Thursday, 22 March 2018

Passive Promotion, by Dan Metcalf

I have new book in the pipeline which brings me to the age-old quandary of the independent writer – how much time to I devote to promoting and marketing the thing? Should I go all-out and promote like crazy or simply get on with the next book? Try as I might I can’t seem to reconcile in my head that these two very different disciplines – writing and promoting – are part of the same job. I’m a writer and therefore I must do both, but they feel so polar opposite that they may as well be separate; one involves locking myself in a room with a laptop and the other has me out in front of whole schools, acting like a buffoon. Jekyll and Hyde had it easy.

So I have a few things set up that might help market my book while I slave away over a hot laptop (seriously, it gets mega-hot. I think the fan’s broken). First is a twitter account which I have set up to autotweet with promo messages. The book is called Dino Wars and so I have collated 100 or so of my favourite dinosaur jokes ('Why did the dinosaur cross the road? Because the chicken hadn't evolved yet!") and set up a set-it-and-forget-it spreadsheet which will tweet out at whatever frequency I desire (currently every 6 hours – don’t want to over-do the auto tweets or peeps start to unfollow). I follow them up with a hashtag #dinowars and a link to a landing page – a page on my website that has the blurb of the book, an amazon pre-sale link and a place to subscribe to my newsletter.

I have also pre-scheduled my facebook page to post an image twice a week. Mostly these are images I made on the free tool Canva using review quotes from lovely people who allowed my publishers to send them proof copies. (Some I made on free graphic program Inkscape) 
It also helps to have nice, eloquent friends and reviewers to send them to.

I’m friends with a fantastic local animation company, Yellow Mouse Studios, which have created an amazing poster: at first glance it is just the cover of the book, but scan it with an augmented reality app and the graphics come alive!

This can be put up in bookshops or sent (even by email) to schools to print out for their own libraries and book corners.

I made a book trailer that hopefully does a lot of the talking for me; this was made by grabbing the images by the brilliantly talented Aaron Blecha from the proof PDF, importing them into Windows Movie Maker and layering over a piece of music from the free music archive. The end result can then be uploaded to YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Linked In, as well as featured on my own website as an embedded video.

I’ll also be making a small video soon where I read the first chapter of the book, something I do with my phone (a dodgy Samsung android jobby – no iPhones here). I’ve heard that live video is the way to go for marketing – just hit ‘go live’ or whatever on Facebook and your followers will be notified. I’m still gathering the nerves for that one.

A couple of months ago I appeared on a podcast to promo the US editions of my Lottie Lipton books and I plan to go back on there (if they, or anyone else for that matter, will have me). Podcasting is a growth area and one which writers can’t afford to ignore.

And freebies. Everyone loves freebies, right? So on my website (and promoted on twitter, FB etc) will be a free Dino Wars Trump Game, featuring all the characters from the first book and their stats for people to print out and play.
So why am I telling you all this? The cynical person would say that it is to show off about my books and my promo techniques, but they’d only be 40% correct. The point is, I’m doing all these things and they were 100% free. Yes, I got lucky with the augmented reality poster, but someone wishing to copy this could just as easily send their normal poster to schools. With all this available at our fingertips and for no money whatsoever, a writer would be crazy not to take advantage of the passive promotion tools at our disposal.
Dan Metcalf is a Children's Author from Devon. His new book is (if you hadn't guessed) Dino Wars and will be out from Maverick Books on the 28th April. Check out

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Politics and writing by Anne Booth

I am very aware that mixing up politics in writing for children can easily turn into propaganda, but more and more I think that giving  children the tools to understand how politics works is a really good idea. Just as we think children should be financially literate and emotionally literate,  and to have responsible sex education, and education about religious beliefs, or atheism,  they need to be politically literate before they are old enough to vote.  It is so inspiring to see American teenagers speaking out about how they are affected by gun control, and saying that they want their voices to be heard by politicians. They have had to become politically literate because of a tragedy, and politicians are finding they can't dismiss them any more.

I have just bought 3 copies of Usborne's 'Politics for Beginners' and I am keeping one and giving two away to schools.  I think it is excellent and empowering and actually I am learning lots myself.  I find I am very vague about things I really should know more about, and I am grateful to Usborne.

I wa struck by the need for us all to be more politically literate when I recently read a facebook post by local residents in a hostel in our city. There were 13 families, most with small children, and there had been a tummy bug which had affected all the children in the building. The  hostel's washing machine had broken and they were not allowed to have a tumble dryer OR hang out washed and wet sheets over bannisters to dry, but were expected to dry them in their  overcrowded flats. They could get nowhere with complaints to the Council -run housing association and felt desperate. I read the post and managed to get in contact with a local councillor, who then went to see them and went on the warpath with the the council and demanded that they should have a new washing machine and tumble dryer. I knew how hard she worked to get this done, but I was astonished and sad that there were some subsequent comments on the city facebook page which indicated that some residents thought that, because she was the authority figure who visited them, that it must have been her fault in the first place. There were other, equally frustrating comments where the awful council got the credit for the washing machine being put in.  I did my best to clarify things, but i was depressed at how the good unselfish person who had put so much work in was getting so little credit. Oh yes, and also somehow immigrants and asylum seekers managed to get blamed too - all because people were really unclear about who was responsible for what.

