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/

The Moyes Effect. (Think butterflies without wings.)

 

Writer’s diary: stardate: 25.04.2014

Perhaps, a bit like voting Labour in the last couple of elections expecting change – scratch away the thin veneer of sun-blistered, faded red, they’re just a lighter shade of blue – my hope is false, but I like to think of the Kindle Top 100 Free chart as the promised land for an author, like me, to wake up in.

I like to think that everyone who owns an ereader, whether it’s new or they’ve had it for years, still trawls the Kindle Top 100 Free chart from time to time for something for nothing. I like to think that it’s basic human nature. (It should be noted, for the record, that I also like to think that there are fairies at the bottom of my garden, that Elvis runs a simit stall in Istanbul and that one day Ronnie Corbett will call to enquire after the film rights to my Acer Sansom novels – think TC & JR.)

I have prayed and promoted and blogged and tweeted and accosted people on public transport and sacrificed chickens and been nice to children (probably the hardest of the lot) in my quest to see the first R&M File, Rope Enough, make Amazon’s Top 100 Free chart. This week after months of yo-yoing around the cusp the book made it. And all I had to do was follow some good advice, click a few buttons on my laptop and send Amazon a message.

My message was only slightly more complicated than: ‘Dear Amazon, please put my book in the Top 100 Free chart.’ But only just. The good advice came from a gentleman called: David Gaughran. See it regurgitated on another website here:

http://www.selfpublishingadvice.org/self-publishers-use-amazon-categories-to-drive-more-sales-50-ways-to-reach-your-reader-10/

So I followed that good advice. Amazon responded quickly, sending me a message that they would implement my category change request and it would be live within seventy-two hours. Sit back and wait. As is my usual experience with Amazon the reality of the changes was a lot sooner. On Amazon.co.uk all was well and overnight Rope Enough found itself at #2 in the chart Kindle Store > Books > Crime, Thriller & Mystery > Crime Fiction > British & Irish > English This leap-frogged it up the slush pile (surely, ranks of overlooked, talented authors in waiting? Ed.) to #49 in the Top 100 Free chart. I managed half a cartwheel in the lounge before colliding with the dining table, knocking my future-ex-wife’s floral display over and smashing that ‘collectors’ vase she bought from Disneyland. (When I say cartwheel I must confess to catching a glimpse of myself in the floor-to-ceiling living room mirror as I got halfway through my impromptu acrobatics. Granted, I was upside down but I could have been looking at a crippled, midget hunchback falling out of a low tree in a dressing gown. Poetry in motion it wasn’t.)

I thought that surely the floodgates would be thrown open and a flock of free downloads would explode out of my portal (?) like last night’s chicken vindaloo comes out of my…curiosity to experiment with spicy food. Maybe one out of ten of those who grabbed a copy would actually read the book. Maybe one out of that ten would actually enjoy it. Maybe one out of that ten would be persuaded to download the second in the series. Maths never was my strong point, but the possibilities of that equation made me want cake and quickly. I was having a blood sugar episode.

Within two days the book had slipped into the late eighties, a bit like how my haircut invariably ends up looking when I go to that cheap barber next to the vets in Kadikoy.

TIME OUT:

Istanbul anecdote alert. (I’ll try to tell it quickly.)

Two weeks ago I went to the cut-rate barbers next to the vets in Kadikoy. It costs 9TL (@£2.50) for a SB&S. (I love a bargain. Mind you, what I save there I usually end up spending on cream, antiseptic and plasters afterwards at the pharmacy next door. That haircut could be a false economy.) There I was in the reclaimed dentist’s chair, smock draped round my top half, smelling faintly of mildew and cat piss (the smock not me, although after only five minutes in that converted parachute the stink tends to stay with one.) The senior partner of the franchise, the one with the chronic shakes and the incredible spectacles (I thought it was a practical joke first time I saw him in them. I reckon a normal-sighted person could probably make out craters on the moon on a clear night through them – was lining up for another run through my barnet with the grade four trimmer. (I do wish they’d change the blades once in a while. It feels like he drags out more hair by the roots than he cuts. If there’s any pain like that anywhere else, I don’t want to find it. I wouldn’t mind inflicting it on a few people but that’s for another blog-post.) And the door was flung open making everyone jump. (I still have the plaster on my ear to prove it wasn’t just me.)

