Success at long last

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A lot has been said in recent times in both self and conventional publishing circles with regard to hooking potential readers utilizing Twitter, Facebook and leading E-zines such as Angie’s Diary, plus Goodreads which, despite the fact that it was set up to promote books, in effect is yet another social media site. The authors of the various articles involved seem totally obsessed with handing out advice ad nauseum which begs the obvious question – when do they actually find time to work on their latest manuscript? For all our sakes people, stop pontificating and concentrate on your writing!

There is only one way that I know of to hook readers and that is to keep on writing, until eventually something you come up with makes the public sit up and take notice. I’m living proof that persistence works. At the end of the day, the only people you have to please are the reading public. If your story simply doesn’t appeal to them, no amount of endless marketing, changing publishers, price and covers, as well as regular giveaways, will improve your book’s chances one iota.

Back in 1995 when I began writing, if you had told me that a mere eighteen years later, one of my efforts would be described as successful within the accepted terms understood by the industry, I would have raised a somewhat sceptical eyebrow. Should he read this, my former small-press editor/publisher certainly will.

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My Kindle novel The Seventh Age has now sold five thousand copies. Its taken one year and seven days to achieve. I launched it on the twenty-second of April 2012 with a one-time only three day giveaway via Amazon. A few dozen of the three thousand plus free copies were snapped up by genuine readers. The rest were devoured by tightwads who believe that all eBooks should be free. If that was to be its only brief moment in the spotlight, I was fully prepared to live with it. But, since that feeding frenzy the book has steadily sold, clearly evidenced by KDP’s monthly sales figures.

If we’re brutally honest every single one of us hopes and prays that the product of the many hours we spent sweating blood over, will become a hit with the reading public. Seventh is the first of my books to reach the seemingly impossible figure of five thousand copies sold. Don’t ask me why, but a year later it still continues to capture the imagination of the ‘end of the world’ brigade as well as the ‘Mayan clock’ fraternity, long after the actual supposed date when the world was due to end in December 2012.

Three things contributed to Seventh’s undoubted success. First and foremost the subject matter. Secondly, I only publish in one format – Kindle. And finally, I deliberately chose to price it at the bargain basement price of US0.99 per copy. After all what’s 99c these days – its chicken feed?

By comparison, its successor The Forgotten Age is not doing nearly so well. Barely three hundred copies have sold since its launch on the twenty-second of Nov 2012. Could it be because it relies on an Egyptian and mythical Atlantean connection rather than an end of world scenario? Or perhaps it’s simply because I felt totally justified in pricing it at US$2.99 based on Seventh’s success? Who can say for certain? Nothing in the world of words is written in stone these days.

In Forgotten’s favour, one good thing has occurred. By deliberately setting its price higher, it has ensured that the Amazon trolls and other assorted self-opinionated quasi experts leave it well alone. For some strange reason they are attracted to either free or US$0.99 books, feeling the need to pour out their bile while at the same time proffering so-called professional opinions. Despite the mix of asinine and negative reviews by them and assorted fellow travellers with a superior attitude, even they have to begrudgingly admit that by anyone’s standards The Seventh Age can now be classed as a best seller.

Because of the low purchase price of US$0.99, the monetary reward for me in terms of royalties is minimal as you will appreciate; having said that the total so far is well inside four figures, which as a pensioner, comes in handy to pay the household bills. Had I set the price any higher, the sales would undoubtedly still be in the low hundreds. Here’s hoping I can repeat Seventh’s success in the not too distant future with the third in my series of ‘Age’ books, even if it means I have to price it at US$0.99. If I can achieve the seemingly impossible, so can you. All it takes is persistence. If I were to offer any advice its simply this – write the kind of thing you want to read. If you like it, others will too…

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For those of you who haven’t yet read The Seventh Age, here it is in a nutshell:

The Mayan clock stopped predicting events beyond 2012. Why did it not continue beyond that date?

Rebel archaeologist Nick Palmer experiences an almost unnoticed event at Stonehenge during the summer solstice celebration of 2011, which he attends along with hundreds of others, that worries him greatly. He is made aware through a blog, of a sinister organization known as the ‘Order’, that are seemingly bent on preventing his every move to discover the reason behind the worrying event.

