Friday, 15 September 2017

Hunting down repeated words in the WIP

I've blogged about word echoes before. They used to be a particular problem for me, one I like to think I've now mostly got the better of. But when I've nearly finished writing a book, as well as reading it aloud, I put the text chapter by chapter through editing software to catch repeated words.

Initially I used Autocrit, then it got expensive. I switched to ProWritingAid, which was free, but you now have to pay if you want to analyse more than 500 words. I don't object to paying for a service, and it's easy to scout around and find 25% off vouchers, but ProWritingAid offers a wealth of features I wouldn't use. I don't need help with my grammar, style or readability. Their idea of a 'sticky' sentence is not mine. I just want to find repeated words...

The answer is Repetition Detector.  It's simple and does one job really well, highlighting repeated words in two categories, close and distant repetitions, and you choose the definition of close and distant. You can tell it to skip words like he, she, it etc.. It's free for 30 days, then an incredibly bargain $7.40 for life.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Anthology with Time Rats short story

Kindle Press authors have banded together to produce a book of short stories called Summer Solstice, and I'm part of it.

My story is a Time Rats one; it's about what happens when Floss and Jace go back in time to buy half a dozen paintings from Van Gogh for a rich art collector, and then their client gets slightly out of hand...

For the bargain price of 99p, you can read stories in different genres from twenty-five writers (all of whom Amazon thought worth publishing) and maybe discover new favourite authors.

Thanks to fellow KP author Lincoln Cole, who put the book together.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

On tweaking the WIP

I am an inveterate tweaker. I'm currently halfway through Time Rats Book 3. Before starting to write, I reread what I wrote the day before and improve it, adding bits, and altering words and their order. I believe in Holly Lisle's advice that you should never read your work without a pen in your hand. I also at some stage read the whole thing aloud, and put it through editing software (mainly to catch word echoes). By the time my books are published, I've had all my second thoughts, and third, fourth and fifth ones too.

I think writers who press on to the end of their first draft before editing in one go miss out - though they undoubtedly get more books written.

According to Ben Jonson, Shakespeare was not a tweaker:

I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honor to Shakespeare, that in his writing, whatsoever he penned, he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, “Would he had blotted a thousand,” which they thought a malevolent speech. ... His wit was in his own power; would the rule of it had been so too. Many times he fell into those things, could not escape laughter, as when he said in the person of Cæsar, one speaking to him: Cæsar, thou dost me wrong. He replied: Cæsar did never wrong but with just cause; and such like, which were ridiculous.

I think any writer will recognize what we have here; a less successful author carping at a more successful author, complicated by their being friends. I'm also not totally convinced of the truth of his assertion - but alas, we will never know now how Shakespeare wrote. While Googling this, I came across an irresistible anecdote from John Manningham's diary about Shakespeare that I'd forgotten. Here it is - I've modernised the spelling:

Upon a time when Burbidge played Richard III, there was a citizen grown so far in liking with him, that before she went from the play she appointed him to come that night unto her by the name of Richard the Third. Shakespeare overhearing their conclusion went before, was entertained and at his game ere Burbidge came. Then message being brought that Richard the Third was at the door, Shakespeare caused return to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard the Third. Shakespeare’s name William.”

Saturday, 18 March 2017

New developments at Kindle Press

Yesterday several Kindle Press authors had a surprise - they were told their covers were going to be updated, and were sent the new images. No notice was given, or permission asked for that matter. It has to be said that KP covers, provided by the authors and sometimes designed by them, run the full range from fabulous (like this one or this one) to dire - what my mother used to refer to disparagingly as 'loving hands at home'. It's encouraging that Kindle Press is showing itself willing to invest in its books, and we all know that the right cover makes a lot of difference when it comes to attracting readers.

I designed my own covers. Now, while I'd be delighted if KP commissioned substitutes that were clearly better, I'm incredibly picky about anything visual and to satisfy me, they'd have to be brilliant - Deranged Doctor or Damonza at their very best.  Also, I prefer a 2:3 proportion, rather than the skinnier rectangle Amazon favours.

