There are easier ways to sell books than through blogging

Girl Scout Cookies

At the recent Bloggers Bash, one of the questions asked was why people started blogging. Many bloggers came up with the same answer, because they’d been told they needed to have a blog as an author platform in order to sell their books. When asked if blogging had helped, the answer from everybody was ‘not really,’ and while the answer wasn’t a ‘no,’ it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.

This isn’t my first blog. I started blogging three years ago with another blog all about my writing journey (because nobody had thought of doing that before, right?). Over time I got bored about writing about writing so decided to start this blog where I could write about about anything, and I often did. However, I always had that piece of advice in the back of my mind, an author needs a platform to help promote and sell their books.

Eventually my blogging came full circle and I now blog about writing, or more accurately life as an indie writer as there are many more qualified bloggers out there that can help you with the nuts and bolts of how to actually write. I’ve met many wonderful bloggers, some of whom are novel writers, and I’m sure I’ve sold a handful of books on the back of them getting to know me through this blog.

During this time I’ve also got to know some writers who are making a real success out of self-publishing. I’m not talking about a Hugh Howey level of success but they are selling enough books to either make a living or heavily supplement their income. One thing links all of these writers.

They rarely blog.

Many have blogs but use them as a means to inform of new book launches or as a landing page for their mailing list. Some are active on other forms of social media but many aren’t. I don’t know whether the advice on the importance of an author platform passed them by, or if they chose to ignore it, but very few of them have an interest in building a social media presence. So how on earth did they become successful?

Blogging takes a lot of time and effort. In the two years this blog has been around (I’m ignoring my other one – as most readers did) I’ve written around two hundred posts. Each post varies between 500 and 1000 words in length. Add it all together and it’s the equivalent of nearly two novels worth of words. Then there is the amount of time I’ve spent creating posts, editing posts, replying to comments, not to mention all the time I’ve spent reading and commenting on the many blogs I follow.

I’ve listed below five things I could have been doing instead to sell more books:

1 Set up a stall in my village high street or a local town and harangue passers-by into buying my books

2 Contact all my local libraries and bookshops in an effort to stock or promote my books

3 Work a part-time job to raise money to pay for advertising through book promotion sites, Facebook and Amazon

4 Give them to the Girl Scouts to sell with their cookies for commission

5 WRITE MORE BOOKS

There’s a reason point five is in capitals. While nothing is guaranteed in the self-publishing world, the more books you have published, the more chance you have of your books gaining visibility. I said there was one thing that links the successful authors together but I lied. There are two. All of these writers have released five or more books over the last two or three years. I’ve released two and have a third on the way, but I could have released more if I hadn’t blogged so much.

When these successful writers aren’t actually writing, they work on their marketing instead, either to develop their mailing lists, creating direct promotions through promotional sites or by contacting book reviewers asking for honest reviews in return for a free book. They treat writing as a job rather than a hobby. They don’t wait for inspiration, they work every day regardless of whether they feel like it to not.

Of course, as I’ve said before, doing all of this doesn’t automatically guarantee success, but it increases the chances.

This isn’t to say there aren’t writers who generate sales through blogging. There are a number who do just this, although the majority I know make more money writing books on writing or self-publishing than through their own fiction. There are, however, other ways to increase sales that are less time consuming and with a higher chance of success.

So why should writers blog?

Because it’s a wonderful opportunity to write something different, to let off steam, to connect with like-minded should, to find comfort and community, to help others much earlier in the process than yourself and be helped by those further down the line. It’s a way of making new friends, for discovering excellent books and for improving your craft. It’s a place to be yourself, to be someone else or to be the person you’ve always wanted to be.

Most of all, you should blog because you want to, not because you feel you should. Blogging is a wonderful medium and I don’t regard my time blogging as being a waste, and nor did any of the bloggers I met at the Bloggers Bash. I just wouldn’t recommend it as a way of selling books.

 

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

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KU pages read stats – a new obsession

reading-over-shoulder

image source: bookriot.com

When Amazon announced they were changing their Kindle Unlimited payment scheme from ‘flat rate per loan’ to a payment for each page read there was a lot of debate about its impact on publishing. One thing missed, however, was its impact on authors themselves, specifically being able to ‘see’ people read your work.

When Amazon KDP launched their new scheme they also launched a report allowing authors to see how many page reads were captured per day, and like KDP’s other reports, this one is updated on a regular (hourly?) basis. For many authors, especially those selling at reasonable volumes, the report will show the thousands or tens of thousands of pages read per day in a steady stream. For those of us with more modest sales, the experience is very different.

