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!
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).
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.”
“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.
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?
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.
Last December, I released my short story, The Biting Cold, as part of an anthology with Susan, Connie, Debra, JC and Jen. It went very well under both schemes we used. But it’s time to release it on its own. And to do that, I need an ISBN, a cover, the cover copy, and a price/package.
The ISBN I buy in bulk, so I just pull the next one off the list.
The price? Well, Amazon won’t let me put in anything less than 0.99 cents or pennies. I will put this story initially in the Kindle Select listings, so that Amazon Prime members can read it under their Kindle Unlimited contracts and I get paid for the number of pages read. This story was only ever intended to capture marketing information or be a tease to get readers into the Athanate world.
The cover copy I have from the anthology, but I want it shorter and sharper to stand on its own:
What price would you pay?
Dr. Amanda Lloyd, a dying psychiatrist with just days to live, is desperate to give the only testimony that will keep the criminal mastermind of a human trafficking network in jail. She can’t spare time for the handsome, mysterious patient who claims to be a vampire.
Unless what he offers her is exactly what she needs…
And the cover…
I’ve no intention of going out and paying a studio for a cover. So, what does the cover need to depict? “Vampires and romance”.
I don’t want fangs or a bitten neck on the cover, which leaves me with one obvious way of implying vampires (apart from the title itself), and that’s the font. I went looking for letter shapes that looked like knives or fangs, and I found Abaddon. Not perfect, but *free*. To ram the point home, so to speak, we need some blood dripping off a fang – ten minutes with PaintShop Pro.
The romance, well everything is a cliché. Naked male torso, serious abs and pecs. Bodice. Flesh. Kissing or embracing couple. Hands entwined. Red rose. Lipstick imprint. For no other reason than it was abstract, cheap and easy, I took the lips. Mwah.
What would be ‘nice’ for the cover to depict? Detroit, cold, winter, legal setting, a tale with a twist. I wanted to keep the cover simple and abstract, so the cityscape was out, as was the twist. They are respectively too detailed and too complex. The legal setting was interesting – there are lots of visual clues you can use, but I didn’t want to clutter. So I went for cold and winter, at which point, Jessica, Joshua and I came up with our interpretations and the attached are the result.
The covers have been getting votes on Facebook already. In case you haven’t seen it there, please vote here in the comments. Left to right, cover number 1-3. (I’ll be releasing the book on the 8th August).
As promised, the story of Amanda and Scott will continue for at least one more short(ish) book, and then will bind into the main Bite Back series.
I have been looking at names for the next book… maybe Heart of Winter
A no-writing weekend! I managed to make it to a lunch re-union of my Arvon writing course from 2011 on Saturday in London, got back home and went to bed, where I still am, snorting, sniveling and hacking.
Apologies that this is a bit late.
Nothing extraordinary to report. Sleight of Hand in all formats is just shy of 24,000 sales. I’m happy to see that Wild Card has been selling well again. The appearance of Cool Hand seems to have reminded some readers about the series.
Well, the new covers are not failing – books continue to sell, but I expected a little boost from simply changing covers, regardless of the actual covers themselves, and that didn’t happen. I also tried a weekend with SoH at $0.99, and the reaction was much smaller than when I did that for the old covers.
I’m having a photoshoot with Maria this week to get better stock for marketing, and at the same time I will re-do photos for SoH and HT. Once that’s done, I’ll sit down and have a look at everything.
Bite Back 5 is coming along slowly. I’ve been a bit distracted by the covers, getting a new audio narrator and work being done on the house. We’re having some repair & replacement of windows and the conservatory.
I always say before I start that the next book will be simpler and shorter. I’m always wrong. Bite Back 5 has the standard interleaving of threads and looks at this early stage to be around about the same length as Hidden Trump.
I’ve actually written more scenes from later in the book. The first quarter of the book has been difficult to write.
Why? Because Amber has to heal. I don’t give spoilers, but those of you that have read Cool Hand know that she’s due some down time! And part of that repair has to be to face all the horrors she’s managed to contain in her ‘strongbox’, the mental image she has of how she deals with these events on her past.
