Jonny Nexus

Writing, life, politics

Category: Writing (page 1 of 7)

General writing related posts.

On The Naming Of A Series

This is something of an announcement twice over, the first announcement being of a new novel that I’ve started working on1, and the second announcement being that of the resulting marketing / naming predicament that this decision has precipitated.

The new novel, provisionally titled the Elven Lands Murders, is not so much a sequel to the Sleeping Dragon as a follow-on, set in the same world, and featuring Blade, one of Sleeping Dragon’s five protagonists in a story that, as the title suggests, is set in the Elven Lands that lie across the Western Ocean, and which involves murders.

I’m calling it a follow-on rather than a sequel because while it follows on from that story, Sleeping Dragon itself is a completely self-contained novel whose story brings all its plot threads to a full and complete close.

And that’s where I arrive at the resulting predicament. Right from the start, If Pigs Could Fly was conceived as the first book of a series. Before I typed the first word of chapter one, I’d typed the title, “If Pigs Could Fly (WKPDA I). When the first cover was designed, it bore the words “West Kensington Paranormal Detective Agency: Book I”. When I uploaded the book to Amazon’s Kindle Desktop Platform and it asked me if it was part of a series and, if so, which series and number that was, I typed in “West Kensington Paranormal Detective Agency” and “1”.

But Sleeping Dragon is a stand-along novel, with no sequel.

Or at least, it was. Until now.

Now I need some kind of unifying subtitle. Not necessarily a series title, but a description for the shared world that can then go onto the cover and in the Kindle subtitle. Something like S.M. Stirling’s Emberverse or C. J. Cherryh’s Alliance–Union universe. Something that allows me to put “An XXX novel” as a subtitle both on the Sleeping Dragon, and on the Elven Lands Murders.

And that’s where I’m stuck. In these blog posts I’m calling it “the world of the Sleeping Dragon”, but that’s essentially a circular reference (I’m saying that the Sleeping Dragon is set in the world that the Sleeping Dragon is set in). What I really need is something that captures the essence of the setting (which I described in the first Sleeping Dragon blog post).

And so far, nothing’s come. 🙂

1This is in parallel with Sticks and Stones, book 2 in the West Kensington Paranormal Detective Agency series, and the sequel to If Pigs Could Fly. At this point, I’m not sure which novel will be first out of the gates, but the smart money should be on Sticks and Stones given that it is 90% complete in first draft, even if the reason for it being paused on 90% is that it has metaphorically fallen at the final hurdle, that hurdle being how to make the damn ending work from a narrative point of view.

Cover vs Cover: Fight!

Last weekend, during a browsing session in an Oxfam bookshop in Chester, I found an interesting pair of books on opposite shelves, which resulted in me making the following tweet shortly after:

Templar-Books

Now I should say at this point that referring to these two novels as “Dan Brown wannabes” is unfair. Shorn of the shackles imposed by the Twitter’s 140 character limit, I would probably have described them as books in the “religious-conspiracy-secret-history” genre created by Dan Brown’s hugely successful 2003 novel, The Da Vinci Code.

But what I find fascinating is that we have his two books, published at around the same time, that are not merely in the same genre, but on themes so similar that the designers of their covers were probably given near-identical instructions. Which means that just as identical twins are irresistibly fascinating to biologists, these two books allow us to see two forks in the wood, both of which were taken, and decide which fork we think was the most successful.

The Brief

Both books focus on the Knights Templar, a Catholic military order active between the years 1139 and 1312, and about whom much myth and legend has accrued in the years since their violent suppression by the French King Philip IV.

Both covers were produced with a quality finish with embossed text.

Potential Resources Available to the Designers

Templar knights wore distinctive white mantles with a red cross, and to this day, the red cross is associated with them. In addition, the order had a seal, which depicted two knights sharing a single horse. I found some examples of both:

TemplarCrossTemplarSeal

The Contenders

The Red Corner The Blue Corner
Title: The Last Templar Title: The Templar Legacy
Author: Raymond Khoury Author: Steve Berry
Nationality: British Nationality: American
Published: 2005 Published: 2006
LastTemplar-Front TemplarLegacy-Front
LastTemplar-Back TemplarLegacy-Back

(Click for higher resolution images).

Thoughts on the Designs

What I find fascinating is that both cover designers have gone with the same elements (the cross and the seal), but in very different ways.

The Last Templar uses the whole cross, and puts the seal at its centre. It then adds a background of a New York skyline inside the cross (click on the image to see this in more detail). It combines this with an “old, torn manuscript” backdrop.

The Templar Legacy by contract, is much more abstract. The cross is there, but in a blurred, partial form, and the seal is used only as a very muted backdrop to that cross (again, you might have to click on the image to see this). Combine that with the black background and you get a much darker image, which perhaps is not trying quite so hard to project the “religious-conspiracy-secret-history” angle.

Me? I think I prefer The Last Templar. Perhaps the cover isn’t quite so subtle, but I just like the aged manuscript theme. What about you? Please let me know in the comments.

* * * * *

P.S. I will be at Innominate (Eastercon 2017) in a few weeks selling Game Night and If Pigs Could Fly. I’m going to bring both of these books along and run a vote as to which one people like best. So if you’re at the con, and fancy examining the actual physical items, please drop by.