It took a couple of days before I received my first KU download under the new system. I’d seen the sales rank bump – because I monitor my sales more often than is healthy – and waited with excitement to see the pages read appear on the new report.

And waited.

And waited.

Nothing happened. Perhaps the report has a few teething problems, I thought, or the reader is finishing another book before starting on mine. I tried not to let the lack of activity bother me, but the lack of activity needled me more than I wished to admit. Then, on the second day, the graph had changed. It registered 51 pages read from the day before. Somebody was reading my book!

The most logical thing to do at this point would have been to close the report and get on with my life, but no, I had to know more. So I tried to work out the exact point they had read up to. The Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC) for Second Chance is 524 pages. The print book has 305 pages so at roughly 1.72 KENPC per print page I deduced that the reader had stopped at page 30 or the start of chapter 5. I was thrilled, it’s the point where the multiple threads of the opening chapters start to pull together. They were clearly enjoying the story.

At the same time, another emotion surfaced, one I hadn’t expected. Most authors will recognise the emotional rollercoaster when somebody you know reads your book. On the one hand you’re desperate to find out if they like it but you know it’s bad form to ask – there’s nothing worse than a needy author badgering you for your thoughts on the mine of their book to put you off a story. So whenever you meet your friend you deliberately don’t mention the book but at the same time you hope they bring it up in conversation to satisfy your need for validation.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, watching somebody read my book remotely elicited similar emotions, but this time I had both more and less information to go on. I believed I knew exactly where they’d read up to but had no visual signals, no reassuring smile to comfort me. All I had was the data, so being a story-teller I built my own narrative. In my head they’d loved the book so far and couldn’t wait to read on.

The next day I registered a KENPC of four, the day after that eleven and then a big fat zero. I was mortified. What had gone wrong? My imagination went into overdrive. When I’d first published Second Chance, a number of friends mentioned that it took four or five chapters to get into the story and then boom, everything started to fit together and they were hooked. Yet this reader had got that far and stopped. Did that mean they hated what I’d written? Had they given up and moved onto another book? Had they found it – god forbid – boring? It was torture. What had started as a wonderful new experience to remotely bond with my audience had turned into ego death by a thousand cuts.

Before the new payment process was introduced, all I had to worry about was whether I sold (or rented out) a book or not. Clearly I wanted the reader to enjoy what they’d bought as I had another book for sale and a third on the way, but once a sale was registered, it was a sale. It was a small piece of success, a balm for my ego.

Not any more.

Now I had the agony of watching somebody dump my novel for something more interesting. It took me back to my youth, bringing back feelings of dating the most beautiful girl in high school only to lose them to the football team captain the very next day.*

I woke the next morning and immediately checked my report. I had a KENPC of 485. Woo hoo! The football team captain was clearly a jerk and she loved me all along. I knew it. I’d always had faith in the wonderful, anonymous reader. Doubts? Pah!

Since then my KENPC graph has taken along the look of the Himalayas, with high peaks of many hundreds of pages read to low troughs of none. And it makes sense. For a start, many people don’t read every day, and even if they do they may not necessarily connect their Kindle to the internet until they’re ready to download their next book, only then passing on the data of where they’ve read up to. At the same time I’ve picked up more KU downloads, so it’s become almost  impossible to build a narrative as I’ve no idea whether I’m seeing one person reading 300 pages or one hundred people reading 3 pages (actually, I know it’s not one hundred people at a time – I wish – but you get the point). The point is, my short-term obsession has waned, settling down to monitoring my KENPC score as often as I do my sales (which is still far too frequent than is healthy).

Although it’s early days, I’m finding the new KU payment scheme is much better for me than the old one. I’m only halfway through the month, have had similar downloads than previous months but have made over three times as much money (if the $o.oo6 per KENPC figure widely publicised is correct). I’ve no doubt things will change as the scheme settles down but for the moment I’m happy.

The best part, though, was seeing my first reader, having enjoyed Second Chance so much they’d read it in three days, move on to Absent Souls and do the same thing. At least, that’s the narrative I’ve built in my head and it’s one delusion I’m happy to maintain.

So what about you? Are any of your books in Kindle Unlimited and have you had similar experiences? What are your thoughts about authors being able to remotely look over your shoulder and see what you and other readers have read? I’d love to hear from you.

*This never actually happened in real life, but I’ve seen enough movies to empathise.

 

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

The Kindness of Authors

Kindness

Image Licensed by Creative Commons: source https://www.flickr.com/photos/sweetonveg/

As some of you may know, my background is in business. I spent over 25 years making money for some of the world’s largest corporations. Unlike some, I never found it as a soul-less existence. I enjoyed what I did and I especially enjoyed working with so many great people. When I decided to leave to concentrate on my writing, I knew I would miss my colleagues. It’s a wonderful feeling being part of a group working towards a common goal. Becoming an author, I expected my working life to be more like one man against the world.

