep turning until ready. Let it rest for a minute or two, put the lentils onto plates, slice the breast and place it on the lentils, decorate with whatever you like. Voila!

Looks brilliant, but taste vile, trust me. Not the breast, but the lentils. Just watch your visitors' faces as their eyes water from the sharp sting of the vinegar and smile.

Tip: cook the lentils the same way, but without the bacon, vinegar and honey and you're in for a treat :-)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Pass me the tissues, please.

When I logged into my e-mail account today, I found a rather complimentary letter from a guy who said he enjoyed my blog immensely. Ah, I thought, that's something nice to wake up. then, when I read on, my smile dissolved. It seems that with so many bloggers, the job directories are catching up, or better people who try to make money like the big jobsites like monster, stepstone and the like. They contact bloggers with a sob story to get them to link to their sites. For free of course. Legit companies have set aside a certain budget for advertising and won't get in touch with private bloggers. This particular company is registerd in Cyprus, so it says in the e-mail. I didn't bother to check. I've had quite a few e-mails of this kind in the past and I wonder how many people fell for it. This one was so great, I had to share it.

Excerpts of the e-mail:

"I just want to thank you for your wonderful blog."

Here is where my smile appeared.

"I read the post "Newsletter: return to sender" and then I spent another hour on your blog by reading your posts with pleasure :) Every article is interesting and easy to read."

Oh, oh, oh, you're going to offer me a freelance job as a content writer, aren't you? I thought, excited about the prospects to have some extra money doing something I love. Perhaps even at a good rate. I read on

"I really like the "I love my flat, but not the neighbours"."

Really? I'd like to know why? It's nothing more than a boring list of events and it ends in me saying that it's taking a toll on my health. You're rather weird, you know that?

"I work for Jooble company, we aggregate job adverts around the world."

Right, and what has that to do with my -- as you say -- wonderful blog? Now out with the job offer. Chop Chop!

"My job is to persuade bloggers to link to our site."

I'm confused you signed off as 'account manager'. But that aside: I'm guessing this is not a job offer but you'll try to 'persuade' me now?

"I really love my job! We have a friendly team and good management, but unfortunately I have no idea how to convince a blogger to link to us, I'm afraid I might lose my job because of it :("

Awww. You poor thing. Seems like your blogger persuasion skills are non-existent then?

"And that is why, instead of sending letters to thousands of different blogs, I am reading yours."

Are you saying, my little blog will make up for thousands of different blogs in the search engines? Wow, that's brilliant. Let's get down to business. �500 a months for an advertising link on my blog? Come on, your company can write it off next April.

"Our site is really cool, it can greatly help hundreds of people to find jobs."

Great, so why are you not trying to find a suitable job for yourself then?

My offer stands, you pay me �500 each month and I'll put a link to your company's website. Deal? Let me know when you're up for it. You have my e-mail.


Stella Deleuze

PS: Don't tell a blogger you spent over an hour reading his or her blog. I have an insight as to how long visitors stay, what they looked at and where they came from.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Please do not disturb: my iguana, my king

This was just too cute I had to share. After a relaxed doze on his top shelf he came down for a bit of a cheek rub. He loves it. But first things first: I fed him some spring greens, holding the huge leaves, so he can -- like they do in nature -- perforate and rip pieces off. He looked rather happy munching away.

Then, he decided it's time for a massage. Since he normally doesn't enjoy being touched, these rare occasions need to be savoured. As soon as I stroked his cheek, he dropped his feet and melted into the cork-bark.

 If an iguana does that when you touch it, he's definitely relaxed. ------------------------->

 See the back leg stretched, a good sign.

You can see he enjoyed it. After five minutes, though, he had enough and buggered off. :-)

Man I love this animal, with all his faults and troubles and even with all the aggressions, these are the rewarding moments.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Self-publishing: it's crucial to be realistic

I read it more and more on writers' websites that authors, being fed up with getting rejection after rejection, are eager to self-publish. Often accompanied by the words 'I've heard so much about all the success stories, I'm thinking about it, too.'

