Monday, 24 September 2012

Advice for Indie Authors: Hints and tips for indie authors!

Advice for Indie Authors: Hints and tips for indie authors!
It is exactly one year ago that The Drought was published in paperback!

I'm certainly no expert by any stretch of the imagination when it comes to writing and publishing a novel. I am still learning with each step I take, but here are some tips that helped me along the way and things that I have learned as an indie author that you might find useful.

Think before you write
Have an idea before you start hammering away at the laptop! Sit down and write down on a piece of paper what your story looks like - the start, the middle, and the end. Who are the characters and how do they all link together? Where does the story happen? It doesn't matter if this changes or takes a different shape when you actually start writing, but it will give you some sort of direction.

Be committed
Unless you are lucky enough to write for a living then you are going to have to give up a lot of your free time to write a novel. For three months solid I wrote every day after work and as much as I could at weekends. It was not easy at the start (and my girlfriend must have thought have dumping me several times!) but slowly you create a routine. Constantly working on your novel not only improves your writing skills, but it will help you develop characters and create new stories.

Don't burn yourself out
Okay, this will sound slightly contradictory after my last point, but allow yourself a break from time to time. Take an evening off, or allow yourself a weekend when you don't switch the laptop on. As long as you are ready to get back into the saddle after a day or two then this will help recharge the batteries, especially if you are working a full-time job and trying to write a novel at the same time.

Always carry a notepad
Every time you think of an idea, write it down. I find the best ideas always come to me when I'm not sitting in front of the laptop. Every idea I think of, I write everything down. After I completed my first draft I still had 10,000 words worth of ideas that I hadn't even used. Referring back to your notes is a great help when you hit a wall or have writers block. In The Drought there is a whole chapter about how much the main character hates going clothes shopping with girls. The majority of this chapter was written on the notepad on my iPhone while my girlfriend was dragging me around Top Shop in Oxford Street!

Try to pick a soundtrack to your book. Like a film, choose songs that represent the tone of your book and create a playlist and listen to it. Let your imagination wander. Some of my best ideas came when I was listening to my iPod on the way home, or when I was out jogging. Music can also jog your memory of real-life events that have happened in your past and can help you come up with ideas for your novel.

Write what you know
I can only advise from a personal experience, and writing about something you have not researched or have little knowledge of is clearly going to be bloody difficult! Even if you manage to write a complete manuscript, chances are your reader won't believe in the story because it won't seem real. It is no surprise that John Grisham practiced criminal law for a decade - his writing clearly demonstrates an author who knows his way around a courtroom. Writing skills aside, that is a major reason why he has been so successful. If you are blessed with a fantastic imagination like J.K. Rowling or J.R.R. Tolkien, then all the power to you!

Don't be too critical
If you have decided to write a novel, you are starting out on a process which can easily take over a year before you will be fully satisfied with your work. Mike Gayle, best-selling author of My Legendary Girlfriend, offers some great advice on his website. He says the first draft doesn't have to be perfect, and that the proudest moment of his career was completing that first draft. Your first draft will always be the one that needs the most work, but as Mike Gayle says, by finishing that first draft you have done something that most people only ever talk about. I finished my first draft in September 2009, and I was still making changes right up until it got published as an eBook in August 2011!

Give your novel to friends... and their friends, and their friends...
Choose people who you trust will give you an honest opinion. Take their comments on board and then go back and start the second draft of the novel. Ask your friends to give it to their friends, and to their friends, and so on and so forth. The more feedback you can get the better. You will be surprised how similar the feedback is, and this can be invaluable in terms of telling you what works and what doesn't.

Get your book proof-read and copy-edited
I checked, re-read, and re-wrote my manuscript dozens of times, and I still could believe how many mistakes I had missed when I had my manuscript proofed. It can be a costly exercise but it is well worth it in the long run. You can find proof-reading and copy-editing services in the Writers & Artists Yearbook with NUJ rates starting at £24 per 2,000 words.