Instead I discovered a wonderful community of authors.

 

The best part of writing has been the care and support shown by many hundreds of authors. It was such a surprise. In the world I’d just left, you never spoke to your competitors. You studied them, sure, but only to find weaknesses in their offer to exploit for your own financial benefit. Yet I had so many fellow authors, competitors of mine, offering help and advice, whether in the craft of writing or how to generate more sales.

And some not only gave advice, they actively promoted my books. How was this possible? Surely these authors telling readers to buy my book meant those same readers wouldn’t buy the books of these authors? But I learnt very quickly that publishing is not a zero sum game. There are enough readers to accommodate all of us. Yes, many of us would love to sell more books, but the issue isn’t a lack of readers, it is a lack of awareness, and as us authors help promote each other, we help ourselves too.

Yet I think there is more to this than a simple “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” I’ve had authors I’ve only ever met through blogging and social media give up hours of their time to beta read my books. Not only have they done so willingly, they were thrilled to help. In my recent promotion, many authors shared and promoted what was happening. One author in particular sent out regular tweets to their followers informing them of my promotion, all unasked.

There was even one writer, knowing how much I loved cricket, who offered me tickets to see England play a test match at Lords as they had a ticket going spare. This was a writer I’d never met in person but purely through blogging. I am still bowled over by the kindness of this gesture, and how much fun that day was.

While not all authors are supportive, as not all in life take time to think of others, I’ve encountered so many examples of authors offering help and support to each other and celebrating the success of their peers – from multi-award winning authors down to those just starting out and every level in between –  that I believe there is something in the psychological makeup of writers, possibly linked to our ability to empathise with others, that encourages this warmth and support to each other.

And the best part is, it’s more enjoyable to give than receive. Over a year ago I started my Pay it Forward campaign. It was a little thing, really. I read a lot of books, so it was no hardship changing my reading habits to read more works by either self-published authors or those published via small presses and promoting this I liked, yet the longer it has gone on, the more I’ve enjoyed doing it and offering just a little exposure to those books I feel deserve it.

So the one piece of advice I would give to any new writer is to reach out to other writers. Don’t just read what people have to say, write a comment, get in contact. For the most part I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the reaction you’ll receive.

So what about you? What support have you received from other authors? Is there a particular act that stands out or is it more the ongoing encouragement you find helpful? I’d love to hear from you.

 

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

On Violence in Fiction

Violence

Violence is a very seductive tool in a writer’s arsenal. Most good fiction involves some form of conflict and although not all examples lead to an act, or acts, of violence, most do, including mine, but my thoughts on writing violent scenes have changed during the writing process.

In the first draft of Second Chance I had people committing acts of violence all over the place. There wasn’t an argument that didn’t lead to some form of physical altercation. Characters were swinging at each other at the slightest provocation. Too much sugar in your coffee? Bam! Didn’t like your haircut? Kerpow!* The longer the book went on, the more violent it became.

And it was a blast to write. It had action, pace – there’s nothing more satisfying than ramping up the tension to the point it explodes – and my word count rocketed as I went from one conflict to the next, giggling to myself at my inventiveness.

Then I got to one scene, set in an office, where two characters came to blows and it hit me**. I’d worked in an office environment for 25 years and, despite some very stressful, tense and emotional moments, not once had I seen people come to blows. Not once. I’d seen seething anger, shouting, gritted teeth and exasperation, but never physical violence. It made me ask myself a simple question. Why am I writing in this way?

In the western world we have a very strange relationship with violence. On the screen or in a book, we celebrate violence and those that partake in violence. We justify this hypocritical (and I count myself in this) stance of violence categorising it into two different camps: ‘bad’ violence: strong preying on the weak, and ‘good’ violence: strong stopping the bad people preying on the weak or weak standing up to the strong. On the screen, especially, we glamourise violence by putting it to music and creating almost balletic fight scenes. We cheer the good guys and boo the bad guys. It’s entertainment.

Yet in real life, most of us rightly abhor violence. While not unknown, witnessing violence first-hand is a thankfully rare occurrence and most people are shocked and appalled by violence in even its mildest form.

So why was I writing this way? Why so much violence?

The simple answer was because it was easy. It didn’t take much thought. It meant I didn’t have to deal with nuance, or depth, or any of those other things that are hard to convey in words. Rather than treat a scene realistically it was easier to go straight to the action. It was lazy writing.