During his voyage of discovery, Nick is tracked across the world by an enigmatic entity that has been trapped here on Earth for over twenty-five thousand years, awaiting the discovery of the event by what she refers to as a ‘surface-dweller’. Together with her and the few people he trusts implicitly, they set out to prevent the alarmingly inevitable catastrophic conclusion that will affect not only the Earth, but the whole Solar System’s very existence.

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It’s reality check time

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I was reading an article the other day http://www.salon.com/2013/04/02/im_a_self_publishing_failure/ written by someone who deluded himself into believing that by writing and self-publishing a book, he would instantly be rewarded with fame and fortune. I’m still trying to make up my mind whether or not he is simply naïve, or a complete fool. Click on the above link to make up your own minds.

Writing is a serious business. The publishing world has surrounded itself with layer upon layer of obstacles designed to separate the wheat from the chaff, making it nigh on impossible for the first time writer to break in.

Getting your skills to the point where people other than your immediate circle of family and friends will appreciate your efforts takes time. It also takes a long time to build up a readership (in my case it has taken eighteen long years of hard graft and heartache).

As a newcomer, the chances of your first book becoming a best seller are slim to nothing. If you think that dozens of literary agents will be fighting among themselves to represent you, you are deluding yourself. First and foremost they are in the business of making money. Whether or not your literary efforts are likely to make you a candidate for the next Pulitzer Prize comes a distant second in their world. The same applies when it comes to the vast majority of publishers, both large and small.

If you do manage to get a literary agent to represent you, there is no guarantee that they will be able to generate interest among the major players in traditional publishing. Face it people, their primary objective is also to make money. For both a literary agent and an establishment publishing house to take a financial gamble on you making them millions in profit, is extremely unlikely to occur.

Most traditional publishers work to a strict budget. They work on a fixed number of new books in any given year. If yours is among them, don’t for one moment think that they will necessarily want to publish your next book during the following year. In most cases they won’t. Why – because as an unknown your first effort simply did not sell enough copies. It doesn’t matter a damn that at the time, your editor waxed lyrical about it to keep you sweet, or that it might have been critically acclaimed. My only book published in this way, sold barely two hundred copies because I was an unknown.

If the discerning reading public doesn’t warm to your book, as far as your agent and publisher are concerned you are now a financial liability. In which case you will find yourself remaindered just like the unsold copies of what you saw as your magnum opus.

All of the above is why so many first timers choose to self-publish these days. Even though you have fewer obstacles to navigate your way through, if the end result of those long hours spent writing does not generate enthusiasm among the billions of potential readers throughout the world, then like the author of the above article, you are in for a reality check.

Whether your first book is self or traditionally published, don’t expect it to be an overnight success. If it does peak the curiosity of the reader, by both favourable and negative reviews, chances are that they might want to purchase a copy to see what all the fuss is about. If they like your writing style, they may even purchase any subsequent books written by you. Its entirely in the lap of the gods as to whether or not the sales of your first book will exceed one or two hundred copies.

I my own case, I turned to self-publishing for one reason only – to establish a regular readership. I learned a valuable lesson from my brief encounter with the world of traditional publishing, albeit with a small press. Simply put, I was not prepared to wait for a year or two before my then publisher deigned to include my next effort in their publishing schedule.

By deliberately choosing to self-publish, I know I made the right decision. My sales figures back me up. The other decision I made was to deliberately publish my works exclusively as eBooks rather than the traditional printed variety, simply because so many people nowadays fill in the time it takes to commute to and from the workplace by reading via their tablet, smartphone or laptop.

I am now in the fortunate position where my books sell in their thousands. The reality for most self-published writers is that they will not be so lucky. It doesn’t mean that I am raking in a fortune in royalties, or that I am famous by any stretch of the imagination. What it does mean however, is that I am building a faithful readership, something which at my age (sixty-five), had I chosen to stay with traditional publishing, would have been denied to me for several decades.

Like the author of the article linked above, if you look upon the writing game as a ticket to fame and fortune, you are in for a rude awakening. But, if you write because you love it, content in the knowledge that people enjoy reading the efforts of all your hard work, then the crowded world of words has a place reserved for you.

The Mechanics of Writing

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I wrote the first part of this post back in 2011. It is as relevant now as it was back then… It highlights the mistakes we are all guilty of. No matter what form your writing may take, there are a few givens which always apply.

