News: road trip and writing update

Jeep outline

My apologies for the silence on the blog.

Road trip!

This is going to be a mixture of family holiday, writer’s retreat, photo shoots and research. I’m not planning to turn up at any bookstores to do signings, but I will be delighted to meet readers at a coffee shop or restaurant if I’m in the area. Message me on the contact email or Facebook.

 Family holiday: From the 23rd August to the 5th September, I’ll be in New York, with the whole family. Jessica will still be filming the first season of Netflix’s Iron Fist (she plays Colleen Wing), so the schedule will be worked around that. I do plan to have a visit for Amber to New York in Bite Back, so I will be meeting readers, scouting locations and taking photographs as well.

Writer’s retreat: Home life has been ‘disrupted’ to say the least over the last few months, from replacing floors to garden landscaping. I’m going to find out how well I write when I’m not at home with these distractions. Back in 2011, I visited Denver for research and I did find I could write quite well while mixing it with doing research and being a tourist. I intend to be writing a few hours a day on average throughout this trip.

Research (and photo shoots): I’ve just about exhausted the notes I took from my first research trip to Denver, and the geographic scope of the Bite Back series has grown a lot. I actually meant to visit New Mexico and Los Angeles while I was writing Cool Hand and Angel Stakes, but it didn’t come off. So…this year I get to do the Rockies, north to south.

I have to visit the sites of the Confederation’s main packs: Wind River, Big Horn and Bozeman. I have to visit the equivalent sites for the League in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. I’ll do a side trip to Nevada to take in Humboldt-Toiyabe and Highway 50. And I’ll spend time based in Denver and looking around Colorado. All of the above are for research, but of course, I’ll be touring and hiking and taking photographs and meeting people as well.

The schedule is: 6th September to 18th September in Wyoming and Montana. Starting in Cheyenne, with the farthest north probably being Helena. I may cut through Idaho on the way back. If you have recommendations for spooky, strange or unusual photogenic places, or you’re in the general area at the same time, message me on the contact email or Facebook!

19th September to 30th September. I’m based in Denver. I’m already meeting a few friends and readers and would love to meet more. I will be full of strange questions about Colorado in general and Denver in particular.

1st October to 4th October. Nevada. Route 50 and the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

5th October to 10th October. New Mexico. Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Route 14.

Back to Denver, fly to New York and then fly home, hopefully with head and laptop full of ideas, scenes and photos.

If it goes well enough, there’s lots more of America I want to see.

Editing Winter’s Kiss

Current top-of-the-pile project is editing Winter’s Kiss. This is a novella sequel to The Biting Cold, which follows a different set of characters than Bite Back. However, I did rashly promise to weave them together and this is part of the reason that Winter’s Kiss has been a difficult job. While many readers will be from Bite Back, I’m hoping some new readers will come in from having read only The Biting Cold. My task is then to give them enough of a flavor of what goes on in Bite Back to read the series as well.

I’m about half way through editing and I *really* want this finished before I go on the road trip.

Editing So Many Doors

This is a background project. The book was written by my late mother in 1964 and never published. My sister and I have decided to put it up on Amazon, but there’s a surprising amount of style change required to make it ‘readable’ to modern readers. The book is set in Africa, in Northern Rhodesia, on a remote Colonial administrative center and it’s a murder mystery.

Cast list and synopses

A long-promised project. I have a lot of characters, and I’m writing a brief description of each to put in the back of the Bite Back series books, along with a synopsis of the story so far.

Next up

Bian’s Tale book 1, Saigon – The Reach of Lies. I know, I should be in Saigon researching this! However, the Saigon I’m writing about is the ‘Paris of the Orient’ in 1900, and that doesn’t exist any more.

I got about half way through writing Saigon a couple of years and it wasn’t going well, so I put it aside. It’s time to get it back out and finish it.

Schedule for publication? You know me and schedules. I’ll post progress.

Then…

Bite Back 6, as yet unnamed. Obviously, this will be next year. I have lots of scenes and ideas and I hope to have more from my road trip.

Also…

I may try my hand at writing something short and completely different, just to keep everything fresh. If you have a genre you’d like to see me try (there’s a challenge), email me at the contact address or comment here.

 

 

 

Winter’s Kiss – sequel to The Biting Cold

Apologies for the silence on the blog this last six weeks.