I’m not saying all violent scenes are unnecessary, but using violence as the first resort, as opposed to how it is in real life, a last, is pure laziness. And not only that, it’s perpetuating the myth that violence is a solution, as opposed to a failure.

I went back through my manuscript and took out the majority of violent scenes. I searched long and hard for other ways to increase tension, only resorting to violence if there was no other plausible alternative. But at the same time I made another decision. If there was to be violence I wanted it to be realistic. I wanted it to be shocking. I didn’t want it to be toned down, or glamorous, I wanted it to be ugly and brutal. I did this not because I enjoyed writing that way but because I abhor violence.

As writers we have many choices, not just about what we write but how we write it. It’s very seductive to follow the cultural norm, to be swept along with what everyone else is doing without necessarily questioning the consequences of what we do.  By watering down violence in literature***, or even worse glamourising it, I believe we are perpetuating the myth that violence is OK, that it’s not too bad, that it’s honourable.

I realised I wanted to show the true impact of violence and its corrosive effect on society. And not just its effect on the victims of violence, but on those that perpetrate it too. I wanted to show how believing violence is a solution, whether the perpetrator believes it is justified, takes away their humanity. I wanted to strip the glamour from violence to show it for what it is.

Not everybody will agree with me, and not every reader will want to read violence depicted in this fashion, but I believe my books are much better for taking this stance, and my conscience is clearer for writing this way.

So what about you? What is your stand on violence in books, or in your own writing? I’d love to hear from you.

 

* This is an exaggeration but you hopefully get my point.

** Pun intended

*** I’m talking about fiction for adults, I have a different view when it comes to books for children.

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

My writing journey on writing.ie

writing_ie-logo

Yesterday I got an email message asking if I’d be interested in writing an 800 – 1000 word piece about my writing journey for writing.ie, the home of Irish writing online.

“Sure,” I replied. “I’d love to.”

“There’s only one thing. We need it for tomorrow.”

I had a million things to do last night but these are the types of opportunity that don’t come around very often for us indie authors, so I dropped everything and wrote my heart out.

I’m delighted to say the piece was accepted and is now live on the site, along with a teaser on the front page. For those interested, you can access it here.

In the post I get to describe the madness of self-publishers, talk a little bit about how I started writing, as well as pass on a little piece of advice for those thinking of starting on the journey. I hope you enjoy it.

Many thanks to Rebecca and Andrew at Design for Writers for putting the opportunity my way.

The bad, the good and the beautiful of the cover design process

In November I published Absent Souls as an ebook only. This wasn’t because I didn’t have a paperback ready but because I’d planned to have new covers for my books and it made no sense spending extra money on a paperback cover which would only be replaced in a few weeks. Or so I thought.

The need for change

When I first published Second Chance, I couldn’t afford to have a bespoke cover designed and I have the drawing skills of a three-year-old, so I used a pre-made cover service at goonwrite.com. I went on the site, chose a cover I liked, had my book title and author name added and published. If you are looking to publish on a budget, I would thoroughly recommend this approach.

After a couple of weeks I’d sold enough ebook copies to justify buying a paperback cover. It was more expensive, but many people had contacted me asking for a paperback so i knew it would eventually pay itself back.

While I love the cover for Second Chance, I realised quite early on that the combination of title and cover art wasn’t eye-catching enough to attract a reader’s attention, or to convey what the book was about. However, I needed to sell enough copies to justify the expenditure.

The bad

Nine months later and I was in a position to move. I’d done my research, identified a well-respected cover designer who was very busy but was taking on commissions from mid-December. I paid my 50% deposit, was sent a briefing document, completed it and was told it would be 10 working days before I received my first designs, so I happily waited.

And waited.

And waited.

I chased a couple of times, received apologies and the offer of a discount for my trouble, then six weeks after the work started, I received the first designs. They were good, not exactly what I wanted but they showed promise. I sent my feedback as requested and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

I chased on numerous occasions but received no reply. Eventually I was forced to contact Paypal to get my money back, which the designer did quickly and with no complaint. I still have no idea what went wrong.

The good

It was now three months since the process had started, four months since Absent Souls was published and I was still no closer to having the new covers I needed. I started to research online once again and saw this post by Julie Stock, raving about the cover for her new book, From Here to Nashville. I looked up the site of her designers, Design for Writers, and liked what I saw. I contacted them and as luck would have it they were able to slot me in for mid-April.

I was clearly nervous after my last experience but I was soon put at my ease. the briefing process was so much more refined. I was asked questions about the book, the story, the lead characters, but also about how the book makes readers feel, the atmosphere it creates, the type of book covers I like and why, and those I don’t, along with many, many more. Where my answers weren’t clear, Andrew – the designer – asked pertinent questions to help me think about what I was looking for.