In dealing with them, I have to explore them, and these are not easy matters to write about. Fictional character or not, they are upsetting to write.
There’s also purely technical difficulties. A lot of this healing has to happen inside Amber’s head. This leads to descriptive difficulties in the narrative. In the everyday world I can say “she fell over on her butt – it hurt” and everyone can picture what’s going on and feel for her. But things happening inside Amber’s head need more explanation, especially as some of them have paranormal origins (or complications). All making it more difficult to communicate it clearly and concisely.
And if it isn’t concise, the plot will feel as if it’s not progressing. However, if it doesn’t set the scene for what happened, it will lose coherence and emotional impact.
I’ve ended this post with small part of chapter 2 to give you a flavor. Because this is Amber re-living events, I’ve put it in present tense, like the dream sequences in the rest of the series…
What else can I tell you about BB5 without spoilers
As mentioned before, it takes place largely in LA.
It will start to link in Manda and Scott from The Biting Cold short story, but it looks more like they will actually appear on the page in BB6.
Helicopters. Motorbikes. The underbelly of Tinseltown.
And sex. Well, Amber manages (only just) not to have sex in Cool Hand. But in BB5 she’s back with Jen and Alex and working to move that relationship on, even as tangled as it gets with her healing. There are three sex scenes currently in the outline for BB5. The one at the end might get moved to start BB6 with a bang, so to speak.
This was a difficult decision process, following Kimberly’s withdrawal from the Hidden Trump project. It was easy to take the list of possible narrators down to 6. Not so hard even to take it down to 2. But that last decision! In the end, I went with a lady who just sounds a little more like the voices in my head!
I have received a verbal agreement (well, email) from Julia Motyka to narrate the remainder of the series. Here she is narrating the Accidental Alchemist…
We’re just working through the formal legal agreements with ACX, the audio company.
Part of Chapter 2, Bite Back 5
“No, man, he’s got to go out big. This is it. This is the grand exit.”
The guy they’re talking about is John Elway. This January, he’d led the Broncos to their second successive Superbowl, rifling the ball through the Falcons’ defenses and running for a touchdown himself. He’s a football god, but he’s a thirty-eight year-old football god, and the fevered rumor mill at South High in the spring of 1999 says he’s going.
Back-to-back Superbowls, oldest MVP ever, more wins than any other starting quarterback.
Way to go.
But the boys aren’t asking my opinion.
Eerie, how a remembered sentence opens a door. The smells and sounds come rushing back, dragging faces and colors and tastes and more words behind them.
The locker room at South High. That institutional smell that no janitor can get rid of. And the sickly-sweet aroma of my emergency stash of sugar-rush candy. The corridor is shouty and echoey, full of just-before-class energy being burned off. And zombies on auto-pilot waiting for the caffeine to kick in.
I’m holding my locker open. That gives me half a place to hide. A moment to gather myself and shift mental gears for the school day. I need to think about class. Need to concentrate on schoolwork.
For all the talk, it’s not as if Elway and the Superbowl are the biggest things.
There’s a war in Kosovo. NATO have bombed the Serbians. Clinton said firm action but no troops on the ground. But they lied to us before. And, well, Clinton.
And bigger than that in my world, looming like a wall in front of me, there’s the Final Ruling just days away. My life might start over.
Will start over.
My locker door slams shut.
“Prom,” Cassie Quinn says, leaning against the closed door. Her mouth is set in a hard line. I’ve ducked this one too many times.
“It’s a month away.”
Cassie is the only reason I have any social life left, but that doesn’t mean she’s not irritating as a bug.
“It’s two weeks.”
“I’m sorry, Cassie. I can’t think about it right now. I promise, after—”
“By then it’ll be too late. Look, Amber, the insurance will come good. Dad says you’ve got a cast-iron case.”
The Final Ruling. The end of the legal battle over my dad’s huge medical bills that’s taken three years and pushed us further and further into debt.
“And his qualifications to make that assessment?” I ask.
Cassie’s parents have been a great support for Mom, but her dad’s got a tendency to say what makes Mom feel good at the time.
No way does that justify my pettiness.
