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Here’s an interesting point of view:

Times change. Rock groups record their own material and place it on the internet for free. It’s about time writers did the same. How can we really ask for money for an epub document?  Surely the publicity is enough, the knowledge that at last there is a body of people willing to read your work? I firmly believe that books, in their digital version, should be considered promotional freebies, to be downloaded and enjoyed by anyone in the world. The printed version is another story, the signed copy, the deluxe collection and the like. But a digital copy?

If copyrights and marketing only serve to close doors, fling them wide open and offer your work for free in epub! It’s a fantastic opportunity to reach readers globally – take it!

ballssmiley-happy005smiley-happy005[3]smiley-happy005[7] That is Tommy Dakar, an English writer living in Spain. I have just finished Balls:

When Paul Kavanagh decided to castrate himself with a pair of sheepshears, he had no idea that he was unwittingly setting the balls in motion, and that the consequences would be devastating. Through humour, irony and merciless observation, Balls follows the knock on effects of Paul Kavanagh’s drastic decision on family, friends, colleagues, and the nation as a whole. Is there such a thing as an isolated act? Are we responsible for the sins of our fathers? Or are we just victims of the unpredictable consequences of cause and effect?

It has many a good moment, but it does cry out here and there for an editor, I feel. Here’s a taste of it at its best.

Ever since we have been aware of our mortality, we have been obsessed with the idea that there must be more to life than this – surviving against all odds just to drop down dead at the end. Over the centuries thousands of theologians and philosophers have racked their brains to come up with an answer to those nagging doubts and universal queries: why are we here, where do we come from, where are we going? Not the most brilliant of questions, but still difficult enough. It was as if they believed that, given enough time and inspiration, they would be able to join up the dots and see the whole picture, like in a child’s colouring book.  Indeed, many even claimed to have cracked it, though the evidence was shaky and their cases would never stand up in court.

So, like poor lost little children we keep calling out our unanswered questions to the heavens in the hope that some universal parent will hear us and explain it all in detail. No luck to date.

But Ron was a practical man. When asked about religion he would simply answer C of E, and refer you to the local vicar. The Church took care of such things, pretty much like the government took care of taxes and road safety. They had experts on every issue, and he was quite happy to leave it all in their competent hands. He would attend the unavoidable services, dress for the occasion, sing hymns heartily if required, and even give generously if there was no way round it. If any further contact was deemed necessary, he could always rely on Daphne, the perfect PR officer. Ron had more urgent business to attend.

Ken and The meaning of Life, the Netherworld, the Blue Beyond, the Church or anything vaguely similar did not get on. However, it was better not to cross-examine him on this as he would undoubtedly get in a muddle. As he would put it: I know what I mean. Expressing it was another matter. So he preferred not even to think about it, convinced that he could cross that bridge when he came to it. It was a bit like retirement, he sometimes concluded; the days worked and wages earned would be calculated for you, and then you’d get the pension you deserved. He had enough on his plate. Anyway, he could always rely on Jill to put in a few good words for him, she liked a good pray. Not that she was seriously religious, she just wanted to believe that someone was looking after things and lending an ear. Or something like that. One thing he knew; steer well clear of any mumbo jumbo, bible-pushers, gurus, soul savers in general and vegetarians. At least strict vegetarians.

Like his brother Paul.

Here’s another writer on eBookery, L H Thomson:

… With the proliferation of eReaders, free blogging and discussion sites like goodreads.com, we all get to be a reviewer, as well as just a reader. Some of us review so many books, we carve out pieces of our own literary territory on Blogger and WordPress, complete with charters of rights and declarations of independence.

But one exceedingly common notion to reviewing is that of the score: whether it’s in stars, suns, thumbs up or dollar signs, the prevailing wisdom is that people want to see a score before they can know what you really think. It’s rather silly, as there’s no established baseline that applies to every reader. Consequently, a three-star reviewer might enjoy the same book with just as much fervor as a four-star reviewer, but merely express it differently.

So it’s usually the written review content that matters, that allows some context to establish what the reader really thought.

If we are stuck with this whole star thing though, here’s a plea for future decision makers: grade on a four-star system, not a five star; because there is nothing worse than a three-star review.

Here’s why: while we’d like to think each reader of those reviews will react based on objective perspective, the truth is that that’s not human behavior. All of us rely on subconscious drivers, all of the time. And there is nothing more unappealing to the average reader than the idea of “mediocrity,” because we’re a dichotomous species – as much as we trust others, we’re also suspicious.

So if someone gives something a one-star or two-star review, we may be inclined to assume the best, which is that the book isn’t good, but we may also be inclined to assume the worst, which is that the reviewer was overly harsh. A one-star and a two-star review can still elicit readers and sales for the author, thanks to the sympathy vote.