The team at Design for Writers use basecamp to manage their projects, so I had access to anything that was said at any time and knew exactly what was going on. There was interaction, and lots of it, and best of all Andrew positively encouraged ideas,  but was also not afraid to say when things wouldn’t work and why. I told them to design the covers I need, not necessarily what I wanted. Thankfully they delivered on both counts. If you are ever looking for cover designers, I couldn’t recommend Design for Writers enough.

The beautiful

So here is the end result. These are my beautiful new covers. For those of you who’ve read my books, hopefully what you see will correspond with what you’ve read (although please don’t give away any details).

dfw-dsh-1sc-cover-middfw-dsh-2as-cover-mid

 

The paperbacks for Second Chance and Absent Souls have been updated and are now available to purchase, the ebooks are in process of having their selling pages updated in the next day or so. I’ve also included the full paperback spreads below as I think they’re truly stunning.

dfw-dsh-1sc-cover-spread low res dfw-dsh-2as-cover-spread low res

 

So what do you think? Do you like my covers? If you’re a writer, how did you go about getting your covers designed? Was it a bad, good or beautiful experience? I’d love to hear from you.

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

 

Pay it Forward – Beta Reading

Pay it forward

There are many ways an author can Pay it Forward to the writing community. The regular followers of this blog know I like to but books from fellow self-published authors and promote those I’ve most enjoyed via my Recommended Reads. This is a great way of giving something back to those who’ve supported you as a writer, either directly or indirectly, but I understand it can be cost prohibitive to some. However, there is another way authors can support authors, and that’s through beta reading.

The more eagle-eyed of you will have spotted I’ve not posted a new recommendation recently. This isn’t because I’ve been slacking with my reading but because I’ve taken the opportunity while my current WIP is resting to beta read for a couple of authors.

What is beta reading?

Beta reading is where you read an early version of a manuscript in order to identify the things that work and the things that don’t – from a reader’s perspective. The goal is to provide the author with information about their book which they can’t see themselves because they are too close to the story. The typical areas to proved feedback on are plot, pacing, characterisation, and prose.

My rules of beta reading

Providing any kind of feedback to an author is a sensitive area. There needs to be an element of openness and trust for it to work well. Because of this, there are certain unwritten rules I always try to take into account when beta reading:

  • Be honest. You’re job is to help the author produce the best book possible. Shying away from criticism doesn’t help the author. If something doesn’t work, tell the, but also tell them why. The same goes for when something comes across well. While a beta read will mostly pick up on the areas for improvement, it’s important to highlight the areas that work well.
  • Make sure the book is in a genre with which you’re familiar. There’s nothing worse than being asked to provide, or receiving, feedback from somebody who clearly doesn’t love the genre or style you’re writing in.
  • Judge the book from the perspective of its target audience. If you are reading a YA or MG novel, don’t complain at the unrealistic lack of custards or visceral description.
  • Ask if there is anywhere in particular on which to concentrate. Sometimes a writer will have concerns about certain scenes in their book, either because it isn’t working, or as I had in Second Chance, because of the nature of the content. Make sure you’re aware of these beforehand so you can give them your full attention.
  • Explain your own strengths and weaknesses beforehand. When I beta read I’m good at judging the tone and pacing of a novel, OK at characterisation but poor at picking up typos or grammar issues (I can just see my editor nodding his head in agreement). Let the author know where you can and can’t help, so they have the chance to get the other areas checked elsewhere.
  • Remember you’re trying to help the author write their book. It can be very easy to fall into the trap of looking at how you would write the book or make changes to the storyline. This isn’t the goal of beta reading. Saying you didn’t like the ending because it didn’t provide closure for character X is good feedback. Saying you disliked the ending because if you’d written the book character X would have ridden that candy-coloured unicorn into the sunset instead of carried on as a janitor, is not.
  • Yours is only one opinion. Good authors ask feedback from many sources because everybody has a different opinion. When I’m writing, if all my beta readers say there is a problem in a certain scene, I’ll know it’s an issue. If only one does, while another loves the same scene, I know I need to use my judgement. Don’t be surprised if the author doesn’t take everything you say on board.
  • Don’t forget to question? If you are unsure about something, ask the question. As a reader you miss things so there may be times where a simple ‘have you mentioned this before?’ is much better than complaining about an issue that isn’t there.

How do I feedback?

What I like to do is provide a report looking at the different areas – plot, pacing, characterisation, and prose – so the author has a clear idea of the major areas to focus on. I then like to send back the actual document if possible, with comments, so the author can see exactly where things could be improved, or areas I particularly love. My document comments tend to be a little more direct than in the report, because they are how I felt at the time, but this is no different to how I would assess my own work.

