Thursday, 26 July 2012

Join the ebook revolution!

I've been asked to run a series of small workshops here in rural Ireland on ebook publishing and social networks for authors. The basis of the workshops will be Ruby's top ten tips from The New Author:
  1. You’re going to need a good book, one you believe in, one that has your author’s voice. That unique voice communicates your individual talent as a writer.
  2. Test your book on honest people before you consider releasing it. Make it the absolute best you can. Don’t regret, be proud.
  3. Ready to publish? Forget about it until you’ve considered the next two marketing steps of platform and brand. You can ignore them and still be successful. That will make you into a folklore hero whose name is on everybody’s lips, but they’re few and far between (and I’m not one of them).
  4. You need a social networking platform. Ebook readers are internet users. That’s where you need to focus (and make sure you start that ball rolling before launching your ebook).
  5. Brand is to an author what location is to real estate. Make your name your brand. Everything you do needs to enhance that brand. Exert caution at this point because, if you do it wrong, retracing your steps is difficult.
  6. Now let’s publish. A cover, title and description that tells a potential reader what’s inside is worth reading. A digital manuscript that won’t cause that reader to trip over systemic errors in prose, grammar or format. If you baulk at any of this then pay someone who can do the uncomfortable parts for you (it can be less expensive than you might think). And keep backups and version control for everything that you write.
  7. Aim to build a readership that will provide reviews, recommendations and support. Don’t be precious about initial pricing.
  8. Leverage your social networking platform to gradually increase exposure of your book. Use subliminal marketing and influence strategies when you enter into the mêlée of the marketplace.
  9. Build your brand team. Remember at every step that each virtual friend, follower and reader is your team. Never alienate, even when in receipt of negativity. Radiate positivity and calm confidence. People don’t just read your ebook, they also digest your blog posts, forum comments, tweets, facebook updates, everything that you write on the internet. Those readers read, enjoy and recommend. Word of mouth sells ebooks. This is the key.
  10. Are you writing the next book? Never stop writing creatively. Always have a project in the first draft or edit stages. Blogging, tweeting, chatting and whatever is new, all good but you are an author and you must write. Allocate time for making friends and marketing. Ring-fence time for creative writing. Do both, in parallel, with an element of self-discipline. A satisfied reader asks for more. The reader market is effectively infinite and so is their appetite for good books.
You’ll find useful and proven content in the 44,000 words of The New Author by Ruby Barnes to help you with all of these ten tips.

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Friday, 20 July 2012

Cruising for a bruising? Out of the crucible and into the fire...

Now, I'm a man of many principles. I don't stick to a lot of them, but I do have them neatly stored away, stacked on my shelves of morality, with my jar of pickled eggs.
You'll see the pickles are flanked by two groups of books. On the right are my signed-by-the-author copies of books, some self-published and others mainstream. I'm passionate about reading & writing and a big supporter of anyone who wants to get their story out there. On the left is some of my Africa collection.

As an Englishman, living here in Ireland, I'm reminded with decreasing frequency about the eight hundred years of oppression visited by my country upon the island of Ireland. In speeches, at leaving parties and randomly in the streets of Kilkenny I will stand and shout 'Yes! I take full responsibility for all that. On behalf of whomever I apologise to whoever about it all. And in compensation I offer this token of [insert beverage, bite of my sandwich, discounted copy of my books].' However, the British imperial rule of Ireland was oppression lite compared to that perpetrated by Western Europe upon Africa over the past centuries. Martin Meredith's The State of Africa is a great account of pre and post-colonial rule in Africa, but suffice to say I'm not proud of how things went on and neither should you be if you're a European. If you're an American then you know the whole other Africa story but that's not for today.

I lived in Zurich, Switzerland for seven years and saw first hand the enormous wealth coming out of African countries that are at war, enduring famine and generally making a cock of the whole running-a-country business. Limousines, robes of many colours, unimaginable wealth decanted from sub-Saharan African countries rich in natural resources but poor in ethics. I'm not a real socialist but a firm believer in absolute power corrupts absolutely.

