Thursday, 29 August 2013

Localising Amazon links

If you look in my left sidebar, under the heading "Buy, Buy, Buy", you'll see something for Amazon that looks like this:
Amazon: (UK | US | BR | CA | DE | ES ... etc
Messy, isn't it? What I need is a way of having just one link to Amazon, but which localizes depending where in the world you are. Something like this, maybe:
Amazon
Now what this should do, if you have JavaScript turned on in your browser, is take you to Amazon UK if you're in the UK, Amazon US if you're in the US, Amazon BR if you're in Brazil... and so on. If you're in a territory that doesn't have it's own Amazon, you'll be defaulted to the US .com site, as that's the one you'd probably use. And if you don't have JavaScript turned on, you'll get taken to the UK site because, let's face it, that's where most of my readers are.

But before I change my sidebar, I need to know whether this works properly. I've written all the code myself but, being in the UK, can only test the UK scenario. What I'm looking for here is help from people in other countries. If you're not in the UK, please could you click the lovely localised link above, then tell me where you're from and where the link took you in the comments section, below. Thanks very much!

EDIT: because this is a Blogger-based site and, by default, renders differently on mobile devices, I've had to change the link slightly - wherever you are in the world, if you're looking at the mobile version of the site then the link above should take you to Amazon UK. Sorry. It's a constraint of where the JavaScript resides...

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Elmore Leonard... your ten rules live on

Given his recent passing, it seems as good a time as any to reiterate dialogue-master Elmore Leonard's ten rules for writing, after which I will stop blogging other people's writing advice for a while, I promise. Anyway, the late Mr Leonard - here goes.
  1. Never open a book with weather. If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a charac­ter's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead look­ing for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.
  2. Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday, but it's OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: "I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks."
  3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But "said" is far less intrusive than "grumbled", "gasped", "cautioned", "lied". I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated" and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" ... he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs".
  5. Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.
  6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos­trophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants", what do the "Ameri­can and the girl with him" look like? "She had taken off her hat and put it on the table." That's the only reference to a physical description in the story.
  9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things, unless you're Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.
My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
RIP.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

The first rule of Writing Club is...

I've blogged about other rules for writing before (here and especially here), so I'm loath to repeat myself, but when a whole wad of writing advice comes from Chuck Palahniuk, I have to pass it on. Here it is, verbatim.
In six seconds, you’ll hate me. But in six months, you’ll be a better writer.

From this point forward—at least for the next half year—you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.

The list should also include: Loves and Hates. And it should include: Is and Has, but we’ll get to those later.

Until some time around Christmas, you can’t write: Kenny wondered if Monica didn’t like him going out at night…”

Instead, you’ll have to Un-pack that to something like: “The mornings after Kenny had stayed out, beyond the last bus, until he’d had to bum a ride or pay for a cab and got home to find Monica faking sleep, faking because she never slept that quiet, those mornings, she’d only put her own cup of coffee in the microwave. Never his.”

Instead of characters knowing anything, you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them. Instead of a character wanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it.

Instead of saying: “Adam knew Gwen liked him.” You’ll have to say: “Between classes, Gwen had always leaned on his locker when he’d go to open it. She’s roll her eyes and shove off with one foot, leaving a black-heel mark on the painted metal, but she also left the smell of her perfume. The combination lock would still be warm from her butt. And the next break, Gwen would be leaned there, again.”

In short, no more short-cuts. Only specific sensory detail: action, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.

Typically, writers use these “thought” verbs at the beginning of a paragraph (In this form, you can call them “Thesis Statements” and I’ll rail against those, later). In a way, they state the intention of the paragraph. And what follows, illustrates them.

For example:
“Brenda knew she’d never make the deadline. was backed up from the bridge, past the first eight or nine exits. Her cell phone battery was dead. At home, the dogs would need to go out, or there would be a mess to clean up. Plus, she’d promised to water the plants for her neighbor…”

Do you see how the opening “thesis statement” steals the thunder of what follows? Don’t do it.

If nothing else, cut the opening sentence and place it after all the others. Better yet, transplant it and change it to: Brenda would never make the deadline.

Thinking is abstract. Knowing and believing are intangible. Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing. And loving and hating.

Don’t tell your reader: “Lisa hated Tom.”

Instead, make your case like a lawyer in court, detail by detail.

