How to find your way around

I’ve been blogging for a while now and the number of posts has grown. Time to pin a short post here to advise anyone unfamiliar with WordPress sites how to navigate around the blog. Let’s say you’re a writer interested in posts about editing or grammar, you probably don’t want to be scrolling down oodles of posts you’re not interested in. There’s a search function and previous posts are archived according to month posted, but the simplest way is to use the Categories menu. It’s on the right—you might need to scroll down a little way to find it. Simply click on the category you’re interested in and you’ll be presented with the posts relevant to that subject-matter. The system’s not perfect—there are some posts that come under more than one category—but it’s the easiest method to find your way around.

Oh, and if you want to leave a comment or read existing comments, you have to be on the post’s page (by clicking its title), rather than on a page containing more than one post.

Thrills and Spills

Although my reading (and writing) tastes tend towards science fiction, dark fantasy and horror, I do occasionally enjoy curling up with a thriller. By ‘thriller’ I mean the sort of fast-moving tale that’s heavy on intrigue and excitement, but that doesn’t fall primarily into some other genre like murder-mystery.

Here’s a quick look at some of my favourites, together with one or two that I felt were a bit meh. As always, these are purely my personal preferences; if I enjoyed one you didn’t, or disliked one of your favourites, that’s okay—varied tastes make life more interesting.

The first out-and-out thriller I can recall reading was Run For Your Life (also mentioned in the post about children’s books, When I was Three, I Ate Mud). I guess I must have been around nine or ten when I first read David Line’s tale about two boys who go on the run across the wintry Norfolk countryside after witnessing a murder. It captivated me to the extent that I read the book over and over again during the next four or five years until it was falling apart.

If I had to name one thriller author as my favourite, I’d have to plump for Frederick Forsyth. Every novel of his I’ve read, I’ve enjoyed immensely. I’ll mention two as being superb examples of thriller writing. First, The Odessa File, the gripping tale of a journalist trying to uncover the whereabouts of a former SS concentration camp commander. Second, The Day of the Jackal, a white-knuckle ride about an attempt to assassinate Charles de Gaulle. Both novels were adapted into darned good films, starring respectively Jon Voigt and Edward Fox.


The Day of the Jackal

There’s one author of whose writing on a technical level I’m not the biggest fan, yet I’ve read most of his books. It’s very much a case of story trumping writing style. (Not, I hasten to add, that I’m criticising his writing, and not that he’d give two hoots if I was—he’s sold millions of books and stellar actors like Tom Hanks star in adaptations of his works.) I refer, of course, to Dan Brown.

When I read The Da Vinci Code, I didn’t know the theory about the Holy Grail (being careful here not to introduce spoilers) that Brown drew upon—and which subsequently led to allegations of plagiarism and a law suit, but that’s another story—and it blew me away. It resulted in a trip to my local library to borrow a book on art so I could study Da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper. (This was in the days before the internet was routinely used by pretty much everyone to look up pretty much anything, and it wasn’t that long ago.)


The Da Vinci Code

I also enjoyed one or two of his earlier novels, such as Deception Point, and another featuring Robert Langdon, Angels and Demons. The latter is set in Rome, a city with which I’m familiar after trips to watch Wales play Italy in the Six Nations. Brown uses many locations, such as the Pantheon and Piazza Navona, which I have visited many times. It doesn’t hurt to make a scene come alive in the imagination when you know the setting, and I enjoyed the novel in spite of the most far-fetched escape from a stricken helicopter you’re ever likely to encounter. I’m not so keen on the more recent Robert Langdon novels—in them, I feel that Brown’s tendency towards melodrama and contrived, cliffhanger chapter endings become distracting. Not enough, mind, to stop me reading each one he brings out.

Some thrillers I’ve read, I’ve enjoyed but almost instantly forgotten, which hasn’t led me to rush to find other works by their authors. These include novels by Robert Ludlum, James Patterson, Harlan Coben and Clive Cussler.

Then there are many celebrated thriller authors whose books I’ve never read. Tom Clancy and Lee Child, for instance, though I have one or two of their books sitting in my tottering TBR pile. As usual, it’s a case of too many books, too little time.

There are some well-known thrillers that left me cold. The Girl on the Train I found irritating and I saw the ending coming long before the main characters did. The Firm was meh enough that I never bothered with John Grisham again. And I Am Pilgrim was filled with improbable escapes from seemingly hopeless situations and began to drag around halfway so that I was relieved to finish it. (I’m not trying to put you off reading any of these books—you might love them.)


I Am Pilgrim

I’m going to finish on a high with a few more thrillers I felt were top-class. Before I Go to Sleep is the tale of a woman whose memory resets every night when she goes to bed so that she cannot remember who she is when she awakes the next morning. How she deals with this I’ll leave you to find out—it’s an intriguing journey. The only novel of John Le Carre’s I’ve read is The Little Drummer Girl, but I hope it won’t be the last. It’s an edgy story of a young actress recruited by Mossad to infiltrate a Palestinian terrorist cell, and it gripped me to the end. The BBC recently made a damned fine job of adapting the novel for television. Finally, a mention of the best psychological thriller I’ve ever read. Red Dragon by Thomas Harris isn’t as celebrated as the author’s better-known The Silence of the Lambs, but is far superior in my view. Difficult to imagine a darker, more disturbing study of human depravation, at least when it comes to fiction.


Red Dragon

Thrilling reading, folks!

Guest Post – Kath Middleton

Today I’m hosting the lovely Kath Middleton. Though we’ve never met in real life, I’ve ‘known’ Kath online from the days when she was a reviewer and great supporter of indie authors. She’s since crossed the divide and joined the writing ranks with a great deal of success. Without further ado, it’s over to Kath.

Genre

What’s a genre? People used to ask what kind of books do we like. That’s the genre. Some genres are more popular than others. Look along the shelves in your local library. Some genres cover many shelves, some one small section.

How do you become a bestselling author? Obviously you need to write a great book. It has to be literate—sounds obvious but there are books on sale that don’t follow the rules of grammar. Above all, you have to write in a popular genre.

