Drip Feeding

Drip feeding is the concept of providing your readers with information on your story’s world or your character’s backstory a little bit at a time, with small pieces here and there that come together to form a bigger picture over time. This is in comparison to, for example, a prologue that explains the entire history of your sci-fi setting in one lump of exposition. This works because it allows the reader to get to know the characters before being dumped into a history lesson, it allows for hints at a bigger and more complex universe without you necessarily needing to explain every tiny detail, and it allows for reveals and plot twists through the story about that history.

I want to talk about a TV show that is a very good example of drip feeding done right. Steven Universe is a cartoon aimed at kids, but it has a complexity to it that has given it a large number of adult fans too. In the early episodes, we are introduced to the protagonist Steven, who is living with three gems – beings who each have a gemstone that is their core being but who can project a physical form that looks similar to a human (but often in a colour that matches their gem). We learn from the start that Steven is a hybrid between a human and a gem and he spends these early episodes trying to control his magic powers, going on adventures with the gems, and fighting monsters.

What we don’t know about right away is the thousands of years of history, rebellion, warfare, betrayal, and loss that led up to this. That comes later and no all at once. We are shown little hints that point to something bigger going on. In one episode, Steven is taken to a gem battlefield that is covered in fallen weapons. Looking at what’s left, all these years later, it’s clear that a battle on a massive scale took place here, but the details of exactly who was fighting whom is not revealed until later.

Similarly, there are hints about the gems being in hiding. The gems use warp pads to travel around Earth, and one episode shows us the galaxy warp – a pad that will do the same thing but allow gems to travel from planet to planet. This warp is broken and the gems are performing a regular check to make sure that it’s still broken. An episode has Pearl trying to build a spaceship and wanting to show Steven the galaxy. At one point, she mentions homeworld, but she doesn’t talk about taking him there, she talks about maybe seeing it from a distance. When something finally comes to Earth from another world and starts trying to repair the galaxy warp, the gems are scared and the reveal comes that they rebelled against their government and are in hiding. They don’t want anyone from their homeworld to know that they’re still alive.

This reveal fits with all the clues that have come before it. As the audience, we’ve seen all the hints leading up to this moment, so the information slots into place and completes the picture.

This is just one example of many. Over the course of the show’s run, information has been provided about where gems come from, how they’re grown, the structure of the society, the rulers, the powers that they have, the war to protect Earth thousands of years ago, the history of the main characters, and so on, building up a picture of a complex setting with a rich history.

This means that the plot twists aren’t necessarily a complete shock to the audience, especially in a case like this where a lot of the audience are adults watching a show that’s primarily aimed at a younger audience. The adult viewers pick up on clues that the younger viewers might miss, speculating about future reveals, but there is something very satisfying about being proved right when one of those twists comes. When the show makes a revelation, we can look back at the clues and think, “Yes, that makes sense.”

Often, drip feeding isn’t about shocking plot twists. Instead, it’s about having a box of jigsaw pieces and gradually putting them together to reveal more and more of the picture to your reader/audience.

Amazon Alternatives

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion around strike action against Amazon because of their horrific workplace practices and their treatment of employees. There are horror stories from warehouse workers and delivery drivers about low wages, unpaid hours which push the wages below the minimum, ridiculous productivity demands and penalties meaning that workers pee in bottles because they don’t have time for toilet breaks, and the fact that vast numbers of employees are living in abject poverty while the CEO is worth over a hundred billion dollars, which is more money than a person could ever hope to spend in their lifetime.

Amazon’s profit margins are so high that they could easily pay all their employees a living wage and still be making billions, so there is no excuse for this mistreatment of staff.

As such, there have been calls for strikes. There has been some confusion over dates, but the current information is that strikes will be taking place over Prime day, to hit a major promotional event, with the strike between the 15th and 17th of July. Customers are being discouraged from buying from Amazon during the strike (and boycotting longer if you can do, until the company makes some changes).

As an author, so much of what I do is based around trying to get people to sites like Amazon to buy my books, but I don’t want to support Amazon during this strike action, so here are some alternatives if you’re looking to buy my books.