In rushes a rather hirsute gentleman dressed in the uniform of the professional veterinarian and cradling a mangy, aged looking Alsatian. His enormous tongue was lolling out of the corner of his mouth like a yard of red flannel and his eyes were rolling around like marbles on a saucer. (This is the vet not the dog. The dog looked dead to me.) There was a frantic exchange in guttural Turkish of which I caught only three words: quick, arsehole and shit. (It occurs to me now that it is not so odd these are the only words I managed to decipher from the vet’s outburst as these are words I hear on almost a daily basis in my adopted country.)

Without apparent thought for what we in the UK take for standard hygiene practices the dog was positioned upside down in the chair next to mine. The vet lifted the tail. The barber took one pace right and to my horror began to run the electronic trimmer around the dog’s rather swollen, weeping and infected looking backside. Great tufts of matted and soiled hair ended up on the floor releasing a rather noxious scent that had me thinking about…well…dog-shit, if I’m perfectly honest. (It must have been potent to overwhelm the smell of that smock and I had a bit of a cold.)

When it was done the vet gathered up the inert beast and rushed out, presumably back to his practice to perform what looked like a life saving operation. The barber and I exchanged a look in the big mirror. He raised his eyebrows and through his plate-glass spectacles the effect on his magnified eyes was something quite startling. He mumbled something, which I took to be his apologies for the interruption. I etched an understanding smile, although in truth I was greatly disturbed by what I had witnessed.

The barber then turned his attention left and raised his free hand to someone passing his shop window. I automatically followed his gaze and before I realised what was happening he had run that electric trimmer right across the top of my head. He managed another three strokes before I could even think about finding my voice let alone forming a suitable Turkish phrase to express my outrage. But by then it seemed pointless to make a fuss. The damage was done. Better to get it over with as quickly as possible and get home – he doesn’t wash your hair for 9TL.

About the only good thing to come out of this sorry episode of life in Istanbul is that I had two seats to myself on the bus home. Come to think of it, it was more like four. And there were lots of people standing.

Where was I? Oh yes. Amazon.co.uk and one foot in the ‘promised land’. Within three days Rope Enough had disappeared without trace after a disappointing performance. I call it The Moyes Effect.

Quick peek at Amazon.com by way of procrastination before hammering on with Acer #3. Rope Enough’s second category now listed as NON-FICTION. Fucking hell! FUCKING HELL! This was potentially far worse than sharing the hairdresser’s clippers with a dog’s arsehole. To their credit, again, Amazon sorted it out quite quickly. And then the really good news. Rope Enough leapt the charts Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > British Detectives and Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > Police Procedurals to the number one spot in each which also put me in the Amazon.com Free Top 100 charts (for about twelve hours).

Screen shot rope enough number 1 amazon us pp

Cue The Moyes Effect. Sigh.

My future-ex-wife is still treating me to her ‘north’ face. I call it her ‘Eiger Sanction’…to her ‘north’ face…she doesn’t get it…hahahaha

A brief encounter with my annus mirabilis.

Writer’s diary: stardate: 03.01.2014

It seems like only last week was last year.

It appears to be something of a custom in the blogosphere at this time of year for bloggers to look back on their previous annus (sorry to disappoint my legions of mucky-thoughted followers – no more bum jokes): reflect, sum things up and make lists. I have decided not to subject anyone to that other than to say…

What an amazing year it’s been for me as an author-publisher! I’ve had a positively annus mirabilis. (Sounds uncomfortable, I know, but I’m assured it means something good.) It was December 2012 – just twelve short months ago – that I uploaded my first book to Amazon. I now have five on there and two finished and in the editing pipeline.