Here are some before and afters. What do you think?

Monday, 6 March 2017

What is it with charts?

Since putting my first Time Rats novel on Kindle Scout, I've continued to nominate other authors' books on there. I'm a bit spasmodic about it, depending how busy I am, but I enjoy guessing from only the cover, blurb and first few chapters of a book whether Kindle Scout editors will select it. At the moment, I have a 20% success rate, which is exactly average (and not terribly impressive, now I consider it). Every now and then I receive a free copy of a book I've nominated which Kindle Press published, and get to find out what the rest of the book is like.

A few months ago, Scout Rankings appeared on the site. You can boost your rank by nominating, reviewing a chosen book, choosing a book that gets selected etc.. There is a Scout Leaderboard, displaying top ranked Scouts. I was at #31 when it opened. Now my rank is #191. The moment KS started a chart, people started caring about their rank and trying to improve it, even though they do not benefit one whit - Amazon, of course, benefits from their increased engagement.

I see the same thing with the Hot & Trending chart, which reflects the number of readers who have nominated each book. I have to admit the graphics on one's book page are beguiling; as you watch, gold bars shoot up, one for each day of the campaign so far, showing the number of hours spent on H & T. There's a graph showing daily views, and a pie chart showing where they came from. And none of this matters a jot. Experience has shown that a book's success or failure to clock up the hours on H & T have nothing whatsoever to do with its chances of being selected. Yet people go to great lengths attempting to stay on it, networking like mad and paying for adverts.

I used this idea, along with China's new Social Credit system, in Time Rats 3, which I'm writing now. Part of it is set in a 2135 where the Global Union runs the world, and everyone has a CCR. In this new timeline, Liam Roth's life is very different. Here's a snippet:

“In the other future you were rich. You had a house in De Beauvoir,” Floss said. “And when –”
“Wait – I was rich? And lived in De Beauvoir? With my own time machine? The alternative me must have had one hell of a CCR.”
“What’s a CCR?”
“Citizen Credit Rating.”
“What’s that?”
“You don’t know? Everyone on the planet has one. They score you for stuff like financial stability, criminal record, behaviour on social media, who your friends are, job performance, neatness of appearance, core values, attitude – hundreds of different areas, and your rankings fluctuate on a daily basis.”
“Bloody hell,” said Floss. “So what’s your CCR, or isn’t it done to ask?”
Liam laughed. “18%. That’s overall. My attitude rank’s probably hovering around zero right now.”

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Not quite Angel's robotic snake, but pleasing

In Dreams of the Machines (Time Rats Book 2) Angel the android makes a robotic snake. The offspring, in a nod to my book, got me this remote control serpent for Christmas.

I'm very pleased with it.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Dreams of the Machines (Time Rats Book 2) published!

And it's that rare occasion when I release a new book! Woop woop! (For once I feel entitled to scatter exclamation marks. There may be more to come. You have been warned.)

Dreams of the Machines is the second in my Time Rats series, with several new characters. I'm particularly fond of Angel, an on-the-run pleasure droid with a bit of an obsession with the Terminator T-800. Floss, Jace and Ryker are there too, along with scheming Quinn, still lusting after Floss, and a likeable rogue called Liam Roth.

Like TR1, Dreams of the Machines is published by Amazon's Kindle Press. It's been on pre-order for a couple of weeks, and risen quite high in the US charts, around 25,000. I'm pleased about this, because without a Look Inside on pre-order, it means some readers trust me to have written a good book.

I've done the paperback with Createspace. I enjoy formatting, and each of the paperbacks I've designed has been a little better than the last. When it went on sale yesterday, 280 out of 283 pages were on display in the US Look Inside. Panic! I emailed Amazon, and a nice representative called Ann A sorted it out, emailed me and left a message on my phone too.

I'm raising a virtual glass to TR2, and all its readers!

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Tigers, real, robotic and quirky

I came across this beguiling video from the World Wildlife Fund...