You Think 2016 Was Bad?

As a writer, I spend a lot of time thinking on plots of novels, and so it’s only natural that when I think about events occurring on our world, I try to imagine how they would develop were they events of fiction rather than reality.

People talk about 2016 as being the year from hell, but the thing is, most of the bad things about 2016 were the taken of decisions to do something bad, with the something bad itself having not yet occurred.

In other words, if 2016 were fiction, it wouldn’t be a stand-alone novel, but would instead be one of those slightly frustrating first books of a trilogy where lots of plot lines are initiated but nothing ever gets finished – and you then have to wait a year for the next book.

And that leads onto a second thought: if 2016 were merely the first book of a trilogy – what’s going to happen in the next two books.

Well with thanks to my friend Ian McDonald for the crucial plot development at the end, here goes…

2016: The Unfolding (Book I of the End Years Trilogy)

2016 begins in a world still struggling to extract itself from the Great Recession of 2008, and racked by wars triggered by climate change and ill-advised imperialist interventions.

In Europe, the European Union is under assault from the forces of left and right, while in the United States dark populist forces are gathering.

As mainland Europe struggles to cope with the refugees pouring out of a war-torn Middle East, the disastrous result of a recklessly called referendum plunges the United Kingdom into political and constitutional chaos. Meanwhile, the American presidential election produces a stunning shock of unprecedented proportions as a racist and misogynistic narcissist utterly unsuited to the role is elected on a tidal wave of neo-fascist populism.

2017: The Unravelling (Book II of the End Years Trilogy)

2017 begins with the results of the American election turning from tragedy to farce as the president-elect is revealed to be a Russian intelligence asset whose election was largely due to the Kremlin’s intervention. Meanwhile in Britain, the phony period of fudge and bluff comes to an end as the process to leave the European Union is begun.

As the world economy spirals further into the chaos triggered by Brexit and the nationalistic protectionism of the American president, Russian president Vladimir Putin invades the Baltic states. Shorn of effective leadership, and betrayed by the United States at the moment of invasion, NATO disintegrates.

Alongside this, and goaded by the United States’ ascendant right-wing, an increasingly belligerent Israel attempts to increase the pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran.

As the Western World attempts to celebrate an uneasy Christmas, a drunk American president engaged in a late night Twitter argument with the president of Iran orders a nuclear strike on Tehran. Following a rehearsed script written several months previously by Pentagon lawyers, and deploying pre-written letters signed by certain departmental heads, the Air Force officer carrying the “nuclear football” announces that by issuing such an order the president is clearly incapacitated as defined by the twenty-fifth amendment, and as such, presidential authority will now lie with the vice-president.

2018: The Unleashing (Book III of the End Years Trilogy)

2018 starts with the United States engulfed in a full blown constitutional crisis, with a still-tweeting president claiming to have been the victim of a military coup and the Joint Chiefs of Staff claiming to be following the now legitimate commander-in-chief, the former vice-president.

Both the military and civilian authorities are split as to the legality of the Joint Chiefs interpretation of the 25th amendment. A majority of state governors declare allegiance to the former president, with several calling up their state national guards. The regular military itself fractures into uselessness. Within weeks constitutional crisis has given way to a limited, but still bloody, civil war, with fire fights breaking out in Washington DC between different factions.

The American economy, paralysed, enters a death spiral; the world economy follows. Vladimir Putin meanwhile, follows his move into the Baltic states with an invasion of Poland and a declaration of a new Russian Empire, with himself as emperor.

With the world on the brink of an all out war, only one leader remains with the moral and political authority to hold the centre: German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Gathering together the remains of NATO, she forges a new alliance. While her forces meet and defeat the Russian invasion, triggering a democratic uprising in Moscow, a Canadian led force allied with the anti-Presidential forces occupies Washington DC in the last hours of 2018.

When the sun rises on New Year’s Day 2019, it is on a new world, in a new era.

My Top Ten Writing Haunts

haunt

h??nt/

noun

  1. a place frequented by a specified person.

“the bar was a favourite haunt of artists of the time”

synonyms

hang-out, stamping ground, meeting place, territory, domain, purlieu, resort, den, retreat, favourite spot;

For any author, finding somewhere to write can be of crucial importance, doubly so for authors such as myself for whom writing is something that sits half way between a hobby and a job, and which has to be squeezed into the cracks of a life otherwise occupied by a family and full-time, mortgage-paying employment.

It was Albert Einstein who first observed that space and time are interwoven into a single continuum known as space-time, and no-where is this more true than for a writer’s writing haunts. It’s true of course that you want the places you write in to inspire you, to provide the kindling to your creative fire – and if they can serve you a good coffee that’s an added bonus. But a haunt is as much about time as it is about space. It’s about a place that you can escape to, free of the calls of every day life. A place with no dishes waiting to be washed or laundry waiting to be hung up. A place that will give you not merely a space in which to write, but the time in which to do it.

Moving twice in the current year, first to Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, and then to Littleborough in Lancashire, has given me a renewed appreciation for the role that my various writing haunts have played in my writing “career” thus far. As Joni Mitchell sang, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. I’m on the lookout for new haunts now, but that search and the thoughts it’s aroused have inspired me to write this.

