On the Air

Thanks to Dave Mitchell and Revival FM for hosting me this morning on their Mid Morning Hour show as I gave a plug for our upcoming Meet the Author event!

If you’re in or near Cumbernauld and would like to meet myself, Wendy H Jones and Caroline Johnston, we’ll be at Cumbernauld Library on 16th September from 2-4pm. Book your free ticket now!

Find out more about my novel Fallen Warriors in Dave’s interview which is available here: http://podcast.canstream.co.uk/revivalfm/index.php?id=5526

Boosting a flatlining Facebook event

It’s almost two weeks until my first Meet the Author event!

Cumbernauld Library and Culture North Lanarkshire have set up a Facebook event page and a page on the CultureNL website to advertise the event and ask people to sign up for free so they have an idea of numbers.

At the beginning of this week only four people had signed up and the Facebook page was only showing myself going and a grand total of 55 people having viewed the event after it had been live for two weeks…

I often feel there is too much to do and not enough hours in the day, but today was the day for doing something about this!

Part of the reason I’d been hesitant about promoting the Facebook event is that I’ve been stung in the past by facebook limiting me from contacting people when I’ve been trying to promote my novels. Facebook, understandably, want us to pay to advertise.

But, I hadn’t realised how easy it is to simply invite friends. I just needed to click on the Share drop down and select Invite friends…

I still had to scroll down through my friends and tick those that are local and I thought would be interested, but ten minutes later I’d invited 100 people. That was a good start. Within half an hour, four people had responded which was encouraging.

Then I paid to boost the event, setting the location within the minimum 17Km distance from Cumbernauld and targetting people with relevant keywords like “Thriller Novel” and “Crime Fiction” and “Young Adult Fiction”

I set the budget at £20 for seven days. Not a huge amount, but, then, I don’t have a huge marketing budget.

Depending on take up for the event I may run a shorter ad just before the event or continue it into next week.

I’m looking forward to hearing more from Wendy H Jones and Caroline Johnston. It would be great to see you there as well!

What next after completing my 100X100 challenge?

A major reason for challenging myself into writing 100 words a day for 100 days was to get myself into a daily habit of writing.

I was extremely tired after editing the final draft of Fallen Warriors and for over two months had been spending all my time proof reading and formatting. I had fallen out of the habit of daily creative writing. This challenge seemed like a great way to force myself back into that habit and to that extent, it has worked.

However, I’ve noticed that writing this blog has taken up time that I could have been working on the sequel and I can’t have that continuing. So, I’m now considering switching to a weekly blog post that will be linked to my mailing list, with maybe the occasional mid week post if there’s something urgent to share.

I’ll still be writing, it just won’t be visible immediately.

Kick-Starting Your Blog

Do you struggle to regularly post to your blog? Would you like to blog more consistently?

If so, setting yourself a challenge to write and publish 100 words a day for 100 days may be helpful.

Today is my last day working towards this challenge. When I hit 100 words on the counter (and press the Publish button) I’ll officially have completed my challenge to write 100 words a day for 100 days.

It’s not easy. 100 words a day doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you’re trying to come up with a brand new post every single day, one that will be interesting to your readers, it requires a lot of discipline (you really need to follow the B.I.S method… 😉 )

[Editor’s note: you’ve reached 112 words!]

On the other hand, it has been easy. 100 words is a tiny amount. Unless you’re writing poetry or ultra flash fiction where you have to carefully consider every single word. I knew I could write 100 words a day as I’ve done it before while writing the first draft of Fallen Warriors.

Perhaps it seems too easy. Not worth your while? Consider the traditional newspaper columnist who has a limited space. They will have been given a topic to write on, each and every day. Maybe some of those columns are longer than 100 words: 200, 300, but regardless, they will be unable to go over as there is only so much space on a page.

Now, I’ve not limited myself to only writing 100 words. My longest post–10 ways to fail at publishing and marketing your book–came in at 2,172 words. My goal was to discipline myself to regularly publish, not to keep within a word count.

You could take this challenge further and try publishing exactly 100 words for 100 days, but I would recommend being clear about why you would want to achieve that.

