Saturday, September 19, 2015

Great Advice From The Master

Publishing guru Joe Konrath recently posted some great advice on his website - HERE - and I make no apology for reprinting it. Words of wisdom, truly.

 I thought I'd add my thoughts...

1. Nobody owes you a living. I'm old school, and I busted my ass to get where I am. But I don't feel any sense of entitlement. Yeah, I worked hard. Maybe I've got talent. But I don't deserve readers, and neither do you.

Couldn't agree more. You get readers by providing stories they want to read. You're not entitled to readers, you have to earn them.

2. Success is mostly due to luck. You can do everything right, and still not be satisfied with the state of your career. That's life. No one ever said this would be fair, fun, or easy.

You hope that this isn't so, but it is. Some writers see their sales take off for no apparent reason, It just happens. You can work as hard as you want, you can produce great books, but at the end of the day what separates a bestseller from a guy who sells just a few books is often luck. Though like most people I have noticed that the harder I work, the luckier I get!

3. Stop whining. The internet is forever. No one likes a person who constantly complains. Even if you feel that bemoaning (insert whatever here) is justified, it will always be linked to you if someone Googles your name.

Never complain, never explain, as Benjamin Disraeili (and Kate Moss) say. Moaning really doesn't get you anywhere. The trick is to work to overcome obstacles, not complain about them.

4. Don't Google your name. What people think of you is their business, not yours. Remember, one of life's greatest journeys is overcoming insecurity and learning to truly not give a shit.

Best advice ever. Hard to do, but it pays off. Don't Google your name and don't look for your name on Twitter. In my experience, the fewer books a writer sells, the more tweets they send. Or vice versa. Either way, Twitter is a waste of a writer's valuable time. Of anyone's time, actually!

5. Never respond to criticism. It will make things worse. And if you apologize, it will get even more worser. Keep out of any discussion about you and your work. You may think you know better, but you don't.

Never complain, never explain!  A good writer friend of mine was recently roasted on Twitter for four horrible days by people who misunderstood what he'd said in a national newspaper. He apologised - on Twitter - when I, like a lot of others, thought he had nothing to apologise for. Twitter storms are best ignored.  Bad reviews are also best ignored, though I do find it hard not to respond when someone reviews the wrong book, for instance, or awards one star because Amazon messed up a delivery. But you have to let it go. The trick is to getting more positive reviews, and that's down to writing great books.

6. Remember your Serenity Prayer. Fix what you can change, accept what you can't fix, and learn to know the difference between the two. If it is beyond your control, drink a beer, do yoga, go for a run, or bitch to a close friend where it can't be seen online. And if you can't stop dwelling on your bad fortune.

Don't worry, be happy. You know what old people regret most? Worrying too much!  That's right. Read it HERE.  There's no point in worrying most of the time. Writing is a much more productive way of spending your time.

7. Quit. The world will keep turning without your work. If writing and publishing is so traumatic, go use your time doing something else you can derive some pleasure from. Life is too short.

Agreed. If you're not happy being a writer, stop writing. End of.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Basement - An All-Time Kindle Bestseller

Amazon recently announced that a book of mine - The Basement - was one of the Top 10 independently published eBooks of all time.  You can read about it by clicking HERE (the Guardian)  and HERE if like me you're not a fan of the Guardian.

Amazon also announced that I am the sixth top-selling UK independent author over the past five years!

That's pretty impressive as most of my books are still traditionally published, by Hodder and Stoughton!

These days The Basement is published by Amazon Encore. But I first published it myself, back in 2010, when self-publishing was in its infancy.

I was one of the first - if not the first - writers to realise that cutting prices was a great way of boosting eBook sales and I sold The Basement for the minimum Amazon price of 99 cents, equivalent to just 75p in the UK. I sold hundreds of thousands of copies and it stayed in the Kindle UK Top 5 for months. It was one of three self-published books I put on line in 2010 - the others were Once Bitten and Dreamer's Cat. They were equally successful and at one point I had the top 3 places on the UK Kindle bestseller list. I'm pretty sure I'm the only British writer to have achieved that honour! This is what The Basement looked like back then.