As much as I support self-publishing at some point, I can't help but wonder how they define 'success'. Would they call one book a week a success or maybe one book a day, perhaps ten books a day? And I wonder if they know how little they get from each sale. Unless they start with a novel at $2.99, which is what you need to have to receive 70% royalties, but readers are more reluctant to buy. If you price it lower, you might get more sales, in fact you have to make many more sales to have the same royalties you'd get from one sale with $2.99 (about �2, I think)

I had priced my novel at 99c to start with and sold 65 in the first month. I then put the price to $3.49/�2.50 and the sales dropped drastically. Might be the subject matter (paranormal romantic comedy), but it could easily be down to pricing.
Reviews from independent blogs didn't seem to boost sales either. Now don't understand this as a moan; I've always said, you never know if a book sells or not; despite good reviews readers didn't exactly queue to buy the book. It's just something one has to accept. I will release the sequel to No Wings Attached in Janurary and will see how it picks up and if it picks up, if it will push the first book's sales, too. If not, then there's not much I can do other than writing them off as 'good books, but nobody wants to read them'.
Unless you couldn't care less about sales, for most of us self-publishing is a full time job; the press release, the plugging, the guest appearances, interviews, blogging, give-aways, talks, signings (if you have paperbacks), blog tours, etc. Marketing isn't to be taken lightly, because it's crucial to selling, unless you have a highly commercial book in a popular genre, like Thriller, for instance. Then it might pick up without you doing anything, especially if it's of good quality.

My short stories have been rather consistent in sales, I had them on a low price from the beginning and they have been perceived well by readers, which I'm glad for. Still, I personally wouldn't call rougly over 3500 sales (kindle only) since March as successful -- others might disagree -- but to me success begins if I sell about 1000+ in a month, because that's when your book is visible in the Amazon charts.

I think the sales figures often sound much better than they actually are. I receive 30% of each sale for 86p. Again, I'm not complaining, it's not a whinge, I'm just trying to bring across the reality of self-publishing to those who are dreaming. Hocking, Locke, Leather and the likes are the exeptions of the rule. Certainly, there are a few inbetween who sold over 10k or more books, which is fantastic, but the majority of authors struggle in the lower ranks, competing against the vast amount of new authors who release their books daily.

My advice is to be realistic, don't expect anything and if success comes around the corner by surprise, you will be more able to enjoy it.

Note: I'm refering to amazon kindle and smashwords here, as I don't have experienced B&N yet. Smashwords, to me, has not been proven the right platform, which might be due to less promotion because I have my main sales through Amazon.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Newsletter: return to sender

Yes, that's another social media rant. Recently, I started to receive e-mails from several review sites and other people I've been in touch with. Somehow they seem to think it's okay to add me to their mailing list  to update me on their bowel movements. Guess what? It's not! What makes you think I am so bored that I need to read several blog posts a day, dear Sender? Hm? Care to explain?
Though I do understand that reviewers or authors want to gather a solid following and visitors who come regularly to read their offerings, I find it rather annoying to be bombarded with e-mails, especially if I didn't sign up for it. Marketing is important, but certainly not that way. In fact it's the easiest way to get rid of me. If I work with a review blog, I'm all up for posting the links, on twitter, on facebook on other platforms; I do want to help spreading the word, but if you force me to read your stuff, I'm less inclined to be honest. Yes, and I have to admit that even your chirpy 'Hello, it's me again' fails to make me smile.
Almost every site or blog has the option of an RSS feed or other subscription buttons, don't you think I'm intelligent enough to click on it, or fill in my e-mail address if I wanted to receive updates? Just a suggestions.
There is a difference between targeting your market and spamming and I consider receiving e-mails I didn't ask for as spam.