Do your research on self-publishing
So you have sent your manuscript out and tried to secure a literary agent without much luck. If you are like me, you have decided to go down the indie author route. Do your research because the hard work has only just begun. All of the responsibilities a literary agent would take on board are now your responsibilities! This means getting costs to self-publish, choosing and designing a front cover, speaking to book shops to try and get them to stock your novel, sending out press releases and dealing with the local media. The list is endless. The more work you put in, the greater chance your book will stand of gaining exposure, and hopefully increasing sales.

Get by with a little help from your friends
You are going to need all the help you can get to help you along the way. I was lucky enough that I happened to work on the sales team for a magazine serving the print industry, and that the online editor agreed to let me write a blog. That opened doors for me. It helped me make contact with Lynn Ashman, the MD at Pen Press. I was also lucky enough through friends to be put in contact with national newspaper journalists, a television producer, and television presenters. Each one has helped me in some way or another, whether it is by agreeing to read my novel and supply me with reviews, to helping me create a promo video. Think about where you work, the people you work with, your friends and family. Don't ever be afraid to ask for help - the worst someone can say is no.

Keep it local to begin with
Naturally every author wants to see their book reviewed in national newspapers and magazines, and stocked on the shelves of all the major bookstores. But as a self-published author you need to take baby steps. Start by sending your press releases out to local media, and approach local bookstores to see if they are willing to stock your book. Local newspapers love to hear about the achievements of local people, and if you are lucky, gaining enough positive local press reviews might, just might, one day see your novel end up reviewed in the Sunday Times.

Posters, flyers, business cards
Invest in marketing material to help promote the book. If you have asked a local library or bookstore to stock your book, it would be great to have a poster hanging on the wall, or flyers sitting at the counter. Carry business cards and anyone who seems interested in your novel, hand them a business card with your details and details of where they can find your book online. I used a company called Authors Essentials, who specialise in marketing and promotional services for authors.

Create a website or a blog
If you have gone to all the trouble of self-publishing your work, marketing your novel, and sending out press releases to promote your book, then it is crucial to have an area where you point people back to. Think about how you buy things as a consumer. In this day and age, most people will refer to the internet now for more information before they buy. Your website should include details about the book (such as a sample chapter), contact information for the media, and most importantly, where people can buy your book.

Social media
Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, to name just a few of the social networking tools you have at your disposal completely free of charge. Set-up a Facebook fan page, Tweet details about your novel, and blog as often as you can to raise your profile online. The more you can get people talking about your novel, the better. Check out my previous blog post The social media opportunity for more information. Another fantastic tool is, which allows you to schedule and manage all of your social media posts.

Immerse yourself into the book reading community
Go beyond the social media giants like Facebook and find those niche book communities online. I have found lots of great sites that bring book lovers together, and allow indie authors to promote themselves. Goodreads is a fantastic social media site that allows book readers to share and discuss their favourite books. And make sure you are talking to readers in book forums like Kindle Boards or the Book Club Forum, as nothing beats speaking to readers directly.

Invest into an eBook version of your novel
Ebooks have revolutionised publishing across the world. Amazon now sell more eBooks than physical books for its top 1,000 titles, and there are 115 eBooks sold for every paperback. The figures don't lie, so creating an eBook version of your novel makes sense.

Ask readers to write reviews
People will buy from sites such as Amazon based on positive reviews. So if you have had friends read your book and tell you they like it, then ask them to post a review up on Amazon. It won't cost them anything, but it could be priceless for you. And then when you start to engage with readers on social media or in the forums, ask them to write reviews if they are kind enough to give your book a chance!

Enjoy it!
If you don't enjoy the whole process, then maybe writing and self-publishing a novel is not for you. You have to have a real passion for writing, and you more than anyone must believe in yourself. Writing and self-publishing a novel should fill you with a huge sense of achievement. That is what makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Lad Lit Book Reviews: Hitman by Bret Hart

Books For Men Book Reviews! Hitman by Bret Hart
If you watched wrestling in the 80s and 90s then you are going to frickin’ love this book! I can still vividly remember the moment I was exposed to the World Wrestling Federation for the first time. I must have only been 6 or 7 at the time when I religiously watched the Professional Wrestling Show on World of Sport every Saturday afternoon.