Shadows of Tomorrow and its sequel Between Yesterdays are both available from Waterstones and other mainstream bookshops.

The Codename Omega series, Omega Rising, Traitor in the Tower, and Hidden in the Signal, can be bought directly from Lulu as both paperbacks and ebooks.

My latest novel, Wolf Unleashed, is available directly from the publisher, Guardbridge Books or through Waterstones and other major bookshops.

The ebook of Child of the Hive, my first novel, can be bought from Smashwords.

My superhero parody, The Adventures of Technicality Man, is only available for purchase from Amazon, so to support the strike, I’m giving this book away through Instafreebie. Through until the end of July you can get a copy of this ebook for free.

I hope that if you want to buy my books, you will consider buying them from somewhere other than Amazon until the demands for better treatment of workers are met.

What has a publisher ever done for us?

A short while ago, I got into an exchange online with someone about writing and the publishing process. We discussed a few different aspects on the subject, but I was surprised to find that they had a very strong feeling against using a traditional publisher. When I asked why, their answer was that it was because the author only gets about 20% of the income from a book, so it was like giving away 80% of your business earnings for all time, in exchange for a small start up loan (i.e. the cost of producing the book).

My response was that the “loan” can actually be pretty big, and that publishers do a lot more than just provide the costs at the start. This is a slightly expanded version of the answer I gave them.

The initial creation of a book is a long process and can be quite costly. If we assume we’re talking print books, then a traditional publisher is covering the cost of an initial high-level edit (going through and offering advice on how to improve the structure and pacing of the book, perhaps commenting on characterisation or areas that need improvement), as well as line editing, copy editing and proof-reading. A book can go past four or five pairs of eyes before it gets published (and still somehow typos slip through). On top of this, the publisher will be doing type-setting and laying the book out for printing.

How much all of this costs would vary based on the length of the book (most editors charge by the word count or page count, or by how many hours they spend going through the book), whether the publisher has those people as full time staff or if they contract the services out, how clean the manuscript is (a friend of mine who does line editing and proof reading work looks at a sample of the work first and charges based on how many problems it has, because a book with loads of typos, spelling mistakes, and grammatical errors will take more effort to edit than one with only a few), and the level of skill and experience of the people doing the work. It’s hard to put a number on the cost for all these rounds of editing because it varies so much from book to book, but you’re probably looking at a couple of thousand pounds at a minimum, and it could be substantially higher for longer books.

Then there are things like the cost of a cover designer. Again, the cost of this would vary depending on whether the artist is an employee or contractor, but you could expect another few hundred pounds to go on this.

Then there’s the cost of printing the book, not to mention storing the physical copies and handling the distribution.

So before your book has even hit the shelves, a traditional publisher has already made a substantial investment in a book.

Then comes the second half of the discussion, around how what the author gets stacks up against what the publisher gets when the book is sold. The normal rate of royalties for a printed book is between 10% and 20%, depending on the publisher. This is based on the sale price. So if a book sells for £10, you could expect to see £2 of that money. But does that mean the publisher gets the other £8 as profit? No. Some of that will go to the bookshop. Let’s assume the bookshop takes 15% for transacting the sale, that leaves the publisher with £6.50. But there’s also the physical cost of the book – the paper and the printing – so that’s not all profit. Going by the print costs of one of my books as a model, that could be another £3.50 (large print runs are cheaper per book, so if you’re selling thousands or millions of copies, this cost would drop) leaving the publisher with £3 per book.

Please remember that these numbers are all very rough.

Now, you might look at these estimates and wonder why, even after the other costs are taken into consideration, the publisher chunk is still larger than the author’s chunk. The person who I was discussing this with originally seemed to believe that once the book was produced, the publisher wasn’t doing much to earn their cut. So here is a short list of what my publisher has done/is doing for me with my most recent book, Wolf Unleashed.