Especially you, Review bloggers. You see, the time I spend clicking through the process of unsubscribing, I could have read your post and be on the way to comment or I could have tweeted about it, if I found it be tweet-worthy. But please tell me why I would want to tweet a review of a book I didn't even read? Maybe I wouldn't like the book and then I tweeted something in the world wide web, and people who trust my taste, go and buy the book and are bitterly disappointed if they don't like it, blaming me. Or is the purpose of your e-mail a try to sell me the book? Well, if I was short on reads, I would know where to go since I have your site somewhere in my favourites.

I'm an author, not a reader. Maybe you should think about who your audience is. Surely it's not the authors whose books you agreed to review? I mean, I'm a reader, too, but mainly an author, so why do you pester me with your e-mails about the newest reviews? Or did I misunderstand? Did asking you if you want to review my book entail a life-long subscription with your site?
If that's the case, I'd rather not have my book reviewed by you. You see, I thought you want to reach readers, because only readers will make you big and only readers are important to us authors. For some reason, I find you got the wrong end of the stick.

But be assured, the next time I receive an e-mail from you, I'll hit the unsubscribe button until I have my peace back.

Monday, December 12, 2011

I love my flat, but not the neighbours

Some of you might know, or even be fed up with my constant complaints about my upstairs neighbours; let me tell you one thing: if anyone has a right to be fed up, then it's me. Why?

Okay here's what happened:

In August 2009, two girls moved into the flat upstairs and from then on my life was filled with terror. One of the girls began to work in a pub around the corner and regularly brought her new friends home after work; bags filled with bottles banging against my door when they entered their flat at 2am, a herd of elephants stomping up the stairs and since they were drunk, they turned up the volume of the music, shouted, laughed loudly, etc. At the weekends, she would have parties with about 30 people, who constantly went up and down, past my flat, making it impossible to work, to read, to sleep, in short: to live. I tried talking to them, stood in their flat at 3am, then 4am and 5am to tell them to turn down the volume again and even asked her to come down to 'hear' from my perspective. It didn't help. When the other girl moved out in March this year (2011) my landlady, to whom I complained regularly, got rid of the noisy girl and I had peace for a month.

In April, the next pair of girls moved in. I'll never forget that day. It was a Sunday. We quickly said hello when I heard all the rumbling and stomping in the hallway and they said they'd come to introduce themselves properly. Okay, I thought, that's a good start. When I wanted to visit my friend I found the handlebar of my bike so heavily moved, that I couldn't use my bike. After trying to re-adjust it, I went upstairs to ask for help. Reluctantly, the one guy sitting in their living room came to help. Arseholes! was what I thought and I knew they woudn't be any different to the last girl. That bike is my property and if you don't tell me to remove it for the duration of the move, then, at least make sure, you won't damage it!

Only one week after they moved in, on a Sunday, I had to knock at their door heavily at 0.30am. Reason: they were wrestling upstairs, throwing each other onto the floor, shouting, screaming, etc. Everything in my flat vibrated. A guy came downstairs talking to me. Odd since it's girls who rented the flat. He apologised and said they'll keep it down. Yeah, right!
At 1.30 am I knocked again, this time I was furious. I knocked about fifteen minutes -- actually, I heftily banged my boot against their door. Finally, the guy opened again and I blew off. Then, one of the girls came down and told me I'm rude to ask them to go a level higher where I won't hear them. And if I couldn't bear the noise I should move out! Me? Rude? Okay, I didn't ask them friendly anymore, but then I don't think I needed to since I told them an hour beforehand that they're disturbing me with their behaviour.

