12 September 2008

Do Humans Have a Future in Space?

Space habitation in our solar system will probably be driven by two factors: the urge to explore and money. If it becomes cheaper to mine raw material in space then we will inhabit the asteroid belt and send resources back to earth, and then to self contained habitats.

Longer term, and more distant colonization will have to be undertaken by self contained space ships that stop to mine and replenish resources as they go. Maybe they will even duplicate themselves on the way as their population expands, but what would be the incentive to set off in the first place. I would guess it would be private money driven by social, religious or political agendas i.e. groups who could see no future for themselves on earth, much as early European settles migrated to America. A continuous migration of this sort would offer the best long term hope for survival of our species. Many, maybe most, of the ships would be destroyed, but maybe a few would survive to spread the human race to other parts of the galaxy.

Whether the inhabitants, after many generations on board their self contained ships would want to settle on an uncertain planet once they reached their destination is an interesting issue. I would guess that if they saw their new planet as an easy source of resources they would slowly start to colonize it as they realise the benefits of fresh, free air.

Of course, if we had to abandon the earth in an emergency it would be impossible to save more than a small number of humans. Would this be the ultimate lottery? Or would NASA select only those most likely to survive? Or would seats go to senior politicians and the highest bidders (would we want the future of the human race to be in their hands)? Their chances of long term survival would be extremely unlikely. Better surely, to ensure the long term survival of the race, to gradually migrate to the solar system and then the stars? I feel a story coming on here.


08 August 2008

Plot Complications - Nick Travers Writing Tips

Below is the best explenation I have ever found to explain the relationships between all the elements of a plot. This is lifted directly from Nathan Bransfords blog :

"Think of a book like a really big door, preferably one of those Parisian ones that are thick and heavy and last hundreds of years. Here's how it breaks down.

The premise is what happens to knock the door ajar. Something sets the protagonist's life out of balance. Preferably something really intriguing or like totally deep man.

The climax is when the door closes. Maybe the protagonist made it through the door, maybe they didn't make it through the door but learned a really great lesson about door closing, maybe the door chopped them in half.

The theme is how the person opening the door changes along the way. What's the plot? The plot is what keeps the door open!! Why can't that person close the door? So basically, plot is a premise plus a major complication that tests the protagonist. It's what opens the door plus what's keeping the door from being closed."

To keep a reader interested a non-fiction book should follow a similar pattern. A travel book is probably the easiest example - why did the author go, what kept them travelling, what caused then to come back, what did they learn along the way.

Nick Travers


05 August 2008

Plot Writing - Nick Travers Writing Tips

The primary function of a fiction writer (and arguably a non-fiction writer too) is to tell a story. For me, coming up with a good story is the hardest task of all – if writer’s block afflicts me at all this is where it hits. So here is an exercise to help develop our story muscles:

Every writing day try to sketch out three plots, nothing large, three simple lines will do it:

A three line plot consists of:

  • A Premise

  • A Complication

  • A Climax

The more you practice plot writing the easier it becomes, and sooner or later you are going to hit on that original plot that turns into your next novel.


01 August 2008

Print On Demand goes mainstream - Nick Travers On Writing

Following on from my last post about digital rights management for authors, comes this article from the Sunday Times. How soon will it be before Borders introduce these machines? Think of all the floor space Borders could save by digitising its entire stock and just holding popular titles.

Financially this would make good sense for Borders to reduce its overheads - say good-bye to all those lovely open spaces stacked with books.

01 July 2008

The Poverbial Shotgun - Nick Travers Writing Tips

The shot gun technique is so well known, and anticipated, by audiences and readers that omitting it becomes as big an error as over using it.

The shotgun technique is best illustrated by reference to westerns where it is used extensively. The camera zooms from a general view of the bar to highlight a shotgun hung on the wall behind the barman. The existence of this weapon has now been raised in the viewers consciousness so it must be used by the end of the film. If it is not used the viewer will feel deprived.

On the other hand, if a shotgun is suddenly produced to resolve a critical plot-line, without having been shown first, viewers/readers may feel cheated, because they never had the opportunity to anticipate this scene (technically called a ‘deus ex-machina’, ‘God out of the machine’: a cheep story device introduced to rescue a failing plot line). So if your character is suddenly going to produce, say, a knife to win a fight, you need to make sure your reader knows the character has a knife and can use it.

If you are writing a thriller/crime/mystery, where your reader knows the villain is killed, you could highlighting a gun, a knife, and a rock. This will increase the anticipation as the reader tries to work out which weapon will be used.

Except in the above scenario, it is best not to use the shotgun technique to create red-herrings. For that, it is better to use a MacGuffin (see earlier post).

