After eighteen long months I finally made it back to London. I love staying in the City, I tend to stay in the actual City of London, the Square Mile, heart of the financial centre of London and a very quiet section of the metropolis. It’s normally quiet at the best of times, low on tourists, low on residents but this time it was also low on workforce. So much of the City is still working from home and it was evident in all the closed and boarded up coffee shops and bistros. The knock-ons of this pandemic go on and on.
Anyway, I went to London to celebrate the launch of The Missing Codex and to keep my eyes open to new ideas for book four, you never know when something will jump out at you. I was also there to visit the Nero exhibition.
Was it worth it?
No. Honestly, I thought the exhibition was overpriced and underwhelming. Thank god I didn’t also have to put up with crowds. Sometimes special exhibitions are stunning, sometimes they are just blah. I thought this one was blah. Your standard statues and artefacts and a range of information boards. I don’t know, I just thought that for such a dramatic history we might have had a more dramatic presentation of the evidence.
What was worth it was a trip to the Mithraeum. This is an underground Roman temple, free to visit, located under the Blomberg building. It was first discovered after the Blitz and has since been preserved and moved twice. it now sits near to its original site and has been vary carefully preserved. There’s not a lot to see, just stone and brick foundations, but through the clever use of smoke and lights and sounds effects you can see the walls and columns and hear the chanting. Very smart. Upstairs there’s a fascinating finds board of all the artefacts found, and these are really cool. I loved the glass vials and the shoes. So human reaching down the millennia.
Museum of London and Postman’s Park
I also visited these for the first time. The museum is excellent and I played silly buggers dressing up in stuff as my husband wandered past telling me that’s how people got the plague. And as we had just passed the plague section I had a small shudder. This museum is much more interested in the lives of Londoners through the centuries and is a good way of understanding history. Especially interesting for a writer 😀
Just outside the museum in a small park in a corner, is a wall of tributes to heroic self sacrifice. It’s incredibly poignant and a reminder of how anyone is capable of being a hero. Also, that being a hero rarely ends well.
Bang up to date
As well as playing around in the past I visited some of London’s newest buildings and wine bars. (Research – honest) The view from the Sky Garden, the “walkie-talkie” building is amazing and is another attraction that is free to visit. Well worth it, and it is so stunning to look down on the city and just wonder at how bloody impressive it is.
So, did I get any inspiration for book four? Yes. But I’m not going to say what. As Song says, Spoilers!
First Engineer glanced up from his desk in surprise. It wasn’t time for the midday briefing, yet Second Engineer stood in front of him tapping a print-out against her thigh. An alarming item in itself. Files were only printed when the digital copy had been deemed so harmful that it had been completely wiped and a single hard copy made, to be filed or burnt at a later date.
There was no need for pleasantries. They were engineers, their job was to ensure a smooth running of society. Let the other departments clamour to be the best. Engineers were silent and knew the truth of things.
‘This tripped our protocols as it ran through the security filters. It’s a lecture for the neophytes.’
All staff who worked for the Mouseion of Alexandria started at the same place. Whether they would go on to be curators, custodians or even engineers, they all started as neophytes. Then their skills were assessed, and they were allocated to the correct departments.
‘A neophyte lecture. What on earth could be in that to have triggered an alert?’
‘It was written by Curator Strathclyde.’
First Engineer frowned and held out his hand for the offending transcript. When Strathclyde had first arrived through the quantum stepper, First had argued vehemently that the man could prove to be highly dangerous. He had been overwhelmingly outvoted. The other departments had been charmed by Strathclyde and could see no threat in his friendly ways. They were treating him like a project or an interesting pet.
Despite First’s objections, Strathclyde graduated as a curator. Now, he was being considered as an occasional lecturer in Beta Studies. First wondered when the rest of the mouseion heads would realise what a threat to the stability of their society Strathclyde was. Who knew what dangerous ideas he might try and inculcate? His eyes flicked across the paper.
Who amongst us hasn’t wondered if we are not alone in the universe? He stared at Second and looked back over the paper, as he began to read aloud. ‘If we can have a parallel existence between your Earth and mine, why not multiple universes?’
With a shaking hand, he took a match from his desk drawer and set fire to the paper, placing it in his bin.
