Monthly Archives: June 2009

Spelling and the fear of new technology

June 29, 2009

I read an article in The Sydney Morning Herald today that talked about a poll conducted by Galaxy. They asked 400 people in Sydney and Melbourne aged over 16 to spell eight commonly mis-spelled words. The words in question were:


According the article, people should be red faced about their inability to spell. Apparently around two thirds couldn’t spell embarrass, seventy per cent couldn’t spell accommodation and a quarter couldn’t spell February.

Galaxy found that women did better than men and only 7 per cent of respondents spelled everything right; 25-34 year olds ranked among the worst spellers.

I don’t find it all that surprising. Given the list of words, they’re commonly mis-spelled for a reason. Eighth is just a bastard of a word when you see it written down. There are examples of the double letter problem, like accommodation. It doesn’t look too bad spelled acommodation or accomodation but both are wrong. When you compare it to accommodation, however, nothing stands out as being obviously correct. Receipt is a good example of the old “i before e except after c” rule, but even that presents issues. This is partly due to only half a rule being known. Words like “sufficient” and “weird” prove that “i before e except after c” is not a true rule. It should be “i before e except after c when the sound is ee”. See this Language Log article for more. But I digress.

My point is that these are hard words to spell. The part of the article that really annoyed me though was this:

The children’s author Deborah Abela said spell check and text message abbreviations were harming people’s spelling skills.

Shouldn’t that be childrens’ author? Anyway, what she says is bollocks. I would wager that this same Galaxy poll conducted 20 years ago would have had the same results. Some people are good at spelling, some people learn to spell well and some are just atrocious at it. I don’t think that new technology is making people into worse spellers at all.

I watched an doco on SBS recently that followed a bunch of American kids that took part in national spelling bees. Those kids were crazy good at spelling, given their age, and they studied with a kind of rabid fervour. And that’s what it boils down to. Encouraging kids to learn is more important than looking for scapegoats like spellcheck and text messaging.


Editor Unleashed/Smashwords Flash Fiction 40 – I got in

June 29, 2009

First off, thanks to all of you that took the time to vote for me in the recent Editor Unleashed Flash Fiction 40 competition. I am very pleased to say that I won a place in the top 40. I didn’t win first prize, but out of 280 entries it’s incredibly satisfying to get selected into the top 40. My story, Parklife, will now be included in the winners anthology, published by Smashwords, and I’ll also get $25 prize money. Result.

The contest was open genre flash fiction up to a maximum of 1,000 words. There was a period of reader voting, followed by an editorial decision by a team of judges, taking the reader votes heavily into consideration. Under conditions like these it’s incredibly gratifying to be recognised. This particular story had been rejected by various magazines and ezines six times before I decided to enter it into this comp. It had been reworked and edited numerous times (after every rejection, in fact) and was eventually extremely heavily trimmed from a short story of around 2,200 words to a flash piece of 967 words. And then it found a home. Ain’t editing a wonderful thing? Proof positive that a piece of fiction can be considered finished many times before it really is.

So thanks again to those who voted, congratulations to Ravenne for her winning story and congratulations to the other top 39. Also congratulations to the 240 entrants that didn’t score a place this time. Having the balls to write a piece and enter it into a public contest is worthy of adulation in itself.

Here’s a full list of the winning entries. I’ll be sure to let you know when the Smashwords anthology is available.


“Crossfire” added to the Dark Shorts page

June 28, 2009

My short story “Crossfire”, which was recently published in The Oddville Press magazine, has been added to the Dark Shorts page here. Rather than reprint the story on my site like I usually do, I’ve made a direct link to the PDF file of the magazine in question. It’s a free publication and it’s full of interesting stuff, so have a look. Feel free to right click and save as if you haven’t already got a copy of this issue.

You can find previous issues via The Oddville Press website.


Last chance to vote me into an anthology

June 25, 2009

You may remember that I entered a flash fiction piece in a competition organised by Editor Unleashed and Smashwords. I asked you to go and have a read and vote for me.

