I’m finished with Acer!!!!!!

Let battle commence!

Let battle commence!

Writer’s diary: 23.05.2014

Chapter 1

When I say I’m finished with Acer, what I mean is I’m finished with the first draft of the third novel. We haven’t broken up. Acer and I will likely endure for a while yet, I hope.

It all started coming together quite quickly in the end and I had a good gallop – a few late nights and early mornings – to the finish line. But I don’t think the ending is rushed. I think the book has a good pace all through.

And then a man came through the door with a gun in his hand.

Chapter 2

I’ve moaned a bit about this book and how challenging it was to write for reasons that I won’t rehash here. I know that I’ve spent much longer on the Internet looking up this and that for this book than I have for any other I’ve written.

For my own amusement I had a look at when I started writing it thinking that it must have been a loooonnnng time ago. I found a blog-post I wrote in February of this year where I said that I had the idea for books three and four in this series on my way to the airport. I did some maths and was amazed to calculate that this book has only taken me fourteen days to write to this stage. Then I double checked my figures and realised it was actually three months. (I’m an English teacher not a maths teacher.) That’s no longer than any of my other books time-wise.

Books one and two in the series were both 100,000 words. This one is 91,000.

And then a man came through the door with a gun in his hand.

Chapter 3

The gentleman who helps me out with my writing ‘issues’ suggested a while back that I consider chapter length when writing. He probably said why, but I forget. I’m not a very good listener. It’s not easy to tell me something.

Books one and two were both twenty-six chapters long. Book three is currently ninety-two chapters plus a prologue and an epilogue. That’s different. And here’s why.

When I’d finished and was going through the file on the computer I thought that some of the chapters were a bit too long. And then I got to thinking how that seemed to make things drag in places when what I was looking for was a sense of pace. I cut those chapters in half. And it dawned on me that utilising something that has to go into a book anyway – chapter breaks – in the right way can be a convenient and legitimate tool for creating pace and tension. If I’d ever done a creative writing course, they probably would have taught that in the first week. And I realise that loads of others do it/did it: Chandler, Lee Child etc.

And then a man came through the door with a gun in his hand.

Chapter 4

I’m temporarily happy with the overall effect.

I have it printed off and I’m now on stage two – going to town on it with various coloured highlighter pens. I don’t mind this part. I like getting surgical with it.

And then a man came through the door with a gun in his hand.

Chapter 5

If anyone ever asks me what’s the best thing about writing a book, I’ll answer: finishing it.

If anyone ever asks me what’s the worst thing about writing a book, I’ll answer: finishing it.

And then a man came through the door with a gun in his hand.

Chapter 6

As a writer, the worst thing about finishing a book for me is that I have to start another one from scratch. The blank page/screen is waiting and it’s daunting. So here is a tip for myself that’s worked for me this time. Start another book before you finish the one you’re on.

I started Booker & Cash#2 a while back with a good idea. I got to 20,000 words and had to put it to one side for R&M#4 and then Acer#3. Now I don’t have to start a new book from scratch. I’m already a quarter of the way in! Kerching!

And then a man came through the door with a gun in his hand.

The End

Part 2:

I had a nice surprise via Twitter this week that is worth recording for posterity here. I won’t go on about it. I’ll just paste the link.

http://francesdiplinoreviews.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/review-of-rope-enough.html?spref=tw

Part 3:

The link below provides some great ideas for those looking to get their Christmas shopping all finished early this year.

http://www.sadanduseless.com/2014/05/weird-amazon-books/

Fantastic Fiction?

Rubbish? Or how exploitation of Amazon category choice made me a best seller.

Rubbish? Or how exploitation of Amazon category choice made me a best seller.

Writer’s diary: 16.05.2014

The tag line for my wordpress site has always been ‘on trying to make it as an author of note.’ I have often wondered what the hell I meant by that, and how I would know if it ever happened. I sometimes wish I had chosen something more clearly definable, more transparently achievable.

I’ve had two things happen since last week’s blog-post that make me feel I might be a bit closer to whatever it is I’m after that I don’t understand and wouldn’t know if I fell over it.