‘Do we know if he discussed the contents of this paper before he wrote it?’
Second shook her head. ‘We’ve pulled all the audio files from any neighbouring wrist braces, and nothing was detected.’
First frowned. ‘What about his own?’
‘He doesn’t always wear it. He’s not impressed by the wearing it for the common good argument. Also, according to the notes, in his monthly assessment he commented, that as it wasn’t mandatory, he’d rather not.’
‘In his defence,’ said Second, ‘he was tracked and spied upon through his wrist brace.’
‘But that was unsanctioned. He would never have known about it if we had been doing it.’
‘I don’t think he sees it the same way. And, of course, he doesn’t quite see the for the good of society the same way we do.
‘This is not news to me, Second.’ She flinched. Repetition of information was an unnecessary waste of time and unworthy of her rank. She waited to see what First was going to recommend. At this point, she felt her next suggestion would be at odds with his. She felt that Julius should be more closely monitored. He was an excellent example of a Beta mind and she wanted to study him.
‘I have determined that Julius Strathclyde is a threat to society of the first order. He is an unresolved paradox.’
Second betrayed no emotion. First’s reasoning was sound, but where Strathclyde was concerned, Second felt that First may be slightly conflicted.
‘In order to protect the citizens of Alpha Earth, I will arrange for Julius to be removed from it.’
Second nodded her assent. She felt sure that they had lost a research opportunity, but First was within his rights. Julius Strathclyde must die.
I am thriller to reveal the cover for the third book in the Quantum Curators series. Once again, I am bowled over by how good this cover is from Stuart Bache at Books Covered. I thought you might like a sneak peak into the symbols in the atom as well as the blurb.
A cover and a blurb work hand in hand to deliver a promise of the story inside. Fingers crossed, you’ll like what is on offer.
The gods don’t exist but who’s going to tell them?
Something is rotten in the heart of Alexandria and Julius Strathclyde is in trouble. He appears to have summoned the gods, which is driving his partner, Neith Salah, insane. Not to mention all the other ultra-rational citizens of Alpha earth.
It gets worse.
The gods set a challenge that can’t be refused. The race is on to find the lost blueprints for the Quantum Stepper. Whoever possesses them will be able to unlock the stepper’s true potential.
The game is afoot and the outcome is terrifying. All of time and space will be under the control of the victors; to protect, or to plunder. Can Julius and Neith get to the plans before their rivals?
If they lose, Julius’ earth is doomed, but if they win, Neith’s earth will continue to disintegrate.
Can they find a third way? Or will the gods win out?
For lovers of fast-paced, witty novels. The Quantum Curators go from strength to strength
Eagle eyed readers have already spotted that this is the famous Brunelleschi Dome, which can only mean one thing. We’re off to our Florence. There are a lot of rules regulating the curators getting anywhere near Leonardo da Vinci. How many do you think the curators break.
Well, this is at the heart of the book but honestly, there’s a very good reason it’s been hidden for centuries. Neith, Julius, step away!
He is one of my favourite gods just because he’s such fun. Anansi is a well known trickster god of Caribbean and African origin. He’s a mythological character and god of stories. He’s witty, cunning and funny. Sometimes he’s cruel. And occasionally, he’s terrifying.
Spoiler alert. I’m not going to tell you about the swallows. You’re just going to have to read the book yourself!
The Future is getting closer – artificial intelligence and audio books
Audio books are becoming an increasingly popular way for people to consume their books and are now the fastest growth area in the book world. Digital books, once the new kid on the block, are now an established format. Now it is the turn of the audiobook, but where a digital book was quick and cheap to produce, an audio book is a very different beast.
The cost of an audio book
Having written and edited the words on a page, you now need it to be spoken. This costs. This costs a lot. I’ve had quotes for $6000.00; they wern’t considered extortionate. Then of course, those files need to be checked both for quality and mistakes. Then the sound files need to be processed and accepted on the platform’s distribution outlet. This can take months.
So, an audio book costs time and money and as I’ve said, a lot of money.
Is it worth it?