From then on, I've been disturbed frequently, in fact, if they are at home, I'm always disturbed. They come home late at night, having people around and sit upstairs shouting, stomping, having everything in my flat vibrating. They also slam the doors daily. The concept of closing them without slamming is new to them, it seems.
This house was not build to be separated as flats, it was a family home, and was converted into two flats. What's really bad is that they didn't seem to sound-proof the house. It's a timber-framed house, which means every door slamming will travel through my flat. Even if they slam the door downstairs. I have no idea what they're doing upstairs, but Thursday I was ready to kill. For 12 hours one of them was stomping upstairs. Back and forth, back and forth. I felt like sitting in a carton and someone drummed on it constantly and I had no way to escape. When they are at home, they are constantly moving around. Okay, it's what they do, but can't you move around without interfering with other people's life? I have laminated flooring and even when I have visitors, nothing vibrates when they go to the loo or kitchen briefly. It feels as if they are stomping their barefoot heels on the floor, sending vibrations down to my flat. The glass in the vivarium is actually rattling. They even wake the iguana occasionally,  so do they wake me and I sleep with earplugs. One night was particularly bad. They thought it's funny to sing loudly at 4am on a Monday morning.

I've tried to explain it to them in a friendly way, I've complained numerous times to my landlady, who said she'd call them, I've been in touch with the council, who said they can't help me because it's not loud music/telly, I've spoken to anti-social behaviour who said there's nothing they could do. Frankly, I'm at the end of my tether. I have to call my landlady on a weekly basis. It'll be okay (ish) for a few days and then it begins again. I've been firm with my landlady because it's her responsibility, not mine, to make sure I can live in peace. All she does is ring them up and recently she sent a letter. They still don't change. I wish there was a law that landlords could be fined if they don't get their tenants under control. It's their flats and they make money, it's their job to keep it peaceful. But all she sees is her money. I told her it's also bad sound proofing, she doesn't want to know anything about fixing it and rather has me moving out, I think. That's the only one option I have and it saddens me. I love my flat; apart from being cosy, it's close to all shops, bus stop in front of the door. Quiet from below and to the left, mostly quiet to the right. It's just those upstairs idiots who can't graps the concept of respect. And that it's possible to be respectful shows that it's quiet from anywhere else. No parties around me, just them. And it was possible before, never had any problems until 2009 (I moved in April 2007).

What I hate the most are stupid suggestions by people who never experienced this kind of nuisance: just buy some earplugs or headphones. Yeah, so great. And you think after 2 years of terror, I didn't think of that myself? If it would work, I'd hardly complain, you get that? Or other suggestions like: just play loud music yourself at 7am. Yeah, right. Their bedrooms are a level up, above THEIR living room. It'll hardly do the job. Or: put some rotten meat in their flat or throw a stink bomb. Yeah? And how do I get into the flat? By crawling up the drain pipe outside? Very funny. Noisy and respectless neighbours aren't funny and if you don't know the situation, shut up!

After over two years of terror, I finally have to make a decision and it's a hard one, but the situation has taken its toll: my health is going downhill.

Okay, that was a very long post, I could have given more details on what I actually tried to do, but it would fill pages. Two years of pure hell isn't easy to put into a short text.

If anyone has had or still has the same problems, please feel free to comment.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Give small presses and new publishers a chance

Last week, I posted about vanity publishers and how to recognise them. This week I want to concentrate on how to find the right publisher for you.
I'm deliberately leaving out the big six, because you probably won't get a deal with them without an agent. In fact, even the smaller publishers who are big in business won't deal with authors directly anymore. But this is not the end of the road. Maybe you have exhausted the agent-route and have been rejected by the independent publishers of your choice and all you want is to have your book out there. Before giving up, keep in mind there are still other options.
In the age of e-books, more and more new publishers surface and are open to submissions. They will often offer to publish your book in e-format first and if successful, also in paperback. Some will only stick to e-books. This model provides something very important to those publishers: testing without a massive investment. Print costs are terrifyingly high if you don't go for POD.
Why would I go with an e-publisher if I can do it all myself? you ask. To be fair, it's a valid question. Then again, many people with busy lives don't have the time or knowledge to edit or proof-read their book, let alone knowledge of formatting, cover design or the intense marketing that is required before and after publishing. They'd have to pay good money to get their book into a presentable stage. So why not submit to a small publisher who will then -- in case they offer you a contract -- take care of all that. Sure, there's still some work involved -- the edits/revisions need to be done, but as soon as the book is published, the author can relax and has not invested money, but will receive some in return.
I'm often amazed about the arrogance of some writers who snort at a new publisher, saying they won't go with a company that has not yet or maybe just one author at the moment. I can't help thinking: who are you to dismiss this new company trying to give new wannabe authors the chance to get their books out there? Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about those who want to make the quick money with desperate souls, I'm talking about start-up companies, new publishers with a love and passion for writing and books, those who are fully commited to do whatever they can to help their authors soar; those who provide all services, are legally registered and offer a fair deal. What's wrong with being the first author? I mean, they're taking the greater risk with you, being a nobody in the writing world and they still invest money because they believe in your writing, in you.