1) Amazon chart positions: Last Saturday books two, three and four in the R&M Files were all in the Amazon top 20 for the paid chart British Detectives. It was only for about half a day but it was special enough for me to give myself the afternoon off and buy the family an ice-cream at the park. (It wasn’t my fault that they weren’t there and I had to eat three.) Little successes must be celebrated, I think, as much as the big successes.

No one outside of Amazon knows how chart rankings are calculated (I wonder if Amazon do) but I’m pretty sure that while one could get one book in the top 20 of a chart by some random algorithm there is a bit more than luck and randomness involved to get three books in it. People must be downloading them and they wouldn’t be downloading them if they weren’t enjoying the series after and including book one which is my free try-before-you-by initiative. (For the record it should be noted that the British Detective category is an Amazon category and not one of those obscure ones I made up in order to get Amazon to list me in it so that I could manipulate chart positions and look like a best seller. See below.)

(As I was writing this post on Monday morning Dirty Business made it to #1 spot in Amazon.co.uk Best Seller list: Kindle Store > Books > Crime, Thriller & Mystery > Suspense > Political (see above) and Loose Ends was there in silver medal position. By Monday evening they’d swapped places (see below). OK, so that’s a bit of a remote category but it’s a chart with a top 100 and you have to pay for them. So I think I can rightly refer to myself as a double best seller. (Three more ice-creams later.)

Acerrrrr2

[Acer’s rubbish is he? Grrrrr…..]

Before we all get carried away with my roaring success and start ordering Rolex watches let’s give that some perspective. Up until lunch time 12.05.2014 the books had had the following numbers of downloads on Amazon.co.uk. Dirty Business: 68 sales and 3 borrows. Loose Ends: 58 sales and 3 borrows.(That’s twelve days remember. Best seller in name only, I’d say.)

2) Recognition: I now have an entry on the Fantastic Fiction database, which I consider to be the fiction reference equivalent of ‘Who’s Who’. I did not pay for it. I did not write begging for it. It just happened and I couldn’t have been made happier if all my books were in the Amazon top 10 Kindle books best sellers list.

http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/t/oliver-tidy/

I have used Fantastic Fiction as a reference point for years as a reader. When I started my self-publishing journey I dreamed about getting on it. And now I am. I have no idea how one gets on there and I don’t care. I’m just thrilled to be there. But I do wish I’d used a better profile picture for all my social media outlets. Me in a bow tie just looks so… For anyone who ever wonders, it’s from my last wedding. (When I say last I mean the one before the next.) To be honest I think I look more like one of the waiters than a groom.

This week it really feels like I have edged towards becoming an author of note as opposed to an author of ‘rubbish’. (Is he still banging on about that? Get over it, will you?) There, I said it so my daughter doesn’t have to.

What do you do?

 

Writer’s diary: 09.05.2014

You’re minding your own business, jotting notes on an A4 pad. A man takes the seat next to you. You don’t know him. He’s sweating, clearly anxious. You can feel the heat of indecision coming off him.

‘Excuse me.’

You ignore him.

‘Excuse me.’

You look up. There are others around but he’s talking to you. Looking at you. What you see in his eyes frightens you. But he does not frighten you. It is his knowledge. He does not look insane but they don’t always.

‘Can I have one piece of paper and borrow something to write with? Please. It’ll take seconds. It’s important.’

You hesitate. You look around at the faces staring in your direction. All strangers to you and to each other. You are the temporary entertainment in the boredom of their routine. You tear off a piece of paper and lend him your pencil because it is easier that way.

He writes on his knee. The pencil goes through the paper and he swears quietly. You pass over your pad for him to lean on. He mumbles a thank you. He doesn’t look up.

You try not to look at what he’s writing. But you see that his hand is shaking. You meet the stares of some of the others. They either look away or stare blankly back. No one smiles.

He has finished.

‘Thank you.’

He hands back your pad and pencil. You breathe out quiet relief and hope that’s it.