There's something about Africa that drives a continuous cycle of altruism, nepotism, corruption, despotism, coups and idealism, with very few exceptions. And what does the western world do about it? Unless oil or other key natural resources are under threat, we assuage our consciences by sending gap year students in SUVs to deliver vitamin enhanced porridge wet feeds to villages that really need electricity, water and slightly less despotic governments. Or we go and build bungalows in slum townships that are a direct result of local government policy. We apply a sticking plaster of conscience to the gaping wounds of the country we likely all originated from. Well, that's my excuse for not giving to charity. In a cosy world where my apoplectic fits of rage are mostly directed at people hanging the toilet paper in the incorrect manner, I know how fickle my principles are.

But there's a far worse area of neglect in Africa that has to be owned up to. When I was working for an international engineering company we had factories all over the world. The three factories in South Africa had an HIV prevalence of over 45% among the workforce. These were trained mechanical and electrical manufacturing employees, normal people, not underprivileged or in remote villages. The rate of HIV in African countries is huge. What is the western world doing about it and how much of the huge profits in the pharmaceutical industry are invested in solving the problem? Let's just park that where our conscience can't see it, behind the pickled eggs.

To distract your thoughts from these difficult subjects I'd like to throw religion on the table. Christianity was tempered in the fire of the crusades and its sharp edge brought down on the heads of innocents once the West had learnt how to travel in numbers to distant shores inhabited by 'heathens'. Islam and Christianity fought tooth and nail over symbolic goals throughout the last two millennia (ok, I'm not a historian, but you get my drift). It's still going on, with George W's claims that he acted in God's will, Iran talking about being the Gatekeeper of Armageddon, and latter-day crusades wrapped up in rhetoric of all kinds of complexions. There's a strong evangelical Christian movement and great interest in the Rapture, as evidenced by Tim Lahaye's Left Behind series of books which have sold tens of millions. Hal Lindsey's earlier predictions identified the European Union as the 'seven-headed beast with ten horns' cited in the Book of Revelation.

These three worrying aspects of humanity are the setting for The Crucible. When I first started bouncing around early chapters of the book I had some interesting reader feedback:

'The idea of an insanely evangelicized America is ludicrous.'

'AIDS isn't a conspiracy.'

'Love, sex, murder, romance; James Bond meets Tom Clancy.'

I've used the background described in this post as the setting for an action adventure novel. Take a look, see what you think and let me know. Am I cruising for a bruising from our evangelical brethren? Is Iran going to level a fatwah and I'll have to take refuge at the bottom of Bono's garden like Salman Rushdie did? I think the aspirations of Europe are far more worrying. But it's just fiction. Or is it?

Southern Cameroon, West Africa 1936
A virus mutated and crossed the barrier from primate to human. In less than a century it had claimed the lives of twenty-five million people. Africa, a land of natural beauty and riches, ripe for plunder, full of dark menace.

Read more of The Crucible ...

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Thursday, 19 July 2012

All we wanna do is have some fun...

The Crucible Part 1 is edited, proofed and in the Amazon ebook queue, so time for a relaxing interlude. Me and my little one, having some fun with our acoustic version of Payphone - go have a listen ;-]

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Monday, 16 July 2012

Look into my eyes, look into my eyes...

I'm an extrovert. I love giving presentations and speeches, talking to crowds and generally playing the room. I've taught Marketing and Finance to MBA students and given lectures on influence strategies. So why, oh why, am I so woeful when it comes to promoting my writing?

It makes me feel so vulnerable. Last Friday I took the plunge and went into The Kilkenny Book Centre with my backpack full of hopes and fears. In line with the best advice from great indie authors such as David Gaughran and Paul O'Brien, I had smartened up a little; I wore my best jacket with the slightly too long sleeves and let the wind on the trip downtown smooth back that mountain man hair. Ruby took his love to town.

Three sample paperbacks burned through my backpack, self-published print-on-demand fare from CreateSpace in the USA. Contraband. Genre-bending pickled eggs in a world of mainstream. They had no place in a high street bookshop, surely? A nice lady told me the buyer wasn't available; she was on her break in the café upstairs. So I said I'd come back in a quarter of an hour. Rejection postponed. Merciful fate, I could go home and forget it. But that would be cowardly and Ninja Ruby is many things but not that.

In true dithering Ruby Barnes fashion I went off to browse in Essaness Music and bought a Zoom H2n digital recorder to indulge a Soundcloud habit recently developed by me and my 11 year-old daughter (and now we need to sell another couple of hundred books to pay for the thing!)