My top ten personal writing haunts.

#10 Paul Robeson Theatre Café Bar

Hounslow

paulrobesontheatreThe café of Hounslow’s Paul Robeson community theatre makes it into my top ten list not because it was one of my better writing haunts, but because it was my first. This was back in around 2003, when I got my first laptop, a cheap reconditioned Hewlet Packard which I used to supplement the Dell desktop that at the time was still my primary writing machine.

The café wasn’t a particularly great place to write at. And since this was before the widespread introduction of soya milk into UK coffee shops and the resultant availability of soya lattes (a development which has frankly played an embarrassingly large role in my development as a writer), I was restricted to black coffees. (I’m not any kind of coffee aficionados out there, but I do like my rocket fuel to have a little frothed milk to help it slip down).

This wasn’t where it started: I was already started, having been writing on and off since I was a child. But the Paul Robeson cafe bar helped me move to a productivity model where I could write on a continuously enough basis to actually start producing the novels I’d aspired to write. And for that reason it makes my list.

#9 Coffee Cali

Hebden Bridge

coffeecaliCoffee Cali’s a funny entry, one that’s almost snuck onto this list, because when I was thinking back on all the places that I’ve written in I realised that although I felt no huge emotional link to this place, I actually spent quite a lot of time over the last year writing in it.

It’s a curious place, which in some ways comes across as a small independent coffee shop trying to feel like a corporate chain, and which sometimes appears to be staffed entirely by look-a-likes (there’s a Tina from Coronation Street, and a rather good Rylan from X-Factor). But I like it because its reasonably large upstairs seating area offers me a secluded space to write where I don’t feel like I’m taking a table away from other, potential customers. And despite what I’ve said, it’s nice place, which offers a lovely view of the bridge that gives the town its name.

Now that I’ve moved away, and my Hebden writing is confined to the occasional Saturday excursion, it’s actually Coffee Cali that I most often end up in. So for that reason alone, it deserves a place on this list.

#8 Various Piccadilly Line Carriages

London

ontubeFrom the time I acquired my first laptop around 2002 until we moved to Brighton in 2009, the majority of my writing took place on my Piccadilly Line commute to and from work. It’s where I wrote most of my columns for Mongoose’s Signs and Portents gaming magazine. And it’s where most of my first novel Game Night was written. Along the way I replaced the Hewlet Packard with a G4 Macbook, and then replaced that with an Intel Macbook after one-too-many trips through the bumpy express section between Acton Town and Hammersmith destroyed its hinge.

The seats weren’t always comfortable and the view varied between mundane and literally non-existent. But it gave me a time and a space to write, and for that I will always be grateful.

#7 Villa Källhagen Lobby Bar

Stockholm

kallhagenThe Källhagen (which is actually pronounced something like “Shallhagen”) is where I always stay when I visit my company’s Stockholm office.

(With one exception when the Källhagen was booked out one July and I had to stay in a rather cheap and nasty place. Since then I always say, only half joking, that the worst jet lag I ever had was a week in Stockholm in July in a hotel with cheap, thin curtains. By the end of the week, having been woken up every night at about 2am by the light flooding into the room, I was so wrecked that I fell asleep sitting bolt upright while the plane home was making its final approach into Gatwick. This was during a period when I made three trips to Singapore in four months. As I spent that weekend walking around like a zombie, concerned friends were asking “Have you just come back from Singapore, again?” and then being a bit perplexed when I replied, anguished, “No! Stockholm!”)

The Källhagen has good curtains.

But more than that it has a lovely ambiance, especially in its lobby bar which with its log fire and restrained decor is far more cosy than any lobby bar has a right to be. It’s just a nice place to crack open your laptop on an evening and get a bit of writing done.

#6 Caffé Nero

Brighton

cafenerobrightonThere are actually three Caffé Neros in Brighton, all of which I’ve drank at. But the one that I spent quite a bit of time writing in was the one on the corner of Preston Street and Western Road, just a few minutes walk away from our house. (It was also where Violet and I would chill out over a soya latte and a soya babychino, but that’s another story).

It wasn’t particularly funky, and its parent chain are a tad Starbucksesque on the tax front, but the staff were always friendly and they were always kind to my dog.

#5 Verano Lounge

Brighton

veranoloungeOkay, here’s the thing. I don’t like pubs. Now maybe it was because I was raised a Methodist during an era when pubs were drinking places for adults rather than the pub-themed restaurants they’ve now mostly become. Or perhaps it’s a result of an incident during a sixth form pub crawl when I was seventeen where having randomly encountered my family’s milkman, he got it into his head that I was making fun of him, threatened to kill me, and then shoved me up against the glass frontage of the local Tesco and held a knife to my throat as a demonstration of his intent.

Or perhaps it’s just that not having any particular taste for alcohol, I usually end up drinking flat coke from the tap machine and cursing the non-availability of coffee. Whatever, the point is that I don’t like pubs. I don’t feel happy in them. I don’t feel comfortable in them. And I don’t feel particularly safe in them. If there’s a pub vibe, it’s one that entirely passes me by.