  • They organised the launch event and paid for the wine and nibbles
  • They got the book reviewed on Readers’ Favorite (it was a five star review, but the publisher couldn’t control that)
  • They print the copies of the book
  • They store the printed copies of the book
  • They handle distribution out to retailers
  • They handle the registering of the book on the distribution/ordering services that are used by the major retailers
  • They promote the book on social media
  • They have dealers tables at science fiction conventions to sell copies of the books they’ve published, including mine
  • They sell the book through their website

And that’s just the most tangible things. There’s also a less tangible aura of legitimacy that surrounds a book that’s been traditionally published, no matter who that publisher might be and whatever else they’re doing. I recently went into a branch of Daunt Books and asked whether they would stock a copy of Wolf Unleashed. To start with, the guy I was talking to was very reluctant, talking about how the stock decisions were made in another branch, and how I’d probably have to take a copy of the book in to show them, but when I mentioned that the book had a traditional publisher, he looked it up on his system and said he could order a copy in.

Having a traditional publisher isn’t a guarantee of quality, but it does substantially reduce the risk for bookshops because they know that someone who isn’t the author thinks that it’s a good book, and that it will have gone through some editing and proofing. Bookshops are vastly more willing to take a chance on stocking a book they’ve never heard of if they know it came from a traditional publisher, even if that publisher is a small one.

So when it comes to getting a paper book published, I would definitely recommend looking for a traditional publisher. E-books are a little trickier, since it’s much easier to publish an e-book yourself and the initial costs are lower, and you lose some of the intangible benefits like being in bookshops. On the other hand though, a lot of publishers offer a more favourable royalty split on e-books and they still help with getting the book out to a wider audience, so you probably won’t have to do quite as much legwork yourself to reach the same number of readers.

There are advantages to going the self-publishing route (speed of publication, complete control, the ability to publish books that are too weird or different to fit into normal publishing categories, not having to deal with piles of rejection letters) but if you’re going to make such a big decision about your book, you should know what you’d be missing out on if you choose not to go with a traditional publisher.

Relevance

It takes a long time for a novel to go from initial idea through to finished book. It goes through initial draft, rewrites, finding a publisher, and then the publication process itself, which can sometimes take a year from when a publisher says yes to the book being released. I remember wondering, as I was writing Wolf Unleashed, whether the book would still feel relevant by the time it was officially published.

I wrote chunks of that book while protests were going on in America about unarmed black people being killed, while people were being locked up, beaten, tear-gassed, or otherwise hurt for simply calling out people who were doing wrong. I remember doing what little I could with petitions and donations and sharing stories, hoping that those protests would have an impact, that the authorities would step in to address some of the issues of institutional racism that were at the heart of so much of the suffering, but I also remember wondering what that might mean for my book. If progress was made, my book might feel old before it was even born. It might be launched into the world already feeling like it was focused on last year’s subject.

And then Trump was elected. He came into power and tried to have Muslims banned from the country, and I went back into a particular scene of the book, where the Muslim character Mehmood is talking about things he’s experienced, and rewrote some of the dialogue to draw a clearer parallel. Suddenly those moments with Mehmood started to feel more relevant again.

And now we have stories on the news about children being taken away from parents, children being rounded up, children being put in cages. And I’m left wishing that my story, with it’s scene in which children are taken from their mother and put in cages, didn’t feel so relevant. I wrote awful things into the book, where a group of people are being treated as less than human, their rights and wellbeing ignored. And now I’m watching it happen on the news, reading articles about the inhumanity with which groups of people are being treated.

I wanted my book to still feel relevant when it was published, but it’s like the old saying goes: be careful what you wish for.

My book’s message was “Werewolves are people too” but it’s painful to look at what’s happening in the world and know that the message “refugees are people too” is just as real and important a message as ever. This suffering and dehumanising behaviour isn’t just something that happens in books, but it’s something that’s happening right now in the real world, and it’s heartbreaking to see it going on.

There are organisations you can donate to if you want to help those suffering right now in the concentration camps Trump has set up. Act Blue has a fund called Support Kids at the Border that let’s you donate to several charities and groups all at once if you don’t know which group is the best one to give to. Let’s hope that the issues in my book start feeling less relevant sometime very soon.