Present each piece of evidence. For example: “During roll call, in the breath after the teacher said Tom’s name, in that moment before he could answer, right then, Lisa would whisper-shout ‘Butt Wipe,’ just as Tom was saying, ‘Here’.”

One of the most-common mistakes that beginning writers make is leaving their characters alone. Writing, you may be alone. Reading, your audience may be alone. But your character should spend very, very little time alone. Because a solitary character starts thinking or worrying or wondering.

For example: Waiting for the bus, Mark started to worry about how long the trip would take…”

A better break-down might be: “The schedule said the bus would come by at noon, but Mark’s watch said it was already 11:57. You could see all the way down the road, as far as the Mall, and not see a bus. No doubt, the driver was parked at the turn-around, the far end of the line, taking a nap. The driver was kicked back, asleep, and Mark was going to be late. Or worse, the driver was drinking, and he’d pull up drunk and charge Mark seventy-five cents for death in a fiery traffic accident…”

A character alone must lapse into fantasy or memory, but even then you can’t use “thought” verbs or any of their abstract relatives.

Oh, and you can just forget about using the verbs forget and remember.

No more transitions such as: “Wanda remembered how Nelson used to brush her hair.”

Instead: “Back in their sophomore year, Nelson used to brush her hair with smooth, long strokes of his hand.”

Again, Un-pack. Don’t take short-cuts.

Better yet, get your character with another character, fast.
Get them together and get the action started. Let their actions and words show their thoughts. You—stay out of their heads.

And while you’re avoiding “thought” verbs, be very wary about using the bland verbs “is” and “have.”

For example:
“Ann’s eyes are blue.”

“Ann has blue eyes.”

Versus:

“Ann coughed and waved one hand past her face, clearing the cigarette smoke from her eyes, blue eyes, before she smiled…”

Instead of bland “is” and “has” statements, try burying your details of what a character has or is, in actions or gestures. At its most basic, this is showing your story instead of telling it.

And forever after, once you’ve learned to Un-pack your characters, you’ll hate the lazy writer who settles for: “Jim sat beside the telephone, wondering why Amanda didn’t call.”

Please. For now, hate me all you want, but don’t use thought verbs. After Christmas, go crazy, but I’d bet money you won’t.

(…)

For this month’s homework, pick through your writing and circle every “thought” verb. Then, find some way to eliminate it. Kill it by Un-packing it.

Then, pick through some published fiction and do the same thing. Be ruthless.

“Marty imagined fish, jumping in the moonlight…”

“Nancy recalled the way the wine tasted…”

“Larry knew he was a dead man…”

Find them. After that, find a way to re-write them. Make them stronger.
Good advice, no?

Monday, 5 August 2013

The Last Crusade...

... in which I pursue the Holy Grail (geddit?)

Getting onto Amazon.com's Top 100 list is a big deal, I reckon. A lot of Kindle owner's check that on a regular basis. I'm not talking about genre-specific lists, I'm talking about the big guns: Amazon's top 100 paid-for Kindle books and the top 100 free.

It's a big deal because once you're on there, lots of downloads follow and, presumably, book sales of other titles too. That's the theory anyway.

I run two titles under Amazon's exclusivity programme KDP Select, namely Turn Around Where Possible and Cold. Periodically, I give these away free. The nearest either has ever got to the top 100 list was when Turn Around... peaked, for a few short hours, at #113. To get that high, more than 2,200 free copies were downloaded.

What's all this building to? Well, I'm going to have one more crack at the Holy Grail, the top 100. I've scheduled for both titles to be free on Amazon, simultaneously and worldwide, on the 31st of August and 1st of September. I've submitted my promotion's details just about everywhere I can think of. I've given plenty of notice to untold Twitter book promotion accounts. I've scheduled a number of promotional tweets myself on a (hopefully not too annoying) regular basis. And now I'm blogging about it.

So I need your help. If you have a Kindle, Kindle app or Kindle for PC, you can download either or both of these short stories. I hope you do. I think you might like them. But also please tell your friends. Maybe flatter me with a retweet when you see me plugging the big push. And if you run or write for a book review website or blog, please let me know and maybe we can do something.

Think of this as an experiment. Can a little known indie author crack the top 100 free list with a self-published short story or two? Let's find out...

EDIT: I should add that I have no promotional budget for this: zero, zilch, zip, and other words beginning with zed. So to those that have suggested I place an ad with Bookbub (starting price $70), well, it's a nice idea and everything so thank you, but no...)