...and it occurred to me that tigers have been on my mind lately. In The Trouble with Time, Floss is stalked by a tiger in a deserted London in 2180; one of the last actions of the last keeper at Regent's Park Zoo was to release the big cats into the depopulated city. In soon-to-be-published Dreams of the Machines, the man who invented time travel has also made a robotic tiger. In one timeline in the novel, by 2145 they are extinct. I do hope this will never happen in real life - after all, if humanity lacks the will to save the tiger, we are not likely to manage to save anything else, including ourselves.

On another tack, I've been branching out into costume jewellery lately. Inspired by Mortal Engines, where one character has a necklace made from CDs, I've been making jewellery from CDs. I've launched a shop on Etsy, and it seemed only reasonable to call it Quirky Tiger.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Imagining the alternative

I took this photo early Sunday morning on my bike ride into the workshop. It's a particularly nice street in Hackney, bollarded off so the only through traffic is bicycles. In 2135, Liam Roth, a rogue with redeeming features in Dreams of the Machines (Time Rats Book 2) will have a house here. It's either number 32 or 34, depending on whether you read the ebook or the paperback.

And I realized while biking along the deserted street that there were moments when I could hear no traffic or planes and see no cars or people. There was just the rustle of autumn leaves blowing along the ground, and the crisp sound as my bike wheels went over them. It was possible to imagine I was the only person in London after some apocalypse had removed everyone else.

And then I realized that if ever I were in that situation, when not gripped by grief, loss and panic, I'd be imagining that I was in a populated London and someone would stroll round the corner at any moment.

Is it just writers who do this?

Friday, 21 October 2016

Rambling thoughts on killing Hitler via time machine

Anyone writing time travel sooner or later trips over the trope of Going Back In Time To Kill Hitler - I did while procrastinating researching Time Rats 3. It's a fascinating topic that raises lots of questions. For instance, why is it always Hitler? If you were going to kill an evil dictator because of all the deaths he caused, Mao Zedong and Stalin should be first in the queue. They were responsible for a total of 100 million deaths to Hitler's 30 million. You can see a list of evil dictators here in order with photographs - and what a vile and unattractive bunch of men they are.

I'm slightly irked by the commonplace delusion that just because you've gone back in time, that somehow gives you access to historical figures. If you can't get to chat with the Dalai Lama, Teresa May or Barack Obama in 2016, why would you expect to get anywhere near famous people in historical times? (Socrates and Jesus are probably the exceptions here. They were both renowned for talking to ordinary people.) Once he reached power, Hitler survived 42 known assassination attempts, so was not an easy target. If you sensibly decided it would be simpler to kill Hitler before he was famous, you've still got to find him. At the very least, you'd need to learn German. Training as a sniper would be useful.

As to the morality of killing to save life, have a go at this Moral Machine questionnaire about the choices a driverless car might need to make. In various scenarios, you choose from a series of alternatives which group the car should plough into given a choice. My results showed that I favoured fit human females over everyone else. That'll be the offspring. Cats didn't figure - I turned out to be far more ready to sacrifice cats than most people. My reasoning was that cats don't have relatives whose lives would be ruined by their death. See how you do.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Dreams of the Machines (Time Rats book 2) selected by Kindle Scout

I was spoiled on Kindle Scout the first time. The Trouble with Time (Time Rats 1) was selected within 48 hours, before I'd begun to look for a result. Its 30 days ended midnight Seattle time on a Friday, and I found it had been chosen over breakfast in London on Monday.

Dreams of the Machines (Time Rats 2) took ten days, testing to the max my resolution not to fret. The offspring said, "It doesn't matter if it's not chosen, you can just self-publish," and this was true and comforting. Still, it's nice to be picked.

