A Load of CWAP

On identity. Most of us want to belong to a group of some sort. We want to be part of a bigger body – social or business – with other like-minded souls. The reasons are myriad.

Since I have been self-publishing my books, I have given occasional thought to the group that I now consider myself belonging to: people who write crime fiction books and self-publish them.

One of the first and, arguably, most important early steps in the formation of a group is the label given to it. Catchy titles and clever acronyms abound.

I used to refer to myself as a self-publisher, but that seems out of vogue these days, and the term is oft tainted with something that will lead a lot of people to treat it and anyone who claims to be ‘it’ with disdain.

I recently moved on to referring to myself as an ‘indie’. But I find this term often needs explaining and clarification – people don’t always get it because it’s a bit vague. I realised I needed something different, something more precise, something accurate and unequivocal.

Sitting at breakfast in my local cafe this morning, I was struck with an idea. I think it must be a good one because it caused me to choke on my simit.

What am I? I am a crime writing author publisher. I am a CWAP.

What really tickled me about this epiphany was when my train of thought steamed ahead and took me to a place in the future where I am attending a festival dedicated to writers of crime fiction and who self-publish their work. (It will come. I hope I’m alive to see it. There are many brilliant self-published writers of crime fiction out there right now who could, given the right circumstances, come together to put on a festival that would be a serious contemporary for any of the others that take place across the UK. I have no doubt about that.)

But what really tickled me about this idea would be the hope that the label Crime Writing Author Publisher could be universally adopted by those involved. Our identity. Our social/professional group tag.

But what really, really, tickled me about this was the idea that the conference/festival could be called A Load of CWAP and that people would book and pay for tickets for A Load of CWAP. That posters and flyers and media articles would all be informing the public about A Load of CWAP.

Brothers and sisters let us join together. Let us stand as one united body. Lets each and every one of us be proud to be a CWAP.

Why I can’t live in the UK.

Sometimes in order to fully appreciate something one needs to go without it for a while. That’s how it is with me and my home. I’m talking about Romney Marsh. Six years I’ve lived abroad and I’m finally coming round to the idea that the place I left has a lot going for it. (That’s probably just as much a reflection of Istanbul as it is anything.) Regarding home, I think that familiarity bred, not contempt, but something approaching it. Shame on me. And so it is with no small amount of sadness and irony that I say, even though I quite like it here these days I don’t think I can live here again.

My ‘About Me’ page on this blog says: When I lived in the UK, I tried a couple of times to write, but with the responsibility of property and family and work and the distractions of television and radio and newspapers and people I never got anywhere with it. Nothing’s changed, I’ve found. I’m here on holiday at the moment. Been here just over two weeks. A couple to go. And I haven’t stopped. Mostly, I haven’t stopped enjoying myself. Having a four year old who loves the outdoors helps. If we’re not enjoying the miles of Dymchurch’s golden sands we’re down the local park or on the RHDR or in a rowing boat on the Royal Military Canal or in the garden playing a ball game. We spent a fantastic today at Port Lympne wildlife reserve. Tomorrow he’s having a party.

I’m playing tennis. (I got to go to Wimbledon this year – as a spectator.) I play football once a week and then we hit the pub afterwards. Tomorrow I’m digging out the push-bike for a cycle. I run on the beach. Too many evenings I’m spending working my way through five seasons of Breaking Bad and bottled ale.

I’m cooking because I want to. I’m eating for pleasure. I’m enjoying some decent booze. I can’t remember the last time I shaved or wore a pair of long trousers. As a retirement present I bought myself that watch I was looking at a few months ago. (No one else was going to buy it for me and I reckoned that the time I put in at the chalk face deserved something special by way of commemoration.) I’ve stopped wearing it. Who cares what the time is when you’re on holiday and enjoying life?

I’m also gutting a flat in preparation for refurbishment. I’m enjoying that physical graft too.

