You can #win a #kindle (oh yes you can).

Weeeeee peps!

The new Awesome Indies revamped, rejuvenated, reinvigorated, redoubtable website is relaunched today! Oh yeh.

Do I hear you say uh?

OK, here’s a bit about Awesome Indies. Their aim is to sift through the indie book world picking out quality reads. The premise is that if you go to Awesome Indies and browse their catalogue you will get quality, properly produced stuff. In other words, they cut the crap so you don’t have to. Well… of course they do, two of my books are on there (phnark geez I’m modest). To be honest, there they have left off a couple of authors whose work I admire (David Staniforth and Jim Webster) but at the same time, for books of a certain type they pick well. I’ve not had a duffer off there yet, hence my recommending the site here on my blog.

Today, it being the relaunch and all, there are a whole raft of books on special offer and there is a kindle up for grabs on the site if you sign up to the readers club. So if you want to win one, just nip over here and sign up.

Or you can click on the lovely animated gif below (which says it rather more succinctly than I have).

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Still alive and prattling on about my book. #books #bestsellers (no, really).

Yeh. Sorry about that.

However, after a message of concern from one of my fellow bloggers, I thought I should just let you know that I’m still alive. We have plumbergeddon here, new heating being installed which involves four weeks of no heating while they put it in. They seem to be doing pretty well. Our house is full of holes and all our possessions are in boxes away from the pipes, or at least, as of yesterday, the places where the pipes have been.

While I’ve been incommunicado, I’ve also been playing with Amazon categories – which may be a bad idea – but I’ve found a pleasantly obscure one to place a couple of my books in. Just two of them because it doesn’t seem to exist outside the USA but there it is. Literature and fiction, British, Humour and Satire.

That’s not to say you should get too excited on my behalf. One of my friends, who was a world authority on… I think it was a poet… said that if you pick a subject that is obscure enough you can be a world expert on anything. I think she was slightly underselling herself but after doing this I do get what she meant.

Going on Nicholas Rossis’ advice here, I had a read of the Amazon category lists for books and found one which, though obscure, did happen to be a perfect fit for the books. Since it only exists on Amazon.com, I’m not sure I should put more books in than the two I have. Indeed that may be why so few other writers have joined me. Still, I can now say I’m a best selling author because Few Are Chosen is number one in this category in the free section and The Wrong Stuff is number 6 in paid. Come to think of it. Few Are Chosen is the only book in the free section.

Thank you Nicholas Rossis for your advice about this one. I will post on whether or not it seems to have had any effect on sales in due course.

In the meantime, here’s my happy screen shot. Oh yeh.

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Metal detecting, and its relation to my hopes as an #indie #writer

This week, I’m unsure how to go about my blog post. TI have several things to say so bear with me as I try to work out a way to jemmy them all in at once.

Ever in pursuit of the elusive hammered coin or interesting… thing, I went out metal detecting yesterday. I learned three things.

  • First that no matter how many smashing Saxon artifacts other people are digging up you have to walk over one to find it.
  • Second, I learned that my waterproofs are not waterproof any more. This lesson delivered as I was the wrong end of a field, about half a mile from the car, in a deluge. More waterproofs required, I think. The manner of my learning this rather sums up my day.
  • Third, on returning home, after steeping in a hot bath, I learned that basically, I’m doing setting the detector up right, choosing sensible places to detect and doing the right thing. I am finding tiny things as well as big things, I am finding things made out of metals and alloys that mirror the good stuff but unfortunately, they are bits of tractor and modern stuff rather than interesting finds. I’m finding miniscule things the size of a quartered silver coin, but they’re tiny pieces of metal. All are things which, in happier circumstances, could be good stuff. My point is that, for the most part, I’m doing it right, it’s just that the artifact gods are not smiling as benignly upon me as sometimes.

In a sop to my efforts, they (the Small Gods of Lost Things) did throw me this fantastic fossil of half a sea urchin. It holds a level of detail I’ve not seen outside the real thing so my day wasn’t wasted.

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That white discolouration on the flat side means it broke in half several million years ago.

Onwards and upwards. There’s another dig next week.

Which kind of brings me onto the second thing. As you know, I’ve been a bit worried about my book sales recently. This is because I’ve been doing that fatal thing, comparing myself to other people. Really I should know better.

In order to feel some semblance of control, and in pursuit of social media savviness, I bought and read two Rayne Hall books: Twitter for Authors, and Why Does My Book Not Sell? 20 Simple Fixes (Writer’s Craft).

