68. DUBLIN SPARK LIT THE BLUE TOUCHPAPER FOR MY SECOND NOVEL

LISTEN to any Dublin taxi driver and they’ll tell you that you can’t fling a Bodhran tipper* out of the window without hitting a writer.

Sorry, but I’ve lapsed into gaelic since spending three days in the fair city to launch my difficult second novel Spark Out. And it’s certainly true to say that the only people I saw who weren’t writers during my brief but highly enjoyable stay were those kind people who served me their finest beers, spirits and other sustenance to help me survive the ordeal.

This was the second time I had been to this wonderful event run by the book promotion service, Books Go Social. I had asked Laurence O’Bryan (pictured below) – the brains behind the company – if he might be able to fit my book launch into his jam-packed schedule. Even though he had Hollywood producers and best-selling authors to accommodate, he was delighted to oblige, and kindly filmed the event as well.

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BooksGoSocial logoHaving not ventured out of the famous Gresham Hotel last year, I pledged that I would see a bit more of the famed Dublin nightlife this time around. The trouble is that once you become embedded with a group of writers, even the most introverted is itching to tell you of their latest project or their creative journey.

As a result I became part of the fixtures and fittings of the Academy Plaza on this occasion, spending the days enjoying lectures on every aspect of my craft, from first sentence to organising book launches, and nights ensconced in the bar, swapping tales with fabulously entertaining company.

wendyh     There were too many good speakers to list but I would just like to make quick mention of Scottish dynamo and crime writer Wendy H Jones (right). Having lived a full and varied life before beginning a “life of “crime” she drew on her experience as a nurse to inform us: “I can assure you that no one has EVER died of embarrassment.” Wendy was encouraging us to get out and take risks, to ask local book stores and other enterprises to stock and sell our books, or allow us to perform book signings and launches.

A testament to her success was when she visited her local bank branch near Dundee and was not only invited to do a book signing but was then approached by head office to do an entire tour of Scotland’s banks. Brilliant work!

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As for myself, despite having to compete with the clinking of cutlery and what seemed like a demolition derby going on in the nearby kitchen, I think my speech went down well.

I was pleased with the banner that I had bought on eBay and had delivered straight to the venue without actually seeing (I feared there might be an awful spelling mistake in it or something, but luckily that wasn’t the case). I was also delighted to be able to do a short reading from the new book and give out three as prizes to those people who could come up with a tale about their favourite fictional baddie.

To finish off I did a reading from the novel which you can see here…

At the end of it all I was feeling revved up, the adrenaline flowing… there was nothing for it than to retire to the bar again and mingle with the glittering company.

* A Bodhran tipper is the stick with which you beat an Irish Bodhran, or drum.

  • Spark Out is available in paperback this Saturday (July 1) and can be obtained through Amazon or ordered through most good bookstores. It will be available as an eBook through Kindle Unlimited from July 10. 

58. Dublin Writers’ Conference was Simply Brexcellent

 

IT was the morning after Brexit and in a state of shock I was making my exit from Britain.

Boarding the flight to Dublin, I wasn’t sure exactly how my hosts would react to the shock news that Britain had voted to leave the European Union.

First impressions weren’t favourable. “I’m not sure where I should go now,” I explained to the man at Dublin Passport Control.

“Well, yous got to be joining that big long queue over there, fella,” he said, pointing to the non-EU arrivals. He couldn’t keep a straight face for long, though. “I’m kidding you. Come on through.”

I jumped in the taxi and started a conversation with the driver about the other big European issue of the day: Euro 2016. “You did well beating Italy,” I said. “If you beat France then you might meet us English in the quarter-finals.”

“Don’t know about that,” he said. “I’m from Romania. We got knocked out in the group stages. I’ve been here for 13 years. Came over to do some building work and never left.”

Nice bloke. Reasonable fare. And I was dropped off at the Castle Hotel in the City Centre which was the perfect base for the weekend I had planned. I was attending my first official 3-day Dublin Writers’ Conference with Books Go Social.

I joined this writers group shortly after my book came out, mainly because they seemed to have an incredible social media reach and many fellow Indie Authors were on their books.

The brainchild of Laurence O’Bryan, an Irishman who was disillusioned by the whole traditional publishing “monopoly”, it has been going from strength to strength since the eBook revolution and Amazon’s decision to take the plunge and back the Indie Author scene.

For me, the jury was still out on BGS, though. I can’t put a single extra sale down to the tweets that have been put out on my behalf.

This was maybe the acid test. The Annual Conference. And if I had any doubts about joining the group they were simply blown away by what, for me, was the highlight of the year.

The self-publishing professionals who attended were an absolute mine of information, whether you wanted to learn about the art of writing itself, formatting, marketing, getting your novel into book shops or even turning it into a Hollywood blockbuster.

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KEN AITCHITY talks to the writers about the current state of storytelling

That was where Ken Aitchity came in. Once dubbed “The Story Merchant”, Ken is actually based in Hollywood and has produced film and TV shows, written books, lectured on writing and guided fellow authors. Who could fail to be impressed by a person whose CV reads like an A-Z of the creative arts.

Ken wasn’t alone though. Among others there was Ben Galley, an author of Dark Fantasy, started life in Croydon as a worker in a small food outlet dreaming of doing something better with his life. When he discovered self-publishing was no longer frowned upon he got in on the ground floor and has now produced 10 novels including an epic fantasy called the Emanska series.