Well, audio is a booming market, but an audio book is expensive for the consumer to buy. Troy by Stephen Fry, costs £22.00, however lots of people choose to stream at a margin of the cost. With the publisher only receiving a pound or two per stream, and often less, it takes a hell of a long time to recoup the initial outlay of thousands of pounds. This is why lots of new authors don’t get an audio deal until their publisher is confident that they can make a profit.
A new solution
In a fast changing market, the COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted technical technologies and one of these have been GPT3, a natural language processing tool. Soon an author will be able to synthesise their own voice or use an existing artificial voice to read their book. A job that would take a human many days, can be done glitch free in minutes. I’ve listened to the latest voices and they aren’t bad at all. In another year, they may be indistinguishable to the casual listener. As the time to record speeds up, so too does the speed of editing and processing, so everything gets cheaper.
Pros and Cons
Well for voice artists, this will become an issue. They won’t be able to compete on price, but as technologies improve, they will be able to reduce their time and fees. Where they will remain strong, however, is their humanity. Those with real talent will continue to shine and remain in demand. Nothing, after all, beats the real thing. Quality will always outshine quantity.
the author/publisher, they will now be able to enter the audio book market without too great a financial risk.
the reader they will hear the book however they want.
For example, they can pay a premium price to listen to the real Stephen Fry read a book. Or they can pay slightly less for a synthesised licenced voice. Imagine if Stephen Fry licensed his voice? Producers could then hire that voice to read the book.
For an even cheaper product, they could just listen to a generic synthetic reader, and this is where the flexibility of new technologies will explode. Imagine now, as the listener, you could listen to a voice of your choice. Male, female, young, old, Kenyan, Polish, English, American and so on. I don’t know about you, but it jars when the voice reading a book completely fails to sync with the voice in my head or the “voice” of the author.
In the future, I could just log into Spotify or Audible, select a book and then choose the narrator. If I wanted a human, I’d pay more, if I simply wanted a voice that chimed with my own, I could flick though a library of synthetics and proceed with the download. I reckon this will be with us within five years.
With the advance of the electronic reader the large print edition has fallen out of favour. And its clear to see why, large print books could be very large and heavy, bulky unwieldy and expensive to buy. Even if you decided to overcome these issues not every book was published in a large print format and it was often the preserve of western and romances. Somewhat stereotyping the demographic that needed large print.
The e-reader arrived and suddenly the issue physical dimensions disappeared. Issues of cost and availability disappeared. Overnight, you simply purchased the title you wanted and adjusted the font size until it was legible.
e-reader or print?
But e-readers aren’t for everyone.
Which is why The Quantum Curators and the Fabergé Egg is available in large print. We have gone to lengths to ensure that the book is not too heavy or too large to hold comfortably. We considered the paper quality and the size and style of font used, picking a sans serif font, Arial 20pt, and printing on plain white paper.
I’m certain that large print readers want more than westerns and romances. Why not an action adventure Sci-Fi story?
In every way we have tried to make this accessible. However, the price may prove a sticking point. At £14.99 it may be beyond the pockets from some who are trying out a new author.
Libraries to the rescue
Happily there is a solution. The wonderful public library service. We have lodged this title with library supplies so all that anyone needs do is go to their local library and request that their library service buy a copy.
Do this for yourself by all means but know that you will also be doing it for everyone else in your community. For everyone that wants something new to read in the large print section!
And it’s not just large print
And of course we have made the standard size print book available to the library services. Just go in and request it. By doing this you don’t just support me, I get a few pennies for every borrow, but you support your local library. The more you use them, the better their chances of staying open. Libraries in the UK are facing a shameful cut to services, they are the very epitome of a civilised society and they need our support. (I could go on at length but it will just get ranty, so I’ll stop here).
Get in touch
I’d love to hear your opinions on this as well as your success in getting it ordered. Send me a photo of the book out in the wild. or of course you could always buy your own copy if you don’t like sharing.
Of course you shouldn’t judge, but there we are. For years I didn’t read The Colour of Magic because I didn’t like the Josh Kirby covers. I’d glanced at them and thought they were more in the vein of the Conan books. Yes, I know! Anyway, I finally picked one up after being told I would love it by so many people, read the first page and never stopped reading. That is until The Shepherd’s Crown, I haven’t read that. Once I read that, there’s nothing left. So no, I’m saving that for sometime else.
