It has been a long time. A very long time. And now we’re approaching a crossroads. Lament for the Living Book 2 should have been released by now, but it hasn’t. But do not be concerned, the crossroads isn’t about whether or not Book 2 is happening or not. It definitely is happening, but I’m currently in a quandary as to where it’ll be published.
Lament for the Living Book 1, The Deluge of Elias, and Hannibal House have all been published on Amazon as the main platform, with Lament for the Living and Hannibal House also being available through the outlets fulfilled by Smashwords (Hannibal House is free through Smashwords). Amazon has been where the majority of sales of my titles have come from, but I’m becoming increasingly unhappy with their business practices.
Issue 1: They seem to have no morals regarding where they advertise, which means that their advertising helps fund sites and/or content that are completely opposite to my own personal ethics. I have reached out to them on more than one occasion regarding their advertising, and they are subject to the spotlight of Sleeping Giants whose aim is to “stop racist and sexist media by stopping its ad dollars”. I wholly back their mission, but like them, both Amazon and Jeff Bezos have failed not only to respond to our concerns, but have remained completely silent on the issue of where they advertise.
Issue 2: Amazon is inept at dealing with scammers who exploit the Kindle Direct Publishing platform and instead target and punish legitimate authors. David Gaughran has posted extensively on these scams and his own experiences of trying to get Amazon to take these concerns seriously, and do something about the scammers. He has presented masses of evidence to Amazon about the issues and their responses have been as overwhelming as they have in regard to their advertising ethics: none. That is until now, where they appear to be taking some action against legitimate authors instead of scammers as detailed in this report by David Gaughran.
Personally I’ve been a strong advocate for Amazon in the past. I’ve got Kindles (standard and Fire), Amazon Prime, a Firestick, and they’re usually my go to place to buy everything from rubber gloves to motorbike parts. But that looks all set to change. As a platform Amazon seems to becoming more toxic and unhinged as time goes on. Their business ethics and level of competence in dealing with issues are nowhere as high as I expect them to be.
So here’s the crossroads: Lament for the Living Book 2 is now penciled in to be released in the Spring/Summer of 2018. Unless Amazon addresses the issues of their advertising ethics, and start using more precise tools to identify and punish spammers rather than a sledgehammer-tipped blunderbus I’ll be leaving the platform completely.
I’m not prepared to support an unethical platform financially by buying and using their products, and I’m certainly not prepared to place my work on a platform that is akin to a petty and vengeful god. The decision will be made closer to release of book 2, but right now it’s not looking good for my relationship with Amazon.
“I have to get to the root of why you take all my favorite characters and kill them faster than an angry George R. R. Martin!” Said Christopher Smith on his Writing Process blog post.
I know why my characters lead mostly brief and sometimes inglorious lives. What I wanted to know was why Mr Martin is also a maniac parent. Like the gods of old who ate their children. As it happens, our penchant for literary murder stems from an event in our childhood.
No, it’s okay. No creepy uncles, who weren’t really uncles, are involved. For Mr Martin, it was Wonder Man. Apparently (and it must be true because I read it on the internet), the death of Wonder Man in his first “Avengers” appearance in 1964 was extremely moving for the young George.
In my case, my formative reading years were filled with The Famous Five, and The Hardy Boys. There wasn’t much killing in either of them, and if a body did turn up, it was a plot point and not a “I’m breathing and talking… oh and now I’m dead.” shocking event.
Then I read William Golding’s ‘The Lord of the Flies’. My innocence was blown out with Piggy getting his head smashed in and his brains floating away on the luminescence in the surf. But that wasn’t really it. Ralph didn’t really show any grief at the death of his friend (the symbol of stability, consciousness, and learning) he just basically went “Bloody hell, they’re going to kill me! RUUUUNNNN!” And then the army arrives. Hooray.
No conclusion, nothing. The. Army. Arrives.
For a while, I kept going over the events as if thinking about them would have saved Piggy. I came to the realisation that Golding killed Piggy because otherwise he would have had to have killed Ralph as well. Piggy, as the name would imply, was the fat kid who wasn’t good at athletic type endeavours and, from the point where Piggy goes splat, Ralph gets right into his cardio. Running, climbing, swimming. He does them all, free of the weight of his Piggy friend.