Like the famous Mrs Pig of traditional story fame I sent my three little pigs (my three R&M Files) out into the big wide world to fend for themselves. They have managed to support themselves, garner some appreciation and even send a little cash back home to papa like all dutiful absent children should. (The fruit of my loins could do with reading that. In my opinion they have completely the wrong idea about which way money should be travelling in the parent/offspring relationship.)

Generally, the five books (three R&Ms and two Acer Sansoms) have been well received. Comments are overwhelmingly (in both senses of the word) positive and encouraging. I’ve had a few duffers, of course, but you can’t please all the people all the time.  (That’s one of the top five things I’ve learned to accept this year.)

In the books, on the blog and on my Amazon author page I asked readers, who wouldn’t mind doing so, to point out any errors that they came across. (Another thing in my top five of things learned the hard way: the services of a proofreader are essential to any aspiring author.) Readers have been wonderfully helpful and constructive. A huge thank you to all of you who participated and helped me. For the record I am now ‘fixing’ all the errors highlighted. Rope Enough is done. Making a Killing is halfway there. I want to put all the new versions on together before I submit another book.

I’ve been an active social networker. I’ve blogged once a week. I find Twitter and the rest of it a bit dull in comparison. One thing I do have to work on is some proper and effective self-promotion. (Another of this year’s critical lessons. See below.)

I’ve worked bloody hard. I’m always working at something to do with the books. It’s like a second job in nature, only more enjoyable. You’ve got to love it or you’re screwed as an author-publisher.

I started out craving a traditional publishing deal, like a fat person craves cake. I wanted to be ‘discovered’, coaxed, fed from the palm of a kindly literary agent and tamed as a raw talent. Nurtured, pandered to and cultivated. It would still be nice but I’m more realistic about things these days. I’m also more appreciative of the whole self-publishing deal. Self-publishing is not the sad and desperate last throw of the dice by sad and desperate writers. It’s liberating and empowering and it’s also quite groovy.

I’m looking forward to 2014.

So, because I’m in danger of boring myself, on to the top five things learned this year in no particular order:

1) The services of a decent proofreader are essential.

2) You can’t please all the people all the time, so stop worrying about duff reviews. (unless you are getting loads, of course, and then there is probably something wrong with your work).

3) Writing something half-decent is only half of it. In order to maximise success an author-publisher must wear many hats and often. One has to get stuck into self-promotion in a big way if one wants to be big. You don’t even have to be a great writer, it appears. If you are the type of person who can sell snow to Eskimos, write a turd of a book, sprinkle some glitter on it (ie splash out on a great cover) and get promoting.

4) It’s all about commitment. One must have a driving passion for being an author-publisher. Being an author-publisher is like having a second full-time job. Because one must write, correspond, write, promote, write, network often – daily ideally. I know I’m cut out for this life because I enjoy all aspects of the ‘job’.

5) Don’t stop dreaming about success and believing in your ability to experience it. But keep a lid on it. I am reminded of a line in an oft misquoted poem…If you can dream – and not make dreams your master…

Oh, look, I had a summing up and made a list after all.

Finally, two really good blog-posts I would like to share. If you are in involved in writing and self-publishing in any way, shape or form they are worth looking at. One from the legendary Joe Konrath is the practical one and one from a guy who I envy, admire and hate in equal measure, James Oswald, is there to feed the dreams. He is living the dream – my dream. I shouldn’t resent him for it and I don’t, really. Much. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: bloody good luck to the man.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/konraths-publishing-predictions-2014.html

http://jamesoswald.co.uk/?tag=2013

This time last year I was a self-publishing nobody. And now I’m a couple of rungs up the ladder. It looks like a big ladder. I can’t see the top. There are people climbing over me in a frantic rush. There are people above me losing their grip to plummet to Earth. My knuckles are white and my knees are strong. I’m pacing myself. Upward and onward. I’d like to lead everyone in a couple of verses of that traditional yuletide ditty, What the Fuck by the seasonally appropriately named Sak Noel.  (Does anyone know if that translates to Santa’s scotum?) The title, at least, totally sums up my surprise at the way things went for me in 2013.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBlY53fgN-k

­Talking of poetry, here is a less well known verse than last week’s but no less meaningful for all that. It’s certainly appropriate.