Crime, thriller and police procedural are linked genres and are very popular with readers. Romance is another genre that sells well. I’ve read some stunning books in the Literary Fiction category, although I know that title can put people off. They expect it to be worthy or stuffy. People know what they like and steer in that direction. They don’t want to read something they are not expecting, in general. If they love science fiction they don’t really want it to end up as a bodice (or space suit) ripper. If they love horror they don’t want it ‘tainted’ with humour. If you want to write a best seller and make money, look at the top 100 books on Amazon and choose one of the most popular genres.

That said, many authors write because they need to scratch the itch. It doesn’t matter what the genre—in fact, I often don’t know what genre I’m writing till the book is finished. Even then, it may cross boundaries. Many of us, particularly independently published, write what we’re interested in. Lots of people are interested in more than one thing. I would find it tedious to have to restrict myself to one genre. I start with ‘what if?’ and move on from there.

In the days when everyone had to interest a publisher to get a book in front of an audience of readers, genre was particularly important. If a publisher accepted your thriller and it sold reasonably well, they would want another thriller. If you had an urge to write comedy, you had to suppress it. They wanted more of what would make them money—not whatever you felt the urge to witter on about this time.

Today, with indie publishing, people can follow their own interests. I know several authors who have written in more than one genre and some have written a kind of genre-mashup. A humorous thriller, a historical crime novel, a supernatural story that doesn’t dive straight into horror. Indie publishing has freed people to write what interests them, not what will guarantee big sales for a publisher.

These days I largely read indie fiction. It’s so refreshing to read what the author is driven to write, to scratch that itch. Most indies know they will never get rich. They could increase their chances by following the trends in fiction and by sticking to best-selling genres. I believe that if a writer isn’t producing books they feel strongly about, you can tell. If someone churns out books in a certain style just to make sales, there’s a deadness to the stories. I wouldn’t want to read that. I love something different and a bit edgy. Something the author is excited about. If the person who writes the book isn’t fired up with love and enthusiasm, you can hardly blame the reader for being unenthusiastic.

Let’s hear it for the genre mashups, the cross-genre books, the books you couldn’t fit into any single genre with a shoe-horn.

Oh, and the real way to make money with your writing? Ransom notes.

Links

Kath’s website: www.kathmiddletonbooks.com

To purchase Kath’s latest release: The Angel Monument

Bio
Kath Middleton began her writing with drabbles (100-word stories) and contributed a number to Jonathan Hill’s second drabble collection. It wasn’t long before she moved up a size to contribute short stories to anthologies. Shortly afterwards, she progressed to writing longer pieces and her first solo work, Ravenfold, was published to some acclaim. This was followed by the novella, Message in a Bottle. There are now several more books, from short stories to novels. Kath likes to put her characters in difficult situations and watch them work their way out. She believes in the indomitable nature of the human spirit (and chickens).
Kath is retired. She graduated in geology and has a certificate in archaeology. When she’s in a hole, she doesn’t stop digging.

What Big Teeth You Have, Grammar – Part 3

“The greater part of the world’s troubles are due to questions of grammar.”
― Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays

Another post about grammar? Yawn off, Sam.

There’s no need to be like that—I’m merely going to talk a little about some of the so-called rules that surround writing. If you frequent any forums inhabited by writers, you’ll see these ‘rules’ mentioned frequently. One or two may be more accurately described as ‘myths’, yet are held up as gospel by some. I’m going to keep this light-hearted—there are plenty of places where you can read serious discussions on these matters if you are so inclined. Let us begin…

To boldly split infinitives
We’ve all heard the rule: you should never split infinitives. Yeah, yeah, tell that to Gene Roddenberry, or whoever wrote the tagline for his most famous creation.

This edict arose from grammarians in times long gone objecting to separating the ‘to’ from the verb (to eat, to sleep, to read, etc) because the infinitive was never split in the Latin form of the verb. Well, it wouldn’t be, seeing as Latin verbs are usually only one word. A bit tricky to stick the Latin version of ‘boldly’ (audenter) into the middle of the Latin version of ‘to go’ (ire) and still have it make sense. And it wouldn’t be anywhere near as catchy.

If you want to split infinitives, go at it. There’s nothing wrong with writing, ‘I ran upstairs to quickly brush my teeth.’ But be cautious. Usually, we’re taking about separating the ‘to’ from the verb with an adverb and these ought to be used sparingly (see below). Take an example: ‘After a moment’s hesitation, I decided to briskly walk after him.’ For a start, that doesn’t sound natural to my ear—better if ‘briskly’ comes after ‘walk’. Better still, a new word could be substituted for ‘briskly walk’; there are plenty to choose from, such as stride, rush, hurry.

Liberally applying adverbs
Stephen King famously wrote: ‘I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs…’ [On Writing]. Some writers take this to mean that we should never use adverbs. Ever. Don’t believe me? Take a peek into any writers’ forum when this topic comes up and you won’t have to wait long before someone will come along and decry any use of the humble adverb, often trotting out this King quote in support of their position.

He is particularly scathing about adverbs used in dialogue tags, though he freely admits that he has been known to use them on occasion. I’ve just picked out one of his books at random from my bookshelves: Hearts of Atlantis. It took me under a minute to find an example: ‘“Go in your room, Bobby,” Ted said quietly.’

“No, no, no!” the naysayers will protest. “The phrase ‘said quietly’ should become ‘whispered’ or ‘breathed’ or ‘muttered’.” I heartily disagree. It’s about nuance: saying something quietly is not the same as whispering or breathing or muttering it.

To me, adverbs are another tool in the writer’s shed and to avoid them altogether is to unnecessarily limit our ability to paint the fullest picture with our words. Having said that, they should undoubtedly be used with care and often a better word will present itself. So slam the door rather than shut it firmly; shout rather than exclaim loudly; sprint rather than run quickly. But by all means sweat profusely if sweating alone doesn’t fully convey the image you want to portray.

He and she and they
Ah, gender-neutral pronouns. A tricky one this. Easy to use ‘they’ when referring to more than one gender-unspecified person; not so easy when referring to only one.