So for me, Verano Lounge was like a perfectly genetically engineered fusion of a bar and coffee shop, combining the opening hours of a bar with the relaxed chilled out vibe of a coffee shop.

Late in the evening, when all the coffee shops were all closed, I could get Violet to bed and then head on out to the Lounge, get out my laptop, and enjoy a nice soya latte, on my own, without feeling like an out-of-place, no mates, freak.

(It was also a good place to go to when my wife and I had managed to sneak out on a rare date and she wanted to go to a bar and I wanted to go to a coffee shop, but that’s also another story).

#4 Genoa Coffee Shop

Istanbul

genoacoffeeshopThe Genoa was not a good place. Hell, given that it was a mock American diner set a stone’s throw from the historic waterway of the Golden Horn, you could almost argue that it’s very existence was an affront to history, architecture, and plain damn common decency. And with soya milk a mere dream in most of Istanbul, I was back to the black coffees.

But it’s made it to number four on my list because it appeared at a point in my life where I’d found myself becalmed in a manner that was not so much writer’s block as life overload. I hadn’t written anything for months, and then I found myself spending a week in Istanbul, not in the out of town executive box that my later Istanbul visits for my day job took me to, but at a hotel right in the heart of the city just across the water from the old town.

istanbulgenoa-view3After a day spent conducting software training (professional pride and ex-programmer’s snobbery compel me to point out at this point that I’m actually a business analyst, but being rather multi-functional I dabble in training on the side) I’d grab something to eat and then wonder down to the Genoa, flip open my laptop, and enjoy a view across the Galata Bridge at the old town and the Yeni Cami (New) mosque.

To be in such a place was inspiring in a way that’s hard to describe. I spent five nights in Istanbul, soaking up the layers of history like a desert absorbing rain, and then poured that into the writing of a short story, Constantinople. (Which I might one day publish on Wattpad).

#3 Various Southern Railway / Thameslink Carriages

Brighton, London, and Points In-between

southernrail2From the summer of 2009 until early 2016, this was where most of my writing took place. From 2009 through to 2013, when I was commuting into Farringdon, I had an hour and a half each way, or up to fifteen hours a week of guilt-free writing time. Even after we’d moved offices and I was commuting into London Bridge, I still had a little over an hour each way.

I write two complete novels and most of a third on these trains: If Pigs Could Fly, an unpublished time travel novel, and the Sleeping Dragon, which will hopefully be published at some point this year.

My writing career went through some life-related ebbs and flows during this period, and there were plenty of false dawns, but as I said in the dedications of If Pigs Could Fly, the seats were usually comfortable and the views were often superb.

#2 Mooch

Hebden Bridge

moochMooch was basically my favourite hangout in the world, ever, and it’s perhaps unfair that it hasn’t made it to the number one spot on this list. Located just a stone’s throw away from our temporary rented house in Hebden, and opening until seven or eight most evenings, I could squeeze in a quick hour or so after finishing work and still make it home in time to put Violet to bed.

Like the Verano Lounge, Mooch occupies that space some way between a bar and a coffee shop, but where the now-closed Lounge was part of a chain and just a little bit corporate, Mooch has the wonderfully funky, independent vibe that you’d expect from a place situated in a town, Hebden Bridge, that is itself sometimes described as the “fourth funkiest place on the planet.”

I’d settle down with a soya latte and a toasted tea cake, listen to whatever record was playing on the bar counter’s slightly retro record player, soak up the vibe, and write.

I miss Mooch.

#1 Le Méridien Etiler Rooftop Bar

Istanbul

istanbulmeridian-intAnd so we come to the number one, which makes it in not for quality of the coffee, nor for any regular repartee I had with the staff, nor necessarily for the vibe. This wasn’t a quirky out of the way place in the historic centre of Istanbul, but the lounge bar of the thirty-four story executive box to which all my later work-related trips to Istanbul have taken me.

No, what pushes this bar to my number one spot is one thing. That view. When we Western Europeans think of Istanbul we think of the old city, of ancient Constantinople and Byzantium. But this is the modern twenty-first century Istanbul, the largest city in Europe. Home to more than fourteen million people, a population that has expanded ten fold in just sixty years. From the Le Méridien’s thirty-fourth floor I could gaze over an urban landscape so vast, and so plain damn cyberpunky that it damn near took my breath away.

istanbulmeridian-viewIt was the sort of vista that makes you want to write the next Neuromancer, but as it was, a week of post-work evening writing sessions at that penthouse bar back in early 2015 got me through a particularly difficult period of structural edits on If Pigs Could Fly.

It’s no secret that Turkey’s going through a tough time right now, both in terms of its domestic discord and the regular terrorist attacks. When my colleagues and I now travel to Istanbul our company’s security procedures (sensibly) prohibit us from travelling outside of either the hotel or the client’s site. For most of my colleagues this is an irksome restriction.

But not for me. Because after a day’s work on-site all I want to do is get a bite to eat, grab my laptop, and head to the thirty-fourth floor.

And write.

* * * * *

I’m going to share this post on twitter with the hashtag #writinghaunts. If any of you writers out there feel like sharing some of your writing places, I’d love you to do so under this hashtag.

