Wednesday, February 25, 2015

You just never know who's looking.....

A couple of posts back I made reference to some 'good news' that was coming, well good news for me anyway. Now is the time to let you into the secret.... feel free to cheer!

Let me set the scene - The intention was to release Invictus Part 1 before Christmas but due to some unforeseen circumstances  it slipped into January. Sometimes things just happen for a reason.

I should remind people that this blog has always been designed to reflect my journey, the ups and downs, the lessons learned etc, and so the title - you just never know who's looking - is an important lesson; and here's why.

During the early days there was a big push on to get reviews and life was a little frantic with emails pinging out and in from everywhere.

Out of the blue I am contacted by someone that has read Invictus and is raving about it; not "hey that book you wrote is pretty darn good", more "Shit man, that book is awesome, such vivid scenes and characters, it blew me away". Any author would be very happy to get such a response from a stranger, I was over the moon! We chatted for a bit, a few questions shared between us and that was it (or so I thought).

A few days later I got an email from this person, politely inquiring if I would mind if they sent a copy of 'Invictus' away to some friends to have a look at. Well, once a book is in the public domain anyone can read it so I was slightly taken aback, maybe I was expected to pay for the copies? Nope. So I happily agreed - why wouldn't I.

To cut to the chase, it transpires that these 'friends' happen  to own a digital media company in New York and a fairly high profile entertainment Management Company in Los Angeles AND they are in the market for new projects. I'm old, been around the block a few times, am more cynical and sceptical than most, and have no reason to believe I am deserved of such a lucky break. It wasn't quite 'yeah, yeah, yeah, of course you are.' but it was close. Sufficed to say I spent the next few day's carrying out due diligence and was pleasantly surprised. There was a diddy-widdy knot of excitement developing in my stomach.

Further conversations brought Russian Redemption into the equation, and there was an audible gasp of expectation when I mentioned the as yet unpublished, 'Elementals'. This all happened back in January. To be fair all parties have been very open and honest with each other (which is always the best way) and they have kept me informed of developments pertaining to their plans should my book(s) successfully be selected as a project. A couple of very important points to note:

1. There are NO promises by either party, nothing in writing to confirm any agreements because, other than the proverbial gentleman's handshake based on a lot of "IF's", there are none.

2. Neither party has undertaken, or given reason to believe that an undertaken has been entered into, to solidify the speculative talks held to date.

3. No permissions or retainers have been discussed, agreed or sought.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that everything is still very much up in the air so 'why', (I hear you ask), am I even mentioning it?

Are you joking me?!?1 - I've been writing less than 3 years, and I have a US based, pretty well connected, informed and established media organisation talking to me about turning my books into films or even a TV series; with the added potential of actively being involved in that process - (or even just being on a retainer to continue to write my books, my way, and giving their organisation first option). 

Too right I'm shouting about it - just to get that level of recognition is mind blowing for me. And, years down the line, if I get the chance to fulfill this potential, what a great adventure it would be.

Being of solid grounding I have no expectations, I'm quite prepared to not be selected, there are still at least three more tiers of qualification to get through, each a massive hurdle - But what if?! 

A good friend recently bought me a bottle of 18 Year Old Johnny Walker whisky, Platinum Label, perfect to celebrate the successful navigation of the next hurdle, it's as if he knew. Hhmmmm.

So, here's the lesson: All of this has come from one person happening to read one book, and talking to some friends. It just goes to show that you really don't know who is reading your published work, and why every reader counts.

Realistically I expect to hear if I have progressed in the next 6 - 10 weeks, then it's going to be months before the penultimate hurdle, and it will be then that the diddy-widdy knot of excitement is allowed to grow, just a little!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

More about that Book launch...

There are literally dozens (if not hundreds) of webinars going on all about 'How to have a hugely successful book launch', I listened to another one yesterday - the one difference with this one was that it guaranteed to get you to the No 1 spot, hmmm that's a big statement.

Encouragingly for me,' a lot of what they were saying to do I was already doing, but on a lesser scale; so it's not a rocket science.