Historically, ‘he’ was understood to include ‘she’, but that is rightly no longer considered acceptable. Indeed, clumsy constructs like ‘he or she’ and ‘he/she’ are now regarded as non-inclusive since they exclude those who regard their gender as neither. (If you want to read more about this, there are many instructive articles out there, such as this one: how-to-use-gender-neutral-pronouns)

‘They’ seems to have become increasingly acceptable as a gender-neutral pronoun when referring to only one person, even though it is, technically, a plural pronoun, not singular. It doesn’t always work well, though. Take a simple, contrived example, where the writer doesn’t want to reveal the identity of either character and so conceals their gender:
‘The murderer picked up the knife; the victim cowered. They thrust it into their chest.’

I try to get around it in my blog by writing ‘he (or she, but let’s take that as read)’. That’s no less clumsy but I can get away with it somewhere informal like a blog. And I ought probably to write ‘he (or she or any pronoun of your choice, but let’s take that as read)’ so as to include those who don’t identify with either he or she.

As for fiction writing, the best advice to avoid clumsy structures like the example above is to rewrite it.

Redundancies
A mention of a couple of my pet hates, though they’re becoming so widely used that I suspect I’m railing against them in vain.

‘PIN number’ – PIN is an acronym for Personal Identification Number so we don’t need to say ‘number’. PIN alone will suffice.

‘for free’ – free means ‘for nothing’ so we don’t need to say ‘for’. ‘You can get it free’ suffices. With this one, in particular, I know I’m not so much peeing into the wind as into a force-ten gale. They even use the expression ‘for free’ on the BBC, for goodness’ sake.

That’ll do for now. If I think of any more pet hates, I’ll include them in the next grammar post. What, another one…?

Guest Post – Maggie Plummer

Today I’m hosting another guest, the free-spirited Maggie Plummer. I’ve known Maggie (in an online sense) for a number of years and always found her bubbly and delightful. She’s going to talk about how writers can use their real-life experiences in their fiction. Over to Maggie.

Turning Life into Fiction

When You Can’t Trust Your Memory…

Authors hear this again and again: Write what you know.

For years I thought about that, wanting to write my travel stories from the 1970s. I imagined a collection of short stories that would be called Tales of a Volkswagen Gypsy or something similar. For some reason, I just couldn’t get going on the project. Then I considered writing a memoir about those years, but quickly realized that my memory is too befuddled to attempt a non-fiction book about my life.

Gradually I developed the idea of a novel loosely (and I mean LOOSELY!) based on my ‘70s wanderings. After working on it for several years, Bell-Bottom Gypsy: A Jessie Morgan Novel is finally published and available on Amazon.

The process of turning my stories into a novel has been a revelation. It’s true what they say: truth is stranger than fiction. The thing is, fiction has to be believable.

In other words, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

There are pitfalls to avoid when writing autobiographical fiction. I think the biggest problem is a tendency to be too attached to memories. A fiction writer has to let go of the reality, and let the drama fly. The needs of the fiction must come first, no matter how fond a writer is of his/her real stories. That means:

  • Bending and stretching real people into credible fictional characters. This is especially important when the writer is the main character. Don’t forget, the novel’s protagonist has to be believable.
  • Making events fit together in a way that’s satisfying for a reader. Things must happen for a reason in a novel, moving the story forward. Always look for the conflict. A string of cool but disconnected anecdotes does not a novel make. Plan fiction with the narrative structure in mind.

The process of writing my new novel has been strikingly different from that of my two previous novels, Spirited Away and Daring Passage—both of which are historical novels set in the 1650s. As I wrote the two earlier novels, historical research played a major role in developing the novels’ plots. Bell-Bottom Gypsy, however, required that I look deeper into my story to create a plot with tension and conflict.

I not only had to embellish, I had to lie.

When it comes to writing fiction, the more dramatic the lie, the better. The thing to do is deliberately change a major element in the story. Take Twisty, my “bad guy” in Bell-Bottom Gypsy. In real life, my boyfriend was nothing like crazy old Twisty. Some of the details were similar: like Twisty, my boyfriend played guitar, sang, loved black and white photography, and was tall and dark. But his core character was totally different. My boyfriend was gentle, quiet, and mellow (in fact, sometimes he was too mellow for me! But I digress…). In order to write a decent novel, I turned him into someone edgy and potentially dangerous. It made all the difference.

Here are more tips for turning life into fiction:

  • Describe everything in detail. Too much detail can be edited out later. When writing what you know, it’s easy to forget that the reader knows nothing about you or your story.
  • Point of view can be tricky. In Bell-Bottom Gypsy, I used third person point of view, because it flowed well and I wanted Jessie, the main character, to be included in the scenes. Some writers use first person point of view in their autobiographical fiction. It might be good to experiment with both.
  • Define an enduring theme. What is the central message you want to get across? Find the story within your stories, making sure the narrative has enough depth to keep readers going.
  • Create composites. Feel free to throw the best tidbits of real life into the novel’s scenes, regardless of when they really happened.
  • Try to create a sense of distance from your experiences. I had an advantage as I wrote my new novel: the distance of time. My travel stories are from the early 1970s – almost fifty years ago! (That’s hard to believe, isn’t it?)

The main thing is, don’t be afraid to use real life in your fiction. Mine it like gold, but craft it carefully.

Then sit back and enjoy. To those who are horrified by the things that happen in your autobiographical fiction (like some might be by scenes in Bell-Bottom Gypsy), repeat after me, loudly and proudly: “It’s fiction! It’s fiction!”

Maggie Plummer is a multi-genre author based in northwest Montana. Along the winding trail, she has worked as a journalist, school bus driver, Good Humor ice cream girl, fishing boat mate, and race horse hot walker, among other things. Bell-Bottom Gypsy is her third published novel.

