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.

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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.

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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.

51. To join KDP select or not join KDP select… that’s the big question

 

INDIE AUTHORS have a great deal to thank Amazon for – in many ways the revolution in writing has been led by them.

Createspace, Kindle and ACX are all valuable weapons in a writer’s armoury once they decide to self-publish.

Through Createspace you have the ability to produce a physical book, with a professional cover and quality printing, which can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with anything turned out by the traditional publishing giants.

Meanwhile, Kindle has led the way in the astonishing rise in digital books over the last few years while ACX is now allowing Indie Authors to bring their stories to life in the form of Audio Books. Once put together and produced with a narrator, they can then be distributed and sold through Amazon’s Audible branch.

In the past, sick of rejection slips or ignorant firms who refused to even answer our emails, potential authors no doubt put their hard work on the fire, admonished themselves for being such terrible writers and gone back to the day job.

Now there is an alternative – and it is something which is growing in popularity so much that even traditionally published authors are considering the alternatives: whether that means going the whole hog and doing everything off your own bat, or enlisting help through the “hybrid” companies. More of those in a future blog entry, though.

I spent a day at the London Book Fair a couple of weeks ago and found the Author Central section crammed with writers eager to learn more about this brave new world in which they have the power to publish in their own hands.

Perhaps their biggest problem now is getting their work “seen” – without the aid of the vast marketing machines the trad-pub companies can call upon.

It takes a lot of hard work and tinkering – trying to use Amazon’s algorithms to your best advantage – not to mention paying for advertising through social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.

And it is tempting at this early stage to find a method of giving away your book free so that you can get it into the hands of more people and rise up the book “charts”.

This is something that Amazon encourages, too. They invite authors producing eBooks to enlist in KDP select, which means you give them exclusive rights to sell your novel any way they want.

Join Kindle Unlimited, for instance, and the reader gets a whole library full of self-published books to delve into, picking and choosing, their subscription money going into a central pool, rather than payment for books going to individual authors.

The big advantage of KDP Select is that Amazon positively discriminate in favour of those that sign up, giving their books better visibility and special promotion. But at what price to Indie Authors in the long term?

To join Select or not join Select is now the big question, to misquote Shakespeare in the week of his 400th birthday.

It seems to me the more cards KDP Select holds, the more the writer’s work is being devalued.

cokerMark Coker, co-founder of Smashwords, gave his own thoughts on the matter in a video talk entitled 10 trends driving the future of publishing. It’s worth watching.

 

37. Exploring the Amazon

WHEN I first set off on my novel-publishing mission I kept hearing the word genre over and over again.

People insisted that it was important that you established yourself in a certain genre if you were to start selling books. This is because if you are to use the Amazon algorithms to your advantage your book should turn up when people are searching for subject matter of a similar style.

It’s about discovering readers, the people who might be partial to the kind of thing you are writing.

 

 

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For me, initially, it seemed pretty obvious that Crossing The Whitewash fitted in the thriller category, with a bit of suspense and mystery thrown in.

Along with that, particularly if you are publishing with Kindle Direct Publishing, Createspace or Lightning Source (the UK version of Ingram Spark) you get a number of key words you can input to help the search engines discover your novel.

I tended to throw these about willy-nilly. I included Wales and London – the two settings where the novel takes place – sport (because the Rugby World Cup is one of the backdrops), mystery, murder, gangsters and one other which I can’t recall at the moment. On Kindle you are allowed seven which seems plenty.

The trouble is that because I had chosen thriller as the main category, the amount of competition I had was vast. We all know that thrillers can be used to describe any book really with a bit of a twist and an edge. Drill down and there are all sorts of different types: medical thrillers, legal thrillers, cop thrillers… even those novels like Gone Girl and Girl On A Train find themselves in that category.

An author’s priority is to get your book to be seen, and to alert potential readers to its availability.

Your aim is to reach one of the bestseller lists, so that you find your book linked with other people of a certain genre. Let’s be honest, if you are writing about a gang or perhaps UK organised crime, you can do no worse than find you’re sharing the same Amazon page as Martina Cole.

Of course, with the word thriller in the title (I originally called it the Rugby World Cup thriller and later a UK gangland thriller) you probably don’t need to use the word again to denote your genre. With KDP, for instance, you can only choose two genres so to use up one with thriller seems a bit pointless. Search engines  should find it anyway.