Wild Jester Press’s End of July Sale

To celebrate the coming of summer and the end of school, and also to give the Amazon recommendation algorithms the slight “Hey! Remember me!” kick that they appear to require every now and again, I’m currently running a sale of both Game Night and If Pigs Could Fly though my Wild Jester Press imprint.

July-2016 Animated Advert

You can pick up the books here:

UK

Game Night: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Game-Night-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B0057JPZSG

If Pigs Could Fly: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Could-Kensington-Paranormal-Detective-Agency-ebook/dp/B0116IBO8G

Both priced at £0.99 (regular price £2.99)

US

Game Night: https://www.amazon.com/Game-Night-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B0057JPZSG

If Pigs Could Fly: https://www.amazon.com/Could-Kensington-Paranormal-Detective-Agency-ebook/dp/B0116IBO8G

Both priced at $0.99 (regular price $3.99)

(Note: both books are also available in paperback, but they’re not included in the sale, as the margins I have on them are already low enough that I literally can’t discount).

Mugs For Discworld Convention Charity Auction

The last weekend in August will see me at the Discworld Convention in Warwick to sell copies of Game Night and If Pigs Could Fly in the trade hall. I had a really good time at last year’s Irish Discworld Convention, and sold 50+ books, and had an equally good time selling just Game Night at the Discworld Convention in 2008, selling 70+ books on that occasion. (Mainly though word of mouth, to people who arrived at my table saying: “[Chris|Kris|Brian] said I had to go and buy your book”).

At each convention there’s a charity auction. I generally donate a copy of each book, but I thought that this time, it would be nice to do something a little extra. So I’ve come up with a pair of mugs:

Mugs1 Mugs2

Each mug has the full wraparound book cover. These are completely custom and unique items, as they’re tagged to this charity auction at this event. I will literally never make another pair of mugs quite like these again. I’ll be offering along with signed copies of Game Night and If Pigs Could Fly. I’m hoping someone will like them enough to bid on them.

My Panel At Mancunicon (Eastercon 2016)

As well as having a stall in the trade hall to sell by books Game Night and If Pigs Could Fly, I am appearing on a panel at Eastercon on the subject of self-publishing.

MyPanel2

Hopefully, I’ll have something reasonably sensible and informative to say, on what not to do, if not necessarily on what to do! The panel’s on Sunday morning, at 11:30. If you’re around, it would be great to see you. And if you’d fancy a chat afterwards, please, please approach me at the end of the session. I’m always happy to chat, about self-publishing or anything else.

MyPanel

Dragonmeet 2015

Just a quick post to say that I will be at Dragonmeet 2015 on Saturday 5th December selling my books Game Night and If Pigs Could Fly. Dragonmeet’s a one day, London gaming convention. It’s a great con, that I’d strongly recommend. And if you do come, please drop by my table and say hi.

DragonmeetFlier

To KDP Select, Or Not To KDP Select… That Is The Awful Moral Choice

Below emphases in all quotes, mine:

What is KDP Select?

KDP Select is an optional program for you to reach even more readers and gives you the opportunity to earn more money. If you choose to make a book exclusive to the Kindle Store, which is a requirement during your book’s enrollment in KDP Select, the book will also be included in Kindle Unlimited (KU) and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL). [snip] In addition, by choosing KDP Select, you will have access to a new set of promotional tools, including Kindle Countdown Deals (limited time promotional discounting for your book) and Free Book Promotion (readers worldwide can get your book free for a limited time).

https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A6KILDRNSCOBA

When you publish an ebook, the most important decision you have to make is probably whether or not to join Amazon’s KDP Select programme, where – if you agree to sell your ebook exclusively on Amazon’s Kindle store – you get access to a whole bunch of promotional goodies.

How much will being exclusive hurt you in terms of lost sales elsewhere? Probably not much.

During a round-table discussion Tim said “I do a have a concern that Amazon’s dominance is causing problems. We estimate Kindle has a 95% market share of e-book sales in the UK and this is having a damaging effect… Consider the struggles of Barnes & Noble and the Nook platform, the problems of the established Txtr in Germany, and the decision here of Tesco to pull out of Blinkbox Books.”

http://goodereader.com/blog/electronic-readers/amazon-controls-95-of-the-ebook-market-in-the-uk

That’s the UK, but I suspect the US is similar. And 95% is what I would call a near-monopoly position. Let’s put it this way, if being on KDP Select increases your Kindle sales by a mere 6%, then it will have made up for the sales you lost by going exclusive. Will it help you make more than 6%?

The importance of a launch for your book in the Kindle store can not be overstated. And it’s not for the reasons you think i.e. your book being read by a bunch of old fans and discovered by new ones. A book launch is important because you need to get as many downloads as you can—at this stage it doesn’t matter if it’s actually read or not—so that your book will be favourably indexed by Amazon’s algorithms. I have it on good authority that if this favourable indexing doesn’t occur, your book will languish in the bowels of the Kindle store forever, never to be found by anyone. The only way a book can recover from a non-launch (so I’m told) is to unpublish it and relaunch it with a new cover and a new ASIN.

