Thursday, 9 July 2015

More thoughts on Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count

I really approve of KENPC (though goodness me, did they put any thought at all into that clunky acronym?) There is, however a downside.

Any less than best-selling author can follow a reader's progress through his book. 

I was gratified when an anonymous reader powered through Replica in a day. But what about the reader who reached page 338 of Ice Diaries then apparently wandered off? I do hope he/she is all right, and didn't walk under a bus while engrossed in Tori's struggle to survive. Worst of all, though, is the person who read three pages of Remix four days ago and no more since.

There is only one solution to this. I need to sell as many books as Hugh Howey, then the daily pages read figure will be so stratospheric that I won't be able to discern individual readers who fail to finish my novels.

Right. I'm off to work on this.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Amazon makes KU payouts fairer; some writers miffed

Yesterday Amazon's Kindle Unlimited lending library started paying authors a different way.

Instead of payment per book once the reader had reached the 10% mark, authors are paid for each page that is read.  You can read about it here. Books' pages are worked out by a uniform system, the Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC v1.0). Clever old Amazon, no doubt anticipating a flood of aggrieved emails, has made these smaller than a normal page; my novel Replica is 287 pages long, but 452 KENPs.

This system rewards writers who write full-length novels that grip readers. Shorter works, and books that readers don't finish, will lose out. This is fairer, right?

You'd never think so from the wails and moans rising from parts of the press and some authors. You'd never think putting your books in KU was optional.

Erotica shorts authors knew it was going to be bad. I just don’t think most of them thought it was going to be quite *this* bad. Because it looks as if authors will be making about $0.0057 per page. That’s slightly less than half a penny a page, folks.
Selena Kitt

(I think erotica tends to be on the short side.)

From The Guardian:

Casey Lucas, a literary editor who works with self-publishing authors, says she has lost six clients already. They have decided to stop writing after “estimating a 60–80% reduction in royalties”. A lot of self-published romance authors are disabled, stay-at-home mums, or even a few returned veterans who work in the field because a regular job just isn’t something they can handle,” she says. “People are shedding a lot of tears over this.”

Oh no! Wicked Amazon is ripping off the disabled and disadvantaged! Writers are being forced to stop writing!

Amazon's KU fund for July will be at least $11 million. If the new system encourages some writers to leave KU, there will be more for the rest of us. Always supposing that readers actually read our books after borrowing them, that is.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Woohoo, 60,000 words!

Today the work in progress hit the 60,000 word mark, which is my personal point of no return (see this blog post) and a cause for celebration, even though there's a way to go before I write THE END.

The novel is a time travel story, which I hope will turn out to be the start of a series. Time travel is tricky and confusing to write about and can make your brain go all squishy.

I like to have the end of the book decided before I start writing, and I've just realized I have to change it since it would fall foul of the grandfather paradox and my clever readers would notice.

It's not the first time I've changed the end of a novel at the last minute. I could see that the ending I'd planned for Replica was going to be predictable and possibly a bit dull, so I spent three weeks furiously mulling over alternatives. A few readers hate the ending I came up with, though I find it entirely satisfying. Most are taken by surprise - this may be an incidental advantage of changing the end well into writing the book.

Back to work. That ending won't write itself. Now, if only I had a time machine, I could whiz into the future and bring a copy back here and save myself a lot of effort...

Sunday, 24 May 2015

READERS in the KNOW - Replica podcast

Readers in the Know is a handy website to help readers find good books at bargain prices (see brief video below).

Simon Denman, its founder, makes short podcasts reading scenes from books on his site to promote them, and he's just done an extract of my novel, Replica. I got to choose which scene he read. I didn't want to strain his thespian talents by giving him a passage in female POV; in the end I chose the scene in which Nick, MI5 agent, seduces Beth one snowy night in London when he's supposed to be outside in a van covertly watching her door.

I think Simon reads it really well. Go to the page, and you will find lots more extracts from other novels to listen to.

Find out more about Readers in the Know in 58 seconds:

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Google Alerts, piracy, poverty and politicians

Google Alerts isn't what it used to be. Once it actually worked, and now it just occasionally informs me that I have written a blog post. But last week it made a bit of an effort, and alerted me to a forum where a reader was asking where she could download Ice Diaries free. The forum was quite strange, as some of the time it pretended to be KUF, the Kindle Users' Forum, and sometimes came up as The Comic Book Forum - but don't let's get sidetracked.