About the only thing I don’t have time for is writing. And these days, after jacking in the day job, I’m supposed to be writing for a living. I repeat: I don’t think I can live back home again – too many distractions.

I have read two books since I’ve been back. To be precise, I’ve read the same book twice. It’s called Particular Stupidities. It’s my next release in the Romney and Marsh Files, just in case you’re new to this blog. Each read-through led to a number of revisions – mostly just ‘better’ ways to put things. I’ve also lost a few hundred words more. Two days ago, after having done the formatting and got it Kindle-ready, I decided that two read-throughs was enough and I uploaded it to Amazon. (In all honesty I believe that if I read it another ten times I’d find things to change every time.)

It was quite a relief to get it off my hands, especially with Amazon’s deadline for the submission fast approaching. (The book is out on the 30th July but Amazon wanted the final copy ten days before that date: no later than the 20th July. If you miss their deadline you forfeit the right to make use of the pre-order facility for a year. Yikes! I quite understand why Amazon can’t afford to be buggered about by publishers, self or traditional, but they sure made me anxious as the date approached – they were emailing reminders more frequently and the language was becoming a little more… insistent with each email. Or that may have been my imagination.)

This is the first title of mine that I have made available for pre-order. Until publication day a copy can be snapped up for 99p. Then it’ll go up to £1.99 like the others. I think that the current price has been a major factor that has kept the book hovering around the top twenty of the British Detective chart. Whatever, it’s had plenty of visibility, which has to be a good thing. I don’t know how many copies have been pre-ordered because Amazon doesn’t seem to make that information available on my sales account page until the day of release. I’m guessing that on release day, when everyone who has pre-ordered gets their copy the grand total will be revealed to me.

I like to catch up on some reading during the summer. I made a start on that resolution today by opening up a copy of A Touch of Frost by RF Wingfield. (A few readers of my books have mentioned the Frosts as good reads with some laughs.) I’m a hundred pages in and it’s OK. Of its time (1990) I think it would be fair to say. (Some of my more critical readers have expressed disapproval for aspects of DI Romney’s character and behaviour, especially  towards women. If you haven’t read any Frost books, take my word for it – Frost makes Romney look like a feminist. Even I’m cringing at some of the things he says and ‘thinks’. [I do understand that twenty-five years ago things would have been a lot different and that Frost is probably representative of the policing and cultural times.])

It’s twelve days until release day of Particular Stupidities. Like each of the other books I’ve put out, as publication day looms I’m experiencing a creeping nervousness over whether the book will please readers of the R&M Files. Reflecting on the book led me to consider what I hope to deliver to my readers with this one. My answer is this: a murder mystery, a few laughs, a worthy addition to the Romney and Marsh Files and maybe a bit of food for thought. Ambitious? We’ll see.

I hope that everyone is having a great summer.

Self-promotion: like most things, it’s who you know that counts.

A week ago I listed Particular Stupidities (R&M File #5) as available for pre-order from Amazon. For the first time in my self-publishing career (better late than never) I then went on to make a bit of a nuisance of myself on social-media. My aim was to raise awareness in the hope that readers would pre-order the book and in turn get it up the Amazon charts and noticed, maybe even attract the interest of Amazon’s recommended reading list that it emails out to readers. When one is releasing a new book, it’s definitely a list you want to get on.

As well as putting out a blog-post and linking it to my Facebook and Twitter accounts I sent a lot of tweets to a lot of Twitter accounts that I’d chosen because I hoped they might be suggestible. (For fun, I even tweeted a couple of best-selling authors whose names popped up on the screen as I was networking away.) I learned something from the exercise that is worth sharing with others who might be seeking self-promotion ideas.

The response from readers who follow the blog and are Facebook and Twitter friends of mine was very encouraging. Once again, a massive and heartfelt thank you to everyone who not only pre-ordered a copy of the book but who then went on to share my links with their own lists of friends on social media sites. As I’ve already blogged since listing the book it briefly broke into Amazon’s top 1000 list (I’m pretty sure that was a first for one of my books.) It’s drifted out now, currently @ #1825, which is still good. I’m certainly not complaining.