I also got bored of the preacher like 'we are great' routine, here's what we are going to do for you, here's what we've done for all these other people, here's how much money we've made for them'. I know I'm English and as such I tend to be a little reserved about telling the world how great I am, but it don't half grind on the nerves when this larger than life person spews huge dollar numbers, and promises great things, all based around the monetary aspects of writing books.

Make no mistake, there were some interesting snippets, for example we are told that the Amazon algorithms have a particular fondness for a book that achieves fifteen reviews - it apparently doesn't matter how many stars, or the quality of the reviews, but fifteen is a magic number. Ok, INVICTUS Part 1 has fifteen reviews so we'll see what happens there.

There is an 'encouragement' to have an 'influence' over some of those reviews. Let's be honest with ourselves, this already happens with numerous Authors, utilizing fake accounts, family and friends, so it's not exactly a news flash but publicly encouraging it does still leave an unpleasant taste in ones mouth.

Promises of thousands of dollars in book sales, top slot in the charts etc etc just plain don't ring true to me - If everyone that took them up on this offer, got to the No 1 slot, well, how many No 1 slots are there?

Another truism that came out was that just having a really good book is not enough to guarantee success - again the presumption is that success is measured in dollars. What's the point of having written such a brilliant piece of literary genius and not tell people that it exists? Well, that's a no-brainer but you'll be surprised how many new authors think that is the case. So, make sure you tell people about your book, utilize social media to proclaim its existence, but that alone will not bring you the acclaim you seek, unless of course you get very lucky. There are other 'human' ways to spread the word, even as simple as a conversation down the local pub, or business clients, just look for them, don't rely on social media.

I was always told that if something seems too good to be true then it normally is; I'm not suggesting for one minute that these guru's can't help progress your stardom, launch you to the very top of the NYT charts or make you tens of thousands of dollars - I'm just saying that you need to be very mindful of what you're getting yourself into, after all they are still a business.

At the moment I am just enjoying writing, learning the trade and experimenting with loads of different characters, scenario's and story lines - it's my idea of great fun and that's what my writing is to me. If your values and reasons are different then that's fine, I'm not here to judge and nor would I.

On a completely different subject, another that I mentioned back-a-ways, that of the Amazon forums; IF you are a newbie I would recommend that you give them a wide berth, some are particularly toxic at the moment. There is a famous female author who seems to have lost the plot a little; she has teamed up with a site called STGRB, which are almost as famous. Together they are on a crusade to drive out bullying on Amazon. In essence this is a good thing, but, almost from the pages of a dark novel of intrigue and deception, all is not as it appears. If curiosity gets the better of you then sit on the side lines and watch, avoid stepping into that arena people, it can cause some serious damage.

So now I'm off to dip my quill in the ink well - happy writing!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Social media savvy?

I learnt an important lesson today people, and one I should have learned about a long time ago!

I use WIX for my website - It's not the best but it's functional, and it's free for the first year. (I'll issue a slight warning here, clever marketing on Wix's part because year two can get expensive - they've lured you in, you get to learn it's functionality and then boom, price hike! But, in all fairness, it is not too expensive if you don't have the e-commerce version).

Anyway, as the site has built and expanded, and as I've learned to use some of the features, I discovered that the automated 'mobile' app isn't quite so automated - dammit. Since I've been adding reviews and write ups I haven't been checking my websites mobile phone friendliness - today I discovered that it really wasn't that friendly.

Fortunately, it's not a difficult fix, just meant spending a few hours on the site and changing a lot. Things to remember with the mobile version of your site:

1. Data usage. Mobile devices use heaps of data, and the more you have on the mobile version of your site the more data it will use to download.

2. Smart phones come in various shapes and sizes, and processor speeds, so downloading can be a bad experience for the end user if there is too much content being downloaded. 

3. Stick to the interesting stuff - you don't have the luxury of being able to cover your mobile version of your website in pretty banners, flowery pictures or stuff like that IF it isn't relevant to the bullet points you're trying to get across. Too much equals too slow! So create a trimmed down version.

4. Simple (and obvious now) regularly check on your own smart phone, see what your customers are seeing.

There are other things to consider - the data network that is available in your area (3G, 4G etc), the size of the handsets display and, lets not forget, the ability of the user; but these are outside of your control.