In short: If you show it, use it; if you have used it, but not shown it, edit it in earlier.

10 June 2008

E-readers Create Waves At BookExpo America – Nick Travers On Writing

E-readers will not mean the death of books. They will, however, change the way agents and publishers select books for hard printing and the way books are marketed. Authors may well have to prove they can market and create an audience for their work before a printer takes them on, and agents may have to get more involved with the marketing of their authors

The main difficulty for e-readers will be finding quality amongst all the dross. Those books that are printed should have already proved themselves on some level of quality or popularity before they make it to hard copy so I think the printed word will still be popular. Anyone who can work out a website that sifts the quality and offers reliable ratings tables will hit the jackpot.

What will happen to the editors? Will they still work for publishers, all be freelance or even work for the agents?

I’m currently offering my YA book Helium3 as a free download. Partly, I believe that if readers like it a proportion will purchase a POD hard copy, and partly I want to hone my e-marketing skills, and have a developed website, before I approach agents. Will this improve my chances of landing a publishing contract? I don’t know, but I think it a worthwhile exercise in any event.

I’ve recently listed my novel on SmashWords.com which offers it as a download in every e-format. So far no sales, but if anyone wants to read it (free download) and leave a review I would be most grateful.

Nick. NickTravers.com

05 June 2008

The MacGuffin – Nick Travers Writing Tips

The MacGuffin is a device use by script writers, particularly in action an adventure films, to advance the action and maintain the audiences interest. I’ll expand on this in Nick Travers Writing Tips, but for the moment just a summary.

A MacGuffin is an object that all the characters are interested in and that propels the action forwards. It is normally an object, but could also be a person. It could be the main objective of the protagonist and antagonist which drives the action throughout the entire film. It could be a step on the way to the main objective or it could be totally unrelated to the main objective and be completely forgotten by the end of the film. It’s purpose is solely to provide focus and move the action along. It’s a technique which readily transposes to writing.

In Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows you could say that the Horuxes and the Hallows are MacGuffins. They provide the necessary focus and motivation to propel the action forwards.

So when you are next planning your adventure or action story, consider whether you have a MacGuffin or whether you need one. How many MacGuffins do you need? One overall object to provide a focus for the entire story or several steps along the way, or both. How about one to propel a (sub) story along, or maybe a red-herring?

A MacGuffin can also be a useful fix if you are editing and you realise your story just doesn’t hang together. Is there an object/person already in the story which can be turned into a MacGuffin (even if it is a complete red-herring) or can you introduce one. Look for ‘shotgun’ objects. By that I mean have you focused on an object in a part of the story but not used it – like the proverbial shotgun hanging behind the bar in a western: if it is shown it must be used by the end of the film.

22 May 2008

Tax Issues For International Sales – How To Promote My Book On The Internet

My main markets, as my book is written in English, are naturally going to be the UK and the USA. I am looking to achieve sales of printed versions of the book by offering free downloads: I figure if people like hooked by the first few chapters of the download that will be willing to purchase a hard copy. Obviously there are no tax implications for the download, but I find I have overlooked the Sterling/Dollar exchange rate when selling hard copies to America. A paperback book price of £5.99 translates into something like $12.00, plus P&P – too expensive I believe for my younger US target audience.

The answer, I believe, is to also self-publish the book via a US based Print On Demand publisher. For cheapness, and because I may later want to attempt and assault on their best seller list, I have chose Amazon. Publishing via their subsidiary Createspace.com produces a book listed on Amazon US at a cost price of under $8.00 + p&p. A price more acceptable, I believe, to my US target audience.

Now the tax bit. As a UK citizen I could end up paying double tax on any potential profits by publishing direct in the US: Tax deducted on the sales by the IRS and UK income tax to the Revenue. To avoid this issue, if I ever decide to sell for a profit, I will need to complete a form W8 and possibly W7 for the IRS so I become exempt from US tax. CreateSpace.com have a good explanation here.

I now find that to cover all angles I have published the book in three different places: Lulu.com (PDF download and Sterling hard-copy), Smashwords.com (all e-reader file formats), and Amazon (Dollar hard-copy).

You may well ask why I’m bothering with the US market. The answer is that I have good reason to believe Helium3 might be more suited to the US market than the UK market. Also, there are far more US readers online and as I have chosen to market via the Internet I would be foolish to ignore this vast potential audience.

20 May 2008

What sort of website should you build? – How To Promote My Book On The Internet

If you are wondering what sort of website to build it will depend very much on the type of information you want to present, how you want to interact with your readers, and how you intend to make use of the website. There are currently four different types of website:

Information only: this is simply an extension of your business card. It allows you to show off what skills you have and what you have produced to date.