Amazon Encore went to to publish Once Bitten - a vampire story set in Los Angeles - and it has been a regular bestseller for them over the years.

It's worth taking a look at the all-time independently published eBook bestseller list. It makes for interesting reading.  Here's the list -

The top two books are both by Rachel Abbott,  a relative newcomer to self-publishing, which goes to show that it is still possible to start from nowhere and sell an awful lot of books! She gives hope to all independent writers and shows that it's not necessary to have a regular publishing deal. She also has a book at Number 7.

I have to say that if Amazon Encore hadn't taken over The Basement it would probably have been much higher in this chart. It was only self-published for two years and after Amazon Encore published it the book went onto top the US Kindle chart. The Basement is one of very books that have been Number 1 in the Kindle list in the UK and the US.

There are some other interesting authors in the Top 10. Nick Spalding is at Number 5, He went on to sign a publishing deal with Hodder and Stoughton but he has since gone back to self-publishing.

A book by former journalist Kerry Wilkinson is Number 6 on the list. He started some time after me but did really well, later switching to a traditional publisher, Pan MacMillan. His books have continued to sell well. You can read about Kerry's success HERE

At Number 9, just below The Basement, is Mark Edwards, who had amazing success as a self-published writer. Mark signed a six-figure deal with Harper Collins but in his own words it all went "horribly wrong" and he is now back self-publishing. You can read about that HERE

I saw both Mark and Kerry - on separate occasions -  at the Crime Writers Festival in Harrogate. They were there as spectators rather than speakers and they were both clearly nervous and feeling out of place, and it occurred to me at the time that they had no reason to be over-awed by the writers on display. Between them they sold more in one week than a lot of writers there had sold in their entire career.

All three writers did amazingly well as self-published writers. I think that's because they wrote fast-paced stories, but more importantly they were writing for readers rather than editors. All three were also terrific at dealing with their readers, on social media and in person.

Why did it go wrong for Mark and Nick, but worked out so well for Kerry? That is one of life's mysteries. No pun intended. I would say that they are all terrific writers, and they are all great at interacting with their readers. I'm not sure it's fair to blame the publishers, there is something else at work, I think. I'm moving towards the view that some types of writing are better suited to eBooks. Maybe it's the technology, the fact that all you do is click to turn a page so people read faster. Maybe faster-paced books with fewer descriptions and lots of dialogue sell well as eBooks but not so well as paperbacks. And maybe it is price sensitive. Maybe people will pay 99p for a frothy rollicking eBook romance but won't pay £6.99 for a paperback. Maybe it's the fault of booksellers who are unwilling to promote a former self-published writer.

I'm still giving it a lot of thought, and have yet to reach any firm conclusions, I'm afraid. I'm lucky in that I'm in both worlds. I'm still one of the most successful UK self-published writers, but I am also regularly in the Sunday Times Top 10 hardback fiction list. I know I spend more time writing my Hodder hardbacks, but that's because they are generally longer - my Hodder novels tend to be 120,000 plus words while my self-published books are generally below 100,000. I would say that the quality is the same, but I have to leave that to my readers to decide!

Michael Kozlowski - A "Journalist" Who Doesn't Check His Facts

When self-publishing first started to take off in 2010, it was hard to get information on what to do and how best to do it. It was a bit like the Klondike, where thousands of amateurs picked up their shovels and headed to the hills in search of fortunes. 

Because I was doing so well self-publishing (I had the top three places in the UK Kindle bestseller list at the time) I was constantly getting emails asking for advice, and I was happy to help wherever I could.

Back then cover designers were few and far between, and there were very few people out there who could format quickly and cheaply for Smashwords and I would pass on the names of those that I could recommend. I was often asked for tips on pricing and marketing, and again I was happy to oblige and tell writers what had worked for me.

Since those heady days, self-publishing has become a global industry, yet I get far fewer requests for help. That's mainly because there are now hundreds of 'experts' offering advice on self-publishing. There is a huge support industry offering editing services, formatting and covers. It's far easier to get advice on what to do to make a success of self-publishing.

