The importance of relevance

Everything we say and do (and write) will only matter to someone else if it is relevant to them.

I’ve seen this before with my writing. My original blog used to get the odd hit every other day, often from Eastern European countries or Russia giving the impression that only bots were landing there. Every now and then though, I’d post something and manage to share it with the right people and see a huge spike in hits.

I found this happen again this weekend. Two weeks into this new blog, daily hits averaging around seven a day and then I post my notes from Amazon Academy…

250 hits in one day. All because I posted useful notes for writers and shared that post with other writers…

This other screenshot is also encouraging. I wanted to reach out to English speaking writers and saw the greatest hits from UK, US, Canada and Australia:

Whatever we do in life, relevance to others is vitally important. As a writer, I want to sell books to readers who will enjoy what I write. That means I need to identify how to reach those readers, what sort of books they are already buying and work out what they need to hear to encourage them to try my books.

But the same principles can be applied to whatever we do. In your day job, working out who your main customers/stakeholders are (hint: your boss will be number one!) is vital. Learning what they want and trying to improve on that is a way to get noticed and make your customers happy.

I can also see this applying to my relationships. How can I be more relevant to the people that matter in my life? Are my words and actions meeting their needs?

How about you? Can you see ways to be more relevant?

The Sound Track to Fallen Warriors

I listen to a lot of music when I’m writing. Sometimes to block out distractions, sometimes to get me in a particular frame of mind.

It took me ten years to write Fallen Warriors and in that time I’ve gone through a lot of albums!

Here are eight of my favourites…

The Altar and the Door by Casting Crowns. I got this album in 2008 and immediately found the theme of the songs closely matched where I wanted to go with my story. Songs for Christians who know they are sinners, who know they’ve failed and that in spite of everything, God still loves us and has a purpose for us.

Brand New Eyes by Paramore. Once I got into Paramore, I found myself playing this album on loop. Anger, rage, injustice – music to get your heart pounding!

The Lord of The Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring by Howard Shore. I don’t listen to a lot of classical music, and maybe some of you will tear into me for daring to claim this is classical… but this is such an evocative score. The string instruments are beautiful, lifting the spirit before bringing such fear and tension.

Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette. Another angry album, but with a greater sense of wit. If I’m trying to write from a woman’s point of view, I’ll start here!

Shelter by by Sons of Korah. Some music is like a gift direct from God. I wouldn’t have chosen to buy this album (I think it was a gift from family), but it is one of my all time favourites now. The haunting strings, the powerful beats and the devastating lyrics taken straight from the Psalms.

Refuge by Sons of Korah. It took me a while to look for another Sons of Korah album. I am so glad I bought this one. If anything, I find this one even more intoxicating than Shelter. At some points the singing is like a Dervish and I can imagine David dancing in a frenzy of worship.

Paramore by Paramore. I didn’t like this album when I bought it soon after I started enjoying Brand New Eyes. A very different album, not as tight, the music more eclectic and yet over the past year I’ve listened to it more and more and it has replaced Brand New Eyes as my favourite Paramore.

Battlestar Galactica Seasons 1, 3 and 4 by Bear McCreary. Battlestar Galactica remains one of my favourite TV series. The stunning story arc was everything I could have hoped for in a Science Fiction epic. Without Bear McCreary’s music, I doubt the series would have been as good. Those drums were and are incredible.

This is what I’ve been listening to while writing Fallen Warriors. Do you use music when writing? If so, what do you listen to and why?

(I’ve used Amazon Associate links above and will receive a small commission if you buy any of these albums from Amazon using these links)

Power

Last weekend the Edinburgh Book Festival came to Cumbernauld with the Reimagination event. They had a pop up library and book shop and cinema and a whole bunch of book related and Cumbernauld focused events.

They also had a dark tent. A blacked out tent with light sensitive boards that you could draw on with tiny torches. We were a bit hesitant, but curiosity won out and we stepped forward. We had to don UV sunglasses, were given a short demo and then left to play.

As the torches shone on the boards, the boards soaked up the light and immediately started to release it. It reminded me initially of Slow Glass which was “invented” in a series of short stories by Bob Shaw. Then I just started to enjoy sketching!

It’s stuck with me though, this idea of light slowly being released. Light… Energy… A form of power.

There are several stories of power remaining in the bones of holy men or in clothing they’ve worn.

“Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet.” 2 Kings 13:21 NIV

“Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them.” Acts 19:11-12 (NKJV)

“She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. ‘Who touched me?’ Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.’ But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.'” Luke 8:44-46 (NIV)

When I read passages like this, I wonder how much I am missing out on. What would it take for me to be so full of God’s power that people could be healed by just touching my clothes?

I imagine that a person who remains close to God, who is filled with God’s Holy Spirit, who is obedient to God and receives his power from on high becomes like a container filled with that power. A container that is not meant to keep it locked up, but is meant to leak, to gradually give that power away – to help others, to heal, to cast out demons, to set people free from sin and bondage.

Oh that I and the entire church of God would seek to be such people of power!

Amazon Academy The Detail

Following up to my earlier post on attending Amazon Academy here is the detail…

Alliance of Independent Authors

Membership of Alli includes legal support (Legal support is an area where I suspect many indie authors could benefit from)

Alli are apparently hosting an author fringe event in Edinburgh on June 3rd, 2017. Contact them for details.

Kindle Owners Lenders Library (KOL)

I’d not heard of KOL. Sounds similar to Kindle Unlimited (KU) where the author gets paid based on page reads. Haven’t researched yet.

I asked Darren Hardy, the head of KDP in the UK, what happens to the reader when an author withdraws from KU, but they haven’t finished reading the book. He answered that the reader is allowed to keep reading and the author still gets paid for page reads.

Recommended Sites

The panels recommended several sites that may be of use to indie authors.

Ultra cheap book covers (circa $1) at
https://www.canva.com/create/book-covers/

Extremely cheap book covers at
https://www.fiverr.com/categories/graphics-design/ebook-covers?source=category_tree

Paul’s Blog with useful posts for indie authors at
https://paulteague.com/
(Look for posts on Story Beats and The Novel Factory)

A home for your books at
https://www.librarything.com/

A site for authors to introduce and promote their books at
http://www.abouttheauthor.co.uk/

Sites for managing mailing lists at
http://Mailchimp.com
http://Mailerlite.com

Poor mans version of Bookbub for US audience at
https://www.freebooksy.com/

UK version of Bookbub for £20 at
http://bookhippo.uk/

Automate your social media at
https://buffer.com/
http://www.tweetjukebox.com/

Licence free music for your book trailers at
https://www.premiumbeat.com

Movie clips for book trailers at
https://www.fotolia.com/Info/Videos#

If you love your books, let them go at
http://www.bookcrossing.com/

Recommended Reading

Save The Cat – apparently written by a minor Holywood writer and invaluable for insights to how stories are put together.

You can also search for Save The Cat Beat Sheet which seems to alude to: THE BLAKE SNYDER BEAT SHEET described here:
https://timstout.wordpress.com/story-structure/blake-snyders-beat-sheet/

Hang in there!

Murray McDonald shared that he was on Amazon for 18 months selling one or two copies a day until things took off.

General advice

For some people Facebook advertising works. For others, Amazon Ads.

‘Non-fiction is easier to sell because it is based on key words’ Paul Teague

Go into Google Keyword Planning Tool – to find out what people are ACTUALLY searching for – when deciding on keywords

Goodreads giveaways – be wary of the high cost of international postage!

On Twitter use the hashtags:
#selfpub
#indieauthors
To find other authors, get conversations going and pinch other authors best marketing ideas! 🙂

Use instafreebie.com. Organise instafreebie giveaways in your genre and build genre specific audiences.

Google “best marketing sites for authors”

Put your advertising budget against one day rather than over a month to drive yourself up the charts!

Bookbub is just the Holy Grail to become number one in your genre

Approach hotels and tourist attractions at sites that feature in your novel and ask if they would be interested in stocking your books.

Editors

The panellists had the following to say about editors.

‘I’ve not yet hired an external editor’

‘An editor should give you a demo edit, a sample edit for free. If you feel they are looking down their nose on you… you shouldn’t feel torn down by your editor.’

‘Concentrate on the relationship with your editor – is this someone you want to work with?’

‘I paid £500 for a full edit.’

The best quotes from the day
(Some of these may be paraphrased, I don’t know shorthand!)