A collaborative or social site: you invite people to join in and contribute, either to showcase their own work or produce a collective work. WritersInTouch.com is a good example of such a site.

A blog: offering news, reviews, and general gossip.

A marketing tool: this sort of site is used to directly market your book. To do so you need to offer more than just information about your book/work and a blog, you need to offer some quality content/articles that people want. This is the sort of site I have opted to develop. I have decided to offer articles on novel writing in Nick Travers Writing Tips, articles on e-promotion for your book in How To Promote My Book On The Internet, and this blog under Nick Travers On Writing, as well as offering articles and background on my book, Helium3. All for offerings are tied together with the NickTravers.com website as a front door. Any ‘sales’ (free download) of the book will be achieved on the back of those offerings. Later, once I have built up an audience, I hope also to offer some sort of collaborative/social element to help coach young writers.

What sort of site you decide to build will depend on how you wish to use the site and the amount of day-by-day effort you intend to devote to running it. This is worth spending some time thinking about as it may well influence where you build your site, who hosts it, and how much you should pay for it.

18 May 2008

Smashwords.com v PanMacMillan.com – Nick Travers On Writing

In order for e-books to breakthrough into the mainstream one of the criteria I stated the other day was a well respected site where the best seller list offered better reads than traditional retailer’s lists. I don’t think that site exists at the moment, though, Amazon US deciding to only allow self-publishing through its subsidiaries is, I believe, a recognition of this fact. Any-road-up, I have found two sites that are worth a look:

First off: Smashwords.com. The beta for this print-on-demand site, launched on the 6 May 08, offers to translate the word file of your manuscript into all available e-book formats. This potentially makes it a one-stop-shop for anyone with an e-reader. All Smashwords.com needs now is decent e-readers (e-books) to take the market by storm. If they can successfully establish themselves with a reputation for having quality books and a respected best seller list they will be on their way.

I have already published Helium3 on the site (as a free download) so can I tell you that it is easy and straightforward to use. Not yet as sophisticated as Lulu.com, and with some obvious missing functions but I’m sure it will improve. The owners seem keen, professional, and business-like. One promising part of the set up is that the owners have their own PR company. The PR team have their work cut out, but if they can persuade big name publishers/authors to sell their e-books through their site I’m sure they will make their mark.
If anyone would like to leave a review of Helium3 on Smashwords, feel free to do so here.

Secondly, I was directed to the PanMacmillan.com/new writing site. This intriguing site promises to publish one submission per month as a Print On Demand hardcover book. You can buy the books via PanMacmillan.com. The aim is to publish material that PanMacMillan like but do not consider commercial enough to publish via their retail channels. If, however, the book proves popular with readers then MacMillan might well purchase if for their more traditional publishing routes. No advance is offered, authors receive 20% of net profits and their manuscripts are ‘lightly edited’ by a MacMillan editor. Is this a sign of things to come?

I can’t help thinking that right now Smashwords.com ought to be talking to PanMacMillan because this is exactly the sort of material they need to be offering.

15 May 2008

The Perfect E-Reader - Nick Travers On Writing

What would the perfect e-reader look like? For a start, we need to get away from the idea of an e-reader and embrace the idea of an e-book. I don’t want something that looks and feels like a clipboard; I want something that looks, feels, and works like a book. Something like this picture maybe? This is the proposed new OX2. This is an exciting design.

When I open a book there is a lot more going on in my mind that a merely craving for information. There is the anticipation of pleasure: I sit back, settle into my seat, open the cover, support it in one hand, raise it to the right height, and start to read on the right-hand page. I then move to the left-hand page, shifting the balance of the book as I do so . When I reach the bottom of the left-hand column, I turn the page, am presented with two fresh pages, shift the balance of the book in my hand again, and start reading at the top of the right-hand page.

Psychologically, even though I know I am holding a piece of technology, I would still crave the experience of opening a book. If I want to read purely for information I will open up my laptop, but when I go to read a book, even an electronic book, I want it to feel like a book. There is something pure and uncluttered about a book – which means I don’t want it covered in buttons. I want full pages of text, nothing else.

I’m currently holding a 135mm x 195mm x 14mm CD-Rom case, this would be a good size and design for an e-book. So the main features of an e-book I would want to use are:

  • It feels like a small book when you pick it up.

  • You open it like a book.

  • It has two pages or two screens: one on the left, one on the right.

  • When I turn the page at the bottom of the left-hand column, both pages/screens change, so I can start reading at the top of the right-hand page again.

  • No buttons, so it will have to be touch-screen technology.

