This is the article the Huffington Post refused to publish

Some of you might be aware that I have a column at The Huffington Post.  On 28th March 2014, I wrote an article, which I have reproduced in its entirety below, in which I attacked certain sections of the media (mainly social media) for declaring people guilty before trial. The Huffington Post refused to publish the article.

The reason given was that they didn’t want to focus on any articles which discuss ongoing legal matters. This is the same Huffington Post which carried the following stories today:

And they’re just three that I found within the first two minutes of casually browsing the front page. Double standards much? Or are they perhaps worried about something else? Could it be the fact that it’s their website and their articles which is often guilty of condemning potentially innocent people?

Here’s the article in full, of which they halted the publication. You can decide for yourself.

With all of the news about missing planes and trigger-happy South Africans recently, it would be easy to miss the story that a male nurse has been re-arrested in connection with the deaths of three patients at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport. You also might have missed the news that Jimmy Tarbuck has had all charges dropped against him in relation to allegations of sex offences. These two stories both went largely ignored, yet remain intrinsically linked.

 

The link is innocence. Back in 2011, Rebecca Leighton was questioned by police in connection with the Stepping Hill murders. The internet, as it does, went apoplectic. People were calling for the death sentence. In a moment of level-headedness, I posted a tweet appealing for calm, stating that she hadn’t even been charged, let alone found guilty in a court of law, and that she should not even have been named in the media. In response, I received a barrage of tweets from people saying I was defending her and should be ashamed of myself. I even received a series of tweets from the granddaughter of one of the murdered Stepping Hill patients, stating that she hoped members of my family were murdered too.

 

All charges against Rebecca Leighton were dropped. A similar pre-Twitter event occurred with the arrest of Christopher Jefferies, who was arrested for the murder of Joanna Yeates. He, too, was cleared and Vincent Tabak was sentences for her murder. At the time I publicly stated that I wasn’t entirely convinced Jefferies was guilty. Something didn’t seem quite right. Perhaps it’s my background as a crime writer which gives me some sort of developed intuition into guilt. Who knows? Either way, this isn’t me saying ‘I was right all along’. Well, it is, but not about that. It’s me saying I was right all along that we should not be so quick to judge people just because they’ve been arrested for something.

 

Anyone can be arrested for anything. I could leave my house and walk to the shop now and find out that a bald bloke wearing a terrible shirt committed a horrible murder around the corner twenty minutes ago. I’d then be arrested and questioned by the police. To be honest, I’d be pretty pissed off if that was then reported in the newspaper. I’d be even more pissed off if the general public took to social media to declare me guilty. Wouldn’t you? Consider it. You could be next.

 

The justice system goes like this: You get suspected, then arrested, then charged, then sentenced in court. Until that very last part has been completed, you’re innocent. That’s the law. Let’s all have some humility and do our best to remember that.

What Should Authors Do about Bad Reviews?

Screenshot-at-Mar-12-09-01-28Receiving a bad review can be one of the most distressing things for an author. Trust me, it doesn’t get any easier with time or frequency, so the upshot is that you’re going to have to learn to deal with it.

Maybe you think this doesn’t concern you. After all, your new book is great, right? Perhaps it is. Either way, it’s going to get bad reviews. Here’s the simple bit: all books get bad reviews. Any book exposed to enough readers will be on the end of an absolute slating from some corner or other. That’s the subjective nature of art. Take a look at some of the reviews below, which I’ve taken from Amazon:

All I can say is that I think this is one of the most boring and, at times frankly irritating, murder mysteries I’ve ever read. I didn’t think there was any suspense or any shocks … The characters are not engaging in the slightest – I was almost willing them to be killed off. I forced myself to finish the book because I stupidly paid £4.99 for it, but otherwise would have abandoned it early on. (The only reason I bought it was because it had so many fantastic reviews, which I am at a complete loss to explain.) I couldn’t wait for it to finish as it was a tedious tome from the start. I’m only surprised that so many people enjoy this tripe!