Annus Mirabilis not by Philip Larkin

Self-publishing began
In twenty, nine plus three
(which was rather late for me) –
Between the end of middle age
And my impending RIP.

Up to then there’d only been
A sort of wistful scribbling,
A writing for the fun of it,
A shame that started at fifty
And not before.

Then all at once the penny dropped:
Everyone felt the same,
We sold our souls to Amazon
A brilliant breaking of the bank,
A quite unlosable game.

I dream life will be better than
In twenty, ten plus three
(And not too late for me) –
Between the end of middle age
And my impending obituary.

You can see the original here

http://www.wussu.com/poems/plam.htm

Happy New Year and sincere thanks to everyone who has supported me.

How I write a novel – idea to self-publication.

Writer’s diary: stardate: 20.12.2013

It occurred to me this week that as this blog is essentially an online diary recounting my efforts as an author-publisher it might be worth recording for posterity the process I go through to write and publish a novel – start to finish. Who knows, The Paris Review might want to do a piece on me one day (probably when I’m dead. Typical that would be.) and so if I have the material available in the public domain they won’t have to make it up, will they?

I’m essentially talking about the physical process of churning out the finished article here not the generation of ideas. It’s obvious that every novel must start with an idea. I know that writers have different ways about growing their ideas and exploring them. Some plan meticulously with diagrams and post-its and notepads of jottings. That’s not me. Sometimes I write something down if I think I’m going to forget it. I did start carrying a mini digital voice recorder around with me to capture ideas quickly on the hoof, so to speak. This can work well for me because my walk to work and back is when I have most of my best ideas. (Annoying when the batteries run out though.) I get some conversational material this way that I can record as I walk along. And I don’t look mad because just about everyone else I pass is talking on their phones. I’m just talking to myself. Out loud. And recording it. Is that mad?

As for the development of a narrative I’m firmly in the same school as Ray Bradbury, though sadly not in the same class. I’m mostly a make it up as I go along kind of writer. But because I’m always thinking about the story I’m engaged in if something occurs to me when I’m away from the laptop, as I said,  I’ll try to make a note.

Take this new novel I’m working on. It’s the second in the Booker and Cash series. I’m not getting to sit down at the keyboard as much as I’d like to these days so I tried to save a bit of time by taking opportunities when I have some thinking time to plan what’s coming next. But it doesn’t work for me. I can’t work/write like that. I never get anywhere. However, as soon as I sit down at the keyboard it’s the characters who take the threads and run with them.

(Fantastic insight into Bradbury’s writing process and thinking and life here. http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6012/the-art-of-fiction-no-203-ray-bradbury

Well worth a look as are all of the interviews with other authors there. Great resource. The following quote from Bradbury struck a particularly resonant chord with me: I’ve always believed that you should do very little reading in your own field once you’re into it. That’s how I feel. Sadly, Ray doesn’t elaborate on this thinking. I’d like to have known more. (I have my own reasons.)

So, where was I?

1) With my general idea, settle at my laptop. Open three new word documents. One for the book, one for brief chapter summaries and one for character names.

2) Start typing. I always try to leave my writing with something left to do that I’ve already thought of. I mull this over when I’m away from the computer and when I next sit down I can pick up the thread and get straight into it rather than sit and stare at the screen wondering what’s going to happen next.

3) I usually start my writing sessions off by reading the previous chapter. I always make alterations. It helps get my mind into the narrative.

4) When the novel is finished (What? Finished? What happens between the start and the end? Answer: life, thinking about the story, writing, being part of a family, thinking about the story, writing, working, thinking about the story, writing, thinking about the story, eating, writing, thinking about the story, sleeping, writing, thinking about the story, ablutions, writing, thinking about the story, time passes but I’m always thinking about the story and adding to it.)