Well, my story currently has 65 votes and a rating of 3.12 out of 5. That’s not a bad rating overall and puts me quite well up the running, but I don’t know if it’s good enough to make the top 40 and get included in the anthology.

If you can spare a few minutes, please go over to the Editor Unleashed forums where the comp is being held and vote for me. You’ll need to sign up to the forums, wait for a confirmation email and then click back through. Once you’ve done that you’ll see a star rating at the top right hand side of my story where you can add your vote. If you like the yarn and you think it’s worth 4 or 5 stars to help bring my average up, I’d greatly appreciate it. I know it’s a complicated process and a bit of a hassle, so thanks in advance to anyone that bothers to help me out. And thanks to those of you that have already voted. Once you’ve signed up to the forums you’ll never hear from them again if you don’t want to – there’s no spam or newsletters or anything like that.

This is the direct link to my story, Parklife:


The power of blogging and social media

June 24, 2009

I often wonder just how much all my online effort pays off. On the one hand, I see the hits this site gets (over 5,000 a month) and, even though people seem reluctant to comment much, it’s a very well-traversed corner of the interwebz. And I like it here, so I plan to stick around. I’m also very well aware of the need to build a profile online, a platform to make people aware of the fact that I’m a writer and that I have great books that are worth their time and money. I also have other fiction here on the site that is available to anyone for free and I like sharing that. I enjoy sharing news of other places that I get published, like the Oddville Press story recently, and I like sharing news about other writers.

So it’s all good, but does it really work on anything more than my ego?

Well, my books are selling well enough. Slow and steady. I’d certainly like to sell more, become a global phenomenon with hordes of rabid fans that dress up as the characters in my stories, but who doesn’t want that? It may happen to some degree, it may not – I’ll be writing anyway, so I might as well keep up the author platform and keep myself out there.

But every once in a while you come across something that reignites your faith in the power of blogging and social media. I often read Nathan Bransford’s blog. Nathan is a literary agent for Curtis Brown and blogs about all things related to his job, from writing good query letters to what’s hot at the moment and everything in between. Of course, given that his blog is so massively popular, he also gets back a good view of the zeitgeist from all the comments on anything he writes.

Yesterday he put up a very simple post:

You Tell Me: Where Did You Hear About the Book You’re Reading?

Last week we all shared what we’re reading at the moment.

Marketers and publicists and literary agents and everyone else interested in sales wants to know: how did you hear about it?

Also: where did you buy/borrow/acquire/steal it from?

At last look there are 194 comments on that post, with all kinds of books listed. Here are just the first three of those nearly two hundred comments:

Anonymous said…

Reading The Strain. Heard about it from Colleen Lindsay on Twitter.

Liana Brooks said…

Just finished Trouble with Demons. Won it from a blog promoting the release.

joelle said…

I used to do a lot of library browsing, but now I have a friend who is a MG/YA sales rep for Penguin Canada and she gives me about 35-40 ARCs every few months. My library use now is pretty much requests based on what I read about on blogs or personal recommendations from friends.

The bolding is mine, obviously. The number of times words like Twitter, blog, Amazon, Goodreads and so on crop up among those comments proves that online activity and social media is by far the strongest influence in readers these days. I was also pleased to see that good old fashioned libraries still get a look in. Old and new, co-existing. With books. Bliss.

So yes, social media and online activity is certainly worth the time and effort that it takes. Moreso, it’s absolutely essential if you want to be noticed out there, particularly if you don’t have the marketing behemoth of a big publisher backing you.

So what about you? Is social media working for you? Do you use online recommendations like those mentioned above to select your reading material? Leave a comment.


New short story published at The Oddville Press

June 22, 2009

I’m very pleased to announce that another piece of my short fiction has been published out there in the real world. This particular story is a whimsically existential idea called Crossfire, published by The Oddville Press. Who are they? According to them:

The Oddville Press is a downloadable electronic non-profit magazine in PDF format dedicated to bringing high quality Fiction, Poetry and Artwork to the forefront.

