To read my posts, head over to my other blog, Degenerate Dictionary for a snort or two. (I mean laugh by that, btw, not snorting drugs.)

Wednesday, 16 April 2014


One of the first things people ask me is, “So you’re Finnish, but you write in English, why?”

I wish I had an answer to this question. Some people, like my tutor at the MA course in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, answered his own query, “Of course the English speaking market is so much larger.”

I truly hadn’t thought about this.

Choosing my writing language happened almost by accident. When I first moved to the UK, after marrying my Englishman, I began writing a diary, something I’d been doing on and off since I was a child growing up in Tampere, central Finland. But writing about my new life as a Naval wife in Portsmouth, in the South of England, just didn’t seem right in Finnish, so I turned my notebook around and began putting down my thoughts in English at the other end of the book.

Yes, readers, you guessed it, I had just finished reading The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing.

Slowly, the Finnish side of the diary withered to nothing, and when the two languages met somewhere three quarters down the notebook, I began the next diary with just one language and never looked back.

I guess the reason I find writing in English easier, is because I was quite young when I first left Finland and moved to Sweden. At the age of eleven, I soon became fluent in Swedish, so much so, that after moving back to Finland, I never had to take another lesson in the language and still got top marks in my Baccalaureate. (I always felt this was a bit of a cheat, but hey, no-one else at my school in Helsinki did).

A writer friend once told me that perhaps writing in another language gave me a distance from my work. This lady works for Peirene Press, a small printing house specialising in translated short fiction, so I guess she knows a little about the subject.

Of course writing in a language that is not your mother tongue is challenging. I’d studied English since the age of seven. Still, there are many times when I have to consult my initial editor (The Englishman) on the correct preposition (this is the biggest challenge to anyone with Finnish as their mother tongue since we have none). The sentence structure can sometimes be a bit off, and occasionally I have to spend more time looking for the correct word.

Talk to any writer and they all swear by good editing. For an author writing in a second or third language, employing a good editor and a good proof reader is absolutely vital.

But writing in a foreign language can also give you a unique voice. Many people have told me that all of my novels have a specific feel to them. Because they are all set in Finland, I believe it’s important that the style of the writing matches the setting. Many of my greatest fans have told me that the reason they love my books is because the stories take them to a different place. You have no idea how happy it makes me hearing those words.

Have you ever written in a foreign language? Has it benefited your writing in any way? If so, how?

Helena Halme is Development Director of Finn-Guild. She blogs at Helena’s London Life and is the author of three novels, The Englishman, Coffee and Vodka, and The Red King of Helsinki.

Helena’s first novel, a love story between a handsome naval officer and a young Finnish student set at the height of the Cold War in Helsinki is now only $0.99 in Kindle format. Available at this price for a limited time only at: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

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Monday, 14 April 2014

The London Book Fair 2014: What Went Down

The Entrance
As most of you know I spent last week in London for the 2014 Book Fair and I had the most fabulous time!

I met so many people that I have gotten to know over the years through the Internet, and met a bunch of fabulous authors for the first time, including Hugh Howey! (Whisper: He's such a spunk.) If you've never been to a book event like this, I totally recommend it. I have to say it's the best career investment I have made in a really long time.

Hugh Howey and Me (photo taken by Debbie Young)
Note: I've included more photographs from the event, and of people I had the privilege to meet, below the post if you'd like to see.

I spent most of my time in an area called the Author HQ where a variety of seminars and workshops took place. Subject matter varied from things like "Know Your Rights," and "The Hallmarks of Self-Publishing Success," and "The Principles of Book Cover Design." Some were useful, others not so much, as I think they were a bit too geared toward the complete beginner. Hopefully next year they will have more seminars that are a bit more meaty in content.

Although I didn't learn anything new about being an indie author, I did discover that I'm already doing everything "right." And it was definitely great to have that confirmed. I now feel confident I can continue doing what I've been doing all along, and not worry about whether there is anything I am missing.

Seminar with Ben Galley & Orna Ross
I have to say that the BEST seminars (for me) were the ones that included speakers from The Alliance of Independent Authors (Orna Ross, Ben Galley, Joanna Penn), and an interactive interview about Self-Publishing with Kobo Writing Life's Diego Marano, and author-extraordinaire, Hugh Howey. I came away feeling enthused, and quite comforted, regarding my career choices. I have to say, I hold these authors in very high esteem. Not because they are successful, but because they are so genuine, kind, honest, and approachable, and they do not behave in any way superior to anyone. There is a lot to respect right there. Nothing has "gone to their heads" so to speak. They are just like "us".

