Archive | January 2013

Laziness = Lost Readers

A couple of days ago I failed to download a book due to laziness. Not mine but the laziness of the author who wanted me to read their book.

I’ll explain in a moment but first – what do you think makes readers buy/download a book: the scintillating prose, fascinating characters or the intricately-woven web of the story over which the author has spent months (sometimes years) sweating blood?

Sadly – unless it’s on the basis of a review or a recommendation – the answer is none of the above.

The story is what you as an author hope readers (buyers) will enjoy once they start on your book. First, though, you’ve got to get them to pick up the book or click on it via their browser.

And that involves several factors: your name (if you have a track record), the snappy title, the stylish and enticing cover… and maybe the price. Other factors like genre, tags and placement may also play a role.

Next comes the first moment when potential readers/buyers will actually begin reading your words. And the first thing most people will read? That’s right – the ‘blurb’.

Now, like many authors I hate writing blurbs. You have to sell your book in just a few paragraphs of sufficient wit/charm/intrigue that they then do the one thing that makes sense of all those months spent shut away working on your magnum opus – to read the damn book!

So it really, really annoys me when I see indie/self-published authors putting poorly-written, lazily-edited blurbs on their Amazon pages.

On Monday I was looking at some books on free promotion and thought the title and cover of one looked fairly interesting and professional so clicked through to the book’s page on Amazon. And my heart sank when I skimmed the blurb and read the following:

‘Tom Bracewell is an economist for an investment bank when he comes home one days to find his Estonian wife Tatyana has disappeared.

But where has she gone?

And why?

Sarah Turnbull is a currency analysts who has just been hired by The Leopard Fund, a vast hedge fund run by the ruthless French financier Jean-Pierre Telmont.’

These weren’t the first lines of the blurb but I hesitated on the first line here as there’s either something wrong with the grammar or something missing from the sentence. Then I spotted the two superfluous plurals and left the page.

Sadly there are two many poorly written, badly formatted and unedited self-published books out there – which is why people like Tahlia Newland are doing such a great job trying to encourage professional standards with the Awesome Indies site.

Which is also why, having been so irritated by the sloppy mistakes above, I thought that if an author can’t be bothered to get his blurb right then I’m not going to waste my time seeing if the book itself is any better.

Sorry if I’m pontificating again and I realise this has turned into a bit of a rant. But I do feel better for it!

There’s also a harsh but simple message for all indie authors. If your blurb doesn’t hook potential readers you might as well not bother publishing.

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Ha’d’wee Rite Gd Dilog

In a good story all the characters have their own voice. Just like us, they’re all individuals and they’ve each got their own mannerisms – including how they speak.

Cloud_Atlas_35

It’s a jungle out there. (From the film version of Cloud Atlas.)

But putting their words down in the way that we, as authors, want them to sound is a darn tricky process.

I was thinking about this because last night I went to a British Council training session for people (like me) who teach English as a foreign language (EFL).

As in most jobs, EFL teachers tend to stick to certain routines. We teach vocabulary and grammar and then we help students string it together so they can read and speak English. But what about listening?

One of last night’s speakers, Richard Cauldwell from Speech In Action, used the analogy of greenhouse and garden to talk about how we teach learners of English. In the greenhouse, we teach them individual words, including spelling and pronunciation. In the garden, we mix them up with a bit of grammar and intonation to form pleasing patterns.

Such as: ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’

We teach students how to say the words – with a little lift at the end to indicate a question.

But Richard’s point was that at normal speed the sentence might sound more like: ‘Wd’yuh lik’uh cuppa tea?’ (Say it to yourself fast and you might notice the ‘k’ in ‘like’ also disappears.) That’s what he calls the ‘jungle‘ of real, everyday dialogue.

However, if writing speech as it sounds – or how we want our character to sound –  can cause problems. If we fill our dialogue with elisions – the technical term for running words together, and dropping vowels and consonants – it can look at best like gobbledegook and at worst as if we’re illiterate. (Your spellchecker will also be underlining everything in red.)

I’ve tried a few times. There’s a gamekeeper in my book The Vault with a strong rural accent and I found his ‘voice’ by speaking his dialogue in my head, listening to how it really sounded and trying to approximate that on the page.

cloud-atlas-book-coverIn his superb 2004 book Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell weaves six different stories. The middle one is set in a near(ish) future dystopia where the central character, Zachry, tells the story in his own voice.

