OK, so it’s been a while. But every so often a man needs to diversify a little to placate the bank manager, if you know what I mean.
No? Not to worry, on with the news:
Firstly, the fabulous Catherine O’Brien has completed audio narration of ‘The Ley Lines of Lushbury’ – available NOW from Audible/Amazon
Secondly, the awesome Wayne Farrell is, even as we speak, putting the finishing touches to the first in the DCI Brendan Moran Crime series to hit Audio, ‘Black December’ – available very soon from Audible/Amazon – of course, in the meantime you can always read the paperback or Kindle or Kobo versions … spoiled for choice, I’d say. More news very soon …
The Past isn’t over. Yet.
The idea was very straightforward:
Buy some stock, get a small display unit/table, bring the laptop. Use a few posters. print some flyers.
Find a comfortable slot in the town centre. Chat to the public. Sign and sell some books.
Busking, but with books.
The local council said: ‘Sorry, we only have six street trader licenses to give out and they’re all allocated.’
The Oracle Shopping Mall said: ‘Sure, but you have to use one of our display units. We only rent them for a week and the rental price is £1000’.
I’m working on a solution because these licensing and rental restrictions/impositions are crazy. Free enterprise? Where?
Anyone else thought of/had issues with doing this? Let’s talk!
DCI Brendan Moran returns in the sequel to ‘Creatures of Dust’. The title is ‘Death Walks Behind you’ and the novel will be published in early 2015. In the meantime, here is the prologue …
Linda Harrison wouldn’t have described herself as an outdoor type but she did enjoy her early morning perambulations, a word her husband had mischievously coined to describe her regular forays into Cernham Woods. Linda and Matthew were a dog couple, the proud owners of a hyperactive Cocker Spaniel and a pair of young Boxers. Linda was only too aware that to forgo their morning constitutional would mean that the three would spend the rest of the day tearing the house apart, a reality she’d had to deal with on more than one occasion when illness or practical necessity had conspired to keep her indoors. Matt knew this, of course, but persisted with his teasing as though her morning routine was little more than some selfish indulgence.
‘Pippa! Stop that!’ Her thoughts were interrupted as the young Spaniel plunged into one of Cernham’s many puddles. ‘Out!’ Linda scolded the bitch who was clearly having a wonderful time. ‘Not another bath, I can’t believe it! You are one high maintenance dog, girl.’ Alf and Bennie, the Boxers, sniffed around the puddle’s perimeter. Thank goodness they weren’t water dogs like Pippa.
Linda strode on, wrapping her scarf more securely around her neck. Although the year was turning and Spring was imminent the dank air held little pretence of warmth. As she turned onto the path by the farmer’s field she shivered, a long, body-shaking shiver that left her wishing for the warmth of her wood-burning stove. Matt was a great wood cutter and she took comfort in the knowledge that their log pile would last well into the new season. Linda smiled to herself as she thought of her husband’s ritualistic autumn preparations: chopping and splitting, hewing and stacking, his lean, wiry frame stalking the garden, axe in hand and a glint in his eye.
‘Come on, guys!’ she called the dogs after her. There were few folk around this morning, but it was dull and misty so Linda wasn’t particularly surprised. Sensible people would wait for the sun to burn off the mist before braving the elements, besides, many of the dog walkers with whom she came into regular contact only appeared in the woods after the school run, or later in the day before the teatime chores were squared up to. No school runs for us, though, Linda said quietly to herself. At forty-two the sands of time had pretty much run out for Linda and Matt. No amount of IVF, dietary regimes or periods of intense sexual activity had made the slightest difference to her body’s flat refusal to conceive. Still, they had each other, the dogs, a nice house, Matt’s secure job in town. All in all, much to be thankful for.
Footsteps behind interrupted her reverie. She turned and acknowledged the half-grunted ‘morning’ as a cagouled shape walked by, green Wellingtons slapping on the muddy farm path. Not one of the regulars. And no dog. Linda deliberately slowed her pace to put a comfortable distance between herself and the stranger. She never worried about walking on her own, but it was wise to be vigilant. She stopped altogether at the next gap in the hedgerow to watch the mist rolling across the fields. It was a beautiful, almost other-worldly sight. A kite called mournfully for its mate somewhere high above and she felt a warm sweep of contentment. This was England, her England and no one would shift her from it. You could keep the holiday cottages in Tuscany and the South of France. This was her country and she loved it, whatever the weather. Pippa appeared at her feet, sniffing and whimpering. ‘What’s up, girl?’ She bent to stroke the spaniel’s head. ‘Where are the two B’s?’