Seminar with Barbara Freethy & Bella Andre
I also really enjoyed the seminars with bestselling authors, Bella Andre, Barbara Freethy, and Liliana Hart. I learned a lot about "branding" covers (i.e. to be sure they feature something that is easily recognizable as "you".) I've done it with my nonfiction, but never really thought about doing it for my fiction. So that was quite an eyeopener.

Dan Holloway, Orna Ross, & Debbie Young
The "Opening Up To Indie Authors" book launched at the Kobo booth, too. The book was written by ALLi members, Debbie Young and Dan Holloway, and edited by the founder Orna Ross.

As Dan Holloway writes on his blog:
"The book is more than just an essential campaign document and rallying cry. It’s a guide to working with every sector in the global literary sphere, from bloggers through prizes and bookstores to festivals, making the case for the inclusion of indie authors, helping indie authors to understand the industry and helping the industry to see why it needs indie authors."
You can read more about the launch HERE.

To top all this awesomeness off, I also attended a party sponsored by Amazon to celebrate the 2nd birthday of ALLi, and I had the privilege to read from my novel, Bitter Like Orange Peel, alongside some other magnificent authors: Dan Holloway, Carol Cooper, Jerome Griffin, Polly Courtney, Paul Murphy, JJ Marsh, Piers Bearne, Mark Speed, and Orna Ross.

Thank you to Dan for catching it on video for me!

So ... that was my week. (Phew!) Have you ever been to an event like this? Was it a good experience? Why?

More photos:

Me + Eliza Green + Lorna Fergusson

Les Moriarty + Me + Glynis Smy

Glynis Smy + Me + Alison Morton + Talli Roland

Me + Carol Cooper

Me + Dan Holloway

Me + Roz Morris

Me + Joanna Penn

Rohan Quine + JJ Marsh + Me

Me + Len Lambert

Debbie Young + Me

The BEST selfie ever, taken by Dan Holloway, because
he had an old camera with no screen to see if we all fit!
L to R: Debbie Young + Me + Hugh Howey +
Orna Ross + Diego Marano + Dan Holloway


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Friday, 4 April 2014

Off to the London Book Fair!

So guess who is off to the London Book Fair? Me!

I will be on hiatus all next week. But I'll definitely be Tweeting and Facebooking during the event if you're interested in updates and photos, etc.

I'll also be doing a reading from Bitter Like Orange Peel on Wednesday night at an Alliance of Independent Authors event. I'll try and get someone to video it for me, so I can share it with you.

Have a great weekend, folks!

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Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Artist Unleashed: THE 5 BIGGEST RISKS I’VE TAKEN AS AN AUTHOR by Rachel Thompson

I’ve written a lot of blog posts. A lot. A lot, a lot. Yet, nobody has ever asked me before what the five biggest risks I’ve taken as an author are, til now. So thank you Jessica for the opportunity to write for you and for making me dig deep.

Let’s deconstruct.

1)              Telling my real story.  I started blogging in 2007-ish, and mostly it was a way to connect with family and friends far and wide. However, I soon developed my ‘voice:’ a sarcastic look at relationships, love, and all the ups and downs that go with that.

Following that humor route, I wrote my first two books of humorous essays. Though they both did quite well, as I started the third book I found myself wandering off to some of the more serious situations I’d experienced, and not the happy stuff either—having an almost uncontrollable desire to get it all down, triggered by the suicide of an ex-lover.

Childhood sexual abuse, loss, date rape… not exactly dinner conversation, but as I stared down fifty, I decided it was time. As often happens when you open yourself up, I happened upon a wonderful quote by author and professor Lorrie Moore (Elle Magazine): ‘Write something you’d never show your mother or father.’

That struck me in the gut. I had to go there because I knew I’d held myself back from going that deep before, using humor as a way to mask my grief and shame.

The result is my current release, Broken Pieces, currently #1 on the Women’s Poetry list on Amazon, and in the top 25 on Dysfunctional Relationships (a dubious honor?), but one I will take. The book has won seven awards and led me to a book contract with hybrid publisher, Booktrope, selling far more than any of my previous work.

2)              Self-publishing my books. When I first decided to write books, I knew very little about self-pub—heck, about publishing in general, except that I loved to read. Despite having 15+ years in soul-sucking Big Pharma in marketing and sales, learning all about self-publishing became a full-time job.

