Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Tell me about me

How often do you crop up on the web? How many times do your books crop up? Unless you search for yourself on Google every day - and if you do that, it's time to get a life - you probably don't know. Google Alerts can do the checking for you. Register, enter the term you want to search for - your name, the title of one of your books, the name of your main character - and pick 'comprehensive' as the search method and Google will email you each time your chosen phrase is found in new pages going online.

How useful it is depends on your name/book title. If you're called Gordon Brown, you might as well forget it, as wading through all the references to Gordon Brown to find one that relates to you, the real Gordon Brown, will take up so much of your time you won't be a writer any more.

Why do this? Vanity? 'Oooh, look at me, look at me, I'm on Google'? No, though you could do it for that reason. It's a good way of keeping track of reviews of your books and, increasingly, pirated uploads. That is, electronic copies of your books posted without your permission (or your publisher's) permission, usually for people to download for free. You can then decide whether to issue a DCMA take-down notice (more on that another day) or just glory in how popular your book is when it's free. Either way, it's good to know. Knowledge is power. And knowledge is also smug-juice.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

'It's a business trip'

Practise saying it: 'I'm working; it's a business trip.' Good. Now plan your writing life around places you want to visit. Don't - like Meg Rossof (why did she do that?) - set your novel in Luton. OK, she set it in the airport, so maybe she got to claim all her flights to wherever she felt like so that she could keep researching the departure lounge.

As the bats flit over the Grand Canal and the strains of Cosi fan tutte fill the palazzo, so kindly lent to me by another writer who has the good sense to set her stories in a wonderful place, I can honestly say 'it's not a holiday, it's work'. I'm killing off 16th century Venetians and following the exploits of Melampyge, the cat who lived in the Campanile and it is not, for tax purposes, enjoyable.

Actually, I didn't choose Venice for this story - it chose itself. I stopped by en route to the Bologna Book Fair and the story started itself in a pizza restaurant north of Rialto. Thereafter, I followed where it led, through the archives of the Marciana, the offices of the Istituto Cini, the manuscript room of the Corer and back, again and again, between the Palazzo Pisani Santa Marina and Zanipolo. But it has taught me a useful lesson which I will generously pass on - never set your story in Basingstoke when you could set it in Berlin, or Barcelona, or Sao Paulo. Or Venice.