Winter’s Kiss takes the story started in The Biting Cold and weaves it into the Bite Back series. The timeline for them to join up is the end of Angel Stakes. Both The Biting Cold and Winter’s Kiss are short stories (20k and 30k words respectively). Since they are a separate story, but part of Bite Back, and since Amazon really likes series to have names, I’ve decided to all this mini-series Bite Back: Diazoun. The word diazoun is Athanate. It’s the term used for Athanate Houses who isolate themselves from Athanate society.

There may be a third short story in this series.

When? Well, Winter’s Kiss is under the editor’s red pen as I type this. Sooooon.

The original cover image I wanted for Winter’s Kiss was too dark, and I wanted to keep to black letters, so I took the opportunity to rework the two book covers side by side. Please feed back your thoughts!

BOTH new 1

 

 

News, Progress and Round-up for May 2016

Cool Hand Detail Image2

Yeah, the usual look at the sales and WiP and stuff.

But first! MILESTONES IN REVIEWS

The US Amazon site logged it’s 200th review! On 31st May, Hao-Ying Feng logged a 5 star review after a binge re-read of the series. Thank you! And thank you to each and every one of you who reviews on Amazon, Goodreads or by messaging me. All hugely welcome and important for me.

AND while I’m talking reviews, 95% of the SoH reviews are 4 or 5 star. That I wouldn’t have predicted when I started.

Almost at the same time, Angel Stakes hit 50 reviews in the 6 weeks since launch, and the percentage of 4 & 5 star has remained the same.

What are the next milestones? I guess 250 for SoH or 750 for the series on US Amazon (currently 604). On the series total, I will ‘cheat’ once Winter’s Kiss is written, because then it and The Biting Cold will be part of the series.:-)

And then 1,000 for both US and UK Amazon added together (currently 711), or 350 on Goodreads (currently 303).

WRITING PROGRESS

Winter’s Kiss is more than half way done. As I mentioned in posts on Facebook, this sequel isn’t the same length as The Biting Cold (20k words). TBC was written to a specification on length for an anthology, and WK is just to link the story in with Bite Back, so I have more leeway.

I’ve given a couple of teasers on Facebook, linked by mentions of jazz (Amanda loves jazz). In case you didn’t see them there, here they are again:

“Morning found us just a few miles east of Marquette. The sun inched above the horizon, flooding the car’s rear window with hazy gold, etching the edges of the long, low buildings, and throwing our shadow out in front, where the road unwound like an old jazz song in a smoky club.”

and later…

“I switched switches on the music center. Little LEDs started to glow, and I pulled out LPs at random until the words jazz and soul songs caught my eye. A collection of instrumentals based on old songs. The list had some of my favorites, spanning the years.

I put the LP on the turntable. It was lucky it was one of those that loaded the arm automatically, because my hands were shaking.

I closed my eyes and waited; part of the drama and romance that I loved about LPs was that moment at the beginning.

A quiet hiss and crackle, full of anticipation, then the music started. A few falling notes were tossed out from a sax, as a ticking drum marked the beat. The piano picked up a couple of the notes, tossed them back. The saxophone held one note, almost too long, and then just let it drop and tumble and flow into the bittersweet melody of Ain’t No Sunshine.”

What else have I been doing?

The print books are a mess. Cool Hand and Angel Stakes not yet available, the sizes have changed, the covers don’t match. What I thought would be a simple overhaul turned into a nightmare. And to help out, CreateSpace (Amazon’s Print-on-Demand company) have changed their specifications. Everything is a PDF now. Not such a problem for the body of the book, but I have no graphics programs that save as PDF. I ended up loading the image into Word and using that to save. Which of course leads to warnings that my resolution is low. Grrr.

Adding to the frustrations, I use Word for writing, and Word’s print book formatting functions are flakey.

Anyway. I have submitted Cool Hand and Angel Stakes to CreateSpace and they now enable reviewing online, allowing me to skip the physical book review process. The print books *should* be available in the next week or so.

I apologize for the covers. What I’ve done is simply take the eBook cover, added black for the spine and back page and written on the black. All fine as long as the I’ve allocated *exactly* enough width for the spine.

I will do a rework of the covers and get everything to match in size and style, but it’s not on the critical path.

The print book fiasco means that I haven’t progressed with my other non-writing writing project, which is to create cast lists and summaries of story-so-far for each Bite Back sequel.