OK, if I can go off at a bit of a tangent here… I cannot recommend these books highly enough. I’ve always wondered how to interact with people on Twitter, Rayne Hall gives the answer. If the worst comes to the worst just go to her feed, eavesdrop on some conversations and have a chat. Her advice has definitely worked really well for me. Even in a week I’m having conversations and enjoying Twitter the way I wanted to but hadn’t. She also has what I consider to be an excellent attitude to social media, ie that it is social and that the more social and less of a book seller you are, the more likely you are to achieve book sales. This advice has been borne out by my own experience.

Likewise, while I’d got more of my book production performance in line with Rayne Hall’s there are still plenty of things in Why Does My Book Not Sell? 20 Simple Fixes (Writer’s Craft) that I can apply to my own books.

However, what I have learned from these two books, above all, is that for the most part, and barring a few tweaks, I’m doing the right thing.

My book sales are not lighting up the sky, though. Perhaps, like my efforts at metal detecting, the small percentage of fairy dust required is just absent from that part of my life at present. Perhaps. But if I’ve learned anything from metal detecting, it’s that perseverance pays off. If you keep believing and keep digging you will find interesting things. The law of averages demands it. You can’t find nothing but crap. Sure a big part of your detector finds may be but they can’t all be. And they aren’t. Not even for me.

Which begs a question.

Am I simply lacking fairy dust. Or are my book sales better than I think?

Comparatively I mean.

You see, it may be that for someone who has written a book that is, as a friend who works in magazine publishing put it, “Absolutely wonderful, but a very hard sell. I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole if it was submitted to me,” I’m actually doing better than I think.

Usually, a handful of people download my free book each day. Since it went free, in February, I’ve seen a sudden increase in sales of the second book after which, in June and July, I definitely saw an increase in sales of books 3 and 4. From selling a couple of books a month if I’m lucky and shifting a couple of my, admittedly, dodgy free shorts a month, there are now only a couple of days each month when nobody downloads anything.

Don’t get too excited. I’m not ready to make one of those gushing, “I can’t believe that my book is number one on Amazon!” posts on Kindleboards. I’m not even ready to make one of those “my sales have plummeted! I’m only selling 500 books a month” posts either. Mwah hahahargh! I dream of selling 500 books a month.

However, it’s all relative. This time last year I’d failed to sell a single book in three months straight. This year, to my eternal delight, even Kobo users are buying them. The Amazon stats are showing international sales. For the first time, people in France, Italy, Canada and Australia are buying them. For the first time since 2010 I am achieving monthly book sales that go into double figures.

The free book, Few Are Chosen, K’Barthan Series: Part 1 is even being downloaded from Google books – although I’m not sure what’s happening there because nobody has bought the others, I’m not even sure if Google is selling them or just pointing people to the vendors links on my website, but it’s a start.

And it brings me back to a piece of advice that has probably kept me sane in periods of recovery from my various knee injuries. Nevertheless, despite the fact I’ve been happily doling it out left right and centre this month it’s one I’d forgotten to apply to myself until now. It’s this:

Forget about how far you have to go, instead see how far you’ve come. Trust me. The answer to that question is always going to be, a lot further than you think. Which is kind of where I am about now.

So, am I earning much? No. The people around me, the authors I chat to from day to day, are earning far more.

Am I successful? No. My literary mates are, for the most part, several orders of magnitude more successful then me.

Am I doing better than last year? You bet your arse I am!

See how it works?

Yes, sure, as flat figures, my book sales are risible. But as a percentage increase on previous efforts they are flying. It’s all a question of how you view it. Sure, in the order of publishing species I’m so low on the scale that I’m aspiring to be a molecule – BUT, and here’s the rub, things might be different next year.

Onwards and upwards.

Coming next week… news of my latest story, out November 1st.

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Secrets of the K’Barthan Series unlocked.

One of the great things about being an author is that you get to be a bit… hmm…. let’s call it, ‘eccentric’. It is one of the parts of the job I truly delight in – and probably the bit I am best at. Certainly I’m far better at being a bit weird than I am at writing books, but I digress. One of the things I get asked sometimes, apart from, ‘Are you mad?’ is where I get the names from.

