6 Reasons Why YOU Should Read Indie Books

Buying indie books is like shopping local. You know you ought to do it, but isn’t it so much more convenient just to pick up a copy of whatever’s on special offer in Waterstones? Maybe it takes a little more conscious effort, but here’s five reasons why the next book you read should be an independently-published one.

1. Be ahead of the curve

Read an awesome indie book and you’ll reap kudos. Regularly buying indie means that you’ll undoubtedly find gems that no one else you know has yet discovered. Set trends, don’t follow them.

2. Find your perfect genre

In traditional publishing, heterogeneity sells. If agents or publishers can’t see exactly where a book would fit on the store shelf real estate, then it’s not considered publishable. Here’s one example of some feedback I received from an agent:

“This was a difficult decision as I was really impressed with your submission. The writing is engaging, the idea is appealing and you write with real energy and imagination. However, while there was a lot I enjoyed about your submission, ultimately, I did not feel convinced I could find a publisher for it and therefore I don’t feel able to offer you representation for this project.”

But maybe you don’t want to read more of the same thrillers with the word “girl” in their title. Maybe the predictability of it all is killing a little part of your soul. Maybe you want to read something different. And this is where indie authors excel. If you’ve ever wanted to read a romance about your favourite celebrity, or a horror story featuring dragons, it probably exists in the words of an indie author.

IMG_13243. Grab a bargain

Many indie authors regularly participate in special sales and giveaways of their books, as a way of promoting their titles.

This means that you’ll always be able to get your hands on some real bargains. Sign up to mailing lists for promotion sites and newsletters for your favourite authors and you’ll get to hear about upcoming deals first.

My novel, The Generation, will be just £0.99 on Monday June 15th, and a 3-day Goodreads giveaway to win a copy will be starting on Friday June 19th!

4. Build relationships

I’m sure that traditionally published, big-name authors like hearing from their readers too, but indie authors LOVE it. You can contact us directly, and we tend to have more time to dedicate to a reply. Like many indie authors, I try to cultivate ongoing relationships with people who have read and enjoyed my writing. You’ll find that we love hearing feedback and constructive criticism – we may even hire you as beta readers, offering you advance copies of our new work in return for your thoughts!

5. Invest in a piece of art

Writing is an artistic pursuit. And independently published novels are a work of art, requiring blood, sweat and tears. Aside from the helping hand of beta readers and editors, an indie author’s book is their singular vision, unclouded by the input of literary agents and publishers. We haven’t changed our story to make it convenient for the general public. It’s our heart and soul. It’s the truth of us.

And who knows? When we’ve “made it” in twenty years’ time and our novels have sold around the world and been transformed into box office smash hits (us indies are ever hopeful), then your original, signed, print-on-demand copy of our first novel might just be worth more than what you paid for it!

6. Support individual writers

Being a writer isn't all hard work.

Being a writer isn’t all hard work.

Ok, so this last one’s a bit altruistic, but I know you reader people are all about sharing the love, right? When you buy a copy of my ebook from Amazon, for example (go on, you know you want to), I receive 70% of the price you pay for it. It doesn’t get split between promoters and printers and the various cogs of traditional publishing. That money gets paid directly into my bank account and while it isn’t what drives me, it helps me carve out the time to write. Buying indie rewards individuals directly for their hard work.

Some of us – me included – hire other self-employed individuals to help us. For The Generation, I hired an editor and a cover designer, both of whom benefitted from my business. So your purchase indirectly helps them make a living, too.

Sure, there are self-published books out there which are poorly written and unedited. But it’s easy to spot whether or not a book’s for you before you shell out. Look for a well-designed cover, read the description or synopsis and perhaps flick through the first few pages. That should tell you what you need to know.

Now get out there and get experimenting!
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Thank You, Sebastian

Last Friday, I went to my first book fair. I was agitated for days in advance and when I woke up that morning, the simmering anxiety was edging more towards terror. Fear of failure can be debilitating, but that’s definitely not going to get you anywhere as an indie author, so I swallowed it down, packed my bag, grabbed my books and jumped in the car.

The other authors looked so comfortable, standing tall over their tables decorated with cards, bookmarks, badges, sweets, fridge magnets, helium balloons and an array of (I’m sure) wildly successful titles. I had my book. Eight copies of my only self-published novel and a packet of promotional flyers on my little table, tucked away in the corner of the room.

It went well. I chatted to fellow authors, found some books to add to my reading list, drank wine, summoned the courage to thrust a few of my leaflets into the hands of unsuspecting browsers, nibbled on canapés, and even sold a few books. Largely in that order.

