…well, they do pretty much exactly what it says on the tin, reliably and within the meagre range of my budget; they offer author resources and services, including outreach to book bloggers, promo images, beta reading, blog tours, Facebook and Twitter management, and they’re willing to talk to you about other things on an ad-hoc basis.
I first met RAR! through my review blog (oh, yes, I do). They struck me as professional, (extremely) patient, and someone to look up when I had some cash to throw at book reviews for my own books. Among other things, I especially appreciated that they stayed in touch on social media, and seemed to have a similar sense of humour. (I’m not sure if that last is actually a compliment, but moving on…).
Ryder Author Resources recently (well, since July 2018) updated their website, and the services they offer out of the box are clearly outlined on their author services page, along with how to get in touch with them to discuss other things.
They offer either package quotes, or an hourly rate for longer-term things, like looking for book reviewers. For longer-term things, they send out weekly updates to you on what they’ve been up to and how it’s going. The invoices show up monthly and itemised, with online credit card payment options – it’s all very painless and simple.
Awesome! Not only have they patiently and persistently hunted down sci-fi reviewers, they also put me onto Hidden Gems, and all told Through the Hostage is now well past the miraculous 15 review mark on Amazon and headed for twenty-five. That’s not even counting readers who review to private blogs and / or Goodreads, or a few fantastic folks who review everywhere they have an account.
I was nervous about going in with any kind of professional publicist, as prior to Ryder Author Resources, I’d had a string of bad experiences, including someone who absconded with a substantial amount of cash and did absolutely nothing, but RAR! has gone a long way to restoring my faith in humanity. The team behind the RAR! are also genuinely nice people, and the weekly update emails and online exchanges are always a fun experience.
I’d definitely go in with them for reviewer outreach, and based on my experience with them on gaining a few more reviews for Through the Hostage, I don’t have any qualms saying that if they say they do something, then it will be done, and you’ll have a fun team behind you on the way.
Definitely, at all costs, avoid the planning. With this one simple tip, a writer can avoid months or even years of worry, save themselves from the dreaded note cascade whenever the cat crosses the desk, and, best of all, begin writing sooner.
As award-winning authors Claire Buss and J C Steel can attest, it is hard to over-emphasise the savings in time spent not writing your next masterpiece this one piece of advice can provide. Please note, when we say ‘don’t plan’, we do indeed mean no series arc, no tedious deciding in advance whether your protagonist should have a mole somewhere interesting, and most certainly no poring over a map trying to figure out why cities that famous people are born in exist at the top of mountain plateaux with no nearby water.
Complicated things like these tend to take care of themselves. You had no plan for book one and everything worked out just fine. Repeat this method when writing subsequent books and in no time at all you’ll have a multi-book series and maybe even a box set. Planning takes up valuable time when you could be inventing twenty new characters who bear no relation whatsoever to the main characters in your first book. It’s important to keep things fresh and interesting.
Planning is one of the secret tools of procrastination. Authors who swear by it are really admitting to being closet-procrastinators and they probably don’t even like cake.
How not to world-build
J C Steel maintains that it’s possible to learn everything you need to know about your characters and your world-building by climbing a mast, wedging yourself comfortably above the radar, and chatting with the voices in your head. Not only does it pass the time when the yacht isn’t going anywhere, but when you do this regularly, the character, the secondary characters, and the world they live in become so internalised that the entire setting and cast is ready for you when you reach deck level and reach for your pen (or keyboard, or magic wand, or inscription instrument of choice). Better yet, again, no notes required.
Health and safety tip: Of course, for the younger writer, it is important not to confess to anyone that you are, in fact, chatting with the voices in your head until you reach the local age of indiscretion. Otherwise adults (defined as those who have been doing it wrong longer) have a tendency to over-react.
There is no need to re-read your previous book(s) and re-familiarise yourself with the existing world you built. After all, you wrote it in the first place and you never forget salient details, ever. By continuing to have regular chats with your characters you will have an in-depth understanding of their personality and why they react to things the way they do. Seeing as you have all this information at your fingertips it will become obvious to the reader as well, this is down to secret osmosis of thought. That elusive yet unique connection authors have with their readers which allows them, the reader, to understand every nuance, every subtlety and every hidden meaning. That connection is so strong there is no need to describe buildings, cities, infrastructure or even what your characters look like. All those world-building aspects come under planning and as stated previously, there is no need to get bogged down by any of that.
