67. The life and desperate times of a Kindle Scout-aholic

HI, My name’s Nick and I’m a Scout-aholic. It’s been 14 days since I last appeared in Hot ‘N’ Trending.

When I first tried Kindle Scout I thought I could take it or leave it… it was just an experiment to see how far I could go.

Then, after a few days, I found myself riding a wave of euphoria as my new book Spark Out appeared up there with the best, a little orange sticker next to it to say that it was ‘Hot’.

This lasted a few days, making me believe that everything was a doddle and before long my name would be in lights and a cool cheque for $1,500 would be in my pocket.

Then came the big comedown.

Looking at the stats, I can see it happened very quickly indeed. From a first day when Spark Out had over 600 views I found myself on the slippery slope, falling to as little as four views a day as I scrambled around on the floor pleading for just one ‘like’ or ‘share’.

Hell, if my Twitter and Facebook ‘friends’ combined was anything to go by I should be able to rely on 33,000 nominations. This whole Scout obsession has left me a shaking, nervnewbegous wreck, doubting myself and everything in which I believed, including my own mental strength.

What I should really do now is kick the habit completely, remove Kindle Scout from my favourites and refuse to look at it from now until the end of my campaign.

I might have to get someone to lock me in a room, far away from the temptations of a computer or phone, preventing me from logging in to Scout for the next eight days.

But I’d always find some excuse to get out – work or some such.

To be honest it feels like the last-chance saloon as I sit here staring into space, hoping people might take pitch on me over the remainder of my sorry campaign.

Even now I am afraid I can’t resist asking for your sympathy vote while nominations are still open.

“Please guv’nor (or lady), spare me your nomination. I’ve a wife, two kids and a rather hungry Periscope goldfish to support. Click here for Kindle Scout, vote and, you never know, I might be able to sleep tonight.”

(doffs baseball cap in humble fashion)

…and a very good night to you all

 

 

66. BUSKING FOR A BIG BREAK: ONE WEEK INTO KINDLE SCOUT

I FEEL like one of those lost souls wandering tube trains late at night, putting little packs of tissues on the seats with a short note to explain their dire circumstances.

When they return later asking for a donation in exchange for their kind gift, most of us pretend not to notice them, even though the strong smell is pretty hard to ignore.

Your heart tugs at you, telling you that to dip into your pocket and hand over the meagre change that lies there among the shredded tissues would be the humane thing to do and could make a world of difference to this person’s life.

Your head warns you that it’s the start of the slippery slope: TV programmes and newspaper articles have alerted you to being taken in by professional beggars. They dress down deliberately and even sit in a bath of urine before hitting the streets and robbing good, honest, hard-working people of their cash.

So you put your head down and pretend you are reading your Kindle while waiting for the scruffy oik to move on, which seems to take an age.

You hope that after his shift ends he won’t be returning to a rat-infested squat, but to his four-bedroomed country mansion in Epping, therefore fully justifying your ‘snub’.

OK, maybe that’s a bit over the top, but I don’t like begging for anything. This week, however, I have tried every far-fetched scheme in the book to garner support in my bid for a Kindle Scout contract.

I hadn’t attempted this route to publication before. With my first novel Crossing The Whitewash I took it all on myself – the writing, the research, the cover, the formatting, the uploading, the pre-publicity, post-publicity, the placement of the book, the emails alerting book shops to its availability, the launch: the whole kit and caboodle.

I’d heard about Kindle Scout, of course, but it seemed like just another popularity contest and I doubted many people actually succeeded in their task.

spark-out-cover-medium-web

Two years on, though, and I took the plunge. Having heard a bit more about it I decided I would enter Spark Out for a Scout deal. If it failed I was no worse off for the experience – If it succeeded? “Woohoo!” in the words of Homer Simpson. That’s a $1,500 advance that will immediately cover my costs of enlisting proof readers, editors, cover designers and all, even leaving me some money for social media adverts.

A week in and I am addicted, but as someone who just wants to write books and get them into the hands of as wide an audience as possible, I’ve started to scrape the bottom of the barrel in the search for support.

KSdayone

It began pretty well, my Facebook chums and Twitter acquaintances all weighing in during the first few days. I jumped straight into the Hot and Trending category and stayed there for four days.

Now, though, I’ve slipped out of it, and I am wondering how the hell I can revive the interest.