The benefits of beta reading

Beta reading is hard work but very rewarding. Not only does it provide really useful support for your fellow authors, it also helps you improve your own writing too. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve picked up an area for improvement in an author’s work, only to realise I’ve done the same thing myself. I know my writing has improved since I started beta reading.

Because it can be a lot of work, most writers find it difficult to locate good, experienced beta readers. Yet writers are the best beta readers around, so offering somebody the chance to read their work is an enormous favour. At the same time, be understanding if you ask somebody to beta read for you and they turn you down. The only reason I’m beta reading at the moment is because I have a short writing break. In a couple of weeks I’ll be back to purely concentrating on my own book.

So, if you are looking for another way of Paying It Forward to your fellow writers, why don’t you offer up your services as a beta reader? Not only will you be providing invaluable help, you might get to learn something about your own writing too.

 

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

 

A Year of Paying It Forward

Pay it forward

A year ago almost to the day I had an epiphany. At the time I was spending an awful lot of effort encouraging people to buy my recently published book, Second Chance, but realised every book I’d bought myself up until that point was published by one of the major publishers. I’d not bought, or read, an indie book, yet here I was trying to persuade others to buy mine.

The reason for not buying indie wasn’t snobbery but laziness. I bought books from authors I knew. I rarely tried anything new, and it was even rarer for me to read outside of my favourite genre comfort zone. Yet I’d received lots of support from the indie writing community, both how to write and publish a book, as well as lifting me up when my spirits were down. I knew I wanted to do something to pay the community back and support my fellow writers. This was when Pay It Forward was born.

The concept was, and is, simple. I buy books from my fellow indie authors. I started with those that supported the writing community (although not necessarily me specifically), giving them a much needed sale and chart position boost. As a bonus, I would promote those books I really enjoyed on this blog as well as leaving reviews on Amazon (.com & .co.uk) and Goodreads.

In the year since I’ve bought sixty-one indie books and been given another three for free. Of those I’ve read all but seven. They have varied in genre and style from thrillers to chick-lit, cosy mysteries to literary fiction, along with a number of books from my beloved fantasy and science fiction. Most have been novels but I’ve also discovered a love for the short story form I never knew I had.

There isn’t a single book I’ve regretted purchasing.

That doesn’t mean I’ve enjoyed them all, but I know each purchase has given a boost, if just a small one, to writers who deserve it. Pay It Forward has been a wonderful experience and one I recommend for any indie author. I’ve not only enjoyed some wonderful books and broadened my reading palette, I’ve also got to know some of a number of those writers along the way and consider some of them as friends.

Out of the 54 books read, I’ve loved 32 of them enough to recommend them on this blog, which in my eyes puts paid to the nonsense that all self-published books are rubbish. In fact, as time’s gone on my criteria for recommending a book has tightened, and while I stand by every recommendation I’ve made, there are books I’ve recently read and haven’t recommended that may have made the cut when I first started this process, which shows just how good many of these books are.

The other thing that’s changed is that I now also Pay It Forward to books by supportive authors that are published via a small press as I’ve learnt in the past year that it’s just as difficult for these authors to get noticed as it is for us indies.

So if you’re an author who’s benefitted from the wonderfully supportive indie community and would like to give something back, I cannot recommend Paying It Forward enough. All you need to do to get going is purchase one book. Start with a book an author who’s supported you in some way, either directly or indirectly, and then broaden from there. Don’t be afraid to try genres you wouldn’t normally read, you might be surprised. I’m not guaranteeing you’ll enjoy every book you buy, but I’m sure there’ll be many you will, and if you do, don’t forget to let the world know.

My favourite Recommended Reads from the past year

Below are my favourite indie books from the past year. This doesn’t mean I enjoyed them more than any of the others that I’ve read but they are the ones that have somehow stuck with me and that I’ve thought of most often. I heartily recommend you give them a try.

The cover of the book Duck, showing a picture of a bomb on an orange backgroundDuck by Stephen Parolini

“Duck is a short story about Thomas Lingonberry, a young boy growing up in 1950’s USA who’s life changes when a bomb lands on his desk. We follow Thomas on his journey of love and discovery, as the fallout from that day resonates through. It is a wonderful and warmly written coming-of-age tale. Stephen Parolini draws you into a world which while alien to someone of my age and nationality was also strangely familiar. He brings to life beautifully the memory of young love and my only complaint was that it ended.”