So what’s the best way to launch your book? Lots of downloads (hundreds, thousands) in the first few days it is released; however, unless you are an established author (I’m not) with a gigantic email list (don’t have) this is difficult to achieve. The only other way to do it is to make it free, and you can only do that if you enrol your book in Kindle Select, where you are allowed five free days per quarter for each book you have enrolled. You also have to let readers know it’s free, and that means spending money (not much if you don’t want to) on promoting it.

http://www.dianelee.com.au/dont-make-these-6-self-publishing-mistakes/

I think at this point I’ve dropped enough dots that it’s almost an insult to the reader to join them, but forgive me if I go ahead anyway. The deal that Amazon are offering, a few extra tools in return for offering them a monopoly on your book, would not make sense were it not for the fact that they have a near monopoly position in the ebook market; by offering such a deal, and having huge numbers of authors accept it, they help cement the near monopoly position that makes that deal worthwhile.

So going with KDP Select is a no-brainer, right? You’d have to be an idiot to turn it down?

Well I’m an idiot.

I’m a Kindle user myself, not on Amazon hardware, but on my iPhone using Amazon’s free Kindle app. But I just don’t feel comfortable with telling readers who’ve bought non-Kindle devices that they can’t legally read my books, at all, ever, in ebook form. So in addition to being on Kindle, I’ve made both Game Night and If Pigs Could Fly available on Smashwords. Readers can purchase them there in a variety of DRM-free formats, but Smashwords also distribute them to the other major ebook platforms, including iBooks, Nook, and Kobo.

In the short term, this decision will undoubtably hurt me. In the longer term, I’m hoping that good old-fashioned word of mouth buzz will help me catch up. And either way, while I fully respect everyone who made the decision to go with KDP Select, for now, this is a decision I feel happy with.

Mostly.

* * * * *

IfPIgsCouldFlyCover-FrontOnly-MediumIf Pigs Could Fly is available in both paperback and e-book format, from all leading outlets.

E-Book

Amazon UK (£1.99): [link]

Amazon US ($2.99): [link]

Smashwords (£1.99 | $2.99): [link]

Paperback

Amazon UK (£6.99): [link]

Amazon US ($9.99): [link]

If Pigs Could Fly should also be available on iBooks, Nook, and Kobo within a few days of its publication.

“West Kensington Paranormal Detective Agency. Doctor Ravinder Shah speaking. No case too weird, no problem too bizarre. Strangeness a speciality. How can I help you?”

London Social Worker Rav Shah moonlights as a paranormal detective, aided by one of his clients and a Border Collie he rents by the hour. It was supposed to be a bit of fun: a search for truths out there; a quest for a life more interesting than the one that fate, destiny, and personal apathy had granted him.

But then a case involving a Yorkshire farmer and a herd of flying pigs leads him into a world darker and more dangerous than he’d ever dreamed.

The truth is indeed out there.

And it’s got Rav square in its sights.

The Road to Publication: Part II

Previous Post: << The Road to Publication: Part I

In my previous post, I described the journey that had led to my decision to self-publish my second novel, If Pigs Could Fly. In this post, I’m going to talk a little about the nuts and bolts details that the process involved, mainly in the hope that it might prove useful for anyone following a similar path.

I’ve going to break it up into the following sections:

  • The Product
  • Formats / Dissemination
  • Platforms
  • Pricing
  • Pre-launch Publicity

I’ve presented those in a rough chronological order, but in reality it’s much more fluid than that, with considerable overlap.

The Product

My advice really starts at the point where you’ve got the text of your manuscript to as good a point as you can get it. I’m assuming that you’ve done multiple drafts, and perhaps shown it to some beta readers (friends whose opinions you trust) to get additional feedback.

One point of advice I will give on the actual writing of your manuscript is to use the specialist writers’ word processor, Scrivener. It’s just brilliant in the way it helps you organise and shape your story.

Once I reached this point, where I’d taken the manuscript as far as I could go, I employed three people to help me turn that manuscript into a novel:

Firstly, I hired Amanda Rutter as an editor. I blogged a little while ago about how Amanda helped me, but basically, I would strongly recommend that you hire an editor. You yourself are simply too close to the woods to see the trees.

The process here was that I gave Amanda the novel in Word format (it was still in traditional double-spaced, typewritten manuscript format at this point), and she then edited with the track changes feature turned on. This allows you to see the edits (both text added and text deleted) that the editor has made directly to the document, and then either approve or reject them. Also the editor can put in comments. For those of you who haven’t used this feature, this is what it looks like in Word for the Mac:

RoadPub-D-1

Once I’d gone through the manuscript, reviewing Amanda’s changes, and then rewriting various sections to address issues that Amanda had highlighted, I then reformatted the Word document in the actual format of the final paperback version of my novel (more about that format later). I think the technical term for this is the slightly anachronistic “typesetting”.

I then gave that “typeset” version of the novel (still a Word document) to the second person I hired, Ro Smith, to do a copy edit / proof read (they are actually slightly separate things, but that’s probably something beyond the scope of this post).

Ro was doing three things for me:

  • A second editing pass, at a more sentence-based level, and in addition, looking more specifically to catch typos.
  • Checking that I hadn’t introduced any new screw-ups in the new sections I’d written in response to Amanda’s observations.
  • Checking that I hadn’t screwed up any of the layout / formatting when creating the typeset version of the document.