I write everything on my laptop. At home I write either at the dining room table or sitting on a chair in the bedroom with the laptop on a tray – depends who’s at home and how noisy they are. I carry my laptop to work with me every day and, subject to work commitments, I write at my desk in the staffroom before school starts, during break-times, dinner times, during free periods and after school.

When it’s ‘finished’ I read it through on the computer at least twice. I do a lot of alterations and editing in this phase. The further I get into the books the harder it gets to keep it all in mind, different threads and developments. It can end up a real jigsaw, a puzzle that needs bits moving around for the best effect. A mystery that needs solving.

5) When I’m fairly happy that I have a good draft, I then print it off with a cover page, take it to the shop round the corner and have spiral spine and plastic covers fitted. This makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I have written a book. I usually then go for coffee and cake and walk around with the physical manuscript under my arm and a smile on my face for the day pretending that I’m a successful writer who’s carrying a best-selling book in manuscript form under his arm.

6) Leave it alone for a few weeks.

7) Read manuscript with coloured highlighter pen. Then update word document.

8) Reread manuscript with different coloured highlighter pen. Then update word document.

9) Reread manuscript with different coloured highlighter pen. Then update word document.

10) If I’m happy at this stage I’ll go to (11). If not I’ll repeat the process in 7,8&9 as many times as feels right.

11) Send edited and formatted word document to my Amazon Kindle account. The document comes straight back as something I can read on my Kindle.

12) Read the Kindle version with the original hard-copy within reach. Use a different coloured pen to make further alterations. (That’s three mediums I’ve used to read the book. I find viewing the text in different physical ways brings a new perspective to the experience. I see different things and things differently.)

13) Feel pleased with myself.

14) Send word document to Martin.

15) Martin works on what needs doing regarding proofreading and editing suggestions.

16) Martin sends me two files back. One that is the ‘clean’ revision he’s done and one that is the original I sent him with a markup reading pane at the side showing all annotated changes and suggestions. The text can end up looking like my hard-copy with all the highlighter over it.

16) I read through the clean copy to see how it grabs me. Then I read through the annotated copy to see what Martin’s changed.

17) We might exchange comments, insults and further suggestions.

18) When I’m as happy as I can be with the final copy I submit it to Amazon.

19) Celebrate.

20) Wake up in a ditch or a cold and smelly bus shelter three days later, quite a bit poorer, covered in the evidence of my over-doing it and often semi-naked (a bit like a crime scene from a R&M File) and wishing I hadn’t celebrated.

Somewhere in the process I get to thinking about the cover art and the title. That can happen at any time. I’ll often go through a few titles until I find one that I’m really happy with.

Regarding cover art, I work with Kit Foster. He’s done them all and I’m still very happy with them all. I usually have some strong ideas of what I want to see on the cover and Kit always manages to combine them and come up with something that really does it for me.

So there we have it. Whole process for me to write an 80,000 – 100,000 word novel typically takes between three and four months with work and life in the mix. If I didn’t have to work I reckon I could knock out four books a year. This year I’ve managed two (but I did do a lot of work on the Acer Sansoms and got them out there). All my R&Ms are 80,000 – 85,000 words. The Acers are 100,000 words each. The new novel – Bad Sons – is 85,000 words.

Time Files.

Rope Enough Final JPEG 1205

Writer’s diary: Stardate: 13.12 2013

It’s now been a year since the self-publication of Rope Enough (The First Romney and Marsh File). How time flies. Rope Enough is the first book I self-published and as such was the start of something rather important to me. I feel I should really mark the occasion with a blog-post. So guess what?

When I wrote the book I had no plans to write a series of police procedural novels. I actually got the basic idea from Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. I find it quite incredible that in over four hundred and fifty comments on Amazon for this title only one reader has mentioned that they saw a connection to the film.