One of the best sources of information is the amazing Joe Konrath, who is very much a self-publishing evangelist and one of the most successful self-publishers out there. You can read his self-publishing blog HERE and I suggest you do, because it's a mine of information!

But for every Joe Konrath there are hundreds of people who describe themselves as experts but who in fact know little or nothing about the industry. There are hundreds of self-published books charging for the same information that Joe Konrath offers for free. And there are hundreds of so-called journalists who are scrambling to make a living from the self-publishing industry.

One of those so-called journalists is a Canadian by the name of Michael Kozlowski. I had never heard of him  until he wrote about me on his website. Well, lied about me would be more accurate. This is what he wrote on his Good Ereader blog -

I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Michael Kozlowski, who I have never heard of and who has never made any attempt to contact me, had published two outright and unequivocal lies about me.

I have never, ever paid people to leave positive reviews. Leaving aside the legality/morality of paying for reviews, I have never done so because I get plenty of 5-star reviews anyway. All my books get all the positive reviews I need, I don't need to pay for reviews.

And I have never left fake reviews. I don't review many books but when I do I use my own name. Saying I leave fake reviews is an absolute lie.

Michael Kozlowski didn't provide any evidence to back up his allegations. And frankly I didn't understand where the allegations had come from.

I sent him a polite email pointing out that he was in error and that the unsubstantiated allegations he made  on his Good eReader blog were false.

I didn't get a reply, let alone an apology. But some time later he amended his copy and republished the following -

He was now accusing me of creating multiple accounts to generate buzz on forums and to leave reviews on his own books.

The first allegation is complicated. I have never denied that I have sometimes been on forums and not used my real name. Most people on discussion forums use a pseudonym or pen name, especially on forums frequented by trolls. But his second allegation, that I left reviews on my own books is an outright lie. As I said earlier, I get all the reviews I need, I don't have to pay for reviews or review my own books.

I wrote back to Michael Kozlowski at Good eReader pointing out that his article was still making unsubstantiated false accusations about me.

This time I did receive an email from him. No apology, in fact nothing other than two links which I assume were to the websites he had taken his lies from.

It turns out he had taken his information from two 'journalists' who are as unreliable as he is.

The first one, Suw Charman-Anderson made allegations that are simply untrue in her Forbes blog. She corrected some of the mistakes she made but not all, and I have complained several times to Forbes management. She no longer writes for Forbes. In fact she never really did, she just had a blog that ran under the Forbes banner.

The second link is to another website where another journalist wrote that I confessed to reviewing my own books. That is not true. I asked for a correction but as with Michael Kozlowski I didn't get it and the lie remains up there.

That's the problem with these so-called journalists. It's almost impossible to get them to correct their mistakes and they never seem to apologise. If Michael Kozlowski had contacted me before writing his piece I could have given him the truth. But he didn't want the truth. All he wanted to do was to knock out a quick article using work stolen from other writers.

So, I can safely say that Michael Kozlowski is a liar and a plagiarist. He claims to be a journalist, but to me a journalist is a professional who gathers facts and then assembles a readable article. From what I've seen of Michael Kozlowski's work, he seems to think it's journalism when you take another reporter's work and repost it. That's not journalism. That's theft. And what makes it worse is that Michael Kozlowski doesn't even check the material he steals, which means he publishes lies and rumour.

There are also doubts about his impartiality. He accused me of paying for reviews - which is an absolute lie. But he quite happily tells manufacturers that they can buy reviews in his column. That's worth repeating. If you pay money to Michael Kozlowski, he will review your products. The man is a liar and a plagiarist and a hypocrite.

You can read his Good Ereader blog HERE - but I wouldn't bother. It's rubbish. And pretty much all the material is lifted from elsewhere.

For instance, he doesn't think that self-published writers should call themselves authors. You can read that nonsense HERE.  But I wouldn't bother. The man's an idiot.

He also thinks that self-published authors are destroying literature. You can read that nonsense HERE, but again I wouldn't bother, really.