Judging a book by its cover
Back to the importance of a book cover. It needs to do two things; it needs to stand out and to fit in. You need to flag to your potential audience that this is similar to something that they have already read and enjoyed. You only get a few seconds to grab the attention of a browser as they scroll past your cover. Clearly, a cover says nothing about the quality of the writing or storytelling, but it gives a sense of quality. A well designed cover tells the reader that the publisher has spent money on the cover, the natural thought progression from this is that they care about the product. The production values are high which implies that the writing is of a similar standard.
Does it promise what it delivers?
But no matter how lovely your cover is if it doesn’t hit your market, you are going to disappoint or confound the browsers that stopped to look at it. Maybe they give up at the blurb, which is disappointing, worse is when they buy the book and discover it isn’t for them at all, and leave a poor review.
Your book cover should make a promise and your story should deliver on that promise.
Look at the images above. Which is your favourite? You can see which one I went for below.
First Impressions Count
As I mentioned in a previous blog, I selected Books Covered, Stuart Bache’s design studio, to make my cover. This was my most expensive purchase based on the concept that first impressions count. I’ll do a cost blog in about three months.
Now, picking a design was a nightmare and I still don’t know if I got it right. The designer sent me three designs based on my initial brief. One immediately jumped out as gorgeous, but I needed more feedback than just gut instinct. So it was back to the village, and I offered the three choices to various reader and writing groups. They largely agreed with me but I remained concerned that the cover did not properly suggest SF or adventure.
I asked the design team to show me three covers that focused on this aspect. Again they sent me three gorgeous covers and I had an immediate favourite. Again, I took it to the village and they mostly agreed with me. This time though, my preferred option was also drawing some negative comments. That was a little concerning, so instead I went back to the village and asked if they preferred the first best option or the second best option.
Option one won overwhelmingly amongst those that hadn’t read it. Those that had read it said option two was a better fit, but that they would have still picked up option one and would have enjoyed it.
I went back to the designer and asked for help. What did they think? Here’s what Stuart said.
Stuart Bache – Books Covered
Book covers serve two purposes: to catch our eye and to impart information in nanoseconds. Hopefully, both of these will lead the viewer to buy it.
The information we need is usually: genre/some narrative, author, title (in any order).
The next thing to think about is: will people notice/like it enough to buy it?
The thing about readers’ opinions is that it’s ‘after purchase’, it doesn’t tell you whether they would have bought it or not. Also, unless the cover is overwhelmingly wrong – which is usually reserved for book covers that use the completely wrong imagery for the genre (i.e. cozy romance cover, pure erotica story) – there will be little to no impact… especially digitally where you see the cover fleetingly after purchase.
The two you have chosen are great covers, either one will work. I would go with your gut-feeling and lean slightly towards to people who ‘haven’t’ read the novel.
Personally I prefer option two, but I’ve decided to go with the more popular cover. If I’ve got it wrong at least I have a great fall back to re-launch with. The other thing to bear in mind is how the series progresses and I think option one will support that path better than option two.
Anyway, having finally decided on a cover, we went through a few further tweaks and now its ready to be launched on the world. I think it’s beautiful, I just hope it also works.
Time will tell. Which is appropriate for a bunch of time travelling curators.
Incidentally, this is the final cover. Was it your favourite?
It doesn’t matter if you’ve written the best book in the world if no one knows about it. Well sure, congrats, you’ve written the best book in the world but if you are hoping to make any money off it (tawdry I know), you’re going to have to start marketing it.
At the base of everything you are going to need a rock to stand on. A little lump of mud that is yours and yours alone. When my husband and I opened our first bookshop, it was a rented room. Things were going really well but then the landlord wanted to expand their own premises and required their room back. We had to really scramble to find new premises, the business was going well and we didn’t want to close. We found a tiny place and I mean tiny. At roughly eight foot by six foot it was probably record breakingly small, but it had the best view in the world. perched on the edge of a Georgian harbour I would spend the day looking out past square-rigged ships, to sea. We spent two lovely years in there and then the landlord put the rent up to silly figures and we started looking around again.
This time we decided to buy our own place. Our own scrap of mud. We’ve been here thirteen years now, twenty metres from the sea and it suits us just fine. No rent increases, no landlords needing to reclaim the ground we stand on.
