Saturday, 7 December 2013

Tipped in The Guardian books blog - and other news

Readers' recommended self-published authors

The Guardian ran a series recently to highlight some of the best English language self-published books. I had received a few emails from readers earlier in the year to say that they had nominated me and my genealogical mystery series, but I had thought little more of it, and I certainly didn't expect to get a mention. Then just yesterday someone informed me via my thread on the Kindle Users Forum that I had made the shortlist of around twenty authors from over 3300 entries. I am of course very pleased to have been mentioned, not least because signing with Amazon Publishing means I'm not going to be an independent author for much longer, so it's nice to end that phase on such a high note. Thank you Louise for pointing the article out to me, and thanks to everyone who took the time to write in to The Guardian to recommend my books.

Here's a link to the article if you'd like to read it and see the other shortlisted books/authors. The Guardian Books Blog

Other news

I've had a couple of weeks clear from the process of getting my existing books ready for their Amazon Publishing re-release next March, and during that time I've managed to add a healthy number of words to my new Jefferson Tayte mystery and move the story along. As you can see from the word count, I'm close to 70,000 words, which feels good. The proofs for my first three books have started to come in now though, so I expect I'll be working on them until Christmas, as well as getting the front and back matter and my author bio finalised. Around all that I'm going to work on the finer plot details for the remainder of book four so that I can hit the ground running come 2014 and make a sprint to the finish line. I'm really looking forward to that.


I received an email from Simon Vance this morning to say that he's all set to start on the audiobook recordings for the series. He's going to be reading In the Blood over the weekend, then we're going to talk on Monday.  It's fantastic to have the opportunity to talk to Simon about my books and characters, and I really can't wait to listen to the finished recordings.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Audiobook legend Simon Vance to record my genealogical crime mystery series.

Jefferson Tayte
Simon Vance

Jefferson Tayte = Simon Vance!

An uncanny resemblance?
Yes, it's true. Ex BBC Radio 4 presenter and multi award winning narrator of many hundreds of audiobooks, Simon Vance, has confirmed that he will be recording my Jefferson Tayte mysteries, which means that my books will soon be joining company with authors such as Hilary Mantel, Stieg Larsson, Neil Gaiman, and classics such as Charles Dickens, Bram Stoker and Anthony Trollope. I could go on and on... Somebody pinch me!

So how did this incredible honour befall me?

I've got to hand it to Amazon Publishing (again) for keeping their writers involved in the publication process. In a recent blog I said that I'd received guide sheets to fill in about my books and characters to help Brilliance Audio select a suitable narrator for them. When I filled those forms in and sent them back, I had thought that was that. So I crossed my fingers and hoped that my input would help Brilliance make a good choice. Then about a week ago I received some recording samples from the second chapter of In the Blood, and was asked for my feedback, which really came down to allowing me to pick my own narrator from the shortlist Brilliance Audio had put together. I thought that was amazing, but I suppose it makes good sense as who could be closer to the characters in a book than the book's author?

I must confess to having been quite nervous when I clicked the play icon on my laptop for the first sample. I listen to audiobooks all the time so I knew what to expect, but there's just something strange and wonderful about listening to a professional recording of your own work for the very first time - and probably every time thereafter.  I was also apprehensive about whether any of the voices Brilliance had sent me would be suitable as I thought it was a big ask to find a British voice actor for the narration and most of the voices, who could also become American genealogist Jefferson Tayte. I listened to all the samples with a fixed grin on my face, and when I'd finished listening, I knew there was a winner in the pack. I hadn't checked any of the names prior to listening, so I had no idea who anyone was. It was only when I wrote back to Amazon Publishing to say who I thought we should go with that I looked at the filenames properly and discovered it was Simon Vance. I found his narration totally engaging, his cadence perfectly matched to my own writing style, and I just know he's going to have a great time with the many and varied characters in my books, whose lives span many centuries and locations. There will be some challenges in there, I'm sure, but I really can't wait to hear Simon breathe life into every one of them. 

Simon contacted me via email before any decision had been reached as to who would 'get the job' as it were. In that email he told me that he was 'eager' to work on my books and I also thought that was a very good sign. We've since exchanged a few emails, and having already established a connection, I'm sure it will lead to the betterment of the finished product. So, the Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Crime Mysteries are in very safe hands, and I couldn't have hoped for better. I'm very excited about it.

Simon, if you're reading this, are you also available to record the voices for the Jefferson Tayte action doll? I had this idea that the figure has a detachable battered old briefcase and interchangeable tan linen suits (they're always getting ruined in my books), and when you press his tummy, he speaks one of several phrases such as "I'm a genealogist for Christ's sake! What am I doing here?" and "No smoke without fire..." and "Talk to the family - it's the first rule of genealogy." Not to mention "I need a Hershey's fix!" Although, I guess the JT action doll idea is a way off production yet. :o)

If you're a fan of audiobooks, or would just like to discover more about Simon Vance, please visit his website HERE.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Featured in Family Tree magazine

How I became a signed storyteller

I talked to Helen Tovey at Family Tree magazine recently about my transition from independent author to being a signed author with Amazon Publishing.  Helen asked some great questions about what it means to me, as well as how I go about writing my genealogical mysteries.