I'm trying to decide what I think about illegal downloads. Neil Gaiman famously believes that piracy boosts sales; but he's in a different league from me where maybe the rules are different too. My novels cost £1.99 or $2.99, which is reasonably affordable for most. Not for everyone, though. Some people really don't have any spare money to buy books, and if the choice is between their reading an illegal free copy of one of my novels, or not reading my writing at all, I'd go for being read.

I've blogged before about poor heroes being more appealing than rich ones, and this is often true in real life as well. It's more difficult to like rich people, as they are free of so many of most people's daily concerns. I still grit my teeth over Shirley Williams saying she didn't know why people were always going on about money - she never thought about it at all. Nor did she need to. 

One problem with politicians these days is that they have never experienced poverty - but not only do they think themselves underpaid (huh!) they wrongly believe they know, from observation, what it is like to have no money. It is not possible to know what poverty is like without being poor. In my opinion, everyone should spend a year or two being a bit broke, as they will be better for it and have empathy for the have-nots for the rest of their lives.

I do worry though that if too many people get into the habit of illegally downloading books, authors will earn even less than they do now. Still, at least we'll be able to write poor heroes and heroines with real conviction and inside knowledge...

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Conflict - a pain in life, essential in fiction...

...or why bad things need to happen to your characters, especially the nice ones.

Consider the following:
  • Romeo meets Juliet and they instantly fall for each other. After initial reservations, the Montagues and Capulets agree to the match. Romeo and Juliet get married and live happily ever after.

  • Mr Darcy, while visiting his friend Mr Bingley, comes across the poor but bewitching Elizabeth Bennett. He cannot overcome his passion for her, and proposes. She realizes that beneath a chilly fa├žade, he's not only hot but a good egg. They get married etc..

  • To his consternation, Hamlet finds his mother has married his uncle quite soon after her husband's death. However, he reflects that she has a right to find happiness again, and he's in no hurry to start the tedious business of ruling a kingdom. He finds consolation in the beautiful Ophelia. They get married etc..

  • On arrival at Manderley, the second Mrs de Winter perceives Mrs Danvers will be nothing but trouble, so persuades Maxim to retire her, leaving them to enjoy their new life together in the beautiful house.
You get my drift. Are you feeling restive yet?

If fiction is not to be bland and boring, your characters must struggle against a tide of misfortune, betrayal, and misunderstanding. Villains are out to get them. Bad turns to worse.

The hero and heroine must earn their happy ending.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Time travel bartering...

A character in my WIP is recalling when, having got his hands on a time travel device, he attempted to visit the Colosseum and see the gladiators. Before going, he researched and purchased a toga and sandals, so he could pass in a crowd. He thought his public-school Latin might come in handy. And he took some items to barter, because he wasn't sure if you had to pay an entrance fee to the Colosseum (coincidentally, neither am I). Needless to say, the trip did not go well.

And serve him right - what sort of person would want to watch the nasty stuff that went on in the Colosseum in ancient Roman times?

I wondered a) where you lot would go if you had a time machine - the discreet sort that goes round your wrist, and b) what you would take to barter for money? My character, Quinn, takes glass spheres in various sizes, drinking glasses, pads of paper and colouring pencils - unless you can make a better suggestion?

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Thirty years ago and thirty years ahead

Part of my work in progress is set thirty years ahead. Musing about the changes that might happen in the next three decades, it seems useful to consider what has changed since 1984. 

Things we thought okay in 1984 we don't think okay now
  • smoking in bars, restaurants and other people's houses
  • dog excrement on pavements - we didn't like it, but grudgingly accepted that to a dog, the whole of outdoors was a potential lavatory
  • milder forms of sexual harassment
  • huge shoulder pads, streaky hair, clothes bigger than you were (like Princess Diana's wedding dress)
  • burglar alarms that had to be turned off by a human, and frequently rang for three days straight over a bank holiday
Things we have now we didn't have in 1984
  • personal computers
  • smart phones
  • internet shopping
  • ebooks and ereaders
  • 24 hour drinking, often outside the bar to accommodate smokers
  • speed cushions (because road planners are very very stupid)
  • the London Congestion Charge (boo, hiss)
  • fines on motorists (£135 million a year in the UK)
  • a modest London one-bedroom flat costing half a million pounds
So what about thirty years' time? I really hope we get driverless cars, and if we do, people won't be able to understand how we endured the carnage on the roads: in the UK in 2013, 1,713 people were killed, 21,657 seriously injured. They'll also wonder why we put up with the pollution cars produce, and our streets being lined with parked cars. In London, most of us live in a car park.