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  1. Overly long sentences are to be avoided at all costs – GUILTY!
  2. Too much or too little punctuation, combined with unnecessary use is also to be avoided – GUILTY!
  3. Too much descriptive narrative is not desirable – GUILTY!
  4. Too little, or too much conversation between characters either annoys the reader, or bores them to death – GUILTY!
  5. Don’t be afraid to make your characters three dimensional – VERY GUILTY!
  6. Avoid overly long paragraphs – GUILTY!
  7. Determine what is the appropriate length for each chapter – not sure, then ask your colleagues for their advice. Better still take a look at some of the books in your personal library.
  8. Don’t be afraid to change a word when the offending word has another form far more suitable – GUILTY!
  9. Be highly critical of your own work, why, because your readers surely will be, that’s why – GUILTY!

Back then I was totally guilty of all of the above.

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As I now sit reading through yesterdays contribution to my latest sci-fi manuscript I find myself scratching my head as to why I wrote each sentence in the way I did. At the time when that sentence first leapt from my mind onto this computer screen it made complete sense. But does it now – no, not really.

Don’t think that spending hours each day working your way through several chapters at a time will solve the problem either – it won’t. You need to take bite sized chunks and rewrite them. To do this you must be fresh and wide awake. These days after editing the previous day’s effort, I deliberately restrict my daily input to between two hundred to two hundred and fifty well chosen words. While working this way means that the novel will take longer than normal, take it from me when I say the end result will be worth it.

Stop for a cup of tea, coffee or even something stronger. If the weather is fine, get outside for a break away from those pesky words sitting there in front of you for an hour or so, they’ll still be there when you get back.

Above all, don’t treat your writing efforts as a chore. Relax; enjoy watching that story or article slowly unfold in front of you.

When your work is fired back to you from fellow writers whose opinion you value as trusted unbiased beta readers, don’t take umbrage at their suggestions. Take what they say on the chin, learn from them – I did.

Since 2011 I’ve come a long way in the writing game. I’ve learned a hell of a lot. With each successive novel, I can honestly say I have improved immeasurably.

You can to…

A teaser

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Hi folks, I’m just keeping you up to date with the state of play with my current science fiction writing project. Here is its prologue and one paragraph taken completely out of context which I have deliberately chosen to peak your curiosity.

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There was a time when mankind thought he was alone in the universe, largely thanks to the lies fed to him as fact by his religious leaders for thousands of years. Down the millennia of his existence, he was browbeaten into believing that an all-powerful God made man in his own image, and that his was the only intelligent species to be found anywhere in the firmament. From the eighteenth through to the twenty-first century, the same lies continued to be reinforced by equally narrow minded philosophers who also believed that man was alone in the universe. They were about to be proven wrong.

Astronomers and physicists back in the twenty-first century believed it would take at least one hundred thousand years to journey to the other side of the Milky Way, given the technology of the time. They also believed it would not even be possible for man to travel safely through the minefield of our own planetary system for many centuries to come, let alone uncharted space. They were proved wrong on both counts, when unbeknown to them an artefact from Earth’s twentieth century appeared on the opposite side of our galaxy. Somehow or other it had only taken a mere one thousand one hundred and thirty seven years to get there, after finally passing beyond the Solar systems outer limits in the early part of 2013. The fact that it was relatively unscathed, given all of the hazards hidden in the darkness of space which it undoubtedly had to negotiate, was a miracle in itself. Because of its discovery in another planetary system, in 3150 the Earth was visited by a representative of the sentient species who discovered it.

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Barely a month had passed since Brewer Long was sworn in as the three hundred and twenty-eighth citizen ever to hold the office of President of the United States. The inevitable consequences of the assassination in America of the first alien ever to visit the Earth (even though technically speaking the United Nations building was not considered to be US soil), would either be the making or breaking of him. Either way he was glad to have his friend and old commanding officer as his military advisor. He had been a fighter pilot under Glen’s command, rising to the rank of Major before resigning his commission to become a politician like his father and grandfather before him. Inevitably there were some individuals jealous of his success who said he entered politics purely for the purpose of self-aggrandisement. While that may be true for the vast majority of politicians, in Brewer’s case nothing could be further from the truth. He saw it merely as continuing his patriotic duty to his country. His family had been involved in politics since the loose collection of thirteen colonies amalgamated to form the nucleus of the new nation known to the world as the United States of America in 1789, under the leadership of its first President, George Washington, a few short years after the American Revolutionary War with the British Crown ended in victory for the former colonists.

More later if your patient…