However, on one particular Saturday the powers that be at ITV decided not to put its viewers through the delights of obese men bursting out of their leotards, and instead treated us to a rare bout of American Wrasslin’ and boy did addiction take hold of me after that first hit! I’d never seen anything like it before. These larger than life cartoon characters slammed and suplexed the hell out of each other. Hell, I didn’t know what a suplex was before seeing ‘The Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase taking on Hulk Hogan.

And that is where my love affair began. Every week I would tune back in, hoping against hope that they’d put the stars from the U.S. of A back on TV! Occasionally I got my wish, and I’m sure Rupert Murdoch made an absolute fortune selling satellite dishes to parents of children who had begged them to sign up for Sky so they could get their regular WWF fix.

Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart was part of the Hart Foundation with Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart when I first started to tune in, and I watched his career sky-rocket from tag team titles to Intercontinental titles and finally the big one, the World Title! I was there at Wembley in 1992 when he took on the British Bulldog in one of the greatest SummerSlam matches of all time, and I watched on TV when his younger brother Owen tragically lost his life in the ring. I remember the now infamous Screwjob against Shawn Michaels which led to his stint with the WCW.

And it's all in this book! It was like taking a nostalgic trip down memory lane as so much of my childhood, teenage, and young adult life was spent watching the WWF!

Hart delivers expertly from what it was like growing up in a wrestling family in his father Stu's 'dungeon' to making his breakthrough and then becoming a global star. All my old favourites were in there and it was a strange, funny, endearing, and sometimes heart-wrenching read.

There are too many stories to mention, but snippets include how Brutus Beefcake was ridiculed for carrying around Hulk Hogan's bags, my hero the Ultimate Warrior being hugely unpopular in the locker room, and the sad stories of wasted talent and steroid abuse from the likes of the Dynamite Kid.

This book is quite simply as cool as the shades Hart used to hand out to lucky fans, as colourful as his pink tights, and as enjoyable as seeing Vince McMahon wince in the Sharpshooter. If you're a fan of wrestling from that era this is a no brainier! It's the best book about wrestling there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Open mic comedians - where are they now? The boys

Diary of a stand-up comedian Entry #56
On Friday I posted on the two-year anniversary of the day I first ever took to the stand-up comedy stage. After that little trip down memory lane, I started to wonder about all funny people I had met along the way and what might have happened to them.

Well, the internet is a  wonderful tool and here is what I found out about the boys who I used to see on the open mic stand-up comedy circuit (click here for the girls).

Vahid Jahangard is tipped as a rising star on the comedy circuit
Golden Jester 2011 winner: Vahid Jahangard
I had not seen Vahid before I saw him in the Golden Jester comedy competition, but after doing a bit of research I found out at the Middle Eastern comic from Oxfordshire has actually been on the circuit since 2008. He was often described as: "Provides good solid humour with a down to earth attitude. A smart & silly sophisticated comic.”

This video clip was taken back in 2008, and after seeing his act in December in the Golden Jester final, you can now see that he had been on the circuit for a few years and had his act polished and down to a fine art. I couldn't find too much else about Vahid other than he is a 'hotly-tipped rising star' and has been working professional gigs at the Great Comedy Nights events and has been headlining a few gigs.

The giant comedian: Darren Walsh
Darren was one of the most original comedians I saw on the open mic circuit. The guy is super talented combing his time as an actor, director, writer, animator, voice artist, and of course, comedian. He was in the final of the Golden Jester comedy competition in 2011, when I finished as runner-up. Chortle describe him as “A real crowd-pleaser, with originality and personality by the bucketload.

A runner-up in the Laughing Horse New Act of the Year, Darren Walsh's silly happy-go-lucky style has been compared to Harry Hill, with an act that combines surreal nonsense and snippets of daft songs.

The one to watch in 2012: James Alderson
Another one of my co-finalists from the Golden Jester, James was a comedian a liked as soon as I saw him. He only took up stand-up in 2011, but he rocketed his way up the comedy charts and continues to go from strength to strength. James has moved from frequent opening spots and MC work to headlining many clubs.