Of course it's crucial to see if you're a good match; do you have the same goals? What do they offer for the royalties they're taking from the sales? Do you click with your  assigned editor? Etc. There is a lot to be considered. It's rather important to research them, to find out about them, talk to them openly about your concerns. With small presses you often are more like a team member and the people are more open to your suggestions or worries.

And besides: even the big six have started somewhere. Who knows, maybe this publisher who is unknown today, will be best known for the quality of books they publish and you can proudly annouce, you were the first.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Touching a reader's heart is hard

At least I find it difficult. Anger, I can do, frustration I can do, humour is easy, but touching a reader's heart so that he or she actually reaches for tissues? That's damn hard work.
There aren't many books that made me cry, but movies, oh hell, movies do the job. Why? Because they have the violins to emphasise the sad situation. Same goes with thrillers or horror; the bass and high pitched sounds of the violin will have you sit at the edge of your seat.
As authors we have to paint the picture more clearly, we have to draw the reader in so he or she feels like the character, as if he or she is in the book or has the scenes forming a motion picture before their eyes. A tricky job. I admit I had my fights with dramatic scenes in both books, No Wings Attached and Candlelight Sinner, but according to my Beta readers I've managed in the latter. One said I had her reeling for a moment and the other one told me yesterday that she actually was in tears. She said it's amazing how much you can get attached to the characters and worry with and for them. Not that I like making my readers cry, but it made me a little proud.

I think the problem for me is that writing those sob-scenes means to lay open a part of me. To write them I need to feel them, to picture them, which means I have to be sad, too. Rather annoying if you are in a happy place, to be honest; just press the button and be sad. Doesn't work that way, I'm afraid. If I were able to do that, I'd probably be an actor. One reason, by the way, to refrain to even try being one.

Bringing tears to a reader's eye, for me, is the ultimate writing challenge. You need the action, the words, the facial expressions, the gestures. Everything counts.

Here's what I do:

She sat down and cried bitter tears. <-- does that make you feel sad, too? No? Me neither.
She gasped, her eyes filled with moisture and her lower lip quivered. With one hand, she reached out to feel his pulse. Nothing. She couldn't feel anything. One tear rolled down her cheek, followed by another; until they build a steady stream. She didn't bother to wipe them away; instead she leaned forward and pressed her ear to his chest. "Please don't be dead, please don't leave me! I love you," she whispered desperately between her sobs. He lay still, the world -- her world  -- had stopped moving and only her weeps echoed through the room.

Okay, might be a bit over the top and I told you I'm not the best when it comes to dramatic scenes, but I'm getting better at it.

How do you write them? Do you find them easy to write or do you struggle, too?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Life's good, finally.

Name: Zorro
Breed: Iguana 
Age: Six and a half years
Size: 4'9" snout to tail (150 cm)
Weight: 13.22 pounds (6kg)
Preferred food: Wild rocket, watercress, leafy greens in general, cress, alphaalphabutternut squash, beansprouts, carrots, figs, dates, and plenty of it.

This is another part of my diary: (Apologies if the tenses are screwed up, I'm trying to get my head around them.)