Click to enlarge

The December issue is out now and contains some great features including 'How to trace your living relatives' and 'How to write a family history to remember.' There's also a piece that was of particular interest to Jefferson Tayte called 'understanding gravestones - the symbolism of Scottish memorials.' Did you know that it's possible to tell the former profession of someone by the symbols on their headstone? Very useful for directing your search to the right apprenticeship records for example. It's also a great way to link research when writing fictional genealogy-based mysteries, and very useful to know when tracing real-life ancestry. You can read the full Family Tree magazine interview 'Becoming a best-selling storyteller' by following this link to  Family Tree Magazine Online

Friday, 1 November 2013

What's been going on with me this week?

It's still all go at Amazon Publishing...

If you've been tracking my word count monitor over there on the right, you'll know that I haven't added any new words to my next Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery since I last posted, but it's with good reason. In my last post, I said that the copyedits for In the Blood had come in and that things at Amazon Publishing seemed to be moving at a pace.  Well, I spent last week working on those copyedits and this week I've had the copyedits for To the Grave in so I'm now cracking on with that. I had initially thought that I would write in the mornings and edit in the afternoons, but I can't seem to write well like that, and given that my copyeditor is sending me new material to edit almost as fast as I can return it, it made sense for me to stay in edit mode until it's done. Then I can focus 100% on writing the new book, all the way to the finish line. I've come to realise that I write best that way - without distraction. I like to immerse myself in my imaginary world and stay there for as long as I can. I'm sure that's the same for most writers, and I have to say that I really envy and respect any writer who can dip in and out of his or her writing for no more than a few hours at a time, especially those writers who are forced to write that way because of their circumstances, be it their work, family life, etc. So anyway, I expect to be in edit mode for about two more weeks, and then that word count will hopefully start to shoot up.

Apart from moving on to editing my second book, a couple of other things have happened since my last post. The second round of jacket cover designs came back and they're shaping up nicely.  I can't wait to see what the next round looks like.  I've also noticed that my books under Thomas & Mercer have started to appear on, with a release date of March 18, 2014 - and it's the first time I've had books on Amazon with pre-order options! Yay! I was also pleased to see that the price of the paperback is $11.66, down from the current price of $14.99, so that should help to make them more competitive, and of course, better value for readers.  Here's a link to In the Blood if you'd like to see how it looks, although there's not much to look at just yet.  Maybe they'll add video at some point, which would be very cool.

Something else has got me excited this week.  I received an email from the author relations manager at Amazon to say that production was soon to begin with Brilliance Audio on the audiobooks for my series.  Now, as well as being excited about this, I'm also a little scared.  No, maybe scared is too strong.  I'm nervous, that's it.  The main reason for this is that my books are written with a British English narrative, they're predominantly set in England, and the majority of the characters are English.  But Jefferson Tayte is the lead character and of course he's an American.  My worry is that JT's voice won't sound right, because I feel that the narrator needs to be a Brit (for all the reasons above), rather than an American.  I'm sure I'm worrying about nothing though as that's what voice actors do - accents.  I did suggest Hugh Laurie (with tongue in cheek) as he's a Brit who has managed to speak as a convincing American, but I think he's probably outside the budget.

I listen to audiobooks all the time and I've also heard a few Brilliance Audio productions and they're very good, so I'm confident that my series is in good hands.  What I really like about them, and the whole process with Amazon Publishing so far, is the amount of involvement I have.  I had questionnaires from Brilliance Audio to fill in for each of my books, allowing me to describe my characters, such as where they were from, how they look and their mannerisms.  It also allowed me to voice my concerns, which I'm sure will help the production team choose the right narrator for the job - or narrators, as I can see how it would work well to have a female voice for the past narrative in To the Grave, because that part of the story is told entirely from sixteen-year-old Mena Lasseter's point of view.  So, it's great to be involved and it's certainly helped to put me at ease over how things are going to turn out.  That said, I'm sure it's still going to be odd hearing Jefferson Tayte speak for the first time, and I'm sure that however good the voice actor is, my old friend JT won't sound the same as he does in my head when I'm writing his dialogue.  If he's very good though, his voice will most likely be the one I adopt when writing JT's dialogue in future. The audio editions for the series are also set to be released on March 18.

I'm in London in a couple of weeks to meet with my main editor and the author relations manager for the first time, which I'm also very excited about.  After lunch they're taking me back to the Amazon offices where were going to have a conference call with the marketing manager in Luxembourg, and he's going to talk about the marketing plan for my series.  Now, I don't know what life is like with other publishers, but I get the feeling that it's probably not as interactive as this, and as an author who has become used to managing my own production, sales and marketing over the last few years, I can't imagine how it could be any better.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

It's moving at a pace with Amazon Publishing!

Amazon Publishing & JT book 4 update

I've just looked at my last blog post and realised it's been a few weeks since I last posted.  Where did the time go?  I'm pleased to say that word count would appear to be the answer.  Before I went on holiday I'd written about 45,000 words towards my next Jefferson Tayte genealogical crime mystery.  Now, as you can see on the tracker, it's close to 60,000.  So, not a bad few weeks.  I've reacquainted myself with JT and we're getting along great.  I've wondered on several occasions whether he would desert me, given that I've not written any new words for him since I finished The Last Queen of England a year ago.  If you're a JT fan, have no fear though. A few weeks into writing JT's narrative and it's just like no time has passed at all - which of course is how it should be with old friends.

The story is shaping up nicely and I'm confident that it's all going to work out as planned.  I've kept a few threads open as I'd like to see how the characters themselves develop the plot as we go, but everything's in place and I can see it all coming together. That's important for me as a writer, because my stories usually have plenty going on in them and I like to know that it's all going to connect at the end long before I get there - so the nasty surprises are left to my characters and not to the plot.