Nobody had contacted the right person because they did not know who to contact. Children were directly affected by that.  I want to help children to know who to hold responsible, both for when they eventually get the vote but also for now, so that they are empowered to challenge adults when things are wrong. When libraries are closed, when school budgets are decimated, these are all political decisions which affect children, and will hurt them long before they are 18. They have a right to comment and speak out - and we have a duty to help them them know who they should contact, while making sure we do not, in turn, try to indoctrinate or influence them unduly. I think Usborne have done a magnificent job producing this book, and I think there is plenty more scope for us as fiction writers to write stories where we see children being constructively political, and where children can see themselves as political beings.

In my next middle grade book with Catnip, due out in June,  I have a school community torn apart by political decisions and arguments by adults.  I found it a very difficult book to get right, and it needed a fair bit of editing, which I was so lucky to  get, first by my agent Anne Clark and then the editor Melissa Hyde. I think it was Anne who noticed at the beginning that I had given a very important saviour role to a good adult, and on her advice I worked on the story and I thought up a story line so that it was the children, with very differing stances on something, who came up with an ingenious, and very politically astute, compromise. As I wrote about the school children out-manoeuvering the adults who were trying to exploit local tension for political ends, I realised that this was totally believable. Children are more than capable, if we give them the tools, of making the world a better place.

We haven't yet done a cover reveal for my book, but it is BEAUTIFUL, and as soon as I can I will be sharing about it, and as it is rather scarily, but excitingly getting nearer publication in June, I would be ever so grateful for RTs when I do!

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

How to Describe the Creative Process - Joan Lennon

One of the great things about being human is that the inside of my head is different from the inside of every other person's head.  Of course, one of the difficult things about being human is that the inside of my head is different from the inside of every other person's head.  And so it can be more than a little tricky, explaining to someone else what's going on in there when you're writing a story or a poem or a novel.  But one way to try to give an inkling might be ...


Have a look at these and see if any of them express the ways the creative process can feel to you when a story is clamouring in your head:

"An Optical Illusion" by Ion Theodorescu-Sion, 1908 

(Wiki Commons) 

Two Catherinettes in Paris, 1909
(Wiki Commons)
(celebrating St Catherine's Day 25 November)

Unknown artist, 1810s
(Wiki Commons)

When we come to more modern images, I've run into difficulty with the complexities of internet copyright, so may I instead invite you to visit the wonderfully weird hats of Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacy here.  Though I can give you this photo of a slide show which I took at the National Museum of Scotland to whet your appetite -

And the perennially pleasing Old Finnish People Wearing Vegetation by Karoline Hjorth and Riitta Ikonen can be visited here.

For you, the creative process may feel like tartan butterflies exploding out of your brain, or spikes of coral gradually accruing mass, or drifts of dandelion fluff blown on the wind.  And maybe, just maybe, there's a hat out there that expresses it perfectly.

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Dreaming and Creativity - Lucy Coats

All humans dream, even if they don't remember doing so. We can't exist without dreams, indeed, some of our sanity depends on dreaming, since it is the way our brains process both trauma and the stuff of everyday life. Prisoners who are tortured by sleep deprivation and thus the lack of proper REM sleep quickly lose all sense of reality. So dreams are essential to health.

Back in 2008 I wrote a little about dreaming and creativity here on ABBA. Since then, I have incorporated dreaming and dream journeys into my writing workshops, and learnt a lot more about how other cultures, particularly the Senoi culture, use dreams (for more on this, see Creative Dreaming by Patricia Garfield, PhD). I now see dreaming as an even more essential part of my creative life -- but not just in the random, unconscious way that most of us dream, where the dream drains away with the morning light and is forgotten at once. I now dream consciously, and can affect the 'story' of the dream while I'm dreaming it. This takes effort and practice, but is remarkably rewarding. When I teach a particular course on fostering creativity, I get the participants to keep a dream diary for a week or two beforehand. It is extraordinary how doing this actually makes your dreaming more fertile and more 'rememberable'. It's not a tool of analysis, but it can throw up some interesting patterns which relate to a writer's creative concerns.

When and if you get to the point where you are an active participant in your dreams, it is a very powerful medium for story ideas. Some time ago, I wrote a whole novel based on an idea I'd had in a dream, and I'll often dream the solution to my characters' predicaments by being an active observer of what they do within my dream.

So, if you are stuck on plot, or out of ideas, do try keeping a dream diary for a while. Even if you find it hard at first, the more you do it, the more you'll find you dream. The human mind is an extraordinary thing, and I think a focused and active dream life can be a very helpful tool in any writer's creative toolbox. Why not try it and see!

OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review
Lucy's Website Twitter - Facebook - Instagram
Lucy is represented by Sophie Hicks at The Sophie Hicks Agency

Sunday, 18 March 2018

My Five Best Books about Writing, By Dan Metcalf

We've all done it – paced the floors of bookshops and libraries looking for that great 'How To' tome that will tell us exactly HOW to write the book that is lurking in the back of our heads. I'm here to tell you now – it doesn't exist. The only way to write your book is to do exactly that: write it. You'll find your own way of doing it which is unlike any other. You may stumble and trip, and end up with (metaphorical) bloody knees, but you'll emerge the other side confident and ready to write the next one.

That said, it is kind of fun to read about writers and their quirks; like finding out that Philip Pullman will only write on a certain lined paper pad, or how much wild turkey Hemingway drank before starting a project. So here is my missive for you: my best books about writing. Let's dive in...

Monkeys With Typewriters by Scarlett Thomas

Scarlett Thomas is the author of best-selling books such as The End of Mr Y and Our Tragic Universe, so her writerly background bodes well for this guide on ‘how to write fiction and unlock the secret power of stories’, and as a member of the Creative Writing faculty at Kent University, you know you’re in safe hands when you open this weighty tome on all things literary.

The academic background is soon apparent as the first section of the book looks at the theory surrounding fiction, calling into play Soctrates, Plato and Homer. The style is fluid and accessible, and illuminates great swathes of fiction, discussing the difference between narrative, story and plot, the eight basic storylines and Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. If you’re put off by the classic nature of the chapters so far, then hold your horses, as part two focuses specifically on the practice of writing.

Thomas looks in depth at the process of creating a character, likening it to Stanivlaski's method of acting. The text is light on do-it-yourself exercises, and chooses instead to show examples of how other create their progagonists and supporting casts. There is the interesting example in the chapter entitled 'Writing a good sentence', where she suggests having a bank of words and setting yourself a 'budget'. Some types of words are cheap (E.G. Concrete nouns are free), while others will cost you dearly (Adverbs cost £20!).

This is a hefty book which should be drank like a fine wine, but not the sort of workbook that will sit by your laptop full of pencil scribblings. It's value is undeniable, but only to those prepared to put the work in to get the pearls of wisdom out.

Writing Bestselling Children’s Books by Alexander Gordon Smith

This handy tome has the distinct advantage of being written by a bestselling children’s author, a fact which not all creative writing manuals can boast. Alexander Gordon Smith is the author of the Escape from Furnace series and The Inventors, and his tone and style in this inspirational book is light and approachable.

Broken into 52 short chapters, each expressing an idea or tip to drive your writing, the book is full no-nonsense truths, such as: ‘You have to make time and space to write!’, ‘Know your hero’, and ‘All good children’s books are driven by conflict’.

The layout and design of the book is easy to read, with bold headings and pull-out quotes to catch your eye and guide you around the book. The writing has a wonderful humour to it too, making reading text an enjoyable experience, even if you end up not putting the ideas into practice. Each chapter ends with a small Q&A between the writer (you) and the teacher (AGS), and if you work through the book you really feel like you’ve worked through a course with an affable tutor. With it’s 52 chapter structure, you could even work through this once a week, and have a whole year of inspiration! Great stuff.

On Writing by Stephen King

This part-memoir and part-guide gives King an excuse to flex his teacher muscles (he used to lecture in – where else? - Maine) and we find that the ol'fella is tenacious about grammar and punctuation (his own bible for writing is The Elements of Style by Strunk & White). It's full of amazing tales from his childhood and how he would study serial killers from the news – fuel for later scribblings.

Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman

By thedemonhog [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
The veteran writer of The Princess Bride, Marathon Man, All the President's Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid lifts the lid on Hollywood and tells the secrets that no one else dare to tell: that Nobody Knows Anything. Whilst this is not a writing guide, it is a fascinating memoir by one of our greatest screenwriters. See also the sequel 'Which Lie Did I Tell'?

The Story Circle by Dan Harmon

By Jesse Chang (07 dan harmon) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Ok, this isn't a book. I'm going all millenial on you and sticking a blog post in my list (SHOCK HORROR!). Dan Harmon is the creator and head writer of the brilliant sitcom Community (sometimes, when he isn't being fired from his own show...) and Rick & Morty. Apart from being a very funny guy, he's a genius when it comes to breaking down story structure theory. Ever heard of The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell? Or The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler? No? Well you should read them too (the latter is a simplification of the former). What Dan Harmon does in this inspirational series of posts is to break down how to structure a story even further.

While I maintain that no book will teach you how to write, this concept has done more to help me in my writing life than any other.

So what would be on your list? Let me know in the comments or catch up with me on facebook and twitter.

Dan Metcalf is the writer of Lottie Lipton Adventures and Codebusters. Visit him at