You cannot ignore the noise of him folding the paper neatly into four.

Minutes pass.

It’s your stop. You get out. He gets out behind you. You walk. He is matching your pace. There are others around you. You are not properly afraid, yet.

He gets in front of you and blocks your path. He is trying to smile at you but he can’t beat his fear. People are jostling you in their hurry.

There is something in his face. Something genuine. Do you know him? He holds his paper in front of him. He holds it for you to take.

‘Forget your day. Take this paper. Find a policeman. Give it to him. Tell him about me. Make him read it. Make him take it seriously. Lives may depend on it.’

He turns and hurries away. Within seconds you have lost him in the sea of heads.

What do you do?

(Can’t stop. Acer needs me. Time’s ticking. He’s alone, again. Things are bad. And it’s his fault. Failure is not an option.)

Acer Sansom is ‘rubbish’ :-(

Dirty Business Final (Large) Loose Ends Final (Large)

Writer’s diary: stardate: 02.05.2014 😦

This week I broke through the 70,000 word barrier of my first draft for Acer #3, which I might call Smoke and Mirrors. It’s been slow going compared with other books I’ve written, but it’s coming together nicely, in my opinion. I had a couple of good sessions this week and have started to feel quite positive about it.

And so it was with some dismay that I was given to understand that I’m wasting my time on this series. I received a couple of negative comments on Amazon.co.uk just yesterday – one for each of the Acer books: Dirty Business and Loose Ends. They are both from the same reader. For Dirty Business he said: Paul needs to scrap this Acer Sansom killer and go back to Dover and his good books, at least they were readable. (Paul?)

For Loose Ends he left this comment under the title ‘Rubbish’: Just like his other Sansom book rubbish and not worth the money, his books with Dover as the back ground were readable this lot are not.

(Some of my detractors I’d like to run over with ‘de tractor’.)

It’s not often I am left baffled by a reader’s feedback. (I know these book aren’t going to win any prizes but equally I know they’re not ‘rubbish’ because I’ve had too many favourable comments on them from impartial reviewers whom I respect. I accept that they might not be everyone’s cup of tea but that’s different to ‘rubbish’.)

I’ve experienced my fair share of negative comments and almost always I can find a way to understand them. I’ve invited him to enlighten me regarding what it was in these books that so displeased him. I’d really like to know. (There must be a quote from some old sage out there somewhere about understanding alleviating anguish but I can’t be arsed to look for it. Besides, I feel my time is better spent trying to find out where this bloke lives. He only went and used his real name 🙂 )

There are many things I’ve learned through self-publishing. One of the most important to remember, if one wishes to remain sane, is that you really cannot please all the readers all the time. So I try to be philosophical about negative comments. I try not to let them ruin my day. But the truth is: I can deal with them a lot better when whoever leaves them is not so unnecessarily unpleasant. It’s so rude. Rudeness makes my blood boil. Rudeness and stupidity.

The reviewer in question is entitled to have his say over my book. He paid for that privilege. But why is it that some people feel the need to be so horrible? I mean, ‘Rubbish’. That’s not nice is it? Who is he? Who is anyone to say anyone’s book is ‘Rubbish’? It’s such a rotten, spiteful, nasty, lazy thing to plaster as a comment title.

And it’s not just him. It’s endemic on Amazon. Some of the things some people write for comment titles and comment content should make them ashamed of themselves. Passing judgement on a book you’ve read is a subjective thing. You might hate it, but maybe that’s just you. Express that privately if you have to, but why must people be so nasty on public forums?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for constructive criticism. I’ve learned a lot from decent readers who’ve taken the time and trouble to feedback to me constructively. Not everyone loves my books and that’s fine with me when readers comment using language that isn’t inflammatory and hostile. But I ask you, comments like those I’ve copied and pasted above, how do they help anyone? Readers or writers.

People like that remind me of people like this:

 

and I don’t like it. And it’s not about passion; it’s about being civilised. Ah, what’s the point?

He’s not my first and, of course, he won’t be my last. I just wonder how long I will be prepared to bite my tongue and remain affable in the face of such nastiness.