Sounds terrible, right? In fact, I can attest to that book actually being one of the greatest murder mysteries of all time. Perhaps the greatest. It’s also the third-biggest-selling book of all time in the English language, and has shifted more than 100 million copies. It’s Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.

How about another?

This is the single most appallingly (sp.) overrated nonsense I have ever had my displeasure to read. It starts badly and just gets worse. The descriptions are turgid, the characterisation unbelievable and the use of language frighteningly dull.

Truth is I have never managed to get past the first of the three books that make up this shockfest. When I say always I must confess that I have attempted to read this thing three times and always come to the same conclusion – it is too bad to be worthy of my time.

Wow. What a stinker of a book. Nope, it’s J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. The second-biggest-selling book of all time, with more than 150 million copies sold and a huge film franchise behind it.

How about this, then?

A very disappointing book – only the opening and closing quotations of note. Heavy handed prose, characters have no depth and the central theme … just doesn’t work and fails to convince…

Well you’re good at spotting patterns, anyway. That’s Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, the best-selling book of all time with more than 200 million copies sold. What I’m trying to say is that even the three most popular books of all time will still receive a terrible review from time to time.

Of course, Amazon wasn’t around then but I’m pretty sure there’d have been bad reviews in the press for A Tale of Two Cities in the 1850s, too. Had Dickens succumbed to them and believed them, Great Expectations might never have existed two years later. Had Christie decided enough was enough, we’d have missed out on 40 of her 66 novels.

Read this words and then read them again until they’re firmly lodged in your mind: A bad review does not equal a bad book. In fact, no books are bad. All books are purely subjective and all reviews are only the reviewer’s opinion — nothing else. One of my books has a review saying ‘This is the best book ever’ and another saying ‘This is the worst book ever’. They can’t both be right. In fact, they are. And they’re both wrong, too. Opinion is subjective, and for one reader it was the best book he’d ever read and for the other it was the worst.

Oh, and whatever you do, don’t respond to negative reviews. It never ends well. The trick is to separate yourself from the book. The review is someone’s opinion of your book; it’s not a fact about your book and it’s certainly not a criticism of you personally.

Do you have any tips for dealing with criticism and bad reviews? If so, leave a message in the comments box below.

5 Quick Ways to Improve Your Writing

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The great Brazilian footballer Pelé once said: ‘Never think that you know everything. There is always more to learn and every day we get to know something new.’ Although he was referring to football, it’s a quote which can easily be applied to anything and, probably, everything.

Writers in particular tend to feel an overwhelming sense of inferiority and a desire to improve which I’ve not seen quite so pervasively in any other industry. It’s one of the things which makes me love writing and other writers so much. It’s easier said than done, though, so I’ve put together a few ways in which you can help improve your writing in a fairly short space of time.

  1. Take acting classes. This is probably the most valuable way in which I’ve improved my writing recently. I’m not suggesting you enrol in stage school, but take a look at local classes and workshops. There’s bound to be some form of drama workshop available. They’re a lot of fun and get into the nitty gritty of being a character and understanding the nuances of speech and the movement of a story in ways which you just can’t get through reading and writing. It’s a great way to get the creative juices flowing.
  2. Go to the theatre. Probably the second-best option compared to actually participating, but still one of the best ways to catch the flow of dialogue and understand the rhythms of drama. This might all sound like basic stuff, but it’s something which all writers need to be constantly looking at and refining.
  3. Read books on the subject of writing. This comes with a caveat. There’s a lot of crap out there. It’s difficult to know what’s crap and what isn’t, but you can eventually judge for yourself. I’d suggest reading the following three books and then using what you’ve learnt from them to judge the signal:noise ratio of everything else:
  4. Read a wider variety of books. Get out of your comfort zone. This is the only way in which we ever learn. Did we discover the Americas and the New World by sitting at home and doing what we’d always done? No, we did it by venturing into unknown territory and grabbing the bull by its horns. Do the complete opposite of what you usually do and see what happens. You might be surprised.
  5. Watch more films and TV dramas. Again, this is probably a rung lower on the ladder than visiting the theatre and taking acting classes, purely because films and TV dramas tend to be a lot more polished and, as a result, slightly less real than the stage. But to get yourself into the rhythms of drama and to really get a feel for plot and character without having to venture out of your house (see point 4!) this is a good way to get those creative juices flowing.

