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.

laurence

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!

wendybook

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. 

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.

64. Like Kim Kardashian, I broke the internet: Why backing up your work is vital

I’m often reminded of a comment I came up with during a particularly heated discussion in my younger days: The internet is just a passing phase.

I say younger but I was approaching 50 and modern life was starting to wear me down. People were telling me newspapers were going to be read on tablets, we’d be organising every facet of our life on our phones and at some stage we would all have a chip inserted in our bodies by which we would be identified.

Now, two out of those three things have happened – and I don’t imagine the other is far away. How long will it be before you enter a store only for all the adverts to speak to you personally, like in the Tom Cruise film Minority Report?

cruisegap

Anyhoo. The upshot is the internet is NOT passing and, for all the things it does to make life easier, when it goes wrong we are left completely impotent.

My Sky broadband is a pretty temperamental creature at the best of times. There’s nothing worse when you are doing something your life depends on – like sharing a meme on Twitter – when you suddenly realise your signal has gone.

As a pretty mild-mannered person my reaction is generally to tut quietly to myself, then make a coffee and relax, telling myself it will all be better soon.

Only joking! No my reaction is to shout, scream, blame the world and the wife, then slide the little “wireless” switch up and down manically until I get a reaction. As soon as I let go, however, that nasty X marks the spot emerges again to tell me the connection is broken.

Dilemma. I can either sit there and hold the button in all day while trying to type with one hand – not always easy – or I can take further action.

moony

In my case further action means turning into a latter day Keith Moon of The Who and bashing your computer in the same way he attacked his drum set.

A few well-placed fists and the screen turns into a sea of wavy lines. Try to restart and it asks you to click a button that says “computer repair thyself”. You spend the next eight hours watching a notification which says the work is in progress when, in fact, the stupid machine is as bamboozled as you as to what has gone wrong.

In an age when human beings are surplus to requirements, now and then you find you actually have to leave the house and communicate with another person.

Up the road is a small shop in the middle of a rank of down-at-heel establishments selling chicken and such. It calls itself the Computer Clinic. It is actually the computer equivalent of an over-stretched hospital in a war zone. Dying terminals are stacked floor to ceiling, aged keyboards hanging precariously from shelves, wires like intestines litter the floor waiting to trip you up.

Eventually, once you have negotiated your way through the obstacle course like a contestant on an early episode of the Crystal Maze, you find a human being behind a counter.

“What’s the problem, sir?”

“The computer doesn’t seem to be working.”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“Well, the connection went down and I gave it a bit of a tap to try to get it working again and the screen went all fuzzy.”

I can see in his eyes that he knows exactly how gentle my “bit of a tap” was.

“Do you want to save all the data?”

“Absolutely, yes. Definitely.”

“I’ll see what I can do. Come back in a few days.”

                           *                                           *                                      *

So I return a few days later and he hands me the computer. He’s fixed it – and for £40! It is such a bargain I bung him an extra tenner.

I plug it in and it boots up straight away. No fuss at all. It takes seconds. Much better than before… but then, that’s because it doesn’t have any of those lengthy documents, or sizeable picture files or anything like that to worry about. All my data has been removed, contrary to instruction. “Aaaaaaargh!”

He’s changed the soddin’ hard drive and erased years of hard work – not to mention all my favourites, meaning my passwords for everything have gone down with the ship.

The thought dawns on me. My next great novels were on that hard drive! They had been backed up from some software called Scrivener, but unfortunately not saved to the cloud. That’s 160,000 words of two potential best-sellers GONE.

kimk

If I really was going to punch the life out of the laptop now is the time. But somehow I restrain myself. Kim Kardashian once claimed to have broken the internet, but it still works despite her best efforts. Maybe I can repair the damage.

I contact the computer butcher (sorry, surgeon) and ask if anything can be saved.

“I couldn’t even start the computer with the old hard drive so I removed it but it is still here,” he says. “I will see if I can salvage anything.”

Hope. An anxious two-day wait follows, then I pop into the shop, my heart in my mouth. “I seem to have saved some things, but not others,” he says.

I check it on screen and, to cut an even longer story short, I am able to save my masterpieces.

This near thousand-word rant is almost a book on its own but it carries a very important message for fellow writers. Always back up your stuff, and don’t treat your laptop like a drum set. Whether you use an external hard drive, dropbox or whatever, the technology is there to save your hard work before disaster strikes.

After all, you don’t want to be caught out like Kim Kardashian and me – with your pants around your ankles.