How to not delay the writing bits
So how does one get from chatting with the voices in your head to successfully writing a series? You may well ask. We feel that the key ingredient for this harks back to our very first piece of advice – don’t plan – freeing up more time for actual writing. Bum on seat and fingers on writing implements is how the words are made to go. A pantser is, therefore, always at a near-infinite advantage. While the plotter is still working out whether using shell pink Post-It notes for the kinky scenes is too precious, the pantser has already powered through that all-important opening scene and is trying busily to get their characters to slow that duck down so they can write down the awesome one-liner someone yelled halfway through the last chase.
There is no need to worry about subsequent books making sense with regards to the entire series or indeed as stand-alone novels. Readers will, of course, read each book in the series in the correct order and will have already established their psychic link with your inner monologue and completely understand all the back story you’ve thought about and not yet written down. This means, again, the pantser wins at writing as they do not have to delay getting on with the actual writing.
Health and safety tip: We refer you to the great Oscar Wilde on the importance of making time for what is most important to you – “Work is the curse of the drinking classes.”
How not to get buried in the details
Detailed descriptions are so last century. Your enlightened reader just wants the juicy bits, never mind sixteen pages detailing the lavish surroundings your average planner has constructed. Which by the way, took them two weeks to thrash out while you, the pantser, released four novellas.
It’s absolutely true, the Devil’s in the details. In case no one has ever imparted to you the key to lying successfully (and what is fiction writing, if not the art of lying to better convey meaning?), it is Keep It Simple, Stupid – also known in professional circles as the KISS and tell principle. By avoiding the wall covered in sticky notes, and the ensuing panic whenever the air, the cat, the offspring, or the summoned entity moves through the room, we have also successfully avoided not one, but two story-killers; the smothering alive of the story pacing in irrelevant detail, and the trapping yourself in a plot web of such intricacy that the temptation to disprove the old adage that the pen is mightier than the sword is put to extreme test.
How not to listen to advice on how to write
Last but not least (by far not least) it is vitally important to ignore other people telling you how you should write. What works for them is highly unlikely to work for you, and as we’re looking at not just a flash fiction piece, a novella, or a single book, but the writing of an entire series…it is extremely important to settle on a method that works for you over weeks, months, years, and even more importantly, a method that doesn’t get in the way of your writing, but which facilitates it. So planners – plan to your little heart’s content and pantsers – blag it all the way!
The related ability to ignore people, no matter what the topic, is another that we highly recommend to aspiring series authors. In fact, it is a skill that will generally make your life better all around. Most great artists became famous long after they were dead, so it stands to reason if they’d listened to the people telling them how bad they were while they were alive, they would never have persevered until the very end.
Meet the authors
Claire Buss: ‘Books and cake.’
Claire Buss is a science fiction, fantasy and contemporary writer based in the UK. She wanted to be Lois Lane when she grew up but work experience at her local paper was eye-opening. Instead, Claire went on to work in a variety of admin roles for over a decade but never felt quite at home. An avid reader, baker and Pinterest addict Claire won second place in the Barking and Dagenham Pen to Print writing competition in 2015 setting her writing career in motion.
You can follow her on Twitter and visit her website for more information about Claire and her writing.
J C Steel: ‘Knives, spaceships, and dirty fighting – who says a mercenary cult can’t be fun?’
Born in Gibraltar and raised on a yacht around the coasts of the Atlantic, I’m a writer, martial artist and introvert. In between the necessary making of money to allow the writing of more books, I can usually be found stowing away on a spaceship, halfway to the further galaxy.
Hidden Gems advertises as an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) program, although they also accept published books for their reviewers. As well as their core ARC program, Hidden Gems is branching out into cover design and editing.