You must have a theme

I probably have had too many themes over the last 100 days. I wanted to break down the 100 posts into ten categories in the hope I would find it easier to find topics to keep posting on. Having pre-thought themes has helped. Those have been churning away at the back of my mind throughout the last three months.

Yet I think I would have done better sticking to one theme and building on that throughout the challenge. I’ve seen wild fluctuations in views for each post as I’m targetting a different readership with each one.

Know your target audience

The most popular posts on this challenge have been writing related where I’ve offered useful information to fellow writers:

1. Making sense of chaos with Scrivener 501 page views
2. Amazon Academy The Detail 136 page views
3. 10 ways to fail at publishing and marketing your book 78 page views

Ultimately though, I want to find readers who will want to buy my novels and when I get round to completing them, my other books.

But, if that is my aim, then probably a daily blog is not the way to go. I’m seeing limited success with my limited marketing efforts and increasing marketing is more likely to result in increased sales than continuing a regular blog that few readers are finding. It wouldn’t make sense to focus on advertising this blog so I can find readers for it, when what I want to do is sell novels.

Spend time planning in advance

One hundred days is a long time to commit to a new project. As I’ve posted before, I haven’t always managed to write 100 words towards this blog each day. What I have managed to do is publish at least 100 words each day. I’ve done that by trying to plan out in advance what I wanted to write and by building up a buffer of scheduled posts.

Set a specific time to write

I’ve found over the hundred days that when I know in advance when I will be writing and stick to that, keeping my commitment is a lot easier.

Schedule in rest days and holidays

I originally planned to write two posts each Saturday so I wouldn’t have to blog on a Sunday. I wasn’t able to keep to that every week and sometimes ended up writing on a Sunday.

But, I believe that we need time off each week to recover, to be renewed, to allow our creative reserves to be refilled. I would encourage you to plan in time off each week for those reasons.

Also, be aware of the time of year you are planning to take on your 100 day challenge. I took mine over the summer and had a full week away at one point and a long weekend afterwards. It really helps during those times if you can switch off completely, but in order to do that, you will need to have a sufficiently full buffer of posts ready to publish.

Choose your pictures

It’s generally accepted that people are more likely to write a blog or online article that is presented with a relevant image.

I’ve not managed to be as consistent with that as I’d have liked, but I’ve started to become more comfortable using sites like Pixabay that offer a selection of free searchable images. Just type in the theme of your blog post or relevant keywords and you’ll get a range of images that might be suitable to use. Like the one at the top of this page. I searched on keyword: kick and ended up selecting this photo by nuzree. I edited the photo to add some text and then set it as a Featured Image which means it is automatically displayed when sharing your post to certain social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Final word

If you want to kick-start your blog, then taking up the 100 words a day for 100 days challenge may be helpful. Why not give it a go and let me know how you get on.

Seven grams

As I gradually start to get orders from bookshops for Fallen Warriors and The Great Scottish Land Grab, I’m learning how important packaging and delivery choices are.

I went to post my latest order from The Orcadian Bookshop in Kirkwall yesterday. Two copies each of Fallen Warriors and Land Grab. I’d placed the four books in a box, put the invoice in along with some flyers for Land Grab and wrapped the whole thing in brown paper. I weighed the parcel before I left home: 1.992 Kilos.

I got to the post office only to find the parcel actually weighed 2.007 Kilos…!

That’s a big deal. Currently in the UK we can post under 2 Kilos for £2.90.

Because of the size of the parcel and those extra seven grams, it was going to cost me £13.75! That would have wiped out all my profit and put me at a loss for the sale.

I asked for the parcel back.

I actually went to a second post office in the mad hope that maybe there was some difference in the scales that would have got me under the limit. Nope. Exactly the same weight. At least UK post offices are consistent in their scales!

Flyers. I’d put flyers in the parcel… I asked if I could borrow a pair of scissors, cut open the parcel, removed half the flyers and then asked for it to be reweighed. 1.940 Kilos.

I had been thinking I needed to buy more tape, so happily bought some, retaped the parcel and was able to post it at the expected rate.