Things are moving along at a pace, too, on the Amazon Publishing front.  I've seen the first run of book jacket designs.  We're working together with some central ideas that are not far off the existing covers in terms of content: the jetty for In the Blood, the suitcase for To the Grave.  So far the cover for the Last Queen of England has excited me the most.  I've never felt that the existing cover said 'thriller' enough and that's exactly what it is - and more so than the first two books.  This new cover definitely does that.  The designer is working on them again now after the first round of feedback and I can't wait to see how they develop.  I'm really pleased with the way I'm being involved in the process so far.

Equally exciting is that I've just (last Friday evening) received the edits back for In the Blood.  Yipes, what a lot of red ink!  I was hoping this part of the process wouldn't distract me too much from getting on and writing the next book, but it's clear that it will.  I was working on it all day yesterday (Saturday) and I'm still only on page 25!  But it's all for the betterment of the book, and I have to shout out a little wow! to my copyeditor, who has done a great job with it.  I thought it was in pretty good shape, but it's about to get a whole lot better.

Here's a screenshot of page 1 of the prologue:

I'd planned to write in the mornings and edit in the afternoons until it was finished, but then I thought that might be too distracting.  I like to get into my characters' head's and stay there as much as I can, so I've decided to finish the edits for In the Blood and then get back to the writing.  The word count won't go up as fast as I'd like, but when it does I'm sure the content will be better for it.  I'm hoping that books two and three don't require as much editing, but we'll see.  Hopefully I'll get a full week in which to write in between editing each book.  Although at the pace things are moving, I might well be editing solid for the next few weeks.  But that's not a bad thing in itself.  While I was editing yesterday I thought that it was good to refresh myself with everything that's happened in the earlier books as I write the next.

I'd love to be able to share some of the new cover designs with you, and I'm sure I will at some stage, but I don't think I'd be allowed too just yet, and they are only in the early stages of development.  I'll ask if I can show them, and maybe later I'll show the transition from ideas to finished covers.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

My Scilly Holiday - with photos

Tresco - The Isles of Scilly

I'm just back from a trip to Tresco in the Isles of Scilly with Mrs R. It's one of those places I'd never been but always wanted to visit, so when a friend with a timeshare told us they couldn't go this year, I promptly said, "Yes please!"

As you can see, I was very happy! :o)

We crossed to the islands by ship on the Scillonian III out of Penzance and the crossing was the roughest the crew had known all summer, which I thought was typical. Thanks to the long overnight drive to Cornwall though, we both pretty much slept through the relatively short voyage. During our week-long stay on Tresco the weather was mixed with just about everything thrown in, and it's left me wanting to return for more of those sunny days. It's a magical, peaceful place, whatever the weather, and it was perfect for working on the plot for my fourth Jefferson Tayte book.

The Great Pool as seen from our window.  No sea view, but a lovely alternative

Click to enlarge
It's no secret that as well as being an author, I'm a keen amateur photographer, and for this trip I bought a new lens to mount on my Canon 5D Mark III camera body - the ultra-wide-angle Canon 14mm f/2.8L II USM. I have to say that I'm very impressed with it and wanted to share some of my holiday snaps with you.  All the photos below were taken through this lens and you can see some of the locations on the map to the left. Click any image to see larger versions. Needless to say, I can't wait to go back and take some more - or just sit and watch the sea on those crowd free, white sand beaches again.

Ruin Beach, looking away from the beach restaurant

New Grimsby with the quay behind me

Low water at Old Grimsby, on the other side of the island

Sail boat at Old Grimsby with the Blockhouse on the right.

On the beach below the Blockhouse, facing Rushy Point

On the path to Tresco Abbey Gardens

Tresco Abbey ruin

Mrs R on the seabed between Tresco and Bryher.  The extra low tide is caused by an astrological event called syzygy (25 point Scrabble score), which occurs when the Sun, the Earth and the Moon are in alignment, making it possible to walk to the neighbouring island of Bryher for a limited time.  Very cool!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

I've signed with Amazon Publishing (Thomas & Mercer)


Just a little update to my previous post to say that I've now signed with Amazon Publishing. I woke up this morning, made a cup of tea and read over the contract again, and then I got all excited and signed it! So now it's official, and a few hours on I have to keep reminding myself that it's true. The three books in my Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Crime Mystery series will be re-published in April with Thomas & Mercer, with my new book coming out a couple of months after that, all being well.

Since this all came about, I've been  reflecting on not being an indie author any more and I'm feeling a bit melancholy about that, not least because of the journey I've had since I started out. Of course, I have Amazon to thank for giving me the opportunity to self publish for the Kindle in the first place and for a platform on which to build a readership. Since then, in part because of this and for their forward-thinking attitude, Amazon Publishing has been high on my list of publishers I would have liked to sign with.

Looking back to when I started out in 2005, it was always my dream to get a publishing deal, but on reflection I'm so glad it didn't just happen overnight when my agent first sent In the Blood out.  If it had, I know now that I would have missed out on so much.  Being an independent author for the last two years has taught me a great deal, and I've met so many fine people along the way, readers and writers alike, who are all very much a part of why I'm so excited today.  Because of my journey, I'm sure I'll always be an indie at heart.  It's a club that's open to all and I'm very proud of it.