Once signed up, your book is offered to their readership, and readers request the books they’re interested in reading and reviewing. You aren’t guaranteed any set number of takers, and you aren’t guaranteed any reviews; however, at time of writing, their review rate was 80%, meaning that if 100 of their readers ask for the free copy of your book, you’re likely to get something on the close order of 80 reviews.
Hidden Gems asks for a minimum $20 US for basic set-up and send-out of a book in their newsletter. You must be able to provide an PDF and a MOBI variant of your manuscript file, as well as a cover image JPG. After that, you can set the bar for number of reviewers as high as you want, and you will be billed based on how many people volunteer to read and review.
It’s also a relatively simple submission and payment system, which I really appreciated, and their FAQ is well set up and answered pretty much all of my questions.
Well, I was impressed.
I asked to have Through the Hostage circulated on 24th Sept, and I was notified that 15 people had asked for a copy. By 1st Oct, I’d gone from 10 reviews on Amazon to 23, with a nice mix of ratings. A couple of those readers were also kind enough to copy their reviews to Goodreads and even BookBub.
Hidden Gems is still building their reader base for sci-fi, so I presume that in a more mainstream genre like paranormal romance or new adult, you would probably get a higher number of takers, but frankly, I was very happy.
There are way too many review sites out there that ask for money, state (honestly) that they can’t guarantee a review, and then, sure enough, nothing ever happens. Hidden Gems isn’t one of them. Through organisation or some other alchemy, if one of their readers asks for a book copy, there’s a much better than average chance that they will also choose to leave a review.
I titled this one ‘Winter is coming’, but actually I was only partly kidding.
As it happened, the Ísafjörður Tourist Office hadn’t been exaggerating when they told me that the 61 to Akureyri was a much easier drive than the 60 into Ísafjörður had been; while there were some unsurfaced stretches, and the wind was still up, by and large the road was much better, and a lot more sheltered, to the extent that I even braved a scenic long-cut to hug the North coast and didn’t regret it at all.
Like the south road, the 61 follows the Westfjords coastline a lot of the way on its trip to meet up with the 1 road, and the combination of clouds and strong wind created a lot of brief rents in the weather letting patches of light pick out areas of the fjords and the mountainsides.
After the past two days, there were patches of snow on the upper levels of several mountains along the route; none near the roads I was using. In fact, I passed through a series of inland valleys where not only was there no snow, but the weather took a break and it looked like mid-summer for the better part of two hours. For want of the actual name, I christened that stretch The Shire.
I got into Akureyri in good time for tea (this time, Google had managed a semi-realistic trip estimate), and even managed to snag a parking space right outside the hotel (did I mention how much I love visiting Iceland off-season? Even with the risk of the occasional gale, the absence of huge crowds is awesome).
Iceland: Day 12 – Akureyri
Thursday was the day that the forecast predicted everything from snow to gales, so I opted to explore town. When the weather lifted for a bit, mid-morning, I took a photo (header image), of the mountains I’d driven around the previous day. The snow had made some serious progress overnight.
Despite a very welcoming staff at my hotel, and an excellent hotel room, I didn’t find that Akureyri had quite the same happy flair that Ísafjörður had had. For some reason that may have been simply down to the weather, the whole town felt weirdly depressed. There were no insane kayakers, and no-one in the Tourist Office who could have done extras work in a Viking movie laughing about tourists and first-time experiences in one-way tunnels. Instead, there were a lot of big, empty roads full of puddles, and a lot of museums that had either been lifted into another dimension, or which were present in this dimension, but closed.
I resorted to the Café Laut on the Hafnarstræti to warm up. Like most Icelandic eating places, it’s not exactly cheap, but the coffee was excellent, and so was the snack I treated myself to. It was also peaceful, which I totally appreciated (off-season. I tell you, it’s the only way to go).
My first stop was Goðafoss Waterfall (the waterfall of the gods). Legend has it that when Iceland converted to Christianity in the 1100s, a local ruler threw his idols into the falls here. Either way, they’re a beautiful stop, especially if you ignore the big tourist viewing platform and opt for the other side, where you walk out towards the falls pretty much across the rocks of the falls themselves, with off-run from the falls washing the mud off your boots. (Take boots.)