The dozens and dozens of hopeful tweets to unknowns (ebook promoters, readers I don’t know, the famous authors and just about every news media outlet involved in the south-east where the R&M Files are set) only achieved one retweet (thanks to Whitstable Live), which makes the effort seem generally wasted. I tweeted all the newspapers local to the R&M Files and didn’t get one retweet or reply. Total waste of time #justsaying. 

I admit to having been a poor self-promoter. I still am – it’s an energy thing. Going on the evidence, such as it is, I would have done well to have taken a leaf out of the books of other successful self-promoting authors and organised a mailing list that readers could subscribe to. I could then have emailed directly all those readers who would have signed up to being notified of my forthcoming releases. I’m sure it would have been a smart move for me the self-publishing author. Will I do it now?

All that said, it’s my understanding that there is no greater boost for an author’s chance of downloads than to get onto Amazon’s radar. If a title comes to Amazon’s notice as something people are downloading in significant numbers then Amazon get behind you and make you more visible – the more you sell the more they make. Why am I now thinking about Joseph Heller?

The dark side.

 

I was pecked (!) on twitter last week by a book promotion outfit. They offered help with promoting my book, obviously. It’s the first time I’ve been approached. They said to get in touch if I was interested. I emailed for details because I’m interested in the world of self-publishing and self-promotion. It’s good to know what goes on.

They offered the following:

Amazon, Goodreads or Barnes & Noble Review – £20 / $30 (Verified if the ebook purchase price is included for Amazon reviews) 

Like / Click up to 5 positive Amazon / Goodreads / B&N Reviews as Helpful, and up to 5 Negative Reviews as Unhelpful – £5 / $7.50

Vote your book onto and up on 10 Goodreads Lists – £10 / $15

Vote your book onto and up on 10 Goodreads Shelves – £10 / $15

Get your book rated by 100 separate Goodreads Accounts adding huge credibility to comments of reviewers and your own success as an upcoming Author to look out for – £100 / $150

Have a book review of your choice shared with over 12000 Facebook Followers and over 11000 Twitter Followers – £10 / $15

Multiples of all options are available. It depends only on how far you want your book to go.

There was a good deal of spiel with it. Like I say, it’s nice to know what goes on. And a bit saddening to know that you can quite easily buy yourself some credit, buy your way up the charts. I don’t know why I’m surprised, the principle is nothing new in business – you know: cheating. Maybe because it’s my chosen career path and I’ve just walked round a corner to find it’s strewn with litter.

*

I’ve learned something new about myself as a writer this week. When I finish the first draft of a book I suddenly become quite exhausted. I hadn’t understood that till this week. I’m the same with teaching. When I get to the first week of the summer holiday I invariably suffer with extreme tiredness. I think it must be to with the handbrake going on on the struggle: the struggle to spoon a story out of my brain on the one hand and the struggle to spoon-feed learning into the brains of young learners on the other. Draining. Yes. Drained is the word I’m looking for. I finish a first draft, I finish a school year and I’m drained. That’s what I learned about me the writer this week.

I finished the first draft of R&M#5 last weekend. Naturally, I’ve felt pretty drained all week. I started back at the beginning almost immediately. But because of my state of drainedness it’s been a tough few days on the grey matter. It’s really not easy to keep a whole book in your mind at once. Jumping backwards and forwards; did İ remember this; did I mention that; x has happened but is the build up there? How can that guy be dead in chapter three and having a phone conversation in chapter six?

But I quite enjoy this phase of writing a story. Things start feeling like they’re coming together. Reading back through I often come up with little asides and comments to drop in – a bit of embroidery. I’m not focussing on where the story is going because I’m already over the line. My mind is free to revel in the detail, to explore the cul-de-sacs of the narrative.