Now, I'm really looking forward to finding out what the future holds for me and Jefferson Tayte.  I'm not exactly sure what happens next, but I expect I'll soon find out.  I have some forms to fill in with information about my existing books and we're going to be working on them to get them ready for April. I'm very pleased and excited about working with Amazon Publishing, who are by all accounts great people to work with, and I'm sure there will be more excitement to come.

A big thank you to everyone who has played a part in getting me here, whether you bought one of my books, wrote a review, recommended me or chatted with me on one of the forums.  I'll be sure to keep you posted as my journey continues.  And yes, Patti... You can put me down to buy the sandwiches at the next forum meeting. :o)

Friday, 6 September 2013

JT Book 4 update & the Amazon Publishing contract

Where I'm at with Jefferson Tayte book 4

Last week I finished the first draft of the past narrative I've been working on since early May. It was something of a milestone and I was glad to reach it, not least because at just over 45,000 words it represents almost half the journey towards getting the overall first draft finished, and because I can now reacquaint myself with my old friend Jefferson Tayte - I feel I can call him an old friend because although I only met him eight years ago, we've spent a great deal of time together since then, and I've kind of missed him this summer.

I'm coming to realise that I've not made things easy on myself when it comes to writing JT's genealogical adventures as most of the books contain not one, but two stories, which must be woven together within the context of the bigger story. If you include JT's own story, which is going to become more prominent, there are actually three stories being told. So I've set myself a bit of a challenge, but I like to think my books turn out all the better for it. The more you put in, the more get out.

Right now I'm plotting JT's part of the story and working out how he's going to make all those connections to the past, like which genealogical resources he's going to use and who he's going to talk to. I've allowed a few weeks for that and so far the plot is shaping up nicely. I have a long list of questions to answer, which grows and shrinks as some are resolved and others crop up. I only have one major question still open, but it's a show stopper because the story won't work at all if I can't answer it. But I've been here before. It's just another puzzle to be solved, and the more complicated and difficult it is to work out, the more rewarding it will be, both for me and for the story once I have the answers.  I expect to be doing very little else but writing when I start again - probably increasing my writing days to six or seven days a week until that first draft is finished, not least because very soon I'm going to have something new (for me) to work towards - a deadline.

The Amazon Publishing contract!

At the beginning of last week I received a draft copy of the publishing contract from Amazon Publishing. I didn't know what I expected it to look like as it's my first such contract, but I'd heard that Amazon's contracts were author friendly and I've read that other author's who signed up with Amazon Publishing actually helped to make them more friendly, so good on them and good on Amazon for listening and acting on what they had to say.  I found it very straightforward.  I went over it twice and Mrs R went over it. Everything was as I'd been informed it would be from the telephone conversations I'd had. So I agreed to the draft and I waited for the 'proper' DocuSign contract to arrive.  I'm very pleased to say that it arrived in my email inbox last night.

It all feels very official now. The time has come to strike the bell and bide the danger (see CS Lewis verse from earlier Amazon Publishing post). Hopefully there will be no danger, but this is the point of no return. I've had plenty of time to think about whether it's the right thing to do of course, but I'm still worried about losing control of the pricing and everything else I can currently do to help keep my books visible. My biggest concern is that the advertising I'm hoping for won't happen at the levels I'd like, or that there will be a short honeymoon period after which my books will rapidly fade into obscurity where few readers can find them - and I'll be left unable to do anything about it. At the same time though, I'm sure these are all healthy thoughts to be having. They mean I'm not going into this with my eyes closed. 

Signing with Amazon Publishing feels right to me, and in many ways it seems a very appropriate and natural progression of my journey as an author. I'm going to read the contract again today. Then I think I'm going to give myself the weekend just in case any last minute thoughts or doubts creep in - and to read over it again, and again, lol. I'm sure it's fine.  All being well I'm going to sign it on Monday morning.  Then I'll wait for the thunder to clap and for that huge 'Indianna Jones' rock ball to come rolling after me! No. That's not going to happen. It's going to be great. :o)

Friday, 30 August 2013

Book club Q&A - To the Grave

Overreaders Anonymous

One of the great things about being a writer is the interaction I enjoy with my readership, and for me it doesn't get any better than when I receive an email from someone to say that their book club is going to read one of my books. This happened recently when Alice from Rockford, Illinois contacted me to say that their book club, 'Overreaders Anonymous' was going to be reading To the Grave, and she asked if I would answer a few questions afterwards. I said I'd be very happy to, and with the book club's kind permission I've included a photograph of the group that Alice sent me afterwards. In one of her emails, Alice told me that Rockford Illinois was listed in Forbes as the third most miserable American city. I think they must have got that wrong. It looks great to me. :o)

A big THANK YOU to the 'Overreaders Annonymous' book club - where every member of the group serves as president, so that whenever anyone dies their obituary will read "She was president of her book club." From left to right they are Alice, Pat, Helen, Mary, Jan and Martrice. One other member, Kathy, couldn't make it.

Below are some of the questions and answers that came out of the discussion. I've not included any that contained spoilers - which unfortunately was most of the story related questions - so don't worry if you've not read the book yet.


From Jan:

Q. How do you keep track of who knows what when, both in the 40s and the present?
A. I keep a lot of notes, although by the time I've written something into a book it's usually become stuck in my head pretty well from having gone over it so many times. Keeping track of things can certainly lead to a few headaches though, but I sort everything out by the final draft, or hope to.