And Zachry’s voice is a version of English that has evolved: it’s more phonetic, less grammatical – and takes quite an effort to read. (If the whole book had been told by Zachry I’m not sure I’d have coped.)

Even with my old gamekeeper, I had to be careful. If I’d made his accent too strong and written it how it sounded it would have been incomprehensible. It’s a difficult balance: giving your characters their unique, authentic voice and making sure that readers understand what they’re trying to say.

Submitted And Committed

‘A few days ago we were woken up by the sound of the ground shaking. My house fell down and a lot of my things were lost but I am very lucky because I still have my family…’

Photo by Mark Pearson

Photo by Mark Pearson

Most of us take a lot for granted, whether that’s our health, the right to free speech or the fact that the buses run (mostly) on time.

We don’t expect helicopters to explode in the sky above us (Carpe Diem And All That), nor do we expect our homes to be destroyed by an unpredictable planet.

My last job in the world of PR (before retraining to be a teacher) was managing communications for a disaster relief charity called ShelterBox. It was a fascinating and challenging job. While I was there, the charity responded to everything from typhoons in the Philippines to conflict in Somalia, floods in Pakistan and hurricanes in the Caribbean.

In each case, ShelterBox sent emergency shelter and other aid to families who had lost their homes as a result of the various disasters. Back at base in Cornwall we heard all kinds of tragic stories and part of my job was to use that information to raise awareness of the charity’s work.

But one story that particularly touched my heart was about a deployment from before my time. It is the story of Siti Ayeesha, an eight-year-old girl from Java who lives through a powerful earthquake that wrecks her village and kills many of her friends.

Siti relates what happens in the video below and what makes it particularly moving for me is that it’s told in her words, voiced by an eight-year-old English girl:

This video has always inspired me. In many ways it was the motivation in 2010 when my wife and I undertook a 10,000-mile tandem bike ride to promote the work of ShelterBox. And when I published my second novel, The Vault, it was a factor in my decision that 50% of the royalties would go to the charity.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been working with an editor on a revised version of The Vault – and have just submitted it to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. And I’ve decided that in the unlikely event I win any of the prize money on offer, I’m going to stick to giving half to ShelterBox.

So, there you are: I’ve made a public commitment. No backing out now!

Breaking Your Concentration

I mentioned in a recent post that I like writing with music in the background as it keeps my subconscious from getting bored.

A lot of the time, my laptop is set to play a random compilation from the albums on the hard drive. Most of the time it works fine: songs play, I listen with part of my brain and write with another bit.

Occasionally though certain songs pop up and I just have to stop, turn up the volume and – yes, sad but true – get up and boogie round the room. This is one such culprit:

I was working on a rewrite of an old fantasy short story that I wrote about 20 years ago. But then the intro began and I knew it was break time.

Anyone else have the same problem? What gets you out of your chair?

Snowhobbits

This has nothing to do with my books and it isn’t even my picture but I couldn’t resist posting it anyway:

Snowhobbit. (C) Amelia Owens.

Snowhobbit. (C) Amelia Owens.

My 16-year-old niece Amelia is a Tolkien fiend and also has a definite artistic streak. Glad to see she didn’t get bored when her school was closed for a couple of days due to snow!

Almost Black And White

Wanted a break from editing work so went out playing with the dogs instead. Our first proper snow of the year: in the apple orchards near Canterbury.

lowricassie1orchard1lowri2

Carpe Diem And All That

My youngest sister, Bronwen, loves Peppa Pig, Rosie & Jim and nursery rhymes. She also needs spoon feeding, can’t do anything unaided and only speaks a few words.

Peppa Pig and family.

Peppa Pig and family.

But Bronwen isn’t a little girl. She’s 50 years old and still lives with my parents, who at their ages should be relaxing in the garden they love. And, although Bron needs carers to toilet, wash, feed her etc, my parents wouldn’t dream of ever handing over responsibility for my sister.

One reason for writing this is that this morning I left Carolyn behind in Hampshire and caught the train to my parent’s place in Canterbury so I can help out for a week. That’s because my 77-year-old dad – who normally helps get Bron in and out of bed etc – has been having a run of bad luck.