I have resorted to doing Periscope readings of parts of the book, the equivalent of the busker in the underground holding out a cap and hoping someone will show their appreciation when all they are interested in is getting from A to B.

Today I have even gone through my Goodreads list of friends, sending some of them personal messages and hoping that even though they don’t know me from Adam they will take pity on a poor writer and click the link to my Kindle Scout page.

scouting1stweek

Perhaps things will pick up as I get closer to the end. If they don’t, though, I will just have to throw myself on the mercy of those nice people at Kindle Direct Publishing and hope their editors believe Spark Out is worthy of their charity… together with a nice, juicy contract.

  • Sound familiar? Let me know your Kindle Scout experiences in the comments

 

65. BREAKING NEWS: I’VE ENTERED THE KINDLE SCOUT PROGRAMME AND NEED YOUR HELP

IN the social media kindergarten where all the kids are holding their hands up shouting “Me! Me! Me” I’m appealing for people to help me get my squeaky voice heard.

I’ve been reluctant to try these voting schemes before as I’m such a shy, retiring personality I worry I’ll end up with ‘Nil pwan’ like the very worst Eurovision song contest performer.

Sometimes, though, you must be brave and bite the bullet.

This morning I stepped into the unknown and put my second novel Spark Out up for a Kindle Scout contract.

spark-out-cover-medium-web

The way it works is that you give all the details of the book, submit the manuscript, cover and other relevant information about you as an author and your previous work – in my case the first book in the Boxer Boys series Crossing The Whitewash – then have a month to convince people it deserves to be published.

Once that period is up, those nice people at Kindle Direct Publishing will make a judgement call on whether your work has garnered enough interest to carry their stamp of approval.

If it has you will then have all the power of Amazon behind you in terms of marketing and publicity – a useful tool I’m sure you’ll agree.

Once the campaign is up and running I will provide you readers with further information on how you can lend me your support.

With a $1500 advance also on offer if the book is successful I will be off to buy a mansion in the Maldives and you’ll never hear from me again.

That, at least, has to be worth your vote.

61. Tune in for a magical ride with Mystery Thriller Week

IT’S BEEN  a long time! Sorry about that but I really have been incredibly busy. Not only does the day job take up a lot of my time but I have also been working hard promoting my first novel Crossing The Whitewash over the Xmas period, while sending my second novel out for editing and starting a third as part of NaNoWriMo.

I just had to post this week to tell people about a wonderful new on-line project that I have become involved in.

Mystery Thriller Week is a group set up on Facebook for writers, bloggers, readers, reviewers and just about anyone interested in the genre to swap ideas, learn about a wide variety of books out there and discover new authors. It is all supposed to kick off from February 12, but some people have started the ball rolling early.

jenniferalderson

Jennifer S. Alderson

There are a lot of us all shouting for attention, so I am delighted that my book is one of the 15 that has been included in Jennifer S Alderson’s blog about Mystery thrillers based outside the US.

As readers will know Crossing The Whitewash switches from humdrum life on a busy inner-city housing estate to the wide-open spaces of the Welsh Valleys, so just about perfect for Jennifer’s subject matter.

Please have a read and let me know what you think.

Meanwhile, I’ve been experimenting with Facebook Ads again and am delighted to say that I seem to have hit just the right tone with the current one. During December I sold over 100 copies of Crossing and this month I have sold nearly 50 in the four days so far. On one particular day I peaked at 20 copies, and realised that I was also advertising on Instagram. It may have been a fluke because there is no way of knowing who saw what before going onto KDP and taking the plunge.

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Much of it is down to targeting which I have now honed, directing the ads at people in the over-45 age group who are fans of thriller writers like Mark Billingham, Ian Rankin and Martina Cole.

top20hit

When I broke into the top 5,000 sellers on KDP I was delighted, particularly with my novel appearing in the top 20 of hard-boiled mysteries alongside household names like Stuart MacBride, Phillip Kerr and Gordon Ferris. It’s the perfect boost with the new book, a prequel, due out in February or March.

60. That Difficult Second Novel

SETTING A deadline is always a good thing. Without one you can keep tinkering for ever more or, worse, put the whole thing off until you “feel like it”. As a journalist, I pride myself on hitting deadlines in the day job, so I figured I should show the same dedication to my “difficult” second novel.