Other possibilities: a cash-free economy, artificial intelligence, and undeniable climate change.

(And please, can we have drones? Amazon delivering by drone would be SO cool.)

What do you think will change in the next thirty years? Tell me in the comments.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Happy Christmas!

Nature having unaccountably failed to provide snow, here is a picture of some. And a dog. 

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Killing Hitler

It is not possible to research a time travel novel without coming across the trope of going back in time to kill Hitler. You can listen to brilliant John Finnemore's sketch about it here, at about 26.30 minutes in.

But everything has unintended consequences. I've been thinking about one aspect of this lately, what with Plebgate, Emily Thornberry's snide Twitter photograph, and David Mellor, whose tirade at a taxi driver included the words:

"I’ve been in the Cabinet, I’m an award-winning broadcaster, I'm a Queen’s Counsel - you think that your experiences are anything compared to mine? And if you think you’re going to be sarky with me, get a better education before you try being sarcastic with me."

And I thought that though there is a lot wrong with our civilization, how nice it is that a de haut en bas attitude is deeply unfashionable these days. Bragging that you are superior because you are rich, successful, well born, white, male, or well-connected is likely to raise a chorus of boos, where not so long ago it was accepted. Perhaps this is connected to the world's horror at where Hitler's concept of German superiority led.

Hitler tapped into the secret belief most of us have that we are better than other people, a belief we should be aware of and treat with suspicion. 

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have to admit, I harbour a deep inner conviction that I am better than people who get apostrophes wrong.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Time travel via Google

The current work in progress is to do with time travel, and in the course of the novel my characters will visit the same places at different eras. As usual, the setting is my part of London; even so, I sometimes check out a location virtually on Google Street View. 

Yesterday I discovered a curious anomaly; most of Street View round Hoxton dates from July 2014. But there is one spot, just one, on the map where you can see my workshop in August 2008. And it's like going back in time.

So many changes - Hoxton Boutique has gone, the black door is now yellow, next door is a building site covered in scaffolding. Even the lamppost, which used to hover outside my window like a levitating Dalek, has been replaced. (I often used to wonder whether, in dire emergency, I would be brave enough to sling a ladder from my window ledge to the top of the lamppost, climb across and slither down to safety. The answer was probably not.)

London changes all the time, much faster than most places. And we are time travelling all the time. We just don't notice it.

EDIT: the offspring and my friend Joo have now told me time travel is a feature of the latest Google Street View, unknown to me. I've upgraded and it's brilliant. Love it.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

We are all heroes in our own stories

I haven't posted a video for a while. I came across this one after watching another via a Seth Godin email. It's apposite for any writer inventing characters, and reminds me of the saying that every villain thinks he's the hero. Come to that, I guess every character thinks he's the hero...

Friday, 31 October 2014

Getting to keep 10% of everything you earn

This is a brief snippet from an old BBC sitcom, Hancock's Half Hour:

Sid James: “You’ve forgotten something, mate. I’m your agent, remember? I got a contract with you.”

Hancock: “Contract? You’ve been holding that thing over my head for five years now, allowing me to keep 10% of everything that I earn.” 

Audience laughter at the rapacity of Sid James and Hancock’s gullibility.

Now imagine Sid as a publisher, and Hancock as a writer, and suddenly it's normal and accepted and nobody laughs. (And his literary agent would take 15% 0f the 10%...)

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Present tense again

I've grumbled before about writers using present tense for no good reason in fiction. 

I'm not unreasonable. I'm prepared to admit that sometimes it's okay. I've just reread Mortal Engines, and though most of the novel uses past tense, occasional passages are in present. Unexpectedly, this works. I first read the book before I began to write, and didn't even notice. 

I've used present tense myself. In my short story, Mr Conway's Heaven, the protagonist narrates, and the whole point of the story is that he doesn't know what is coming to him.

But what's rattling my cage right now is trendy historians on radio and television using present tense to describe historical events, when historical events by definition happened in the past. This invariably has me gritting the teeth and muttering, "Henry VIII is not marrying Anne Boleyn now. It happened nearly 500 years ago! If that doesn't merit the past tense, what on earth does?" 

Where will it all end? Do we face a depressing future when any tense bar the present is quaintly old-fashioned and used only by pedants?