Review: Just One Damned Thing After Another

Book cover Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi TaylorJust One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor (UK link, US link) is a fun book that walks the border between science fiction and fantasy. For the most part, it feels like science fiction, with futuristic technology driving the plot, but there are hints at elements from mythology towards the end that lend it a fantasy air. It tells the story of St Mary’s, a historical research organisation with a difference. These historians actually go back in time. Technological developments allow them to go back and see what actually happened at major historical events, answer key questions, and take recordings of what they see.

The main character is Max, a historian who signs on as a trainee at the start of the book. She is surrounded by a mixture of academics, engineers, security staff, and medics, who are all disaster magnets and generally obsessed with getting a good cup of tea. It’s a lively story, told with a lot of humour and most of this humour comes from the interactions between the various characters. I did struggle sometimes to keep some of the minor characters straight, especially since they might be referred to by first name, last name, or nickname. There was a list of characters at the start of the book which served as reference and I found a big help, but it didn’t stop me from getting muddled now and then.

There are some dark moments in the book. While the tone through most of it is light, there are some dramatic events that stand in stark contrast and the emotion of these sections really works, probably because of the contrast. It makes them feel more raw and real.

On the whole, I’d say that this book is good entertainment. It’s an enjoyable read and very easy to get through. It’s a perfect holiday read for when you just want to relax with something amusing and fun. Where I think it struggles is in terms of a coherent plot. There are some plot threads that flow through the book as a whole, but there are times when the book feels more like a series of events rather than forming a solid whole. As the title suggests – it’s one thing after another. There are separate chunks of the book with their own focus and activities and I almost think it would have worked between if the author had made more of these distinctions, breaking the book into separate parts and treating each as a separate episode within the larger narrative. It did pull the plot threads together a bit at the end though, so this criticism is a fairly minor one.

I think the author assumed considerably more historic knowledge of the reader than I had. There were references to historic events which were largely explained. Some of these references I got, but others just passed me by. Someone with more of a background in history than I have would probably have enjoyed this more, as it was I could have done with a little bit more information about the things being referred to. Thankfully those that were more critical to the plot were explained, so it was mostly the off-hand comments and throwaway lines that I ended up missing.

Overall, I’d give this book four stars out of five. It’s not going on my favourites list, but I did enjoy reading it and I will look out for other books by the same author in the future.

Reading non-fiction

There’s a lot of advice out there for writers but one thing that comes up time and again is the advice to read. I whole-heartedly agreed with this advice. Read writers you admire and try to figure out what it is that they do that makes you like their work so much. Read books you dislike to try and figure out what it is that puts you off about it and avoid it in your own work. Read widely in the genre you write so that you can pick up on the tropes and cliches. Read in other genres to see how stories are crafted differently for different audiences.

But I would also recommend reading non-fiction. There’s a lot that can be learned from books that can be useful in your writing, but I’m not talking about researching a specific subject with a book in mind. Reading more broadly can give you a foundation of knowledge to build on when creating your fiction. Personally, I read a lot of popular science simple because I find it interesting, I’m also very keen on psychology, which I think is a really useful area for writers to read up on. As we create our characters, we want to have them feel believable, like real, solid people with personalities that make sense and whose actions are plausible in their circumstances. Even for those of us working in science fiction and fantasy, we want the characters to feel like real people. Reading psychology books can give us insight into what makes people act in certain ways and that can help as build more nuanced characters.

If you’re writing stories of political intrigue or dealing with the rulers of a fantasy land, it could be useful to read about historical rulers, but I would also recommend The Dictator’s Handbook, which I’m currently reading, a book all about the ways people gain and keep power, and the rules by which they’re able to rule.

There’s an old adage “write what you know” which a lot of writing coaches shy away from these days, but there is an element of truth to it. If you know a subject, you’re more likely to be able to write about it in a way that people believe in. At the very least, you can avoid the more obvious mistakes that will make experts on the subject cringe. If you want to follow this piece of advice, then the next step is to try and know more about as wide a range of topics as you manage. In other words: read more non-fiction.

