Site-splitting

AtomsplittingSo, split the atom time. Well, as I’ve created two blogs out of one, it’s more a case of splitting the byte.

Being an author today means developing entrepreneurial skills, especially marketing ones. I’m not talking about selling – although that’s ultra important – but about making people aware of your book’s, or books’, existence. It’s a slippery concept, marketing, but for me it means setting out your wares, and creating an environment that supports that.

OldsiteMy website, originally Write A Novel? I Must Be Mad! had one main theme – a newbie’s adventures in writing-and-publishing-land, peppered with the odd post about Rome and alternative history. When my first book, INCEPTIO, came out, I changed it to Alison Morton’s Roma Nova and added in stuff about my books.

Now with the fourth book, AURELIA, on the way, it’s time for another change. I asked for specialist advice. Reading the report (with a slightly sinking heart), I had to acknowledge that Alison Morton’s Roma Nova was too fuzzy and cluttered. People looking for my books got a raft of writing topics; others looking for writing and publishing kept getting Roman and Roma Nova stuff.

So I seized my own site-splitting machete to create my own ‘point of divergence’. And as in all alternative history concepts, there will be no going back. Readers need focused information from a dedicated and navigable site, so I made two.

On Alison Morton’s Writing Blog you’ll be able to find my posts about writing, independent publishing, marketing, fabulous guests, research, author-entrepreneur skills, writing life and events.

The darker Alison Morton, Author of the Roma Nova Thrillers  (this site) features my books, plus photos and posts about Rome, alternative history and Roma Nova. And I have a very serious photo and tough new bio

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, and PERFIDITAS. Third in series, SUCCESSIO, is now out.

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Using your reader report

Potter's wheelThis is one for the writers, but readers might be interested in a vital part of the process that goes to producing a story. I say producing, because like a piece of pottery, a story starts as a heap of dull, wet mud. Writing the first draft is like throwing that heap on to the wheel and teasing out a not-too-bad shape. After several tries, and a lot of concentration, hard work an a dollop of inspiration, you eventually have a well-shaped story which holds together, with no holes and no obvious imperfections. Now it has to be finished, decorated and glazed before firing in the publishing process. (Or do I mean kiln?)

Writers use different finishing routes; mine always includes a professional (yes, parting with money!) report. If you are lucky enough to be a member of the Romantic Novelist’ Association’s New Writers Scheme, you will receive a massively subsidised report as part of your membership.

Professional readers can be multi-published authors, editors, creative writing tutors or literary consultants. Obviously, you will have checked out their qualifications and track record. Personal recommendation and references are vital; you are handing over your hours of hard graft, inspiration and possibly a part of your soul.

After a few weeks, the report drops into your inbox. Whether it’s the first time or the fourth time (as it is for me), the feelings of excitement and dread intermingle; did the reader ‘get’ your story? Is it a potential bestseller or a heap of crap? Are they going to suggest you take up accountancy instead?

Cup of teaMake a cup of tea/coffee and open the damned thing; it’s done. This may sound hard, but nothing you feel now is going to change the report. You’ll be better off using that nervous energy in working on the revisions which result from it. But I’m getting ahead of myself – something I am told I do when I read my report. ;-)

Let’s get practical
1. Sit quietly and read through it fairly quickly. That gets rid of anticipation and you can then read the content properly and with your writing brain rather than your emotions.

2. Then look at the structure of the report. Usually, there’s a general/introductory section at the beginning (usually with some nice words!), followed by headed sections about the chief concerns, for example, start of the story, each major character, minor characters, setting/world building, plot, then options and ways forward.

3. Reports will normally pinpoint only the weaker areas. If something isn’t mentioned or is only included in the introductory section with praise, then you’ve cracked those areas and don’t need to worry.

4. Print the report out in 1.5 spacing, or double, if you prefer. (I use up my old business letterhead for this internal stuff, so ignore the logo in the image.) Next mark up the report. You can’t use it effectively until you’ve analysed it. I underline the key words/phrases, e.g. “One of your strengths is writing action scenes.” I don’t need to underline “They are all terrific, immediate, visceral” which develops that comment, although I do go back and read it when I have an attack of self-doubt!