Have a look at the website first on the computer and then on a smart phone. (It's not perfect because I use WIX, but it's good enough until I can afford a better system.)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

More of that two-way review thing....

Mentioned a few posts back-a-ways, I uncovered the secret of the universe (or at least the universe of reviews). 'Help yourself by helping others' - a simple concept. And I'll give a shout out to 'Book Vetter' for reminding me of this basic ideology.

I also mentioned that I had started to read and review on that site to (hopefully) help other Authors. I don't have any qualifications as a 'Reviewer' but I figure I don't actually need any qualifications - If I read a book, and I like it, I may as well tell people about it. If I read a book and don't like it? Well, I'm not into slating other Authors so I'll just list the title as a 'heads up' BUT just because I don't like it, doesn't mean others won't.

Also, I'm not opening a 'review site' as such, just a page on my website titled 'Other Reading'. IF I can work out how I'll also start showing the books that I have reviewed in the columns on here, but that may take me a little while.

Of course, some will be asking "why am I doing this?" - well, for no other reason than I can. It may not help anybody at all, no-one may even see the reviews, but if there is the slightest chance that I can give anyone a hand up in a very cutthroat, complicated and confusing industry that is Authordom, then why the bloody hell not.

I have been really lucky, I've found support from people that were complete strangers, and had advice from others that are of the same mind set as me, so whilst I've got the opportunity to help, I'm up for it.

You won't find mainstream authors on the 'Other Reading' page, I reckon they've got enough going their way; it's primarily Indie/Small published authors. Also, I'm not a particularly fast reader (with all else that is going on in my life I'm afraid time is a real commodity), but if you fancy a gander, a decent book to read from Authors you have probably never heard of, pop along - 'Other Reading

See you there!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Author Interview for Movies and Manuscripts:

For only the second time in my brief writing history, I was asked to do an interview, well more of a Q & A, around one of my books - the first was Russian Redemption, and here is the second for Invictus:

It seemed to me that your character, Richard Cummings, was extremely well developed.  Did this happen before you wrote the book, or did he come to life as you wrote it? Honestly, Richard came alive as the story unfolded. When I planned this book the character was nothing like Richard, and nor was the story; but after page six it took on a life of it's own, went off in a new direction, so the development of Richard's character was dynamic.

It was pretty obvious that Richard has other adventures in front of him.  Are they already written, or in the works? Invictus II is well on track but I still don't know what the eventual 'The End' will be for Richard. The trouble is, even if I sit down with a story plan all mapped out, as soon as the writing starts I'm like a court recorder, I just write down what I 'see' in my head, the story comes alive, it seems to create itself. I appreciate that sounds unusual but that is how the stories come about. 

If you could be Richard for a day, what mission would you give yourself? This is a real tough question! I don't have a 'hero' complex but it would be one that would make a difference. If time was of no consequence, and modern history was the scope, it would be along the lines of preventing the JFK assassination, stopping Lady Diana from getting in that car, or taking that bullet that brought an end to the life of Martin Luther King. But if I am restricted to the era that Richard currently resides, ultimately I would want the job of investigating/ exposing the dirty politics and criminal activities of corrupt senior politicians.

Other than Richard, which character did you find yourself liking the most - and why? I think Colonel Harry Simmonds, his character is still developing but he's an unassuming almost anonymous extra that has a strong moral compass; I like that.

What do you know now about the writing / publishing business that you wish you knew before writing your first book? In truth, probably nothing. The publishing business is ruthless, fraught with dangers and has its fair share of nasty individuals that are more focused on the destruction of rival talent or the exploitation of the naive - but that's no different from life. Had I known that I probably would never of written a book, never mind published it. The advice I would give is to be very sure of your motives for writing that first book, be true to yourself and be fair to your readers. There is not a single book written that everyone likes, yours won't be the first.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Amazon Countdown option - an experiment.

Right, INVICTUS Part 1 is out there, published on Amazon and priced at US$3.99 - ouch Or opportunity?