From Pat:

Q. On a related note, when you start a book do you know how it's going to end? Do you have the beginning and end in your mind and just plot the middle or do you start and see where it takes you? 
A. I rarely know how a book is going to turn out when I start writing it, largely because things always change along the way. I have a good idea, but I've not written one book so far that ended up exactly how I envisaged it at the start. The characters really do help to define what happens to them in my books, and I'm sure that's true for many if not most writers.

From Alice:

Q. You write women, and in particular teen girls, really well (shout out to Boots No.7, available here in the U.S. at Target!) Where does that come from? Do your wife/sister/women friends help you out?
A. Haha, I have no idea! I've been asked before how I understood Mena - a teenage girl in the 1940s - so well, and I really don't know. I suppose I get wrapped up in a character and in doing so come to understand them. I don't have any sisters and haven't sought guidance from anyone else. I suppose I just put myself in my character's shoes, whoever they are.

Q. Would JT ever consider buying and wearing some jeans, especially since he seems to get into a lot of precarious situations where his tan suit gets ruined?
A. I'm not going to tell him you said that, Alice (btw Alice is the name of my lead past-narrative character in book 4). Actually I'm pretty sure he is going to get a change of wardrobe in my next book, although the tan suits have become a part of his identity. I don't think he's a jeans type really. I think whatever he ends up wearing he's likely to feel uncomfortable in it and will be begging to have a tan suit back by the end of the book!

A couple of our other members didn't have any specific questions, but Helen said, "It's been awhile since we've read a really GOOD story like this!" Then she downloaded your other books for vacation. :-)

Friday, 23 August 2013

I've accepted an offer from Amazon Publishing!

This blog entry also doubles as ‘My story - part 5’ as it brings everything that’s been happening to me since I started out in writing and publishing right up to date, and as you can probably imagine,  I'm very excited about it! :o)

In part four I said that I’d been contacted by a literary agent.  I received an email from someone at Jenny Brown Associates enquiring whether I would be interested in having an agent given how well things were already going as an independent author.  I wasn’t sure myself because I was earning a living from my writing and I didn’t want to spoil that, but I saw no harm in meeting and talking about the idea.  Then pretty soon I was in London having lunch (and a few drinks) with Mark Stanton, who had recently been shortlisted for an ‘Agent of the Year’ award.

Not the actual lunch. This is one I
shared earlier in the year with Mrs.R. 
Stan (as he goes by) was very enthusiastic about my books and I really liked his energy, so we left it that he would see how far he could get in placing my books with a big mainstream publisher, knowing by the end of our conversation that it would have to be good deal if I was going to give up my ebook rights and enter the unknown.  So, when the contract came in the post a few days later, I signed it and I suddenly I had an agent again.

I'll get to the title of this blog entry now because not long after that I received an email from a senior acquisitions editor at Amazon Publishing who had noticed my books, possibly after the success of my first promotion with Bookbub, which shot To the Grave to No.15 in the paid chart.  Following the email we had a telephone conversation and I learnt that Amazon Publishing wanted to publish my next book and were possibly interested in the three I had already published myself through the Amazon KDP platform. 

My biggest concern about signing with any mainstream publisher has been advertising and pricing.  These two ingredients are of course essential to books sales unless you’re already a big name author and can command a hefty price tag for your books, and I’d already seen a few indie authors sign with publishers only for the price of their books to shoot up and their chart positions to slide down.  These were not concerns I had with Amazon Publishing, who are already experts in the ebook market and continue to price their authors competitively. The advertising potential speaks for itself.  I'm also very excited to see where Amazon Publishing are going to be a few years from now.

After that initial telephone conversation, just over a month passed where I was receiving regular updates on the progress of in-house talks.  Amazon UK were talking with people in, from what I can gather, and most of all with Thomas & Mercer, the Amazon Publishing imprint for crime fiction, mysteries and thrillers. 

The upshot is that an offer was recently made for a four book deal with options on book five, and I’m very pleased and excited to say that I've accepted it and that my Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Crime Mystery series is going to be repackaged and published with Thomas & Mercer from April next year.  There will also be audio books for the first time and hopefully translations, too.

I’m staying with my agent Stan at Jenny Brown Associates, not least because although I'm partnering with Amazon Publishing un-agented, you never know what the future holds and I still retain all film and TV rights should any offers come along.

I haven't signed anything yet, but the ball is rolling so to speak, and I'll be sure to let you know once I have.  It should all happen within the next few weeks.  I'd like to say a very sincere thank you to everyone who has helped make this dream come true for me.  I'm very excited about what the future holds, and a little nervous, too, I guess.  I've had a poem by C.S. Lewis in my head while I've been thinking about what to do.  It's from The Magician's Nephew, the first of the Chronicles of Narnia that's always stayed with me.

Make your choice, adventurous Stranger;
Strike the bell and bide the danger,
Or wonder, till it drives you mad,
What would have followed if you had.

I had to strike that bell!

UPDATE:  Just as I was about to hit the publish button for this blog entry, an email arrived from Amazon Publishing containing a draft copy of the agreement for me to check over.  Lots of reading to do now.  And maybe a little party.  :o)

Friday, 16 August 2013

Amazon top 100 bestseller! - The Last Queen of England.

Bookbub did it again!

I wasn't sure if my success using Bookbub a couple of months ago for my promotion of To the Grave could be repeated with The Last Queen of England, but it seems the power of Bookbub to reach readers is still going strong as the third book in my series is currently at No.23 in's paid chart.  I had thought perhaps that the novelty might wear off and their effectiveness wane, but so far that clearly doesn't seem to be the case.  They clearly have a good advertising model working and long may it last.

