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Wednesday, 4 April 2018

R.I.P. Kindle Scout

Goodbye, Kindle Scout, it was fun.

Back in February Kindle Scout stopped selecting books. The weeks passed, and speculation grew. No books chosen for four weeks, five, six... then the announcement appeared on the site.

With hindsight, the signs have been there since the end of summer 2017, after the Kindle Scout/Press team changed. Megan, who everyone liked, was promoted to Montlake, Amazon's romance imprint. The new team encouraged NaNoWriMo authors to submit their books to Kindle Scout, which struck me as quite odd - they wanted books that had been written in four weeks, only a month afterwards so with minimal revision? Then they offered critiques to the top non-selected books. I didn't understand this. Why spend time and money on books you are not going to publish?

Kindle Press will continue, but the new team do things their own way:
  • They have announced that Kindle Press is no longer interested in sequels, just the first book in a series or a standalone.
  • Though some books still get good promotions such as Bookbubs, this seems to happen less frequently. Instead books are getting price drops without accompanying promotion.
  • Kindle Press will no longer update the back matter to include links to later books in a series, even though when a reader has finished Book 1, that is the very point at which she needs a link to Book 2. 
  • And of course, new authors won't be offered contracts through Kindle Scout.
So what happens now to Kindle Press authors? I love Kindle Press. I've sold over 10,000 copies of my first two Time Rats novels because they were KP books. I wear my KP tee shirt with pride. But nothing lasts forever, and everything changes.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Future Warrior is out!

I've just clicked Publish on KDP, and the third in my Time Rats trilogy is out in the world, blinking in the sudden light and hoping someone will buy it. For the first week the price is a bit lower than it will be, at £1.99/$2.99.

In Future Warrior (Time Rats Book 3) readers meet Quinn's son Cato, who is a student at Cambridge and not surprisingly has a difficult relationship with his father. (You would too, if your father was Ansel Quinn.) Liam Roth has a main role in this book, and I particularly enjoyed writing his scenes. In this new version of 2135 he is not rich and successful, but scrapes a living as a barista with a part-time market stall selling old books. He is determined to escape his poverty whatever it takes. And of course, in this timeline he has not met Floss, and has no idea why Angel is somewhat reserved with him.

Having finally got over Kayla, Jace is trying to meet someone new, and goes on a series of disastrous dates. Angel doesn't understand why he doesn't just ask Floss out...

I've formatted the paperback with Createspace, and am currently waiting for the proof to arrive. It'll be available very soon. I've made it so that anyone buying one of my paperbacks will be able to get the ebook free.

I'm raising a virtual glass of champagne to the success of my latest novel.  Cheers!

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Russian assassins, real and fictional

Five years ago I wrote Wolf by the Ears, a novel involving a Russian oligarch. The spark for the story came from the death of Boris Berezovsky, which struck me as decidedly fishy and unlikely to be suicide, which was the official verdict. The Oscar Pistorius case happened about the same time, and it was striking how every last detail of that murder was reported, while we were given almost no information at all about Boris Berezovsky.

My conclusion was that the Kremlin had picked their moment to get rid of an enemy who was working against them. Berezovsky had just lost a hugely expensive lawsuit against Abramovich, a buddy of Putin's, and faced financial ruin. (You can read a long article about their feud here.) Badri Patarkatsishvili, who was present at a key meeting between the two men and was to have testified in support of Berezovsky, had died in 2008, allegedly of a heart attack. That left Judge Gloster, with no concrete evidence, to decide which of the men was lying about a verbal agreement. She decided in favour of the more personable candidate, Abramovich. Berezovsky trusted our legal system and our police because they are not corrupt like Russia's, and both let him down.

I did a lot of research into other mysterious deaths of Russian nationals on British soil, which turned out to be both fascinating and worrying. The FSB is known to research methods of killing undetectably, and Putin passed a law in 2006 making it legal to kill Russian traitors on foreign soil. It seemed to me that our government was turning a blind eye in order not to get on bad terms with Russia. The Kremlin knew this and took advantage of it. I cringed at photos of David Cameron cosying up to Putin. 

For more details of possible assassinations, see this Buzzfeed article. Our government's timidity bears some responsibility for the recent attack in Salisbury.

I seem to be writing about politics, something I generally avoid. What I really want to do is sell books. So if you haven't read Wolf by the Ears, why not take a look? It's a good read, and topical.

Friday, 23 February 2018

TIME RATS 3 is on Kindle Scout

It's that all too rare occasion when I have completed a new book. Hurrah! This one is Future Warrior, (Time Rats Book 3).

Normally I post when I reach the magic 60,000 word count, my personal point of no return; but perhaps with this novel being the last in a trilogy, I found the final few chapters hard to write so went a bit quiet. I had a particular struggle with the villain's come-uppance, and I'd tell you about it except it would be a terrible spoiler. You'll probably understand why when you read it. Here's the ebook cover:



In this book the timeline has switched and Liam Roth, instead of being the rich and successful owner of a vast internet gambling empire, is struggling to make ends meet working as a barista and living in a grotty high-rise. And you get to meet Quinn's son, Cato, in 2063.

As with the first two Time Rats novels, I've put it on Kindle Scout for a thirty day campaign to see whether Kindle Press wants to publish it. If they do, and you've nominated it, you will get a free copy of the ebook when it comes out. To nominate TR3, go here.

If it's not selected I'll self-publish it immediately, and have an introductory price of 99p for a few days. Sign up for my mailing list and I'll let you know. (I should say my mailing list is only ever used to tell fans I have a new book out.)

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, Theresa 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.