My dad came down with shingles a year ago and still hasn’t got back to full health. One reason – only diagnosed in December – is a heart problem that led to his lungs filling up with fluid, meaning he couldn’t sleep properly let alone do anything strenuous like move my sister around.

Earlier this month, he also had a large crown come out of one of his teeth and picked up a throat infection. A couple of days later, he woke in the small hours in agony and was rushed to hospital. Surgeons later removed an 8-inch arterial blood clot from his left leg.

Needless to say, my dad’s feeling a bit battered at the moment. Not sure if he’s been smashing mirrors or has offended the gods in some way but his run of bad luck seems a bit unfair. He’s a retired university lecturer, a vegetarian and while in the RAF got in trouble for handing out leaflets promoting nuclear disarmament. I mean, why pick on him?

130116095925-helicopter-crash-t1-10am-story-top

Another reason for mentioning all this is that my train to Canterbury took me through London and past the snapped-off crane involved in yesterday’s terrible helicopter crash.

It’s a miracle only two people were killed – and incredible that the two crane drivers who would otherwise have been up there had both overslept. What makes me so sad though is the thought of poor Matt Wood. He was going to work when the helicopter hit the crane above him and he was killed.

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How random is that? Flying involves certain risks, which is why pilots undergo so much training. But to be walking along in central London and have a helicopter explode above your head? A totally unpredictable end and absolutely tragic.

The randomness of ‘fate’ is exactly that. Random. It probably never crossed the minds of my parents that they’d still be looking after a severely mentally and physically handicapped daughter into their 8th and 9th decades!

My best man, Nigel, was always quite fit. He played rugby, went to the gym and came hiking in the mountains with me. In the late 90s he was also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Sadly, his was an exceptionally bad case of MS. Five or six years ago he moved into a hospice near Oxford. He died in 2010 aged just 45.

That’s why I’ve always believed wholeheartedly in the saying carpe diem. It might seem a bit of a cliche but that’s only because it really is so important to ‘seize the day’.

Personally, I don’t think there is some deep plan to life where everything’s already mapped out. Or if there is a reason behind everything that happens then it’s way beyond my comprehension.

That’s why we must try and make our dreams come true now. Who knows what’s going to fall out of the heavens, strike us down in one way or another, or just generally mess with the neat lives we might otherwise have mapped out for ourselves?

I’ve now published four novels and one book of short stories but I don’t know if I’ll ever make a living as a writer. I doubt if I’ll ever win the Nobel Prize for literature.

However, writing is one of the passions in my life. It gives reason and purpose to a lot of what I do and think. So I’m not going to wait for inspiration to strike or for my big league publishing contract to turn up in the post. I’m going to sit down and tap these keys until some kind of story takes shape and then – once it’s proofread, edited etc – I’m going to damn well get on and publish it.

Ride, Eat, Sleep

So, is cycling an excuse to eat chocolate or chocolate a reason to go cycling? Please discuss.

Jan IOW 01

Only a few calories in this.

My next great novel had to be put aside yesterday. It was my wife’s birthday and we took our tandem across the water for a brief tour of the Isle of Wight.

It’s funny, I grew up in Hampshire and have travelled all over the world but had never made the 30 minute journey to the Isle of Wight before. (For those of you not from these parts, the IoW is the squashed diamond shape island just off the south coast of England immediately below Southampton).

Did about 40 miles of cycling in temperatures of about 2°C (max). Beautiful but quite hilly and I’m not sure my toes ever really warmed up even with two pairs of socks and shoe covers on.

Today it was -2°C outside at 10.30am so I’m quite content to stay inside with the heating on, sit at my laptop and get back to writing.

And yes, we did eat the whole bar of chocolate – and I only had slightly more than Carolyn!

Waiting to depart.

Waiting to depart.

Freshwater Bay

Yarmouth Pier

Yarmouth Pier

Promoting KDP Promotions

I’ve been publishing on Kindle for just over a year and using KDP Select to run free promotions every few months.

Success levels have varied. My highest number of downloads was during a five-day giveaway for which I did zero promotion. However, I have also used 30+ websites that take FREE submissions for Kindle giveaways and thought I’d share my knowledge with all you other indie authors out there.