Links:

Bell-Bottom Gypsy: A Jessie Morgan Novel (Kindle edition)

Bell-Bottom Gypsy: A Jessie Morgan Novel (paperback)

Spirited Away: A Novel of the Stolen Irish

Daring Passage: Book Two of the Spirited Away Saga

To connect with Maggie:

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Guest Post – Mike Van Horn

Today I’m hosting American writer Mike Van Horn, author of the science fiction trilogy Agate and Breadbox. Here he is hard at work in Hawaii—looks tough, but I guess someone has to do it.

Over to Mike, who’s going to talk about the importance of songs in his work and how one thing can quickly lead to another.

When Life Gives You Lyrics, Make Music

I can’t sing anything more demanding than Happy Birthday. So imagine my surprise when I became a lyricist.

In my just-published book Aliens Crashed in My Back Yard, my main character and narrator—Selena M—is a singer who nurses a surviving alien back to health so she can send it home. The alien is also a singer, and that’s how they learn to communicate. They help each other recapture the passion of their singing.

I had to write snippets of lyrics for the songs that Selena sings, and come up with song titles. I used these as epigraphs at the top of chapters. Like this:

I’ve been a sweet stuff singer

All my girlie years

Airy, frothy little ditties

Full of love and tears

That’s from Cotton Candy Lovin’. Here’s another:

I’m playing with you

the game of love

and I’m losing every match.

Some of these snippets grew into verses, and then entire song lyrics. The thought came to me: if I have lyrics, I need music. But this was way beyond my skills!

I found a guy who could compose music for my lyrics, and he found a local blues singer who became the vocalist and the voice of Selena. They produced my songs and I put them up on Soundcloud. Now I have ‘sci fi with a sound track!’ I’ve written about twenty lyrics so far.

How do these get written? Two ways. Sometimes lines or couplets pop into my head. I write them down, then look for ideas that can expand them. I spend a lot of time looking for rhymes.  For example:

We all want to fly to the stars

not just staying here sittin’ on our arse.

 

You serious scientists, let me lead you astray.

Get up! Get out there! Fly into the void.

Or should we just sit here whiling away

waiting to get whacked by some asteroid?

“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen stars rhymed with arse,” several have remarked.

Sometimes, after I’ve written a prose paragraph, I look at it and think, this could be turned into a song. For example, when Selena was by herself on the Moon, looking at the emptiness of space, she got the shivers:

I was beginning to feel unmoored. Not unmoored internally, exactly. Just feeling strange. More like a boat drifting out to sea. The farther it drifts, the harder it will be for it to find its way back. Perhaps it will discover new continents, but maybe it will just drift. A strange feeling came over me, and I found myself turning this chain of thought into a song.

Here’s what it turned into (first two verses):

I am unmoored.

I am adrift on the vastness of space.

Like a boat, lines cast free from the shore,

freed of land’s embrace.

Slowly drifting out to sea, 

no rudder, no compass, no map, no haste.

Across the vasty void.

Forever to infinity.

 

The farther I drift ‘cross the vasty void

the harder it will be for me

to find my way back from the endless sea

to safe harbor, to home, to thee.

I may discover new worlds out there.

Or I might just drift, ‘cross the vast nowhere.

Forever to infinity.

This is so much fun! I love creating songs like this.

I want to finish up with a story. I felt very tentative about this entire effort. Who was I to hire composers, producers, and professional singers? I sent them my lyrics and they produced music. But then they invited me to one of the recording sessions at the studio. I went as an observer.

When the vocalist was warming up in the soundproof room, she said, “Sorry guys, my voice isn’t right today. I’m a little nervous because the lyricist is here.”

The who? You mean the big lyricist smoking a cigar who arrived in a long limo? She was feeling nervous because of me, and I was suffering from imposter syndrome big-time.

Okay, so what’s the lesson here for you writers?

When creativity happens, go with it. Go with it! Go where it takes you. Don’t say, “I can’t do that.” That’s a killer. Maybe you can’t, but maybe you can.

What I found out was that I could not only spin a good tale, but I can write music.

I am a lyricist. And it’s a blast!

Let’s finish with two verses from the one that became my theme song, and the name of Book 2 of my trilogy:

My spaceship calls out to me

Come fly me home

I’m yours, you’re my skipper.

Just call and I’ll come.

Just call and I’ll come to you

The whole galaxy’s our home.

On any world anywhere

Just call and I’ll come.

This is what Selena’s spaceship says to her. Could you resist? That’s what Books 2 and 3 are about: My Spaceship Calls Out to Me and Space Girl Yearning.

 

To hear how Mike’s music came out, go to http://galaxytalltales.com and click on Sci Fi Music.

Book 1 available for Kindle on Amazon here. Paperback edition coming soon.

Book 2 due May

You can read excerpts from all three books on his site – link above

 

Marketing for Muppets – Part 6

In Part 5, I mentioned in a footnote (because it happened after I’d drafted that post) that one of my books reached the top 500 in the Amazon store (not in the US) and gained the No. 1 Bestseller tag in three countries in various sub-categories of science fiction. In this post, I’m going to talk about how that happened.

One thing: as with all these marketing posts, what works for me won’t necessarily work for you, and vice versa. For instance, I know of authors who swear by the power of Facebook ads, or being visible on social media, with neither of which have I found a great deal of success. On the other hand, I have heard some authors say how disappointed they are with Amazon ads (AMS), which have worked quite well for me. Each of us has to try different methods until we hit on the one that is effective for us.

The proposition in Part 1 bears repeating:

Proposition 1: What works well for one author, won’t necessarily work well for another.

As mentioned in Part 5, I was already seeing increased sales through AMS and the knock-on effects of greater visibility the ads brought me. As of 26th January 2019, I’d already had a good month. A couple of days later, my sales for January had more than doubled.

How? In a word: BookBub.

BookBub has long been held up by the indie-author community as the crème de la crème, the Holy Grail of book advertising. A few years ago, I’d applied—twice—and been turned down. If the relationship between me and my then-publisher hadn’t stalled, I’d have carried on applying. As it was, I grew unwilling to incur the high cost involved when I wouldn’t be the only person to benefit from any resulting success, so I stopped applying.