Sumup

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll probably know that I sometimes get a table at conventions or gift fairs to sell copies of my books (and some miscellaneous other items to help cover costs because dealers tables at conventions are expensive). My latest convention was Cardiff Film and Comic Con a few weeks ago, and Birmingham Collectormania this weekend.

Until now, I’ve only ever done cash payments but now more and more people are expecting to be able to pay with card wherever they are (and I can’t blame them, because I’m so used to the convenience of cards myself). I decided it was about time I got myself a card reader.

I talked to a few of the vendors at Eastercon about what they use and one that was recommended to me by a couple of different people was Sumup, which was the cheapest around according to one of the people I asked. From my own comparisons of reader costs and commission fees, I think she was right. When you sign up for Sumup, you buy a small card reader, which is nicely portable, and which connects via bluetooth to a phone app (you need to have Android or iPhone). The app itself is very simple and you can enter manual payments or create a catalogue of sales items so you can quickly tap on items to put a sale through. You can also group your items/prices, so I can have separate lists of stock for Christmas fairs and for science fiction conventions, making it easier to find the items on the list when you’re making a sale.

I did have a little bit of a teething problem on my first sale – the phone app sat on the “connecting” screen for ages and couldn’t find the reader – but I restarted the phone and card reader and after that it all went through seamlessly, letting me take chip and pin payments and contactless. I had fun today when it found a couple of other people’s Sumup devices before it identified mine (the challenge when three stallholders within a few metres of each other have chosen the same service) but it was easy enough to get it linking to the right one and processing the sale. After a sale, there’s also an option to send a receipt by text or email.

I have an online dashboard to see my payment history and track sales and income. Sumup send money directly to me bank account within a couple of days of the payment going through. They charge a 1.69% fee on each transaction, so if I sell a book for £10, I will pay about 17 pence to Sumup which is not bad at all and good compared to the other options on the market – iZettle is 1.75%, as is Square, WorldPay and Paypal can be up to 2.75%.

I would definitely recommend getting a card reader if, like me, you sell your books at face to face events. There were a few sales I made at the last convention that were only possible because I had a card reader, and one person who was going to buy one book but when he saw I had a card reader decided to get two. I would be happy to recommend Sumup based on my experiences last week, and if you do go for it, they have a “refer a friend” scheme. If you click on this link (http://fbuy.me/iRKnc) and sign up, you get a discount on the card reader (the website says a £44 discount, but I only paid £29 for my card reader, so I’m not sure how that works) and for the sake of honesty I should probably admin that I would get a £10 fee.

These days, if you’re selling your books face-to-face, you’re going to miss out on sales if you don’t have a card reader of some sort.

GDPR and Authors

If you do anything on the internet you’ve probably noticed that everyone seems to be updating their privacy policies at the moment. The reason for this is a handful of letters that have been causing major stress for businesses all across Europe: GDPR.

So what is it and, as an author, do you need to worry about GDPR? The answer to the second question is maybe.

GDPR, or General Data Protection Regulation, is a new set of legislation about how personal data can be stored and used for people in Europe. It doesn’t matter if you’re somewhere else in the world, if you store data about European citizens, GDPR applies to you. So if you have a mailing list containing names and email addresses and at least one of the people on your list is in Europe, you’re storing personally identifiable data for European citizens and therefore you need to comply with GDPR.

A lot of authors maintain mailing lists so you need to make sure that yours follows the new rules. Some of them you are probably following already, but some you might not be, so here are some of the key ones that are applicable in this situation.

Opt in

You can’t have an opt out approach to storing and using someone’s data. They have to specifically say that they are OK with you using their information. So if you have a form like the one below, where people have to enter their information and choose to sign up, that’s opt in. If you get their email address for another purpose and add them to their mailing list, that’s not.


Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required field

Your email address will be used to send you email updates. You can choose to receive notifications when I have a new book coming out or other publication news. You can also choose to receive (at most) weekly updates giving information on new books added to the queer reading list. You personal data will only be used for the purpose of sending you the notifications you have chosen.


Which notifications do you wish to receive?


For example, a little while ago I exchanged some emails with another author about doing an interview with him on this blog. A couple of weeks later, I started receiving his monthly newsletter. I never said or did anything to sign up to that newsletter but I was put on it anyway. I could easily unsubscribe from it, but unsubscribing is a whole different issue.

If you’re going to sign people up for a mailing list, you have to make sure that they have specifically and deliberately chosen to be signed up, whether by entering their email in a form or ticking a box to choose it if they’re giving you their email for some other purpose (and that box can’t be pre-ticked).

Informed consent

If you’re going to be storing and using someone’s personal data, it has to be done in an informed way. You have to tell people what you’re going to use the data for and then only use it for that purpose. So if someone signs up specifically to receive news about new book releases written by you, you can’t also send that person information about your friend’s book.

You may have noticed that my sign-up form has two distinct tick boxes. One is for my publication news, the other is about updates to the queer reading list. There have been plenty of people who have signed up to receive the (at most) weekly emails informing them about new book recommendations being added to the reading list, but they don’t sign up to receive my publication news. So if I get a short story accepted in a magazine, that means I can send that news only to people who have chosen to receive those updates, even though I have the list of email addresses for the other people.

Be specific. Say what you’re going to use their information for and then only use it for that thing.

Unsubscribe

I mentioned above that unsubscribing was another issue. You have to make it really easy for people to choose to stop receiving your updates and stop you storing their data.

If you use a solution like Mail Chimp, this is actually done for you, but if you manage your own list without these tools, you need to ensure that there is a clear and easy way for people to take themselves off your mailing list.

Only storing necessary data

You should only store information that you need for the purpose you collected it. So for a mailing list, you need to store people’s email addresses. Maybe you want to store their first names as well so you can address the emails to people personally, but you probably don’t need to know their physical address, date of birth, eye colour, or anything like that. Store the minimal data you need to do the job.

And you should only store the data for as long as you need it. So if someone unsubscribes from your mailing list, you should remove their information from your list. You shouldn’t keep a list of old email addresses from people who no longer what to receive your updates.

Data breaches

This is where it gets tricky, because unless you’re a technology expert, you’re probably not highly involved in the technical security behind where your list is stored, so it’s hard to know how safe it is. The rules under GDPR are that you have to keep the data safe for unauthorised access, and you have to inform people if there’s a breach and their data gets stolen. There are a lot more specifics on the GDPR website, but this is where using a solution like Mail Chimp is really helpful because GDPR also applies to them. They have to hold their data securely – and their data includes your mailing list. They have to inform people about data breaches – which means they would have to tell you and the people on your mailing list, as well as the appropriate authorities.

So while you are ultimately responsible for the data and have to follow these rules, working with a major company to manage your mailing list lets you breathe a little easier because that responsibility is at least partially shared. You don’t have to worry about the technical security side all by yourself.

To summarise

It is possible that your list may already be compliant. If you’ve always made sure that people opt-in to the mailing list and you’re clear about what you’re using the data for and only storing the necessary data and there’s a nice unsubscribe button, you’re already meeting the most relevant criteria.

But it’s still a good idea to check your list. Clear out old data if you’re not sure how those people signed up and whether they were properly informed. Send an email asking people to confirm that they still want to receive your updates. Take this time to do a bit of spring cleaning of your mailing list.

The Submission Grinder

If you write short fiction or poetry, I want to share a wonderful resource with all of you: The Submission Grinder.

This website stores a lot of information on a huge list of magazines, publishers, anthologies and writing contents, and it’s all searchable. There’s an advanced search page that lets you put in details about the story you’ve written, like it’s genre and it’s length, and the website will give you a list of places that accept submissions of that type. You can add a bunch of other qualifiers into your search – like whether the place accepts simultaneous submissions, whether it takes print or electronic submissions, or even what the minimum pay you’re interested in is.

