Friday, 28 June 2013

A little update

Just a small entry this week as I've been so focused on the 4th Jefferson Tayte book that I've not had time to work on part 3 of 'My story', which I'll try to get to next week.  I've also got some genealogy coming up in the near future, where I thought I'd let you know more about my previously unknown American GI grandfather and the steps that led to finding his resting place.

I'm working on the past narrative for book four at the moment, which I like to write first (when there is one), and then I'll be working on JT's part of the story and merging the two together.  I'm really looking forward to finding out what JT's going to get up to next - and if or how he's going to get out of the trouble I'm sure he'll soon find himself in.

So I'm living in the past most of the time and the research that's taking be back there has been quite intense this week, but I'm enjoying it.  I've learnt so much since becoming a writer and our past particularly fascinates me.  All that research doesn't help the word count of course,  but it should add to the realism and overall enjoyment of the story when it's finished.  The word count is going up though, and I hope to add more today.  Getting past the first 10,000 words was a milestone because they're usually the toughest, and the more story I get down, the clearer the rest becomes. 


Friday, 21 June 2013

My story so far - part 2.

Part 1 of my story covered those years from when I was made redundant in 2005, to 2011 when I decided to have a go at publishing my books myself and became an indie author.  In this part I’ll go on from there, covering the release of my first book In the Blood.

When I signed up with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and hit the ‘publish’ button for my first book In the Blood, my expectations were very low.  I suppose this came from having no idea what to expect and that after so many disappointments along the way, I’d already accustomed myself to expect the worst.  But I had nothing to lose, and that was the attitude I went into independent publishing with.

My initial sales strategy was to sell In the Blood for as little as Amazon would allow me to.  After all, I was an author no one had ever heard of, with one book out and zero reviews.  If any potential readers managed to find my book’s product page, and if they liked the blurb I’d written and were interested, the last thing I wanted to do was to scare them away because of the price.  At that time I figured anyone buying my book was taking a gamble, so I wanted to make the bet as low as possible to minimise the reader’s risk.  Above all I just wanted my book to be read.

There are several moments in my publishing career to date that I remember with great clarity, some of which I’ve already mentioned and others that I've yet to come to.  Getting my first sale from someone I didn’t know was one such moment, and I’m sure that feeling is the same for every author.  It’s very special and it makes you grin a lot.  Then you wait for another sale and another, and after a short while you’re thinking about that first review, which is equally exciting to see, but far more scary.  I’m sure I slept fitfully in the weeks following the publication of In the Blood, and whenever I see the review count for one of my books increase, despite having seen many hundreds over the past couple of years, I still get nervous and scroll down with trepidation to see it.

I’ve been lucky.  Some people will advocate that you make your own luck, and to a large extent I’d agree with that philosophy.  But there are times when a break can go a long way and for me it was when I joined the Goodreads UK Amazon Kindle forum and the Kindle Users Forum (KUF) and both chose In the Blood as their book of the month - which was a great honour and something I’ll never forget.  I like to think I’ve made many friends through these forums and ohers, and I’d encourage you to drop by and check them out. Below are links to my ‘author chat’ threads.

A few months after first publishing In the Blood I really started to believe that I  might be able to make a career from my writing.  The early signs were good and suddenly I was getting paid again.   My first pay cheque from Amazon wasn’t that much to most people, but it was to me.  It was enough to take my wife out to dinner and buy her a gift out of the money I had earned, which was something I hadn’t been able to do in over five years.  It made me very happy.

After the Kindle edition of In the Blood had been out a few months, I released a paperback edition.  I had never planned to do this because I initially thought that I’d have to put a lot of money into it and that the books would be too expensive to compete in the marketplace - neither of which was a problem with the Kindle edition.  After a while though I started getting emails and posts on one forum and another asking why it wasn't available in paperback and one person really touched me when she said she wanted to read In the Blood but couldn’t afford a Kindle, so I looked into it and was surprised to find that it cost very little to put a paperback into general distribution.   I chose because they’re UK based and I liked the online setup, again not expecting much from paperback sales - just that the paperback edition would be there if anyone wanted it.   Since then both In the Blood and To the Grave have been at number one in the publisher’s bestseller list.  They’re both still in the top five now at numbers two and three.  I've since come to think that it's also more professional to have paperback edition of your books available.