Researching the topic, I see I am not alone. The modish Melvyn Bragg was criticised for abuse of the present tense this summer, and quite right too. Grrr.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Truth in fiction - dos and don'ts for authors

A biography can only tell you what the biographer thinks happened. (Imagine your biographer after you've died earnestly interviewing family, friends and enemies. How close would he get to the truth about you?) Whereas fiction deals in what the author knows to be true. One recognizes one's own experience in a good novel, as well as learning about human nature.

It's always a mistake for writers to bend the truth; readers will instantly notice. It's also obvious when they let their views interfere when depicting character. A writer may disapprove of swearing, smoking, and certain political views, but if all the 'good' characters behave in ways he approves of he'll find it terribly limiting. 

Having a character do something nobody ever would in order to advance the plot is a seriously bad idea. Follow the character, change the plot. Unless one's name is Agatha Christie, that is. It worked for her. Last week I listened to Murder in Mesopotamia, and the plot had me yelling at the radio, "What? What? WHAT?" It hinges on a woman who has been married to her husband for two years not realizing he is the same man she was married to fifteen years before. Now I'm not good at remembering faces myself, but even I might be relied upon to spot that husband #2 was husband #1, lightly disguised by a change of name and a Swedish accent.

Though truth is good, writers need to be careful when adding undigested chunks of their lives to a novel. For some curious reason, that's always the bit readers pick on as being implausible, and it's no good protesting that it really happened to you. I remember on YouWriteOn criticizing a thriller because of the gorgeous personality-free female who seemed like just another bit of the hero's kit. The writer emailed me to say she was based on a real person he'd known. Problem is, even if he put a footnote in the finished book to that effect, it still wouldn't make the character believable.

So to sum up: we must tell the truth, but transform it into fiction first; never foist our prejudices on our characters; show life as we see it. No cheating.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

REMIX the audiobook - free copies

Remix the audiobook is now for sale on Audible and Amazon. Yay! 

But hang on ... as a new release, it has no listener reviews yet, and I need those to persuade buyers to try the sample. 

Time for an offer to my trusty blog readers.

If you listen to audiobooks and would like to listen to Remix free in exchange for a review on Audible, email me at and I'll choose a few of you to gift the audiobook to - I can send to the US and the UK. (Amazon price currently £12.50, $19.95, or free when you join Audible for a month's trial.)

You can listen to the sample here, and see what you think of Ric Kealey with an Irish accent.

A free audiobook. Form a tidy line.

Honestly, I spoil you.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Tired Tropes in fiction

There's an interesting thread on Kboards on the topic of over-used storylines, and here's a selection of my favourites:

1. The thriller hero with a mysterious past who used to do nasty things for the government, but now he lives near a body of water with no visible means of support. All he wants to do is live in peace, but the government/damsel in distress/national emergency that he just happens to be in the middle of keeps pulling him back in. 

He hesitates at first, but once he starts killing again, the old skills resurface because everyone knows that once you learn gymkata (or whatever mysterious martial art he practices) your skills never rust from disuse. Even though he hasn't done dirty work in years, all his old contacts are still in the same locations under the same names, as though they were waiting for him to return just so they can sell (or give) him weapons or vehicles, and that one piece of information he needs to put the big picture together. 

And no matter how many dead bodies he leaves in his wake, he's never branded a serial killer and the woman (there's always a woman) can't help but fall in love with him, but they don't stay together for long (the speech is given or implied, "You don't wanna get mixed up with a guy like me. I'm a loner, Dottie. A rebel").

2. The love triangle. The one that involves the heroine, her childhood best friend who has secretly loved her for years, and the hunky, mysterious bad boy she finds irresistible. (Lexi: I've written this one myself...)

3. The liberal arts serial killers.  You know, the ones who kill for the beauty...and the art.

4. Stories with a woman on the run from serial killers who, through some miracle of focus or oestrogen, find time to fall in love while everyone around her dies. (Lexi: worse to my mind is the mother whose child has been abducted, who embarks on an affair while the search is going on. Yes, that's so what you'd do when out of your mind with dread.)

5. Teenage girl discovers she has some mental power and that there is a dark family secret. 

6. The billionaire who falls inexplicably for an ordinary fairly dull and talentless heroine, is obsessed with possessing her, is hopeless at communicating with her despite his genius at everything else, showers her with gifts and wows her with everything about his lifestyle, but then one little misunderstanding makes her run screaming and pouting and sulking to some inane friend or other before she realizes he and his bank account were destined to be hers forever more.

