Sunday, 12 September 2021

How To Be a 1980s Pop Music Journalist

Ah, the glamour! The celebrities! The music! The nightclubs!

So what was it really like to be a pop music journalist in the days of the New Romantics? I've just started a new YouTube channel that will explain everything. If you've read any of my '80s Murder Mysteries' novels, these videos will explain some of the real-life background. Be sure to subscribe so that you will receive notification whenever I post some new videos. Here are the first three...

Monday, 22 February 2021

What is post-apocalyptic fiction? And why do we enjoy it…?

Several of the authors who’ve been interviewed for this blog write post-apocalyptic fiction. I too have written a post-apocalyptic series, The Exodus Plague. So what is the attraction of writing, and reading, about the worst things we can imagine?

Post-apocalyptic fiction takes us into a world that has gone out of control. This sort of fiction tries to imagine the worst-case scenario – and then it takes one step further into the abyss. What if a disease were so deadly and so infectious that it killed most of the earth’s population? What if the crops failed? What would happen if cultivated but deadly plants went on the rampage just as almost everyone in the world became blind?

Speculative fiction has, at various times, imagined all these possibilities. George R. Stewart described a world depopulated by disease in ‘Earth Abides’ way back in 1949. A global crop failure formed the basis of John Christopher’s 1956 novel, ‘The Death Of Grass’. And the deadly plants in a blind world are, of course, central to John Wyndham’s classic 1951 novel, ‘The Day Of The Triffids’.

It might seem odd that so many of us would choose to read, for pleasure, stories about global catastrophes. And yet, horrific fiction has an almost universal appeal. Probably one of the pleasures of reading this sort of fiction derives from the fact that, just like a nightmare, we can emerge from it unscathed. We wake from the nightmare or put down the book and realise that the world in which we actually live isn’t quite as bad as the imagined world we’ve left behind.

If vampires and werewolves were real we would probably not be at all pleased to find ourselves locked inside a castle with one of them. But in fiction, we can enjoy the pleasure of watching other people dealing with horrific situations while we are quite safe, sitting next to a warm fire with the cat on our lap and a glass of wine ready to hand. 

Another feature of most post-apocalyptic fiction is that the stories concentrate not on the global catastrophe itself (which might depress the reader rather than entertain) but on the experiences of individuals trying to get on with daily life in exceptionally difficult circumstances. 

The classic post-apocalyptic books I mentioned earlier – ‘Earth Abides’, ‘The Death Of Grass’ and ‘The Day Of The Triffids’ – were all written in the 1940s and 1950s. It is easy to imagine why the apocalypse might have been on people’s minds at that time. After the Second World War, most readers would have had personal experience of a real-life global catastrophe. When that war ended, a number of others sprung up in Malaya, French Indochina (leading to the Vietnam War), Korea and elsewhere. Meanwhile, the Cold War was getting ever frostier as people wondered whether nuclear Armageddon might be about to be unleashed upon the world. 

That may explain the attraction of this genre in the middle of the 20th Century. But why is post-apocalyptic fiction still popular now, in the 21st century?

The trivial answer would be something along the lines of – oh, but we have new fears now: global warming, ocean acidification, tensions between Korea or Russia and the UK or USA, pollution, genetic modification, fake news, cross-species diseases and so on…

But maybe there is more to it than that. One of our greatest fears is, I think, is our reliance on technology. On the one hand, we fear that technology may be used against us: our mobile phones can be used to track us, our Internet profiles make it easy for criminals to find out who we are, where we are, what jobs we do, the names of our pets, and even more intimate information if we aren’t very careful! On the other hand, our lives are so dependent on technology – computers, phone networks, electricity, powered vehicles – that we would feel helpless without it. Without our phones, how would we contact people? Without the Internet, how would we find up-to-date information or download eBooks or place orders with online retailers? Without ready access to our doctors and hospitals, how we would stay healthy? Without biologically engineered vaccines, how would we combat emerging diseases?

The entire infrastructure of our world depends on technology. Sometimes it’s scary when we have it. But it would be even scarier if it were all to disappear. 