I knew that I wanted to do it right, and I also knew that while I had no doubt about my writing abilities, I knew I wasn’t perfect and needed help with things like editing and structure. Most authors know by now to hire an editor (hint, hint), and I started researching to find someone who could be brutally honest with me. Luckily, Jessica Swift found me (on Twitter), and we connected at a level I cannot explain really, except to say that it’s a gift.  

I can’t stress enough how important it is to invest in your work with professional editing services, along with hiring a graphic artist, proofreader, and formatter. You may think that cutting corners will save you money, but you’re missing the point: your book won’t sell. It’s on you to make your book as spectacular as possible before anyone ever sees it.

Self-publishing isn’t a simple ‘cut and paste’ and call it a book. Two agents contacted me (via Twitter), I’ve taken meetings, signed with a publishing company (while I self-publish my eBooks, I signed for print only).

Self-publishing is a wonderful option if you’re willing to treat it like a business and not a one-off project.

3)              Using my voice and platform. I didn’t write Broken Pieces with any notion of fame or glory or big bucks. I wrote it because I needed to. What I didn’t realize at the time, and what has been by far the biggest benefit or the book’s release, is that I’ve become a voice for other survivors.

Sadly, many survivors still live with their shame daily, have never spoken publicly about their ordeal, and suffer in silence from PTSD, addictions, shame, dissociation, and potentially risky behavior as a result. My goal has always been to help others, but I wasn’t really sure how.

I’ve now started a private, ‘secret,’ Facebook group (survivors of childhood sexual abuse only) and we’re up to about 50 members—mostly women. I’ve also started a weekly #SexAbuseChat on Twitter—every Tuesday at 6pm PST/9pm EST. Anyone can join and we encourage family members to join also—participate or simply lurk.

The risk in doing this is that I’ve opened myself up to criticism—a small portion of people still feel these topics shouldn’t ever be discussed in an open forum, or that I’m exploiting my situation for some kind of profit. I understand the hesitation—but I figure if someone has an issue, they don’t have to participate in my chat, or buy my book. I’ll keep on writing and connecting with others regardless.

4)              Starting my business. As a result of my experiences with my own three books (all #1 bestsellers on Amazon at one point—on various lists, even hitting the top #100 overall paid list, too!), I decided to combine my marketing and sales with new skills like social media and other author marketing concepts and start my business, BadRedhead Media, in 2011.  

I am not a guru. I never, ever refer to myself that way because that assumes I’ve nothing left to learn, which couldn’t be further from the truth! But I love to share what I’ve learned—the good and the bad—on my Twitter and Facebook, in blog posts, and with clients who are looking for customized help.

As a result, I now write regularly for The Huffington Post (Books section), Self Publisher’s Monthly, BookPromotion.com, and the San Francisco Book Review, and I’m honored to cohost a weekly Blog Talk Radio show with AudioWorld’s Bennet Pomerantz.

Sure, I have plenty of critics who disagree with how I do things and that’s fine—as long as I continue to sell books and my clients do also, and I keep connecting with people, I figure I must be doing something right!

5)              Honesty. Part of being a nonfiction writer and having a busy author platform is that I put myself out there, and some people don’t like that for whatever reasons. I’ve had my share of stalkers, haters, and bullies.

I’m always fascinated by people’s behavior and motivations. I share my personal stories, as well as my business experiences—mostly to help other authors learn what I have to save them time and money. The downside is that everyone has their own opinion of how I should do things. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m a female succeeding in a ‘man’s’ world, or what. I honestly don’t spend too much time worrying about it.

Regardless of whatever negativity I encounter, I keep doing my thing. Taking it personally isn’t an option because the work I do is bigger than me—I will continue to advocate for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, to help authors learn how to use social media and understand the marketing options out there with free tips and articles, sharing what has worked for me and for my clients, and what hasn’t.

Ultimately, life is risk, as is writing or creating any type of art. It’s subjective and you will not please everyone. And that’s okay! I wouldn’t change a thing.

What risks have you taken in life?

Rachel Thompson is the author of the award-winning Broken Pieces, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed. She also owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Book Review (BadRedhead Says…), 12Most.com, bitrebels.com, BookPromotion.com, and Self Publishing Monthly. She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. She lives in California with her family.

Connect with Rachel online: Find all her links here.

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Tuesday, 1 April 2014

In which Degenerate Dictionary participates in the April A-Z Blogging Challenge #atozchallenge

Howdy Doodie :-)

Just a heads up. Though I'm not participating in the April A-Z Challenge this year through my personal blog, Adam Byatt and I are participating through Degenerate Dictionary. So, if you are participating, we'd love to see you over there! Click the image to be directed to DegDic:


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Monday, 31 March 2014

To stare at the screen ... what does it really mean?