Something else I'm doing for this promo, and something I've never done before, is to make ALL the books in my Jefferson Tayte series 79p or .99c at the same time.  That's just started today and probably won't last long.  The idea is to attract as many readers as possible while my third book is enjoying the bestseller limelight.  So far, that's working well as sales for all books have risen significantly.

Now if only there was an effective equivalent to Bookbub for the UK market, although Bookbub is effectively worldwide, so I guess most of us Brits don't respond to mail-shot advertising in the same way.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

The Last Queen of England now in my August promotion.

I've included the third book in my genealogical crime mystery series The Last Queen of England in my August summer reading sale.

"It takes you on a roller coaster ride!"

Indie Book BargainsThe Last Queen of England: A Genealogical Crime Mystery #3

A centuries-old royal conspiracy.  The ultimate heir hunt...

Now just £.79p / $.99c

HISTORY: from the Greek - historia. Knowledge acquired by 'investigation'.

It should have been a quiet weekend in London - a long overdue visit with the only true friend American genealogist Jefferson Tayte ever had. Now his friend lies bleeding in his arms and Tayte must follow his research to understand why, making him the target of a ruthless, politically motivated killer.

Working with historian Professor Jean Summer and New Scotland Yard on what becomes a matter of British national security, Tayte soon finds himself in a race to solve a three-hundred-year-old genealogical puzzle. It takes them all on a deadly, high stakes chase across London as Tayte tries to connect the pieces and work out the motive behind a series of killings that spans twenty years.

In what is Tayte's most personal assignment to date, The Last Queen of England combines historic fact with fiction, challenging British history as we understand it. It uncovers a conspiracy that if proved could ultimately threaten an institution that has lasted more than a thousand years: the British monarchy.

Nullius in Verba: take no one's word for it.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Kindle Summer Sale

The first two books in my Jefferson Tayte mystery/thriller series are now reduced through August for the Amazon Kindle.

IN THE BLOOD: A Genealogical Crime Mystery #1
A dark secret locked in the past.  A family historian trying against the odds to unlock it.

Now £.79p / $.99c

Why can't I trace them? What happened to them?
Set in Cornwall, England, past and present, Tayte's research centres around the tragic life of a young Cornish girl, a writing box, and the discovery of a dark family secret that he believes will lead him to the family he is looking for. Trouble is, someone else is looking for the same answers and they will stop at nothing to find them.

TO THE GRAVE: A Genealogical Crime Mystery #2
A wartime secret with deadly repercussions.

Now £1.59 / $2.99

To the Grave follows American genealogist, Jefferson Tayte, as he uncovers the disturbing consequences of a seemingly innocuous act in 1944 that was intended to keep a family together, but which ultimately tore it apart. He embarks upon a journey that takes him back to England as he tries to unravel the story of Mena Lasseter - a girl whose life has become a family mystery.

Monday, 29 July 2013

New feature at The Family Curator.

I was featured today at The Family Curator.  Denise Levenick who runs the website managed to coax a little information from me about my next Jefferson Tayte book.

Follow this link to read the entire feature: The Family Curator

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Something to consider for your author toolkit.

In my last post I gave a little insight into how I write and while chatting on the Kindle Users forum afterwards about Scrivener with fellow indie author David Haynes, I was reminded of one of the reasons I do my final drafts, not in Scrivener, but in MS Word.  I have several reasons for this and one reason is because I find it easier to do what I feel has become a vital part of my editing/proofreading process, and that's to have my book read aloud to me.

While I was editing In the Blood I came across an excellent piece of software called NaturalReader.  You can take a look at it here and listen to voice samples.  I didn't want to rely on having to have a real person (Mrs R in my case) available to read to me, and doing so would have taken up a lot of my wife's time.  I also didn't like the mechanised sound of the free text to speech software I had access to, so I was very pleased to find NaturalReader. I went for a two voice package and chose Acapela's British Peter and Rachel.  I listened to all of them several times and thought Peter best suited the tone of my books.  Rachel reads research to me whenever my eyes are tired or I just feel like sitting back and listening - especially if the subject I'm researching is a bit heavy going.

The voices are not perfect, and certainly not as good as a professionally read audiobook from for example, but they have come a long way.  I found I soon warmed to Peter and it didn't take long to tune in to some of his speech oddities.  You can also edit the phonetics of words if they're not pronounced as you expect, which is particularly useful for characters' names - an example of which is a French character from The Last Queen of England called Michel Levant.  Peter would read that surname all wrong to my ears, so I told the software that whenever it came across that word, it would say it more like 'Leh-von' than 'Leh-vant".

You can also create MP3 files so you can proofread on the go with your iPod, which I don't tend to do because I like to pace the room as I listen, and then jump onto my keyboard, pause the speech and make my changes right there in the Word document as I go.  Below is a link to a sample MP3 file I created for the prologue in To the Grave so you can hear Peter as I hear him when I'm running through an audio edit.

I think this part of the process really helps to prepare my books for publication and I'm frequently surprised by how often my ears pick up an error that my eyes have missed, sometimes after several drafts.  It's also particularly good for editing dialogue, because when it's read aloud to you, you know straight away whether it sounds natural or clumsy and stilted.  The same goes for long, run-on sentences and awkward paragraphs in general.