‘Decide what it is you want from your writing career.’ Darren Hardy

‘Build in a detour when planning your novel!’ Harriet Smart (Allow room for the characters to go off on their own journey when that feels right)

‘Sometimes I’ll plan to kill a character in a scene and then someone else gets it!’ Steven McKay

‘You could kill someone on this ferry…’ Paul Teague

‘The trick is to build up relationships on Facebook.’ Steven McKay

‘Non fiction is about pain and pleasure. People buy a book on how to use Twitter because they’ve got some pain. Write your sales copy with that in mind.’ Paul Teague

‘Have to use some paid advertising to tell people about the countdown deal you’ve got or no one will know about it!’ Steven McKay

‘If people enjoy your books, they will enjoy interacting with you but they really want to read your next book.’ Murray McDonald

‘I built up my following reader by reader.’ Linda Gillard

‘I promote myself as a brand because I can’t market as a genre.’ Linda Gillard

‘The best use of my time, the most lucrative use, is writing.’ Linda Gillard

‘What they are investing in is time. Used to be, people read a book because they paid £7.99. Now you have to hook them, have cliff hangers at the end of every chapter, every page.’ Linda Gillard

kindle Instant Book Previewer

You know how you can preview a book on Amazon’s site? Amazon provide an embed option to allow you to embed their previewer on your own site! Check out this preview out for my latest novel Fallen Warriors:

You can find out all you need to know here https://www.amazon.com/Kindle-Instant-Preview/b?ie=UTF8&node=13489836011

It’s worth noting that if you are an Amazon Associate, you can link the embedded code to your account (They just do it as default) and you get commission on sales.

Flash Fiction: Iron Brew


“But why did the cancer come back, Dad?”
“Diesel cars. That’s what they’re saying now.”
“Why would that give you cancer?”
“I don’t know, Son. Make me a brew would you?”
“Another one? How much tea do you drink all day?”
“At least it’s good for you, not like you with that ginger. Full of chemicals that is.”
Angus smiled as his Dad put on a posh accent…
“Tea has been scientifically proven to have health benefits.”
“Aye, right.” Angus looked away as the kettle boiled, not wanting his Dad to see he’d welled up. He blinked the tears away as he poured the steaming water in his Dad’s favourite mug and then stirred the tea bag, noticing the orange tinge to the brown.
“Three sugars remember, Son.”
“Three, Dad? That’s a lot of sugar.”
“Still not as much as in that ginger you drink. Anyway, sugar is good for you.”
“How d’you reckon that?”
“They always give me ice-cream after my chemo. They wouldn’t do that unless sugar was good for you.”
Angus thought back to the sugar cubes he’d been given to make his vaccinations more palatable.
“No, I guess not, Dad.”
Angus took a dry spoon out the drawer and heaped a spoon with the white grains. Hesitated before pouring it into the tea. It wasn’t like his Dad was obese. Skinny as a rake he was. He let the grains tumble off the spoon and repeated again and again…

Copyright Mark Anderson Smith 2017 http://www.dragonlake.co.uk/
You may link to this post from http://www.dragonlake.co.uk/2017/05/flash-fiction-iron-brew/ or share on a non-commercial website so long as the full copyright notice and this statement is included.

Ginger: Scot’s slang for soda pop

Amazon Academy

Yesterday I took a day off of paid work to attend the Amazon Academy in Edinburgh. Hosted by Darren Hardy, the head of KDP in the UK we had a day of sessions with several UK authors:

Steven McKay – Historial Fiction
Harriet Smart – Historical Crime
Paul Teague – Non-Fiction and Science Fiction (who also represented the Alliance of Independent Authors)
Murray McDonald – Action Thrillers
Linda Gillard – Romance

Sessions included:

Making a book
How to write a bestseller
Marketing your book
Making it happen: The business of being an author

I’ve hesitated about attending author events like this in the past. I’m not yet selling enough books to justify taking a whole day off work, but Amazon are my biggest source of sales and I wondered whether I might “bump” into an agent or publisher.

If you, like me, are a lone(ly) author, struggling to make yourself known and learn how to market yourself, then I can only recommend getting yourself to one of these events!

It was a huge boost to my morale.

Amazon were a fantastic host. The event was well run and lunch was five star.

The authors on the panel were worth listening to, honest about their journey and full of helpful advice.

And…

It was great to meet up with other authors who are also going through similar journeys to myself and talk to people who understood what it is like to write, edit and market your books.

I’ve typed up my notes from the day, but the rough draft is over 800 words and I don’t have time to edit it tonight (when I’m writing this post) so will share them in a few days time.

[Update: you can now view the detail here: http://www.dragonlake.co.uk/2017/05/amazon-academy-the-detail/]

If you are working on a long term project on your own, make time to meet with others in the same line of work, to find out what is going on in your field of interest and be inspired.