And, yes, it is pricey. The cost of a featured deal depends on what category (genre) your book fits into and the price to which you’re discounting the book. The highest cost (as at 12th February 2019) is for a book falling within the category of ‘crime fiction’—to advertise such a book at a price of $3 or more will cost the author $3,983. That falls to $783 if the author is running a free promotion. That’s almost $800 to give a book away.

With all rights in my books reverted back to me, I decided to apply again. Although my sales had been growing steadily, it was mainly in the UK, while sales in the US remained sporadic. The Earth Haven trilogy had been popular in the States a couple of years ago, but for reasons mentioned in previous posts I hadn’t been able to maintain interest across the Pond. Thus my primary aim in applying to BookBub was to raise sales and visibility in the US.

On 11th January, I submitted the first book in the trilogy, The Cleansing, to BookBub for a featured deal at the discounted price of $0.99. I heard back from BookBub that same day. To my excitement, they offered me a featured deal to run on 27th January. To my disappointment, it was what they call an ‘international’ deal, meaning it would only run in Australia, Canada, India and the UK, but not in the US.

There was a silver lining: had I been accepted for the full deal, the cost would have been a whopping $754. The international deal alone was a far more modest $160. Nevertheless, I almost turned it down. I had heard other authors say they’d lost money on international deals and the sell-through had been nothing to write home about. But, thankfully, I decided to go with it because, remembering Proposition 1, I needed to find out for myself how good or otherwise it actually is.  

27th January was a Sunday. I discounted the book’s price in Australia, Canada, the UK and India in plenty of time and waited impatiently for Sunday to arrive.

I reckoned on needing to sell a minimum of 400 books at the discounted price to come anywhere near recouping the cost of the promotion. I didn’t expect to achieve that, but hoped to boost visibility to improve sales in the weeks to follow. Long story short: the promotion comfortably exceeded my expectations—not only did I recoup the cost, but made a modest profit.

The book reached number one in the Amazon bestseller charts in most science fiction categories for which it was eligible in Australia, Canada and the UK, earning the orange No. 1 Bestseller tag (which disappears again as soon as the book drops from the top spot—thank goodness for screen shots). It reached number 300-odd in the entire UK Amazon store; number 50-something in the Canada and Australia stores.

My books are distributed wide through Draft2Digital and I also publish directly to GooglePlay. I’d never done any promotions specifically aimed at readers who shop at places like Kobo and iTunes and my sales in those wider channels had been pitiful. In fact, I don’t think I’d sold a single book through D2D or Google for the previous three months. Much to my surprise and delight, my sales increased massively in all wide channels that day.

What about sales since? That’s where the real value of the promotion has come into play. My sales on Amazon approximately doubled post-promotion from where they were before it. They have started to falter a little—not unexpected, though I thought the tailing away might happen sooner—but remain higher than they did pre-BookBub. In the wider channels sales, though low, have been steady. Considering I wasn’t selling anything at all wide, that’s an infinite improvement.

Time, then, for another proposition:

Proposition 6: BookBub is an effective promotional site, especially for authors with sequels or a substantial back catalogue available to take advantage of sell-through.

That, of course, remains subjective—while some authors have reported greater success with BookBub promos than I experienced, others have said they didn’t feel their promo was worthwhile. As always, remember Proposition 1.

Let’s remain realistic. The fleeting appearance of the No. 1 Bestseller tags was fun; to reach the top 100 overall in the Canadian and Australian Amazon stores was exciting; to see the balance in my business account go up instead of haemorrhaging makes a nice change. But I’m not getting carried away. There’s still a long way to go to achieve my dream of making a living at this game. At best, I’ve taken a stride closer.

And I think these marketing posts have run their course. It’s not that I no longer consider myself to be a muppet when it comes to marketing—far from it—but I’m less of one than I was a year ago. It has taken a lot of trial and error but at last I feel I’m on the right track to gain some visibility and achieve steady, if unspectacular, sales. I’m going to keep applying for a BookBub promotion in the States—if I secure one, I’ll probably report back in one more Marketing for Muppets post. Other than that, I want to blog about other stuff and host more guests.

As for ongoing marketing, I intend continuing with the AMS ads for as long as they remain productive and cost-effective. For now, at least, I’m not going to give away more books in return for joining my mailing list. I’m not going to join any author cross-promotions. US BookBub aside, I’m not going to apply for any more paid promotions.

More importantly, I need to publish new work. I am hoping that I can now concentrate on finishing my works in progress without being constantly distracted by trying to improve sales of my existing books.

Then there is the small proofreading/copyediting business I can afford to devote a little more time to. There are book covers to design and editing of my own work to do. And there are always more stories to tell. I can’t wait to write them. It’s time to roll up my sleeves and crack on.

Till next time…

Guest Post – Bill McCormick

Today I’m delighted to host the multi-talented Bill McCormick. Bill is a critically acclaimed author of several novels, graphic novels and comic book series, and has appeared in numerous anthologies. He began writing professionally in 1986 at Chicago Rocker Magazine in conjunction with his radio show on Z-95 (ABC-FM), and went on to write for several other magazines and blogs. He currently writes a twisted news blog at World News Center. The latter provides source material for his weekly radio show on WBIG 1280 AM, FOX! Sports. You can find out more about him at http://BillMcSciFi.com

He’s going to talk a little about the process involved in producing comics, something I know little about. Over to Bill.

Making My Comics – Bill McCormick

I have the pleasure of working with a variety of creators on a diverse array of projects. As such I get the exciting opportunity to work in different styles all the time. Horror, sci-fi, fantasy, kaiju, you name it, I’ve been honored to bang out scripts for each.

Styles aside, there are some similarities in how each is created. Excluding my upcoming series, BOB: SINS OF THE SON, all have been based on characters created by others. That means I have to make their universe make sense to them and their fans. Something that can become difficult if you don’t pay attention early on.

I ask a lot of questions, and save every message, before I begin. Then I craft an outline of the story I think needs to be told. Since it will be different than what the creator originally envisioned, often due to the fact the creator knows the whole story and forgets that readers need to be let in on it, I also justify my choices.  Once we agree on the basics, I script about ten pages to give them a feel for what I’ll be doing.