Seven grams… It doesn’t seem all that much, does it. Crossing some boundary lines can be very expensive…

When a good man does something utterly stupid

Do you have what it takes to be a king or queen? How about president or prime minister?

Since Donald Trump took office in America, I’ve heard a lot of criticism of him. I was extremely critical of David Cameron during his tenure as prime minister in the UK. It is quite easy to criticise when our decisions and actions are not being scrutinised to the same extent.

As I’ve been reading through the books of first and second Kings I’ve noticed a large number of the kings of Israel and Judah are recorded as having done “evil in the eyes of the Lord.”

There are others who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord”, but often there is a caveat: “but not as his father David had done.”

David is held up as the High Standard of what God was looking for in the kings that ruled over Israel and Judah.

Then along comes Hezekiah, a man who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done.” 2 Kings 18 NIV

In fact Hezekiah may even have been a better king than David. Right up to the point where he did something so utterly stupid that I almost can’t believe anyone could have done that.

Can you imagine the leader of Iran inviting foreign diplomats to tour their nuclear research facilities? How about the leader of North Korea?

Can you imagine the tour guide: “Here’s where we enrich uranium. We discovered that if we tweak the process just so, we get a ten percent increase in yield. Now tomorrow we’ll go and look at the mobile launch unit factory. That’s in a secret factory in the town of … Is there anything else you’d like to see?”

It’s debatable whether those diplomats would even make it back to their embassies before the call went out: “Send in the drones!”

If there is one thing you do not do as the leader of any country, is reveal your state secrets to an unknown envoy. Yet that’s precisely what Hezekiah did.

Hezekiah showed these foreign diplomats all the treasure, answered all their questions, gave them everything they needed to make a report as to whether invading Jerusalem would be worthwhile.

He didn’t pay the price, but his country did, years later when Babylon invaded and sacked Jerusalem.

Occasionally I do dumb things, make stupid decisions. Many of us do. But many of us aren’t kings or presidents or prime ministers. We might say we would never have done something as rash as Hezekiah, perhaps even say we would never behave like Donald Trump, yet I find it a sobering thought that a ruler who in many regards was to be respected, could have made such an foolish mistake.

My Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) Analysis

How does a writer find people who want to buy their books?

It’s the question keeping many writers up at night, myself included. I had dreams of being the next big author when I published my first novel (The Great Scottish Land Grab) which slowly, but surely faded as I realised the enormity of the task before me. Publishing Fallen Warriors this year, I’ve set out to learn from my mistakes and experiment more.

One potentially useful tool to help writers sell books is Amazon Marketing Services (AMS). In America they are currently offering $100 free advertising to new sign ups until 30th September. There are terms and conditions which aren’t 100% clear whether the offer is open to Kindle authors (On the front page of their website it states “Amazon Marketing Services is currently available to Amazon vendors and KDP authors” but the terms and conditions at the bottom of the page only refer to vendors.) If you sell ebooks through KDP in America then I recommend signing up and asking if the offer applies to you – what could you lose?

So far I’ve only tried using AMS in America. It may be possible to use in the UK, but that’s another blog post…

I have a tiny marketing budget, but have been experimenting over the last few months to see whether I can use AMS to get the word out about my novels.

I believe Fallen Warriors has a better chance in America than Land Grab. There are more Christians in America than Scots so I’ve primarily focused on Fallen Warriors as I’m marketing it as a Christian thriller.

Here’s the high level view of what I’ve done, all nicely laid out on AMS’s dashboard:

If you’ve never heard of AMS, basically it allows advertisers to advertise their product (an ebook in my case.) I can select keywords that I think people will use to search for books (author names, book titles, themes etc) and I set a bid price I am willing to pay up to to get my ad shown when someone uses those keywords. I only pay that bid price if someone clicks on my ad. All advertisers are competing to see if they pay enough to display an ad, but Amazon only charge 2 cents above the next lowest bid so in theory you shouldn’t pay more than you need to.

I started in May with a toe in the water $5 a day campaign. It ran for five days, appears to have been shown 66,862 times, clicked on 43 times with an average cost per click of $0.13. It cost a total of $5.55, but appears to have resulted in $9.98 in sales.