I'm not the only one who thinks that Michael Kozlowski is an idiot - you can read more HERE

I'm guessing that he makes outrageous statements on his website to get people to click on his links, and I assume that's so he earns money from advertising. That doesn't excuse him plagiarising the work of other writers or from printing lies.

This is how Michael Kozlowski of Good eReader describes himself on his Twitter account -

He says he's editor-in-chief but I get the impression he's a one-man band. He describes himself as a 'young hero' but he's not that young and he's no hero.

I'm not the only one who thinks that Michael Kozlowski shouldn't be describing himself as an editor in chief. And he often gets accused of blogging nonsense to get traffic to his blog. He's a blogger, and not a very good one, and not a journalist.

Eric is right to question Michael Kozlowski's journalist credentials. A look at Michael Kozlowski's CV shows that he has had no journalist training. He is not a journalist.

Professional journalists, when confronted with their mistakes, apologise and print a correction. Not Michael Kozlowski. I know this from experience because he published lies about me. He didn't apologise when I pointed out his errors, he just rewrote the article so that it contained even more lies. And he justified his lies by showing me the articles he'd stolen his copy from. I pointed out that those articles were inaccurate, but he didn't care. I doubt that Michael Kozlowski's career will prosper. We'll see.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Great Affordable Covers On Sale

My pal Debbie at The Cover Collection is having a £30 sale at the moment, with a load of terrific pre-made covers on offer at a bargain price.

Here are just a few of the covers she is now selling for £30.

I've used Debbie at lot in the past and IMHO she's one of the best book cover designers in the business. I used her for San Francisco Night and she has done the cover for New York Night, which I hope to publish in October.

Here are some of the many covers Debbie has done for me - and others - in the past.

You can visit Debbie's pre-made cover sale by CLICKING HERE

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Once Bitten On Sale for Just £1

Amazon have slashed the price of my vampire book Once Bitten to just £1 for the Kindle.  I'm not sure why or how long the promotion will last but that's the price at the moment!


In just a couple of days the promotion has made Once Bitten the top-selling Kindle book in the Zombies, Werewolves and Vampires category! (The number two is the Zombies Survival Manual, which is a fun book that I bought myself a few months ago. I love it!)

Amazon recently did another price promotion for my New York thriller, The Basement. I'm never quite sure what it is they do to promote the price cuts but it always seems to work - The Basement shot up into the UK Top 100 despite the fact that it was first published as an eBook more than four years ago!

The Once Bitten promotion came out of the blue, but I am currently in the middle of another one-month long Amazon promotion that I was expecting. They contacted me a few weeks ago to see if I wanted to take part in a cut-price Kindle promotion featuring my book Spider Shepherd SAS - Volume 1.

The book is a collection of six of my Spider Shepherd SAS short stories, set back in the days when he was still a special forces trooper.  YOU CAN BUY IT BY CLICKING HERE

In my opinion you'd be crazy to turn down any offer Amazon makes to promote your work so I jumped at the chance.  The book has been selling at £2.99 (which I think is a very fair price for 80,000 or so words).  Under the Amazon deal, they cut the price to 99p.  Now, the downside is I only get paid based on the 99p price rather than the regular price, but the upside is that Amazon will promote the book. They have now started doing that and I'm already seeing an upsurge in sales.

Where I hope it will really help me is that there is a second volume of Spider Shepherd SAS short stories. If the promotion works, hopefully a lot of people who buy the first volume at 99p will return to buy the second at £2.99. I shall keep you posted!

Anyway, go Amazon. I'm a big fan. Obviously! But not everyone is, unfortunately. In fact some writers go out of their way not to publish with Amazon, which I really don't understand.  Take Suw Charman-Anderson, for example. She touts herself as a self-publishing and social media guru but I find that most of what she says is absolute tosh.

She refuses to do business with Amazon, the biggest outlet for self-published books in the world. I sell more than 90 per cent of my self-published eBooks through Amazon. But Suw Charman-Anderson won't let them sell her work.  That's nonsense and anyone who follows her lead would find their self-publishing career stalling before it even started to take off. This is what she said recently, and it's nonsense.

In fact Suw Charman-Anderson's foray into self-publishing has been so disastrous she recently announced that she was giving up selling her books. You can read about that BY CLICKING HERE.