Why tell you this? Well, the same is true of a digital selling place. Even if you don’t plan to sell from your website you need a place you can call home. And that’s here. Welcome.
After your website comes your social media platforms. For this series of books I’ll be using Facebook, so that I can run ads, and Instagram, because I like it. I don’t think Pinterest is right for this series. I mean Pinterest is great and powerful but its a lot of effort that could be spent elsewhere. I’m looking at twitter, but I really don’t like it, I think its great for author to author contact, but not necessarily author to reader. YouTube doesn’t work for this concept either so FB and IG. You could always follow me there?
Now, I am rubbish at this. I am really no good at going up to people and saying ‘hello‘ either face to face or online. But I’m better at it online which is where all the the FB groups I’m part of, have come to the fore. I’m fairly friendly (?) and chatty in those groups, so hopefully when I mention I have a book coming out is doesn’t feel like a hit and run posting by a total stranger. Incidentally, I’m not posting in the groups where a book on parallel realities is irrelevant. So, keeping my mouth shut on my local tourist page and on my mushroom group.
I’m also keeping my mouth shut on my bookshop page. This might seem like madness, and I may review this decision, but lots of my friends and family are there, and they would buy my book to support me. I’d rather they did that later on, once the algorithms know who my ‘real’ audience are. And if I haven’t mentioned it before, I’m writing under a pen name, for reasons that I’ll go into in another blog. It’s not a secret, just a bit of a split personality thing.
Very slowly then, I am beginning to mention this book. You’re reading this blog because of my tentative efforts. Thank you for your interest, or for at least humouring me.
Ah the joys of Bookfunnel, I have three newsletter promotions running this month. So far I have four people on my newsletter. Let’s see how many I have at the end of the month. I have nothing to give away beyond my book so I am giving away the first few chapters. At the end of the sample will be a link to pre-order the full title, and we’ll see how that goes as well. When I have a bit more time I might do a dossier on all fifty Fabergé Eggs. (Top tip, don’t pick a title with a non standard keyboard letter. Alt +0233, in case you’re wondering).
I have four/five ARC copies out there. No idea if this will come to anything. Early alpha and beta readers have said they enjoyed it. Now I’m just waiting to hear from the ARC people. Nervous. Very small number. Tricky. I could have signed up to a paid service but it’s not a field I know well and I want to spend my marketing budget carefully. Which brings me to…
Right, I haven’t started spending any money yet but I fully intend to. I’m going to run amazon ads and FB ads. The FBs will be directed towards the book, but possibly also towards building up a mailing list. I’m fully aware that I’ll pick up a lot of chaff in the Bookfunnel promotions. But this is only the first book, I may look to spend my money simply on direct sales and look towards organic mailing list growth. Beyond the initial BF kickstart.
I might start with adverts towards the newsletter with the free taster, in the hope that this will generate pre-orders. Then, when the book is available, I’ll switch over to advertising.
And of course, during all this I’m trying to write book two, in a house full of locked-down, bored, noisy teenagers.
Ah, the joys of formatting. The last few days have been a bit of a slog. I have been shaping my finished edited manuscript into something that can actually be bought. You can read about it here. This is the moment when a traditionally published author gets to relax. Their publisher takes the manuscript away does some magic, and the next thing they know, they wake up to see it filling the shelves in Waterstones. Well, something like that.
If you are a self published author, as I will be for this series, this is where you have to really knuckle down; learn some new skills and start making a whole range of marketing decisions. This is also a quiet time, you’re doing this bit on your own. Happily, there are some fabulous tools out there to use and if you aren’t good at this stage you can go back to the village for help. I recommend Reedsy, its a marketplace full of publishing professionals out there to help you with formatting, and anything else book related.
The first question. What formats to make this book available in?
Digital: An e-book is, straight out the gate, the first option. It’s the cheapest and easiest to construct and distribute.
Paperback: As a librarian, bookshop owner, and physical book reader, this is a no-brainer. But it’s more complicated. It requires more formatting for the print file, additional artwork for the spine and back. Then you need a printing and distribution account. Happily, I have this covered.
Large Print: Why not? All the issues are as above but if you are doing it all for standard print just spend a bit more time on this. The sales are unlikely to be over-whelming but if you can do it, why not, plus for some readers this is a lifeline.