You can buy Duck from Amazon.co.uk here and from Amazon.com here.

othellasmallerOthella by Therin Knite

“This book works on two levels. On the one hand it is a fast-paced, science-fiction thriller, on the other a treatise on the moral grey area of the good of the whole over the good of the individual. Knite’s writing style is tight, hard-edged and uncompromising; as if Raymond Chandler decided to have a go at re-imagining Hunger Games. I was hooked from first page to the brutal finale.”

“I’ve read and enjoyed many self-published novels but this is the first one I wish I’d written. I cannot wait for its sequel.”

Othella by Therin Knite is available from all major ebook retailers. To buy click here

yesterday road small-coverYesterday Road by Kevin Brennan

“This is a beautiful book. In Yesterday Road, Brennan has created a unique tale that is warm-hearted and generous in spirit. As the story progressed it became very easy to form a bond with each of the main characters: Joe Easterhouse conveys the warmth and love like so many people with Downs Syndrome have, and Ida Peevey is the person we all hope we would be in a similar situation. But the true strength of Brennan’s writing comes is shown when we travel with Jack and see the world through his eyes. This combination of childlike wonder and regret at what he has forgotten, gives the story it’s warmth, humour and poignancy.”

To buy Yesterday Road from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Yesterday Road from Amazon.com click here

The Me You See largeThe Me You See by Shay Ray Stevens

“Stevens has successfully pieced together a compelling narrative based around the memories of Stefia’s friends and family. The timeline jumps back and forth, covering important events from Stefia’s life, each a step along the path to the opening shooting. What would be confusing in the hands of another author flows effortlessly due to Stevens’ skilful handling of both plot and characterisation. Each new character’s perspective feels real and unique, not an easy thing to do. It was very easy to become engrossed in the mystery of what happened. As new aspects of Stefia’s personality and life were revealed, I found myself racing through the pages to find out more.”

To buy The Me You See from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy The Me You See from Amazon.com click here

gzcoverfinal-smallerGreen Zulu 51 by Scott Whitmore

“Green Zulu 51 (and other stories from the Vyptellian War) is listed as a set of short stories set in a future world where one of old Earth’s colonies finds itself embroiled in a war with a relentless alien aggressor.”

“Whitmore has a wonderfully natural style, clearly bringing in a lot of his own military experience to the fore in painting the very ancient experience of life on the front line in a futuristic war. Each character has their own perspectives, are well rounded and immediately draw you into their world. While the battles (whether in space or on the ground) are well written and compelling, it is the human stories that make this book a stand out.”

To buy Green Zulu 51 from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Green Zulu 51 from Amazon.com click here

The Whisper of StarsThe Whisper of Stars by Nick Jones

“With The Whisper of Stars, Nick Jones has combined detective, espionage and near-future dystopian thriller genres to produce a cracking story that is both compelling and makes you think about the challenges we face in the future. Each chapter draws you into the world Jones has created, one that is both futuristic and very, very real, with neural implants rubbing shoulders with a night down the pub with friends. As the story progresses Jones gradually reveals a dark vision of the future, where those in power are forced to make difficult decisions which in turn become further corrupted by the desire to manipulate and control.”

To buy The Whisper of Stars from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy The Whisper of Stars from Amazon.com click here

On hearing of my mother's death six years after it happenedOn Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened by Lori Schafer

“A heart-wrenching look into life of the author, as a teenaged girl, being raised by a mother with mental illness, written plainly but beautifully, with no embellishment or self-justification. By the end you feel in awe of the author for having survived the ordeal, although as is made clear, it’s not clear if the effects of the experience have ever actually ended.”

To buy On Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy On Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened from Amazon.com click here

 

Reedsy: a new resource for writers

Reedsy

As most indie writers know, self-publishing is a misnomer. Along with the moral support of friends and family, most of us need the help of beta readers, editors, proofreaders, cover designers and a whole host of others to produce a quality book. But as a new writer it can be incredibly hard to know where to start when looking for professional support.

This is the gap Reedsy is looking to fill. It is an online marketplace where authors can find the best freelance editors and designers. This is from their Press Release:

Publishing startup Reedsy has launched the first tightly curated online marketplace of publishing professionals, enabling authors to find and collaborate with top book editors and designers. Since the site launched in 2014, over one thousand authors have already signed up. The site has transformed current indie publishing models, creating a system whereby freelancers are approached by authors based on work and experience as opposed to price.

Authors sign up for free, and can then search for whichever freelance service they desire. The search can be refined through type of service offered and genre specialisation. Once you have selected a freelancer, the site lists an overview of the person and services they offer, any relevant qualifications, professional accreditations, work experience and portfolio.

If you decide to go ahead and use their service Reedsy take a 10% fee on each transaction, but that is all.

