Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Zoe Sugg, Penguin, and why I'm an Indie Author

Let me start by saying that I know that I am behind the times and this story broke a few days ago, let me also say that until today I had no idea who Zoella, or Zoe Sugg was, nor had I heard of her debut book Girl Online.

More importantly, I have nothing against Zoe Sugg, or her book.

That said, this story caught my attention today. For anyone who doesn’t know (as I didn’t until I started researching this blog post) Zoe Sugg is a YouTube celebrity with millions of followers, who was offered a book deal by Penguin books, and whose debut novel outsold the debut offerings of JK Rowling and Dan Brown in their first week of sales.

Now let’s ignore the fact that neither Dan Brown, nor JK Rowling had millions of followers before the publication of their books, and that their debut books sold purely on the basis of their writing talents, because that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about the ‘revelations’ that Zoe Sugg didn’t write her book completely on her own. In fact it now seems that she had the help of ghost writers and editors.

Here’s the thing. I have no problem with Zoe Sugg. She made a smart business decision that is no doubt going to make her a tidy sum of money. She’d have been silly to turn it down.

I have no idea how much or how little she wrote of the book. But there was one quote from her that spoke volumes. To me at least. When talking about the involvement from the editorial team, she said:

“Everyone needs help when they try something new.”

She’s right. They do. But I think where it rubs me up the wrong way is this. Most writers don’t publish their first book. Most writers bury their first book somewhere and hope it never sees the light of day. Because we know that we have to develop our craft. We have to hone our writing skills. We write and we write, and we edit like crazy and we become better writers. Most of us don’t get that first book deal handed to us on a silver platter. And out there is the ghost writer, who did hone her craft, who developed her skill and became a great writer, and who isn’t getting the credit because she’s not a big enough name. And that makes me sad.

Sugg has said that the characters and idea are all her own. But there is so much more that goes into writing a book. Weeks, months, even years of working on plots, sub-plots, dialogue, character growth, the prose itself. These are the hard bits. These are the bits that take skill.

Trust me, Zoe Sugg, coming up with the idea is the easy part.

But no, my problem is not with Sugg, the problem I have is with the publishers. In fact, with the traditional publishing industry in general.

This whole story is just another sign of how the traditional publishing industry is failing. Failing itself, failing truly talented authors out there, and more importantly, failing readers themselves.

It seems that there is an ever increasing slew of celebrities publishing books – almost all of them ghost written. These books sell in huge numbers because of the ‘brand’ behind them. Great for the publishers. Not so great for the rest of us.

I understand completely that publishing is a business. And the goal of any business is to make money. Otherwise what’s the point. But increasingly, it seems, the publishing industry is throwing away any kind of integrity, or standards, in the search of big sales.

There is a quote from Penguin that I find particularly interesting:

“As publishers our role is, and always has been, to find the very best talent and help them tell their story and connect them with readers.”

Right. But the problem is, they didn’t go out looking for incredibly talented young writers to hone and encourage their talent. They went looking for a big name that would sell books. They didn’t care about the content, they cared only about the name on the front cover. Their role as publishers should be to find the very best writers. Not just any celebrity who can sell a few copies, even if the work isn’t their own.

Which tells us what?

That traditional publishing isn’t interested in finding new voices to tell you unique and interesting stories, or about finding beautifully written works of art. They’re interested in sales. Full stop. End of story. And I have to admit, in the laziest way possible. Who needs marketing when you have a book that’s guaranteed to sell?

And people wonder why more and more writers such as myself aren’t even trying to go the traditional publishing route. We’re not interested because we know they’re not interested.

What message does this send to the struggling writer out there? Want to write a bestseller? Don’t write an amazing, original, well written book, just have a lot of followers on Twitter or Youtube, and then let someone else write the book for you.

Every time a story like this comes out I lose just that little bit more respect for the traditional publishing industry, and I ask myself, is it any wonder that more and more writers are turning to the Indie, or self-published route?

I think not.

A Rockin' Review of Kiss Me Dead by Dale Ibitz 

Purchase on Amazon

Kiss Me Dead is a great book that tells the stories of two characters-- a reaper and a girl who can see reapers.  While, in some respects, it follows the paranormal formula, the beautiful writing really sets it apart.  The stories are told in parallel, and intertwine in the present-day thread of the story, where the reaper enters the life of the girl.  Romance and numerous questions follow.  Can the guy be trusted?  The answer is "probably not", which makes for an interesting tale as the two characters navigate through this strange relationship.

