Monthly Archives: September 2009

Conflux 6 report #1 – Arrival

September 30, 2009

So, I’ve made the short (by Australian standards) drive to Canberra for Conflux 6. I’ve mentioned previously all the bits and pieces that I’ll be doing here. Here’s the run-down again if you’re interested.

I’m staying at the Marque Hotel, which is where the Con is being held. Look, here’s my room:


Not too shabby really. I was pleased to see it had a balcony. Until I saw the balcony.


That’s a view left and right from the room. Isn’t Canberra beautiful? I think my view is the roof of a carpark, but I’ve yet to investigate that.

One thing I noticed on the way in was that there’s a sort of scribbled sign on the door. It’s supposed to indicate that beds, drinks and food are available here:


To me it just says monsters, drinks and food are available here. Maybe it’s because I’m at a spec fic convention, but can you see that too? How about now:


It’s even drooling nasty slime.

Anyway, I’ve paid for the hideously expensive wireless access here, so expect as many Conflux 6 updates as I can muster the energy for. It could be many, it could be very, very few. I’ll try to tweet about it regularly too, so follow me on @AlanBaxter.


International Blasphemy Day

September 30, 2009

I write about magic and monsters and demons and all that stuff. I love the fantasy, horror and sci fi genre and the ideas it plays with. I’m happy to admit that there’s an awful lot out there that we can’t understand and all kinds of things happening that defy rational explanation. I don’t mind if people believe in some kind of higher power, magic or guiding force in the universe. There’s no proof for it, but there’s no proof against it either. In my opinion the only intellectually defensible position on these issues is agnosticism – we simply don’t know for sure, so having any kind of absolute fixed belief is stubborness at least and willful ignorance at worst.

So with that in mind, any kind of organised religion pisses me off. To claim that you have all the answers, the ultimate truths and so on is just bollocks as far as I’m concerned. How does this relate to writing and words (am I going off on a tangent rant here?) No, watch me segue:

The Bible, the Koran and books like them (books, see!) are some of the most abused sets of words in the world, used for all kinds of things contrary to the things they claim to teach. And they’re clearly the work of men, revised, edited, translated and rewritten with agenda time and time again. To claim they are anything like the absolute word of any god is mental.

If those books give you succour and help you to organise yourself into a functioning, moral person, that’s fine. We certainly don’t need them to be morally upstanding, but whatever floats your boat. Claim that it’s the word of any god or try to convince me that people that don’t believe it are going to some kind of hell (that they don’t believe in, incidentally) and you go straight to my shitlist. As mythologies for exploring the human condition I have no problem with them. Why is the Koran considered a religion while the Prose Edda is considered a fantasy? Something to think about.

Anyway, with those thoughts in mind, today I’m celebrating International Blasphemy Day. You can read all about it here at my friend Michael’s blog. For my part, I want to share today’s Jesus & Mo cartoon. (Jesus & Mo is one of my favourite web-comics. Check it out here.)



Reviews, word of mouth and Super Users – Part 2

September 29, 2009

Ever wondered how you’re going to get your erotic werewolf scifi mysteries noticed by readers? Following yesterday’s guest post here by MCM about how to make reviews work for writers, today MCM picks up where he left off and talks about how to make use of the long tail and work your way up through niche reviewers. You can find the article on the Novelr website here.


Reviews, word of mouth and Super Users – Guest post by MCM

September 28, 2009

Today I’m pleased to present a guest post by MCM. This post explores the difficulties in building a fan base through word of mouth, and talks about how reviewers can help us with that.

Recently, I’ve had some conversations with very smart people about the future of publishing, specifically about how readers and writers can connect directly and make old-style functions like reviewers obsolete. It’s a great notion with dangerous consequences, and if you’re game, I’ll explain why.