Similarly, a four- or five-star review will usually make us assume it’s good… unless the person has too many, at which point we get suspicious and may hold it against them.

But a three-star review? Even though most systems classify a three-star review as “Good”, what it really means to most people is “Meh.”

So ideally, we’d get rid of the middle ground. “1” is bad; “2” is meh; “3” is good, “4” is excellent. This allows a system in which those who genuinely weren’t being objective are cancelled out by those who are overenthusiastic.

Will it ever happen? Probably not. One other unfortunate subconscious trait we all share is the associate of “more” with “better,” because it sometimes is – such as the strength of numbers allowing humanity to grow and thrive. But it often isn’t. And when it’s something arbitrary like a star-based scoring system, it’s probably just muddying the waters.

Perhaps the best we can all do then is to try to eliminate the middle ground ourselves. If you think it’s a “meh” 3, don’t give it a 3, give it a 2. You’re actually doing the writer and the readers a favor. If you think it’s a “decent” 3, give it a 4. That way other people might actually read it.

I should note that I’m not the first to note this. With respect to the quality of Amazon reviews, John Locke, the mega-selling pulp author, has pointed out the same trend: you might as well not even count the three-star scores mentally in your head when trying to figure out what people think of a book….

Which makes me hesitate about his Buried in Benidorm, which makes another Spain/UK connection. Hmmm. OK: smiley-happy005[10]smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[14]smiley-happy005[16]

benidormEx-priest and newly minted agnostic Max Castillo ekes out a living as a private investigator from his houseboat in Benidorm, Spain. He’s finally got a little free time … until a big-shot turns up dead at a local golf course. Now, his former employer is calling in an old debt, and Max is neck-deep in gangsters, grifters and girls with grudges. A decades-old secret could hold the key to solving the case, but can Max figure it out before one of them leaves him … Buried in Benidorm?

Sample:

The Vespa slid into my parking spot near La Casilda’s slip. It was just before 8 p.m. now and I had been working all day on an empty stomach and several drinks. The pizza I had earlier ordered from Mamma’s had been left on the deck with a note that I owed them for it – a courtesy extended to me, I am somewhat ashamed to say, due to the frequency of my patronage.

I cracked a beer, munched on a slice of cold pizza and looked out at the lights of the city. The beaches here were usually occupied later than other areas of the Costa Blanca and there were still many people about, happy, busy, some of them doubtless unhappy, stressed, overworked, underappreciated. Beach communities are like that; they attract all types, from the happiest party-goer to the man who just wants to escape from urban chaos.

Stress is the great equalizer; no matter how happy we are most of the time, we all have to deal with it, whether it’s the hard-working guy standing on his balcony looking at the ocean and smelling the sea breeze, or the jogger, silhouetted against a palm-tree backdrop on her nightly run, or the old man bait fishing off the local pier.

It might surprise you to know, but when I was a priest, I felt much greater stress, much greater anxiety about the state of the world. I was doing no more or less at that time than now to contribute to improving that state – but I certainly did worry about it, far beyond my ability to intercede.

Most people in the priesthood seemed able to rely on their faith in God to ease that tension, that burden over our shared humanity, via a collective belief that he would eventually ease such suffering. But I never could. And perhaps that is where the rift began.

In fact, to me, the very nature of an omnipotent being would make most of the social stresses in life impossible or, at best, irrational.

I ate another slice of pizza and watched as people began to pack up and prepare to leave the adjacent beach, doubtless heading back to their first- and second-line hotels to eat, siesta, and prepare to party later into the evening.

Pretty soon, more than half of the city’s workforce would start its day, ensuring that Benidorm’s night life shined with as much glitz as the daytime sun glinting off the highrises.

But it really could do with do with a thorough proofread – I  silently corrected two typos in that extract.

One of the weirder things I have done with my eBookery is to check whether the passage from Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars that I memorised when I was about 13 had stuck in my head accurately or not! Here is what I recalled:

Cum esset Caesar in Citeriore Gallia in hibernis, crebri rumores ad eum adferebantur…

And here it really is:

C. IULI CAESARIS DE BELLO GALLICO COMMENTARIUS SECUNDUS

CUM esset Caesar in citeriore Gallia [in hibernis], ita uti supra demonstravimus, crebri ad eum rumores adferebantur litterisque item Labieni certior fiebat omnes Belgas, quam tertiam esse Galliae partem dixeramus, contra populum Romanum coniurare obsidesque inter se dare…

Which is to say:

BOOK II

I.—While Caesar was in winter quarters in Hither Gaul, as we have shown above, frequent reports were brought to him, and he was also informed by letters from Labienus, that all the Belgae, who we have said are a third part of Gaul, were entering into a confederacy against the Roman people, and giving hostages to one another…

What a strange thing to have carried in my head for around 55 years!

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