She peered ahead, looking for the Boxers. No sign. That was unusual; they usually stuck together, never roaming too far as Pippa was prone to do.
‘Alf? Benny?’ She picked up her stride and followed the path away from the field into the woods. ‘Come on, guys, where are you?’ She rounded a corner where the path twisted away towards the chalk pits. Aha. Behind a tree. A flash of movement. ‘Alf?’
As she drew nearer, a shape detached itself from the shadows and blocked her way. The walker she had seen a few minutes ago. Or was it? The face was covered, didn’t look right . . . She drew back in alarm, looked around for her dogs. Where were they when she needed them? The mist was thicker here; for a moment she thought her imagination was playing tricks, but then she saw the figure again just ahead, standing perfectly still. It was shaped like a man, but – somehow it wasn’t right . . .
Linda’s heart was pounding. Should she turn and run? She felt the Boxers’ chain around her neck and her fingers went to unclasp it. The next moment something had reached out of the fog and caught her by the arm.
Linda pulled away with a strength born of sheer terror. She felt fingers grasping at her coat, a brief scrabbling resistance and then she was free, stumbling and flailing through the trees, branches whipping and stinging her face. Don’t look back, she told herself, don’t . . .
She ran until she felt as if her lungs would explode. Disoriented, she came to a halt, pressed her back against the trunk of a silver birch and scanned the woodland for signs of pursuit. The woods were eerily still. Where were the dogs? She daren’t call them. Calm, Lin, calm …Linda’s breath gradually slowed to something approaching normal. Where was she? In her headlong flight she had lost all sense of direction. She began to walk cautiously to where a gap in the trees suggested one of the many walker-trodden paths might intersect with her present location. And then she heard it: the soft crunch of leaves underfoot, the slow searching tread . . .
Oh no, please . . . Linda bent low, darted away into the undergrowth. After a few seconds she recognised where she was; close to one of the smaller chalk pits. She remembered an ancient tree perched on the edge of the pit, its roots forming a knotted cage beneath the lip. If she could find it, slip inside, curl up, cover herself with leaves . . . she almost stumbled over the edge of the pit in her terror. Where was the tree? Was it as she had remembered? Yes …there…
Half slipping, sliding down the chalk face she grabbed at the roots and checked herself. There was just enough space. Heart thumping she squeezed in and lay down in the nest of foliage, sweeping handfuls of leaves over her legs and torso. For a while there was no sound except birdsong, the occasional scamper of a rabbit or squirrel. Then she heard it. Slap, slap, slap . . . marking the perimeter of the chalk pit. She lay still, hardly daring to breath. The footsteps circled once, twice. And then receded.
Linda shivered. How long should she wait? A few minutes, maybe . . . what was that? Something skittering into the chalk pit, snorting, rooting around. A dog . . . oh no, no…
A wet nose appeared through the mesh of roots. A spaniel’s nose. No, Pippa. No . . . She reached for the dog but the bitch backed away, alarmed to find a large moving object half-buried in the mulchy floor of the chalk pit. Pippa barked, and barked again.
No . . .
Linda grabbed at the roots to extricate herself but a cold hand slid between them and caught her deftly by the leg. She screamed and tried to pull back but the grip was inexorable and her voice was muted by the mist. As she was dragged into the open she made a grab for the scarf hiding her attacker’s face but he was strong and strangely elusive, moving with an assured, swaying gracefulness. Her heart skipped in fright as she saw that his head was oddly misshapen, stubby, antler-like protrusions jutting from the skull … then he was behind her, twisting her arm, making her gasp at the sudden, shocking pain. She felt something snap and the pain intensified. Probing, abrasive fingers slid around her neck, squeezing and palpating her flesh. She kicked back once, twice, tried to catch hold of his clothing but he was quick, far too quick and her hands were left clutching at the empty air.