Assuming those are approved, I dive into the deep end and create a script for the complete first comic.

If you’re going to write for other creators, you have to make sure of a few things:

  1. Be very clear about their vision. If they want CAPTAIN SUPER SQUIRREL to be an overpowered rodent who only speaks in haikus, then you have to be comfortable writing that. If you’re not, do what I do and walk away before it begins. Trust me, it’ll save everyone aggravation.
  2. Once you’ve committed to a project, treat it with the same care and concern you would any of your own. That includes promoting it as best you can. If you can’t be proud to be associated with it, you shouldn’t be doing it.
  3. Lastly, make sure they’re funded. Above and beyond your writer’s pay, they need to have money for anything they can’t do themselves. I have two titles wherein the creators came up with a rough universe, and story arc, and needed to hire everyone else. That costs money.  In both cases this was clarified up front and the projects moved on. It’s no fun to get paid for a script and then see it languish because there’s no money for art or anything else. I have had that happen and it still bothers me.

One final bit of advice: no matter whether you’re writing for someone else’s project or your own, run your script past fresh eyes before submitting it. It’s better to catch anything wrong before it gets near an artist.  Or, simply put, it’s not the artist’s job to fix your mistakes.

After all that, just have fun.

Out now:

Legends Parallel: The Unravelling. For people who worry that quantum physics isn’t violent or sexy enough. This is the 3rd issue of the critically acclaimed story.
Svarozic (apologies – unable to include the accents above ‘z’ and ‘c’). The story of a woman trapped inside a man and a god trapped inside a human. Since they’re all one person, she has issues. Will also be included in the ICC Anthology coming later in 2019.
Hybrid Zero: Jungle Grrl. A long time from now Earth has been rebuilt and turned into a planetary amusement park which features sex parties and dino clones. Fun for the whole, future, family.
Hybrid Zero: Juggernaut. Set in the distant future, Hybrid Zero is the story of a human/alien fusion and her strange family. They live in an era where sexuality, in all its myriad forms, isn’t taboo but violence is. A self-contained web comic that’s currently being rewritten into a graphic novel.

Coming soon:

Bob: Sins of the Son. The son of Death wants to be a superhero in Chicago. His dad and sister aren’t thrilled.

Jarhead. His end is just his beginning. An ex-Marine living in Oakland is trying to bury his past in booze. But that past is coming back to haunt him in ways no one saw coming.

Alokia the Kaiju Hunter. This has everything you could possibly want in a Kaiju. A wonderful drunken gorilla king, the last of the Kaiju hunters who just happens to be a young girl, and a villain who’ll give your nightmares nightmares.

To find out more:

http://BillMcSciFi.com

http://www.LegendsParallel.com

http://www.HybridZero.com

To purchase comics, go to http://www.Nerdanatix.com

Marketing for Muppets – Part 5

In previous instalments, I’ve looked at types of marketing at which, to put it mildly, I don’t excel. I thought I’d now talk a little about a method that has worked for me to some extent. By ‘worked’ I mean it has led to sales, either directly or indirectly. Since my ultimate aim is to become a full-time writer, sales are usually how I measure the success or otherwise of my marketing efforts. You might use a different yardstick—number of mailing list subscribers, hits to your blog, followers on social media—whatever works for you.

I’ve tried various things over the past six years:

  • Making use of the five free days for books in Kindle Unlimited (and its predecessor)
  • Giving paperbacks away on Goodreads
  • Making the first in a trilogy permafree
  • Running temporary price reductions
  • Paying to advertise with one of the many online promoters
  • Running ads for new releases on Facebook
  • Placing fixed ads on websites
  • Joining cross-author promotions in conjunction with a price reduction
  • Joining cross-author promotions in conjunction with a giveaway with a view to increasing mailing list subscribers
  • Being active on social media to try to raise my profile
  • Posting guest blogs or interviews on other authors’ websites

There are probably other things I’ve forgotten, but the above covers most of the obvious marketing methods.

If you’ve read my previous Marketing for Muppets posts, you’ll know that most of these efforts have either been spectacularly unsuccessful, or I’m simply not very good at them. For instance, I find trying to be active on social media a time sump that I don’t particularly enjoy.

I said in an earlier post that I’d concentrate on blogging regularly as a form of marketing that I do find enjoyable. Mind, difficult to know how effective it is—not particularly, I suspect. But I’m not too bothered if I sell no or few books through these efforts. It’s fun and I feel that I may have something to offer novice writers looking for, say, ideas on self-editing—it’s worth it for that alone. I was once a novice writer and found a wealth of information freely given by more experienced writers—why not give something back?

I’m digressing. What form of advertising is working for me? The answer is AMS: Amazon Marketing Services. I know—as authors making their work available on Amazon, we already pay the Zon a proportion of every sale we make. It’s around 30% for higher-priced books on sales in most countries; it’s 65% in some countries and everywhere on lower-priced books. So why, I hear you ask, would you also pay Amazon to advertise your books?

That’s a fair question. It’s also a fairly easy one to answer and I’ll come to that shortly.

But, yes, it irks me to pay Amazon to enable readers to more easily find my books on its site. The profit margin on book sales for small independent publishers is slim enough already—why eat into them further by paying the Zon advertising fees?

The answer for me is simple: to gain visibility and stand any chance of achieving sales.

In line with its tendency to keep data to itself, Amazon has made it difficult to ascertain how many books it has available in its online stores. I’ve seen recent estimates for e-books ranging from a mind-boggling 4.5 million to 7 million. That’s a lot of books and thousands more are added each day.

If readers aren’t aware of their existence, books will sink into the murky depths of the Zon’s nether regions, never to be seen again. Most independent authors can rely on a few sales of a new release, even if only from a handful of family and friends. But after that initial flurry, what then? How does the author make the wider reading community aware that the book exists?

Of course, that’s when the mailing list and social media presence may bear fruit. To a point. After all that’s been exhausted and the book’s plummeting like a stone—what then?

