Animation by Kayelle Allen at The Author's Secret

Thursday, April 19, 2012

I’m Self Published and Proud! Some thoughts on Amazon’s KDP

My first contemporary romance, 'The Apple Tree', was published by Inspired Romance at the end of December, while my second novel, a romantic suspense 'In Loving Hate' will be released by Muse It Up Publications in October or November.  With a yawning gap of almost a year in the literary wilderness, I wondered what I could do in the meantime.  Well, being a writer, I thought I might as well write another novel – and this one I would self-publish to bridge that empty space.  

I decided to try the Kindle Direct Publishing programme, which I’d read a good deal about – both positive and negative.  If there is anyone left in the world who is unsure about what this entails, you simply agree to market your book only through Amazon for an initial period of 90 days.  Of those 90 days, you can offer your book for free for up to five days.  My thinking was that if the public didn’t want it for free, they would be unlikely to want to pay for it.

I opted to use three of the free days at the very beginning to launch the novel.  The programme allows you to track downloads in each country so you can see how well your book is being received.  On the first day, the free downloads totalled approximately 1500.  Now, I've no doubt that’s very modest compared to some, but I thought it was a good start and felt happy.  By the end of the third day there had been almost 8,000 free downloads and the novel was soaring high in the Kindle free books ratings both in the US and in the UK.  So far, so good, I thought, but the proof of the Kindle pie will be if anyone continues to download it once they have to start paying for it.  I doubted that, but set my price low to make things easier for it, (though a writer-friend subsequently told me $1.99 was generally considered a ‘dead zone’ in terms of e-book prices), bit my nails and waited.

I was delighted to see the downloads continuing over the next couple of days and by the second day the novel had returned to the charts, this time on the paid books side.  These charts do fluctuate radically and very quickly, but by the third or fourth day, Wishful Thinking hit the number one spot in the UK Kindle charts in two categories (Romance and Contemporary Romance).  An exciting moment for me.Of course I’m realistic to know that in the e-book publishing world success like this is transient.  The number of novels being released every week is staggeringly high and once a title bows out of Kindle’s top 100, it becomes difficult for anyone to find or notice it and sales will inevitably peter out for new and relatively unknown writers.  However, what I did find was that interest in my previous novel then began to pick up.  I would love to believe the reason for this to be because some readers enjoyed 'Wishful Thinking' enough to look for my other title.  

Whether I’m right or wrong about this, my foray into self-publishing and Amazon’s KDP was an exciting experience I certainly want to repeat.  I hope to do just that with my next contemporary romance - provisionally entitled ‘Supermarket Sweep’ – which I plan to self-publish in the next month or two.  So, as they say, watch this space.

I’d love to hear your experiences of self-publishing or the KDP programme as a writer or reader.

Extract from Wishful Thinking

It wasn’t so much a loud bang as a dull thud but Jess found the impact equally sudden and shocking.  She clutched the steering wheel in sheer panic as the car began to spin out of control and lurch to the right into the fast lane of the three lane motorway.  Instinctively she slammed on the brakes but that only seemed to feed greater momentum into the careening vehicle and in a split second she remembered that braking was liable to send her into a spin. She removed her foot from the pedal and held onto the wheel for grim life. It took all her strength to prevent the vehicle from crashing into the central reservation barrier but it began to slow rapidly thanks to the shattered tyre.  The car came to a halt straddling the fast lane of one of Britain’s busiest motorways.  We’re dead! 
Jess waited for the force of the advancing vehicles crashing into her.  It seemed to have taken an age but in reality happened in a matter of seconds.  She checked her mirror to see how long she had before the first vehicle smashed into her car and could not believe her eyes.  She was alone on the motorway in a dark oasis of calm.  The lights of the nearest cars were quite a distance behind and Jess rapidly flicked on her hazard lights, pushed the car into gear again and shot across the dark and yawning lanes, onto the hard shoulder.  A split second later, three rows of speeding vehicles barrelled past her at mind-numbing speeds.
A strange, high-pitched wailing noise sounded from behind her and Jess spun around in her seat.  Six year old Ben, restrained by his seat belt, had his arms outstretched towards her.  His wide-open eyes looked enormous in his little face and the sound, like a long, unbroken chord emanated from his throat. 
“It’s alright, baby.  Oh, sweetheart, it’s alright.  We’re safe.”
His eyes retained that wide-open, glassy appearance as if he hadn’t heard her, but the wailing stopped as he took in breath.  “Are we dead now, mummy?”
A sob broke in her throat.  “No darling.  We’re alright, I promise you.  We’re safe.” And she thought to herself: though God only knows how or why.
Ben unbuckled his belt, scrambled into the front passenger seat and threw himself into his mother’s arms.  For a long time they simply sat there, holding onto each other as the cars whizzed past to their right – long, relentless streams of them.  How?  Jess marvelled.  How did that happen?
Minutes past – many minutes – Jess lost count of how many of them.  She sat in her car, hugging her son and waiting for her heart to stop pounding in her chest – something she believed was never going to happen again.  Finally, however, she detached herself from her son and reached into her handbag for her mobile phone.
She groaned when she saw the flickering one bar and quickly ran down her index for the roadside rescue number.  Almost as soon as she located it, the phone gave three plaintive beeps and shut down.  “Damn,” she cursed softly, under her breath, but Ben, now attuned to her reactions, began to whimper again. 
“Are we going to die?” he whispered.
“Of course not, silly,” she reassured him, wishing she could sound more convincing.  How they had escaped death in the first place was a mystery she could not begin to comprehend.  “It’s the stupid battery that’s died.  I’m just going to have to go and find one of those phones to call for help.”
He began to cry in earnest.  “You can’t leave me.  Please don’t go anywhere.”
Jess put her arms around her little boy and drew him closer to her, making soothing sounds and kissing his flaxen hair.  It was a delaying tactic, she knew, because she doubted her legs would allow her to step out of the car, much less walk along the hard shoulder in the dark searching for the nearest emergency phone.
Eventually, as Ben began to calm, she held him gently at arm’s length and looked him in the eye.  “We can’t stay here all night, it’s too dangerous.  I need to get help.  I won’t be gone for more than five or ten minutes.  You go back into your seat, snuggle up under your blanket and play one of your games.  By the time you’ve made it to level two, I’ll be back.”
“But if it’s dangerous here, it’s dangerous for you to go out there.  Let me come with you.  I’ll be good, I promise.”  Ben reasoned.
Jess hesitated.  As she weighed up her options, she saw a blue flashing light growing stronger and stronger behind her.  “Thank God!” she breathed.
A moment later a police officer stepped out of his vehicle and approached hers.  He surveyed her shredded right rear tyre for a moment before leaning down to her window.  “Looks like you’ve had a lucky escape,” he told her, casting a quick eye all around the car’s interior.
Jess released a tearful sigh.  “You can say that again.  Can you help me, please?  My battery is dead and I need to call the breakdown service.”  Jess scrabbled in the glove compartment for her membership card which she then handed to the young officer. 
“Christmas weekend – you’ll be lucky to see them inside two hours,” he observed, peering into her car again.  “But I’ll let them know you’re a lone female with a young child.  You might get lucky.”
Jess closed her eyes and breathed the word lucky? as the officer returned to his car to make the call.  