Here’s the thing: the internet breaks down barriers and actively enhances communication between people. In the old days, it was impractical for an author to chat with their fans; today, it’s downright pedestrian. The old notion of “word of mouth” expanded beyond your neighbourhood and now covers the globe. Tell your five best friends about your new book, and they’ll tell their five best friends, and eventually you take over the world. It is, theoretically, pure unbridled exponential growth (at least until you run out of people to tell). This is the way of the future.

Except it’s not as easy as it seems. Just because you tell your five best friends, it doesn’t mean all of them will like your writing enough to tell anyone else. There are lots of factors that play into the “infection rate”, but the end result is you may only get one of your friends to follow through. And then only one of their friends. And so on. It’s still exponential, just working on a lesser scale.

Word of Mouth (WOM) depends less on the potential pool of converts, and more on the accessible pool. There are billions of people on the planet, but you probably only know 0.000002% of them. Add in decay (meaning your WOM is not eternal… eventually, the lag in reading will affect the infection rate) and your growth is severely capped. If you have 135 friends at the start, in most cases you’ll end up with a total audience of 621 (note: all numbers are based on a rough systems model and are probably too high).

Next time around, you’ll have a base pool of 600 to work from, which helps a lot. But unless you’re willing to spend years and years building up an audience, straight WOM is not going to cut it.

This is where Super Users come in. They are, very simply, people with a lot of friends and influence. If they say “this book is awesome!” a larger percentage of their network will act on the promotion. You get a 1% infection rate, but they’ll score 10% or higher. Add that to their larger pool, and your growth will have much more potential. Switch from a gentle curve to a steep one, and you see the difference.

The other benefit of a steep curve is that the decay is postponed… someone, somewhere will always be finishing your book and telling their friends about it. It creates a constant state of critical mass, which also ups the infection rate. Think of it this way: nobody likes to be dancing alone, but if you’ve got a large pool of people all dancing together (even if some of them cycle out after every song), it looks like a party. You’re more likely to dance if that’s what everyone else is doing. Super users can find enough people to throw that party.

Super Users can take many forms online, but one important role to weblit is the reviewer. People are looking for advice on what to read, and reviewers read a lot of material. As a reviewer proves their merit, their social network grows, and so does their influence. Writers can expand their network with every new title, but reviewers can expand with every new posting.

The value for authors is that a single positive review by an established reviewer can give them access to thousands of eyeballs, not just hundreds. If you have no social network, a reviewer can give you one. If you already have a solid base, a reviewer can help you tap a different set of people, or at least add to your own influence.

To compare: if your book is reviewed by someone with a social network of 1,000, your total audience potential increases from 621 to 4,937. If their social network is 10,000, you’re looking at just shy of 82,350. Imagine someone with a million Twitter followers reviewing your book… you’re looking at 8,242,224 converts.

The trick for weblit reviewers is that, right now, very few of them have large followings. That’s something authors can help change, by supporting and promoting them. It may seem unappealing to put reviewers on a pedestal (especially since it reeks of gate keeping), but if you look at it objectively, a healthy weblit community depends on a healthy reviewer class.

The question of how to build a SMART reviewer class is something I’ll cover in a guest post on Novelr tomorrow. And yes, it’ll have more graphs. Yay!

MCM is the creator of the animated series RollBots as well as the author of several picture books for kids. His grown-up work includes the sci fi thriller “The Vector” and a crowdsourced mystery novel called “Fission Chips”. He has a background in programming and systems thinking, which is how he learned to make graphs. He lives in Victoria, BC, Canada with his wife and kids, and may be at least partially insane.

What are your experiences with word of mouth marketing? Do you trust all reviewers or no reviewers? Do you have particular places that you’ll go for reviews to help you decide on a purchase? Leave a comment.


Friday flash – Strange Death

September 24, 2009

This is another piece from the archives. I found this short story while looking for something else and thought I might rework it into a little #fridayflash piece. I hope you like it.


Strange Death

‘Remind me again why I don’t have a quiet office job,’ said Detective Hardy.