In part three I'll talk about the publication of my second book To the Grave in more detail and the writers' cabin I built.

Photo share - Magical Ogo Dour, Cornwall

Just a quick photo share before I crack on and write some more words for my next book.  I'm deep into a historical section at the moment and the going seems all the slower for it.  I Love the research though.  I'm learning so much as I write each book and that's definitely another great positive side-effect to writing.

So, here's another pic from my last trip to Cornwall.  It was taken at a great place on the Lizard peninsula called Ogo Dour, which was made all the more magical with a long exposure of 113 seconds.  I took it with my Canon 5D Mk3 and 35mm lens at f16.

Later on today I hope to post a bit more of my story (part 2), but that will depend on how the writing goes.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

To the Grave makes the Top 20!

Yay!  I like ‘yay’ moments so I thought I’d start this blog post with one, and with good reason.

Mystery &Thriller top 100
A couple of posts ago I asked the question, ‘Can To the Grave make the top 100?’  Well, as you can see from the title of this post (and that ‘yay’), yes it did, and then some.  At one point I thought it had all gone wrong because the adverts and features I’d set up were too spread out, meaning that most of the gains were lost before the next promotion kicked in.  But I hadn’t figured on the power of Bookbub.

I didn’t know when to expect the Bookbub feature to kick in yesterday, or quite what to expect from it.  I thought I might see some sales trickle through early on as they did with the ENT feature, but I imagined the bulk (if there was even going to be a bulk) would come overnight.  At around 5pm UK time though, I saw the download total for To the Grave start to increase, not just in ones or twos, but in the twenties and thirties, and even in the hundreds if I didn’t check for a while.   Every time I looked, the total had increased and I started to get very excited.

My main focus for this promotion was to see if To the Grave could make it into the top 100.  It had plenty of great reviews and still is the top-rated book in crime, thrillers and mystery on Amazon UK, and the top rated historical mystery on, so I thought it had a good chance given that this was also its first ever price-drop promotion.  It was rising up the charts very nicely and I stayed up a bit later than usual to see how high it would go before I went to bed because by 22:30 (my usual bedtime) To the Grave was just outside the top 100 at No.121.  I kept refreshing my browser screen and one minute it would drop and then rise again, and about an hour later I saw that it had reached No.97!  I ran around my living room for a few minutes then I went to bed, feeling very happy and a little too excited to sleep, hoping that it would still be in the top 100 come morning, yet fully expecting it to be in the 100s or 200s.

When I woke up this morning I couldn’t believe it, and I really did have to rub my eyes and do a double take.  To the Grave was at No.15 in the bestseller chart!  I had to take some screen shots so I can look back at them and know it really is true.

 I’m very grateful to everyone who has bought a copy and although you probably didn’t realise it, when you did you were helping to make someone’s dream come true, and for that I thank you very much.

Getting into the bestseller charts has always been a goal for me and the reason goes beyond anything monetary.  It was never about that, although I’m thankful that I’m now able to make a living from my writing.  I think it stems back to all those rejections letters I received from agents and publishers (see ‘my story - part 1’) who were essentially telling me I wasn’t good enough to join the club I so wanted to belong to.  When that happens you really only have two choices: you can choose to believe them and give up the dream, or you can keep going and try even harder to make it.  I’m glad I chose the latter and stuck at it.

I don't recall feeling overly conscious of this when I wrote it, but there’s a section in To the Grave that must have come about from all that rejection and all those voices in my head that sometimes made me question whether I really was good enough.  It's from a scene where Jefferson Tayte is talking with his friend, Marcus Brown...