I've always maintained that it's a waste of time struggling to keep one's book in the Hot & Trending chart, so I didn't. I'm not saying that Amazon takes no notice of it, just that they are not likely to be impressed by nominations resulting from paid advertising, or hundreds of Facebook acquaintances clicking without reading just to be nice. A new website has sprung up (I'm not going to link to it) which for $94 will email 175,000 people about your campaign. They allow you to use this service every seven days. As well as this sort of thing, writers swap promotional ideas on forums and the bar gets ever higher. TR2 spent 49 hours out of a possible 720 on the H & T, all at the end, and had 406 page views. This is an exceedingly modest score - TR1 had 155 hours, and 572 page views, and that was hardly earth-shattering.

It's possible Amazon takes note of the ratio of nominations to views, and whether people nominate your book on the last day hoping for a free copy because they actually want to read it. It's nonsense to suggest that a good score will guarantee your book gets read, or will put you to the top of the pile. Kindle Scout editors consider every book. Many books have spent most of their 30 days in the H & T and been turned down. I'm not convinced that Amazon is interested in evaluating an author's marketing skills, either. What they want is a well-written book they think will appeal to readers - give them that, and they can handle the marketing. Anything you can do is a drop in the bucket by comparison.

I like TR2, and hope my readers will too once it hits the virtual shelves.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Dithering over covers

I was rather proud of my Time Rats 2 cover, until someone suggested it looked like a dystopian thriller cover, and didn't go with TR1's cover. (It was really nice of her to volunteer this; most people politely keep quiet over their doubts.) I'd been fretting gently over the gun, as Amazon is anti guns on covers right now, but didn't have a better shot to use.

I've come up with an alternative, the image in the middle, and would be grateful for any thoughts you have.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Dreams of the Machines (Time Rats book 2)

I've finished Time Rats 2 (I'm still doing ever more minor tweaks, and will be until it's published - and on that topic, see below).

I'm pleased with it; I like my new major character, Angel, a pleasure droid who escapes to the past hoping to start a new life passing as a human. She is pursued both by her owner and Ansel Quinn, now Chief of Intelligence at IEMA UK, who believes she is responsible for a swerve in the timeline resulting in an android apocalypse. Jace and Floss come to the rescue. I think it's an entertaining and, in passing, a thought-provoking read - but although I always say I'm the most difficult person to please, of course it's not my opinion that matters, but my readers'. 

Every book is different to write. Ice Diaries was my quickest, at six months, largely because I had a lull in jewellery work at the time. I found it hard to write, but went to work each day looking forward to the struggle. Dreams of the Machines took ten months, but before Christmas I did spend a lot of my spare time helping the offspring and fiancé with DIY in their new flat. Later I got stuck in a couple of places, and my daughter came round to supper and brainstormed with me, bless her. (When you get to the Everest bit, that was her idea.)

As usual, I did my own cover on my old edition of Adobe Photoshop I bought years ago on eBay. I tried to get more texture and atmosphere into this one while maintaining the branding. I do love making covers - it's like a treat I get for writing a novel.

I've been very happy with how Amazon's Kindle Press has promoted Time Rats 1. I feel incredibly lucky. They have sold thousands more copies than I could have done alone, and sales and reads of my other books have perked up.

I'd love it if Kindle Press published this book too, so I've put Dreams of the Machines on Kindle Scout for thirty days. You can take a look at it here. If it's not selected, I'll self-publish directly. If Amazon does want it, it'll go on sale within a couple of months after its stint on Kindle Scout.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Final tweaks to Time Rats 2

A week or two ago I listened to a BBC radio serialisation of a really good book, Traitor's Purse by Margery Allingham. It was read by Roger Allam of Cabin Pressure fame, whose voice I could listen to forever. But it wasn't satisfying.

The problem was that it's a book I know very well, so I noticed every time they'd cut a bit, and they'd cut it massively in order to reduce it to two and a half hours. And the bits they cut were all the small nuances that add subtlety and character to the book, which is why I remembered them. The plot was still there, and the main outline of hero and heroine, but much of the depth and detail was lost.

I was thinking about this in the intervals of going over Time Rats 2, tweaking. I know many writers cut when editing, but when I do it, my book gets longer. I'm adding in more of those little touches that abridgers, vile tribe, would seize on and delete. Because I think they're one of the best parts of a novel, making a book memorable and worth rereading.