At that point I didn’t feel so bad about Piggy any more. He stopped being a ‘person’, and instead became a plot vehicle. My feelings for him, gone.
Then I started reading James Herbert and Stephen King. James Herbert’s characters seemed to die because it was their time, and that was fine. I’d be reading, and as the scene unfolds I could tell that this person or that was going to expire by the end of the chapter. Stephen King was slightly different in that his main characters didn’t usually die unexpectedly. The main character stayed alive for the whole of the story, and then he kills them at the end – especially in his short stories. I don’t think Stephen King writes ‘The End’ at the conclusion of his stories. He should put ‘And then they all died’ just to be sure that he didn’t miss anyone out.
Now the wheel turns and we come back to George R. R. Martin. Until I started watching ‘Game of Thrones’ I’d never heard of him. Yes, that’s tantamount to blasphemy (but I haven’t heard of a lot of authors). And I didn’t realise that what I was watching was actually a huge book series. What I was seeing influenced my writing hugely though.
It was counter to everything I’d seen or read before: the good guy, the just guy, the person of virtue would be struck down, while the scum and vermin continued to squirm their way to the top. It was just like real life! And it was compelling.
Bad things happen to good people (it would seem more often than bad things happening to bad people), and people die. Unexpectedly. Plans are thwarted by action and inaction, plots and stabbed and back stabbed with alarming regularity. There were no main characters. These were lives. Lives that were being lived out, right there in front of me (and now in the books which I’m currently reading).
That was what I wanted to put in my writing. I wanted my characters to be alive. But to be alive they also had to be shadowed by the spectre of death. And that IS a problem for me. Those characters that you like, that get killed? I like them too. I’m writing them and we’re having a good time and then I get to the point where someone has to die. It’s at that point that the character in question looks down and realises they’re wearing the red Starfleet uniform from the original Star Trek series…… and they know.
And so it was, the planets aligned, a cat and a dog shared a home, a twitter notification sounded in the dark. “I nominate YOOOOOOOOUUUUU!” It said. Or words to that effect. This is all pretty much artistic licence right now. But that’s what writing’s about.
Here’s what really happened:
Christopher Smith, a writer who is much better than he gives himself credit for, nominated me to do this Writing Process Blog thingy. He is a bit difficult to find so tweet him at @Reckoner67 to get his latest thingammywhatsits, or visit ProseBeforeHoHos. You can read his Writing Process here.
Now apparently I have to answer some questions about my writing process….
What Am I Working On?
Right now, at the time of writing, I’m working on book 2 of ‘Lament for the Living‘ which is the concluding part of the story of survivors of the zombie apocalypse. It’s set three years after the outbreak, at a time when most of the zombie threat is gone, and the survivors are attempting to rebuild their own civilisations and societal structures.
I also have a number of short stories on the go, covering various themes. I’m quite old school when it comes to short stories in that I like them to be allegorical, or have allusions and latent meanings.
There is also the prequel novel to the dystopian short story ‘The Deluge of Elias‘ which I did start working on after I completed ‘Lament for the Living‘, but stopped when the troubles escalated in Egypt. The setting is just outside Alexandria and a lot of the main scenario had echoes of what was going on there. Very creepy. So that’s on the back burner right now until I can see how Egypt pans out.
I’m also quite excited about another project idea I have that is much more in the fantasy realm. But we’ll see how that goes.
How Does My Work Differ From Others of Its Genre?
None of my characters are safe. It’s wise to enjoy being with your favourite character while you can because they have a habit of finding themselves dead (Chris wanted to know more about this, so I’m going to write a separate, specific post about it).
My characters have their own lives. They do their own thing as I’m writing them. That may sound crazy, but these characters just don’t behave. That Tobias in ‘Lament for the Living‘? Naughty boy!