This week I took a close look at my Amazon page and studied the section where it lists books readers have bought as well as mine. Most of them were gang-related novels set in the UK and I found when studying a couple of them that they had something in common. They were in the ‘Urban’ category.

With that in mind I tinkered with my KDP genres. You can put your book into two of them so I used Coming of Age and Urban. Lo and Behold, by Wednesday morning, when the change took effect, I found myself at No. 66 in the Best-selling charts for UK Urban novels.

These things change hour by hour and by this morning I had dropped out of the top 100. Still, it’s pointed me in the right direction. I know with advertising targeted in the right areas and picking the appropriate key words and genres I can make my book more visible.

I am no longer lost in Amazon, up a creek without a paddle.

 

35. Raining on my parade

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MY first-ever book signing became a bit of a damp squib – or squid as some writers would have us believe.

No fault of the good people at Books & Pontyclun in the Welsh valleys, the Indie shop where the event took place. It’s just that at 11am, just as the signing was due to start, the heavens’ opened and South Wales was drowned under a flood of Noah-like proportions.

To be honest, if I hadn’t have been there myself I don’t think I would have ventured out of the door.

Why am I so surprised? From my experience of that area of the country, the Arc was probably manufactured in Cardiff Bay.

Still, David Norrington and Daniel Parsons were fantastic company and gave me some great ideas as we talked Indie authors, books, marketing strategies and social media.

David is a leading light in his own publishing company, Onion Custard, and at the moment one of their writers is making plenty of waves (appropriate really, with water lapping at the door as we discussed her success).

As he contemplated whether we would need to employ sandbags, David told me about MK Jones and her novel Three Times Removed, which has swept up the charts both here and abroad.

At one stage it reached No. 6 in Amazon’s Women’s Sleuth section with a story centring around a main protagonist who has to investigate her family tree and solve a mystery in the past in order to prevent disaster striking in the present day.

Apparently it has been flying off the virtual shelves in Australia, for instance, and David is trying to get to the bottom of his own mystery by establishing why the good people down under have taken it to their hearts.

David organises book signings, book launches, book fairs and book clubs. In fact,  mention books in any way and David’s ears will be burning.

He was pretty busy for most of the day but has agreed to make Crossing The Whitewash book of the month at some stage in the New Year, probably to coincide with my promotion on Nook, the eBook wing of American company Barnes and Noble, which is scheduled for February.

Daniel, meanwhile, not only helps run the shop and spends time editing for Onion Custard, he has to hold down another job working in a valleys nightclub while also trying to make his way as a writer.

He is a full-time advocate of the modern publishing era, marketing his “brand” to more than 70,000 twitter followers and using tools like Wattpad to promote his writing.

Daniel writes teen fantasy novels and his serialisation Necroville was recently rated as one of Wattpad’s top-10 zombie stories. It ranks at No. 133 for horror reads as I write, and has 16,900 people read it. To put my little Sci-Fi experiment in comparison, it’s had 72 reads.

As someone who can make head nor tail of Wattpad, I salute his endeavour and will definitely take another look. He assures me it as a useful tool for creating buzz around your writing.

In the final hour of the signing the rain did ease off somewhat and I am pleased to report I made three sales on the day. This Indie author lark is a lot of hard work for little reward at times, but the satisfaction of seeing your work in print and getting encouraging comments from those who read it makes it worthwhile.

In the New Year my plan is to come up with a couple of Novellas featuring some of the less established characters in Crossing The Whitewash and to put out the novel itself on audio.

Amazon already have a tool – ACX – which will pair you with a narrator and an editor. I understand you can get some gift “codes” enabling you to give away the book free to some people, part of my long-term plan for world fiction domination.

32. Setting the scene

CROSSING THE WHITEWASH takes place in three main places; the East End of London, Cardiff and the South Wales valleys. I’ve never actually lived in the valleys myself, but I can boast a close affinity with the other two.

In fact, from the days I attended journalism college way back in the mists of time Cardiff has always had a strong draw for me, and since 1978 I have spent 19 years living in Wales’ capital city at various times.

Last week I was invited to write a blog post for the highly popular We Are Cardiff about some of my memories of this beautiful, fun city, which helped inspire my debut novel in no small measure.