Well, clearly we authors can make some of them up, like The Pan of Hamgee, while others are normal, like Ruth or Lucy or a bit comedically untrendy, names normally associated with the elderly, for example, like Gladys and Ada. Then again, judging by the amount of Masies, Ediths, Dots and Daisey’s under ten there are now, and the rate the real Gladys and Adas are dying off, there will probably be lots of toddlers and babies named Gladys and Ada before long. Christened by people too young to remember that no-one under 70 was called Gladys or Ada for many years.

In other instances, if you’re looking to name characters you can turn to the world around us… things like this:

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Yes, Philip Softone got his name from some lightbulbs. Ever since I saw the first advert for these in about 1989 I have been giggling quietly to myself about who Philip Softone is and wondering what he is like.

Meanwhile his assistant…

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I know, I know… I really should grow up. ;-)

There must be a way I can work Clancy Docwra in there somewhere – just because it’s such a jolly silly name (sorry Clancy, if you’re reading this). Indeed, I reckon I may have to write some wild west punk specifically for him, because with a name like Clancy, he can only be a sheriff or a sharp shooter right… or do you think he might be a card shark? Hmm not sure.

Another rich source is place names. When I’m driving along and I see signposts to places like Leighton Bromswold and Carlton Scrope I immediately start wondering who they are, what they do and what they’re like. It’s easy to pick and choose, too. You can go for something off a random signpost sighting, like Carlton Scrope, or you can choose something more simple like Alton, Ashington, Norton, Dacre, Derby or even Troon. You can put them together to make first names and surnames: Alton Troon, Norton Dacre etc. If you want to get seriously wacky you can go off piste and try another country.

So if you’re about to name your main character Kyle, hold up! Why not see if there’s an interestingly named town near you?

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In celebration of Harvest…

The Admiral Ackbar tomato.

Admiral Ackbar Tomato

Now in the correct colour.

Mmm…

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What am I doing here?

Do you ever have the feeling you’ve slipped into a different version of the universe by mistake? Sometime I feel as if I’m living another MTM’s life where the basic essentials are the same but some of the bits around the edges are… not what I thought. I can’t quite explain this but it’s usually at times when I look at the zeitgeist around me and then at what I do and think… ‘ah.’

This cropped up in two respects this week. First, because as a fairly avid reader of Chuck Wendig’s blog (you really should check it out) I read his post about 10 books that had stayed with him and took up his invitation, at the end, to list the ten books that stayed with me. You can check out the post and read everyone’s comments (including  mine) here. What interested me was that the books that had stayed with people were all pretty heavyweight, barring one person, who, like I did, listed Green Eggs and Ham. But basically, the mood is academic. And serious. And then I turn up.

Here are ten of the books that have had the biggest effect on me:

THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW, CS Lewis. My parents read all the Narnia books to me and my brother as kids. I thought all books were like that. I didn’t realise there was a special pariah genre for them all.

FAIR STOOD THE WIND FOR FRANCE H E Bates. H E Bates can describe a summers day and just put you right there. This is just a wonderfully uplifting story and I loved it.

THE CHILDREN OF THE NEW FOREST Frederick Mayerat. Another fantastic book which my parents read to me as a kid. It has people with big hats and swords in it. What more could you want?

A GENTLEMAN OF FRANCE, Stanley Weyman. More hats and swords, in France this time.

THE THREE MUSKETEERS Alexander Dumas. Cracking historical novel. More Swords and big hats, with the odd heaving bosom thrown in for good measure.

THE ASTERIX BOOKS by Goschinny and Uderzo. Yes. All of them. I first read them when I was about five. After that, each year I grew I got more of the jokes. Multi-layered masterful humour. And silly names.

THE HITCH HIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY Douglas Adams. Because that’s how you do brainy comedy.

GREEN EGGS AND HAM Dr Seuss. The world of Dr Seuss – particularly Tweetle beetles from Fox in Sox has me completely hooked. That’s where my own fantasy world building started. With the weirder offerings of Dr Deuss. But I like green eggs and ham best.

WYRD SISTERS and THE NIGHT WATCH by Terry Pratchett. Because Terry writes the most fantastic stuff and I love it.

ABOUT A BOY Nick Hornby. Poignant, intelligent and laugh out loud funny.

A SPOT OF BOTHER, Mark Haddon. Ditto.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, Bill Bryson. Bryson makes a history funny. It’s densely written. You can’t read too much at a time because it’s the literary equivalent of an enormous cream cake. Little and often is the way to read this. But it is absolutely fab. Actually, anything Bryson writes is a scream.