But Cassie takes it all in her stride and keeps coming back. She just smiles crookedly, so I’ve got nothing to fight against, even if I want to lash out sometimes.
“I hate you,” I mutter, because she understands. She knows what I mean and doesn’t pay too much attention to what I say.
“Likewise.” Then her eyes look over my shoulder and go all wide and soft. “Oh, my God,” she says.
If an author has an agent and a publisher, he or she may have little to do with designing the cover.
As a self-published author (a.k.a indie author or self-pubber), everything comes down to me. This becomes a problem with the artistic aspects. I can doodle, I can’t draw. So I put a team together and this is how they looked after me.
My first stop was Ian Wilson. Ian is an artist, who focuses these days on brand and marketing design. I’ve known him forever. What he did first was to take my brief and turn it into a sketch.
The brief :
- Amber on the right, facing left at an angle. She’s auburn haired and athletic. She’s dressed in tight jeans and T, possibly with a jacket (brown glossy, not distressed). She carrying a gun, a Heckler & Koch Mk 23. It’s big (common Urban Fantasy theme).
- In the middle ground, Denver skyline at night. Background is the Rockies with a little snow on them. Moon in the sky. Urban Fantasy moons are large.
- Wolf eyes at the bottom of the page – photo or artwork (again, common Urban Fantasy theme).
- Title at the top, my name at the bottom.
- Dark – possibly a continuation of the Rockies.
- Blurb, ISBN. These will obscure most of the image.
- Gang motif (twinned rattlesnakes) or wolf’s head motif. Possibly blank carnival masks.
- Marque symbol. Name. Title.
And what came back was this :
I loved this image as soon as I saw it. Ian ‘lost’ a lot of the fiddly motifs I was looking for, and concentrated on getting a high impact, uncluttered foreground.
The wolf eyes didn’t make it, and it needed something more to signal Urban Fantasy. So we decided we needed a wolf :
OK, this was me. I just clipped an image from the web and scribbled a body behind Amber. The inclusion of the wolf was a minor stumbling block for me because Amber doesn’t actually see a werewolf close up like this in the first book. The need for the cover to shout Urban Fantasy overrode that reservation.
It was time to take it to the cover artist. Most businesses who do book covers work down to a price and that dictates that everything comes from stock photography. I wasn’t happy with that, and chose instead to go with Claire Curtis. As well as being a cover artist, Claire is a good photographer in her own right—have a look at her website (details at end).
The image then broke down into main elements :
- A model with the right look and clothes
- A gun
- Stock images – wolf, Denver skyline, Rockies, forest
(We were unable to contract a wolf to stand behind Amber and snarl.)
Getting someone who looks the part was difficult. Amber is part native North American, part Celtic. She’s athletic, not model skinny.
I was lucky. My daughter is an actor and she found another actor, Maria Askew, on the website Casting Call Pro, who had the look as well as modelling experience. And she was available as long as we got the session in before she went off to Edinburgh to do a show for the Fringe. Maria joined the team and we met up at Claire’s studio.
In the same way I find it difficult to visualize the whole cover design, I found it difficult to see the cover from the photo session!
A big problem was the gun. While writing the book, I researched what pistols Amber would be familiar with, considering her background in the special forces. I came up with a Heckler and Koch Mk 23 which had the benefit of actually being designed for the special forces and it was a monster to boot. Great. Unfortunately, I could not get hold of the actual thing, nor could I get hold of a model of it. We used a model of a similar gun, and the rest is digital wizardry. I know many people would have just gone with any large gun, but having made an issue of it in the story, I didn’t want readers complaining it wasn’t the right gun on the cover!
Now, in amongst the hundreds of photos, we had ‘Amber’.
Claire went to work, and what came out was this :
This got the ass-kicking look and the wolf snarl right on. It would have been ideal to have the wolf curled round Amber, but there wasn’t a stock photograph that did that.
The last job was for Ian to take the image and drop the text and symbols onto it.
And that’s what will appear on the printed book when it goes on sale in September.
Ian Wilson : www.WeAreMash.com – branding, marketing
Maria Askew : www.MariaAskew.co.uk – actor, model
Claire Curtis : www.ClaireCurtis.co.uk – cover art