Reader_reportMoving on… “You have a lovely turn of phrase” I just tick that – job done. Then you read ”But I’d be careful about…” For me that’s a massive asterisk in the margin – an action point that must be addressed. I mark up things where I see the reader is right with ’True’. This alerts me to revisit that section of my manuscript. And importantly, any factual queries, I mark with ‘Check’. Doing this analysis methodically takes the sting out of any negatives identified. You are a in worker mode rather than reactor mode.

5. If the reader has also annotated the text, work through those comments first, bearing in mind the overall points made in the report. A warning – you will find other things the reader hasn’t mentioned but which scream out at you now your senses are alerted. This is a great opportunity to tighten up other parts of the text and snip bits out of scenes that you now see are superfluous. And to develop scanty scenes which could contribute much more.

6.When you’ve finished that run through, have a glass of wine to celebrate. (Juice/tea/coffee as you prefer, but I need wine at this stage.)

7. Next day, sit at your keyboard and work through the general points underlined in the report. If it’s a major restructure, print out the sections/chapters concerned and work on them with a pen. You will be able to scribble, circle and arrow them much more easily than on the screen. You may even find a pair of scissors and a stapler/gluestick handy…

You may feel you’re starting all over again, but altering the detailed comments in the days before will have slotted you back into the story after a break of several weeks. I’ll ‘fess up – I had dithered around at the start of my latest manuscript, AURELIA, and had several interesting but redundant chapters at the beginning. Following the advice in my report, I consigned six chapters to the pyre, but two tighter chapters, full of tension, emotion and action, emerged from the flames.

8. No, you haven’t finished! Send the revised manuscript to your Kindle/print it out in single spacing and read it through as if it were a ‘real book’. Make notes, but don’t stop to change anything or you’ll lose the flow.

9. Incorporate changes you have spotted on your read through.

10. Send the manuscript to a trusted friend/critique partner/beta reader asking them to comment on the reader experience. They shouldn’t spot spelling, bad grammar and typos; you will have sorted out those glitches by now.

11. Final check and then send the manuscript off to the next stage, be it agent, publisher, or as I do to my copy editor before it goes to my publishing services company, SilverWood Books.

CheersNow is definitely time to celebrate – you’ve achieved a huge step in your book’s existence.

Sometimes, a reader report is a genuine dud, but not often. In that case, go back to the reader/organisation and set out your points logically why it didn’t meet your expectations; keep the emotion out. Out of six reports from various sources, I’ve only had one poorly produced one and even the scheme organiser thought it wasn’t very good and offered me a second one free!

A reader’s job is not to slate, target or destroy your work and your confidence, but to show you weaknesses, and offer you ways to remedy them. They are industry professionals who want good books for the public. However emotionally you feel about it at first, do the hard work on it and it will not only make the current story better but also help you develop as a writer.

Any other tips?

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, and PERFIDITAS. Third in series, SUCCESSIO, is now out and Book 4 is in the editing process!

Find out about Roma Nova book progress, news, writing tips and info by signing up for my free monthly email newsletter.

Writing about recognition - Writing News

Writing Magazine February 2015_introIt’s a funny time to be pursuing a writing career, but an exciting one.  All authors, apart from the biggest names, need to publicise their own books whether they’re self-published, small press or even big house published.

Writing Magazine commissioned me to write  a piece about how to seek and find recognition in today’s fiercely competitive publishing marketplace.

I set out what I had done and what had worked for me – a ‘how to’ list in very practical terms!

Define your goals and satisfaction levels
How to measure recognition
The seven interlinked tactics
Social media/’platform’
Endorsements
Reviews
Awards
Memberships
Press/online articles
Events
The inner secret…

Writing Magazine February 2015It was also a good exercise for me to review my own objectives for 2015! I called on writing colleagues to contribute  experience on some of the subjects – a practical example of writers collaborating!