The constable beside him laughed, a short, bitter sound. He squinted up into the rain falling from the black, menacing sky then looked back down at the corpse lying in the alley. Watery blood ran from numerous gaping wounds, reflecting the streetlight. ‘The glamour?’

Hardy echoed the constables humourless laugh. ‘So let’s see. Male caucasian, around twenty-five, fit looking. Multiple lacerations and bite marks. Throat torn out. Discovered by a wino. That cover it?’

The constable nodded. ‘The wino was in quite a state, shouting about a monster eating someone.’

Hardy raised an eyebrow, glancing to the end of the alley where the constable’s car was parked. The constable’s partner stood there with a bedraggled old man. The old man had his back to the alley, his shoulders visibly trembling. ‘He saw the attack?’

‘So he says. He turned into the alley and saw the monster. He screamed, the monster ran, he ran too. He found us right outside the alley. Those are some pretty massive bite marks.’ The constable sounded almost impressed.

Hardy nodded.

‘Even an German Shepherd wouldn’t have a mouth that big.’

Hardy sighed. ‘Well, let’s ask him some questions.’

As they walked Hardy looked at the constable. There was a broad cut down his right cheek, still leaking blood. The rain washed the blood pink over his collar. ‘What happened to you?’ Hardy asked, trying to light a cigarette without it getting wet.

The constable raised one hand to stroke the wound. He smiled at Hardy. ‘A little fracas earlier on. Nothing serious.’

Hardy shrugged. He let it go as they reached the constable’s partner and the trembling wino, terror still evident in the old man’s eyes. ‘Can you tell me exactly what you saw?’ he asked. He drew deeply on his cigarette.

‘I d-don’t know,’ the old man replied, his voice gravelly from years of drinking and smoking whatever he could find. He looked nervously at the constable. ‘I heard this growling and crunching and saw this beast! I screamed like a girl the second I saw it and… I musta made it jump, cuz it just bolted.’ He looked at the constable again, fear bright in his eyes.

Hardy glanced at the constable, who grinned at him. ‘What do you mean by beast?’ Hardy asked the wino.

The old man raised both hands. ‘Like a giant dog or a wolf, only it stood on two legs like a man.’

‘Sounds like a werewolf,’ the constable said with a smile. His partner chuckled quietly. The wino whimpered.

Hardy laughed. ‘A werewolf!’

The constable looked at him sharply. ‘You don’t believe in werewolves?’

‘Certainly not!’

‘So what else could have made bite marks that big?’

Hardy shrugged. ‘I have no idea, but it wasn’t a werewolf!’

The constable smiled, a disturbing twist to one side of his mouth. Hardy stared at him for a moment, then looked to his partner. The constable’s partner smiled softly and shrugged. He had dark eyes that glittered in the low light. ‘Did you call the homicide team?’ Hardy asked.

The beep of a car horn prevented the need for any answer as two more cars pulled up. Hardy went and spoke to the men that climbed from the cars, grimacing at the rain. He pointed down the alley. The men nodded. Hardy returned to the constables and their charge. ‘You better take him in.’

‘I don’t wanna go!’ the wino said quickly, eyes wild. His hands started trembling violently.

Hardy smiled. ‘Standard procedure. We got to get a proper statement from you.’

The constable squeezed the wino’s shoulder. ‘We’ll take good care of you.’ His smile was broad as he opened the back door of his car and helped the old man in. He and his partner got in the front and they drove slowly away. The old wino looked back as they went, his ashen face bright in the dark frame of the rear screen. Hardy ground out his cigarette in a puddle as he watched them go.

A homicide photographer paused as he passed Hardy. ‘Who were those two uniforms?’ he asked, gesturing after the car.

Hardy shrugged. ‘No idea. I’m on temp assignment in this district.’