Looking at it now, I missed out, PRACTICALLY EVERYTHING BY GRAHAM GREENE (whose name I can’t remember how to spell) and PRACTICALLY EVERYTHING BY OSCAR WILDE. If I could write one piece of work like The Importance of Being Earnest I would consider my work as an author done.

Looking at my list compared to the books on the others it struck me how very out of step with the popular zeitgeist I am. Lots very serious books by people like Melville, Poe, Atwood, Hosseni… A fair bit of GRRM, CS Lewis, Herbert and King. Nobody mentioned Pratchett as far as I recall although I think someone mentioned Douglas Adams.

Find a forum about books and the authors everyone bangs on about seem to be the likes of Steinback, Hemingway, Poe, King, Herbert, Melville, Hemingway, GRRM….  American authors. Always American. No-one mentions HE Bates, no-one mentions Greene. Perhaps, most Americans – and we have to face it, the English speaking internet has a very strong US bias even though there are more of us, from other nations, than them – haven’t heard of Bates or Greene, or other greats like George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde or Sir John Betjamin, just as I haven’t read Steinback or Melville (yet). But going back to the blog post, the onus of that set of comments does seem to be on cutting edge, horror or high brow.

It made me realise how inept I am at trying to be edgy.

It also highlighted the career decision that lies ahead of me now; heart or head. Let me explain. I started out with a budget that would cover six books. But due to the requirement to edit K’Barthan 1 again and again and the need for a proof edit after the copy edit I’ve blown that budget on four books. I thought six was a good buffer but to be honest I expected to earn enough to produce a low budget book once I’d published two or three. I’ve published four and that may yet happen. It may but it’s not looking too hopeful.

So what now?

The K’Barthan Series was completely self indulgent. I wrote exactly what I wanted to write, and I wrote it with a passion. In an ideal world that’s what I’ll do. But I’m beginning to realise that K’Barth is quite… out there. But… in the wrong way. It’s up front but not edgy enough, it’s weird but not scary enough. It’s not normal. It’s a book syndrome. It’s a bit socially lumpy.

Mwahahahahargh! I’ve produced the literary equivalent of myself!

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Then I swing back the other way and convince myself it’s fine. Comfort myself with stories of people like Anne Magill, who studied fine art at Liverpool and then went to London (St Martin’s) where she met solid resistance from her tutors to her style. She stayed true to it, though, and is now a hugely successful painter selling works to people like Russell Crowe.

Nice.

She says (Anne Magill, I mean):

“I ended up going into commercial design because figurative traditional work was frowned upon,” but, she added, “If I’m damned I’m damned. I can only do what’s in my head.”

She followed her heart and now she’s doing OK.

Then there’s Kate Bush. Look at the pop scene in the late 1970s and early 80s. You’ve got punk, two tone, mods doing the usual do and then the odd M.O.R. hangover from the disco era. Where in the name of all that’s holy to you put our Kate Bush among all that? Her output is completely crazy, it’s quirky, her voice is weird, her choices of subject for her songs is esoteric, at best, and at worst barking loola. But people liked it anyway because it’s so honest and genuine, oh and it’s also good.

That’s what I want. For my stuff to be honest and genuine and good. And for me to be right in believing.

But am I? Or am I just being a self-indulgent, jumped-up twat? Someone called me a hack in a review the other day. It was oblique, as in ‘hack habits’ but it smarted. A lot. And the worst thing. It’s probably true.

When I wrote the K’Barthan Series, I wanted to show myself and all the naysayers that I can write like this and succeed. I reasoned that, if I liked it, other people would. And some do. And I am beyond grateful to each and every one of you who has bought it, read it, reviewed it. But it is a hard sell. And I’m realising that all the publishing people who said the names were stupid, the plot too involved, the level of intellect I assumed for my readers too high… I’m realising that unfortunately, if I want to make enough money to pay for another book, they might be right.

That’s probably why the big self publishing sites like Big Al’s Books and Pals and Bookbub won’t touch Few Are Chosen. Because when it comes down to it, even in self published author land, the big fish want the same commercial criteria that publishers want. And it’s all very well trying to prove something actually does work, but for that to happen, readers have to know it’s there. And it’s almost impossible to get it in front of them. Except off line, in the real world, where you need stock that costs money I don’t have. It’s a bit chicken and egg to be honest.

So the nub of it all is that I’m suffering a bit of a conundrum as to what I should write next.