Audio: Yes, but it’s expensive to create, so maybe wait to see if the sales are positive. That’s on the back-burner for now but something I do want to do. Read more on audio books here.
Hollywood Blockbuster Movie: Well, okay. But I can dream.
Wide or Exclusive. The age old question in the self published market. Wide means you sell your e-book all and everywhere. Exclusive means you can ONLY sell your digital edition on Amazon. I have chosen to go…
Digital: Exclusive. For the first six months, the digital version will be exclusive to Amazon and placed into their Kindle Unlimited programme. As soon as I leave that I will ensure the digital copy is available to libraries as well as other selling platforms. I’ll use Draft2Digital to distribute.
Print: Wide. I’ll offer this to libraries, bookshops and online platforms.
Anyway, over the last few days I have done the following.
Prepare digital files for Kindle. I’ve also created a sample of the book to offer as a newsletter sign-up and an arc copy for early reviews. Having created all those files I then, created download links for them. It’s funny how quick that sentence was to type,it took days to actually do. By all means have a look at what I’ve done so far.
Register for an Advanced Review Copy. No link for this, get in touch with me directly if you would like a free copy of the whole book. You’ll need to show a proven track record or blogs or influences. firstname.lastname@example.org
So all that took a long time, hopefully I haven’t made a mess of it. I used Draft2Digital to format the word document into .mobi and .epub files. In the past for walking guides, I’ve used Calibre as it’s a much more powerful tool. This time though my file was simple so I tried D2D and it was a doddle in comparison.
Print files. This is my task for the next few days. Prepare files for printing, standard and large print. I will then upload them to KDP print for Amazon, and Ingram Sparks for everyone else: bookshops, wholesalers, libraries, other online websites.
I’m going to start the digital copy at £2.99. I’m not a fan of 99p books, I think they devalue the product and the market. I can see the benefit of them working as offers and loss leaders, and I will no doubt have some sale days. But, by and large, I will stick to £2.99 and will investigate £3.99.
The paperbacks will cost more. Considerably more. As the files haven’t been submitted I don’t yet know the print costs but as they are a physical item the costs are much higher.
Audio Book. Even higher production costs but potentially better sales than paperback. Unless of course you can get your paperbacks into the big distribution chains and that is a bit of a holy grail for the self-pubbed market.
And whilst I’m doing this, I am also sorting out the marketing and the jacket art work, as well as writing book two. I’ll be doing those blogs in the next day or two.
Trust me, self-publishing is not an easy option. But you are in control 🙂
Affiliate Links: Standard disclosure. Where ever possible I use affiliate links. This means that if you click on a link and spend some money I receive a tiny commission. It costs you nothing and adds a few pennies to my coffers. it’s a fabulous scheme. Currently my only affiliate links are to Amazon.
‘Has she chucked the bloody thing in the lake yet?’
My earpiece hissed. ‘No, hang on. Oh, you are not going to like this.’ Clio started sniggering. ‘Some of our intel may be wrong.’
I didn’t need to be able to see Clio to know that her eyes were rolling. ‘Patchy intel’ was our stock in trade. Especially the further back in time we had to go. Seventh-century Britain was about as patchy as it got. It was a wonder sometimes how a culture collapsed in on itself. One minute, Roman rules, the next, hello Dark Ages. And not so much dark, as, for fuck’s sake, you used to have underfloor heating, how could you let that go?
Still, there were shining pockets of artistic wonder. However, they were then generally burnt, plundered, melted down, or in this case, dumped in a lake. Chucking stuff in water seemed to be a bizarre form of preservation, but then again, nothing about the British ever made sense.
‘So, what don’t we know?’ I whispered. From where I was crouched, behind a large rock dripping in wet moss, I had no clear line of sight, so was relying on Clio who was sitting two miles back with her goggles on zoom.
‘Turns out these priestesses can’t throw swords worth a damn. She lobbed it a whole foot.’
‘Bugger, I’d love to have seen that.’
‘Watch it on replay later and be bloody glad you didn’t. You’d have laughed out loud.’