The website also stores information on how long it takes for various publications to respond to submissions and how many of those responses were rejections or acceptance. Each publication has graphs about this data so you can see visually how long you can probably expect to wait to hear back from the place you’re submitting to.

You get access to the search capabilities without having to sign up, but if you do become a member, you can also use the site to track your own submission history (something I’ve previously been doing in Excel files). You can log in a submission every time you send a story out and track the response, adding to the massive pool of data that the story contains, as well as having a log for your own purposes so you know exactly where you’ve sent your work before. As you start entering this information, you begin to get a dashboard that shows you how many stories you’ve submitted and what the responses have been, which stories have done well or badly, and even how much you’ve been paid.

While the submission tracking information is useful, this is stuff I’ve been doing for myself anyway, so this isn’t massively important to me personally, but the search capabilities are amazingly useful. This site is a brilliant resource if you’re trying to figure out where to submit your work.

Enjoy, and best of luck with your story and fiction submissions.

Technical Update

I had intended to post this yesterday, but then my home was out of power for the entire day due to a fault on the line. So there were technical difficulties in posting this message about technical difficulties.

If you tried to log on to my site this time last week, you might have noticed a slight problem with it. And by “slight problem” I mean that the entire website had disappeared.

Thankfully, I managed to get everything back and I didn’t lose any data. All my old posts are safe and sound.

This shouldn’t happen again any time in the near future, so you can relax and enjoy the reviews, recommendations, and writing talk, and I can stop fretting about whether or not Skynet is trying to eat my blog.

The good thing is that the data for the queer reading list is stored elsewhere, so even if I had lost the site, it would have been possible to resurrect the reading list, this just meant that the page was down for a bit. This technical… hiccup… did mean that I didn’t do the queer reading list update last weekend. That wasn’t actually an issue because there have been no suggestions for new books over the past couple of weeks. Don’t forget that I’m doing a giveaway all through 2018 and you can win a free book by recommending new books to go on the reading list.

Despite there being no books to add, the reading list is still getting an update this week. I’ve made a number of changes to the layout and interface. Most of these changes are specifically in two areas: navigation buttons and filters.

Reading List Navigation Buttons

You can still navigate the list by clicking on the arrow buttons to move between pages, but I’ve also added some flag buttons that will let you navigate directly to the area you’re interested in. So if you’re interested in reading books with asexual, demi-sexual, or aromantic representation, you can still click on the navigation arrows until you reach page 6, or you can click on the ace pride flag button and skip straight there. I’ve put these navigation buttons on each page so you can jump around between pages as you wish.

I’ve changed a few things about the filters on each page, with the most Reading list filter buttons imageobvious being that I’ve changed them to buttons rather than a list with tick boxes. This should make it easier to apply filters. I’ve done some resizing and moving around of these buttons on most of the pages to try and make the filters a little less cramped. They’re still crammed in together on the Agender, Genderqueer, Intersex, and Non-Binary page, but there should be less overlap between filter boxes which again should make it easier to select the filters that you’re interested in. One minor change around these is that I’ve switched the order of the filter buttons for each category so that True now comes before False on all of these buttons.

Reading list alt text screenshotHopefully this will improve the usability of the list. To further assist with this, I have added alt text descriptions to elements on the views to try and improve this list from an accessibility point of view but unfortunately there were some changes I wasn’t able to do. I was asked about making the scrolling bar wider but unfortunately this isn’t a setting I’m able to control. I have suggested it to the company whose software I’m using to make the list that they might want to make this an adjustable settings, especially for accessibility reasons, but I can’t do much about it unless they decide to listen to that feedback. If you are struggling to use the list for accessibility reasons, let me know and I might be able to give you access to the back end data behind the list. That wouldn’t give you the same ability to filter all the settings, but if there’s a particular sort of representation you’re interested in (e.g. lesbian representation) I could create a pre-filtered view on the back end data and that might be easier to consume if you use a screenreader. If there are other aspects to the list causing accessibility issues, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.