I have just started writing my fifth novel. And for the first time ever, I have my story fully plotted from beginning to end. Usually I plot to about 2/3 of the way through, so that there is still an element of surprise when I write, but this time the ending was screaming at me. So all I have to do, is sit down and write it. I'm 5k in. Feeling proud.

Then the staring happened.

The staring, to me, means what? I'm not inspired? No. I don't know what to write next? No. Of course I do, I have it all plotted out. On cards. In front of me. That I don't know my characters well enough? Hmm ... I probably don't. But they always become more rounded as I write, and that's part of the joy. Watching them develop. And it has never stopped me from writing before.

So what, exactly, is it that makes me stare and stare, and procrastinate and procrastinate, when all I have to do is get the words on the page? I was thinking about it last night, and I came to the conclusion that it's fear.

Fear of:
1. It being crap.
2. It being all I think about day in and day out that I neglect my responsibilities. Let's face it, that is going to happen regardless, and is something I should accept.
3. It being bullshit.
4. Take more than a year to finish the first draft because of the fear and the procrastination.
5. It being stupid.
6. Doing this all for nothing. Why am I a writer? Why do I torture myself like this? Because I love it. Why? Because I love it. Why? Because I love it! Why? Oh, shut up!
7. It being crap, bullshit, and stupid.

So, that is why I stare at my screen. Because I am afraid of being who I am, essentially.

What causes you to stare at your screen?


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Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The Artist Unleashed: THE 7 MYTHS OF VIRTUAL BOOK TOURS, by Pandora Poikilos

More than two years ago when Orangeberry started out, there were only a handful of people doing book tours. Now, every other blogger has his or her own clique with the ability to do virtual book tours.

Is this a bad thing? Not at all.

If anything, it means self-published authors now have more means to promote their books in a timely manner. However, with the boom of book tours, also comes some misconception. 

1: If I go on on a virtual book tour, I am going to sell tons of books and immediately recover my costs of publishing my book and the price of the book tour. 

I am not sure how this idea started, and it is not impossible, but the chances of it happening are extremely rare. People who tell you otherwise, ask them for proof. 

Virtual book tours, as with any other marketing effort, are something you will not see immediate returns from. Also, the returns may not come in the form of sales. You may get increased book reviews or you may meet a particular group of readers you can connect with and keep updated for your next release.

Think long-term, always.

Think about this. In November 2013, Volvo set social media on fire with the epic split ad. The ad was said to have to have cost more than $4 million for 3 days of test runs,15 minutes of getting it in the exact light they wanted for an ad that lasted no more than 1 minute and 20 seconds. That’s a lot of money. Did you see everyone who spoke about the ad running out to buy a Volvo truck? No. The main purpose of the ad was to get people talking about Volvo. Was the mission accomplished? With more than 71 million views and counting, you tell me. So the purpose of a virtual book tour is to create enough buzz about your book that will make people want to know more about it and you. Eventually, this will translate into sales, but the trick is to stay in the limelight without spamming. 

2: This means, if I go on many different book tours with different tour companies and have them post the same content during these book tours, people will know more about me? 

'I’m too busy for a book tour.' 'I don’t have time to promote my book.' These are some of the common phrases I’ve heard from authors.

Well and good, we all have personal lives that need attention, and technology changes so fast, it’s sometimes hard to keep up. Some authors do their best to learn and keep up. Some don’t bother at all, and then you have the ones who take the road in between. They duplicate content. They go from one book tour company to another company saying, I need a change, but what this actually means is he or she is not going to generate fresh content.

Previously, Google had very little issue with this. It was even believed the more duplicate content you could churn out on different blogs, the better your SEO and the more people will know of you. Not anymore. As of January 2014, Google put their foot downon duplicate contentWhile the article pinpoints guest blogging for SEO purposes is what they are going after, we have noticed a big change in how Google search generates results. We recently had an author reuse all guest posts from two years ago in January 2014. Even after a month, the first page of Google search displayed links from two years ago and not the current ones. There may be many technicalities involved, but the point is duplicate content is a BIG FAT NO. If you can’t generate fresh content, then opt for a review tour or don’t go on a virtual book tour until you can generate fresh content.

If you don’t have time for book marketing, hire someone to do it for you, or make time for it. No one else knows your book better than you do. 

3: Book marketing is costly and I don’t have enough money. Why can’t people do it for free? 