When I write, I see the scene, and as each word is written I move from just typing words to the point where I’m practically there. I’m describing the smell of the air, the feel of the surroundings, how the light is. The most common piece of feedback I’ve had about ‘Lament for the Living‘ is that it could easily be a movie as the descriptions are cinematic, which would indicate that I’m getting my vision from the page into the readers mind.
Why Do I Write What I Write?
I write what I write because I enjoy it. As I said in the previous question, the characters are alive and I’m getting to know them as I write them (and kill them off).
Primarily I write for me first, and then with the help of some amazing people, that writing is transformed into something that is accessible to the reader at large.
It really is an amazing feeling to have someone come back and say “I enjoyed your story, when’s the next one out?” Just a simple bit of feedback is an amazing motivator. Seriously, regardless of who you’re reading, if you’re enjoying their work, send them an email, a tweet, even one of those paper writey things with a stamp on and let them know that you’ve enjoyed what they’ve written.
How Does My Writing Process Work?
My aim is to produce the most professional end product I can. I’ve always worked in environments where quality has been a key factor and so I put as much effort into my writing and production as I do with my daytime job (yes, have to work a “proper” job as well). I find it quite disheartening to see independent titles on Amazon or Smashwords that are poorly edited and full of typos. There don’t seem to be as many as there used to be, so that’s a bonus.
When I write I aim to put down at least 1,000 words a day, six days out of seven (that’s what I aim to do, it doesn’t always happen). Each chapter target is roughly 3,000 words (an amount I came to as a comfortable amount to read in one sitting).
That’s the mechanics of the writing, here’s the process:
I start out with the idea: what I’m going to write about. This involves a lot of what other people call “staring out of the window” and “creating google searches that will cause alarm bells to start ringing in the national security department”.
Then I get the alpha and omega of the story sorted out. Where am I starting, and where’s it going to end. Who the main characters and their motivations are.
This is the first draft stage now where I know the beginning and the end. There are also a number of pivotal points in the story that the characters need to pass through. I start writing, and the characters fight their way to the end via each waypoint. Sometimes, despite their best efforts the Hammer of Doom still falls on them. I don’t plan out chapter by chapter at the moment, although it would probably be more efficient to write that way, but I feel it would kill the spirit of my writing (I have tried it using yWriter, which is a fantastic tool, but it just doesn’t fit with the way I work right now).
Once the draft is completed I go back through it myself to check for typos, continuity issues, and big logical flaws (when I did this with ‘Lament for the Living‘ I got to a set of square brackets – which is where I usually put notes to myself – that said something like this [insert here how they get from there to here] which is fine… Except that one instruction was actually about six chapters and required the untying of multiple threads, some cuts, a lot of knots and bit of sticky backed plastic to resolve!
When that’s done, it’s what I consider to be in Alpha state. That’s basically a working manuscript, but nowhere near polished. It now goes to my wife who reads it, finds the typos I’ve missed (it’s a scientific fact that you stop seeing certain errors by filling in or correcting the spelling unconsciously) and highlights the sections that don’t make sense, or don’t read properly. After another read through and edit it’s what I consider ready for Beta.
The Beta-stage is where I harness the talents of the many wonderful people that I’ve met over the years on t’internet. Each of them has a unique set of skills. My beta readers go over the manuscript, then let me know if they enjoyed story, and feed back any typos they find, issues with pacing, and sections that don’t make sense to them. As a UK author I think it’s important to ensure that scenes translate well across both sides of the pond.
At this point I’m looking at the final round of edits, which involves a spreadsheet of page and paragraph numbers that I systematically go through. This is where the machete comes out and the most brutal edits are made. On top of that, I fire up the Multiphasic Interdimensional Scribeomatic 5000 to add anything that needs it. At the same time I’m usually finalising the cover for the book which will have gone through a number of iterations during the course of the drafting process.
Everything is then put together. The US English edit, the UK English edit, formatting for ebook, formatting for print, proofing and then launch date.