I imagine it looks even better under sunlight, but I thought it looked pretty awesome even in wintry weather.
Lake Mývatn – door into autumn.
The second stop of the day was Lake Mývatn, and the nature baths there. The baths were a stop I’d half-intended to cut short, since it was snowing by the point I completed the circle road around Mývatn, but in the end I went in. I spent a happy hour basking in the geothermally-warmed pools of mineral water, watching the snow blowing across, and poking rather disbelievingly at the lava rocks along the edge of the pool, and come to the conclusion that it would have been no less than irresponsible of me to visit Iceland twice and miss out on the famous geothermal pools both times.
Nice and warm and feeling smug, I decided to stretch my luck and try to push through to Dettifoss. It was the last stop on my planned tour for the day, and I was feeling my oats after an hour of being completely warm and lightly steamed. Despite the safetravels.is site noting that the roads East of Mývatn were under a winter conditions advisory, I headed out. Dettifoss waterfall is the most powerful waterfall in Europe, and it also shows up in one of my favourite Desmond Bagley thrillers, Running Blind. In the event, the first part of the drive lulled me into complacency.
It looks like nothing on Earth, and smells of men’s urinal.
I pulled off at Hverir, because I have a weak spot for Iceland’s steaming hillsides, and especially when they’re stained every shade from yellow to ochre with sulphur and other deposits.
Goodness gracious, great pools of mud.
Like its smaller cousin in Reykjanes, Seltun, Hverir features geothermal activity, multi-coloured earth, and some impressive fumaroles. Unlike Seltun, it’s much larger, and while there’s a sizeable car park, it hasn’t yet been completely idiot-proofed, so you can get up relatively close and personal with the bubbling mud pools.
They’ve also stuck a couple of cairns over the most active steam vents to prevent people from parboiling themselves, but you’re welcome to walk right up to one of the cairns and stare at it with your head on one side. (Yes, I did.)
After that, I pulled back onto the road, narrowly missing a large inbound coach, and headed on to Dettifoss. It was copacetic until I hit the 862 out to the actual waterfall; it said 10 km, but I swear to god I drove an hour long an increasingly-snowed in road to get there. Luckily I did have a 4x4, because I passed one hatchback who had somehow managed to come right off the road and was sitting out there in the snowfield looking less than amused. Luckily for them, the road patrol is well-aware of the likely preparedness of tourists, and sent along a snow-plough team.
Dettifoss itself – with snow.
Dettifoss itself was awe-inspiring, but if I’m completely honest, it didn’t make my top 10 favourite Icelandic waterfalls, as Dynjandi immediately did.
Part of that may have been the utterly grim weather that had the area firmly in its grip by the time I got there, but overall it didn’t inspire me to overload my photo memory trying to capture it.
Despite the weather, it was also surprisingly busy, and since the path hadn’t anticipated snow and hundreds of tourists, it was basically an ankle-deep river.
I’m glad I saw it, but I probably won’t bother making a return visit. Mývatn, now, I could be persuaded to revisit any time, especially off-season, as I got a substantial section of pool completely to myself to float in.
I said my goodbyes to Gröf in the morning and was back in Reykjavik by lunchtime, sorry to see the end of my riding trip but secretly looking forwards to some less social time after the big riding group (yeah…introvert problems).
An unexpected turf house in the Botanical Gardens.
Since my overnight hotel was further towards the outskirts of Reykjavik, I was also within easy walking distance of the Reykjavik Botanical Gardens. I was thinking rather more in terms of a quiet walk than anything else, but in actual fact the gardens were well-worth the time to visit: I can only imagine it’s a labour of love keeping everything alive through an Icelandic winter.
There was also an expected bonus to my walk: a turf hut that frankly looks as if it was in use as a storage house, with strong overtones of Edoras. I’m pretty sure that’s not what I was supposed to be photographing in the Botanical Gardens, but it is, nonetheless, what I photographed.
Iceland: Day 9 – Into the Westfjords
My destination for day 9 was the town of Ísafjörður, the largest settlement in the Westfjords. Google indicated somewhere around six hours’ driving, which is a short day by my standards and left plenty of time for stops to drool over the scenery.