Before you get the wrong idea, I don't want to complain. Guess it could be worse than living with that ugly creature, but there are times I really want her to bugger off and stare at that thing she likes so much.
Not long ago, I was rather, let's say, horny and all I wanted was one wonderful, maybe two or three females to mate with, but, no, I had to sweat it. Can you imagine how it was to want sex for months and have no opportunity? Well, yes, that's how I felt. And to make matters more complicated, the other male that cockily nodded at me wouldn't go away. My attempts to chase him off were rather painful, my snout and nose were swollen and it wasn't pleasant, believe you me. At least he didn't get any sex either, that was some sort of consolation.
In addition to that, I didn't have an appetite. The ugly creature put heaps of green leaves in my house, but I just ignored it. Thought, perhaps when I don't eat, she might get me a woman. Can't be that difficult, can it? I'd have put up with a random girl � any girl � but my desires weren't heard.
Then, as if that wasn't enough of suffering, she came with a wet thing and pressed it on my snout. I thought, what the heck is going on? It hurt and it wasn't particularly tasty either.
One day, when I just lay sleepily on my high look out, I saw something that raised suspicion: the dark thing and I knew it's not going to be a good day. Hell, I had just woken up and there she came, entering my house and ripping me from my place, only to stuff me into the dark thing, fold my tail to my side and close it. I wouldn't give up without a fight and struggled, tried to turn around quickly and escape, but she's bigger and stronger. No chance for me. Then, all went dark. I still heard her making funny noises, but as much as I tried to move around and get out again, I was truly buggered.
I hate being in there, it feels like the ground is shaking and not very comfortable and it goes on for ages.
Anyway, hearing her was only a slight relief. I wanted to see what's happening! To show her how much I hate it, I did a huge business. Not that it helped. I also learned it was the wrong decision, because I had to put up with the smell.
When I finally blinked into brightness again, I looked into two more ugly faces. Brilliant, I thought, I've seen them before and I know they'll hurt me. On days like that, I hate my life, wondering 'Why me?�
And surely, I didn't have to wait long before I felt a pain in the upper end of my tail.
Ouch! I tried to get away, but what can I say? It was three against one. I was clearly outnumbered.
And right after that I was allowed to stretch my limps. I ignored all of them and took a thorough look around. Then the female grabbed me firmly and soon it was dark again. Defeated, I settled down and accepted my situation.
Ages later, I was back in my own house. And although I wasn't big on eating, she brought something new, something very, very tasty. I was hooked the second I bit on it the first time. Whenever I see her placing it on my lower hang out, I come running. Often a mistake, because to get it I must go close to the entrance of my house and there she stands, waiting. I have the choice between mouth-watering sweet treat or her flesh. Guess what I go for? I even let her touch me, she can come in handy when it's itching. My eyes, my cheeks, mainly my eyes, though. And she's really good at making the itch go away temporarily.
Well, apart from that special one I had. Glad it's over � feeling normal again, the hunger's back, too and I said it before and will gladly repeat it: when it comes to food, the ugly female has very good knowledge of what I like.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Broccoli-cauliflower cream soup for the soul

It's getting cold in the UK and what could be nicer than a freshly prepared cream soup to warm the heart? It doesn't take long to make and can be eaten as a starter if you entertain guests, or on a week day when you come home from work and can't be bothered to spend ages in front of the cooker.

Here's what you need:   
A few broccoli and cauliflower florets (perfectly great from the freezer)
Vegetable stock powder/cube
A cup of milk
Curry powder

Put the frozen vegetables into boiling water and let them simmer for a few minutes. Transfer the vegetables with some of the water it cooked in into the blender, add a stock cube or the powder, season with salt, pepper and a pinch of curry powder, add the milk and blend until smooth. You can add some sour cream or Cr�me fraiche for more silkiness.

Best with French stick.