I also have notes floating about. Below is a picture of what I currenlty have stuck to the wall next to my desk. Those are a rough waypoint outline for the main groups in the story, some plot points and a list of all the characters from ‘Lament for the Living‘ and whether they made it through the book or not. *Looks at sheet…. hmmm a lot have “dead” written next to them…*
Well I hope you’ve enjoyed this incredibly long post about how my head works. Thanks again to Christopher Smith for nominating me. It’s at this point that I’m supposed to nominate other writers to join the tour. Unfortunately, I don’t know a great deal of other writers because I’m kept chained up in a box with nothing for company but a keyboard, and a bowl to catch my tears. However, I did notice that one person tweeted Chris about dodging the bullet.
So you’ve written your book, polished it to perfection, and now it’s time to pimp it out… but you’ve got no idea how to do it. Marketing, it’s one of those things that sends an icy sliver of fear right into the heart of the most accomplished author. It’s like black magic, alchemy, the occult. A dark art practised by people with fake tans, wearing shiny suits.
Like writing, there is no actual secret to marketing. There are no rules, only what works, and what doesn’t. And here’s the rub: what works for one person, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you. But to help you along in your marketing journey, here are five things that a pretty much useless to the majority of indie authors:
#5 Spamming your friends
This should be a no-brainer. But then marketing and common-sense seem to be incompatible. Chances are that on your contact list you have a mix of real-life friends, “friends”, and people who are contacts because they are vaguely associated with you. They already know that you have a book out. They may already have bought it. So what they need is for you to post a dozen times a day about your book. Hell, why stop there? They put a picture of their little bundle of joy, so why not put in the comments that your book would make a brilliant Christening present… Can you see where I’m going with this. Save your spam for your official author channels, keep your friends as friends.
#4 Preaching to the choir
Some of you will say: “But authors are readers too!”. And although that is true it doesn’t make for a good marketing strategy. Like #5 above, spamming other authors/author groups will elicit the same response – a roll of the eyes every time your name pops up. Yes, authors are readers too, but of what genre? I’m and author, and I’m a reader. But I’m fussy. And so are most people. Authors also have limited time to dedicate to reading, so if their genre is, for example, historical fiction, what are the chances that they’ll give your transgender paranormal romance a whirl? While the scatter-shot technique may provide some results, it makes more sense to channel your efforts into a targeted campaign.
#3 Using Social Media as a one way pipe
This is my pet hate. Social. Media. The clue is in the name. It’s not called Amass a Billion Followers Who You Never Interact With Media. That’s what happens though. Accounts with tens of thousands of followers and followees all blast their messages into the interwebs – and neither side sees the other because they’re too busy saying “FOLLOW ME” and “BUY MY BOOK” to interact. Or worse still… they’re not even there. Their accounts all linked to one automated crud cruncher that churns out message after message at set times during the day. What a great way to foster a relationship with readers and potential readers. [that was irony by the way]
#2 Being Free with Freebies
People love something for nothing. But nothing devalues your work as quickly as nothing. See what I did there? And now the explanation: You are not a “best-seller” if you top the free listing chart. The majority of copies you gave away will never be read (sorry, but pretty much every Kindle, Nook and Kobo are jammed to the digital gills with free books that were downloaded for one reason, and one reason only: they were free). I’m not against giving your work away for free. But only if it is done as a way to entice sales. Make your readers (and potential readers) value your work, even when it’s free. Make it quid pro quo. They get a free book by following/tweeting/sharing/liking. OR, if you want to be even more fiendish with the freebies (and increase the perceived value) make it into a draw. Their interaction enters them into the draw for a copy. FREE free copies have had their day as a marketing tool, and will simply gather digital dust. Respect your work, and retain the value of it to your readers.
#1 Copying the Big Boys/Girls
Okay, this is quite a big topic so I’ll condense it as best I can. When I talk about the Big Boys/Girls, I mean the traditional publishing marketing methods. Unless you can match their budgets and manpower, forget it. They may be dinosaurs, but they still have a lot of clout, like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park. Definitely don’t get bogged down by meaningless numbers. The only numbers you should be concentrating on is your ACTUAL readership. Not how many followers you have on twitter, not how many likes you have on facebook, not how many klowns you have on klout, or even how many hits your website gets. If they’re not translating into sales then you’re wasting your efforts. Your marketing needs to be cost effective so think very carefully before you put any cash down on advertising. Every clam you shell out on marketing needs to do one of two things: increase your reputation, or increase your sales (hopefully both). Unfortunately, the majority of “marketing solutions” will do neither, and the majority of “marketing solutions” won’t guarantee to do either. So buyer beware. It makes better sense, as an indie author, to invest your money in you and your readership.