It’s staffed by committed volunteers with high standards of excellence whose mission is to promote today’s geniuses and tomorrow’s giants.

Yes, that’s right – I’m a genius of today and a giant of tomorrow. That means I’m destined to be a genius giant. So look out all you schoolyard bullies, my vengeance is nigh.

Anyway, my story is appearing in the June edition, which is Volume 1, issue 4, and has just been released. You can check out all about the publication at The Oddville Press website.


Check out my name there on the cover.

Here’s a direct link to the PDF of Issue 4 – you should be able to right click that link and Save As and you’ll get the magazine directly. Otherwise, click here and select the correct issue from the list. You can download the previous three while you’re there – there’s some great stuff in this mag. You’ll find my story on page 74 of Issue 4.

Don’t be shy to leave me a comment here and let me know what you think of the story.


Ten year 10 book one million quid deal

June 22, 2009

No, sadly not for me. But whoever said that traditional publishing is dead had better think again. I’ve said myself that traditional publishing is dying. The whole nature of publishing is changing, and changing rapidly. But here’s proof that the old models aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

I’ve picked up this news via S F Signal and Locus and the main story is being reported in The Guardian in the UK. Science fiction author Alistair Reynolds has landed a deal with Orion imprint Gollancz for ten books over ten years worth £1,000,000.

Alistair Reynolds (Photograph: Josette Sanchez)

Reynolds, said he was “amazed and thrilled” to commit himself to the same publisher for the next decade. Who wouldn’t be on a million quid contract? He also said, “It gives me a huge amount of security for the next ten years and writers don’t have a lot of security. Even at the best of times you’re worrying about the next deadline, the next contract. To have that in place is fantastic for me.” There he really does have a point. And there also is proof that trad publishing doesn’t hear its own death knell, so we can rest assured that books are still going to reach us the old fashioned way for a while yet.

According to the Guardian article:

Born in south Wales in 1966, Reynolds began publishing short stories in science fiction magazines during the 16 years he spent working as an astronomer at the European Space Agency in the Netherlands. He switched to writing full time in 2004, and returned to live in Wales last year. Meanwhile he has been steadily building a reputation as one of the most skilful practitioners of the flamboyant science fiction sub-genre of space opera. His second novel, Chasm City, won the British Science Fiction Award in 2001, and his latest, House of Suns, was shortlisted for this year’s Arthur C Clarke prize.

In describing the reasoning behind their decision, Jo Fletcher of Gollancz said:

“We don’t sling that sort of money around lightly. Al’s got big ideas for the future and we wanted to make that happen, but it’s also a signal to the publishing industry that we’re taking him seriously, and that they need to. He is very good at characterisation, he is very good at complex plots and he’s very good at making you feel the vastness out there. He’s got the whole package.”

I must admit that the concept of a ten book deal over ten years, while incredible, would also be very daunting. Writing a book a year, every year, for a decade is really quite an ask. Still, I’d give it a stab if the opportunity came along. Reynolds isn’t bothered by it and thinks he’s proved his abilities in previous years.

Well, good on him. It makes me very happy to see this kind of faith in publishing, especially in genre fiction. Maybe there is some hope left for the world.


Self-Publishing Book Expo 2009

June 22, 2009

For all you US based indies out there, take a look at this.

The first Self-Publishing Book Expo is in New York on November 7th 2009. There are all kinds of things going on, incluing panels like Understanding Distribution, The Rise of eBooks, Buzz Your Book and more to be announced. There are loads of exhibitors already listed. The event has already been generating some press, so it looks like it would be worth getting in on this is you can.

Check out the website and see what you think. If you do go along, drop me a line and let me know how it was.


SF/F Writers’ Day 2009

June 22, 2009

So, for those of you with a fairly short memory, I mentioned back on June 9th that there was a new day to celebrate. It’s Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Day, and it’s today – June 23rd. This post may be dated June 22nd, but that’s what you get when you live Down Under – thanks to the international date line we get things almost a full day sooner than the US. Trust me, it’s the 23rd here.