I was getting a bit bogged down a short while ago so decided that, come hell or high water, I would complete the first draft before my holiday in Spain, when I can go away for a while, lock it in a musty cupboard and forget about it before having to do all the dirty work (editing etc).

I am pleased to say the first draft of the new book, with a working title Headers, is now complete.

Originally, Crossing The Whitewash was intended as a one off. So many people said they wanted to learn a bit more about the characters, though, so I looked at some of the questions that may have been left unanswered.

I kept coming back to the Dolan’s – this career criminal family – and how they had developed. The Boxer Boys were Arnie Dolan’s invention, but he is only the third boy in a family of five.

What about Maurice Dolan, locked up in prison for most of Arnie’s life after a series of Post Office robberies, and his relationship with mum Beryl? What about oldest boy Chuck, the enforcer. How did he start on his journey to become the hard man of the family?

It was originally intended as a novella, but the story developed in such a way that when I finished the first draft this week it was 140,000 words!

Once I started looking into the early 80s, developing the characters and things, what I considered a really intriguing story started to arise – complete with a few twists and turns.

I’m afraid for those who loved the Welsh side of the story The Legend and Gary Marshall only figure briefly, while the Bard Guys don’t get a mention.

It’s possibly not as light-hearted and humorous as parts of the previous book but hopefully it is engrossing nonetheless, covering such important topics like the Falklands War, the Flying Squad, Police corruption and Ron Greenwood’s England Boys of ’82.

Don’t worry, though, the Welsh boys will be back, as will the Sunday Tribune Despatch and Arnie Dolan – you may just have to wait another year to see them.

Meanwhile, below is a sample of the new book Headers. Remember this is only the first draft and I will probably need to cut about 40,000 words, change things around, get it edited, proofread, have a cover designed, formatted… In fact, it’s unlikely this will bear any relation to the finished article! Hope you enjoy, and want to read more about Big Mo and the Dolans.

HEADERS SAMPLE FOR BLOG

54. Research: the word that brings me out in a cold sweat

IN the long, hot summer of 1976 I remember being incarcerated in my bedroom, swotting up on maths, geography, biology and history when I wanted to be out sipping illegal beers in the nearby park.

It was O level year (something I believe they call GCSE’s now) and an experience like that as a 16-year-old can scar you for life.

Perhaps that is why the very word ‘research’ sends a shiver down my spine. It feels like I’m turning back the clock and becoming mired in a world of facts and stats.

Some novelists pride themselves on research. Peter James is an absolutely stickler for it, as my recent interviews with the great man show. I’m afraid I am not as brave as Peter James, though.

I have no wish to become nailed inside a coffin, or bungy jump off a high bridge, or jump out of a plane with just a parachute strapped to my back, or even play pass the parcel with venomous snakes. The idea of entering some drug dealer’s den and engaging local gangsters in conversation about their lives fills me with dread.

Meanwhile sitting in a library and swotting up on a given subject makes me feel like I’ve been transported back to those schooldays again, like Michael J Fox in the 2016 equivalent of the DeLorean. To be honest, I just want to sit down and write, get my feelings out onto the page and let my imagination flow until I come up with a really good page-turner without too much stress and worry.

Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. At some stage or other you are bound to come across a little speed bump where you want to introduce a certain element to the story and realise: “B***er, I know absolutely nothing about this”.

What happens then? You either ignore it and change the plot completely to fit in with what you do know or you bite the bullet, take yourself off to the local library and try to learn what you can about the subject.

Peter told me: “When I’m writing a book I like to feel I’m learning something, too.” Which is all fine and dandy, I agree, but at times it actually distracts from the writing.

This is a man who can churn out two or three novels a year while my grand total is one and a quarter in the best part of five years.

The trouble is that once you start learning about the subject you are researching it is difficult to know when to stop. Then there is a tendency to feel that because you have taken the time and trouble to learn it all, you need to shoehorn all that knowledge into the novel, which can detract from the overall plot.

That is why I was so glad to come across this article from one of my favourite crime writers Mark Billingham. His ethos, and one I will use as my mantra from now on, is “We are writing fiction. The very word means making stuff up”. In other words, you don’t have to be unfailingly accurate to write a good story and, actually, too many facts can detract from a terrific tale.

Here’s Mark’s piece… worth a read.