At present the book, Particular Stupidities, is 100,000 words. As I said before, it’s the longest R&M File so far. I’ve read it through once already. I like it. It’s made me laugh a few times, which I always take as a good sign.

I ordered the cover yesterday. Another step along the way.

*

Last week I mentioned making an enquiry on Goodreads. It evolved into something of a thread as it went off at a tangent with other posters’ thoughts and questions. A few people have weighed in on the direction it’s taken. And then they’ve started weighing in on each other. I nearly got involved (it’s my thread after all) but I’m glad I didn’t. Jeez! These people end up at each other’s throats. I have opinions and experiences to share, I really wanted to, but I’ll be keeping them to myself. I have enough angst in my life.

https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/2241246-star-ratings?page=1

My ‘author year’.

Writer’s diary: stardate: 26.06.2014

Less than two years into my self-publishing adventure, and already I have established my ‘author year’. And why not? Other walks of life have the calendar year, the financial year, the fiscal year, the budget year, the sporting year and the academic year, for examples.

My ‘author year’ runs from September 1st to June 31st. Because I said so. And I’m in charge. Decisions have to be made and the buck stops with me.

First week of July we are heading back to the UK for the summer for the holidays. And if the weather can manage what we had last summer it will be another wonderful break, I’m sure. If you have never been to Dymchurch beach on a fine summer’s day you’ve missed something special.

In the UK my home is a two minute walk from the beach. Perfect for my three year old boy to commute to and play safely on.

Here is a snap from last year if you don’t believe me. (It’s worth clicking on it for the full-screen effect.)

Halcyon days in The Children's Paradise.

Halcyon days in The Children’s Paradise.

I won’t be hauling my laptop with me because that might tempt me to try to find time and space to write. I want to write. I love writing. I will miss writing. But I also want to enjoy my holiday with my family. If I take my laptop there will be a temptation and I don’t want the conflict to threaten my family holiday. Don’t forget I also have a day job; I need a break from everything, too. (There is no regular Internet connection for me back home, but I’ll try to keep up with correspondence on my trips with the ipad to Wi-Fi zones.)

I anticipate doing a lot of reading. There is a charity bookshop in Dymchurch which always has shelves of good and reasonably priced paperbacks for sale. How I’ve missed browsing bookshops. I anticipate long mornings reclining on the golden sands in The Children’s Paradise under the sea wall enjoying the sun and a good ‘real’ book while my son amuses himself on the beach.

This last ‘author year’ I self-published two books. Bad Sons and A Dog’s Life. I’ve also written the third in my Acer Sansom series, Smoke & Mirrors. I won’t get that out now until I return to Istanbul. It would have been good to, but it’s not ready, it needed extra work and still needs more. One of the great things about being a self-publisher is that there are no deadlines. When it’s ready and I’m happy, I’ll click publish. My apologies to any who were perhaps looking forward to this title for a summer read, but I’m sure you understand.

I’ve made a good start on the second B&C but I’m going to have to shelve it until I return. I had hopes of at least finishing the first draft before we head home but I forgot to factor in the World Cup to my ‘author year’. Watching three matches a night in my time zone is taking its toll on my creativity and energy. Again, it’s a choice and one I’m happy to make.

My realistic predictions for the next ‘author year’ are not particularly encouraging, but it’s best to face up to them and get used to them rather than live in denial. That won’t be helpful, and life can be tough enough without creating additional pressures for oneself.

I start at a new school in September. I’ve walked to work for the last five years and that’s been worth its weight in gold to me as an author and a human being. The new job is an hour’s commute away…by bus. The fact that I’ve done that to my working day is a reflection of how bitterly disappointed I have been with the new administration at my ‘old’ school this year. I’m leaving behind some wonderful colleagues and brilliant students. I’m also leaving behind a position and routine that provided me the opportunity to find time to write. I don’t anticipate that at my new school I’ll find half the time I had here.