The photographer stared after them. As they disappeared from sight he said, ‘I don’t recognise them.’ He set the flash on his camera and strolled on, leaving Hardy alone in the pouring rain. Hardy chuckled to himself as he walked to the street, using an unusually long fingernail to pick a small wad of red flesh from between his teeth.


The days are getting shorter

September 21, 2009

My wife and I popped into a cafe yesterday to grab a sandwich while doing things around town. I was rather disturbed by the menu. Given that I’m writing up this post at 2.10 pm perhaps I should actually be in bed already.

all day

Now call me pedantic, but that’s false advertising right there.


Formatting error on Smashwords ebooks

September 20, 2009

A reader was kind enough to point out to me recently that the epub versions of RealmShift and MageSign had a formatting error. It seems that the font size switched between 10 point and 12 point fairly randomly throughout both books on some readers.

I checked this on my iPhone and found that on Stanza Desktop the books looked fine, but once uploaded to the iPhone Stanza they switched font sizes every few paragraphs.

So, having investigated, it turned out to be publisher error. In other words, me. Isn’t it always? The problem has been fixed now, so if you bought a copy or RealmShift and/or MageSign and downloaded the epub version, you can go back to Smashwords now and download the corrected book at no cost. If you have any other problems, please do let me know.

You can get the correctly formatted books on Smashwords at the following links:



If you haven’t got them, why not? They’re only US$2.89 each now as ebooks. Go on, treat yourself.


A great review for RealmShift

September 19, 2009

There is nothing better for an author than words of praise from a reader. A reader doesn’t have to say anything about a book they read. If they don’t like any given book, they usually just don’t say anything other than telling friends and family about it. If they really enjoy a book, they’ll usually do the same. It’s great for authors when someone takes the time to tell the world what they thought, in the form of a review, especially when they really enjoy a book. RealmShift just got this 5 star review from cbell. It was posted on the page for RealmShift.

I’ve just gone for a ride on the rollercoaster that is RealmShift!

We have 3 stories running alongside each other, and I can’t pick my favourite. They all held my interest and I couldn’t wait to pick up the book again when life and sleep interrupted my reading.

When the 3 stories collide in the climax towards the end of the book, I was reading fast and furious, eating up the words, absolutely focussed on what was happening, right there with the characters.

Alan, I’m trying not to believe in that unmentionable place full of horrors, but you made it so believable. It was horrifying. I had cold shivers reading some parts of the book, brr.

Plenty of horror and fantasy, throw in some religion, sci-fi and history, and you have RealmShift. Wow! This book was worth every cent and more.

As soon as I’d finished RealmShift, I started MageSign. I want to keep reading about Isiah.

Thanks, Alan! What a great book!

I can not begin to describe how good this makes me feel. I have to write, it’s in my bones. I couldn’t not write. Even if people hated every word I typed I’d still feel driven to do it, although I might keep it to myself if I got really slammed. But reviews like this make it all so much more worthwhile and satisfying. Thanks cbell!


The Telegraph’s 20 worst Dan Brown sentences

September 19, 2009

I’m not bitter at the success of Dan Brown. Really, I’m not. I would love to sell one book for every 10,000 books Dan Brown sells and I’d consider myself very sucessful, but I don’t resent his success. Anyone that can sell books in the kind of numbers that the Browns, Rowlings and Meyers of this world do is something that should provide succour to all writers. It is possibe to sell books by the million.

Of course, it does burn a little bit when those books are atrocious, but there’s no point being bitter about it. Remember the other day when I said the reader was always right? Well, it’s the readers that are buying up all those awful books, so there’s no point in other writers griping about it. I certainly wouldn’t care what other authors thought if I was selling a gazillion books a second like Dan Brown.