It was a few minutes before the end when I looked up to see a man standing over my table.

“Can I pick it up?” he said softly, gesturing towards my book on its Perspex stand. I felt a slight mutual shyness as I nodded and watched him read the blurb. We talked for a couple of minutes about the story, about science, about writing, before he announced that he was going to look around to see what else was on offer before deciding to buy my book. He wandered off to the other side of the room.

That’s fair enough, I thought. Perhaps he’d decided to buy just one book from our fair and wanted to make an informed decision. That he would buy a book here was fantastic in itself, given that we were on the top floor of Foyles on London’s Charing Cross Road, with five floors of traditionally-published literature beneath our feet.

The day was coming to an end. I started packing up my remaining books and leaflets and knocked back my last dregs of wine.

“Hello again,” the man said. “I think I’ll take one.”

I played it cool, of course, as I smiled and signed, checking on the spelling of his name. Sebastian. This man, whoever he was, wanted to read my book – wanted to read it above all the other sixty or so books there – and I felt a wave of positive emotion that’s worth recording, worth remembering.

I’ve sold copies online to friends, family and strangers, too. I’ve sold copies in person to customers of the pub my husband runs, but even they existed within my own frame of reference. If I didn’t know their names, they were recognisable or I knew they lived nearby. They had a link to me through the pub. The degrees of separation could be counted. Sebastian was the first complete stranger that I handed my book to, and took their money in exchange – and it left me suffused me with a joyful new confidence.

Success doesn’t always descend in a single defining moment, I’ve realised. It rarely looks like the shower of glittering confetti that rains down on the X Factor winners, as they drop to their knees in shock and elation. Sometimes success creeps up slowly like the mercury in a thermometer as the months pass and the summer comes. And personal success is open to definition only by you. That is the beauty of indie publishing.

This single event, this one gesture from a stranger I know only as Sebastian, was a success. I hope there will be many more.

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Write Like the Buddha

Like many writers, I struggle on a daily basis with the simple act of sitting down at my desk to write. And it’s ridiculous.

Today, instead of sitting here procrastinating, I’m procrastinating specifically about why it might be that the act of writing is such a common struggle. We are writers, we write. Otherwise, we simply wouldn’t have a job. I find it easier when I’m in “paid work” mode, with a deadline to meet and specific tasks to execute. But but some bizarre reason, I often allow writing for myself, in “creative” mode, to slip to the bottom of the pile.

Cooper's using the book to try and think less about biscuits.

Cooper’s using the book to try and think less about biscuits.

Mothers seem to have an answer for everything, and my own mum’s solution was to send me a book (hooray – more diversions!) called Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time, by Rick Hanson. Hmm.

But hang on. I’ve given it a read and Rick’s got a few powerful suggestions that I think apply to the life of a writer (or any creative).

1. All it takes is practice

Thinking of my creative writing as ‘practice’ somehow makes it feel immediately more achievable. No matter whether you produce a few sparkling sentences, or pages of complete tripe, the act of regular writing practice increases positive qualities in yourself and decreases negative ones.

“Practice pulls weeds and plants flowers in the garden of your mind – and thus in your brain… you get more skillful at directing your attention, thinking clearly, managing your feelings, motivating yourself, getting more resilient, and riding life’s rollercoaster.”

We need to accept that our writing can be improved with practice. Rick points out that although we accept that physical skills, such as driving a truck, improve with effort and time, “becoming more skillful with one’s mind should somehow come naturally, without effort or learning.” Of course, that’s not true.

2. Be on your own side

I write not only for myself, but for others, too. I want my family and friends to appreciate the outcome of my efforts; to prove to them what I can achieve, but:

“The foundation of all practice is to wish yourself well, to let your own sorrows and needs and dreams matter to you. Then, whatever you do for yourself will have real oomph behind it!”

There’s one suggestion for doing this that I rather like, which is to display a photo of yourself as a child. Look at that child and promise them that you’ll achieve their dreams. Tell yourself that you’re writing for them. Note: This might be harder if you write explicit horror.

3. Forgive yourself

Let that inner critic go. Allow yourself to sit down and write without judgement. Easier said than done.

“The inner critic… magnifies small failings into big ones, punishes you over and over for things long past, ignores the larger context, and doesn’t credit you for your efforts to make amends.”

4. Have some faith

I’m sure I’m not alone in finding it hard to place trust in myself, let alone in anyone else. But doing so frees up a whole lot of mind space. Rick encourages his readers to think about their best qualities and focus on them. What’s really great about your writing? Which aspects of it come easily to you?