Those familiar with this blog will know that I started writing when I came to Turkey five years ago. I’ve written eight books while I’ve been working at this school. (Not during lessons, of course, I mean in my time here.) I can still remember banging away on the first Acer Sansom – the first book I wrote – on the school computer, which kept crashing, in the old staffroom in my free periods. Before I started carrying my laptop to school every day I was always trying to find a computer that worked to practice my hobby. There probably isn’t a computer here that doesn’t have a chapter or two of something I’ve written on its hard-drive. I feel quite nostalgic about the technology here, which is quite appropriate seeing as most of it is from another age.

On top of my new working life, my son is growing up – he was three this week – and becoming  more demanding. Like Elton sang about Mars, Istanbul is not a place to raise your kids. We live in an apartment, which, like most apartment blocks in Istanbul has no play area or garden to speak of. The nearest park to us is a twenty minute speed-walk away. My usual routine is to come in from work, put his reins on him and go there for an hour or two each evening after school. (Coming from a rural area, I can’t bear to think of him not having the space and opportunity for outside play in his day.) This coupled with my new commute, I can see myself getting less time to write at home in the evenings and weekends. I won’t ignore my parental responsibilities with him just so that I can write. I wouldn’t want to. It’s a choice I’m happy to make.

This will be my last blog-post for the ‘year’. That’s something else I won’t be killing myself over while on holiday.

I’d like to take this seasonal opportunity to offer my sincere and heartfelt thanks and appreciation to all my readers for their interest, downloads and support of my writing. It’s worth repeating: writers are nothing without readers. I’d also like to say a public and huge thank you to Martin, my gentleman friend, who has worked with me on the Acer books, the fourth R&M and the B&C. Through his diligent proofreading and editorial suggestions my writing has achieved a much more polished and professional finish – absolutely necessary as a self-publisher if one is to continue to attract readers and maintain their interest.

Have a great summer everyone and I look forward to further communication with you all next ‘year.’

Smoke and Mirrors – Acer Sansom #3

Smoke and Mirrors 0602 (Medium)

Yeah, OK, I know it’s a bit ‘in your face’ size-wise, but for its first showing I think that’s allowable.

I really like the covers for all of my books. I have no regrets or what ifs regarding any aspect of any of them. I think the fellow who does my cover design does a great job. While we’re at it, he’s very easy to work with, very reasonably priced, happy to listen to suggestions and make any number of revisions to pander to the ‘creative’ input of me. He is Kit Foster you can find him here: http://www.kitfosterdesign.com 

I think that professional cover art is one of the most important aspects of ebook publishing. As Kit says on his website…because we all judge a book by its cover. I think he’s right. I’d also add that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

In his best-selling book Blink Malcolm Gladwell looks at the power of spontaneous responses – judging from first impressions. He coins the phrase ‘thin-slicing’ to describe one’s ability to make a rapid judgement based on a small amount of data.

Data doesn’t come much smaller than a thumbnail image. It’s the bait, the lure, the enticement. When they’re all lined up together you’ve got to encourage the reader to click on you out of dozens of possibilities. And if your cover screams professionally produced, among other things, then probably readers will feel some assurance that the rest of the book will meet a production expectation. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the inverse was true.) At least they might be encouraged to read the blurb, or try the ‘Look Inside’ feature, maybe look at other readers’ comments.

I feel like showing all three of my Acer covers. So I will.

Dirty Business Final (Large)    Loose Ends Final (Large)    Smoke and Mirrors 0602 (Medium)

This week, writing wise, I’ve been  working on Smoke and Mirrors. I had some editorial suggestions to respond to. It’s the most work I’ve had to do on a book I’ve written. I agree that the book needed the work. I’ve since read it again and I’m sure it is better for it. And I wasn’t chopping passages out, I was shoring them up. I added another couple of thousand words.