However, I can’t necessarily call Brown’s books awful. I’ve never read any of his books or even seen the movies. I’m just not interested. The mass hype puts me off and the few friends of mine that have read them have essentially said, “Well, they’re quite entertaining stories, but shit, they’re awful really.” That’s never made much sense to me except to mean that the stories are quite engaging, but those stories are full of holes and the writing is terrible. Well, that’s not entertaining as far as I’m concerned so I’ve never bothered. There are so many other things to spend my time and money reading.

Then today I came across this article on the UK Telegraph website. Now I’m glad I never invested time and money into any of Brown’s work. The article lists their pick of Dan Brown’s 20 worst sentences. Oh my life, how I laughed reading this. Seriously, how did some of this stuff get past an editor? Here they are (the bits in italics are the comments of Tom Chivers on the original article, linked above):

20. Angels and Demons, chapter 1: Although not overly handsome in a classical sense, the forty-year-old Langdon had what his female colleagues referred to as an ‘erudite’ appeal — wisp of gray in his thick brown hair, probing blue eyes, an arrestingly deep voice, and the strong, carefree smile of a collegiate athlete.

They say the first rule of fiction is “show, don’t tell”. This fails that rule.

19. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 83: “The Knights Templar were warriors,” Teabing reminded, the sound of his aluminum crutches echoing in this reverberant space.

“Remind” is a transitive verb – you need to remind someone of something. You can’t just remind. And if the crutches echo, we know the space is reverberant.

18. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: He could taste the familiar tang of museum air – an arid, deionized essence that carried a faint hint of carbon – the product of industrial, coal-filter dehumidifiers that ran around the clock to counteract the corrosive carbon dioxide exhaled by visitors.

Ah, that familiar tang of deionised essence.

17. Deception Point, chapter 8: Overhanging her precarious body was a jaundiced face whose skin resembled a sheet of parchment paper punctured by two emotionless eyes.

It’s not clear what Brown thinks ‘precarious’ means here.

16. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: A voice spoke, chillingly close. “Do not move.” On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly. Only fifteen feet away, outside the sealed gate, the mountainous silhouette of his attacker stared through the iron bars. He was broad and tall, with ghost-pale skin and thinning white hair. His irises were pink with dark red pupils.

A silhouette with white hair and pink irises stood chillingly close but 15 feet away. What’s wrong with this picture?

15. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: As a boy, Langdon had fallen down an abandoned well shaft and almost died treading water in the narrow space for hours before being rescued. Since then, he’d suffered a haunting phobia of enclosed spaces – elevators, subways, squash courts.

Other enclosed spaces include toilet cubicles, phone boxes and dog kennels.

14. Angels and Demons, chapter 100: Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers glorified the four major rivers of the Old World – The Nile, Ganges, Danube, and Rio Plata.

The Rio de la Plata. Between Argentina and Uruguay. One of the major rivers of the Old World. Apparently.

The Da Vinci Code, chapter 5: Only those with a keen eye would notice his 14-karat gold bishop’s ring with purple amethyst, large diamonds, and hand-tooled mitre-crozier appliqué.

A keen eye indeed.

13 and 12. The Lost Symbol, chapter 1: He was sitting all alone in the enormous cabin of a Falcon 2000EX corporate jet as it bounced its way through turbulence. In the background, the dual Pratt & Whitney engines hummed evenly.

The Da Vinci Code, chapter 17: Yanking his Manurhin MR-93 revolver from his shoulder holster, the captain dashed out of the office.

Oh – the Falcon 2000EX with the Pratt & Whitneys? And the Manurhin MR-93? Not the MR-92? You’re sure? Thanks.

11. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: Captain Bezu Fache carried himself like an angry ox, with his wide shoulders thrown back and his chin tucked hard into his chest. His dark hair was slicked back with oil, accentuating an arrow-like widow’s peak that divided his jutting brow and preceded him like the prow of a battleship. As he advanced, his dark eyes seemed to scorch the earth before him, radiating a fiery clarity that forecast his reputation for unblinking severity in all matters.