James has been described by many as an ‘everyman comedian’ – women laugh at his observations and self-deprecating style, and men laugh with him, feeling his frustrations and understanding his experiences. This relationship with an audience means he is a very skilled compere as well as a popular act. James is currently filming with Objective Productions (of Peep Show & The Cube fame!) playing a major role in a brand new show called Public Eye, planned to air on Channel 4 in the Winter of 2012/2013.

The super-talented: Dan Schreiber
Dan Schreiber is a man of many talents. Writer, producer, presenter and most notably a funny man. Dan was brought up in Hong Kong and Australia before moving to England, where at just 19 he became a question writer for the BBC TV series QI.

Dan has since jumped straight into a career with the cream of British entertainment. I saw Dan do a gig at The Old School Yard and he was head and shoulders above everyone that night, and despite that was the only time I had seen him, he was probably my favourite open mic comedian that I had the pleasure to watch on the circuit. It is no surprise to me that he is doing well.

Where have you seen this guy before...?: Steven Scaffardi
So this is a little bit of shameless self-promotion, but this is my blog after all! Besides, I feel that I've done alright in the last 12 months. Reviews for my lad lit The Drought continue to get fantastic reviews from readers, and I am currently working on my second novel which I'm hoping to have out early 2013.

And after taking this little trip down memory lane, and finding out how well some of the guys I used to see on the open mic circuit are doing, I kind of that bug again to get back on the stand-up comedy bandwagon. Maybe I'll try to get one or two gigs in before the end of the year, and then in 2013, who knows...?

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Open mic comedians - where are they now? The girls

Diary of a stand-up comedian Entry #55
Yesterday I posted on the two-year anniversary of the day I first ever took to the stand-up comedy stage. After that little trip down memory lane, I started to wonder about all funny people I had met along the way and what might have happened to them.

Well, the internet is a  wonderful tool and here is what I found out about the girls who I used to see on the open mic stand-up comedy circuit (click here for the boys).

Stand-up comedian Gemma Beagley
The girl who got me into comedy: Gemma Beagley
Gemma Beagley was one of the main reasons I decided to give stand-up comedy a go. I had actually known Gemma since we were at school, and she had been performing stand-up comedy for about a 18 months before I first gave it a go. "It is the best hobby in the world," were Gemma's exact words when I asked her what stand-up comedy was like, and that was enough to convince me to get up on that stage and die a slow and painful death...!

I'm pleased to report that Gemma is still going strong. She still hosts Comedy Virgins at the Cavendish Arms in Stockwell, and over the last 12 months she has been in the final of Funny's Funny Female Comedian of the Year, as well as a show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where she blogged about her experiences.

Up-and-coming comedy star Harriet Kemsley, stand-up comedy,The shy, but very funny girl: Harriet Kemsley
Harriet Kemsley is fast on her way to becoming a very big name on the comedy circuit. I was lucky enough to see Harriet a few times on the open mic scene. At a Comedy Bin gig at The Carnivale in Whitechapel, I had a chat with her, and couldn't believe how this shy and softly spoken person could be so outrageously funny. In her first year of comedy she was crowned Funny's Funny Female Comedian of the Year 2011, as well as picking up the Up The Creek One To Watch 2011 gong and was a finalist in the Reading New Act of the Year.

And 2012 has been just as good as Harriet was the winner of the Bath New Act of the Year, Brighton New Act of the Year, and was a finalist in the Laughing Horse New Act of the Year. The praise and plaudits have come from the likes of Chortle and talent agency Sternberg Clarke, with comedian Rhod Gilbert naming her as one of his top ten comics to see in 2012. She is now writing and working on a pilot for the BBC - watch this space!

Naomi Hefter, open mic comedy, stand-up comedy, comedian, Loaded magazine, lads mag, glamour model,
The lads mag model: Naomi Hefter
I only met Naomi a couple of times, but she was certainly not the type of girl you failed to notice, especially when she wandered into a dingy open mic comedy venue in her stiletto's and that long mane of blonde hair. She was also pretty easy on the eye it has to be said, which she has certainly played to her advantage having done a photo shoot for lads mag Loaded earlier in the year. And that's not it -Naomi has been a busy girl this year. She went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and put on a show with her comedy partner Catherine Povinelli (who I never met), has been blogging on the Huffington Post, and has also got a TV presenting gig.