Amazon: love me, love me not.

 

Writer’s diary: 29.05.2015

I tried something a couple of weeks ago to boost flagging download figures for my free book, Rope Enough. It didn’t work and it added further weight to my already strong feeling that the only way for an author like me to increase download figures is if Amazon loves me. And there’s not really a lot I can do about that. (Other than continue to send them flowers, chocolates and pictures of me in the shower…maybe that’s where I’m going wrong.) So unless you’re with Amazon’s own publishing company, Thomas & Mercer – where you are guaranteed an unfair advantage in the publicity stakes (allegedly) or you’re already a household name as opposed to something to be whispered in the garden shed – it’s all down to luck regarding whether you get on the kinds of lists that can lead to an increase in numbers of downloads. Or maybe it’s not. I’m open to argument/enlightenment on that.

After not bothering too much with Twitter other than to tweet announcements of my weekly blog-posts and retweet the odd thing, I thought I’d try tweeting loads of Twitter outlets that exist to promote free-giveaways with news of my…er… free-giveaway. Several of them were decent enough to retweet to their, literally, tens of thousands of followers my message and the .com or .co.uk link to the book, and I didn’t see any difference in download figures. I know that the reliability and validity of this ‘experiment’ is questionable. I was after a snap-shot indication. I think I got one, but I’m open to argument/enlightenment on that.

Probably you’ve got to do that sort of thing over and over again, week after week. But who really reads all those tweets and retweets for authors’ books? I don’t. Do you? And even if I do, I don’t go and download them. It’s verging on policy to ignore them out of spite for the brazen self-promotion. Does anyone other than Katie Price enjoy having things rammed down their throat?

OK, sure you have to let readers know. I’m talking about overkill. Perhaps, I’m missing the point. Perhaps, my download figures are the embodiment of my lack of engagement with that sort of thing. (Hey! maybe that’s why no one downloaded my book after my twitter ‘storm’ – too many people think like I do.) Does that make me a self-fulfilling prophecy, or simply a moaning old git? I’m open to argument/enlightenment on that. (But not from my children or ex-spouses. It gets boring after a while, guys.)

I don’t know. I’m just guessing. I think the list you really want to be on is Amazon’s recommendation list. The one where Amazon recommends your book/s to prospective readers who’ve enjoyed others in the genre you write in. It strikes me as a Catch-22 situation: you can’t get really decent download figures if you’re not on that list and you can’t get on that list if you’re not getting really great download figures. Or unless Amazon wants a fling with you. I’m open to argument/enlightenment on that.

Amazon had the self-publisher’s equivalent of a brief encounter with me, I think. (Of course, I don’t know, but it felt like that – a bit superficial, a bit meaningless. Like I’d been chatted up at the bar, been used, abused and cast aside like a soiled conquest.) Why am I even talking like that? I had a great time, too. But Amazon seems to have lost interest in me these days. Amazon won’t make eye contact with me anymore at work. Amazon avoids me in the dinner hall. Amazon turns around and walks the other way when it sees me in the corridors.

Since being reborn as a self-publisher, I’ve been weaned on the idea that social networking is the way to promote yourself and to turn yourself into an C-list author in terms of download figures. There must be something in it. But I haven’t got the time or energy to divert to it and, as I said up there, I honestly believe that the whim of Amazon, like the grace and favour of a powerful monarch, is what counts. The age old story of who you know. I’m open to argument/enlightenment on that.

After all that navel-gazing, I’d like to sign off this week with a funny story, to share one thing on my own writing front. It gave me, and probably my friend, a good laugh. I sent Acer #3 to my ‘gentleman friend’ for a perusal before I get too busy with it. Just looking for some feedback from a trusted, objective source. One thing he highlighted for attention was this sentence: Then he went back to his seat at the window and watched the dessert go by as the sun went down. That was two days ago and I’m still chuckling.