Dale Ibitz has a definite gift for description.  As a person who appreciates writing for *writing*, I was just *wowed* by the beautiful use of language and fresh, interesting way she has of putting things across.  From my perspective, that was the most awesome thing about this book.  There are a lot of teen paranormal books out there, and only a few of them with writing anything like this.

Things that held me back (note that these are personal opinion): 
  •  I just didn't *feel* the characters, especially the girl.  She was kind of "meh" to me.  I'm honestly not quite sure why I felt this way, because the character is fairly well-developed.  I think maybe it was because she was kind of in-your-face, but then she didn't *do* much about it.  And then she was also described as angelic, but I didn't see that shine through in her actions.  I liked the reaper character better-- he was tragic and I *love* tragic characters.  
  • The other thing that bothered me was the insta-love.  I personally need more from characters than a couple of meetings before they declare undying love.  But then, I'm not a teenager, either.  I don't imagine that the book's target audience will have a problem with this.  So yeah, both of these things are just opinions and I doubt they would hold true for a lot of readers. 
Things that rocked:
  • The writing.  I can't say this enough.  Beautiful writing.
  • The portrait of Giltine, goddess of death.  She was awesome.  Actually, the whole otherworld was awesome, but especially Giltine.  Ibitz created this amazing visual of the goddess.  I was frightened and intrigued.  I wanted more of her, but she scared the hell out of me.
  • This is related to the previous comment, but there was a freshness about some of this story that was great.  Even some of the expected elements had a fresh take on them.  Ibitz took the paranormal reaper thing and gave it her own spin so it is not just another paranormal book by any stretch.
  • Tension-- sexual and otherwise.  There are a lot of what-ifs and OMGs in this story.  The characters obviously want to be together, but it looks like a really bad idea.  And then you never know if the reaper is good or bad.  For that matter, one of the supporting characters is also deliciously indiscernible.  Bad guy?  OK guy?  Hell, even the goddess of death leaves you wondering.  I definitely enjoyed that about the characters.  Also, there are a lot of high stakes in the storyline.  So yeah, tension.  Tons of it.
Overall, I thought this was a great book.  I think that the problems I had with the story are mostly a product of me not being the target audience.  And despite those hang-ups, I truly enjoyed reading this book.  I was absorbed in it and found myself wanting to keep reading.  I would definitely recommend this book.  I think the writing was absolutely as good as any book published traditionally.  Awesome read!

Connect with Dale Ibitz





Wednesday, 3 December 2014

A Rockin' Review of Anthem's Fall by S.L. Dunn


Purchase on Amazon

This book was recommended to us by a reader.

Anthem's Fall is like an intellectualized comic book.  Crossing scientists with flying superhero-style aliens, it is surprising and interesting.  The book focuses on ethical issues revolving around scientific discoveries and advancements, and then tests those stances by introducing an unexpected threat.  It is both a moral, cautionary tale, and, well... something like a comic book.

I love comic books, so I was totally there from the beginning.  However, having heard it was something like a comic book, I was surprised when the beginning read much more realistically.  I thought it was very interesting how Dunn firmly grounded the book in the real world before introducing more unbelievable elements, and I think this lent gravity to the story that wouldn't have been there otherwise.

I was pretty sure that I knew where the story was going from not-that-far in.  However, there were a number of surprises that kept me guessing.  The story was well-written, and crafted beautifully.  Dunn proves that he knows how to weave a story expertly.

As far as things I *didn't* like, they are mostly matter-of-opinion.  I felt that the battle scenes were incredibly long.  I was kind of like... "They're fighting *again*?"  I wanted it to be over.  In this respect, I'm going to be a bit sexist and say this is a "boy story".  I wanted more personal-level interaction and more depth.  Not to say that the characters were not well-done, but they were more intellectual than emotional.  I like emotional.  That is really the only place where the story fell short for me.

What rocked:
  • The writing was great.  Solid.  Professional.  I don't see a lot of writing of this quality in Indie books, to be honest. There were only a couple of typos.
  • Twists.  While I wouldn't exactly call these "plot twists", there were some cool reveals.  One I loved in particular.  Totally didn't see it coming.
  • The epic feel of the disaster.  Beautifully described.  I felt like I was living part of the nightmare.
Overall, a solid book that I really enjoyed.  It will be interesting to see what happens in the next one.

Connect with S. L. Dunn