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THAT’S ME on the far left: Not asleep, just listening intently (honest!)

Ben has started a shelf-help consultancy designed to assist budding authors and his particular strength is marketing. For those like me who struggle with this aspect his talk about reader funnels was fascinating and his website is well worth a look.

Jessica Bell, too, is a legend in self-publishing. She does virtually everything herself including formatting, cover design and self-editing, while somehow finding time at home in Greece to pursue a singer/songwriting career as well.

And these were just the people I met on the first day: There was a revolving door of professionals throughout the weekend, each with their own unique take on the art of writing and self-publishing.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect is meeting fellow writers and discussing their individual journeys, reinforcing the fact you are not alone. On Friday night volunteers had a chance to read from their own work and critique each other with expert feedback from Jessica and Ben.

Through it all Laurence and his team were extremely helpful and their organisation couldn’t be faulted, with events switching between the famous Gresham Hotel and the Irish Writers’ Centre.

The Books Go Social Dublin Writers Conference was well worth the investment. I would recommend it to anyone who has been in two minds about whether to take the plunge.

Britain may have voted to split from the EU, but it’s comforting to know the writers’ community goes from strength to strength around the world.

34. Swimming with sharks

I LOVED Jaws. It was one of the first books I read cover to cover in just over 24 hours. A fantastic feat by Peter Benchley and, yes, I didn’t go in the sea for quite some time.

More than 40 years later, though, here I am swimming in shark-infested waters. There are predators left, right and centre ready to take a bite out of me. This is the murky world of the Independent Author and, at the moment, I am just managing to keep my head above water.

Don’t get me wrong. I am enjoying the fact I can now call myself an author and I am immensely proud of having published my first novel Crossing The Whitewash.

I’ve really extended myself when it has come to marketing the book, too. I’ve done something that as a writer is a complete anathema to me – I’ve called in favours and pleaded for help.

And, for the most part, journalist mates have rallied around and come up trumps. I’ve appeared in newspaper and magazine articles and featured on websites and in blogs. I’ve been interviewed by the BBC and appeared on a podcast.

The result: Negligible sales.

I tried another tactic. I began using Facebook ads, first to send people to my website www.theripperfile.com and then straight to my Amazon page. The trouble is that without going through my website and getting something called a widget to record exactly how many people went the whole hog and bought the novel, I really don’t know how successful it’s been.

I get the odd nice comment and reviewers have been highly complementary in the main, with 11 five-star reviews as we speak – many from people who don’t know me but requested an e-copy of my book through Net Galley. It’s all been done completely above board, without enlisting the help of those dodgy people who charge for reviews.

My latest tactic is to sign up with a Book marketing group – Books Go Social – to push Crossing The Whitewash to their 50,000 followers on social media. I think it is starting to pay off, judging by some of the comments I see on Twitter.

But let’s get back to sharks. As soon as you announce you are an Indie Author there is no shortage of people offering to help you sell your book. The difficult thing is spotting the ones with big fins on their backs.

There are a few voices I know I can trust, people who have made writing their day job and given up everything else. I can only salute the likes of Nick Henderson, Mark Dawson, Joanna Penn and Kerry Wilkinson, who are extremely prolific. They’ve cracked it and can be justifiably proud.

The trick, I’m told by these successful independent authors, is to release more and more books, give your first few away free in return for people joining your mailing list and eventually, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of the hat, there you are at No. 1 in one of the Amazon bestseller categories with thousands waiting to buy your next release.

It sounds wonderful but my problem is it took five years to write Crossing The Whitewash, my first novel. I put my life and soul into it. It was a slog. It changed many times as you realise if you read the entries on this blog.

Give it away? Then write another and give that away too? And all that while still holding down a day job and acting daddy day care for my 5-year-old. What are you talking about?

There are simpler ways I’m told. And this is when you look straight into the glaring white teeth of some very fishy operators.

I simply can’t hack those people who offer you courses and insist that you can crack the Amazon charts if you follow their fullproof system and pay them a certain amount of money for the privilege.

Can’t write? Not a problem, you just get someone in who can.

Need to manipulate Amazon? We’ll talk you through ways of cheating the algorithms.

We’ll make you a best-selling author, you’ll be earning a five-figure salary in a month, giving up the day job and zipping around in your top-of-the-range sports car without a care in the world. So come on sign up, sign up, sign up and cheat the system.

So what’s the reaction you get when you don’t take up the offer? Your mailbox gets flooded with messages which sound like they come from a disappointed parent.

“We can’t believe that you aren’t taking up this chance of a lifetime? We thought you were one of the clever ones? We’re really disappointed in you.”

Well, sorry to hear that, but let me just say this.

I write because I want to be a writer. I want people to read my books, not books written by someone else with my name on. I want genuine reviews. I want them spreading the word saying: “Have you read this Rippington? He isn’t bad you know.”

Yes, I’d love to be successful, give up the day job and concentrate on this all year round. But if I get a handful of people giving me positive feedback it gives me an immense sense of pride.

What pride would I get from cheating my way to the top? Paying people to put together an eBook in a couple of weeks, then putting my name on it. None.

Sorry, I won’t be doing that, so you can just put those sharp teeth away.

I won’t be going swimming today.