On the comedy circuit, Naomi made it through to the final of Jongleurs Comic Idol 2012, which got her exposure in The Sun newspaper, which is further proof that the Hungarian is on track to become a comedy star.

Michelle de Swarte (right) with her Fashion Show co-hosts Abbey Clancy and George Lamb
The catwalk model and TV presenter: Michelle de Swarte
Feisty, fierce, and feckin' beautiful! Unknown to me at the time when I first met Michelle at an East Meets Jest comedy gig in Covent Garden was that she was already carving out a TV career for herself, having presented The Fasion Show in 2008 alongside George Lamb and Abbey Clancy.

In 2011, she co-created and hosted E4’s satirical celeb roast Dirty Digest, and then presented for eight hours straight alongside Tom Deacon when the BBC filmed the UK’s first ever 24-hour panel show for Comic Relief entitled Panel People, hosted by David Walliams, and was streamed live around the world. More recently she has been working alongside Jake Humpheries on the BBC3 current affairs debate show Free Speech. This year Michelle made her debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Stand-up comedian Hannah Deasy
The Essex Girl: Hannah Deasy
Okay, okay - before you say anything, I know you might be noticing something of a pattern here with the girls I am choosing, but I can assure you I am picking these girls based on my ears, rather than any of the other senses that might be going through your filthy minds! I saw Hannah perform open mic comedy lots of times, but perhaps the funniest was when I saw her take to the stage at The Railway after a pretty heavy drinking session, and she brought the house down. Granted, then I think she fell down flat on her face, but she got the job done first!

Perhaps her Bowled Over comedy CV describes her best: "Often seen clutching a pint in one hand and a mic in the other, this is when she is at her most dangerous, and should not be approached." Hannah has been busy working with comedy partner Michael Kossew, and has also taken a couple of shows to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, including Gagstronomic! with Mark Jeary and Gemma Beagley.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Diary of a stand-up comedian... two years on

open mic stand-up comedy, Steven Scaffardi
Diary of a stand-up comedian Entry #54
Today is the two-year anniversary of the first time I ever performed stand-up comedy. I actually still have a pretty good memory of the night, which is quite an accomplishment for me seeing as I have the memory like a sieve!

I recently read Michael McIntyre's autobiography and he said when he first did stand-up comedy he didn't tell anyone as he was too afraid that he would be terrible and make a fool of himself.

I went for a slightly different approach in that I invited pretty much everyone I knew, including a few random people as well. Looking back at that video clip, and a good few clips after that one, I cringe at how bad I actually was! It's funny, in an ironic way, how funny I thought I was that night!

It has been about three months now since I last performed on the open mic stage (and I have only performed twice this year) and I contemplated today whether I really missed it.

open mic stand up comedy, Steven ScaffardiI have to say that I don't miss hanging around after work to trek halfway across London to perform in a rundown pub, normally in front of about five people! I don't miss getting in at midnight, going to bed, working a full day, and then having to head back out to yet another comedy venue, watching the same routines from comedians I have already seen about 14 times in the last two weeks!

But despite all of that, there is one thing that overrides all of that. Because on those magical nights when everything clicks into place, and on those occasions when you had a room packed out full of people ready to laugh, there is nothing like that buzz you get from having a great set.

And in a way I miss the people. All of those crazy, strange, weird, and sometimes downright unhinged people! Even those characters who were a bit full of themselves, or the bitter comedians who hadn't quite made it and were still dragging themselves around the open mic scene waiting for that big break. Another ironic fact about stand-up comedy is that at least 50% of the comedians I met were bloody miserable, and you would be surprised how much back-stabbing goes on. It was a bit like an episode of EastEnders at times...

Stand up comedy, open, Steven ScaffardiWhen you think about it, there has to be something not quite right with you in the head if you are willing to get up and perform on the most unforgiving stage of them all. Each and everyone of the characters I met along the way were certainly interesting to say the least!

I can't help but wonder how some of those guys are getting on, so I did a bit of research to find out, and you can have a look at that blog posting here. 