Mind you even smiling nicely and responding philosophically can upset a comment prowler. Example: A little while ago on Amazon.com a woman gave this comment for Rope Enough under the title of Rather boring: Couldn’t get into this book – even though it is an English crime novel. Not sure what the problem was, but it didn’t hold my interest and I didn’t finish it.

Fair enough, I thought. Because of my policy of commenting on every comment I had to write something. And it had to be fittingly philosophical. I replied: Hello Miriam, Just goes to show, I suppose – you can’t please all the people all the time.
Regards.

That seemed harmless enough to me and to the point and honest in an ‘oh well’ kind of way. There was certainly no sub-text of unpleasantness intended.

So imagine my surprise when this week I got this comment from a reader who’d seen my response to Miriam: You are not going to win readers with that kind of attitude. I was about to give this book a shot because I love anything set in England. Most of my favorite authors are English. Your comment is off-putting and I will now pass on this one.

Still, one good thing to come out of all this: I was struggling to find a name for the hunchback kiddy-fiddler in my latest R&M File. Not any longer. Talking of which, oh look, his address came through – now where did I put de tractor keys?

(Please, just in case, I don’t want anyone springing to Acer’s defence on Amazon. I know I have some splendidly loyal readers who might do that, but it’s not what I’m fishing for. This is my writer’s diary and I’m simply sharing something to do with my writing journey that happened this week. That’s all folks.)

A Dog’s Life (part 4…enough already)

Out April 1st (maybe).

Out April 1st (maybe).

Writer’s diary: stardate: 28.03.2014

I figure that everyone who needs to know/cares that A Dog’s Life (R&M#4) will be out on (hopefully) April 1st is aware of that by now. Probably sick of me saying it. So, lets talk about something else.

Last week I wrote about my ongoing struggle with alcoholism.

Sorry, I mean, last week I wrote about my ongoing struggle with writing the third Acer Sansom novel. (It just felt like that kind of battle.) This week I feel a great deal better about it.

I was thirty thousand words in and not loving it as much as I should have been. I thought that the biggest problem I had to contend with was my ignorance regarding the geographical issues of the corner of the world I’d painted myself into. I have since realised that this was not my biggest problem. My biggest problem was that thirty thousand words in and I still wasn’t thinking like Acer. I wasn’t inside his head. He was doing stuff that wasn’t typical of him. He’s a different character. And I’d forgotten that.

I write three series and I like to think that they are all written differently to each other. Not just the characters but the style of my writing. I enjoy this challenge but it means that I have to adjust my thinking for the characters involved.

So at the weekend I printed off a copy of how far I’d got, bought myself a new red pen and went to town on it. The result is I’m much, much happier about things. I hacked three thousand words out of it, which is about as painful for a writer who is constantly monitoring the word count as removing one’s own appendix…with a spoon.

But because of how much better I then felt about things, more comfortable and familiar, I rattled off another five thousand words in pretty quick time.

I suppose that if I had any friends, I would liken writing another book in a series that I hadn’t been near for a good while to meeting up with one of them after having not seen them for a couple of years. It’s a bit awkward to start with while you’re trying to remember how you once were with each other, and then memories are prompted, you start to relax, and you’re reminded of why you’ve avoided them for so long (surely, back in your relationship groove? ed).

Something I’ve learned recently about writing out of one’s geographical comfort zone is this: the Internet is flipping amazing. Well, I didn’t learn that. We all know it already. All the Google options (satellite, maps, web, images) are particularly amazing resources for a lazy bastard author (surely, struggling self-publisher with work and family commitments and no money? ed.) But what I’ve also found to be a rich source of information to draw upon has been ordinary peoples’ travel blogs. Wherever you want to learn about in the world, ten people have been there, done that and written a blog-post on it. Digest a few of these and you can really begin to get a feel for a place, warts an’ all. Much better than official websites. You learn stuff too.