I'm not the only one who thinks that Suw Charman-Anderson's advice isn't up to scratch - YOU CAN READ MORE ABOUT THAT HERE.

The simple fact is that anyone who is serious about self-publishing has to work with Amazon. You'd be crazy not to!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Getting It Right The First Time

I'm about 50,000 words into a stand-alone terrorism thriller, set in London. I've just sent the first 40,000 words to my agent for a look-see.

If all goes to plan I'll have done another 40,000 words by the end of April and it'll be done. It's at this point a lot of writers would say - "and now the hard work begins."

Well, not me. Those 90,000 words will be pretty much as good as it gets. I might catch a few typos and grammatical slips and there are always a few errors of fact no matter how much effort I put into the research. But the story itself will be pretty much ready to go to the printers.

My 12th Spider Shepherd book - Black Ops - was four months in the writing. It's a complicated book with several major plot lines.  I gave it to my editor and the notes he gave back to me were sorted in less than two days. I probably put in a total of eight hours work. It then went to a line editor and it took me a day - a good solid eight hours - to approve those changes, mainly grammatical. Then it was ready to go.  You can buy it on pre-order BY CLICKING HERE

Don't get me wrong. It wasn't easy. It was hard work, though I enjoyed every moment. But I approached it professionally. I made every paragraph count. I planned out the plot twists. I was continually giving it to friends to read and comment. That's why that first draft was pretty much the way I wanted it. And that's how it's been for my last twenty books. I deliver a first draft that is very very close to the version that appears in print. And I'll let you into a secret - most successful writers work that way, at least the ones I know. Professional writers work hard to make sure that the first draft is as close to perfection as possible.

But more and more I'm seeing advice being given which is contrary to what I and every other professional writer knows.  Just get it down on paper (even though they mean laptop most of the time) and deal with any problems later, they say. You should spend more time rewriting than you do writing, they say. It's a long, slow process turning that first draft into a publishable book, they say. Me, I don't agree. I don't think you can turn a sow's ear into a silk purse. Or to be slightly cruder - no matter how much you polish a turd, it's still going to be a turd.

Actually, the guys on Mythbusters did show that you can polish a turd, but I stand by my argument that it doesn't work for novels!

My view is that you need to work hard on that first draft and make it as close to perfect as you can. Other writers disagree. One writer who believes in rushing the first draft is a guy called Tom Bale. Actually that's not his real name, his real name is David Harrison.  Not to be confused with DJ Harrison who is a successful self-publisher with titles such as Due Diligence, Proceeds Of Crime and Limited Liability featuring Detective Jenny Parker.  YOU CAN SEE THOSE BOOKS HERE

David Harrison's first novel was published under this own name and it didn't do well at all so he tried under the name Tom Bale instead. Unfortunately things haven't gone much better under Tom Bale and he was recently dropped by his publisher, Random House. Why? Putting it bluntly, Tom Bale's books just didn't sell, And these days publishers aren't prepared to build an author, they're not prepared to invest the time or money in  a writer who isn't making them a decent profit. Instead they cut their losses, which is what happened to Tom Bale and is also happening to an awful lot of mid-list authors.

Why didn't Tom Bale's books sell? I think it's a lot to do with the way he writes. He gave a recent interview where he explained how he goes about creating his books. YOU CAN READ THE TOM BALE INTERVIEW HERE

Tom Bale says he tries to write his first draft as quickly as possible -

That to me sounds like a rookie mistake. So does the fact that the rewriting takes longer than the original draft. Yes, blank screens can be daunting. But there's no point in filling it with rubbish. It's worth investing the time up front so that the first draft is almost as good as it gets. It doesn't have to be perfect, but the closer to perfection the better.