It's not super-cheap, but it's not that expensive either, and to me it's been worth every penny.  I was about to add that you only have to buy it once, regardless of how many books you write.  Then I realised I have actually bought it twice because I wrote In the Blood on a PC running Windows, and then I switched to Mac so I could use Scrivener (which wasn't available for the PC then).  So I've had to buy NaturalReader twice.  But it was still worth it in my opinion.  It's fun, too.  I just had Peter read this blog post back to me. :o)

Friday, 26 July 2013

Book 4 update & tip - know what you want to write.


I thought a progress update on my next Jefferson Tayte book was about due.  Two weeks ago the word count ground to a shuddering halt as I realise that, although I knew generally where I was going with the plot, there were some big questions that remained to be answered in the past narrative I'm currently working on.  Sometimes the answers to these questions just pop into my head - typically when I'm doing something completely unrelated.  Other times I have to grind it out, and it can take days (or weeks) to find the answers, during which time I write copious amounts of notes going off on one tangent or another.  Well I'd gone about as far as I thought I could go without finding the rest of those answers and I'm pleased to say that I now have - all but one, which I hope to have resolved by Monday.

I've written around 5000 words this week (Monday-Thursday) as a result of knowing what I wanted to write.  Some writers might not consider that much, but over four days I know that's good going for me and I'm very pleased with the progress.  So much so that I'm going to allow myself a break to play golf this afternoon (Friday) having abstained for the past two weeks while I was working on the plot.  And who knows?  I might well be mid swing on the tenth hole and bam!  That remaining plot issue, which I currently expect to take me all weekend to resolve, could just pop into my head.  

A little milestone has also been reached this week in that I've passed the 20,000 word mark - one fifth of the first draft completed and about half of the past narrative :o)

How I write

I write my early drafts in a software application called Scrivener and I love it.  Pre-Scrivener days I used to write scene titles on post-it notes and stick them all over the wall, now I do it on my screen with a virtual cork board.  Instead of having many separate files for every scene, character, plot and research note, which is how I used to write, I have everything within the same application, and I can switch everything about and organise things will great ease.  I have sections where I keep all my research and others for all the characters.  It really makes sense to me to keep everything in the same project file.  I love Scrivener and can't imagine working without it now.

I wanted to show you a screen shot of my current project, which is just called Book 4 for now - so you can see how it looks, but I quickly realised it would spoil the story as I name every scene with a brief resume of what happens.  So that's a big no-no.  Here's a screenshot though of the little target box that tells me how I'm doing.  The target is shown higher than I've posted here on my blog as I've written lots of scene notes where I plan to write the next scene, so the software includes those notes and I just subtract them when I post the total on my blog.

I've set a target for the completion of the first draft and I tell it which days I write on, and it tells me each writing day how many words I have to write in order to achieve that target.  Both bars start out red and gradually turn green as I get closer to reaching the target.  I really like it.  I feel good when I hit my daily target and I feel great when I smash it - as I've done every day this week.  I put that down to having spent the last two weeks really working out what I wanted to write.  People talk about writers' block like it's some unknown thing that just hits you out of the blue some days.  I get days like that, but every time it happens I can usually put it down to not being prepared for what I want to write next.  That doesn't mean I always write what I set out to though, because I love those curve balls my characters throw me every now and then.  But having a solid framework to follow certainly helps to keep the story moving forward, and then the word count takes care of itself.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

An image of summer.

Caught a nice image with my macro lens of a bee drinking nectar from a nettle flower in my garden.  I thought it looked very summery and wanted to share it.

Friday, 12 July 2013

My story so far - part 4.

In June 2012 I published my second book, To the Grave - which I forgot to mention in part three was timed to coincide with the anniversary of D-Day because of the 1944 narrative. It was actually published on the 5th of June though, because I’d overlooked the fact that Amazon use Pacific Standard Time, but that was the idea.

Anyway, onto The Last Queen of England (LQE).  I was very concerned about whether I could make LQE fit into the series because there was one fundamental thing about it that was different: it had no past narrative.  I thought about adding one, but in the end I chose not to because I felt the story was so much more personal to Jefferson Tayte, and I wanted the focus on him, rather than sharing it with a character in the past as before.  And I felt that this story worked better without a past narrative because of the fast ‘thriller’ pace, which I wanted to maintain.  The other concern I had was that I had written a much darker story with LQE and it was too dark compared to the first two books.  So that became my focus: to keep the story essentially as it was, but to tone down its dark side. Originally, the bad guy from the prologue wasn't stealing family heirlooms for the binary digits engraved on them; he was taking them from his victims' scalps with a surgical scalpel inherited from his own ancestor.  You see my concern: it was was much darker.

Outside St Paul's Cathedral.
My intention was to release LQE a year after To the Grave, thinking that I could get it ready and get a head start on the fourth book so the gap between books three and four wouldn’t be so long, but it all came together so much faster than I’d anticipated.  Suddenly I had the chance to release it before Christmas, so that’s what I did.  It was more than ready and I couldn’t see any reason to hold it back.  If I'd stuck to my plan I would only have released it last month!  I'm glad I didn't wait.

I really held my breath when I released this book, hoping that the lack of a past narrative wouldn’t be an issue and that I'd done a good enough job with all the changes I'd made.  It’s been out almost eight months now and when I look at the ratings and see it on a par with the other two books, I wonder what on earth I was worrying about.  On reflection, I like the idea that you don’t quite know what you’re going to get from one book in the series to the next.  I think it keeps things fresh.