See, it's that easy to cook a fresh soup; there's really no excuse to open a tin. Also a wonderful meal when you have a surprise visitor.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Vanity publishers, how to recognise them

Writers want to be published. That applies to about 99% of us. Which is fair enough, but the way to publishing can be a bit of a mine field as there are plenty of companies out there that try -- and often succeed -- to take advantage of the desire. Scams, or vanity publishers will e-mail desperate, on a fine string of hope clinging, writers, telling them how much they liked their manuscript and that they want to publish it.
The immediate flattery will often cause a fuzzy warm feeling and let the writers' hearts swell and often enough, it will lead to acceptance and a signature on the dotted lines. Not long after that, they'll wake up, realising the mistake they made. They often give away their rights, they pay for the printing and non-existing marketing, sometimes they pay nothing, but won't earn anything either, since the book won't sell. They don't get their books edited, often only formatted and the royalties are ridiculously low. They are encouraged to do the marketing, beginning with friends and family; their 'publisher' won't move a finger.

And there are quite a few on the hunt for new and inexperienced 'victims'. The concept seems to work, since those vanity publishers pop up everywhere.

A twitter friend has signed with one of those, his e-book cost �3.50 on the publisher's website, �3.45 on amazon. If you want to read a sample, you need to log into the publisher's website and 'add it to cart', even if it's for free. You can download the sample without any problems through amazon's kindle store but there's not hint on the site. The publisher makes it difficult for a potential buyer. I know from the author that they didn't edit the book. They also offer a proofreading service for money. Big fat warning sign.
Companies like that are usually listed at Preditors & Editors, a site I would urge everyone to check out before signing anything. The offer might sound wonderful, but the traps are hidden in the small print. Also check the company who's contacting you by googling them.

Here are a few signs that should have you running for the hills:

- they ask for money upfront
Money always flows to the author
-the publisher mentions many books and famous authors, but their website doesn't list any 
It's always worth to check the website first, then do your reseach. Do you know the authors? Heard of the books? Many claim to be a long-standing successful company, but their only success is to lure unsuspecting writers with a dream who pay a far too high price in the end.
- the publisher contacts you and praises your book based on a small excerpt seen on a writers' website or on your blog
Unless it's a start-up company, publishers usually are flooded with manuscripts in their slushpile and don't need to actively search for new talents. But even a start-up company would always ask for a full manuscript and  your book will go through all the editing and proofing stages like it would with a one of the big six
- the publisher offers you a contract a few days after you send either, a partial or full ms
A publisher won't offer you anything unless they've read the full ms (fiction only) and they normally ask for changes and rewrites, even if mininal, assign you an editor, meet you/talk over the phone, etc. before they offer you anything. There are a few exceptions when an author has been offered a contract immediately, but it's not common. Publishing is business and they don't throw their money/time at someone unkown.
- the publisher presses for the signature
No publisher will put pressure on you. They will give you the time to read the contract carefully, have it checked by someone (there are specialists for this industry), will be open to negotiations
- the publisher doesn't answer your questions
Usually means they have something to hide. Wishy-washy answers or turning into a 'what we can do for you and your money' is not the practise of a reputable house.
- the publisher says your ms is perfect and doesn't need any edits
Every publisher will edit to a certain extent. Sometimes, your ms might be rather clean, but they will still try to adapt  it to their house-line. And there's no manuscript that doesn't need editing. Even famous authors have their ms edited.
- the publisher offers several services like editing, proofing, formatting, etc. for money
A reputable publisher won't have time to spare to do such jobs.

If you receive an offer, even if it's one of the big six, always have your contract checked by a professional. Never sign anything without it. If you have a solid offer, it shouldn't be difficult to find an agent (worth if you have more novels in the line) or find a solicitor who specialises in that field.