(I've got this edition of the novel, minus its front cover. So much nicer than the horrid modern design featuring - wait for it - a purse. Duh.)

Thursday, 14 July 2016

The finish line is in sight for Time Rats 2

And it's that happy time once more when I celebrate reaching the 60,000 word mark with the WIP. 60,000 words is the point where nothing short of a truck flattening me and my bike will prevent my completing my novel.

I was tempted to show you the cover which is rather spiffing, though I say it myself, but I will wait and reveal it once the book is finished.

I really like what I've written of Time Rats 2 so far, and hope my readers will when it is finally published in a few months' time.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Chariots and muses

There's a very good piece about writing written by Steven Pressfield I'm going to quote from today as it's been on my mind. I'd recommend reading the full piece, You as the Muse Sees You on his website. This is what he says about inspiration:

"Here’s how the Muse works. Each day she makes her rounds (I like to imagine her traversing the globe in a small, open-top space vehicle, kind of a cross between the Jetsons and the old Flash Gordon serials), carrying her bag full of ideas. She’s a bit like St. Nick, only instead of giving gifts to children she gives ideas to artists. To Beethoven she gives da-da-da-dum, to Stephen King she offers Carrie.

When the Muse gets to your place, she looks down from her little rocket ship. Are you in the studio? Before the easel? At the keyboard? You’re not? Okay. The goddess cuts you some slack for this truant day. She’ll check back tomorrow.

What? You’re not on the job then either? Or the day after that? The Muse’s brow begins furrowing. You are disappointing her. She’s starting to get a little pissed off. Could it be that you don’t really want her help?

Your name has now become entered on the goddess’ Bad Boy List. How will she punish you? She’ll do nothing wanton or vicious. She’s a lady. She will simply withhold her favors. That problem you’re wrestling with in Act Two? You’re on your own, buster. Solve it yourself."

And I got to thinking about my muse. I picture her in a winged chariot (I'm a traditionalist) so I looked up some images on Google. There's a huge variety of chariots.

Here is Triptolemos in his winged chariot, which is also serpent-drawn. He's about to have one for the road. No breathalysers in those days...

This proves serpent-drawn chariots really were a thing. These serpents have wings, which must have helped, though the driver looks as if he's had just about enough of the left hand serpent complaining.
Here everyone has wings except the chariot. It must feel a bit redundant, but I suppose you could stash the picnic basket in it.
Now this is is just being silly. A chariot drawn by eagles?
For if you want to take your chariot fishing...

Here we have a neat little runaround, which would probably have no problem passing an MOT. Again, horseless. Maybe the patron who commissioned the sculptor couldn't afford to get horses carved...
This one I have grave doubts about. Who are those random naked people about to get kicked by the horses' rear legs? And where is the horses' harness? Unfeasible. Nice hubcaps, though.
And if you want to see a picture of very fed up lions pulling a chariot with an overweight Marc Anthony in it, go here. I couldn't find a non-copyright image.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Earning out with Kindle Press

Yesterday I got my first royalty report from Kindle Press (my first royalty report ever, come to that). And it was good news.

The Trouble with Time (Time Rats Book 1) went on sale on 5th April 2016. Kindle Press advances are $1,500. In its first twenty-five days, TR1 earned $1,412.70 - but for some reason, UK (and European) royalties are not deducted from the advance, and TR1 earned £226.81 in the UK. So TR1 actually covered its advance, plus about $240.00, by the end of April. Sales and KU/KOLL reads of my other books have improved, too. My reader email list has grown.

TR1's current rankings aren't as good as they were for the first six weeks, but I know Amazon will be promoting my book later in the year, so I'm fairly relaxed about that. I'm getting on with writing Time Rats 2, which is the best thing I can do towards improving future sales.

My experience confirms for me that Kindle Scout is at the moment the biggest opportunity out there for most writers. It's not true you need a huge social media presence to be selected. You need a well-written book with a professional cover that Amazon thinks it can sell, and if you have a book like that, your chances of selection are high. As in the rest of life, luck plays a part.