 

53. Don’t apologise for being an Indie, we’re cool. Learn the lesson of Tarrantino and Co

I’VE just found a blog post which absolutely sums up the way I feel about writing and Indie publishing. If you want something new, bright and refreshing don’t bother too much about the trad published stuff: in my opinion they just see a formula that has worked in the past and hammer it.

How many times have you read a book and thought: This plot and the characters are awfully similar to something I read not that long ago? If it’s by the same writer I sometimes wonder whether there is a writing team back at Big Press Towers who are just following a formula to produce the next bestseller. Admittedly,  there are a fair number of Indies who follow tried and tested formulas (vampire stories, anyone?) but that’s probably because another Indie came in to break the mold and put them back in fashion. It just stands to reason, you are much more likely to find something new and original in the Indie pile.

So if you think you have a story to tell don’t wait for the big agent or publisher to come to you… be brave, be bold and put it out there. It worked for some in the film industry who got fed up of banging on the doors of the big studios and just did it. There is plenty of help out there these days to help write, edit, proofread, publicise and market your book… why not just go for it.

Use this article as your inspiration

52. Why TV drama Broadchurch was a turn-off for best-selling author Peter James

WE all loved Broadchurch. It was a gripping TV drama about a childkiller set in the heart of homely Dorset.

Every week we tuned in to see if David Tennant’s troubled Detective Inspector Alec Hardy and his sidekick, the feisty Detective Superintendent Ellie Miller, could crack the case.

Well I say we, but in one particular house in Sussex the first time DI Hardy visited the murder scene it had internationally renowned crime author Peter James reaching for the off button.

I was lucky enough to get a chat with the great man himself after the London Book Fair recently, and my main article can be found here on the Express website.

Peter, 67, has written 12 novels around his character, the Brighton DS Roy Grace, and gave an enthralled gathering of authors the inside information on how he does it. And key to it all is that nasty little word research.

If there is one thing that makes me groan out loud it’s research. I’m a writer and I want to write. I want to sit down at my computer and get on with it, rather than spending hours in the local library pouring over books or writing Emails to experts before waiting vainly for the reply that never comes.

Unfortunately it is also one of the most important tools in a writer’s armoury. In Peter’s list of priorities for a good novel it comes second, behind characters and in front of plot.

So back to Broadchurch. Peter has fantastic contacts among the police community which have helped him bring Roy Grace’s world to life.

He says: “Some of these police shows on TV really annoy me. They rarely emulate what happens in real life.

“I remember the crime scene in Broadchurch after the little kid had fallen off the cliff. All the men turn up in their white suits so they don’t contaminate the crime scene, then David Tenant arrives in just his normal clothes and breezes in.

“The Crime Scene manager would never let that happen. The first officer to arrive secures the scene and then no one, it doesn’t matter who they are, is going to be allowed in without being fully suited.”

Peter talks of another incident where he picked up a crime book set in the UK by an American author. “He had one of his main characters driving up the M25 to Birmingham,” said Peter. “I thought: if he can’t be bothered to find a simple road map online then he can’t be much cop.”

 

Talking of cops, Peter didn’t start out life as a crime writer. Originally he wrote spy novels.

He explains: “Ian Fleming had just died and I thought there must be a vacancy in the spy thriller genre so I wrote a book called Dead Letter Drop. To my complete surprise it got published but to my even greater surprise it didn’t sell – I think I offloaded about 1500 copies.

“I decided I needed a publicist so went to Tony Mullikan (Midas PR) who booked me on a Nationwide Tour. I visited nearly every town and city in the UK, went on TV and radio stations to give interviews, then published my follow-up book Atom Bomb Angel. It sold 1750 copies.

“Then I was told, ‘You will never succeed if you write about something you cannot research. Find something you’re passionate about.

“Then I had a massive stroke of luck. We got burgled. The policeman who came around, a Detective Constable, saw my books on the shelf and told me if I ever needed help with my research to get in touch.

“Me and my wife then met up socially with him and his wife, who was also a detective, and we became good friends. Through that initial relationship I’ve met lots of people associated with the police, like Scenes of Crimes Officers and such, and found them fascinating. I figure no one sees more in a 30-year career than a copper. These people are incredibly resourceful.”

Peter started being inviting me out on patrol, to crime scenes and to the mortuary for post mortems. They gave him invaluable insights on which to base his books.