7. The ubiquitous Big Misunderstanding in romantic fiction.  The hero and heroine don't speak, avoid each other etc., for chapters at a time.  And yet if they'd only be in the same room for five minutes it would have all been cleared right up. 

8. I have a particular aversion to characters who are too stupid to live. 
  • "No, we can't call the police to report a crime. Well, no we have no good reason for this stance, but we're still not going to call." 
  • "I know a serial killer is stalking me, but I'm still going to go for a pointless walk all by myself. What could go wrong?"
  • "I'm going to go to the empty house after midnight on my own to meet the writer of this anonymous note, because that's what he specified and he says he has information for me."
Any you'd like to add?

Thursday, 28 August 2014

REMIX the audiobook

Soon the audio version of Remix will be available to buy on Audible - an exciting moment for me.

I've always wanted to have audio versions of my novels, but for indie authors ACX offers the only simple way of achieving this, and until this year ACX only dealt with the US. As soon as they opened their doors to the UK, I dived in.

The author posts details of his book, and decides whether to offer payment between $50 and $400 per finished hour, or a royalty share. With a royalty share, the narrator (known as the producer since she also edits and produces the master file) takes half of the profits from books sold but does not charge an upfront fee.

I was lucky - ACX chose Remix for the soon-to-be-defunct stipend program, meaning they offered $100 per finished hour to the producer, and we share the 40% royalty. I believe the stipend was very popular with producers. Although I needed an English accent for my protagonist, Caz, and most of the narrators are American, I got many auditions emailed to me. I chose Anne Day-Jones, who has a lovely clear voice and is really good at dialogue. You can listen to the sample here.

Anne suggested doing Ric Kealey, my rock star hero, with a light Irish accent, and once I'd got my head round the idea, I liked it. That was the most difficult part for me - in fact the only difficult part, as Anne did all the work - adjusting to hearing another version from the one in my head. But it's good, and I hope listeners will like it.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Amazon emails authors re Hachette dispute

I woke up to a surprising email from Amazon, which you can read in full here. It's a long and interesting read, but in brief, Amazon asks readers and authors to show support by emailing Hachette's CEO, Michael Pietsch, and consider including these points:
  • We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
  • Lowering e-book prices will help — not hurt — the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
  • Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon's offers to take them out of the middle.
  • Especially if you're an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.
I've sent my email. If Amazon ask for my help, though I am but the tiniest cog in their vast machine, they will have it. Amazon enabled me to sell 68,000+ books when all trad pub did was waste my time. I owe them.

Also, Hachette has been whingeing in the media for months, pretending to be a poor little publisher who cares about authors' well-being and the future of literature, beset by a big bullying corporation only interested in money, when nothing could be further from the truth. Hachette is owned by Lagardere, a huge French media group. And there's nothing sentimental about the way it pays its authors.

But I'm torn between respecting Amazon for kicking the ball out into the open, and thinking that maybe this is an occasion where a dignified silence would be a better policy. Be the big dog who lets the little ones yap. 

Amazon kept quiet for months; perhaps with this latest sally it has finally reached the end of its patience with Hachette's lies, posturing and delaying tactics. I can understand that.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Harper Lee and the difficulties of writing

Harper Lee has been in the news lately regarding her opposition to Marja Mills' biography of her, recently published by Penguin. As we all know, Harper Lee only wrote one novel, To Kill a Mocking Bird; a modern classic, a book so excellent and popular that if any author is entitled to rest on her laurels and never write another word, that author is Harper Lee.

But there was a terrible downside to the fame, plaudits and riches the novel (and film version with Gregory Peck) brought her. How she must have been plagued by crass well-meaning enquiries as to what she was writing now, and why didn't she write another book, and hey, this is a good idea, why not write a sequel about what Scout did next? No wonder she spent the next fifty years as a recluse, refusing even to mention The Book.

Kill Zone had a recent post quoting J. T. Ellison: "It's the whole getting started thing for me. I forget how to write a book. The first ten thousand words are like digging fossils from rocks." I agree - I don't even want to talk about the WIP until it's at least two thirds finished.

One of my favourite quotes is from Lynne Truss: 

People are only being nice, when they ask. To the enquirer, 'How's the novel?' is like saying 'How's your Mum?' - friendly, concerned, non-judgemental. But unfortunately this simple question, when filtered through the cornered-animal mentality of the weary novelist, is transformed into the sort of sneering insinuation that makes homicide justifiable. 

'It was peculiar,' friends say to one another, when I pop out of the room. 'All I said was "How's the novel?" and look, she bit my hand.'