That's all for today.  If you have something to add, please do so; the more people are aware of the techniques of vanity publishers, the better.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Oi, foreigner, learn English before you talk to me

Okay, the title is a bit over the top, I know. I love teasing you :-)

I just came back from the Polish shop and not for the first time. I think for the past six months or so I've been in there fairly regularly. They often have products similar to Germans stuff, i.e. a particular sausage you can't buy anywhere else than in a Polish shop, probably not even in the German Deli -- not that I go there often.
When I asked the girl behind the counter to cut the slices thinly, she looked at me with puppy eyes, then nodded and I knew she had no idea what 'thin' means. I repeated it and she ignored me. No idea if she thought I'm talking to myself, most probably didn't she understand what I was saying. In any way, I found it rather rude.
When we went on to the next sausage I had to use my hands to explain what 'thin' means. She understood raw (or so I think) perfectly fine, when I asked about something else.
I keep seeing that phenomenon a lot and I wonder why people don't care about the language of the country they live in. Even if you don't plan to stay forever, why don't you take the opportunity to learn a new language? English comes in handy everywhere. I don't expect people to be speak near native, but to be able to hold a conversation or at least have a basic vocabulary. Yes, it's a Polish shop and maybe they don't like English people (I doubt she knows I'm German, or worse, she knows and can't stand Germans), but I'm always friendly, say hello, please, thank you and even try ask for for some products in Polish.

It was always beyond me how someone could pass on such a great opportunity to learn, to broaden their horizon. Language is the ultimate basis of communication. I'm constantly amazed that I, being German, can mingle with people from all over the world, learn from them, laugh with them, teach them, etc. and that all because we have one thing in common: we are able to speak English.

Cultural differences aside, when women aren't allowed out of the house or speak to others (yes, sadly it's still happening in the year 2011), I will not understand that people can't see what they're missing out by not stepping out of their comfort zone and at least try.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Flattery will get you... nowhere

Yes, that's right. It won't get you anywhere if you're searching for constructive feedback. No matter which field, if you have smoke blown up your arse, you might feel all fuzzy inside, but you won't improve what you need improve.
Recently, one of my clients tweeted me that she wasn't happy that I didn't like her book, but as a result she's been through her ms several times and says it's now improved.
I tweeted back that I wasn't paid to make her happy, but to help her make the ms better. I admit, I was harsh with her, but she knew what she had signed up for. Of course I could have told her how great a writer she is and that her book will make it into the bestseller lists. But I prefer honesty over flattery. Always.

A few weeks ago, I had part of my literary fiction piece up on a writers' website and since it's about two writers meeting and getting to know each other through said website, it was easy to relate for its members. My book received raving reviews, from 'I read on, mesmerised' to 'one of the best books I've ever read on here' and a few asked if I'll post more. Two wondered if I could pull off the rather unique style for the complete length of a 80k novel, and one questioned if a reader, who has no writing experience -- let alone participated on a writers' website, would understand the concept. I can safely answer yes to the first question, the second remains to be seen.
Sure the compliments were rather flattering and since I'm extremely shy about this book and hesitant to show it to the world, it was wonderful to know it wasn't dismissed by my fellow scribblers. In fact, only my best friend fell asleep over it, but she said it was difficult to read since she's so close to me. That's about the only negative comment I received and I'm beginning to believe I'm onto something with this manuscript.

Then again, I''m my worst critic and not happy with it. Don't get me wrong, I love the book, I love the prose, I love the honestly that oozes from it, but I find it's not there yet. It needs tweaking here and there, some additions and a few passages will be deleted. And, knowing me, I will work on it until I'm satisfied.
For the time being, the book is in the capable hands of Sean, a wonderful man I met through twitter; he is sort of my target audience, not a writer, but a reader and a smart one, too and he'll be able to answer question number two.

Certainly, we authors are delicate souls, but how will we be able to improve without constructive criticism? The three people who were wondering about the style and the content were the ones mirroring my existing doubts, those niggles in the back of my mind that tell me the ms needs more work. It doesn't mean I'll hit the delete button and the book will never see daylight. No, quite the contrary; it means I'll put all effort into it, to make it as beautiful as it deserves.