Author Marketing Club

The Author Marketing Club (AMC) is very useful. Join and you have access to their ‘free submission tool’ – a webpage linking directly to 18 sites (plus one for children’s books) that list and promote free Kindle books. For the club’s homepage and link to joining instructions, click here.

The following sites linked to AMC have all listed my books at least once – those with an asterisk next to them have done so for each promotion:

Author Marketing Club*; Bargain EBook Hunter; Free Book Dude*; Indie Book Of The Day; Awesome Gang; Book Goodies; Free Booksy; EBooks Habit; Snicks List* (list on first day of promotion only).

The following sites (as far as I can tell) have never listed my promotions even when meeting their requirements:

Pixel Of Ink; EReader Cafe (nothing shorter than 120 pages); Books On The Knob; Kindle Book Promos (minimum 14 days notice); Free Kindle Fiction; EReader News Today (requires 3+ reviews); Orangeberry Free Me; Digital Book Today (requires 18+ reviews and minimum 4* Amazon rating), Kindle Book Review (minimum 14 days notice).

Other sites

Other sites that I have approached for Kindle promotions are below. Those in bold have listed my giveaways, the others haven’t. The name of each site is linked to it’s submissions page and I’ve noted any requirements of which I’m aware:

Addicted To EBooks – submit on the day only

Centsible Reads – 5 reviews with 80% average

FK Books & Tips – 4* review minimum

Free Books Daily – submit on the day only

Free Kindle EBooks – a weekly listing

Frugal EReader

Goodreads – see group forums, some with listings for Kindle freebies

Indie Book Bargains – UK site, submit on the day only

Kindle Boards – require 3+ reviews and 4* rating

Pixel Scroll – submit a week in advance

Story Finds

Super EBooks – enter details on a calendar of promotions

World Literary Cafe – join as member and list about 10 days before promotion

Comments

As you’ll see, I’ve listed more than 30 websites and forums that I’ve used to try and promote Kindle giveaways. Of these, about 16 have listed my promotions at one time or another.

There are other sites that list promotions. Some do it automatically taking information direct from Amazon and do not provide any opportunity for authors to submit information. Others list promotions but charge.

A number of the sites above take free submissions but also ask for donations or offer a guaranteed listing for a fee. (Which might be why some have never listed my books!)

What I have no idea about is how many readers look at these listings. My suspicion is that these sites are mostly used by fellow authors also trying to plug their giveaways! (My suspicion not helped by the fact that – as mentioned above – my most successful promotion was one for which I did no publicity at all.)

I also have no information about how much traffic any of these sites gets. Which is why, apart from being a natural skinflint, I’ve never paid for a listing. I don’t see the point in paying $10 for a listing on a blog just because it boasts a mailing list of 10,000 as I’ve no idea how genuine the numbers are, how genuine the addresses are – and how many are for genuine readers.

I’ve included Goodreads in my list. The site is huge and growing and probably the best place to get your book plugged other than on Amazon itself. It also includes various forums for authors, some of which provide opportunities to plug freebies. Writers of genre fiction will probably find it extremely easy to find groups that meet your tastes.

Hope this is all useful. Any additional suggestions or comments welcome.

PS. My adventure novel Pagan’s Sphinx is free for about another 36 hours! Links: Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk

Latest Promo

My latest novel – Pagan’s Sphinx – is on free promotion with Amazon over the next five days (10th – 14th January).

Pagan's Sphinx#As mentioned previously, this one’s a bit different from my other books, which is why it’s published under the pen name William Webster.

I see this as more of an old-fashioned adventure yarn. Nothing complicated – foreign setting, ancient mystery, a bit of romance, danger and intrigue.

So if that’s your cup of tea please download a copy and enjoy.

Any feedback would be really appreciated: if you didn’t like it then send me an email and tell me why you thought it stunk, if you loved it then please put a 5* review on Amazon and tell all your friends!

Links are here:

Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk

PS. If you’re more into contemporary fiction with a story of a schoolboy battles  woven around a murder mystery then The Vault is also free for another couple of days – links are:The Vault

The Vault on Amazon.com

The Vault on Amazon.co.uk

After these two I’ll probably give the promotions a break for a while – concentrate on getting on with the next book.