Each author is different with different time and money resources, and can’t do everything, but I hope I’ve planted a few seeds.

Here’s how it starts:

Congratulations! Your book is out! Perhaps it’s the second or third one and your self-publishing career is on track. But are you being taken seriously as a published author and regarded as a professional writer along with your peers? This is one of the most vexing questions for self-publishers today….

You can read the full article in the February edition of Writing Magazine. It’s out now and available at most newsagents.

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, and PERFIDITAS. Third in series, SUCCESSIO, is now out and Book 4 is in the editing process!

Find out about Roma Nova book progress, news, writing tips and info by signing up for my free monthly email newsletter.

Roman cops

Thinking about police, gendarmes and emergency services in the past few days brought me to the law enforcers of Ancient Rome. Faced with terrorist attack (or riot, revolt and rebellion), they would have been robust in their attitude and actions. So who policed Rome?

Portable Roman fire engine nozzle, Madrid Museum (Creative Commons)

Portable Roman fire engine nozzle, Madrid Museum (Creative Commons)

Vigiles as a public service were founded by Augustus as a new firefighting force to replace the private, often haphazard, groups. In AD 6, he levied a 4% tax on the sale of slaves to finance the service. They were commanded by the praefectus vigilum, who was of equestrian rank, and organised into seven cohorts of 500, later 1,000 men, each commanded by a tribune. A cohort would patrol two of the city’s fourteen administrative districts (regiones) from sub-stations throughout the city, plus detachments were stationed at Rome’s ports of Ostia and Portus.

Vigiles were dual role: they also acted as a night watch, keeping an eye out for burglars, cut-throats and low-life, and hunting down runaway slaves. Sometimes, they were used to maintain order in the streets. As well as the power to break into houses if they suspected an out-of-control fire inside, and demolish property to create firebreaks, vigiles could also check if householders had firefighting equipment and a ready reserve of water. If not, householders could be punished for negligence. So there was an element of preventative work as well as powers of investigation and enforcement…

In their firefighting role, the vigiles had a variety of specialist troops such as sifonarii, who worked the pumps, uncinarii, men who used grappling hooks, aquarii who identified and supervised the supply of water. As with true military forces, the vigiles enjoyed the benefit of their own medical support with four doctors (medici) attached to each cohort. The ordinary firefighters were called milites (soldiers).

For firefighting, the vigiles used quilts or mats, (most likely soaked in water and used to smother flames), ladders, axes, fire buckets made of rope treated with pitch, poles and hooks to push and pull  over fire damaged walls. The height of sophistication was a sipho, a fire engine, pulled by horses and consisting of a large double-action pump that was partially submerged in a reservoir of water and fitted with a directional nozzle.

The Silver PigsRecruited from the lower levels of Roman society, often ex-slaves, vigiles were not as highly regarded as their other policing colleagues. But their job wasn’t easy…

I heartily recommend reading Lindsey Davis’ Falco series which features Petro (Lucius Petronius Longus), a vigiles watch captain in charge of a disparate lot and who helps main hero Falco investigate dastardly deeds in Ancient Rome.

 

Cohortes urbanae, also created by the ever busy Augustus, were formed to counterbalance the enormous power of the Praetorian Guard. The cohorts’primary role was to police Rome and to counteract the roaming mobs and gangs that so often haunted its streets during the Republic. These urban cohorts thus acted as a heavy duty police force, capable of riot control duties, while their contemporaries, the vigiles, had the day-to-day role of policing the streets and protecting against fires.

Augustus

Augustus

Originally, the cohortes urbanae were divided into three cohorts of around 500 men, each commanded by a tribune and six centurions. In the time of the Flavians (Vespasian, Titus and Domitian), this increased to four cohorts. Only free citizens, mainly of Italian origin, were eligible to serve in their ranks.