What do you consider to be the worst marketing mistakes? Have you got any marketing nuggets you’d like to share?
In ‘Lament for the Living’ there’s a scene where the character Gahiji is trying to make sense of all the violence and killing, not just from the Outbreak, but also from his own past experiences in Rwanda.
It’s a flashback scene where he finds a small book of poetry by Robert Burns, and in it he reads the poem “Man was made to mourn; a Dirge”.
Excerpt from Chapter 13: Second Watch
During their travels they stopped overnight in a house at the end of a dirt track. The place was a mess, it smelled of death, but the dead were long gone. It looked like the house was in a time warp, untouched for sixty years. The only things that gave away that it had been lived in were a DAB radio and flat screen television. Gahiji had found a small book, no more than three inches by four inches. A padded cover in orange and green tartan gave no clue as to the content. He opened it to a random page and read the following:
Man was made to mourn: A Dirge
Many and sharp the num’rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heav’n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn, –
Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!
There it was, “Man’s inhumanity to man”, in black in white. Gahiji had seen it many times since in various guises. The Outbreak had broken the thread that bound humanity together. People were animals, and animals were treated inhumanely as a matter of course. He had found the legend in the book about the author, Robert Burns who had been dead for three hundred years. His words echoing across the centuries, as true now as they were then. Gahiji still had the small book. He carried it with him to remind him of the true nature of Man. Other poems in the book rejoiced in life, and spoke of hope, like Pandora’s box. Despite everything he had seen, Gahiji also clung onto hope.
Some of you readers out there already know that many of the places in my stories are based on real areas, well that passage was based on a real book that’s been in my family for nearly forty years:
Poems by Robert Burns – a “Midget” Classic is the book. And interestingly, although the book made it into my book, the poem that did, didn’t make it into that book.
Anyhoo, thought that was a nice bit of trivia for you all.
The print copy has some additional features that were omitted from the ebook version for formatting reasons. Although there is no difference to the story, the paperback is my original vision for the book.
Changes in the paperback version:
Proper ‘verso’ page at the beginning of the book.
Names with special characters are included correctly.
Diary entry is handwritten.
There have been requests for a hardback version, but that will not be happening as I don’t feel the book is long enough to warrant it. Although, once the series is complete, I will be releasing a hardback anthology that includes all the books.
Tadadadaaaaaaa ‘Lament for the Living’ is out. The first book in the Lament for the Living series that follows the Survivors of a zombie. It’s also one of the few zombie books written by a British author, and set in the UK (Wales to be precise).
Along with promoting these titles over social media, I’ve also starting writing the next release which is a prequel to ‘The Deluge of Elias’. Set roughly now, the new (as yet untitled) book covers the cataclysm that leaves the inhabitants of The Dome as the only surviving humans. This first book in the series covers the cataclysm, aftermath, and the survivors realisation they are the last humans, and everything else is gone.
Although I like the sound of my own voice, I don’t like to blow my own trumpet. That has put me in conflict with my feelings about pimping out my work. How much is too much? Where is the line that differentiates between promotion, and feed swamping?
I’m a sensitive flower (no really) and I’ve dumped numerous indie authors on Twitter because they use their account as basically a one way pipe for their self-promotion. Hardly any interaction with anyone else, just constant “Hey look at my book” and “Another 5* review” and then the retweets of retweets… GAHHH! Then they take to Facebook to crow about how they’re in “twitter jail” – oh what fun. No, it’s not actually. Being in Twitter jail means that you’ve posted so much that even Twitter wants you to shut up and give someone else a chance.