I should add that not all Kindle Press books are doing well. Predicting what will appeal to readers is not a science. However, it seems likely to me that those books are still selling better than if they had been self-published.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Writers do it s-l-o-w-l-y

We were discussing what to write in the flyleaf of a book when signing it for a reader. Donna Glaser said, "And you're supposed to think of something witty right off the bat. I'm a writer. I need three days, twelve revisions, and a proofread to be witty."

How true this is. Which is why we are writers, and not earning our livings on television. If I was as funny as Paul Merton, I'd be doing his job and not mine. (Mark you, I'd love to see him try to make jewellery.) It's common for me to realize what I should have said hours later. Not even l'esprit d'escalier, more like l'esprit de really, seriously, far too late. It's why I hate the phone (if you want me to agree to something I don't want to do, ring me up and ask), am happier face to face, and entirely relaxed via email.

My characters don't have this problem. They are articulate and sometimes amusing whenever they need a timely riposte. They have the benefit of me toiling over their dialogue behind the scenes. Just another of the ways fiction has the edge on life.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Kindle Scout myths and reality

Do you remember when Amazon launched its Digital Text Platform (now KDP) back in 2010? Members of the Ancient Guild of Doom-mongers and Naysayers rushed to the internet to say no good would come of it. Result? Many cautious authors waited to see what happened before self-publishing with Amazon, thus missing the first golden years of opportunity, while we more adventurous souls, the early adopters, made small fortunes.

Now the same people are shaking their heads over Kindle Scout.

Here's Victoria Strauss in 2014 - she really should update this seriously misleading post which I'm not going to link to: "Kindle Scout seems to occupy an uneasy middle ground between publishing and self-publishing, embracing characteristics of both while offering the benefits of neither. As with a traditional publisher, you must agree to an exclusive contract that takes control of certain of your rights--but you don't get the editing, proofing, artwork, or any of the other financial investments that a traditional publisher would provide. As with self-publishing, your book is published exactly as you submit it, with no developmental input or support--but you don't have control of pricing and you receive a smaller percentage of sales proceeds than you would with KDP."

Here's Mark Gardner (KS contender): "Kindle Scout is advertised as a slush pile for the Amazon imprints, and that anyone can win, but anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. Those that already have a number of previous publications, a series, and huge social media following have the advantage. I've always considered KS to be the last resort before self-publishing. I recommend submitting to 'traditional' publishers, then KS, then self-publish."

Lincoln Cole: "What Amazon offers: they might edit it for you (which can be costly) and they might promote it for you. They don't guarantee anything and give themselves the option. Which means you have to work really hard to get the book selected, lose 20% royalties, and you MIGHT get some promotion and editing. So, is it worth it? I guess that is up to you. A lot of people say: Try a traditional publisher, then try Kindle Scout, then self-publish. Not many titles loaded onto Kindle Scout get chosen, and even if you don't get picked, it can be a part of your self-publishing marketing plan anyway."

Newbie writer David Haywood Young, in a piece that attracted very interesting comments when picked up by The Passive Voice: "To sum up: from a certain POV, this could be seen as a scheme to convince writers to submit their work and get reader feedback, in which Amazon gets to skim the most promising new fiction off the top and pay the “winners” lower royalties than they’d get otherwise."

What with Amazon-haters and disaffected writers whose books have failed to be selected, Kindle Scout is getting an undeserved bad press. This is a shame, because it's putting people off, and at the moment, Kindle Scout is the biggest opportunity out there for good authors who aren't selling as many books as they deserve to.

My KS novel, The Trouble with Time, Time Rats Book 1, has only been out for eighteen days, but I'm delighted with its rankings so far (I'll know the numbers sold at the end of May). I know it's selling better, much better, than it would have done if I'd self-published. I know that Amazon will be promoting it further down the line.

To help decide what you think of the program, you could talk to authors who are part of it. Or why not take a look at the Kindle Scout books on Amazon? You can see them here and check out how they are faring.