Until I figured out how to get Amazon to list the book for free I had it priced at 75p. This was the lowest price I could list it at. (Something to do with the dollar. Isn’t it always?) In the first month of publication I shifted six copies and felt chuffed. In January I sold eleven copies and felt disappointed. In February, eight and felt miserable. In March, eighty four and felt encouraged. In April, over twenty four thousand and felt several contending emotions: gutted that they were all free downloads, awfully excited that so many people might end up reading me, staggered at the figures.

It was at the beginning of April that Amazon price matched the book to zero because someone had told them it was free with B&N and Sony and ibooks. Better late than never. Ever since then it’s been mostly free and it’s been downloaded over eighty thousand times. As a freebie it got into the top twenty of the Amazon free books chart. That was amazing. Since it went back to having a price (77p) it’s always been in the police procedural for sale chart. At the time of writing it’s number fifty-seven. I don’t feel that I really cracked Amazon with it yet. But one day when I get my self-promotion into gear I hope for better things. There must still be millions of Kindles with room on them for Romney and Marsh.

Rope Enough has not made me rich but it’s got me read. It’s encouraged people to go onto to the others. And the knock on from all those downloads is that I’ve had some fairly healthy sales for the other two books in the series. I’ve also had some great communication with people. Generally the comments I’ve received by email, through Amazon and on the blog have been very encouraging.

I’m involved with doing an edit of the book at the moment. That effort has stuttered because I had an idea for another book and I’d always rather be writing something new than raking over old ground, even if it is important. Reading the book again for the first time in a year I don’t hate it. I actually quite like it. A few things have made me wince. Probably the greatest sin I committed was to have a minor character with two different first names. That was bad. Worse than the homophone mistakes and the ‘could of’ error.

I say the book went back to having a price. That’s because I made a mistake elsewhere and then had to withdraw the book from Smashwords and so it was no longer free around the web and so Amazon no longer felt obliged to price match it to zero. On the eighteenth of this month my KDP Select contract expires and so I will look again at relisting it on Smashwords so that I can once again have it price matched for free by Amazon. Having a free book is the best publicity for an unknown.

All in all a good year for Rope Enough. I’m happy with the way it’s gone. And it certainly has gone quickly.

PS Time Files is deliberate. I just know someone is going to call me on it.

To be me or not to be me…

Writer’s blog: Stardate: 19.10.2013

What did Will mean by that? ‘To be or not to be, that is the question.’ A lot of people think he was harping on about living and dying. Maybe he was. I’m asking myself the same thing. Not about living and dying but about my writing, or more precisely my self-publishing. Actually my focus is a little different. It’s more like this: ‘To be me or not to be me, that is the question.’

Not for the first time, I have to ask myself, what the hell am I on about?

I wrote and self-published the Romney and Marsh Files under my own name. No problem. Call it vanity if you like. I like my name and I believe it’s unique. Thanks mum and dad. Then I came to self-publishing my Acer Sansom novels and I did pause to wonder whether I should put them out under my real name. Why? Because they are not like the R&M Files. They are in a different genre. I have written them differently. The R&M Files are studded with my own brand of what I think is funny. There is no humour in the Sansoms. They are different reads regarding content, structure, pace and style. So what? So, naturally, I have been/will be actively encouraging readers who have enjoyed the R&M Files and who follow my blog or Twitter account or Facebook account or my Amazon author page to download the Sansoms. And I have good reason to believe that many have. (Thanks by the way.) But just because someone likes a British police procedural with toilet jokes does not mean that they will enjoy a serious thriller in a different style. And if they don’t enjoy the change it will probably lead to Amazon comments that come across as less than impressed. And we all know how important good Amazon comments and ratings are to sales of self-publishing nobodies, not to mention self-esteem.

And of course, I’m writing this because it’s happened: just yesterday two three star comments that both said the same thing. Liked the R&Ms, but weren’t so keen on the new stuff. Bugger. One even referred to Dirty Business as ‘boring’ in comparison. Ouch!