Do angry oxen throw their shoulders back and tuck their chins into their chest? What precisely is a fiery clarity and how does it forecast anything? Once again, it is not clear whether Brown knows what ‘forecast’ means.

10. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: Five months ago, the kaleidoscope of power had been shaken, and Aringarosa was still reeling from the blow.

Did they hit him with the kaleidoscope?

9. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 32: The vehicle was easily the smallest car Langdon had ever seen. “SmartCar,” she said. “A hundred kilometers to the liter.”

Pro tip: when fleeing from the police, take a moment to boast about your getaway vehicle’s fuel efficiency. And get it wrong by a factor of five. SmartCars do about 20km (12 miles) to the litre.

8. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 3: My French stinks, Langdon thought, but my zodiac iconography is pretty good.

And they say the schools are dumbing down.

7 and 6. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 33: Pulling back the sleeve of his jacket, he checked his watch – a vintage, collector’s-edition Mickey Mouse wristwatch that had been a gift from his parents on his tenth birthday.

The Da Vinci Code, chapter 6: His last correspondence from Vittoria had been in December – a postcard saying she was headed to the Java Sea to continue her research in entanglement physics… something about using satellites to track manta ray migrations.

In the words of Professor Pullum: “It has the ring of utter ineptitude. The details have no relevance to what is being narrated.”

5. Angels and Demons, chapter 4: learning the ropes in the trenches

Learning the ropes (of a naval ship) while in the trenches (with the army in the First World War). It’s a military education, certainly.

4, 3, and 2. The Da Vinci Code, opening sentence: Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery.

Angels and Demons, opening sentence: Physicist Leonardo Vetra smelled burning flesh, and he knew it was his own.

Deception Point, opening sentences: Death, in this forsaken place, could come in countless forms. Geologist Charles Brophy had endured the savage splendor of this terrain for years, and yet nothing could prepare him for a fate as barbarous and unnatural as the one about to befall him.

Professor Pullum: “Renowned author Dan Brown staggered through his formulaic opening sentence”.

1. The Da Vinci Code: Title. The Da Vinci Code.

Leonardo’s surname was not Da Vinci. He was from Vinci, or of Vinci. As many critics have pointed out, calling it The Da Vinci Code is like saying Mr Of Arabia or asking What Would Of Nazareth Do?

If nothing else, this should serve to remind us all as writers that the “rules” are often and easily broken by even the best selling of authors, and that doesn’t necessarily stand in the way of publication. But let’s make a pact now, writers everywhere: May we always strive to be better writers than Dan Brown.


Friday Flash – One Thought

September 17, 2009

I have very little time this week, so I apologise if this little piece is not up to my usual standard. I pretty much wrote it and posted it in a single sitting, which is something I never usually do. I’m sure if I read it again in a day or two I’ll see loads of changes that I’d like to make. It’s more the exploration of an idea than anything else, a moment frozen in time. It’s a piece of imagery that I’ve had in my mind for a while now. I hope you like it.

One Thought

All kinds of thoughts tumbled through the back of Jaiden’s mind, struggling to reach the surface. The gruelling ass-kicking that went under the innocuous name of Basic Training. Sky-larking in barracks, playing pranks on each other, going out drinking whenever leave was granted. How the combination of hard work and fun had made him feel so alive, given him so much purpose.

The trade he was learning, being paid to get a university degree. Qualifications that would lead to great jobs back in civilian life. How he could never have afforded the education the army was providing him any other way.

He tried to think about Cally back home, how she smiled when she saw him. There was no light in the world like Cally’s smile. Something he wanted more than anything else in life was to see that smile on the face of a child. Their child.

Try as he might, all these thoughts were gossamer visions, background music for a still frame in the movie of his life. He tried to think of something else, anything else. But he was only going to have one thought for the rest of his life. One image in his mind. The gentle twist of smoke curling up from the barrel of his weapon. The identical curl of smoke rising from the hole in the chest of the man at his feet.



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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