The workings of books are so engrained in our being and society, and so familiar to us that they cannot be redesigned. As soon as tech designers realise this we will get some really interesting e-books on the market.

Basically, I don’t want someone to redesign the book or change my reading experience, I just want an electronic book. Something which is more convenient, easy to travel with, isn’t going to clutter up the bedside cabinet or weigh down the briefcase, but offers the same pleasurable experience. If someone comes up with one of those, at a reasonable cost, I’ll have it.



09 May 2008

Are we in a golden age for books? – Nick Travers On Writing

At the moment it seems to me that the retailers are driven by the best seller lists and the best seller lists are driven by corporate marketing budgets. This means that what publishers take from agents and what new writers agents take on is basically dictated by corporate marketing managers. For all the protests of publishers/agents loving books, corporate money is still king.

All it would take to blow this whole industry apart are for official best seller lists to include downloads and self-published sales.

When will this happen? When a really good, affordable, e-reader hits the market and an online review/best seller/POD/download site emerges with a reputation for offering better reads than in-store best seller lists. Serious readers will flock to it and the customer will once again be king.

Then, agents and publishers will take on writers who can hit the new best seller lists and anyone who hits it on their own efforts will be pursued by a flock, or is that a herd, of agents/publishers.

Does this mean the good times for writers are just round the corner? Unfortunately not. For writers such a paradigm shift will purely introduce a new dynamic: a whole new set of hoops to jump through on the road to being published. In this new world, though, impressing the reading public will help hugely in getting published. This is good news for readers everywhere.

Obviously I don’t think the Kindle is the e-reader the market is waiting for – it’s the wrong design - just too much like a PDA. No e-reader will ever replace books, but for readers to be happy using an e-reader as a substitute it will have to look, feel, and perform like a book. Nothing on the market so far meets those criteria. But it is only a matter of time.

05 May 2008

Promoting the Author v Promoting the Book – How to promote my book on the Internet.

Should my website promote me as a writer or should it promote my book?

The short answer is you should seek to promote both. You are seeking to promote something different in each case. Your readers and your agent or potential agent will want you to promote yourself. Remember, your name or your pen name is a brand. If you use more than one pen name you will need a web presence for each pen name (brand). If you have more than one book I would suggest you need a web presence for each book or series.

If you are an unpublished author then look upon your website as a tool to help you land an agent/publisher. Your website should concentrate on you as a writer and what you have to offer by way of promotional talents. I would recommend that your main web presence should be YourName or YourPenName.

However, you should also tie your main site into one of the free sites named after your book MyBookTitle.FreeSiteName.com. Why a free site? Because a publisher may well want to change the title of your book before publication so don’t waste your money on buying a domain name just yet. This site should concentrate on promoting your book. If you have more than one book/series you will need a separate web presence for each title.

If you are a published author, I would recommend you follow the same strategy, but invest some money in purchasing a domain name for each of you book/series titles as well as one in your own name/pen names(s). If you are worried about what should be in each page I’ll tackle that in other blogs.


03 May 2008

A review of Summer the Holiday Fairy – Nick Travers On Writing

Summer the Holiday Fairy – Highly recommended.

Another well crafted entertaining story in the Rainbow Fairy’s series. This time Kirsty and Rachel return to Rainspell Island, the setting for their first adventure with the fairies. Selfish Jack Frost had pinched all the sand for his own holiday home – a giant sand castle for him and his goblins. Rachel and Kirsty have to help Summer the Holiday Fairy return the three magic sea shells to their underwater cave to restore order to the real world so everyone can enjoy their holidays.

The Rainbow Fairies should be a publishing phenomenon on a par with Harry Potter. The content, villains, and story lines are perfect for the age of readership they are aimed at. These stories are perfect to read to girls aged 5 – 8 and for girls 7 – 11 to read themselves. Having three girls we are getting a lot of mileage out of each one. Yes, they follow a ridged formula, but for the age group they are aimed at this is perfect.

The story lines are straight forward and easy to understand. Jack Frost and his goblin helpers are suitably mean, without being evil, and often humorous. Rachel and Kirsty are personable, appealing to young girls, and always manage to trick the goblins in a non aggressive clever way.

As a parent, one of the other things I like about the books is that Kirsty and Rachel manage to have their adventures whilst still playing a full part in family life and not being separated from the adults for very long in each adventure.

Great fun for parents to read to girls, with short chapters (which helps limit the reading time at bedtime), and great for more confident readers to pick up for themselves.


01 May 2008

Re-branding the Website – How to promote my book on the Internet

Search engine optimisation is one of the first things I have explored in my bid to promote my book on the Internet. Part 1.