The idea of the day is:

A day of celebration and wonder! A day for all of us readers of science fiction and fantasy to reach out and say thank you to our favorite writers. A day, perhaps, to blog about our favorite sf/f writers. A day to reflect upon how written science fiction and fantasy has changed your life.

That comes from the dedicated Facebook group, where the debate still rages about the apostrophe in the name. It was originally written as Writer’s Day, which is very wrong. It’s now been changed to Writers Day, which is better than Writer’s Day, but still wrong. I’m lobbying for the correct spelling of Writers’ Day, but I’m not holding my breath.

Anyway, as a writer and a reader of SF/F I thought I’d get behind the day and help support it. You never know, if it really takes off I might get some presents next year. Again, not holding my breath.

I thought I’d mention three books that fundamentally affected the way I thought about reading and writing and that had a strong impact on me as I grew up. Perhaps this will push anyone that hasn’t read these books to give them a go. Then I realised that picking three books out of all the ones I love would be really hard – I certainly don’t have a top three books. I don’t have a top thirty, there’s just so many. So I decided to pick one book from each of the primary SF/F genres – Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror – and pick them purely for what they did to me at a young age. These certainly aren’t my three favourite books, but they are three books that spring to mind when I think of SF/F that’s stuck with me.


For Science Fiction I choose – Ringworld by Larry Niven.

There are fundamental problems with this book (the whole luck thing, for example) but it’s still a great read. It has entertaining characters and a really original idea. I loved the concept behind this book and the way it was explored. Still worth a read today, nearly 25 years after it was first published.

For Fantasy I choose – The Lord Of The Rings by J R R Tolkien.

This might seem like a lazy, safe choice, but I read this massive trilogy at about 12 years old and was mesmerised. It took me away to places I’d never imagined and opened my eyes to what was possible in the realms of fantasy. The pure scope of the story was something that changed my perception of stories. Of course, we all know that Gandalf should have called his eagle friends and flown Frodo directly over Moria and he could have dropped the One Ring straight into Mount Doom without having to walk through three long, drawn out books. But that’s kinda beside the point.

For Horror I choose – The Fog by James Herbert.

This is a classic old horror yarn. I loved that it was set in England and it used fog as a terrifying adversary. Really horrible things happen and really strange things happen. As a teenager reading this I was particularly amazed at the school teacher in the gym – if you’ve read it you’ll know what I’m talking about. That had quite an impact on a young mind. The whole story is engaging and scary, just as a good horror story should be.

So what are the SF/F books that have really impacted on your life? Leave a comment and share your favourite SF/F writers.


Automatically update your Facebook page with your blog entries

June 18, 2009

I found this article over at Publetariat today and thought it was a bloody useful snippet of information. It basically describes how to connect your blog feed to your Facebook page using the Notes application. Once you’ve set it up, any new post to your blog will get found by Facebook and automatically posted to your profile as a note.

I’ve just set it up and hopefully this very post will soon appear on my Facebook profile. It’s a great way to keep your various online presences linked using your blog as a primary hub. That’s certainly what I try to do. It’s very important for someone in my position to build an online profile across the web that is standardised and coherent. It’s often referred to as an Author Platform.

For example, I always use the same picture (the one in the banner above) pretty much everywhere. That only changes on my Facebook profile because it’s fun to keep messing with that. Currently it’s a picture of me and David Vincent from Morbid Angel. Who wouldn’t share that shot with the world?

But otherwise I try to keep everything centralised. I have a feed for this blog going to all the various ning communities I belong to and to my Goodreads Author page and my MySpace profile – every time I make a new post here, it updates in all those places as if by magic. Now it automatically feeds to my Facebook page too.

If you’re trying to build your online presence keep an eye open for tools like these to help streamline and organise your activity. Check the Publetariat page linked above for full details on the Facebook notes application feed.



The website of author Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter, Author

Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Zetetic.

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