I've/ We (Judi at Proofread and myself) have approached this from a slightly different angle and it seems to be working. (One caveat here is that I don't write to make money, I write because I love to write - making money would be nice, but it's not an essential.)

At 112 pages long INVICTUS Part 1 - Introducing Richard is a novella, a shortened story that is designed to introduce the concept and some key characters of a series. The other installments will all be novels, not novella's; basically Part 1 could just as easily have been the first 112 pages of an 850 page book - but in my opinion seeing a book of that size will put off a great many readers at first glance. There will always be exceptions, but this was my thought process behind releasing the novella.

Judi suggested that we publish it under the Amazon Countdown facility, my understanding of this is that it runs at the stated price for a minimum of 30 days, then you can run the countdown promo where the price drops to (for example) $0.99 for 24 hours, then $1.99 for 24 hours, then $2.99 for 24 hours, before settling back at the normal RRP.

Initially I was not keen on the $3.99 price tag - it just seems too much for a novella; despite the fact that it is a damn good read, well edited, professional cover, and all the other things that I have had to invest money in to get it to this point. The trouble is the reader isn't really bothered about those things - they expect them but they also expect them at a bargain basement price. SO we decided to use the 30 days to prove to the would be reader that it is actually worth their hard earned dosh. 

I'm utilizing the 30 days to send out Advanced Review Copies, banking on the $3.99 price tag to discourage people from buying a copy - (I know that sounds bizarre but follow me on this). During that thirty days I'm frantically tracking reviews, my target is to get ten reviews up, real and honest reviews, so that when the thirty day's is up people will have confirmation that INVICTUS Part 1 is a book well worth reading. With the best will in the world, I think most books will have a handful of silly spelling mistakes or minor formatting issues at point of first publication, so this period also provides the opportunity for these to be detected and rectified. THEN run the countdown promo - $0.99 for a book, even a novella, with good quality reviews is a bargain, even at $1.99 it is a steal. This type of marketing boosts sales, it creates a call to action, there is little risk to the buyer because the reviews confirm the quality of their purchase before they purchase it. 

There is a fair bit of mistrust of Indie/SP books, and I've read some examples lately that explain why that mistrust exists. IF it is a FREE download then most (not all) are a little more forgiving if it's crap - if it's free it has no value - and generally people accept that if they are given something free of charge they have little reason to believe it will be anything other than crap.

BUT a book that has proven itself to be of a good standard (as borne out by the reviews hopefully), at a discount price - it tickles peoples natural want for a bargain. The knowledge that the price is going up within a fixed period of time provides the impetus, the call to action.

Well that's the thought process behind what we're trying - at the moment it is proving pretty successful in so much as the reviews are coming through, a few spelling/grammar/formatting errors have been identified and rectified, and, even though a few extra copies have been sold, the build up now is for that Countdown to start. I'll let you know how it goes of course.

On a completely side note - I do monitor quite a few websites/blogsites/FaceBook groups as a matter of interest and there definitely seems to be some noticeable changes in the behaviour of the bulk of serious readers, which is very encouraging for Authors. As I said earlier, there is a mistrust of Indie/SP books based on quality, and generally speaking a lot of these Authors/writers/uploaders throw their books away as freebies; peoples kindles are full of these freebies, maxed out with books that will probably never get read. The change in attitude seems to be that 'quality' is starting to appeal and 'readers' are placing a value on their own reading time, and why shouldn't they - reading is a relaxation and 'downtime' in this frantic world we live in is at a premium. I would suggest that people would rather have 20 books of value than 400 stored that were free and therefore quite possibly not of a given standard. (There are always exceptions!). It seems that the belief is that by process of purchasing, actually parting with a little cash, it filters out a lot of the junk, which in turn gives a value to the readers time. The mind works in mysterious ways because it is kind of obvious when you consider it. At the same time the author has an obligation to produce work of an acceptable standard IF they are charging for it.

Oh, by the way, I could well be bringing some very exciting news to the table in a month or two - watch this space!

For any aspiring authors out there, my only advice is to make sure you have a professional proofreader/editor - It can be an unforgiving world! It's not a cost, it is an investment; in your book, in yourself and in your prospective reader base.