But what can you do as a struggling self-publisher? A great part of being successful is building a following and a platform. If you go changing your name every time you self-publish a book with a different set of characters in maybe a different genre you’ll be starting over again from scratch as a nobody. The mountain of recognition is steep and high and the climbing is not easy. Ask anyone who’s having a go at it.

So should I have put the Sansoms out under a pseudonym? To be me or not to be me, that was the question. (Was because it’s too late now for anything other than reflection where those books are concerned. The dye is cast.) And in the not too distant future, I will be self-publishing another book with new characters which is different in style again to both the R&Ms and the Sansoms. But its biggest difference is that it’s written in the first person whereas all my other stuff is written in the third. Should I put that out under my own name and risk less than favourable comparisons to previous work?

Once again it seems a case of swings and roundabouts. Because my name is familiar to some readers now through the R&Ms the Sansoms are being downloaded and given a try. Sales go up and the books become more visible in those all important charts, which leads to the possibility of new readers sitting up and taking notice and looking at Amazon comments before they buy. And there have been some very encouraging comments (several by readers who have tried the Sansoms after the R&Ms so it’s not all doom and gloom. Thanks to you. You know who you are.). But no one really takes any notice of those, do they? Everyone believes that these are comments of friends and family and the product of comments factories in Taiwan where reviews can be bought by the tonne. We gravitate to the one, two and three star comments looking for ‘truth’, ‘honesty’ and a dose of schadenfreude.

Of course, it’s not all negative. There are positives. If readers try the Sansoms and like them they might decide to give the R&Ms a try and like those too. More downloads equals more kerching and more visibility. But what if readers who come to the Sansoms first then go on to be underwhelmed by the R&Ms and leave feedback to that damaging effect? Sigh. There we are again.

I suppose what it comes down to is faith. Faith in one’s writing that it is good enough. And I do have faith, more in the Sansoms than the R&Ms, actually. And vanity of course; I like seeing my name on book covers even if I have to pay for it myself.

I have had one question answered through this thoughtful experience. I have often wondered why some traditionally published covers say things like, ‘X writing as Y.’ Clever really, but probably not as useful a ploy with ebooks. Too much writing on the thumbnail images. And it means very little if you are a nobody in publishing terms.

One thing I am now certain of: my trilogy of erotic dinosaur porn during which an Olympic squad of young and busty lady beach volleyball players accidentally fall through the fabric of space and time into a parallel dimension to find themselves in the Cretaceous Period with a bunch of randy reptiles looking for something a little less scaley to have some fun with will not be self-published under my own name. Working title: Fifty Scales of Grey. Just my luck if it turns out to be a massive hit.

The price of free publicity.

 

Writer’s blog: Stardate: 26.09.2013

Tuesday

Last Friday I decided, pretty much off the cuff, to enrol my books in the Amazon KDP Select lending programme. Sales of the R&M books have looked stale for a while and I couldn’t see why I shouldn’t try something to inject a bit of interest into the books and maybe provide a boost to sales and, of course, it gives one a few days in the ninety day enrolment period to give one’s books away for free (if one can). I also thought that the initiative would be an opportunity to give the Acer Sansom novels a boot up the backside. I keep abreast of a few of the big selling ebook authors and I’ve noticed that several have all their books enrolled. They must know what they’re doing, right?

I didn’t sign up in the expectation of earning trillions from Amazon’s monthly fund, but rather in the fumbling-around-in-the-dark sort of hope that, like a generous omniscient deity, Amazon, the all seeing and all powerful one true god of ebooks – peace be upon it – would see my act of giving – not to mention the benefit to them (like me joining in with a give-away programme) – and then there might be algorithm benefits – crumbs from the table, looking after their own, a bit of mutual back scratching. What’s the worst that can happen? I thought.