Well, that explained the group of birds that had suddenly flown up into the sky over on the far ridge above the lake. I had wondered if a second extraction team had been sent over. God knows it wouldn’t be the first time a screw up had occurred.
The great Petersburg debacle of 1894 was still taught to first years as a salutary reminder of how not to explore a gunpowder factory. The first lesson was how to establish all friendly personnel in the vicinity. The second lesson, which seemed a surprisingly obvious one, was not to use combustible weapons in a fireworks factory. You’d think the curators of the Library of Alexandria would have been more attuned to fire-provoking situations. But hey, it’s not like the library caught fire or anything. Oh, wait…
‘What are they doing now?’
‘There was a lot of undignified arm waving and shouting, then two of the priestesses went and dragged a boat down to the lake side. Now they’re all getting into the boat, with the sword.’
‘Shit. Shit! Don’t say it.’ Clio was not about to let me forget this. She had specifically mentioned the SCUBA gear, and I had just as specifically pooh-poohed it. Bugger. I looked at my rubber boots. Well, they were a waste of time.
‘Did you at least pack the lungs?’
‘Yes,’ I said. I knew what I had to do. Dammit. I was going to be a laughing stock when I got home.
It takes a village to raise a child and the same can be fairly applied to getting a book published. As I head toward the launch of my new series, The Quantum Curators, I thought I would walk you through the route I have taken to publish the first book in the series, The Quantum Curators and the Faberge Egg.
This story starts almost a year ago, in what now feels like a very different time and place.
I am a member of the SPF community, that’s the Self Publishing Formula, and by taking their courses I discovered the successful world of self publishing. I wrote and published my history of Mevagissey and a range of walking guides, as well as my newspaper columns into two volumes of short essays.
Life was good. I decided to try fiction. And that seemed to work. But it’s far more terrifying than non fiction, and despite the reassurance of the SPF mantra, I didn’t have the confidence to go it alone. Instead, I got a contract with the wonderful Hera Books to publish my Hiverton Sisters series. I am loving this process, but I still wanted to try my hand at self publishing fiction. You can do both, you know. This freedom to do what you want is heady.
It was early summer and James Blatch and Mark Dawson, the founders of SPF, put out a call for beta testers for a new course they were running; How to Write a Bestseller by Suzy K. Quinn. I stuck my hand in the air like some desperate school child. I was looking for a kick start. My son had had a severe accident and had ended up in ICU and my spring had been a blur. So, I was thrilled to get selected to run through the course, this was just what I needed to get back on track. My son was on the mend and I could settle down and focus.
I was granted access to the course on the same day that I got on a plane to Tenerife to watch my father slip from a sudden and unexpected illness to his death. I spent two surreal weeks surrounded by holiday makers who were having a fabulous summer, whilst I tried to deal with the horror and bureaucracy of it all, whilst in daily contact with my brother and sister who had also come out in the previous weeks.
And so during the many hours when I just sat in my father’s house, I went through the course. Anyone, who has been in a position where they are helpless, knows how beneficial having something to focus on is.
As the course was in its beta stage, there were niggles and issues, but oh boy did it give me what I needed. Suzy gave me a blue print in how to work out what you are going to write, before you write it. This course is about focused targeting; know your audience and give them what they want. And I don’t mean a simple formula — this happens, then this happens, then that happens — but a clear sense of the marketplace in which you wish to launch your book.
This is not how to write a good book, this is how to write a good book that sells. Get your title, tag line and blurb written before you even start your story, then write a story that delivers to those items, and always be genre aware. Promise your reader something, then deliver it. I loved the focus of this course and could see how beneficial such an approach would be.
I made a start. I had an idea for a story, a sort of action adventure Indiana Jones art thief time travellers thing. It was vague, but at least I had a starting point. I began to throw ideas around, I looked at authors and shows that I liked. I worked on tag lines. I tried to envisage the cover. Gradually I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to write. The problem was there wasn’t a clear cut genre. I had ended up with an Urban Fantasy vibe but with a strong SF element. No magic, no vampires, no werewolves, dragons, pixies or anything else like that. I had fallen at the first hurdle and not written to a clear genre.
I decided to create a new genre called Urban SciFi.
Fixed. (Yes I know it’s a fudge rather than a fix but work with me.)