There are many possible things that might destroy our technologically-centred lives, and writers have used all of them – EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulses, either manmade or generated by a phenomenon such as a solar flare), catastrophic climate change, nuclear war, mega-earthquakes or meteor strikes, natural or laboratory-created pandemics. Overnight, society as we know it is destroyed. This is such a terrifying possibility that, in our everyday life, it is altogether simpler to avoid even thinking about it. But, just like all our darkest thoughts, sometimes it can be curiously pleasant to experience the nightmare – and then wake up from it. 

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Post-apocalyptic Novels – The Exodus Plague

It came with the snow. Overnight the world changed. Snowbound, in an isolated cottage, Jonathan Richards wakes from illness to discover that the world he knew has gone.

I began writing this trilogy of novels about two years ago, at a time when the idea of a global pandemic seemed purely within the realms of fiction. Well, just to show that truth can sometimes be as strange (almost!) as fiction, we have now all had to learn to live with a pandemic. However, try to imagine how much worse it could have been – or, one day, still might be! That is the story of The Exodus Plague

Book 1, ‘The Snow’ tells the story of a devastating blizzard that brings Britain to a standstill. But worse is yet to come. Because, with the snow comes something else. Something that will turn Britain into a kill-or-be-killed country where only the ruthless will survive.

Book 2, ‘Imprisoned’ takes you into a post-pandemic world in which some communities struggle to resume normal life. But what is normality? Why are there still students in Cambridge university while in the seaside resort of Stony Cove, a derelict holiday camp is under Army control?

Book 3, ‘Escape’ tells another story that begins in snowbound London before taking the reader into the heart of darkness of the devastated British countryside. The novel starts  as Justin Davenant wakes to hear something clawing at the front door, trying to get in! 

Britain is snowbound. Bodies lie unburied. Gangs of bestial semi-humans roam the streets. 

Welcome to The Exodus Plague!

The Exodus Plague: 

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Monday, 5 October 2020

Michael La Ronn Interview – SF, Fantasy and Freedom!

Michael La Ronn is a writer of science fiction and fantasy novels. He also teaches a course on the art of writing and is an enthusiastic podcaster and YouTuber. Here he tells me how he manages to do all that while holding down a full-time job!

You are an incredibly prolific writer. How many books have you published now?

By the time this post goes live, I'll be at 54 published books. 

You’ve written all those books while you are also holding down a full-time job. In addition to that you also do regular podcasts and teach courses. I’m wondering how you make time for all that? Are you a super disciplined writer? 

I am hyper-disciplined, to the point where I have cut pretty much everything out of my personal life that isn't writing. I rarely watch television or play video games anymore. Writing gets my full attention when I'm not at work or in law school classes. 

I became a writer after a near-death experience in 2012 and I realized that life is too short not to follow your passion. After that, it was pretty easy to make time for my writing.

Do you set yourself specific word counts to achieve daily? 

I don't set word counts on a daily basis except for when I'm writing. There are so many areas of my writing life that need my attention and my resources are so stretched that I don't always get to write every day. However, I know that most years I'll publish between 5-7 books rain or shine. I've had some years when I've done more than that. Because I'm so dedicated, the words always take care of themselves at the end of the year. 

What’s the thing you enjoy most about writing?

The freedom. I can write whatever I want, whenever I want, in whatever style I want, and get paid for it. It's energizing. 

And what’s the thing you dislike most about writing?

I dislike the fear and the self-doubt. It feels like one day I'll wake up and never have to worry about them again, but instead, it's a recurring, lifelong battle that every writer has to fight in their own way. When you understand that, it gets easier.

You’ve written both fantasy and science fiction books but I believe you have now committed to writing in the specific genre of ‘urban fantasy’. Why did you decide to do that? Was it because you found you enjoyed this genre more than the others, because you identified this genre as a profitable market or for some other reason?

I have written in a lot of genres, but I always find myself coming back to urban fantasy. I decided to dedicate my fiction to the genre after having so much fun writing my Magic Trackers series, which is about a dream mage. I love cities mashed with supernatural creatures and magic. 

Ironically, choosing the urban fantasy genre had nothing to do with profit as that series doesn't sell well. But I'm passionate about the stories I can tell in the urban fantasy genre and I know that the money will follow. 

I see you teach courses on Teachable (a platform for hosting and selling online courses). What are the main pros and cons of Teachable? Have you tried any other platforms (e.g. Udemy)?