The man in charge of all the cohortes urbanae was the urban prefect (praefectus urbanus or praefectus urbi), a magistrate tasked with maintaining order in the city and within a hundred mile circumference. He was also tasked with administering the emperor’s laws, superintending guilds and corporations (collegia), overseeing officials responsible for the drainage of the Tiber and the maintenance of the city’s sewers and water supply system, as well as its monuments. Most importantly, he was ultimately responsible for the city’s provision with grain from overseas for the city’s large population; if the prefect failed to secure adequate supplies, riots usually broke out.

Urban cohorts, (known as city cohorts in non-Roman cities) were later created in both the Roman North African city of Carthage and the city of Lugdunum in Roman Gaul (modern Lyon).

Symmachus

Symmachus

In Late Antiquity, when the imperial court moved from Rome itself, the office of urban prefect became more powerful, as it was no longer under the emperor’s direct supervision or even his eye. Interestingly, from the Roma Nova angle, the office was usually held by leading members of Italy’s still largely pagan senatorial aristocracy. In such a capacity, Symmachus played a prominent role in the controversy over the Altar of Victory in the late 4th century.

So there are some parallels and overlaps with modern day services. In the UK, police (regionally based), military, fire brigades and ambulance/paramedic services are separate. Here in France, there are two police services – municipal (local) and gendarmerie (paramilitary). Ambulances are organised privately and publicly, but it’s a firefighter who is likely to arrive first at an accident and carry out paramedic services.

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, and PERFIDITAS. Third in series, SUCCESSIO, is now out.

Find out about Roma Nova news, writing tips and info by signing up for my free monthly email newsletter.

Stopped by the forces of law and order

Gendarmerie vehicleDriving along the main road, I’m happy there are only 11 kilometres to home. I slow down to pass through a village of older cream stone grey-slated houses, interspersed with Roman tile roofed single-storey homes. Halfway through, I reach the open area to the side, not even a proper village square. A blue-uniformed armed figure steps into the road. He holds up one hand; his other grips a service rifle.

I have to stop.

No, I’m not writing as my heroine Carina, and this is not a Roma Novan custos, possibly an ex-colleague of Carina’s. This is France today.

French police in protective clothingFaced with a mass slaughter of journalists from satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, a siege with hostages in a small town where fugitive terrorist killers armed with Kalashnikovs are determined to die as martyrs, and another armed siege at a kosher supermarket in a densely inhabited eastern part of Paris, French forces of law and order mobilise throughout the country. Regular police, the military style gendarmes, special forces, the CRS, police judiciare, fire brigades, ambulances and the military swarm in large numbers. At the crisis sites, they encircle, they clear, they evacuate civilians. Defending free and open speech, they allow journalists in, but never at operational risk. Their determination and focus are Praetorian, their manner direct, robust, often brusk.

Today, I watch on the television as they take control and ‘neutralise’ both incidents.The operations are efficiently led and executed. The perpetrators are dead. And then as the hostages are released from the supermarket siege in the east of Paris, something very strange happens. Applause breaks out. Not from the traumatised ex-hostages – they are out of it – but from bystanders. This is weird because the police are not particularly loved, particularly in areas with largely ethnic populations.

je-suis-charlieWhen the Kouachi brothers slaughtered 12 people in their attack at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, French people saw this not only as the brutal deaths of human beings, but as an assault on the freedom of expression – la liberté d’expression. As inheritors of Voltaire as well as children of the Revolution, they cherish this freedom above many others. And they are showing solidarity with Charlie Hebdo in their hundreds of thousands in fine French tradition of street demonstration. They wave signs, ‘Je suis Charlie’, and shout Liberté! And it will continue over the weekend.

And my roadside stop today? The gendarme bent down, looked through my window, then waved me on. I didn’t look like a security threat, then. To some, these armed officers of the state, solemn in their dark blue, may seem intimidating, but I feel safer for their presence and was glad to be stopped.

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, and PERFIDITAS. Third in series, SUCCESSIO, is now out.

Find out about Roma Nova news, writing tips and info by signing up for my free monthly email newsletter.

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