I scheduled Sunday for a day of give-aways. Strike while the iron is relatively warm, I thought, and before I had a chance to think the whole thing through and wonder what the hell I was doing. I harboured fantasies that these give-aways might also have some relevance vis-a-vis those algorithms – you know, Amazon gives some credit to the author in the form of a positive influence on the book’s ranking. (I have noticed that everything I seem to do lately has an ulterior motive, which ultimately has my selfish interest at heart. Like there’s no ‘i’ in team, there’s no ‘I’m-gonna-get-double-rich-and-double-famous-in-double-quick-time’ in altruistic.)

Well, it certainly had an influence on my rankings. But it wasn’t the one I’d hoped for. When Sunday’s promotion came to an end my title, Making a Killing (The Second Romney and Marsh File), had dropped out of the top 100 chart of the sub-category: fiction – crime/mystery/thrillers – police procedurals – British – set in Kent – without pictures – occasional swear words – between 230 and 240 pages long, where it had been languishing in the late nineties for a couple of weeks. On top of this Dirty Business (The First Acer Sansom Novel), which had been clawing its way up to the low thousands in the sales rank had, like the unfortunate climber whose grip fails him, fallen off the face of the rankings cliff to disappear without trace into the ebook abyss below. This must have been because I had been busy giving away my books instead of selling them. Why does that seem unfair to me?

On the free day I gave away over 900 copies of Making a Killing. I’ve spent much of this week trying to convince myself that I wouldn’t have sold them, would I?; that I haven’t just done myself out of £900, have I?. Oh Amazon, I haven’t have I? What was I thinking?

I made two (other) mistakes regarding the promotional day that I am regretful of: 1) I neglected to mention it on any of my social networking sites – doh! 2) I forgot to download copies for myself – double doh! I really wanted to see my covers on my Kindle fire, but I’m not buying my books for the privilege.  I’ve got better things to spend my hard-earned on.

One other awkward mistake I made in the whole initiative was to register Rope Enough (The First Romney and Marsh File) with KDP Select when it was still available through Smashwords. In doing this I have fallen foul of Amazon. They don’t miss anything. The warning email wasn’t long in coming. Sort it out or we’ll send the boys round. So then I had another decision to make: leave it on Smashwords where it had been listed on Barnes and Noble and ibooks, for two examples, in the hope of reaching a wider audience, or unpublish it from there and throw my lot in completely with Amazon by providing them with the exclusivity they demand.

Since December, 2012, when I first made Rope Enough available for free on Smashwords it has been downloaded through all the available outlet’s stores a total of 839 times. On Sunday as part of the free promotion (yes, it has also been free on Amazon since they price-matched it to zero, but registering it in the KDP Select programme came with free days so I thought I’d use a free listing day for my already free book and see what happened) it was downloaded nearly 1500 times. [Go figure.] Another no-brainer. I cut my ties with Smashwords. (And I have just this instant, while typing this post, realised that in doing that the book will no longer be listed as free on Amazon’s competition sites and so Amazon will no longer feel obliged to price-match to zero and Rope Enough will no doubt very shortly revert back to £0.77 on Amazon.) Swings and roundabouts.

Now I suppose I just have to wait patiently to see if there are actually any benefits from free give-aways and enrolling in KDP Select. Early days.

Thursday

Thought I’d update the bigger picture now that some of the dust has settled. Rope Enough jumped twenty places up the free chart for a couple of days and has now gone back to roughly where it was before the promotion. (This represents an obvious increase in downloads that might see readers look to download another in the series.) At the time of writing, Making a Killing is up to number twenty-four in the police procedural sub-category (it hasn’t been that high for a long time) which obviously represents an increase in downloads. Joint Enterprise (The third Romney and Marsh File) has not seen any significant knock-on (more early days). Both the Sansoms are higher in the ranking than at any time since their release, which is encouraging. Loose Ends (The Second Acer Sansom Novel) even broke into the Action Adventure chart for a short while.

It’s all pretty inconclusive really. I’m just relating for posterity what I’ve been up to. But I seek comfort in my belief that my give-aways will turn up on ‘Customers who bought this item also bought…’ types of list and so that’s a bit of publicity. And you know what they say about publicity.