Okay, this is where I don my cloak of hypocrisy. I’ve got a book coming out on May 10th. ‘Lament for the Living’ – a zombie book, but it’s not about the zombies. It’s about the societies that evolve and are destroyed after the zombie apocalypse. Now here’s the thing. If I don’t start pimping it out, especially on release, no one will know it exists.
My problem is doing this without pissing off the people who follow me on Twitter and facebook. So what I am going to do is let people know in advance, that at certain times I am going to be posting ONLY about ‘Lament for the Living’, but they won’t be scheduled, or automatic posts – it’ll still be me, I’ll still be there posting/writing/chatting.
So here it is: I am going to be a complete self-promoting whore in the run up, and after the launch of ‘Lament for the Living’. I apologise for the spam, but it’s a necessary evil.
However, to make up for it, I’ll also be giving away copies of ‘Lament for the Living. All you have to do to enter my super duper ebook draw is like the official ‘Lament for the Living’ facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/lamentfortheliving
Recently there have been a number of alarmist posts made on the interwebs about companies (Amazon being one of the them, but Amazon is ALWAYS one of them…) planning to allow users to sell their second-hand ebooks.
People have been really throwing their toys out of their prams over the issue. Or non-issue as I like to think of it. I know that some of you are you wondering what I’m on about here so I’ll do a quick recap on the issue:
All creators have the right of first sale, it’s part of copyright in that when their product is sold (for the first time) they get their cut.
Until recently there wasn’t the technology to allow the resale, or second hand market, for electronic goods.
It’s apparently a back-door for pirated copies (and we all know that piracy funds terrorism (!)).
The main argument, especially where DRM is used, is that the first purchaser is an “end-user” and so they are only licensing the product for their personal use, so resale is VERBOTTEN!!!!!! (yes I went over the top with the exclamation marks there, but it was for comedic effect).
Now I’m not going to go into any of those points because frankly, each of them is a choice for the individual copyright holder/publisher to decide on. Personally, I’m not going to put DRM on my future works (unless required by certain outlets…. Amazon) because I think it’s limiting and frustrating for the reader. “Surely you’re worried about piracy?” I hear you gasp. Well…. no. Not as much as I am about alienating readers in the first place.
So why am I not bothered about the re-sale of ebooks? Or more specifically, why am I not worried about the re-sale of MY ebooks? There are two reasons:
I’ll have earned what I consider to be my entitlement via the ‘right of first sale’. I think it’s fairly obnoxious to expect to be paid when someone sells that book on.
I actually see the option to re-sell e-books as another revenue opportunity.
Wait! What? You heard me! Now put your brain in gear. As an reader, how many copies of an ebook do you legally own? That’s right, as many as you legally paid for. Now, as an author, how many copies of your ebook do you legally own?……. Okay, let me help you with that one. It’s somewhere between infinity and whatever comes after that.
See where I’m going with this yet? These re-selling services operate by allowing you to sell any copies you legally own. With ebooks (as long as you haven’t stupidly sold your publishing rights), as an author you own an infinite amount of them. You can create them at will, which means that you can also sell them at will. So why should a canny author be bothered about these services when he/she can use them as another revenue stream. Log on, see how much your book is going for in the second-hand market, put a load of copies up for sale at a competitive price. A percentage of something is better than a percentage of nothing. Simples.
I’d love to read your thoughts on the issue.
Don’t forget, ‘Lament for the Living’ is out on May 10th – get a sneak peek at the first chapter for FREE!
It is with great pleasure that I release today two exciting pieces of news. The first is that a benefactor, who wishes to remain anonymous, has been solely responsible for securing a block of ISBNs for the upcoming ‘Lament for the Living’ and future titles. I cannot thank that person enough and will ensure that a similar kindness is contributed in the same vein.
The ISBN for ‘Lament for the Living’ is 978-0-9575452-0-5.
To coincide with this amazing turn of events I wanted to create new cover art that was more eye-catching and announce them both at the same time. So here it is:
Lament for the Living will be released in May 2013. I’m still looking for review readers who will receive advance copies in February. If you would like to participate, please get in touch.