That is when I have found that advertising on Amazon helps. I have been running ads in the US and UK on the first books of each of my completed trilogies: The Cleansing (Earth Haven: Book 1) and The Elevator (Book 1). Especially for The Cleansing, especially in the UK, the ads have undoubtedly helped to raise visibility so that sales over the past six or seven months have increased dramatically.

Let me put it into context. My book sales had dwindled from a respectable few hundred, on average, each month during 2015 and early 2016, to barely nothing by mid-2017. There were a few reasons. Firstly, an elderly relative died in June 2016, appointing me as the executor of his estate. For the next seven or eight months, I spent a lot of time that I would otherwise have devoted to writing and marketing dealing with the administration of the estate. (I’m not bemoaning being appointed executor—it’s what I used to do for a living and it saved the family thousands in legal fees.) Secondly, I had grown increasingly disaffected with being published by a small press and yearned to gain control of my books. I’m not being critical of the publisher—let’s just say that our relationship stalled to the point that I became unwilling to spend any money on advertising. Thirdly, as a consequence of the foregoing, my marketing activity, not prolific at the best of times, became virtually non-existent.

To illustrate the turnaround, I’ll have to reveal some sales figures, which I don’t usually share, but which I think I should in this instance so you can judge how effective, or not, you feel my efforts have been. Okay, then. In April 2018 my total e-book sales on Amazon were fewer than ten. Yep, that’s all books, across all Amazon stores, in all countries. I hear you ask, if after all that time in the game you can’t even sell in double figures in an entire month, why don’t you accept that you’re never going to make it as a professional author and give up? That’s another fair question. The answer’s not as simple as ‘I’m not a quitter’, though that’s part of it.

In fact, during that April of dire sales, I was more upbeat about the publishing business than I have been for years. At the end of March, I’d parted ways with the small press publisher, all rights in all my books reverting to me. I now had full control over my books, including, for the first time, my bestselling Earth Haven series (i.e. the books that have proved most popular, not that have topped any well-known bestseller charts).

After spending a couple of months republishing my own versions of the e-books, and learning how to produce paperback editions, I was ready to turn my attention to advertising; specifically, AMS. I had already dabbled in AMS ads for a collection of short stories—only small scale; merely to get a feel for it. Now I was able to go at it head-on. I began to run AMS ads for The Cleansing and The Elevator in June.

In July, my sales on Amazon ballooned to more than one hundred and have continued to climb slowly but steadily. Still small potatoes by some standards, but a vast improvement from where I was only a few months before.

It’s possible, I suppose, that repackaging the books played some part in the improved sales—freshening up an existing product can see an increase in sales—but I put most of the upswing down to the AMS ads.

Many authors talk about paid marketing in terms of ROI: return on investment. As far as sales of the two first-in-trilogies are concerned, the ads have—especially with The Elevator—barely paid for themselves. The direct ROI has been, at best, negligible. The real value, the indirect ROI, comes in follow-through sales of the other books in the trilogies.

I am lucky to have a reasonable sell-through rate of the Earth Haven books. At present, around half of everyone who buys The Cleansing goes on to buy The Beacon. Roughly two-thirds of those buy The Reckoning. Those additional sales are not costing me anything more in terms of advertising expenditure. 

This leads to a proposition, a rather obvious one, but nevertheless worth spelling out:

Proposition 5: It can pay dividends to regularly advertise the first book in a completed series so as to raise its visibility and lead to follow-through sales of its sequels.

Once you’ve been consistently selling via the ads, there are knock-on effects that help raise visibility further. Your book may start appearing on the also-bought lists of other popular books. Amazon might notice your book starting to gain some attention and take steps to promote it themselves. As I write this, The Cleansing has been regularly in the top 10,000* books on Amazon UK, and frequently in various Top 100s in science fiction sub-categories like Alien Invasion and Colonisation, increasing its visibility again. It is rubbing shoulders with books by authors who have won major science fiction prizes, had films made of their work and are household names (at least, in households interested in science fiction). Now and again, both sequels have joined it in those bestseller charts. It might only be fleeting, but I don’t half get a thrill from it.

I was going to end this post by talking a little about how AMS ads work, but they are tweaking them and I haven’t yet made time to look into how it will affect the ads I’m running. (Bloody typical—no sooner do I get the hang of a form of advertising and make it work for me, than the advertiser moves the goalposts.) I’ll have to suss out the new forms of ads that are replacing the ones I’ve been using. A subject for a future post, maybe. Fingers crossed it’s a positive post.

* Top 10,000 might sound a little sad—why celebrate such a ludicrously low ranking?—until you consider the sheer number of books clamouring for attention. I know, from experience, how difficult it is to break into that top echelon, let alone stay there for any length of time. Goodness knows what it takes to break into the top 5,000. If I ever manage it, I’ll let you know.**

** Okay, I did it. Not only the top 5,000, but the top 500. I even gained the orange rectangle No. 1 Bestseller tag in three countries in various sub-categories of science fiction. More on this in the next Marketing for Muppets instalment. Ooh—two positive marketing posts on the trot. What is the world coming to?

Stephen King Books

I’ve mentioned it before: I am one of Stephen King’s Constant Readers. Ever since discovering his books as a young teenager, I’ve devoured them. At least, his horror and science fiction and fantasy books—not so much the crime thrillers that he’s taken to writing of late.

Despite counting him amongst my favourite authors, I don’t love everything about his stories. For instance, the endings are sometimes a bit of a let-down. Yet this doesn’t detract much from my enjoyment. The pleasure with King is in going along for the ride—if the destination occasionally disappoints, the journey is nearly always a blast.

Here are some of my favourites among his books, along with a few not-so-favourites.

Let’s start with two novellas from the collection Different Seasons, published in 1982, the year I turned eighteen. Both are a little unusual in that they resulted in that rarest of things—a superb screen adaptation of a Stephen King story. The Body is a small-town tale (like so many of King’s) about a trio of friends who go off in search of a dead body they’ve heard is lying alongside a set of rail tracks. It’s a joy (as is the film version, called Stand By Me and starring the tragic River Phoenix), a perfect slice of childhood, something that King does so well. Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (the Rita Hayworth part of the title was dropped for the film version) is a tale set in a prison with an unforeseen and wholly satisfying ending.

