I welcome Cora Buhlert to the blog today. Cora is a very prolific writer and, judging by the fact that she answered all of my questions (including the optional ones), an obvious over-achiever. :-) She stops by to tell us about her new novelette, Insomnia, as well as her viewpoints on her ideal readers, her writing habits, and her thoughts on the perception some may have towards indie published authors.
1. Please tell us about yourself.
My name is Cora Buhlert. I live in Bremen in North Germany, but I write primarily in English. When I'm not writing, I work as a translator and English teacher.
2. What's the name of your newest or latest book and what's it about?
The title of my latest book is Insomnia. It's a novelette and it's about a banker named Marc Taylor who suddenly finds himself unable to sleep shortly after moving into a new apartment. At first, he quite enjoys the additional time his chronic insomnia gives him. But as the weeks wear on, Marc craves nothing more than sleep. However, neither his doctor nor his therapist are able to help him. Even worse, his bizarre nocturnal habits are alarming the neighbours. And in those long sleepless nights, Marc gradually begins to suspect that his new neighbours are hatching a nefarious plan to get rid of him.
Paranoia is a well known consequence of chronic insomnia. But that Marc is paranoid doesn't necessarily mean that his neighbours aren't really out to get him. Or does it?
3. Is this book part of a series or standalone?
It's a standalone. No potential for a sequel either, because… well, you'll have to read it to find out.
4. How long have you been writing?
I've been making up stories for almost as long as I've been alive. Eventually, I started to write them down. I made my first attempts at writing sometime in elementary school (thankfully lost to the tides of time), but I didn't start writing in earnest until I was in my teens and didn't get serious about writing until university.
5. From where or whom do you draw inspiration?
I draw inspiration from everywhere. Events that happened to me or to other people, things I saw on the street, lines overheard on the tram or at school, dreams, books I read, films and TV programs I watched, songs I heard on the radio, pictures I saw somewhere. Anything at all can be potential spark of inspiration.
For example, Insomnia was sparked by an online generator that created faux covers for French literary novels. I played around with this generator a bit and eventually got a cover and title combination I really liked, so I started writing a story to go with it. I added in a few experiences with gossipy or just plain weird neighbours, a bit of rampant paranoia and suddenly had a psychological suspense novelette. Very little of the original spark of inspiration remains, for I couldn't use the generated cover, though the current cover is similar. The title changed, too, because the title I generated ("The insomnia of the oranges") was lovely, but did not fit what the story eventually turned into.
6. What advice would you give new or aspiring writers?
Read a lot, write a lot, look at every bit of writing or craft advice you can find and figure out what works for you.
7. Who do you see as your ideal reader?
Myself. Because I am the only reader I know I can please. Of course, I always hope that someone else, preferably many someone elses, will enjoy my books, too. But I don't think of any ideal reader when I write. I mainly write to entertain myself.
I'm not a big fan of demographic targeting anyway. First of all, sorry marketers, it rarely works all that well. How many times have we heard of books, films or TV shows, that were designed to appeal to young men, but turned out to be hugely popular among older women instead or vice versa? In the case of films and TV shows, this realisation is followed by frantic attempts to adjust the product to the desired target audience, while completely ignoring the audience it already has. The end result is usually a TV show or film that nobody wants to watch, because it tried to pander to everybody.
For example, my historical short story Under the Knout is – at least going by the also-boughts – popular among readers of fetish erotica. Did I expect this? No, and in fact I sometimes worry that the erotica readers will be disappointed, because there is no sex in Under the Knout and while there is a whipping scene, it's not erotic. Nonetheless, I'm glad that the story is finding readers, even if they are a bit different from what I expected.
8. Tell us about your writing process. Are you a planner or outliner?
I've never been an outliner or much of a planner, to be honest. When I dive into the story I mostly have some idea of what is going to happen and sometimes even how the story is going to end, but I can't plot out everything in detail beforehand, because that would mean that I promptly lose interest, because I already told the story. Instead I just dive in and start writing the scene that is most vivid in my mind (usually but not always the opening scene) and see where it takes me. For longer works, i.e. novellas and novels, there eventually comes a point approx. two thirds to three quarters through the manuscript where I have to organise everything I've written to date. Then I get out a pack of index cards, jot down notes on scenes written and scenes I've yet to write, figure out the order they go in and write whatever it still missing. For short stories and novelettes I can usually keep it all in my head.
In general, I believe that everybody must find their own best method of writing. All writers are different and just because I don't outline doesn't mean that outlining won't be beneficial for some other writer.
9. Are you a "write every day of the week" sort of writer or do you take days off?
I write every day, including weekends, holidays, vacations and so on. I think it's important to make writing a part of your daily routine. Besides, writing every day keeps the story fresh in my mind and makes it easier to dive right back in.
10. What are your thoughts on writers paying for reviews as John Locke is reported to have done?
I think it's dishonest and ruins whatever credibility reviews might have had. In Locke's case, it's even worse, because John Locke peddled his "How to sell one million e-books" book in which he supposedly revealed the secrets of his success to other authors. Only that he "forgot" to mention that paying for reviews and a whole lot of them at that was a crucial part of his strategy for success.
I may not have a whole lot of reviews, but at least I came by mine honestly.