Somewhere on the road North.
Icelandic roads are mostly one lane either way, and because of that, they prefer that you don’t just stop your car wherever you happen to be to take photos. Sadly, this is a losing battle against the hordes of tourists infesting the roads, but usually a dodged tourist reveals a perfectly good pull-over space no more than a kilometre on; the Icelanders know their scenery is liable to instill an itchy photo-finger in most people.
I headed out of Reykjavik – actually not in the first car that Nordic Rentals tried to give me, because not only was it beat to hell but the engine wouldn’t start. (Agent: “It’s a manual transmission. You have to put the clutch down.” Me, in irritation, having done just that five times: “My own car is a manual. I know how to drive one. Your car won’t start.”) The second one started on second try and the driver door wasn’t falling off, so I cut my losses and hit the road in a beautiful sunny morning. The road got more spectacular the further North I got, although as I headed up into the highlands, the weather began to close in.
As I hit the Westfjords proper, I turned off the main road onto the 60, billed as a slightly-less-main route along the South edge of the Westfjords to Ísafjörður.
Fjords. Waterfalls. Scenery. It sounded like exactly what the doctor ordered for a vacation drive, and actually I can well believe that in clear weather it would be a really beautiful, if technical drive. You meander along the edges of fjords, climb up to passes cut through with little streams and lakes full of swans, and aside from the occasional intrepid camper van or local (you can tell who the locals are, they pass you at +30kpmh), the road is largely empty.
More Dynjandi, because you really can’t do it justice without visiting…
However, what the map doesn’t quite make clear is that a few kilometres into the Westfjords the road loses its surface. No worries, I’d hired a 4x4 (SUV for my North American friends), so I had the clearance and suspension to deal with most of the potholes, and happily my guesses on which ones I could safely put my nose into without bidding a fond adieu to my axles were good ones.
Less fortunately for me, the weather decided it had given me enough of a free ride the previous week, and within an hour of hitting the unsurfaced part, I was in torrential rain (which turned my road into a mud track), cross-winds quite capable of staggering a big 4x4, and very variable visibility. I’ll colour in the picture a bit by adding that my muddy track in many places had a sheer cliff up one side and a sheer cliff down the other side into a fjord, and long stretches of hairpin climbs up the sides of passes where there was nothing at all to stop the wind…but at least the cloudfall meant I couldn’t see just how far down a misjudgement could send me.
My track, however, had one major advantage, and that was that it led directly to a spectacular waterfall, quite literally 500 metres off the main road: Dynjandi. I was very ready for a stop by that point, even if it took me a moment to pry my grip off the steering wheel, and so I went to explore.
Dynjandi is actually the big fall at the top of the trail, but there are four or five minor falls on the way up there in the space of maybe a kilometre and half walk, and some of them, while smaller, are equally beautiful, with white spray, black rock, and some of the greenest moss I’ve ever seen. After 45 minutes wandering around and staring at water having fun, I felt equal to getting my ass back on my track and getting to my hotel. (Google, by this point, had conceded that six hours’ driving time was wildly optimistic, and upped its total trip estimate to 8 or 9 hours.)
After another couple of sea-viaducts, where intrepid people have built a road short-cut right across a fjord to save time (the wind loved these sections), I was in the last 12 km to Ísafjörður, and breathed a sigh of relief when I got tarmac back under my tyres. It was a trifle premature. The next road sign was for a tunnel. OK. Look on the positive side: no way in hell was there going to be a storm-force crosswind in there. I drove on my merry way (no need to turn the headlights on, I’d been relying on those suckers for hours by then…). About 500 metres into the tunnel, there was a single track road sign. I may, hypothetically, have made some comments. While I was still expressing my opinion on one way freaking road tunnels, I saw oncoming lights, and realised in very short order that I was in a one-way tunnel, and I had nowhere I could pull over. My reaction put even my previous commentary in the shade.
After another couple of days of high-velocity rain, my car looked much cleaner.