Amazon actually take 30% margin as their profit from my sales so I netted $6.98 giving a profit of… $1.43.

Well, that is $1.43 I probably would not have made if I hadn’t experimented.

Excited by the possibility I could maybe make some more sales and find more readers I tried again.

I wondered if my timing was wrong and so this time ran the ad over two weekends thinking maybe people are more likely to buy then.

Eleven days later I only had the ad shown 46,087 times. Quite a drop. I only had 20 clicks at an average cost of $0.17 costing a total of $3.34. I had no sales…

That was discouraging, but only a little. I’ve been following the SPF Podcast and that has been useful for understanding the fluctuations that can occur.

I then wondered if it made more sense to send people to my free ebook: Fallen Warriors Episode One. If I could get them to download that and hopefully read it, would it result in more sales? Here’s what happened:

I had been averaging around 6 downloads of the free episode a week. After that short campaign I saw an extra 30 downloads. That was interesting.

The AMS stats are also useful:
Impressions (when the ad is shown): 120,406
Clicks: 88
Average cost per click: $0.12
Total cost: $10.60

I can’t tell if I had any follow on sales of the later episodes or the full novel, but the hope is that once people start reading, they’ll get hooked and I’ll see sales over time.

I then decided to try a more radical experiment. I signed up for a $20 a day maximum spend, campaigning with the free first episode again. I upped the bid price on many keywords and let the campaign run for a full two weeks. The results?

Impressions: 303,834
Clicks: 295
Average cost per click: $0.29
Total cost: $84.38

Over those two weeks I had an extra 118 downloads.

I would need to see 72% of those downloads convert into purchases before an ad campaign like that was worth trying again. (Though I confess it didn’t cost me anything…)

My total American sales over this period looks like this:

The spikes are less grand than they appear, those are mostly for individual episodes which earn me a much smaller royalty at 30%.

However, it suggests that people are slowly going on to read the free episode and buying either the full novel or the individual episodes.

I’m planning to start a new campaign soon and will be experimenting more. I need to be careful that I take into account what I’m actually selling and whether the advertising I’m doing is providing a return.

What are your thoughts and experiences with getting the word out to readers?

Making sense of chaos with Scrivener

I switched over to using Scrivener as a tool for writing and editing books a couple of years ago. It’s taken me a while to get familiar with the interface, but I stuck with it as it seems to be a much more suitable environment for editing complex stories than my previous favourite: Microsoft Word.

I took one of the Scrivener for beginners courses a while back and noted it should be capable of enabling you to keep track of which scenes contain characters and locations, but at the time, couldn’t get my head round how to actually do that.

I should have made more of an effort to learn how! Fallen Warriors has an element of complexity to rival a standard Tom Clancy. A dozen characters in multiple locations with events happening simultaneously. It was a struggle to keep track of what was going on.

I resorted to sticky notes, spreadsheets and elbox grease to get the novel completed, but was determined that I would suss out how to use some of the more advanced Scrivener features.

Tagging characters and locations in a scrivener scene

I’m indebted to Rog (@pigfender) for his post: Tracking characters with Scrivener keywords

It’s actually really easy to do and I’ve started tagging characters and locations in the scenes I’ve written for the Fallen Warriors sequel.

I won’t rehash the pigfender post here as Rog does a really good job of explaining it, but here’s some insight into how I’m actually following his instructions:

I needed to do two things to make this work, first add a tag for each character who appears in a scene and one for the location(s) in the scene to the Document notes section of the Inspector window:

And also create Project Keywords (from the Project menu) to match those tags exactly:

Now, if you’ve read Fallen Warriors then you might notice a couple of reveals in the pictures above… Shhhh (I’ve blanked out the working title as I’m still not fully sure if I will use it.)

The really cool bit is once you’ve got that all in place, to find all the scenes with a character or multiple characters in them, you can search and you get those scenes back… In order!

This is really helpful for me for so many reasons. One of my characters full name and title is: Detective Inspector Daniel Martin. But he is referred to as Danny, as DI Martin, as Daniel etc. By setting up the tags, I can search using one term and always find him.