SALES

I did a big review last month, so I’m not going to repeat that since the figures haven’t changed dramatically. Instead, I’ll look at the overview and implications.

Averaged out at the moment, I guess I’m selling 600 books a month and that needs to be 1,200.

I’m still selling 70-80 Sleight of Hand a month, and a percentage of those go on to read the entire series. Amazon only knows the exact figures, but the sales stats suggest to me that about 80% of people who pick up SoH now go on to read all of the books in the series. This is as opposed to the figures of readers who picked up SoH back in 2012, which is about 25%. That low percentage is based on the total sales ever of Cool Hand as a percentage of total sales ever of Sleight of Hand, and it does creep up as some people just take their time going through the series.

What does this mean? Very approximately, I believe that if I had ten Bite Back books now, my monthly sales would be 1,200. The problem is that writing that next 5 will take me 5 years, and in the meantime SoH would slide.

What am I going to do about it? Write realted or unrelated shorter stories that I believe may bring in readers who wouldn’t otherwise have picked up Sleight of Hand, but who like the shorter stories enough to try the series.

I’d like to try out writing novels in two parts – a short story of around 10k words which tells a story but ends on a cliffhanger, and leads straight into a novella of around 50k words. This is close to the way The Biting Cold turned out. TBC was actually 20k words and Winter’s Kiss will be about 40k, and TBC didn’t end on a cliffhanger, but you get my drift.

I have a couple of ideas kicking around in my head – one in the Bite Back world but set in Canada and sharing none of the cast, another a SciFi novella and completely different. Oh, and one set in the 17th century Caribbean that popped up in a conversation with Debra Dunbar (that one might be related to Bite Back).

This does NOT mean that I’m less committed to Bite Back, but I think I can do these things and still get one Bite Back novel out every year. We’ll see.

Other projects – German

German translations have stopped at the moment. I need to get another translator, but I have to say that I need to re-examine the income to see if the cost is justified. I think I’d prefer to hand over to a German publishing company who do this as a business. I need to talk to people.

Other projects – Audio

Julia Motyka is unavailable until September, but assures me she’ll be back in the studio with Angel Stakes then. Audio sales are reasonable (as far as I know) – SoH 1,578, HT 668, WC 504, CH 273. Are there any writers out there with audiobooks who would be okay to share their sales with me?

Anything else

I asked people on the Facebook site what music Amber listens to. What a wonderful response, and a huge playlist to sort through! Great fun. Thank you all.

I’m planning a trip to America this year. My bio says I’m frequently in the Rockies and I haven’t been. At the end of August & beginning of September, I’ll be with my daughter in New York. After that, I hope to work my way down the Rockies from somewhere around Bozeman, Montana to Albuquerque, New Mexico, taking in Denver, Cheyenne and the loneliest road in the States. I hope to end up returning to UK via Boston and maybe catching some fall colors. This is a research and writing trip, not a book signing journey, but I’ll be happy to sign books, meet readers and attend conventions. If there’s interest, I’ll publish an itinerary closer to the time.

 

Angel Stakes launch feedback

Well, things go right and things go not-so-well.

Angel Stakes has pulled in 45 reviews (just on the US Amazon website) in just 5 weeks after launch. That’s more than any other book of mine in that time. Those reviews are almost all positive. That means we’re both doing something right. I’m writing what you enjoy reading, and I’ve communicated well enough with my readers that a lot of you have bought Angel Stakes in that short period (and reviewed it). There are also 19 reviews on Goodreads and 10 on the UK Amazon website, as well as some great book reviewer websites.

Thank you!

Got That Right Image

Sorry this image is a bit blurry. Other point to note: Sleight of Hand is at 197 reviews on the US Amazon site. 200 reviews is one of my milestones. Soon. Soon.:-)

What’s not going so well?

Angel Stakes started off in the first week outselling everything, but has now slid right down the chart.

Book 5 weeks

It’s not massively behind the other sequels, apart from Hidden Trump. I’m still getting “I didn’t realize it was out” messages, so I’m going to have to work on publicity for the next one!

There’s not a great deal more to say at the moment. I’ll do a full sales & marketing at the end of the month, along with progress reports etc., but 5 weeks from launch happens to be the comparative data set that I still maintain.

 

 

April 2016 roundup

LA over the shoulder 2 soft focus

Lots to talk about as I’ve been quiet recently.