With ten minutes still to kill I considered going to the Pennyfeather Café above the bookshop and eyeballing the other patrons over my cup of tea, trying to psyche my way onto the bookshelves. Instead I went into the new Fig Tree cafe further down High Street, installed myself at a window overlooking the street and waited to be served.

Fifteen minutes later I gave up on the Fig Tree waitress (maybe she was on her teabreak?) and headed back to the bookshop in a nervous and sweaty state. The buyer, a very nice lady named Yvonne, was working away behind the query desk and I coughed nervously to introduce myself.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Reviews, Triberr and Feed140 make life bearable

Since release of The New Author at the end of March 2012 I've been beavering away on new projects. I've set about rewriting a series of two action adventure novels called The Crucible and Allen's Mosquito, whilst also pressing ahead with the sequel to Peril (working title Yellow Ribbon). Who says men can't multi-task?
My release schedule looks like this: The Crucible Part 1 will be released this month, part 2 in autumn 2012 and hopefully Yellow Ribbon in winter 2012.

All this writing, rewriting, editing and proofing is good stuff but what about the marketing? Don't indie authors need to market the bejaysus out of their books, to raise themselves above the noise of obscurity? That can be a very time consuming activity.

Networking via social media is a great way to spread the word about books but it can drain time and energy like a dementor trying to suck Harry Potter's soul. Throw in a day job, family, a tendency to compulsive behaviour and you have the recipe for meltdown. Nevertheless, I'm determined to do it all. And when Ruby is determined then he does it (or he falls over in a faint).

Several months ago a brief chat on Twitter with someone drew my attention to a crucial point: producing good content is the key. Not just novels but also for blog posts and tweets. If a blog post is interesting and helpful to your target audience then its utility doesn't evaporate just because it's disappeared off your front page. With a few exceptions (e.g. seasonal or event themed posts) you can re-use that blog post. In fact, unless your social media network size is static, any new people in your network are unlikely to have seen those great posts you put so much work into.

A few months back I gave some figures about development of my social media network. Here's the latest:
  • 96 blog posts, 30,500 views since March 2011 (yeah, some people visit multiple times, some stay for seconds, some for an hour)
  • Twitter followers - 3,400
  • Facebook friends - 822
  • Goodreads friends - 1,374 and numerous groups
  • LinkedIn connections - 184 (networked to 3,333,823)
  • Triberr - 3 tribes, 52 tribemates, 160,596 reach
and some other stuff. Fairly standard fare for a self-published author after a year and a bit.

Oh, and I've sold some books. Not a huge number and I don't count them religiously any more, but earnings are heading in the direction of funding a voluntary one-day-a-week drop in the day job (which started two weeks ago). Having three titles available out there on all channels as ebook and paperback has definitely helped.

 This social media platform is self-sustaining and it grows organically at this stage, as long as I feed it with content. And there's the rub; back to how to feed the network with good content and also keep up all those writerly project tasks, while holding down a day job (now four days a week) and playing families? Without have some kind of a breakdown. The answer lies in squirrel tendencies.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

His decisions, their lives - Peril by Ruby Barnes

Since launch fifteen months ago as an ebook and three months ago in paperback, my quirky crime thriller Peril has received a good numbers of reviews on blogs, Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing and other places. A lot of readers have enjoyed the book, some haven't, but the main character Ger Mayes certainly provokes a reaction. He's a hedonistic anti-hero whose bad decisions lead to layers of disaster. Do I wish I'd written a less genre-bending, more vanilla crime thriller? Sometimes, yes. Other times, when Peril gets a great review like the one below, no.
I enjoyed writing peril so much that I'm now 21,000 words into the sequel, working title Yellow Ribbon.

Here's the latest feedback on Peril from John Gaynard, an Irish author living in Paris.

In line with my reviewing policy of only giving a write-up to books I have enjoyed, I now have great pleasure in making a few comments on Ruby Barnes's Peril, a novel which could also have been titled, "The Power of Positive Thinking for Feckless Scots Bent on Raising Levels of Dissatisfaction Among Irish Wives, Mistresses, Relatives, Beggars and Rail Customers Who Have the Temerity to Make Complaints".