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Edit Me Pretty

"Hmm, so is 'a week nod' one that takes seven days?"
As an English teacher, I was all-too-often handed stories and essays so badly written that they were difficult to decipher and impossible to read with any sense of enjoyment.  When I pointed this out to students they invariably said: “I didn't worry about mistakes because I was concentrating on my ideas.”  What they were really saying was that they couldn’t be bothered!  And the problem with that is that when a reader has to work her socks off just to understand what is being said on the very first page, many of those excellent ideas will fail to shine out beyond the first paragraph.

Literary agents and editors don’t have to be kind in their rejections, of course.  They have polite but firm standard rejection letters, which none of us want to receive.  To avoid them, therefore, we need to feel confident that when we release our literary babies, we are giving them the best possible chance of delivery onto the bookshelves of the world.

Editing is the co-parent in the literary process and cannot be denied access to the progeny.  Readers are unforgiving and, quite rightly, consider themselves as experts - they know what spoils their reading enjoyment and are generally quite willing to advertise that to the world.  Agents and publishers are no different – but they don’t have to resort to negative reviews – they just give the thumbs down. 

Every writer knows how difficult it is to edit one’s own work, but getting it right – especially those early pages – could well pave the way for the child of our creation into the big wide world.  We owe it to ourselves and to everyone we want to take us seriously as writers, to do our best to get it right so it shows off our skills to their best advantage.

Badly edited work is a sure way to alienate your readers.  I've done a lot of reading recently for review purposes and whilst I've read many truly delightful stories, there were some that left my teeth jangling in my head in amazement.  They were worse than the first drafts of some of my less accomplished students and left me baffled that the writers seriously expected readers to tolerate such gibberish, much less pay them for the insult!

I read about engaged couples practising their marital vowels, about someone who had sweat dripping from every auriferous and about another who repapered (when he should have reappeared).  I’ve been faced with novels in which every single paragraph is dense with mistakes and these are not just from self-published authors, sadly.  It seems a number of online publishers are letting their authors down when they promise an editing service which they can’t deliver.

Whenever I read badly presented work from authors who expect their readers to pay for the privilege of reading their stories, my hackles begin to rise.  I don my teacher’s hat and wag my index finger severely – but sadly in vain.  Badly edited novels continue to be churned out and foisted upon the trusting (but no longer unsuspecting) public.  It really isn’t fair to expect readers to flip backwards and forward between pages to ensure they’ve understood what is being said or read a sentence three times to work out its meaning.  Enjoyment interruptus is a definite no-no!

I edit work for a small group of clients and am currently unable to take on any more.  However I would urge all writers to shop around to find a reliable editor before unleashing their masterpieces onto the paying public.  Edit and edit and edit again. The most useful and comprehensive resource I've found in recent years is Writer's Companion by Carlos J Cortes & Renee Miller. This guide covers just about every editing question imaginable and will allow you to self-edit with confidence.

I’d love to know what editing blunders spoiled your reading experiences.