In parallel to the work on the text, I was working with my cover artist Jon Hodgson, who’d been the cover artist on Game Night some seven years before. This involved me giving him some initial ideas and thoughts, then the two of us batting various ideas around, and going through several versions. I was probably quite an annoying client, but I’m thrilled with the final result.

I’d recommend all three of them.

The obvious questions for endeavours such as these are how long did it take and how much will it cost. Well it probably took around six months to go from a basic manuscript to a “typeset” Word document and a JPEG of the cover. You can do it faster if all the ducks line up, but it’s probably best not to rush it. For cost, it would be unprofessional of me to mention the actual prices changed, but between the three of them it was more than several hundred but less than several thousand, if that makes sense.

Formats / Dissemination

If you’re an independent, self-publishing author, I think you basically have two choices when it comes to the format of your book:

  • E-book only.
  • E-book plus paperback.

Paperback on its own simply isn’t an option. And there are many who argue that you should go E-book only, which isn’t as mad as it sounds. Realistically, your book isn’t going to get into bookshops and will only be available online. And even there, while people might be willing to make a punt on a self-published e-book by an author they’ve not previously heard of, they’re unlikely to spend several times that amount to purchase a paperback.

Let me illustrate this with an anecdote. Game Night is currently only really ticking over sales-wise, something that will hopefully change a bit when If Pigs Could Fly comes out. Since May/June, when I put the new version of it up in both e-book and paperback format, I’ve probably sold something like 120 copies of the e-book version. Meanwhile, I’ve only sold one copy in paperback, and that was a test purchase I made myself from my personal Amazon account, to check that it was working.

There are four reasons why I decided I wanted to do a paperback version of If Pigs Could Fly:

  1. So that I could sent out physical review copies ahead of publication (more on this later).
  2. So that I could sell the book at conventions (I’ve just come back from doing this very thing at the Irish Discworld Convention).
  3. Because it makes the Kindle version of your book look more professional and credible. This is because: a) the paperback will be shown as an alternate format on the Kindle version’s page, which puts it psychologically ahead of the mass of self-published e-books that have no paperback version; b) the Kindle version’s price will be shown as a discount against the paperback price; c) the Kindle version’s page will display a page count, that being the page count of the paperback.
  4. I wanted to be able to hold a real book in my hands. It wouldn’t feel real otherwise.

There is one big disadvantage in doing a paperback, which is that your cover design becomes more complicated. Instead of merely needing a matchbook sized front cover, you need both front and back covers and a spine, in a much larger size.

Platforms

For the paperback version, I went with Amazon’s own CreateSpace service. CreateSpace offers print-on-demand publishing of your book. Once you’ve uploaded and configured your book, this basically works in two ways:

  • Your book appears on the various Amazons around the world, at a price that you’ve set. When a customer orders the book, CreateSpace/Amazon prints it and ships it to them. You don’t need to do anything, and no up front cash investment is required from you. (Theoretically, it should be available / orderable from other channels, but I have no idea how well that works).
  • You can order copies of the books yourself direct from CreateSpace. (In whatever quantity you want. If you only want 10, then you only order 10.)

I’m sure there are other, better, print-on-demand companies out there, but CreateSpace does what I need it to do, and being an Amazon service it should work well with them.

Creating a CreateSpace version of your book is relatively simple. You have to upload the interior of your book in PDF format, and the cover in JPEG format. You can download dynamically created templates for both of these items from the CreateSpace website: you enter in the dimensions of your book, and it generates an appropriately sized template.

For the e-book, I went with two separate routes. To get If Pigs Could Fly onto Kindle I went with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. (You can actually publish a Kindle version from the CreateSpace version, but I wanted the greater control you get when you do it directly).

For the Kindle version I had to create a separate version of the If Pigs Could Fly Word document, which I formatted differently, according to the guidelines on the KDP site. And I also needed to cut just the front cover portion of my cover JPEG into a separate JPEG.

As with CreateSpace, creating a KDP account and uploading your book is free.

Now I could have left it at that, with the e-book available for the Kindle only – and in fact Amazon do offer various inducements to do just that. In reality, Kindle is probably about 95% of the e-book market, but I didn’t take the exclusive deal, basically because: a) I don’t want to be the man that helps Amazon have a monopoly; and b) if one of my readers has bought a non-Amazon e-reader, I still very much want them to be able to read my book. (In fact, I find the idea of telling someone that they can’t read your book because they’ve bought the “wrong” e-reader objectionable on several levels).

So in addition to Kindle Direct Publishing, I created myself a Smashwords account, and uploaded a third version of the Word document there. Smashwords offers me three basic things:

  1. People can purchase the book directly from Smashwords, DRM free, in a variety of formats including PDF, .mobi, and .epub. The point being that no matter what type of reading device you have, you can purchase a copy of my book.
  2. Smashwords distributes your book to a variety of other disseminators, including the other three of the “big four”: iBooks, Kobo, and Nook.
  3. Smashwords offers authors the ability to generate voucher codes allowing readers to download free copies of your book. I’m going to use these in two ways. a) As prizes for “win a free copy of the book” type competitions; b) to allow me to offer a free e-book copy with each physical copy of the book sold at conventions.