Now he enjoys his research saying: “When I set out writing a book it’s nice that I am learning a little bit about the world, too.”

He is branching out soon to launch his own YouTube channel. It’s worth keeping an eye on so check out Peter’s website here for the May 19 launch.

As for me, I still see research as evil, but after talking to Peter I realise it’s a necessary one…

 

48. Judging a book by its cover

THERE have been some great book covers in the past, and some pretty grim ones too. Though I don’t want to appear superior about these things, sometimes I look at a self-published book cover and can’t help laughing.

Perhaps they are meant to be funny, I don’t know. Certainly, the one below has always tickled me ever since the successful Indie Author Mark Edwards used it as an example of “how not to do it” at a conference for Self-Publishers in the Digital Age.

TREXgaycover

One of the authors at the same conference, Nick Spalding, revealed that it wasn’t until he changed the cover of his book that his sales suddenly took a leap and he ended up in the bestseller lists.

The great thing about being an Indie is that you can always change your cover if you feel another one might suit your purposes better.

My friend Ian Sutherland, author of the Hi-tech thrillers Invasion of Privacy and Social Engineer, has just taken the plunge, believing that although his original covers highlighted certain aspects of his stories, they might not have the same mass appeal as others in the genre.

I liked his early covers but I must admit the splash of colour added to the new ones brings them alive. Also, in the case of Invasion of Privacy, he is no longer focusing on the mysterious serial killer but putting you in the position of the victim. Eerie and effective. I hope he has every success with them. Here is Ian’s blog on changing covers.

 

43. Buy my Valentine

DAMN! No sooner has one “special day” disappeared than another is around the corner. I swear that card makers invent one every year just so that they can keep their industry thriving.

Last year, for instance, was the first time I had ever come across Grandmother’s Day. Their kidding, right?

Well, no, they are deadly serious and we all get “shamed” into turning the myth into reality. In a few years time it will be “What? You didn’t get your second cousin twice removed a present for ‘Second Cousin, Twice Removed Day’? You scoundrel!”

As a self-published author, though, I’m beginning to realise the more special days there are, the merrier. For instance, this week I have been putting out Valentine’s Day adverts for Crossing The Whitewash.

“What?” I hear my faithful reader say. “That book has as much in common with romance as it does with English basket-weaving in the 18th century”. And on the face of it you’re right.

But that’s where the creative juices come in – those same juices I used to think up the plot for Crossing and produce an “award-winning” (I love that phrase) novel in the first place.

I’m not a great fan of this lovey-dovey day of the year, and I suspect there are plenty of other blokes like me.

I can hear the collective muttering under breaths. “Oh bloody hell, Valentine’s Day is on Sunday. She’ll be expecting something. What do I buy? Chocolates? She goes to Weightwatchers, so she won’t be very impressed. A bottle of wine? She’s given up drinking. A slap up meal? Costs a fortune and I’m saving up for the footie next week.”

Of course, not a word of this can be whispered within half a block of the lucky lady, who will be telling her mates: “Oh he’s ever so thoughtful. Can’t wait to see what he gets me for Valentine’s Day.”

All the time she has her fingers crossed firmly behind her back, hoping he doesn’t produce something to match the scented coat-hanger thrust upon her last year… lovingly wrapped so there was NO WAY she could guess what it was!

Women like to compare lovers. It’s a bit like that Monty Python Four Yorkshireman sketch. “We used to get up in the morning and Dad would make us lick road clean wit’ tongue.”

“You were lucky, our dad would slice us in two wit’ bread knife.”

Anyway, I completely digress. I got to thinking, how can I relate Crossing The Whitewash to Valentine’s Day. So I had a little think, and the Eureka moment duly came. “That’s it!” I thought. “What if I make my novel the ANTIDOTE to Valentine’s Day” – a kind of double bluff. “Know someone who hates Valentine’s Day? Then get them this for Valentine’s Day.” Genius, right?

So I came up with a Facebook ad that I hoped would not only appeal to blokes, but would get their women-folk pressing the Shop Now button, too.

Well, for a £5 investment initially I got 21 Amazon clicks and enough sales to push me up to no 79 in the Kindle Urban chart. It seems to have worked.

What did the Ad say? See for yourself…

facebook valentines

Now, how do I turn Mother’s Day to my advantage? Gangsters love their mums, don’t they?