Different Seasons

Next, Insomnia, which King describes as a ‘stiff, trying-too-hard’ novel. It’s where we first encounter The Crimson King, who would feature in other King works, most notably The Dark Tower series. More on that later. Also good reads are The Green Mile, the tale of death row inmate John Coffey (whose initials are probably not coincidental), and 11/22/63. I’ve long been fascinated with the Kennedy assassination and time travel—this was a great way to combine the two.

The Green Mile

Here’s a selection of what I call Meh books—they were okay, but lacked something that might have made them appeal more to my tastes. (As always, my tastes are likely to be different from yours so it’s perfectly fine to disagree with me.) Cujo, The Dead Zone, Dolores Claiborne, Christine, Needful Things and Sleeping Beauties all had something going for them that made them enjoyable to a point, but that ultimately left me feeling a little dissatisfied, a little meh. I was enjoying Revival, when the most interesting character in the story fades out of sight. When we encounter him again much later, he has changed in ways that feel unrealistic. And the ending—hugely disappointing and nowhere near as scary as I’d been hoping. Finally for the Meh books, Under the Dome. Loved the concept and the opening. No spoilers, but after such a promising start, it descends into a bit of a mess—it’s probably been eight or nine years since I read it and I couldn’t even tell you how it ends. If not for the concept and intriguing opening, this one is unlikely to have even made it onto my list of Meh books.

Some of his earliest books are amongst my favourites. The following three were published in the 1970s. Salem’s Lot is a tale of vampire infestation of a small town and presses all the right buttons. I’ve long been fascinated with the blood-sucking fiends since first reading Dracula as a young teenager—the recent trend for sparkly, prance-about-in-full-sunlight lotharios (my younger daughter made me watch a certain series of films with her; by the end of the first one, I was pleading, “Bite her, already.” It took another two or three angst-ridden films before he did) hasn’t put me off—and King’s tale resonated as strongly with me as its classic predecessor. The Stand is an apocalyptic tale that I’ve spoken about in other posts. Suffice to say here, it’s a ripping yarn about good versus evil in a world that’s gone to hell. The Long Walk was published (among others) under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. It’s a dystopian tale about an annual contest involving one hundred teenage boys. The contest is simple enough—they all set off together walking southwards from Maine and the winner will be the last boy standing. However, any boy whose walking pace drops below 4 mph receives a warning; three warnings and, well, let’s just say that nobody is allowed to retire alive from this contest.

Salem’s Lot

Another of the ‘Bachman books’ is The Running Man. (It was made into a film starring Arnie, which bears only a passing resemblance to the novel and is far inferior.) This is also set in a dystopian futuristic America and is a tale that doesn’t let up. King apparently wrote it in a week and I think it shows in that it doesn’t pause for breath. I doubt my next pick will make it onto everyone’s favourite list, but there’s something about The Tommyknockers that I love. Maybe it’s the concept of someone tripping over a tiny protruding piece of metal in the woods that turns out to be the tip of a spacecraft a mile wide, or the 50s B-movie feel of the second half of the book, but it’s a novel I’ve returned to more than once. The most recent book on my favourite list is Cell, published in 2006. It’s another tale carried by a great concept and a fun journey that makes up for a lukewarm ending.

The Tommyknockers

How about one or two that I positively disliked? The first is Gerald’s Game. I can say, without having to think about it much, that this is my least favourite of any King book I’ve read. There’s one genuinely creepy moment, but it couldn’t make up for the drudgery of trying to get through the rest of it—the only time I’ve been relieved to reach the end of one of his books, shove it back onto the shelf and forget about it. The other is the seventh novel in The Dark Tower series. I’d worked my way through the preceding six instalments with varying degrees of pleasure and I was keen to see how the series would play out—to find out, at last, after more than a million words, what Roland would discover at the end of his mission… quest… thing. (Sorry—can’t resist a LOTR reference when the opportunity arises.) Well, before reaching that point, Mr King engages in a moment of such self-indulgent author intrusion that it completely threw me out of the story and made me hesitate about continuing. I don’t want to be critical of someone whom I hold in such high regard, but I felt it was a mistake. I imagine he must have deliberated hard before deciding to do it, but I wonder whether he’s ever regretted it. Anyway, I pressed on and eventually Roland reaches the top of the Dark Tower where awaits a door with his name on it. I won’t say what happens next but it was enough to make me swear in disbelief and want to throw the book at the wall.

I’ll finish on a positive note with a mention of three more favourites. The Talisman, co-authored with another writer I admire, Peter Straub, is a fantasy tale about a boy’s search for a magical amulet that will save his dying mother. Flitting between this world and ‘the Territories’, it’s a fun-filled, dark ride. Pet Sematary contains a scene that scared me more than any other King book. It has made me go back and read it again more than once, and I don’t think I’ve finished with it yet. And, finally, the book if pressed I’d name as my favourite of all Stephen King books. IT takes place in two timelines—late-1950s and mid-1980s—because the eponymous monster feeds on a 27-year cycle. The 50s sequences, when the group of heroes and heroine are aged around eleven or twelve, once again display King’s talents at evoking childhood; downtrodden childhoods, at that, for each of our children is at some disadvantage, perhaps from an abusive parent or speech impediment or obesity. They call themselves the Losers. The 80s sequences take place when the Losers are all grown up, though not all have shaken the self-appointed loser tag. Despite a scene that many readers find, to put it mildly, disconcerting, and an ending that disappoints a little, IT is a nostalgic, horror-filled feast. There are nods to classic villains like Frankenstein’s monster and the werewolf, and it’s a book, despite its brick-like size, I’ve returned to again and again.

The Talisman

I recently did an interview (for another author’s blog) where I was asked to name one person, dead or alive, I’d like to meet. Almost impossible to pick only one from our entire history. In the end, I plumped for Stephen King. Well, I would love to sit and discuss books and writing and films with him over a beer or coffee. Since that’s never likely to happen, at least I still have his books.

Till next time…