However, at some point in every abject clusterfuck, you realise that going back will be more painful than going on, so I prayed my oncoming wasn’t a tourist, and kept going. After all, someone, somewhere, must have put a pull-over somewhere…right? Sure enough, 300 metres past my come-to-Jesus moment, I passed a car politely tucked into a pull-out, and realised that northbound (me) had right of way, and southbound got the pull-outs.
Luckily for me, my hotel was clearly used to people showing up late, and equally used to cars plastered a uniform shade of brownish-orange. I got a grin and my key, and an off-hand comment that the restaurant was serving and hotel guests got 10% off. All this sounded good to me.
It wasn’t until I got up to my room and realised that my hotel had concrete walls half a metre thick, what looked like four layers of glass in the windows, and some of the gusts were still making the lights flicker that it came to me I hadn’t just been over-reacting to the road conditions.
Iceland: Day 10 – Ísafjörður
Ísafjörður from a trail above town, looking NE towards the mouth of the fjord.
I’d had some plans to drive out from Ísafjörður and see puffin nesting sites and shipwrecks and whatnot, but morning the next day indicated that the weather had settled in for some fun, and I wasn’t tempted to try my luck on the back roads again. (My decision was solidified by an email from the Super Jeep tour organisers I was supposed to be visiting Askja with a couple of days later, politely notifying me that the forecast was so bad that they were cancelling that day.)
Instead, I put on my rain gear and went to explore Ísafjörður, which was actually thoroughly worth the time. I hit the tourist office first, since it was across the parking lot from my hotel, and got a wide grin and a ‘Yeah, we keep thinking we should add some signage to that tunnel, but we’ve never quite got to it.’ from the staff. Fifteen minutes later, armed with a town map and a comprehensive inventory of walks suitable for the weather, I got started.
Westfjords Heritage Museum at Ísafjörður.
The oldest part of Ísafjörður is built on a low-lying spit that pushes most of the way across the fjord, but the town now stretches back quite a long way along the edges of the fjord, buttressed by some of the biggest anti-rock-slide / snow-slide defences I’ve ever seen. It would take a tank battalion some time and effort to blast through. I’m standing on one for that photograph of town, above.
Operating on habit, my second stop of the morning was the harbour, populated by some very business-like looking trawlers, and much to my surprise, some yachts. Between the tunnel and those yachts, I was seriously considering finding the local office and turning in my ‘crazy’ stripes. Five minutes after that, I came across a group of people in drysuits (which actually made sense in that weather). I watched them for a few more seconds, and realised that they were planning on sea-kayaking. It’s official. I’m not crazy.
I headed back into town and repaired the damage to my ego in the Gamla Bakaríið, which was a very good brunch stop, and, especially for Iceland, very reasonably priced.
I decided not to try the scramble up to the Troll Seat above town; not only could I not see a clear path up, but the Troll Seat itself was only intermittently visible from sea level. Instead, I walked inland along the top of one of those rock-slide defences I mentioned, and got a feel for the layout of town while stretching some of long-distance driving kinks out.
By the time I got back into the town centre several hours later, it was dinner time, and if anything, the wind had got up. I’d been assured by the tourist office that if I’d survived driving the 60 the previous day, the 61 out of town to Akureyri would be a cake-walk, and I’d believed them…right up until I saw that squad of sea-kayakers.
I wandered off to the Húsið restaurant for dinner, and got the kind of hot chocolate that brought a tear of appreciation to my eye after a day walking in the cold, and a window seat. By my window seat were flag poles. There are all kinds of formulas for amateur sailors about how you calculate wind speed by the average angle of flags in said wind. As these were straight out and vibrating the very sturdy poles they were attached to, I took a flyer that even the less experienced sailor would probably agree with my estimate of wind pushing 60 knots.
In fact, Ísafjörður looked as if that kind of weather was exactly what it was designed and built for. I didn’t get more than a glimpse of it in sunlight, but I’m actually weirdly glad I saw it in a storm – not least because there was a trio of ravens doing their damnedest, when I walked along the seawall, to land on the top of a radio aerial in the teeth of the gale. I’ve never seen a raven grimly hanging onto a landing spot with its beak while trying to get a grip with its claws before.