63. How I chose my star-spangled editor for my latest novel Spark Out

VERY rarely do I look at, let alone read, direct messages on Twitter. Normally they are from people imploring you to watch their “hilarious” YouTube channel, employ them as a life coach or join their network on LinkedIN*.

Anyway, I must have been going through a nasty case of Writers Block or something because one morning I found myself wading through this list of wannabes and never-was’ers.

Then to my pleasant surprise I came across Night Owl Freelance, offering editorial services at a time I was mulling over who to pick as editor for my second novel, Spark Out.

vanessa

Perhaps it was fate but I decided to investigate further. Night Owl is a small operation run by the very talented Vanessa Gonzales, and one look at her personal website persuaded me she would at least be worth an inquiry.

For a start, I don’t imagine there is any situation that would phase her – her back story including such diverse life experiences as having been a mormon and a porn shop worker. Currently she travels around the US in a motor home with her husband, seeking out adventure along the way.

The line that resonated most with me in her bio was ‘I want to fall in love with characters I sympathise with, want to sleep with, and want to punch – in a really great story, those last two are the same’.

One thing a writer needs is an editor who has empathy with their main characters, and I immediately thought the relationship would work. I have spent hundreds of pounds and hours of anxiety waiting on people to “critique” my work, only to find that for the large part they have missed the gist or failed to “get” the point.

After some correspondence between us and a sample “edit”, I felt Vanessa understood where I was coming from, even if I did have to include a short glossary of Cockney Rhyming Slang to help her out with some of the dialogue.

I decided to take the plunge and asked her to do a developmental edit, as my wife Liz – a qualified proofreader as I have mentioned before – would sort out the line editing.

Within a month Vanessa had provided me with a comprehensive 13-page analysis of my work, covering every detail of plot and character. Taking her views on board I did a few tweaks here and there, adding to some chapters and removing stuff from others and now I am on the last leg. Liz is at the moment proofreading my latest draft and I’ve sent out a few copies on word documents to chosen BETA readers, though I am looking for more before I set a launch date of sometime this summer.

If anyone is interested please comment on this blog…

spark-out-cover-medium-web

I’m looking forward to including a big thank you to Vanessa in the credits. My decision to choose her for the edit would have certainly shocked some of my bowler-hat wearing, umbrella-toting colleagues over this side of the pond, but I’m happy I took the plunge. She has been a good sounding board – even helping me adapt my previous title from Headers to Spark Out.

Can’t wait for the launch…

(* EDITOR’S NOTE: I tried LinkedIn once and couldn’t see the point. What made it even more annoying was the fact it was so bloody hard to Link Out!)

62. Spark Out: Cover reveal

THEY say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I certainly hope you can in my case. In my humble opinion, my cover designer Jane Dixon-Smith has excelled herself with Spark Out, the second book in my Boxer Boys series.
Jane, one of the members of the prolific author-collective Triskele Books, has a simple but effective way of working with authors and her covers can rightfully take their place alongside the very best on the virtual bookstand (or, indeed, in book shops if you are lucky to find anyone prepared to stock your book… hint, hint Waterstones, WH Smiths and Foyle’s).
It’s all about genre, really. Jane asks you what type of book you have written and invites you to submit covers you like in that genre. Once you have provided some examples and explained the kind of imagery best fits with your story, she sources them and sends you a variety to choose from. Once you have done that she then gets to work.
two-covers
Crossing the Whitewash was my first book and because Spark Out is part of a series Jane wanted to stick to the overall style. As you will see the name is very similar as is the idea of taking a silhouette image, in this case a man and a boy, and adding a background significant to the story. For Crossing the Whitewash we used the Millennium Stadium, for Spark Out it’s the QE2, which carried 3,000 troops to war in the Falklands back in 1982.
For me, the image of a soldier’s eyes, facepainted with camouflage and the Union Jack, was striking, and we used it above the title in the same way we used the knife in the first book.
So that’s it. I hope you like it.
The book has just come back from my American Editor, more of which later, and is now with my wife Liz, a qualified proofreader. I will soon be selecting Beta Readers to get a free copy of the book and give me their comments while hopefully posting a review on Amazon or Goodreads on launch day. If anyone is interested please let me know via the comments on here and I will get back in touch.

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.

38. Learning from the best

IN the spirit of the post I am about to recommend, this is where I start trying to blog every day.

I must admit that I have never read anything written by Hugh Howey, but it is probably about time I started. For the brief amount I know, he is a tremendously successful self-published author who is treated like a guru by other Indie writers.

But making it to the top, and carving a living out of this writing game, doesn’t sound particularly easy.

Here is the gospel of becoming a writer according to Hugh…