Pricing

An interesting pricing inversion often becomes apparent when you compare the prices of self-published and conventionally published books.

In paperback, the conventionally published books are usually cheaper (at least, once they’ve reached the mass-market paperback phase of their life-cycle). This is because they’re printed on conventional printing presses with runs of several thousand, which is always going to be cheaper than a book produced singly using print-on-demand technology.

By contrast, when it comes to e-books, it’s usually the self-published version that’s cheaper. This is because while the conventionally published product has to firstly cover all the costs of producing the product that aren’t related to printing (which is most of them – writing, editing, design, publicity etc), and secondly, because they don’t want to too badly undercut the paperback version. Whereas the self-published author doing it for a hobby can basically afford to sell it for 99p / 99c (the minimum price that Amazon allows).

I wanted to fight this inversion.

I’ve priced the paperback as cheaply as I can, at £6.99 / $9.99, so that its price is comparable with a conventionally published paperback. This means that I make very little on it, but I figure the reader doesn’t care about what kind of printer was used – they’re paying for the end product.

But I’ve priced the e-book at £1.99 / $2.99, because I happen to think that this is a reasonable price to pay for a full-length 90,000 word novel, and I think I should have enough pride in my work to ask for that.

There is also another factor, which is that those prices are the minimum Amazon will allow you to charge if you want 70% royalties, rather than 35%. In other words, an author receives six times as much money for a $2.99 book as for a 99c one. (Think on that, next time you refuse to buy any books priced at more than 99c!)

Pre-launch Publicity

I made sure to have everything product-wise ready at least three months ahead of my set launch date.

(One minor point. With both KDP and Smashwords you can upload your book and set in a pre-order date, which allows readers to pre-order it. You can’t do that with CreateSpace. You can upload it, and then order copies for yourself, but the only way to handle the “future launch date” thing is to keep all distribution channels turned off – so it doesn’t appear on Amazon – and then turn them on a few days ahead of launch.)

ManyBooks-MedI’d spent the previous few months assembling a list of people I could send review copies to (a.k.a. Advance Reader Copies, or ARCs). This was friends, contacts, bloggers, reviewers and so on. Once the book was up on CreateSpace, albeit not visible to the outside world, I then ordered myself a bunch of copies and sent them off to all my ARC recipients. I think I sent out about fifty in total. (After the editorial and cover costs, the purchasing and posting of the ARCs was the other big cost). As part of this, I’d ordered some nice book boxes off Amazon, and also had some stickers made up (red text on a clear background) saying “Advance Reader Copy, Not For Resale” that I stuck on each book.

Finally, I got an entry for the book up on Goodreads. For those who haven’t come across it, Goodreads is sort of a Facebook for people who like reading books. They can talk about what books they’re reading, what books they have read, what books they would like to read, and recommend books to their friends. Unlike Amazon, Goodreads allows people to post reviews of books that haven’t yet been released. But they also have a very cool feature: Goodreads Giveaways.

This feature allows an author to give away a set number of their books, one or more, for free, to Goodreads members. To the members, it’s like a free-to-enter lottery, with the prize being free books. They go to the link I just posted above, and click on any of the offered books that take their fancy. The author is responsible for shipping the books to the winners (you can limit the giveaway to specific countries to avoid punitive shipping costs).

Why do it? Well basically, in the hope that some of those who receive the books will write review of your book and / or recommend it to their friends.

Does it work? Yeah, I think so.

Between the ARCs that I sent out myself, and the Giveaways, If Pigs Could Fly now has 14 reviews on Goodreads and 17 ratings. In addition, 193 Goodreads members have added it to their “to read” list. I think that’s pretty good for a self-published book that isn’t being published until tomorrow.

I hope all the above makes sense. How successful my endeavours will be is yet to be determined. And if you want to talk about any of the above, and get more details (there’s more I could have said, but then this post would have been ridiculously long), please drop me a line (see the contact page on this site).

And finally, if you’ve found these two posts at all useful or entertaining, perhaps you might consider purchasing a copy of If Pigs Could Fly at one of the links below. I really would be hugely grateful. Thank you.

* * * * *

IfPIgsCouldFlyCover-FrontOnly-MediumIf Pigs Could Fly is available in both paperback and e-book format, from all leading outlets.

E-Book

Amazon UK (£1.99): [link]

Amazon US ($2.99): [link]

Smashwords (£1.99 | $2.99): [link]

Paperback

Amazon UK (£6.99): [link]

Amazon US ($9.99): [link]

If Pigs Could Fly should also be available on iBooks, Nook, and Kobo within a few days of its publication.

“West Kensington Paranormal Detective Agency. Doctor Ravinder Shah speaking. No case too weird, no problem too bizarre. Strangeness a speciality. How can I help you?”

London Social Worker Rav Shah moonlights as a paranormal detective, aided by one of his clients and a Border Collie he rents by the hour. It was supposed to be a bit of fun: a search for truths out there; a quest for a life more interesting than the one that fate, destiny, and personal apathy had granted him.

But then a case involving a Yorkshire farmer and a herd of flying pigs leads him into a world darker and more dangerous than he’d ever dreamed.

The truth is indeed out there.

And it’s got Rav square in its sights.

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