Anyway, I had a plan, write three books in relatively quick succession, then launch the series. Simple. I returned to the UK. Then most of my direct family went in and out of hospital plus another death. It’s fair to say 2019 was crap. In context, no one in our family gets ill. No one has ever been in hospital, no one had died. We are healthy, fit and lucky. 2019 knocked us all sideways.
I didn’t write the trilogy, but I did write the first book.
So far, in writing this book it had just been me and Suzy. Now I started to stretch out to my alpha readers; my husband and best friends. Chapters went out, chapters came back; ‘love this’, ”do better’, ‘what are you on about?’ ‘give me more, now!’
I was enjoying what I had written and whilst there were some big issues, ‘commas, for the love of God, use a comma’, my alpha readers seemed to like what I had written. Finally, I was happy to send it to some beta readers. Beta readers are generally strangers, maybe over the years I will get to know them, but in the first instance they didn’t know me from Adam. More importantly, they couldn’t hear my voice in their head as they read. I was very concerned that my alpha readers were slightly compromised by them knowing my voice.
The betas came back with generally positive feedback and some good warnings of issues and sections that didn’t read properly or were confusing. I have learnt that Americans don’t understand the phrase ‘you wally’. There was general puzzlement over this new character. They were also surprised to discover that ‘bollocks’ could be a verb as well as a noun. Putting our trans-Atlantic differences aside, they also discussed my tag lines and title, and broadly agreed with where I was going.
It all seemed to be on track. I booked an illustrator and an editor and I spent a few days away on a writing retreat with one of my alpha readers and we mapped out books two and three, sticking tightly to the Suzy Quinn Bestseller method.
Life was good, 2019, foul year that it was, was behind us and 2020 was going to be excellent. I had my writing and publication schedule for my books in place. Two novels with Hera, three walking / cycling guides and the Quantum trilogy. Yes admittedly, Australia appeared to be on fire, and half of England appeared to be under water, but sod it, what else could go wrong?
Well, that’s rather taken the wind out of everyone’s sails. The entire world is either becalmed or rudderless. As I write this, I am in week four or five of lock down. I have come to terms that my walking/cycling guides won’t happen this year. My books for Hera had thankfully already been written. But the second curator book stalled whilst I watched the TV and social media in disbelief.
Despite this mess, things were progressing. The manuscript was tweaked again and then it was sent out to my editor.
Then, two days ago, I received the first drafts of my cover design. The terror of opening that e-mail. Would they have understood my brief? Would it be a total mismatch? Would it be awful?
I think you’ll agree, it’s a pretty bloody wonderful start. I had decided to go with Books Covered, they are professional book cover designers with strong SPF links. Initially, I had discounted them as I needed a cover with a strong illustration element. Having followed Suzy’s lessons, I had identified key authors to target and studied their covers. My story has a strong portal and parallel world element, but I really wanted to steer clear of the UF fantasy motif. You know the one; a strong woman holding a weapon standing in front of a glowing portal. This may prove to be a mistake, but I don’t feel that what I have written actually vibes with those books. Time will tell.
Anyway I was asking around in the SPF Facebook page for recommendations and Stuart Bache from Book Covered mentioned that they had recently taken on a designer that specialised in lettering and illustrations. Given their great reputation and lovely covers for other authors I jumped in.
So how is the village doing?
Well, I’ve circulated the cover for initial feedback and unsurprisingly people like the covers and there seems to be a clear favourite. Happily, it’s the one I like most as well, so I’ll be going back to the designer now with suggestions to tweak it in to a more tailored design.
My next stage is to get the website up, some social media, and start building an e-mail list. I think I’ll be launching mid/end May but that’s what I’ll be looking at over the next day or two.
I’m back into the creative flow and am happily writing book two, it’s fully plotted and I’m quarter of the way through the first draft.
Stay tuned to follow how the rest of the launch goes. If you want to join the village, so to speak, send me an e-mail at email@example.com I’ll be sorting out a preview or free download over the next week or two and will send it along to you.
The Bestseller Experiment – an incredibly friendly and supportive group. Through them I have met so many lovely authors and took part in a small podcast by Ink & Sage. Have a listen, it focuses on improving the opening lines of a book. As you can see I tweaked mine following her feedback.