It served to remind Tayte how hopeless it was to keep trying, but every time he voiced such thoughts his friend would remind him of one simple truth.  He could hear Marcus telling him it for the first time - could picture him pulling at his goatee as he often did when he had anything thought provoking to say.
“They say there’s only one certainty in life, Jefferson.  Know what it is?”
Tayte had been twenty-three years old and he knew well enough.  “Death,” he’d said.
“That’s right, but it’s not the only certainty, is it?”
“It’s not?”
“No,” Marcus said.  “The other certainty is that wherever you want to go, whatever you want to be or do, or find in your case, you will certainly never get there if you give up.  Now pick your chin up off the floor and stop feeling sorry for yourself.  You’ve got work to do.”

Promotion websites such as Bookbub offer independent authors another way to get our books noticed, and clearly it can work very well.  They have become a viable alternative to giving thousands of books away for an increased popularity ranking on Amazon, which can also be a very effective way to get noticed, but it’s good to know that there is now another way open to us, and that has to be a good thing for independent publishers and authors.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

My story so far - part 1

I said in my first post that I'd write a bit about what's happened since I began writing full time as I thought it would be good to bring you (and this blog) up to date with a summary of all the blog posts I probably would have written if I hadn't stopped blogging before.  So here's a little background.

I used to work for a telecoms company called Cable & Wireless.  In 2005 I was made redundant and so decided to have a go at making a career out of writing.  That idea didn't just come out the blue because I've always written, but it was only in the face of questions like, 'What the hell am I going to do now?' that I decided maybe there was a chance I could write full time for a living.  So, with my wife's agreement and support (and the little bit of redundancy money that was left after paying off the car loan) we decided to give it a shot.  That first year I wrote and wrote and ended up with a first novel that was 168,000 words long and in need of much editing. 

That book was In the Blood and when I felt it was ready I submitted a great many query letters and samples of the book to the various literary agencies, and I remember my very first rejection letter even now, almost eight years later.  I remember it because it was hand written and said some very nice things about my writing and ideas and I'd read many times that getting anything handwritten from an agent or publisher was both rare and a very good sign.  Of course, I received many form rejections after that (some even on the back of my own letter), but every now and then one would come back with positive things to say.  So, encouraged by this I kept going and one day an agent asked me to go and see her at her offices in London.  I remember that day very well, too, because after leaving her offices I just couldn't stop smiling (it was and still is very high up on my list of best feelings) and I rang everyone I knew, or so it seemed, because suddenly I had an agent!

If everything that goes up must come down again, for me it was a year later when all the publishers my agent sent my book to turned it down.  But again, I wasn't discouraged because she was kind enough to share their rejection emails with me and they all had very good things to say about my book, most ultimately blaming the economic climate forcing them to be particularly choosy, with others saying that although they liked it, they thought a semi-historical mystery thriller would be hard to place on the bookshelves.  I had written my second book To the Grave by now, although it was very different to the version I eventually published.  My agent wasn't keen on half of it, though: She liked the past narrative but not the present-day (which I agreed with and later re-wrote it),  so I shelved that book, too, and wrote another book called The Last Queen of England.  It was originally much darker than the version now in print (which isn't dark at all by comparison) and my agent chose not to represent that to the publishers either.  Four years on I suddenly felt as though I was back to square one, opening that redundancy notice again and wondering what to do about it. 

Not ready to give up, I tried in vain to get another agent, and again my mailbox filled with rejection letters.  Then one evening I went out for dinner with some friends and contracted food poisoning, which, although very serious at the time (having put me in bed for over a week), on reflection was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me because it was while I was laid up in bed that I decided In the Blood and the idea behind the genealogical crime mystery series I was writing had too much going for it just to let it sit and gather dust and go unread.  So with nothing to lose, I decided to have a go myself.

Please check back soon for part 2.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Can To the Grave make the top 100?

It was the first anniversary of my second book To the Grave last week, and to mark the occasion I dropped the price of the Kindle edition to as low as Amazon allow (without making a book free) and ran my first ever 'paid for' promotion.  I was planning to run several adverts and features within the first 24-48 hours of the sale, hoping to maximise the number of downloads in as short a space of time as possible to launch the book as high up the charts as possible - hopefully into the top 100.  I was planning to run the promotion for one week, but I soon discovered that unless you plan these things months ahead, it's not always possible to get the dates you want.  Most disappointing was that Bookbub, the most expensive feature, but hopefully the most effective, couldn't run the date I wanted and the closest they had was a week later.  My plans were thwarted as I had already paid for other features to coincide with the book's anniversary.