What’s happened

I released the Angel Stakes ebook and the Cool Hand audio. Yay!

Angel Stakes had the biggest first week of all my books so far, both in sales and reviews. Angel Stakes (890) beat Cool Hand for sales by about 40, and generated a massive 40 reviews in that first week alone.

Thank you for the reviews. Just on Amazon.com today, there are already 35 reviews, with only 1 negative. On Amazon.co.uk there are 8, and on Goodreads there are 17.

Thank you also for the feedback on the Facebook page and by email. All good, all welcome.

In the second week, however, Angel Stakes (1,442) has fallen behind both Hidden Trump, which sold 2,078 in the same period, and Cool Hand, which sold 1,498.

Cumulative Sales

Sales is the usual number, cumulative since I started in 2012. I’ve included a column for ‘Pages Read’ – this is the measurement you get when a book is included in the Kindle Unlimited program, but I’ve only tracked this for the last 6 months. Amazon pay on a basis of fractions of a cent for each page read, so the actual effect on my income has been small. For example, those 14,000 pages of The Biting Cold have been worth about $70 to me over the last 6 months.

…                                         Sales                  Pages Read

Raw Deal                            20,637              9k
Sleight of Hand
English                           22,682              128k
audio                              1,504
German ebook              1,571                  106k
Hidden Trump
English                           16,412                91k
audio                               602
German ebook              873                     118k
Wild Card
English                           7,784                  113k
audio                              426
German ebook             529
Cool Hand
English                          4,382
audio                             70
Angel Stakes                     1,532
The Biting Cold                785                       14k

(Sorry about the table. Having trouble getting tables into WordPress)

In summary? I have wonderful, wonderful readers – just look at the reviews. But I don’t have enough of them.

As I’ve said before, my real concern is the drop off between Hidden Trump and Wild Card, and the further drop between Wild Card and Cool Hand. Both are around 50%, which is extremely disappointing, especially given the reviews and ratings, which show no hint of a problem of that magnitude.

What I expected, when I published Sleight of Hand and Hidden Trump back in 2013, was that I’d lose the highest percentage of readers between SoH and HT. The series isn’t for everyone, and SoH gives a reasonable idea of what’s to come. That’s not what has happened.

One positive for the series from the launch of Angel Stakes is the boost it caused in sales of previous books in the series. And, although it’s difficult to make generalizations on the data, it looks as if people who come in with SoH because they saw the reviews for Angel Stakes don’t drop out after SoH or HT – the boost goes through the whole series.

I guess the question the numbers pose is this: am I losing readers because they (1) don’t like the story, (2) don’t like it enough to check for the next release, (3) never see information about the next release and just forget over time, (4) don’t want to invest in a story till it’s complete.

I’m not sure I can do much about (1) or (2). The story is relatively dark for Urban Fantasy, and it’s more complex than most. It deals with real trauma. It’s in a definite minority with the viewpoint on sexual issues. The ‘magic’ is constrained at the moment. All in all, I understand it may not be what people are looking for when they pick an UF title (but would still expect them to leave after SoH, not 2 or 3 books in).

I’m not sure I can do much about (4) either, except grind my teeth. I’m a reader too, I know it’s hard waiting a year for the next episode, but I can’t write this kind of story quickly. I don’t think anyone can. I’m not going to stop writing till the end, but if this was a traditionally published series, the publisher would pull the plug.

Maybe I can do something about (3).

And that leads to Marketing…

Marketing

What have I done?

I moved the prices down on SoH, and tried the same thing on HT. I’ve moved them back up again, and it really doesn’t seem to make much difference. I know other indies have stuck at the $2.99 as the ‘sweet point’, and that Amazon suggests $4.99 is the sweet point.
Susan Illene has stuck with me on $3.99. Debra Dunbar varies her prices up to $4.99. Skye Knizley sticks at $2.99. Connie Suttle varies up to $4.99.
And some of the indies who are acknowledged big hitters… J. R. Rain varies, but tends to $4.99. Lindsay Buroker’s prices all seem to be over $5.

Readers have posted on the website suggesting that a long, complex book is worth a higher price. I don’t know. In the end, a book is worth what enough people will pay for it.

I may put the series up to $4.99.

On other marketing attempts, I put the first three of the series in Kindle Unlimited, where readers enrolled in the Amazon program can read for free, and I get paid on the ‘number of pages read’. That’s in quotes because it has emerged that Amazon is just making it up. Anyway, SoH in English is earning about $100 a month on the KU program. Again, all good, but not setting the world on fire.