Because I want to write stuff that is honest and true, that is me on paper, which means more stuff like the K’Barthan Series. But if I’m going to write more K’Barthan style madness, I need to do something alongside that sells, to fund it. Or something that will, at least, be mainstream enough for the big indie sites, with thousands of followers, to risk actually putting it in front of them. That’s tricky, because I wouldn’t know what commercial was if it stood up and smacked me in the face with a haddock. Universal appeal, yeh, I can do that, but nobody wants that, it makes selling the books too difficult. They want the next big thing. Before it happens. They want stuff that sells. And I don’t know what that is.

Oh dear.

So it’s back to the brick wall. That’s right, the one I was hoping I could sidestep by self publishing my books and proving to the world… yada, yada, yada.

Because my stuff didn’t fit with publishers, but it doesn’t fit in with the indie gatekeepers either – except for Awesome Indies, who I, therefore, think are awesome.

So here’s my three step plan:

STEP 1: Find out what, exactly, is ‘wrong’ with the K’Barthan Series, somehow. I.E. find out why a publisher would say ‘no’ so I can avoid making the same mistakes in the next book.

STEP 2: Applying what I’ve learned, I need to write the most commercial novel of which I am capable and use it to fund any subsequent pieces of unmarketable whimsy.

STEP 3: Stick £10 a month away in my building society account. For all my hand-to-mouthness (yes I know, I spent everything I had on a car. It’s definitely my fault) I won’t notice it’s gone. I have discalculia, for heaven’s sake! And in a year’s time, when I’ve written my next book, there might be enough cash to publish it at the usual loss and eventually there might be so many books that the sales income they generate can fund another one, anyway.

STEP 4: Write some shorts and experiment with putting 20,000 novellas into things like KDP Select on a rolling basis, which, hopefully, will introduce my work to a whole new bunch of readers who have no access to it now, and who will buy all my other books (and then music will play and there’ll be smeary shots of me dancing, crying with joy, through falling rose petals-) Sorry. Got a bit carried away there.

Held in reserve, steps 5 and 6.

STEP 5: Find a publisher who will make me rewrite and rewrite and rewrite my next piece of unmarketable whimsy until, together, we turn it into something marketable. This is a hugely unappealing prospect because I can’t imagine a publisher thinking any differently about my books from the agents and the big hitter review sites. Which means thousands of pounds on postage and years and years of being told, politely, to fuck off and trying to put a positive spin on it. But I might manage it, and if I do, it will open many closed doors, and I’ll learn a huge amount.

STEP 6: Crowd fund the next book? Eeesh. I guess there’s Unbound, but do I have the time or charisma to undertake the social media activity required to drum up… well any votes? Let alone enough for them to publish a book.

Which brings me back round in a circle to the question ‘how do I make my work commercially viable?’ The biggest problem I face lies my answer to that question: ‘I like it the way it is.’

So that’s the nub of it. Do I attempt to be the Kate Bush of writing and try to make it on my own? Only with rather less talent and no help in the offing from any literary equivalent of David Gilmour. Do I keep on struggling and hope that somehow, one day, my work stands up? That I can find a way to walk the line between being true to myself and bang on the money. Or do I try to sing something more mainstream, in a slightly less squeaky voice, about a bog standard subject to see if the Polydors of the writing world will accept it?

Very tricky question. And one to which, right now, I have no answer.

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Eyebomb, therefore, I am.

That’s right, after a distinctly maudlin post about baddies and world affairs I’ve an even whingier one coming next week about what, in the name of heaven, I write next I thought it might be time to add a little light fluff to proceedings.

Enter eyebombing. If you haven’t tried eyebombing you should. It’s a scream, it’s a little bit naughty, a little bit out there and yet at the same time, harmless. Eyebombing delivers that delicious frisson you get from being bad because it’s naughty and you’re not meant to, without the pang of worry that it might hurt someone.

Here’s what you do.

  1. Find a bit of street furniture that looks like it could be a face.
  2. Stick eyes on it to make it come alive.
  3. Photograph it.
  4. Repeat.

Is it illegal? Um… probably but it’s not as if sticking googly eyes on things does any damage. They can be peeled off, after all.

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Above, Bolougne, below, Mum’s kitchen: I should have eyebombed the whole bunch of carrots.

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Some work better than others.

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Some don’t work at all: I hoped this would look like one of the characters from Robots. It doesn’t.

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Others work better than you expect: These are all objects in and around Bury St Edmunds, where I live.

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You can find more eyebombing at eyebombing.com

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