One of the first issues to consider in creating a web presence as a writer is whether you pay for a domain name e.g. YourName.com and build your own website or use one of the free blogging/social sites e.g. YourName.Blogger.com or YourName.Facebook.com.

It depends of course whether YourName or YourPenName is still available as a domain name. If not and you really want your own domain name don’t despair. Try some other options e.g. YourNameOnline.com, .co.uk, .net. me.uk etc or YourNameOnWriting.com, YourNameAuthor/poet etc. A search engine will pick up YourName regardless of what else is in the domain name. There are far more important consideration in getting YourName onto the first page of the search engine, this holds true whether you have your own domain or use a blogger site. You’re a writer, be creative.

Using a blogger site is the cheaper option though you will probably have to use a standard template so it will limit your creativity. If you are just testing the waters I would recommend using a free site, like blogger, so you can experiment before committing any serious money. However, if YourName.com or YourPenName.com happens to be free, snap it up before someone else does, it’s not going to cost the earth and could help you find a main stream publisher.

In my bid to promote my book on the Internet I have just purchased NickTravers.com as it happens to be free. I will use it to solely as a landing page which automatically directs users to my blog, NickTraversOnWriting.Blogger.com, and my other pages. In the mean time, I’m re-organising my web pages to maximise my chances of being picked up by a search engine. More about this in later blogs.

Whilst I would recommend using a free site to test the waters when you set out to promote your book on the Internet, I would not necessarily recommend one of the social sites for this purpose. While social sites are useful tools and an essential part of your arsenal, I believe they serve a distinctly different purpose – again more about this in a later blog.


29 April 2008

Promotion is king – How to promote my book on the internet

Self-publishing my book (POD) is the easy part, now I have work out how I promote my book on the Internet.

This may come as a shock to new writers, but most of the promotion for our books is down to us, the authors. Even if you win multiple book deals and your publisher gives you a large marketing budget it will soon be gone and they will have moved on to the next big thing leaving you to continue to promote your own book.

The perceived wisdom is that you should spend as much time promoting your book as you do writing it. This is certainly not why I write and it could be considered the ugly side of writing, but if you agree that the worst thing for any writer is not being read, you are going to have to learn something about how to promote your work.

It seems to me that if I’m to stand a chance of getting myself know as an author I need to learn something about how to promote my book on the Internet. Why the internet? Well, believe it or not, the majority of books are no longer sold through book shops, but by direct purchase. Therefore it makes sense to me to concentrate on learning to promote my book on the Internet. Besides, it can be available on the internet long after the shops drop you book from their stock list.

My aim is to reach the stage where I spend no more than 30 minutes a day on Internet promotion.

I could pay someone to promote my book on the internet, of course, there are plenty of optimisation companies just waiting to take my money and provide this service, but I’m a Business Analyst by trade, with a background in sales, marketing, and distribution. I should be able to work this out for myself.

Therefore, in future, this blog will become focussed to a large extent on how I promote my book on the Internet. I hope you will be able to join in the journey.


11 April 2008

Review of The Book Thief - Nick Travers On Writing

I finished this book a while ago now, but I never blogged about it. What a great read.

What I really liked about this author’s technique is the way he pre-empts action in the choice of words used in his prose before the action happens. So where someone is about to die the few paragraphs before will use descriptive words associated with death. Where someone is happy the descriptive words used reflect this emotion. This is a technique I’m going to try and use occasionally.

The other thing this author does is tell you who dies right at the begining of the book. This makes writing the ending much more of a challenge, but even though you know what happens he still manages to write it in such a way as to make it chocking.

The Book Thief – Highly recommended.

Adopting a Pen Name - Nick travers

I have had a break from writing for a few months while I work on other projects. During that time I have made some important decisions concerning my work.

The first, as anyone who follows this blog will have noticed, is that I have changed my name. In fact, I have adopted the pen name of Nick Travers. Why? Because I am job hunting at the moment and I’m wary that a potential employer will not take me seriously if they also see I write. Who is Nick Travers? Just a character I once used.

Secondly, I believe I have taken the first Mervyn Bright book, Helium3, as far as I can without either an agent or editor. It is therefore time to move on and devote serious time to the second book.

Thirdly, inspired by the experience of author Paulo Coelho, who has found that online pirate versions of his books actually increase sales because they spread awareness of his name, I have decided that while I am searching for an agent I will self publish Helium3 and offer it as a free download. This will give me (or at least Nick Travers) valuable experience in online marketing. Helium3 is self-published through Lulu.com in the name of Nick Travers. Printed versions are also available through Lulu.com at cost price.