I also changed the covers again. It’s difficult to tell whether this had any effect, because I did it at the same time as Angel Stakes was launched. I’m still not happy, but maybe I never will be!

The latest marketing fine-tuning is ‘Tags’. This has a couple of effects.
(1) Tags are used as searchable text in Amazon. So, if I tagged SoH as being about ‘ex-military private investigator’ and someone typed that into the Amazon search field, they’d be offered SoH (among any others tagged the same way).
(2) Tags sometimes link books into best seller lists.

(Here’s a blog talking about the subject: https://ebooksuccess4free.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/7-tips-for-amazon-keywords-and-best-selling-books/)

It’s a subtle business, picking the right tags. I got an easy win by labelling SoH as being about a ‘superhero’. It’s not a widely used tag and that resulted in SoH appearing on the Superhero best selling lists. Visibility on these lists do generate sales. Higher ranking=greater visibility.

At some stage, I would like to do an organized promotion using BookBub, BookGorilla and other newsletters, Goodreads and Amazon. There’s a surprising amount of work involved in these promotions, and they do take away from writing time.

There is a writing task that does promote books – launching new books raises visibility and boosts the back list. But in order to use that I have to write something shorter…

Which leads me to my current project file…

What’s next

Writing & editing:

I have promised for ages to edit my mother’s unpublished murder mystery set in colonial Africa and called So Many Doors. It’s good, really good, but needs editing and a cover. I have gone out and commissioned lovely cover art, and I’m slogging through taking out ellipses and exclamation marks. And a few other bits & pieces. My sister and I should be putting this on Amazon by the end of the month.

I’m drafting up a short story sequel to The Biting Cold, which I’ve tentatively named Winter’s Kiss, and which will weave the story into the Bite Back series. This shouldn’t be long (famous last words), and should be simple (ditto). The only real problem is TBC was really an experiment to write a romance and include a sex scene which was essential and fundamental to the story. (I still got someone commenting that it was gratuitous). The draft I have for Winter’s Kiss at the moment is more like an Amber story with chases and explosions. Amanda does, of course, need another love interest. Or two. It’s just how I introduce that person.

Bian’s Tale 1. Okay. Enough sitting on this. I nearly wrote it a couple of years ago, but it wasn’t quite working. I have some much better ideas now, worthy of the opening chapters. It’s strange I found it much easier to write nine-year-old Bian than fourteen-year-old Bian. For those who haven’t seen them, I’m happy to provide the chapters of nine-year-old Bian as a mobi, ePub or PDF. Email me at the usual contact address.

Bite Back 6. No name yet. Based back in Denver. Full of House Farrell and Adepts and the aftermath of the closing chapters of Angel Stakes. However I promise you to make it simple and short and quick, it will end up complex and long and slow.

Other projects:

I need to resubmit all the books to CreateSpace to provide new print books. This is because I’m late with Cool Hand and I need to do Angel Stakes, and all the covers have changed and the first two books are different sizes and the internal format is different for different books. It’s all a mess and needs putting in order.

My narrator, Julia Motyka will start recording the Angel Stakes audio in September. I need to mark up the text to make sure what I hear comes through.

German translation. I’m undecided. The translations aren’t really paying for themselves.

And I’m looking at some writing-as-marketing projects. These are basically short stories which are also the first chapter(s) of novels, so the short story serves as a teaser for the main novel. I haven’t been able to see how to do this for the main Bite Back story. I have some ideas which may be in the same world, but set elsewhere – one is about a young girl fleeing along the infamous Highway of Tears in Canada, pursued by a terrifying monster.

There’s more. There’s always more, but this post has gone on FAR too long.

Cool Hand audio

Cool Hand is now on audio, at Audible.

http://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/Cool-Hand-Audiobook/B01ENXFFI6/

It will become available at Amazon and other retailers over the next few days – schedules entirely under Audible’s control, not mine.

I hope you enjoy the audio version of Cool Hand.

AudioCoverCoolHand

We have some scheduling problems over this summer. Julia Motyka was going to do Raw Deal before the summer, but that’s not going to happen now. Instead, she’ll go straight into recording Angel Stakes when she’s next available, which is in September. That means Angel Stakes audio should be available in November sometime.

 

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