No stats needed for Quality

This week Amazon decided to retire the author beta rank. This won’t mean a lot to readers as you will continue to see items ranked in relevant categories. Authors used to have, in private, a number based on their total sales in relation to others. The figures were often meaningless, sometimes with extreme and inexplicable daily variations, but I liked looking at the graphs.

It is always a pleasure to link another book to my Amazon Page. You will now see The Best New True Crime Stories: Small Towns edited by Mitzi Szereto, available to preorder. I have contributed an article on the 1884 Carmarthen mystery which features characters loosely connected to Jack the Ripper. That leads me nicely to Swanson, a masterly biography of Donald Swanson by Adam Wood.

Swanson had day to day responsibility for the Jack the Ripper investigation and privately named a suspect. The book goes well beyond that to detail his life and career in the context of a changing police force and society. It deserves to top any Amazon chart.

Interview about Jack the Ripper


This week I was privileged to be interviewed about Jack the Ripper, specially my suspect encyclopedia, by Michael Hawley on the House of Mystery Radio Show. Mike is an expert on Francis Tumblety, the only suspect who has a whole chapter to himself in the book. We talked about a range of issues in the case then came the closing question, “Who was Jack the Ripper?” I don’t have an answer because the available evidence doesn’t support a definite conclusion.

Many of the suspects I talk about in the book are there because others have promoted them, sometimes with a reasoned argument based on the facts and sometimes with speculation. My purpose in writing the book was to collate that information, put in front of a wider audience and let people form their own opinions.

As always there are parallels. There are a lot of opinions about the current global pandemic, some based on reasoned arguments and some entirely speculative. It is important that we base our opinions on the facts and that those facts are presented to us in a way that we can understand.

If you are stuck at home, it it is a good time to read books and listen to the radio.


How long is a short story?

Allegedly Ernest Hemmingway wrote a story with six words. Augusto Monterroso definitely wrote one with eight. In the 1980s Science Fiction pioneered Drabble, where every story is exactly 100 words. Variants of this are known as micro-fiction or flash fiction, sitting below the 1000 word mark where short stories begin.

A short story should be read in a single session. On average people read a minimum 200 words a minute so 2000 words will keep them occupied for ten minutes. 7500 words enters novelette territory and novellas start at 15000. These numbers are not universally agreed so you should always use the submission guidelines for each publication.

Remember that shorter works are easier to sell. Fifteen short stories can fit into the shortest novella. That’s more choice for the readers and less risk for the editor.

Keep on Reading, Watching or Listening.

The best advice for writers is to read as much as possible. Unless you want to write for television or film, in which case you should watch as much as possible. For audio you should listen to as much as possible. Sounds simple. The hard part is forcing yourself to read, watch, or listen to something outside your comfort zone.

Let’s say you write science fiction. You might plough through the classics and pick some modern examples. That will help you understand the genre but could leave you constrained by its limitations. Add some horror and crime fiction to the mix, maybe some romance or something written for a younger audience. Learn from the different techniques applied and see if anything can be adapted for your own work. In this way you create a point of difference between yourself and other writers in the same field.

This is important because boundaries between genres are often blurred as they compete for market share amongst a dwindling readership. Publishers are more likely to commission writers who demonstrate flexibility.

Anthologies or Magazines

Writers of short fiction can choose to submit their work to anthologies or magazines. Anthologies are one-off collections with a theme. Magazines are regular publications accepting working in specific genres. Your choice may depend on how you write. Some people prefer to write first then find a market. Others prefer to write for the market.

The first group will find it hard to get in an anthology, unless they rewrite aspects to suit the theme. The second group can target either, remembering that they only get one shot at an anthology. Depending on the theme a substantial rewrite might be needed for resubmission to a magazine.

Payment will vary within each type, from a complimentary copy to professional rates. Anyone targeting the later will face greater competition.

Submission Grinder currently has 99 paying markets listed for Science-Fiction, 19 of them being anthologies.

The key thing to remember is that you should always follow the submission instructions, otherwise known as writer’s guidelines.

Paul Williams is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, best known for his study of 333 Jack the Ripper suspects.

They All Love Jack

Bruce Robinson’s book They All Love Jack  is a vitriolic attack on the nineteenth centry establishment. Reading this, I saw parallels with the modern corporate world. Robinson describes a vast conspiracy and cover up directed by freemasons at the heart of government to protect Jack the Ripper, frame an innocent woman with the connivance of her defence lawyer and jail a journalist who complained about rich criminals walking free. Let’s compare this with a, naturally, fictitious company.

Instead of Queen Victoria read a CEO oblivious to the welfare of staff but keen to acquire perks for his family. Instead of politicians gripped in a masonic conspiracy substitute a network of managers promoted above their abilities and sustained by a collaborative culture of nepotism. For the defence lawyer, Sir Charles Russell, imagine a team leader obliged to put the interests of the managers above those of his staff. And for the journalist, poor Ernest Parkes, think about honest employees penalised for daring to challenge injustice in the workplace.

On the basis of known evidence I can’t support Robinson’s contention that Michael Maybrick was Jack the Ripper but as companies present their half-yearly results, I’m sure they won’t let facts get in the way of a good story.

Paul Williams is a writer best known for his study of the Jack the Ripper suspects

Reading blind

There is a growing trend for publications to read submissions blind. They ask you to remove your name and other details that may identify you from the manuscript then assess that manuscript solely on merit in line with their requirements. This virtually eliminates the possibility of bias but does not guarantee a more diverse publication or increase sales.

What happens if all the work selected is written by people of a similar background? This is possible, even probable if most submissions come from that group. Some publications state that they welcome material from under-represented groups, whilst using the conventional cover letter approach. Others actively solicit writers from within, or with experience of, their targeted audience, which may be defined by gender, class, age or race.

Blind submissions raise the possibility of novice writers beating experienced professionals. That’s fantastic for the writer but not necessarily the editor because a big name attracts readers. How are likely are you to pick up something by a newcomer ahead of the latest from an established favourite?

Paul Williams is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, best known for his study of the Jack the Ripper suspects.