 

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8 things to remember when formatting e-books

If you are a self-publisher, chances are at some point you will need to format an e-book. While it would be nice if the manuscript file you’ve been working on for months would magically transfer over to e-book format and look great, it isn’t really possible. At some point, you’re going to have to do some formatting. Here are some of the key things you need to remember when it comes to e-book formatting.

  • E-books don’t have pages. Your book will look different on each platform. It all depends on what kind of e-reader people are using and how they’ve set it up to display the text. This means the concept of ‘proper’ pages like in a printed book goes a little bit out of the window.
  • Be careful with page breaks. This relates to the point above. E-books don’t have pages in the proper sense, and too many page breaks can end up looking awkward on an e-reader screen.
  • Make sure you make a new version of your manuscript file for formatting purposes, and keep a back-up copy. You don’t want to take the risk of turning the whole thing into a disaster if you should have a serious formatting mishap.
  • Don’t have your word processing programme set to ‘print layout’, as the separate pages will make it harder to determine what your e-book will actually look like.
  • Get rid of as much of the blank space as possible. Even though it might feel wrong not to leave blank space at some points in the book, resist the urge.
  • Follow the guidelines on the publishing platforms you’re using. They’re there for a reason
  • Check it before you publish it properly. You can use tools such as the Kindle application for PC or Mac to check your Amazon e-book, and Adobe Digital Editions for Smashwords epub files.
  • There are people out there who will format your e-book for you for a fee. If you have been driven insane by trying to format your e-book or really aren’t sure how to go about it, hire someone to do it for you. Whatever you do, don’t publish the book without someone formatting it first.

 

Saving time: why self-publishing wins over traditional publishing

Time. We never have enough of it. We all sometimes wish that there were more hours in the day, and we all sometimes look for ways we can save time. Publishing is no different. It’s something that takes time, but when it comes to this most precious of resources, self-publishing has the definite edge of traditional publishing. Here’s why.

It lets you get on with the job

Let’s say that you’ve decided to go down the traditional publishing route. First, you’ll most likely need to get an agent. That takes time. You’ll have to spend time researching the best agents, writing letters, and waiting for replies. Even with the best book in the world, some if not most of those replies are going to be rejections. Then, once you’ve got an agent, you need to find a publisher. More time, more waiting, more rejections, and no guarantee of a publishing deal at the end of it.

Contrast this with self-publishing. Sure, it might take you time to research self-publishing, decide how you want to go about it and get your book ready to publish – but you know that it will be published. And, instead of waiting for other people to get back to you and getting disheartened by rejections and/or a lack of response, you can just get on with the business of publishing your book, your way.

You can keep your own schedule

If you go for a traditional publisher, you’re going to have to fit in with their schedule. Even after getting a deal, it can be years before your book actually hits the shelves. This can be disheartening for authors, and it can also mean the originality has gone out of your book if someone else gets there with a similar theme first.

With self-publishing, however, the only schedule you have to keep is your own. If your book is ready to publish, you can publish it without having to fit in with a traditional publisher’s preferred release date. It means that if you’ve had a top-notch original idea, you can get it out there quickly – with any luck, before anyone else thinks of the same thing.

It also means that if you want to publish two or three books in a year, you can. Your time is your own. This means that you have a responsibility to use your time wisely – it can be easy to waste time when you’re your own boss – but it also gives you flexibility and the space you need to develop your writing career the way you want to.

When it comes to our valuable time, self-publishing wins. What do you think?