11. Do you think retailer rating/review systems are broken? If so, any suggestions on how to fix them?
Ratings and reviews are a good idea in principle, because they help customers to decide what to buy. But the system clearly is broken in many ways, as evidenced by the recent scandals about paid reviews, sockpuppets, malicious negative reviews, hundreds of reviews on books released a few days ago, reviews that are basically senseless spam and the like.
The rating system is broken as well, because anything that does not have an average of four stars or higher is automatically viewed as low quality and excluded from many of the big promo sites. I never reviewed a whole lot, but in my pre-indie days I gave three-star reviews to books I had enjoyed, but that simply weren't all that memorable. Four stars were reserved for books that were pretty damn good and five stars for exceptionally good books. But since going indie, I learned that a three star review actually harms more than it helps, because it might hurt an author's chance of getting his book featured on one of the big promo sites. And a system where a three star review can hurt a book definitely is broken.
How can we fix these issues? Well, if I knew the solution, I'd be working at Amazon or B&N. That said, restricting reviews on retail sites to registered users who have actually bought the book in question might be a good idea. And if a reader got the book as a gift or bought it in a brick and mortar store, they can still review at Goodreads or their own blog, just not at a retail site.
Putting on my reader hat for a moment, maybe we should make reviews just one component in our buying decision instead of the deciding factor. For example, here are books that even the best reviews in the world will never induce me to read, because the genre, subject matter, etc… don't appeal to me. There have been books that got horrible reviews that I enjoyed a whole lot and well reviewed books that I didn't. There even are certain review sites whose tastes are so diametrically opposed to mine that I take a glowing review there as a warning to stay away from this book/film/TV show and a negative review as a recommendation to check it out.
12. Some book reviewers won't accept independently authored books for review. What are your thoughts on that? Are they missing out?
I think they are missing out, but that's their problem, not mine. Generally, I take a sanguine view towards reviewers who won't accept any indie books at all or any books of this or that genre or any books without a certain number of reviews or a certain number of recommendations on Goodreads or whatever. It's their site and their choice of what they will or will not review. Nothing I can say or do will make those people change their policies. If a site or reviewer does not want me, I'll simply find someone who does.
However, I suspect that the high number of reviews and high average rating required by some of the bigger sites, before they even allow you to buy an ad, has contributed to the paying for reviews problem.
13. Some people feel indie authored books are of lesser quality than those that go through the traditional publishers. Do you agree with them? If so, how do we collectively raise the bar and remove this stigmatism?
The problem with indie authored books is that the spectrum is huge. And the indie books at the very bottom of the spectrum really are much worse than books by traditional publishers. Because books by traditional publishers still adhere to a minimum standard of quality. Even the worst traditionally published books will have been edited, copyedited and proofread and should at least be legible with regards to spelling and grammar, though quality standards have been dropping at trad publishing and you sometimes get trad books with mistakes such as characters changing names halfway through the book that should have been caught. Meanwhile, the indie books at the very bottom of the pile are often neither edited nor proofread, riddled with typos and grammar errors and deserve to be stigmatised. However, on the other end of the spectrum there are indie books that are as good as and often better than anything to come out of traditional publishing. Plus, the very best of indie books are often better formatted than many trad pub books. So in short, there is a huge spectrum of quality with indie books, much broader than the quality spectrum of trad pub books. And if someone's first indie experience was an error riddled and badly formatted book, that reader is likely to be prejudiced against indie books in the future.
What can we do to remove the anti-indie stigma? Simple: Make sure that our own books are at the very top of the indie spectrum, that they are well formatted, edited and as free of errors as we can make them. Because the more high quality indie books there are, the less the anti-indie stigma will become.
14. Any pets? If so, tell us what role they play in your writing, if any.
I don't have any pets, which makes me a true rarity among writers. However, I have a bunch of largely neglected houseplants, a woodpecker nesting in the garden (I named him Hacki) and a stuffed moose named Molly.
15. Assuming you have an active blog, point readers to a post of which you're especially proud or think will be of particular interest to them.
Just one? Well, I am quite fond of this post on gender roles in fiction prompted by the to me inexplicable popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey. Another favourite is this post comparing Stanley Kubrick's film adaption of Anthony Burgess' novel A Clockwork Orange to the British TV drama Misfits, since both of them were filmed in the same location, albeit forty years apart. And finally, since we have been discussing paid for reviews, I made a series of posts about that issue on my publisher blog last year, including Posting sockpuppet reviews is not free speech and This ain't no witch hunt.
16. Where can readers find your work?
At Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple iTunes, AllRomance e-books, XinXii, DriveThruFiction and a couple of non-US retailers. There is a full list of retailers with links on my site.
17. Where can readers find out more about you?
At my personal website and blog at http://corabuhlert.com and at my publishing blog http://pegasus-pulp.com.
Cora Buhlert was born and bred in Bremen, North Germany, where she still lives today - after time spent in London, Singapore, Rotterdam and Mississippi. Cora holds an MA degree in English from the University of Bremen and is currently working towards her PhD. Cora has been writing since she was a teenager, and has published stories, articles and poetry in various international magazines. When she is not writing, she works as a translator and teacher.
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