To me this looks like something that could be of interest to many authors, as well as freelancers looking to increase their customer base. At the moment the site has 200 freelancers listed, predominantly under editorial and design, but I expect to see the list grow as word starts to spread. At the moment there are over 1000 authors registered, although I don’t know how many transactions have taken place.

You can see from the site that a service market place is only the start of what Reedsy would like to offer. There is a lot of functionality which has yet to be brought online, but if the team deliver what they say they want to, I think it will be an important resource for both writers and freelancers in the future.

As an author, I would like to see an indication of pricing, or price banding, to prevent a lot of wasted time as authors contact suppliers only to find they are out of their price range. It would be good for those that have used the freelancer’s services to be able to leave comments or a rating, as at the moment there isn’t a great mechanism to distinguish between one freelancer and another. However, with the demands from readers for an ever more professional product, I can see real value in this type of service.

To find out more about Reedsy, you can visit their website here: www.reedsy.com

Disclaimer: I have only used Reedsy to investigate their site; I’ve not purchased any of the services on offer. Reedsy approached me to talk about their site and future plans but the choice to produce a blog was mine and Reedsy had no editorial input. I did not receive payment or incentives to write this blog.

On completing a first draft

ticker tape

licensed under Creative Commons 2.0: source http://www.flickr.com/photos/iluvgadgets/

If you are passing Suffolk at any point today, you may hear the odd scream of joy or bought of hysterical laughter. After what seems like years (but has only been three months), the first draft of Genesis Redux – The Transcendence Trilogy Part 3, is complete.

I don’t know about you, but for me, writing a first draft us a little like taking exams or buying a house – it’s only once you’ve finished that you realise just how much stress you’ve been under. This has been especially true of Genesis Redux.

With Second Chance I went into the process blind. The challenge was to write a book. The first draft was fun because I placed absolutely no expectations on myself. It was only after a number of people read it and told me it was good, that the pressure mounted to get it into a good enough shape to publish.

Absent Souls was different again. This time I had some pressure because Second Chance had been so well received, but at the same time I felt comfortable with my writing process. Whereas Second Chance was a journey into the unknown, Absent Souls was a trip with old friends, the sort where you get to know each other at a far deeper level than before. By this point I had an idea where the series was going, but not necessarily how it got there, so I had the freedom to play around a little and see what happened. The good news is that so far fans of the series have loved the journey too.

With Genesis Redux, however, there has been pressure from the start. It’s the final part in the series, and although each book can be read (and enjoyed) as a standalone novel, it was important that I brought all the major plot lines to a satisfactory conclusion. This has proven to be difficult. It has taken a while for me to find a way to reach an ending that stays true to the characters without feeling contrived. I’ve probably discarded more scenes in this first draft than I ever have before, because I knew I was putting plot before characterisation, forcing my characters to do things that didn’t come naturally.

At the same time, I needed to have the draft finished by the end of this month for personal reasons, and only a few weeks back this looked unachievable. However, I’ve ended up with a completed first draft with which I’m mostly happy (which with first drafts, is a good space to be in).

Of course, any of you who have written a book know that ‘completed’ as far as first drafts is concerned is a misnomer. There are so many things left to do. I have locations I need to change and expand upon, I have plot threads I need to backtrack into earlier parts of the novel and I have themes that emerged towards the end of the novel that need to be tweaked and highlighted in earlier scenes. I also have to follow character timelines to ensure they haven’t miraculously recovered from injuries which happened only moments – but a few chapters – earlier, or manic mood swings with no apparent cause. There are motivations to assess and monitor, behaviours too. And of course there is the all important pacing to consider. And after all that there’s polishing, lots and lots of polishing.

Yet despite all this, editing is the process I love the best. While I enjoy the freedom of the first draft, I’m not the most creative person when faced with a blank page. I’m much better adapting something that already exists. I find I generate more ideas during the edit than I do while writing the first draft. The biggest challenge is to know which ones to include and which to ignore.

I can’t wait to start the editing process, but for it to be effective waiting is what I’ll be doing. I’ve learnt through experience I need to leave my draft at least a month, preferably six weeks, so when I read it back it feels like reading another’s writing, and that’s when I edit the best. So in the mean time I get to work on something new. For the first time in nearly three years I get to think of something other than the Transcendence Trilogy universe. I’m quite looking forward to it. But before that, I’m going to celebrate.

What about you? What’s your favourite part of the writing process? Are you like me and love the edit, or do you enjoy the freeform creativity of the first draft? Are you happy to leave a draft knowing there is work still left to be done, or do you have to correct all plot points before you’re ready to move on? I’d love to hear from you.

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