The pressure on her neck increased, her legs thrashed once, twice and then became limp as she gave in to the inevitable.
I’m going to die …
Linda felt resistance go out of her like the final sigh from a pricked balloon; she was floating now, embracing the darkness. Somewhere far away she heard the shrill, whistling call of the Kite as it plunged and dipped in the gusting thermals high above, searching intently for its prey.
You can pre-order Death Walks Behind You from the Kobo Bookstore
Or Odius Moperandi, as my Great Uncle Quentin used to say whilst throwing liberal bucketfuls of Flash over the kitchen floor…
Sorry, it must be the heat. Not used to this sort of weather in Blighty.
Anyway, I digress. The question is, ‘How do you write?’.
I don’t mean how as such; I mean, I know you use a laptop or an iPad or something similar (a sheet of paper and a pen? No, really? Is your name Philip Pullman? He of the twisted theology…? Hang on, I’m not going down that route…)
No, I mean ‘How do you write?’
Do you sit for three immobile, disciplined hours, churning it out, or are you like me? One paragraph and I’m up, walking around, talking to myself, scaring the dog or maybe boiling the kettle. (On a bad day I could even be boiling the dog and scaring the kettle).
I have a bad case of restless writer syndrome. I’ve just made that up but I’ve got it big time, for sure.
I prod the keyboard, coax a little dialogue from my characters and then retreat to leave them to it. Am I expecting them to carry on the conversation while I’m away? Who knows? Maybe I’m hoping they’ll sort the plot out for me in my absence.
No chance. When I return, mug in hand and scalded dog in tow, the last words I committed to paper are still there. Followed by a great deal of white space.
And so I write a little more. And then repeat. And so on.
A painful way to write a book? Well it probably is for the dog, granted, but I can’t do it any other way.
Do I need professional help?
Answers on a very small piece of paper to:-
PS Here’s a book I actually finished …
Originally published on Indie author Rachel Abbot’s blog.
So, you want to be an Indie Author. Where do you begin?
The Beginning . . .
• Write a great book in a genre that people want to read
This is a really obvious one but you are making life very hard, if not impossible, for yourself if you try to promote a book that nobody is interested in. ‘Drain filtration in Lower Basildon’ may be the subject of endless fascination for you and one or two others, but you have to be realistic. It goes without saying that, for fiction, the story must be compelling, the characters must fascinate and the theme must be something your readers can relate to.
• Don’t rely on friends for feedback
Sure, they’ll say lovely things about your book, but they are not professionals. You may be in for a shock if you use only friends as a yardstick by which to judge the merits of your masterpiece. Amazon readers are a discerning bunch and they won’t pull any punches. You have been warned!
• So, if you can afford it, employ a reputable book critique service
I thoroughly recommend Hilary Johnson’s Author Advisory service. Hilary and her team know what it takes to write a great novel and the tips and lessons I learned from these professionals have proved invaluable. It is an expense, yes, but I would suggest that you use this or a similar service at least for your first novel. You will save yourself a lot of trouble and heartache; first timers make mistakes – often basic ones. As a novice, you need a helping hand to begin with. Then, and only then, will you be able to freewheel on your own. When I started I couldn’t ‘get’ the viewpoint thing (a tricky mechanism to master). Hilary put me right on that and a number of other fundamental problems with my work which I have kept in mind as I moved forward to new projects.
• Make sure you proofread your manuscript. More than once
Seriously, enough said. Oh, all right then, I’ll say a bit more, but really . . .
‘The trouble with Indie novels,’ Mr X of Yarmouth says, ‘is that they’re not professionally edited. I was reading one the other day and you wouldn’t believe the typos in the first chapter! I had to get my red editing pen out and . . . ’
Rest assured, this gentleman will not be reading any more of your books. And if he decides to post a scathingly negative review you may well lose potential customers. I’m not saying that the odd poor review will wreck your sales figures for ever, but why take the risk? Get it right first time.
• Don’t proofread on screen. Print out the MS and proofread the paper copy
This is a weird phenomenon. For some reason our brains are wired to pick up typos on screen far less efficiently that we do on paper. Must be the old school mentality dying hard. Try it – I bet you’ll find it’s true for yoo, I mean you.