“Faith… helps you stay on your chosen paths, with confidence they will lead to good places.”

5. Improve your focus

“Mindfulness” seems to be having its moment in the media. But it’s a classically Buddhist concept, dating back for millennia. Essentially, it’s all about living in the moment. And I think this is a really key idea for writers, especially when it comes to attention. If you’re anything like me, you might struggle to concetrate without an impending deadline!

Rick says that the trick is to lengthen our natural bouts of mindfulness from seconds to minutes and beyond:

“Set aside a minute or more every day to be deliberately mindful – focussing on a specific object of attention… try to develop a background awareness of how mindful you are being; in effect you are paying attention to attention, in order to get better at it.”

I’ve only covered the few points in the book that jumped out to me, as a writer. I hope there are some options in there for you to try!

Otherwise, you could always buy a kitchen safe and lock your mobile phone into it while you write – good luck!


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Brighton Digital Festival 2014: Science Highlights

I’m going to try my hardest to nip down to the South Coast this September for at least a bite-sized chunk of the futuristic shenanigans of the Brighton Digital Festival.

There is so much on throughout the month, and in the spirit of all things Brighton, there’s something for everyone. Here are my science-tinged picks of the programme:

Shrinking Space presents Mind’s Eye

Pray for clear skies for this outdoor sci-art extravaganza! The ambitious, outdoor audiovisual piece will take audience members on a walk through the Milky Way. Hear from astrophysicists and engineers working on live space missions along the way through headphones.Mind's Eye graphic copy (reduced)

Leave the Earth and Moon behind, wander in close to the Sun, and swing out past Venus soon to be impacted by Venus Express. Experience tantalising, frequently visited Mars, and stride into the outer reaches of the solar system via Rosetta’s imminent comet landing. Explore Saturn’s densely populated system with Cassini meandering from Titan to Enceladus to the rings of Saturn herself, and continue all the way out to Voyager 1 now in Interstellar space.

WARNING: Contains Nerdity & Matt Parker: Now in 4D!

If you haven’t been lucky enough to enjoy a showing of Festival of the Spoken Nerd (or even if you have), get their name down for one or both of these laugh out loud events. Matt Parker – a self-style “number ninja” could make anybody love maths, and Helen Arney will crack out some of her silly, science-based tunes along with some exciting digital artists.

Buy a joint ticket for both these comedy events for just £20.

My Robot Companion – An Afternoon with HARR1

HARR1-Humanoid-Artistic-Research-Robot-1-51-970x485On 3 September, this more serious afternoon event will draw together artists, philosophers and roboticists to discuss and debate the future of robotics. Focusing around the AHRR1 project (Humanoid Art Research Robot 1), the panel will involve the audience to look at the possibilities and ethical implications of social robots.

Will we one day have robots which care for the old, watch over children, and even provide sexual company?

Will this make us feel more or less lonely?

Feeling Sensing Perceiving Workshop

This one day workshop, held on 6 September, will explore how sense-responsive technology and performance tools can be used to investigate the sensing body. It’s a great chance to get to grips with the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset (I’ve had a go and it rocks!)

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Science books for kids: going digital or disappearing?

It’s with a side helping of sadness that I announce my first published book goes on sale in just over a week’s time.

The excitement I have for Really Really Big Questions About Science is somewhat dulled by the knowledge that there won’t be any further books in this wonderful series.

We’d talked about a follow-on book – provisionally titled Really Really Big Questions About Planet Earth – but, from what I understand, the publisher, Pan Macmillan, won’t be commissioning any more. In fact, their children’s books division, Kingfisher, has had its non-fiction programme slashed; almost erased entirely. My editor regretfully informed me that just “a handful of titles” have been commissioned for 2015, as the company focusses more on picture books and children’s/young adult fiction.

So no more kids’s science books.

I’m obviously disappointed on a personal level, but as a passionate science communicator, my feelings run deeper than that.

As a child, I thrived on the extraordinary stories my parents made up from their imaginations and read to me from fairy tales. They were my cup of cocoa before bed. But the ordinary – the real – fascinated me too. My illustrated encylopaedia, my Quest magazines, even the Usborne book that revealed where babies come from, are all plastered in my mind like wood-chip wallpaper. They created in me a fascination in nature; in seeking answers to questions about the world around me.

Of course, I didn’t have an iPad. I didn’t even have an Amiga Commodore 64 until I was eight.

So I suppose my question is this: Where are children going to get their scientific sustenance from now? Or, more worryingly, is there no longer a demand for the kinds of books I once loved and treasured?

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