And it might well be less daunting to pull something apart and put it together again, but that's not how they build Rolls Royces, is it? Or skyscrapers. You make sure that the chassis or the foundations are perfect because if you build on a weak chassis or dodgy foundations, you're just storing up trouble for later.  Use dentistry as an analogy. You need to cap a tooth and the first thing you do is deal with the root canal. If you don't do that properly and you put the cap over the dodgy root canal, you are heading for toothache down the line.  You can't throw together a book on the basis that you'll fix it later. That's not how it works in industry and it's not how it works in the arts. DaVinci didn't finish the Mona Lisa and say to himself - that's a first draft I think I'll make her a blonde. And sculptors don't  hack off a chunk of marble and then try to stick it back on. Professional writers edit as they write. If they write a paragraph that doesn't work, they rewrite it or delete it.  I've often deleted half a day's work because I knew it wasn't right. If it's not right fix it then and there - don't leave it to be dealt with in a second or third draft.

In the same interview, Tom Bale says this -

Writing without any real outline is another rookie mistake. As is trusting your gut. Yes, you can trust your instincts when you are on your twentieth or thirtieth novel. But not when you are starting out. You might think your instincts won't let you down, but trust me, they will. To say that the unfolding of the plot is as exciting or you as the reader is a nice soundbite, but it's a recipe for disaster. And that's what's happened to Tom Bale - at the moment he has no publishing deal and he has had to find himself a new agent.

Writers who try to wing it are rarely successful. I've worked alongside a couple of authors who've told me that they prefer to make it up as they go along and that the book's plot will develop along the way. They talked the talk but really, they failed to walk the walk. Both would constantly write themselves into dead ends or write scenes that would meander and end up going nowhere. And they would end up writing lots of scenes of people arriving and leaving when really all they needed was the conversation that happened after they arrived and before they left.

Making it up as you go along doesn't work - unless you are totally confident in your craft.  I can do it - just about - but I've written close to forty novels.

That doesn't mean you need to know every single thing that will happen before you sit down to write. But you need to have a good idea of the plot, and the characters. I always jot down details of the characters on individual cards. Then when I am writing a scene with several characters I keep their cards close at hand to remind me who is who. I don't work with full treatments, but most writers find them helpful, and some even go as far as writing out a chapter breakdown. That's a much safer way than sitting down and winging it.  And don't listen to anyone who tells you that characters write themselves. They don't. They are your characters, you create them and they do what you tell them to. It's your book. You're the author.

It seems to me that the best guide to the quality of the advice you will get comes from the number of books the person has sold. Not the number of books they have written because there are plenty of awful authors who are churning out rubbish books in huge numbers. Look to see how many books they have sold.  So look instead for advice from writers like Stephen King, Lee Child, Val McDermid and Jefferey Deaver, who sell in their millions.

If I was offering advice to a young writer, yes I would tell them to write every day. And to read the greats. Read and learn. Write and practise. Work on your craft, because that's what it is, a craft. But once you are writing books that you plan to sell, then you have to change the way you work. It's not good enough to write on the hoof, to let the characters go where they want, to sit down at the keyboard and just write whatever comes into your head. That's not how professionals work. And what you must never, ever, do is to get to the end of a first draft and say to yourself - and others - that now the hard work begins. You should have done all the hard work before you write THE END. Anyone who tells you otherwise is giving you bad advice.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

How To Kickstart Your Writing

You hear a lot about writer's block and how it can stop a writer in his or her tracks.  Me, I've never really been blocked. I've had problems getting the energy and enthusiasm to finish a book sometimes, but more often than not that's because the story just isn't working and subconsciously I know it.  When that happens, the best thing to do, I find, is to start writing something else, even if it's just for a day or two.

What I find helpful is to have ideas on the back burner, stories that I am constantly thinking about but don't do any real work on. But when I find myself losing enthusiasm for the project in hand (which admittedly doesn't happen very often) then I have something to fall back on.

And a great way of keeping those fallback ideas in play is to get a cover and title lined up, ready to go. At any point in time I have a dozen or so titles and covers that will provide me with inspiration. Here's a few I have lined up for my Jack Nightingale supernatural detective series. Most of them cost very little, but I'm pretty sure any half-decent writer would be inspired by any or even all of them. Certainly if I got bogged down in my current project - a stand alone terrorism thriller set in London - then it's the easiest thing in the world to sit down and write a story to go with one of the following covers.