Ger Mayes is a loveable ne'er do well from North of that Border uniting Scotland and England. Married to an upright modern Irish woman who, needless to say, indulges in quickies with her personal trainer, Ger is paid what seems to be a reasonable salary by the complaints office of Irish Railways. His minimal investment of time, and low respect for his customers, makes Ger a poster boy for the most negative, biased sorts of comments made by Dubliners about immigrant labor. Ger's only self-questioning comes from the wonder and anger generated when he does not get promoted over the heads of some, admittedly obnoxious, colleagues who do, however, respect reasonable standards of productivity, putting in an hour of work and a full five hours of gossip and back-biting on the days when they're in the office--and not taking their statutory sick days off.

Although Ger is more than a bit of a wine and food snob--and should know that after two or three glasses his taste-buds will have had as much as they can reasonably enjoy--when out with the lads he has a habit of drinking himself into that state of mindlessness where his head stops working but his feet keep walking. One night, in a city of Dublin that could pass for the capital of the Chechen Republic under attack by the Russians, he wanders befuddled and lost, finding it impossible to suss his way to the train station and back home to the outer suburbs, where he can reconnect with the middle-class way of life as it developed in late 20th and early 21st century Ireland: memorization of suburban railway time tables, calculating which train will get him into work just after time and out of work just before time, formal dinners where he can whimsically analyze--in the company of mortgaged-up-to-the-hilt neighbors--the merits of different types of pasta, tomato sauce, red wine, white wine and Indian or other take-away dishes while ogling and caressing the knees of his wife's best friend.

Ger stumbles into a fight with a Romanian beggar, kills the man and flees the scene. The next day, unsurprisingly, the murder does not trouble his conscience. Its consequences only begin to concern him when he realizes he didn't dispose of the murder weapon so that it couldn't be found. His worries are compounded when it turns out that another member of the beggar clan saw him do it. The only one of the ten commandments that Ger respects is the eleventh one, "Thou shan't get caught", but, when he does get found out, every problem becomes an opportunity, in line with his innate approach to life, that of the devil-may-care chancer. Any event that would render a less hedonistic man catatonic with fright becomes something to flip to his advantage in his only serious quest: how to satisfy every one of his five senses, every day, in every way.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Vendetta - the early days before Peril

This short story is based upon true life events. Thanks for reading.
The letting agent arranged a joint viewing of the canal-side property at five o’clock on a Monday afternoon in April.
Take the turn off the Preston Brook main street just after the canal bridge. Then drive down the gravel road, past the derelict rope works. 1 Canalside is the first semi-detached house on the left. The building is in good repair but unfurnished.

I parked a good way up the gravel road, which was more of a path, and approached on foot. A black Volkswagen Golf with darkened windows was in the driveway, a dark shadow of a figure just visible in the driver’s seat.
The first few steps on Canalside put me in a relaxed mood. Birds chirped in a small gated apple orchard that banked the canal. A deep-throated mechanical rhythm came from the mouth of the canal tunnel, just visible beyond Canalside’s seven houses. It increased in volume as the prow of a canal barge emerged from the tunnel, its rope fenders clustered around the long, low steel hull. Foot after foot of red painted steel emerged, a man at the tiller easing off the throttle as the stern cleared the tunnel mouth. He saw me up above the orchard and waved. I returned.
‘Mr Mayes?’ a voice greeted me from behind.
I turned to the speaker and extended a hand. The appearance of the female letting agent escapes my recollection, as does her name. By comparison, the woman who then stepped out of the black Golf, and smoothed her leather skirt, is burnt into my memory.
‘Mr Mayes, this is Ms Doyle. As I explained on the phone, Ms Doyle has first refusal on 1 Canalside as her enquiry was received before yours. On that understanding, and to save time, we’ve agreed to view the property together. Okay?’
We both nodded and Ms Doyle extended her hand to me.
‘Fay,’ she said.
Her hand was cool and wiry.
‘Ger,’ I returned, and let her have the look. What I received back was a once-over that didn’t end until Fay released my hand. First impressions? She was my age or slightly older, perhaps early thirties. Tall, maybe five-seven. Dark, like a gypsy. Unsavoury, like a biker, yet thrilling. Straight away I knew that 1 Canalside was my Hotel California. This could be heaven or this could be hell.