Burying my head in the sand

Was sharing yesterday’s blog post on Twitter when a Channel 4 video started playing.

I probably should have scrolled on, but was left like a deer watching approaching headlights.

Manchester.

22 dead.

“Terror” attack.

Despite having written a novel describing in some detail the ultimate “terrorist” attack on the UK, I find myself reluctant to share Fallen Warriors with that angle.

If the purpose of terrorism is to cause terror, then in that cause Channel 4 News, the BBC, Sky and undoubtedly most news organisations do the most to cause terror.

I replied to @Channel4News: “A horrific event. What evidence is there this may have been a “terrorist” attack?”

Perhaps I should have done more research before tweeting, but terrorism is a trigger word for me. I feel strongly that the media encourage terrorism through their reporting of it.

Someone responded, accusing me of burying my head in the sand.

I’ll ignore the insults and libel that followed that initial response and instead ask: is it healthy to fill our minds with fear all day, every day?

George Orwell warned of a world where the government kept us in perpetual war in 1984. A world where the population was kept in control through fear.

We have created a world where the smallest atrocity is beamed into our faces 24 hours a day whenever we pull out our smartphone.

In stark contrast to the media’s message is the message of Jesus: “Perfect love casts out fear.”

When I focus on the words of Jesus, on God’s word, I receive hope.

Hope for a future free of terror, a world free from fear. Now that is a message Channel 4 should proclaim!

All of my…

As I start writing this post, I’ve yet to write up a formal plan for how I’m going to complete this goal of writing 100 words a day for 100 days.

I feel it will be important to set milestones and at each milestone, review where I’m at. This will give me a shorter timeframe to focus on which will make it easier to keep going. Rather than focusing on the big, impossible 100 day target, I just need to focus on the smaller goal.

25 days may be a good milestone. Breaks the target into four manageable chunks.

Also, I’m already starting to think in terms of weeks. I’m considering making every Friday Flash Fiction Friday. Every Sunday I plan to post about Jesus and faith.

I’ve already realised that I need to be writing two posts on Saturday – one for Sunday and one for Monday so I can take a day off each week.

Yet with all this thinking around planning…

On Sunday we worshipped using a Robin Mark song: Jesus, All For Jesus.

The words always give me pause. My ambitions. My hopes. My plans. Can I really surrender these? Have I really surrendered them to God?

Who am I blogging for?

I confess that I blog mainly for myself. I write mainly for myself. I am ambitious mainly for myself.

I suspect I will always battle with an inner desire to do for myself.

Yet, may my focus turn outward. May I look to serve Jesus through my writing. I suspect this is what I was made for, that I will only find freedom and purpose by living for Jesus.

Day One Dread

It does get easier, but it is often hard to imagine that as your first day approaches.

I can understand why some people never even make it into their first day at a new job. Fear of change, fear of commitment, fear of the unknown, of not being up to the task – all of these can contribute to a temptation to quit before even starting.

Yet I know from experience that the act of turning up makes a lot of that fear fade away. Day two is always easier than day one. Day three becomes a little better. Every day you turn up, the fear evaporates a little until turning up becomes the new normal.

And in some situations you can cheat… which is what I’m doing here 🙂

I wrote this post early and indeed am planning to write every day’s post the day before or even earlier if I can. My commitment is to writing 100 words every day. That doesn’t mean I can’t get a drop on tomorrow if I have the chance.

If you are feeling an increasing sense of dread at the thought of taking on a new challenge, it is normal. Hang in there! Every time you face that fear and overcome it, you build a strength to help you overcome the next fear you might face.

Today is day one of my self imposed challenge to write 100 words a day for 100 days. Or at least it will be, when today finally arrives… 😉

100 words: Reap the harvest

100 words
written daily
for 100 days
will leave you
10,000 words richer.
10,000 words that would not have been written
unless you persevered
daily,
writing
consistently,
and with determination,
to complete
the task before you.
Jesus said,
some seeds fall on good soil
producing a crop:
100, 60 or 30 times
what was sown.
Yet if you don’t sow
you will never reap
that harvest of a completed goal:
a life saved,
a finished book,
a race that has been run,
a project completed.
How dreadful
to give up
while still able.
Set your goal.
Start work each day.
Measure your progress
and reap that harvest!

© Mark Anderson Smith 2017