• Better still, employ a good proofreader
I am very fortunate to have a lovely lady by the name of Louise Maskill to proofread my manuscripts. An independent reader is of incalculable benefit. You may not realise it but you are often way too close to your manuscript to pick up the most glaring error, omission or even plot hole. Louise has sorted out a veritable cornucopia of my disasters: clumsy expressions, continuity errors, timeline problems, wrong assumptions, plain old typos and so much more.
• Make sure your book blurb is appealing, brief and to the point
Hook ‘em in ten seconds. Make it punchy, exciting and unusual if you can. ie ‘Narrowly escaping death in a bloody skirmish with an Irish war band, Marius is forced to undertake a hazardous journey . . .’ etc. Finish the blurb on a cliff-hanger if you can, perhaps with a question, ie ‘Can Marius rescue his daughter and survive against overwhelming odds?’
Take your time with the blurb; it’s the ‘selling’ mechanism of your book. If you can’t get it right, there are copywriters out there who will do it for you – at a price of course. But come on, now! You are a writer, are you not? So stick with it and it’ll come good with a little patience and a spot of author tlc. (Have a break; eat a hot cross bun/bar of choccy/ice cream . . . you know you want to . . .)
• Make sure your formatting is correct. Use the right template
As Indies, we are competing with professional authors and publishers. We owe it to ourselves and to our readers to ensure that we produce the best possible quality books. We don’t want to give Indie publishing a bad name. We want the fact that our books are independently published to be transparent to our readers. They don’t want to have to squint at wacky fonts, or wonder why there are no blank lines between scene changes, and so on.
CreateSpace have a good selection of Word templates for various paperback sizes. Download the appropriate template and away you go.
• Make sure your introductory pages (front matter) are correctly ordered
Look in any published paperback to see where the acknowledgements, dedications, etc are placed and do the same.
• Get your page numbering right!
No excuses. There are many helpful forums out there to help you with the vagaries and peculiarities of MS Word. Drop ‘em a line and be patient. You’ll get there in the end – if I can do it, you can too!
NB Page numbers do not normally appear on front matter, or on pages introducing a new section or part of your book. Make sure the numbers follow on correctly, in sequence.
• Make sure your cover is professionally designed AND looks good as a thumbnail
My advice here is not to attempt to design your own cover – unless you are a graphic designer, of course. There are lots of packages out there which promise great results, but you really have to have artistic flair and good skills with the requisite software package to pull it off. Don’t be tempted by ‘off the shelf’ cover templates either. Don’t, just don’t go there, OK? You are unique. Your writing is unique, so come on; make sure you nail a brilliantly unique cover design!
Remember that most punters are initially attracted to your book by the cover. It’s not fair that this should be the case, but life’s not fair. It has to look good as a thumbnail. Keep it simple. Make it striking. Tell your designer what you are looking for. Don’t be afraid to ask for revisions. Sign off when you are happy with the result.
Oh, and make sure your website URL goes on the back cover.
Marketing . . .
• Find local book clubs and reading groups in your area.
Ask them if they would like you to come along and give a talk, or just chew the fat about writing, reading, publishing and so on. Bring copies of your book – you may sell a few!
• Print business cards
Give them out at the book clubs you visit. Keep them on you at all times. Make sure your email address, Twitter and Facebook ids are clearly visible. Make sure the card looks good (apply the same principle as you did for your book cover). People will keep a business card, but that piece of paper you scribbled your details on will be bin-bound within the hour . . .
• Have a Facebook fan page
This is an essential piece of kit. Use it to connect with your readers. They will feel more involved with you as a person and with your writing. But don’t spam people all the time about your books. It will have a negative effect, trust me.
• Use Twitter sensibly
That means no spam about your book. Spam is when you drop Tweets like confetti and they’re all about YOU! (You can tell I don’t like spam, right?). Tempting though it may be to tweet twenty times a day exhorting people to buy your novel, don’t do it. It’s the surest way to alienate your public and lose followers. By all means respond to questions about your writing and refer followers to your website, new publications, books for sale on Amazon/Kobo etc. Now I do a fair amount of book promo via Twitter and I can’t claim that I have the balance right, but I am at least aware of the possibility of just annoying readers rather than enticing them. Chat, communicate, be friendly. Offer good advice (as I hope this is!)