Still, I took the offered date and decided to extend my promotion for a further week to accommodate it, and the first week went quite well with To the Grave's chart position peaking in the 400s in the UK and the 900s in the US.  But as my paid for features were more scattered than I'd hoped for, the gains they made were significantly eroded again by the time the next feature hit.  I had thought because of this that my promotion and overall goal of reaching the Kindle top 100 had failed.  Then I got an email from Ereader News Today.

I had contacted them about the promotion, but hadn't heard from them to say they were going to run it, so I'd forgotten all about it until an email arrived to say that they wanted to run the feature on To the Grave.  With their email new hope arrived.  The feature went out yesterday, but when I went to bed last night I thought it was going to be a bit of a flop because very few new sales came in as a result.  When I woke up this morning though I had a very nice surprise.  Overnight, To the Grave's chart position on had climbed from the 2000s into the 400s!  I watched it climb higher still this morning into the 300s and onto the Movers & Shakers list, peaking at No.16.  

So, my hopes for To the Grave reaching the .com top 100 are still very much alive, despite not having managed to schedule all the promotions to run within the first 24-48 hours of the sale.  The chart position has dropped back to the 400s now, but it's still very well placed for the Bookbub feature that's going out tomorrow and ENT's feature may even yield further downloads overnight tonight.  I won't see the results of the Bookbub feature until Thursday morning UK time, but you can bet I'll be watching and hoping until then.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Bookmarks and Business Cards

I'd been meaning to do this for a long time and I was reminded about it when I was in Cornwall on holiday a couple of weeks ago, staying in a village called Mullion on the Lizard Peninsula.

Here's a photo I took looking down on Mullion Harbour.

I hadn't been to Cornwall for some time (too long) and when I told the lady who owns the bed & breakfast I usually stay at that I'd become an author since my last visit she suggested I get some bookmarks made so she could hand them out to interested visitors.  Then on a few other occasions, typically in one pub or another, I'd get chatting to someone and end up writing my details down on a beer mat, wishing (again) that I'd had some calling cards made for such occasions.  So, one of the first things I did when I got back from Cornwall (apart from sorting out my tax affairs) was to start designing them, and here's what I came up with.

It took less than a week from concept to delivery and I'm very pleased with them.  No more scribbling my details down on soggy beermats!

My first blog post!

Actually, that's not true because I did try blogging when I first published in 2011.  I think I managed about four posts over the first few months, and then I gave up.  There was suddenly so much more to do.  I had a book out at last and with its publication came a whole new business to learn about and try to keep on top of, as well as writing more books, so something had to give.  But here I am again and this time I'm determined to stay.

Something I thought might help with forcing me to make regular posts is the word count you can see at the top of the sidebar to the right.  I've started writing the fourth Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Crime Mystery and although it feels quite scary to go public with the sometimes appallingly low number of words I manage to write in a day (if any), I think it's gong to be good for both of us to get that number out in the open: for you to see how far the first draft is from completion, and for me, to make me feel so bad about posting an appalling figure at the end of the day that I'll carry on writing and writing until I have a decent number to post!

I've added an option to the sidebar to join my mailing list, which just opens a new email window for you with my address and subject already filled in, so you don't have to write anything if you don't want to.  Just click send.  There's another option below that to get email notifications whenever I make new posts, which from here on should be often.

My blog is brand new of course and very much a work in progress, so I'm sure I'll fiddle about with it a lot over the next few months.  Over the years, I hope to share the ups and downs of my life as a writer with you, continuing from here with a few posts to bring you up to date with what's been happening lately.  Right now though I have to go to the supermarket for the weekly shopping, then I'm researching the next scene in my book, so I probably won't be adding to that word count today - see, he's making excuses already!  Okay, I'll try to, but I'm also a bit distracted and excited about getting a feature on EReader News Today for the promotion of my second book To the Grave.  I'll let you know how that goes of course.