It isn’t that expensive. If you can spend $5 on coffee, you can set aside another $5 a day towards your book marketing fund. If you do this every month, you will have a monthly book marketing budget of $150. If you set aside a $1 a day, you will still have $30 a month which will give you ads on blogs, a shorter book tour, or an ad on Goodreads. People can’t do it for free, because like you, they too have bills have to pay.

When Orangeberry started, all tours were free. But as site maintenance bills and advertising needs increased, fees were put into place. To this day, money made from the Orangeberry site goes towards the Orangeberry Goodie Bag which covers site maintenance, site security, artwork, advertising, blogger gifts and the annual virtual Orangeberry Book Expo. 

4: I visited this one blog during my book tour, I didn’t like it, so it’s okay for me to publicly trash the blog, right?

Blogs for some people are like their second homes. Ask anyone who has blogged for more than a year and they will tell you it’s been a journey, a learning experience, or the blog has become their foothold through a bad experience. Just as you hate getting one-star reviews for your book, how would a blogger feel about you publicly trashing his or her blog? Think about it. You have feelings. So does the person sitting on the other side of the screen reading your negative remarks.

Some tour companies use new bloggers as fillers or as extra stops, trashing their blog isn’t a fantastic welcome to the book blogging world.

5: The more followers a blogger has the better my chances for visibility.

In general, yes. But bear in mind, Facebook changed this dramatically with two things.

One, people who promoted their page via Facebook (i.e. paid money to Facebook) found their pages were no different than likes bought via click farms because, as it turned out, Facebook was promoting pages to countries like Bangladesh despite people selecting target audience as the USAor Europe.

Two, their recent decision to focus more on more popular pages and profiles means a page can have 10,000 likes, but minimal visibility. How do you then judge? Go for click-throughs. One blogger posted a link on Twitter, how many clicks did that generate? Another blogger posted to Goodreads, how many clicks did that generate? Most bloggers and tour companies can accommodate these requests, but be patient when asking as they probably have more than one author to who is asking the exact same thing.

6: All book communities are bad because they bully me my book. 

I know I am walking on glass with this one, but here’s my take on it. If someone says, 'I didn’t like your book because “insert constructive criticism”, this is not bullying. You have opinions about what you like and you do not like, so do others. Definitions of cyberbullying can be found on sites like Stop Bullying, and National Crime Prevention Council.

Don’t write off bloggers and reading communities for the wrong reasons. You may get a few bad apples, and yes you’re bound to get some bullies, but if you stay away from every reading community or group because of something you do not like, how do you then reach readers? 

7: Virtual book tours can be set up quickly and bloggers will immediately give me positive reviews for my book. 

The answer is no. We learnt the hard way as well. As you will notice, many tour companies work with smaller groups of bloggers, which is why we recommend going on tour with more than one virtual book tour company so your reach is wider.

We opted to work with a book club and about 100 other bloggers to get reviews going quickly. While some books were easy to sail through and reviews were favourable, others consisted of multiple plot issues, formatting errors and genre classification errors. So the books would have to be returned to the author to be corrected. In some cases, some bloggers may not like your book for reasons not related to technique, so again, other bloggers are needed to read and review.

TBR (to be read) piles can get out of hand fast, which is why we recently revised our lead time for tour bookings from three weeks to six weeks which gives us more time to source out more bloggers. Where possible, any book tour company will seek the best targeted readers for your book, so you do not get negative reviews. The downside of this is that the process is not quick and it isn’t 100% fool proof. No, really, it isn’t. 

While the world of self-publishing changes everyday, there are a few constants. You need a good book. You need an edited book. You need an attractive cover. And you need patience, by the truck loads. Patience to learn, patience to plan and patience to see how it all comes together. In some cases, it doesn’t, so try again. There is no magic bullet, and there is no secret to overnight book sales. 

Each marketing effort produces different results for different authors and different books. Regardless of what some “experts” will tell you, there is no fast track to increasing book sales. It takes effort, money, and time.

Marketing your book is not a race, and it does not have a finish line. In the words of JA Konrath, “eBooks are forever.”

International best-selling author, Pandora Poikilos has been writing for more than 10 years for various media which include newspapers, radio, television and various websites. Diagnosed in 2003 with a rare neurological disorder, Benign Intracrannial Hypertension, she has since undergone brain surgery to have a VP Shunt fitted in her brain. Her debut novel – Excuse Me, My Brains Have Stepped Out was written when recovering from this surgery. A social media enthusiast who is passionate about blogging and finding her way around the virtual world, (when not managing Orangeberry) she wills away time in the real world by reading, writing and people watching.

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