I hate writers like Dan Brownstain because when they set themselves a book to write they just get someone to book them a ‘holiday’ there. They pack themselves off with a notebook or digital voice recorder, stay in some fancy hotel and have a fine old time of it for a couple of weeks wandering around the streets soaking up the ambience and the cultures of Europe’s more interesting capitals, taking notes and sipping regional drinks on pavements. Gits.

As a struggling self-publisher with work and family commitments and no money (didn’t we just have that sob story? ed) scribbling about far flung places, you have to be able to fool most of the readers most of the time into believing that how you tell it is how it is. If you don’t have the time, money or opportunity to go there yourself because you are a struggling self-publisher with work and family commitments and no money (time to stop that. ed) you have to make it up. One final thought on that subject: no wonder Dan Brownstain always sets his books in ‘safe’, ‘comfortable’ locations. I bet he doesn’t fancy a fortnight in Iran researching Da’Ayatollah Code, for example. Lightweight.

There is one good thing to be said for writing about Iran: I’m willing to bet that not too many of my readers will have been there. So as long as I can paint a believable picture of the place, something that people can buy into then does it matter whether it’s entirely accurate or not? I realise that this is going to be a potentially sticky issue with readers, but I reckon there has to be a compromise. Struggling self-publishers with work and family commitments and no money (!!!) should do their best to find out everything they can if they can’t visit, and readers must be prepared to cut the writer a bit of slack.

With that in mind I’m hoping that faithful readers of the Acer Sansom novels are going to be able to suspend just a little bit of disbelief when Acer has to visit Disneyland Tehran during the Islam-world-wide Easter celebrations in search of Father Christmas who is rumoured to be plotting a terrorist outrage. Ahem.

A Dog’s Life (part 3)

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the bathroom...

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the bathroom…

Writer’s diary: stardate: 21.03.2014

I thought I’d kick off this week by sharing a true story.

As part of my job, teaching English as a foreign language to young learners, I do a phonics lesson each week. This week it was the ‘ch’ sound.

When I teach a phoneme I like to complement my lesson with a Power Point presentation using appropriate and useful vocabulary and pictures to inform and consolidate understanding. In my experience, using PPT also acts as something of a technological sedative for the little blighters. Great when they come in from killing each other for fifteen minutes at break-time.

As part of this week’s vocabulary bank I chose the word ‘rich’. I accompanied the word on the PPT slide with a Google image of piles of cash. I explained as best I could that having lots of money is one way of being ‘rich’. (No good talking to this lot about how having great friends and cultural interests makes one ‘rich’. Just appeal to their basic interests.) I joked with them about how rich I am thanks to the money their parents give me each week for teaching them. Just a little harmless banter I thought. Until this seven year old girl, who is normally so sweet and respectful, sprang up out of her chair, pointed at me and shouted ‘Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!’

I was quite taken aback by this outburst. I was also quite disappointed to note that several of her colleagues started laughing and took up the chanting and pointing. ‘Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!’

What was I to do? I couldn’t ignore it. I mean, where would we all be? This is the kind of thing I left my kindergarten job in the UK over.

Sensing that my authority was being challenged and that to let it go would see my reputation as ‘school tough guy’ irrecoverably damaged, I acted. I was also a bit cross. I had her out of the chair by her pigtails and on the tips of her toes down to the Vice-Principal’s office quick enough to make her cry. Good. One to me. I thumped on the VP’s door. Two minutes later she opened it wiping the sleep from her eyes with one hand and smoothing down her bed-hair with the other. (A quick scan of the interior showed the tell-tale signs of recent horizontal occupation of her ‘meeting sofa’.)

I propelled the girl into the office and proceeded to explain events that had led us to this point.

A flurry of gabbled Turkish followed, of which I understood nothing. Par for the course. (It’s only been five years. These things take time.) A few more tears. And the girl was dismissed. The VP shut the door and turned to me. She then patiently explained to me that ‘fakir’ in Turkish, which sounds very much like ‘fuck you’ when pronounced by a native, means ‘poor’ as in the opposite to ‘rich’. The little girl had been calling me ‘poor’ for a joke, not inviting me to go and fuck myself, she said.