Take a look at this clipping from my Scrivener Fallen Warriors manuscript

Now, I don’t want to give too much away from either book in case you’ve not read the first and certainly don’t want to give any plot away from the second, but I set up some keywords in my first manuscript and then did a search for “Emma_Present” – this is what was returned:

I reveal these events in the book description, so hopefully no spoilers there!

If you haven’t struggled to find characters in a long manuscript this maybe won’t be as exciting as I find it, but just getting those three results back is amazing for me. I spent hours each week for weeks just having to find where I’d written about a character. This is a game changer for me!

How do you make sense of the complexity in your books?

What If? by Caroline Johnston

There’s a scene early on in Caroline Johnston’s Young Adult novel What If? that made me realise this story has more to it than I’d expected.

Featuring what looks like a teenage girl daydreaming on the cover, I was expecting a story about relationships and maybe some romance and if that’s what you’re looking for then you won’t be disapointed.

I have a confession to make, back in the 1970’s, after moving from the big city to the Shetland Isles, having no TV and a hyperactive imagination, I read everything I could get my hands on. Everything. I snatched Bunty magazine off my sister, read several terms at Malory Towers and would happily have read Mills & Boon if I’d known it existed.

Over the years my reading habits became somewhat filtered until now my default easy read is a Lee Child. But that does sometimes get a bit boring…

I’m sharing the stage with Caroline Johnston at Cumbernauld Library in September and thought it was only polite to find out a bit more about her and what better way to find out about an author than to read their book!

The heroine of the story: Rachel Anderson (Love that last name 😉 ) is encouraged to audition for the school play and it was as I read her initial lines that I got a sense of something powerful in the story. It’s such a simple premise: What if we asked: what if?

I love “what if” questions. What if we could solve world hunger? What if we could develop faster than light travel? What if we could travel in time… Okay, maybe I’m heading way off genre here.

It took me a little while to find my teenage girl groove, but once I did the story sucked me in and I got caught up in what was a pretty funny comedy of errors.

If you don’t enjoy young adult stories heavy on relationships and with a hint of romance then What If? probably isn’t for you. But if you do, then I recommend it.

What If? can be bought as paperback through Caroline Johnston’s website where you can also find out more about the author. Also available on Amazon in paperback and ebook:

Finally, if you’d like to meet Caroline in person, book your free ticket to Murder, Mystery and More on 16th September at Culture NL’s website.

Killer’s Crew by Wendy H Jones

Just how many ways can one kill their boss? Wendy H Jones makes no secret of her fictional detective’s desire to find ever more gruesome ways to do away with her Chief Inspector.

Killer’s Crew is the fifth book in the DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries series and the first book I’ve read in the series. I really should have read book one first, but as the sixth book in the series was about to be released (and is now available) and I’m going to be sharing a stage with Wendy at Cumbernauld Library in September, I was keen to get caught up in the story.

Turns out DI Shona McKenzie is as tough as they come, taking no cheek from anyone, but enjoying a fair bit of banter with her team.

Killer’s Crew finds her dealing with the discovery of a corpse found hanging from a ship in Dundee while filming is taking place for a movie. The cast provide ample scope for enquiries until one by one, the body count starts to rise…

As if a suspected serial killer isn’t bad enough, Shona also has to deal with the local Russian Mafia, dastardly solicitors and the boss that she’s secretly planning to dump in the Tay river.

My greatest frustration with all crime fiction is that I never manage to work out who done it! Killer’s Crew was no exception, I was reeling at the end trying to work out what I’d missed.

If you like snappy dialogue, gruesome murders and some tongue-in-cheek humour then I recommend Killer’s Crew.

You can buy all of Wendy’s books direct at her website or from Amazon:

If you’d like to meet Wendy in person, book your free ticket to Murder, Mystery and More on 16th September at Culture NL’s website.

Finally, if like DI Shona McKenzie you occasionally fantasize about killing your boss, you may want to check out Wendy H Jones’ free ebook: DI Shona McKenzie’s Guide to Killing Your Boss

All good clean fun, but remember, don’t try this in the office…