As some will already know, I thought at the time that The Last Queen of England was my last attempt at a writing career.  I remember saying to my wife once I’d finished the original version  that I didn’t think I could do it again.  I had written three books and they had taken several years to write on a full time basis, with no income and no promise of them ever being read, let alone earning a living from my writing so I could continue to write.  I  had thrown everything I had into it, trying three different approaches to the basic genealogical crime mystery concept that the agents and publishers who saw my work universally agreed was a good one.  If LQE wasn’t a success, I felt I had nothing left to offer.  Then the whole e-book thing came along and Amazon gave me a platform on which to publish myself.  I’m very grateful to them for the opportunity Kindle Direct Publishing gave me, and of course I'm grateful to the readers who have bought my books.  When I write now, I do so with the knowledge that my stories will be read.  I needed to know that if I was going to continue writing, and for that I sincerely thank you.

I mentioned last time that there were a few highlights to come.  The first was when I was contacted by a French film producer earlier in the year, asking about the TV/Film rights to In the Blood.  My books have sold very well in France, with In the Blood having been in the Amazon top 100 for around 300 days when I last looked.  So although I was surprised that such an enquiry should come from France, I guess I shouldn’t have been.  I looked into the producer and saw that among many other things, he’d worked on the film Charlotte Gray and on the Highlander TV series, so I wrote back and said that the rights were available.

I had a response to say that the 'team' were going to look at the story more closely and come back to me with their creative vision.  It was all very exciting, although I’ve not heard anything more since then.  I’m told things can move very slowly with these things, but even if nothing comes of it, it's great, and very encouraging, to think that In the Blood was being considered for film/TV.  Around this time I also had an enquiry about adaptation rights from a publisher in Turkey, but I decided I wanted to keep all my translation rights for the time being, to keep my options open and because if I’m honest with myself I was worried about doing the wrong thing.

And then...  Yes, there’s more!  A literary agent contacted me recently and I’ll tell you all about that in part 5, which should just about bring things up to date.

Friday, 5 July 2013

My story so far - part 3.

We've caught up to the third quarter of 2011 now, and with In the Blood published, my thoughts turned to my second Jefferson Tayte book, To the Grave.  Because my agent at the time was unable to secure a deal with a mainstream publisher, I knew had to write something a little different to have any chance of success the second time around, as I couldn’t see the sense in offering more of the same when the first book hadn’t worked out.  To the Grave differs then from In the Blood in that the past narrative is told entirely from a single point of view and it‘s as much about the past story of what happened to Mena Lasseter and why, as it is about Jefferson Tayte’s struggle to find her.  Originally, I had also written a present-day narrative that tried to settle JT in Cornwall, which didn’t work very well, and I’ve since thought it would have been a big mistake as it would have limited his assignments.  When looking at the book again, I also felt that it didn’t really sit alongside In the Blood as well as it needed to, since In the Blood’s publication had set the precedence for the rest of the series: a past mystery with a present-day thriller.

So, I had about 40,000 words I could use from the past narrative, and I decided to write a whole new storyline for JT to include the thriller elements present in In the Blood.  When I look at the two versions of To the Grave now, they are like night and day and I’m very glad I didn’t stick with what I had.  When you’re working by yourself with only your instincts to guide you, I think it can be very difficult to know what to do and to feel confident about it.  I’m very glad I trusted my instincts and didn’t take the easy route of releasing the book as it was originally written.  ‘Kill your darlings’ is a phrase often cited in writing circles and that was never more true for me than when it came to editing To the Grave for publication.

It took me about eight months to get it ready, and it was released one year after In the Blood in June 2012.  During that time I really enjoyed all the reader interaction from chatting on the Kindle forums and on Twitter (and I still do), and I also built a garden office so I could feel like I was going out to work each day and would have somewhere with a proper chair and desk to sit at.  The reality has since proven a little different to my expectations though, as most months since I finished building it have been too cold, and I shudder to think what it would have cost to heat it up and keep it warm every day. So, I still write in bed and at the kitchen table, although it’s summer now and I’m happy to report that I’m in my writers’ cabin, writing this blog.  Here are some photos.

This was taken just after the build in 2011.
Summer 2013

Lovely cushion for the cabin sofa. Thanks Sarah!

The story of the little red suitcase and my serendipitous jacket cover.

If ever something was meant to be then I believe it was the cover for To the Grave.  While I’m writing a book I often wonder about the cover as I go along, and that gets more and more important as the publication date draws closer. I produce my book covers myself from photographs I take, either on research trips, as with In the Blood, or on specific cover shoots, as with To the Grave and The Last Queen of England.  For To the Grave’s cover, I decided I wanted to depict a scene from the book which involved Mena’s red suitcase and a snowy country lane.

Mena Lasseter's suitcase.

It was winter by the time I finished the first draft, but I didn’t hold much hope of getting snow right when I wanted it, so I focused on the suitcase, hoping to find one from the 1940s so it would look authentic.  This is where the serendipity part comes in because I went on eBay and there was a small, 1940s red suitcase for sale that looked just how I imagined Mena’s suitcase to be.  So I bid on it and I won the bid, which was lucky in itself.  It arrived a few days later and a day or so after that it snowed quite heavily in the night.  I couldn’t believe my luck.  It was a bright, sunny morning and at about 07:30 I ran to the lane at the bottom of the road where I live, with my camera in one hand and Mena’s suitcase in the other, and I took the shots for the cover before the snow got trampled or turned to slush.  And as if by magic To the Grave had a cover.

In part 4 I’ll let you know all about the dark turn my third book originally took, and about the challenges and concerns I faced with the rewrite - as well as a few things that got me really excited earlier this year.