Live and learn.

I always thought build-ups to a book’s publication day were supposed to create a buzz of positive excitement and feverish anticipation. Churn out a couple of titillating blog-posts, engage in a Facebook frenzy, tweet like a summer dawn chorus and readers will be queuing round the virtual block with all their mates to snap up a copy. All I’ve got this week is grief – messages telling me to stop idling, pull my finger out, bloody well get on with it and release the thing.

I came across an interesting gimmick this week for increasing revenue via a new book release. Chap called Andrew Gross released his thriller in three parts on to Amazon. He might have even pulled this stroke more than once. Readers had to pay for each instalment. At first I thought that was a bit too cheeky of him. Then I realised it’s nothing new – Dickens and Conan Doyle, to mention but two, sold stories in instalments in weekly newspapers. And more recently, Stephen King did something virtually similar (or should that be similarly virtual?) with his story The Plant. I began to toy with the idea of releasing A Dog’s Life chapter by chapter to be made available weekly on Amazon as a download. There are twenty-one chapters in the book. I thought I could release them one a week at a mere £0.77 per chapter. That would net me an incredible £5.25 in Amazon royalties per whole book sold. I distinctly remember licking my lips at this realisation. I remember thinking that if I could shift ten copies that way it would pay for me to go out on the lash for the evening. Then I realised I’d have to wait twenty-one weeks to see the full profit from such a scam (surely business initiative? Ed) actually make that eighty weeks – Amazon don’t see monthly royalty payments as something to fall over themselves about.

Then I thought to have a look at Mr Gross’s feedback on Amazon, see how things went for him. And I quickly abandoned the idea. Readers were not impressed with his jolly japes. I almost felt sorry for him. He’s probably changed his name and has had cosmetic surgery by now. A Dog’s Life will be released in its entirety at the ridiculously low price of £1.99.

Every now and again, I manage to claw my way up the Amazon free charts with Rope Enough and just when I feel on the cusp of a whiff of an inkling of breaking into the Amazon top one hundred free books chart  (the promised land for self-published authors) Amazon go and make the book £1.99. I think they do it deliberately. No rhyme or reason for it. It’s like playing snakes and ladders and getting to ninety-nine and finding myself on a snake’s head whose tail is on two. Two days later they put it back to free and there I am teetering around the ten thousand mark in the  free charts once again.

I’m writing Acer #3. It’s not easy. When I write, I like to sit and let the bilge flow through my fingertips, but I’m spending more time on Google maps, Google satellite, Google images and Google normal than I am writing. It’s killing my creativity. I haven’t sworn on this blog for a while but fucking hell…Iran…what was I fucking thinking? If it wasn’t Iran, I’d go there and try to soak up some of the ambience of the place. Maybe take a week to go where Acer has to go so that I get it right. Actually, no I wouldn’t because it’s not like I’d ever even make the bus fare back in sales. I’ve got half a mind to make it a short story and have Acer stoned to death by an angry mob. The End. Move on. Get back to a location that I have a vague idea about.

Acer#3 – Page 2:

The UN inspectors’ convoy came to an abrupt halt on the outskirts of Tehran. They were still lost. ‘Fuck this shit,’ said Acer. He adjusted his Raybans, stepped out of the vehicle and hailed a gaggle of old men taking their ease in the shade of a cafe awning. ‘Oi, where do you hide your WMDs?’

‘Didn’t you lot learn anything from Iraq?’ answered one of them who, judging from his accent, had been educated at an English private school. His cronies laughed. Maybe they were all old Etonians.

A nearby group of young men in traditional Iranian dress turned their attention to the exchange. Sensing a rare opportunity to strike a blow for his country, one of them bent down to pick up a pebble. He weighed it in his hand, never taking his eyes off the white man who had come as part of an international delegation to discredit the country that he would give his life for…I’d better stop now. I’m beginning to like the idea too much.

Oh yeah, I’m aiming for a release date of April 1st for A Dog’s Life. Is that symbolic? Time will tell.