As for me, I would love to get back up on the stage and give it a go again, but I certainly couldn't go back to three, four, five gigs a week. Still, I think I'll always look back and be proud that I did it and for what I achieved. Not many people are brave enough to get up and try stand-up comedy, and after 50+ gigs, I know I gave it a good shot and had some great times.

Stand up comedy, open mic, Golden Jester, Steven Scaffardi
I'll also always be very proud that I got through 150 other acts to make it to the final of the Golden Jester comedy competition. Sure, I probably had a bit of help due to the fact that the competition took place on my doorstep in Sutton, so I always had the advantage of a decent support behind me, but I also think I wrote a pretty funny set.

But I'll let you be the judge of that. Below is the video clip of me performing at Dirty Dicks in London in October 2011. This was the set that got me into the final of the Golden Jester and I don't mind admitting that I still giggle when I watch it.

Hopefully you will too.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

First date advice for men!

This is an official book excerpt from comedy novel The Drought. This taken from Chapter 7: First Date, when our hero Dan is preparing to go on his first date since the break-up with his long-term girlfriend Stacey. Dan is a little nervous and asks his three best friends for advice. To watch a video with advice for how to behave on a first date, then check out "Perfecting the First Date" and watch the video clip!

The Drought, Chapter 7: First Date

This was the first date I’d been on in over three years. After being with one person for so long, it was almost like I had no recollection of the rules of dating.

Luckily though, the boys had been on hand during the course of the week and were kind enough to offer their expertise on first dates, and how to impress a girl.

Where to take her:

Rob: Too many guys take girls to the cinema on a first date, but that is no good. You want to go somewhere where you can talk and get to know each other. You can’t go too wrong with a romantic dinner. But don’t take her to Burger King for crying out loud.

Ollie: There is that new Kung-Fu film on at the cinema. I bet she’d like that. Or even better, take her to a horror because she’ll be all over you. You might even cop a feel in the back row.

Jack: Wherever you go, make sure you arrange to meet somewhere out in the open so you can get a good look at her beforehand. I’m sure Grace is a good-looking girl, but we all had our beer goggles on that night. She could be a right old bow-wow. In which case, ditch her there and then. Give me a call and we’ll go for a beer instead.

Start of the date:

Rob: Make sure you arrive early and compliment her. Tell her how fantastic she looks before you say anything else. Girls love compliments, but don’t go too overboard because they will start to lose their effect, and you’ll come across as a desperado.

Ollie: Get a few shots in; it will help you relax. But don’t have too many, you don’t want to get drunk too early. Seven or eight shots should do the trick. Maybe drink a pint of milk before you go out just to line your stomach. Or maybe a dairy-based alcoholic beverage like Eggnog. That will kill two birds with one stone!

Jack: Don’t play your cards too early – keep a few aces up your sleeve. You don’t want to slip a Manchester United shirt on and call yourself Roy Keane. Girls hate it when guys are too keen. The last thing you want to do is be hanging on her every word and come across too Roy.

During the date:

Rob: Listen to her and ask questions. Keep your focus, attention, and conversation solely on her. Be interested in what she has to say and get to know her. Make her feel like she is the only person in the room that really matters. But don’t stare at her tits though; unless she encourages that sort of thing. If she does – winner!

Ollie: I would advise against farting in front of her. The only time you can really do that is after you have slept with her a few times and then you can trap her head under the covers. She is officially your girlfriend when you get to the stage of forcing her head into the Dutch oven.

Jack: Make sure you crack a few jokes throughout the date. Birds love a guy with a good sense of humour. Say things like, “Want to come back to mine for pizza and sex? Why not? Don’t you like pizza?” She'll be all over you mate, trust me.

The end of the date:

Rob: Some girls don’t kiss on the first date; some will be disappointed if you don’t at least try to kiss her goodnight. There is no easy answer for this one. You’ll have to try and gauge the situation from her body language and go on your gut instinct. Not once have I ever failed to get a goodnight kiss, but this is you we’re talking about.

Ollie: I insist on two things when I go back to a girl’s flat: a cooked breakfast in the morning, and a lift home.

Jack: If she bites it, smack her.

Loaded with such brilliant advice, how could things possibly go wrong?