I can honestly say that it provided me with my happiest journalism career moments, working as part of the mad, mad world of Wales on Sunday and helping to launch the UK’s first pullout sports section 26 years ago.

The characters and the laughs we shared on this unique paper even inspired me to write a blog “What I Cooked Last Night” back in the mid 2000s.

Anyway, this preamble is just to inform you I am cheating a bit this week because I am pushed for time, so am posting the link to the WeAreCardiff blog post for you to, hopefully, enjoy and get a flavour of the city.

  • Featured images courtesy of former Media Wales colleague Nick Machin’s instagram account

31. ALL THE FUN OF THE FAIR

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Nick Rippington, author of Crossing The Whitewash: The Rugby World Cup thriller, with wife Liz and daughter Olivia at the Rhondda Book Fair

APART FROM the fact I spent a sleepless night while World War Three appeared to break out on the streets of sleepy Monmouth, I had a wonderful weekend at the Rhondda Book Fair.

Thanks Books & Pontyclun, David Norrington, Colin R Parsons and Emily King (and everyone else who helped) for their dedication to the cause of us writers in arranging the first-ever such event.

The setting itself was a wonderful old building known as the Soar Centre in Penygraig, an imposing former Baptist Chapel which has become a big asset to the local community.

For me coming down from ‘that’ London it was a step into the unknown – very similar to the journey my hero character Gareth Marshall makes when he moves to the Welsh valleys in a bid to escape his violent past. I was expecting to be mugged by feral kids running wild on the streets, or accosted by giant rugby players declaring “Oh, you’re English are you butt? We don’t like your sort around here.”

What I received instead, though, was a welcome in the hillsides (or valley sides in this case) which made me keen to go back in future. This being the inaugural event – with the competing attraction of the Rugby World Cup going on throughout the UK – those attending were mainly the relations and friends of the authors on show. Hopefully, though, the message will spread and next year it will be packed out with readers keen to sample some very fine literature.

Maxine Ridge, author, When The Crow Cries

Maxine at her table

Each author had a space in which to set up around the room and I shared a table with Maxine Ridge, mum of one with her second due on Xmas Eve. Maxine very kindly shared her tablecloth with me and then told me all about her children’s fantasy novel “When The Crow Flies”, the first in a trilogy published by Stairwell Books.  When she told me about her story it put me in mind of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the Narnia books by CS Lewis I loved so much as a child. Throughout the book there are colourful illustrations provided by Maxine’s talented Aunt Helen Ridge, who sadly passed away through illness on the day after the book deal was signed. I couldn’t resist buying one, thinking it would probably be right up the street of my middle grandson Marley.

Which set the tone for the day really. It was great to meet other authors writing in a variety of different genres and I couldn’t resist buying some of their works. In turn, they no doubt felt it was rude not to reciprocate and visited my table. I bought as many books as I sold. Still, Xmas is just around the corner. Though it didn’t lead to the bumper sales I was hoping for I got one big surprise –school friend Colin turning up out of the blue to renew our acquaintance after 35 years – and all in all I had a lovely day shooting the breeze with fellow writers.

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Welsh crime writer Wonny Lea and her effective banner

I picked up some useful tips too. While Liz sneaked out to buy me a little Welsh flag and a rugby ball key ring to help liven up my stall, other writers were thinking altogether bigger. Many of their works were showcased on massive banners decorating the entrance to the building, and photographer Lis McDermott overheard my moans about not having anything quite so striking to attract customers. She told me that provided you had really high quality, high resolution pictures of your book covers then most printing firms can make you up a banner these days. “But don’t put any words at the bottom,” she confided, “they will probably be hidden behind boxes of books or whatever”. I will be investigating the possibility of having a banner designed soon, but I’d better get writing some more books first! (Lis, by the way, took the picture of us at the top of this entry)

The event was rounded off splendidly when prolific author Catrin Collier gave an inspiring talk in which she was quite happy to give away some trade secrets (I won’t repeat them here as I can’t afford to be sued!)

After that, with wife Liz and daughter Olivia in tow, we returned to Monmouth and another night experiencing the Battle of Agincourt Square. If you ever choose to visit this beautiful town in Wales on the weekend I’d avoid staying in the Kings Head Hotel, next to the late opening Wetherspoons. The Food and drink were very reasonably priced, which was great, but perhaps that only served to fuel up the locals for their loud street invasion late at night.