• Make sure you have a professionally designed website
This I think is vital. It’s your primary connection to your readers. It should showcase all your available books, and most importantly, a link to buy. It should also have a contact form, and an ‘About’ page. You’ll need to post frequent updates to make sure that people revisit the site. Provide a mailing list option (try Aweber) and send out monthly bulletins, offer something useful or enjoyable like a free book/short story/bar of chocolate …
• Use services such as BookBuzzr cautiously
Have a look and see what’s on offer. Some facilities are helpful, others not. Don’t set up an auto-spammer re Twitter (see above)
• Price your book realistically
This is an endless debate. Should we sell ourselves and our work cheaply? Or do we price according to an equivalent ‘traditionally published’ novel? In my view, and in my experience, the public (especially the Brits) love a bargain. When I reduced my novel, ‘The Trespass’ from £1.23 to 0.99p it shot into the Amazon top 100 and went on to achieve a highest position of number 14 in the Amazon paid charts.
OK, so the royalty is correspondingly lower at 35% rather than 70%, but 70% of no sales is still 0.00p. I have found that readers are happy to take a punt at a book and author they are not familiar with if the price is right. And that price seems to be 0.99p. Have a go. Experiment to find the optimum price point for your book. Once you have an appreciative readership they will understand that authors have to make a living and won’t begrudge paying a reasonable price for your book. I’m currently charging £2.99 for the Brendan Moran Crime series books, which is the same price you’d pay for a cup of coffee in the high street. It’s not bad is it?
• Choose the correct distribution options
If you want to get your printed book into Waterstones, you’ll need to make sure that whichever distribution package you pick will register your book with Gardners. This is the wholesalers where Waterstones order their stock. If your book is not registered with Gardners it won’t appear in the Waterstones database, and consequently you will not be able to offer yourself for a book signing at any of their stores. (See below).
• Ask your local Waterstones if they are happy for you to do a book signing **
I did just that at my local Waterstones and had a great afternoon chatting to the browsers and buyers in the Reading Oracle store. The bookshop was very accommodating, buying in enough copies of my book to cover the signing and everyone seemed happy at the end of the day. I now get a cheerful wave from the shop assistants when I go into the shop – they like connecting with authors, so make the most of it!
** As a caveat to the above WS have recently implemented an ‘only famous, crowd- drawing authors’ signing policy which even the store assistants and managers despair over. Why smother a two-way, helpful, interactive activity in favour of quick-fix celeb signings? Let’s hope they see sense and retract this ludicrous policy soon. Remember we still have the small, independent book stores on our side …
• Talk to your local radio and newspapers
Offer free review copies. Offer yourself as an interviewee. Offer your body (just kidding). Try to find a ‘story’ behind your book. There are lots of Indies at it now, so your local press/radio won’t automatically be impressed if you call them and say ‘Hey, I live in Reading/Scunthorpe/Birmingham and I’ve written a great novel!’ You are most likely to get a ‘so what’ reaction. Think about your pitch. Make it an irresistible news story.
This is not an exhaustive list of marketing options, but it should point you in the right direction. Indie publishing is an exciting, demanding venture. Therefore, be professional, determined and single-minded. It’s a steep learning curve but there are rewards waiting at the end of that curve for those with the motivation and verve to pull it off.
Fellow author Andrew Blackman was kind enough to share the experience of his recent book launch with me, and as I am planning one of these for my new novel ‘Creatures of Dust‘ I thought it would be helpful to share Andrew’s experiences with you. After all, we all need a good launch, don’t we?
Here’s what Andrew had to say:
In several cases I emailed people separately, and they said they hadn’t seen the Facebook invite. So I’d only recommend doing that as a last resort for people whose email addresses you don’t have. Apart from the direct invites, I didn’t do any other publicity, and I don’t think my publisher did either. I think it works better when people think it’s an exclusive event that they’ve been invited to personally, rather than a general thing that you tell the whole world about.
I should mention that Andrew was launching his new novel, ‘A Virtual Love’.
Andrew, many thanks!