The pros of Teachable are that it's easy to use, it pays monthly, and the user interface is good. The con of Teachable is the community aspect—it’s not desirable to build a community there around your courses, though they're working on that. I have looked into Udemy and other types of sites, but I prefer complete control over my pricing and content. 

What do you do to promote your courses?

I don't do anything to promote my courses other than feature them prominently on my website and mention them periodically on my YouTube channel and podcasts. My courses are typically quite in-depth and the opposite of what most are doing in the space right now, so I don't worry about promoting them too much. Usually the most driven writers in my audience buy them, and that's enough for me. 

I know you do a lot of research to make sure your books are optimised to target the correct readership. What would you say is the single most important thing an author can do to make sure that a book really leaps out at a potential reader who is browsing on Amazon?

The book cover is by far the most important thing an author can get right. Making sure you have a cover that matches other self-published books in your immediate subgenre can't be understated. It's a lesson that took me a long time to learn. 

How did you find your cover designers? And how do you go about commissioning a cover? Do you tell the designer exactly what you want or do you let the cover artist make those decisions?

I find my designers by looking at other books in the subgenre I want to write. I give the designer general ideas, but most importantly I give them a link to a Pinterest board with book covers that have a similar look to what I'm going for. 

I'm a believer in picking the right designer. If you pick the right person and give them good enough instructions, everything else follows, including a good design.

When promoting books, a self-published author is faced with a huge number of potentially expensive options: Facebook ads, Bookbub deals, Amazon ads – not to mention paying for covers, editors, web hosting, podcasts and so on. Let’s assume I’m a new writer with a total budget of $1000. How should I spend that?

If I were starting out today with a $1000 budget, here's how I'd spend my money:

  • Website Hosting with Bluehost: $150
  • Cover Design: $300
  • Copyeditor (only): $300 (assuming a 50K novel)
  • Scrivener (writing software): $50
  • Amazon Ads: $200

That'll get you going. You can create a respectable website with a free WordPress theme, produce your first book, and have a decent Amazon Ads budget for your first book. Start there, and then keep evolving. 

Do you think podcasting is something that all authors should think of doing? Recording regular podcasts must take up a lot of time. Do they gain you many readers?

Podcasting is not for everyone, nor should every writer consider it. It’s best for “verbal” people—ideally, people who excel at communication. If that’s not you, then don’t do it. If you want to improve your communication skills and are willing to do the work, then definitely do it. 

I have three podcasts at the moment:

The Writer’s Journey, which is an audio blog of me talking about my struggles and successes as a writer every week. It’s a behind the scenes look at a working writer’s life. I turn on the mic and talk about what’s on my mind. 

Writing Tip of the Day, which is a podcast for writers that offers a crisp writing tip in 5 minutes or less.

AskALLi Member Q&A, a podcast with The Alliance of Independent Authors (a nonprofit for self-published writers), where we answer the most common self-publishing questions.

I’ve never seen my podcasts as “reader magnets” though my listens have increased month after month for the past two years. 

Instead, I view my podcasts as a strategy to engage with my audience. It gives them something to consume to get to know me on a deeper level. If you like my books, you’ll like my podcasts. I’ve been fortunate that my podcasts happen to drive sales for me, but that was never the main goal.

Which podcast service do you use? Is it worth paying a company to host podcasts or are free services such as good enough?

I use Libsyn. They’re affordable and I’ve never had a problem with them. 

I like Anchor.FM (I was even a guest on their podcast a few years ago), but I prefer complete control over my content. Anchor.FM comes with some limitations. Freedom is worth paying for.

Finally, for a reader who doesn’t usually read science fiction or fantasy, can you recommend one of your SF books and one fantasy book.

Science fiction readers will love my Android X series, about an android special agent in the year 2300 who hunts down rogue androids with his human engineer. It’s a fast-paced thriller in the future. 

Fantasy readers will love my Last Dragon Lord series, about a blood-thirsty dragon lord who seeks revenge against the conspiracy that overthrew him. It’s a dark revenge tale that is very unpredictable. 

And what about other authors – can you pick one great science fiction book and one great fantasy book?

I’ll default to my favorites. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury for science fiction and American Gods by Neil Gaiman for fantasy. You can’t go wrong with either of those. 

Michael La Ronn
is the author of over 40 science fiction & fantasy books including the Android X series, Modern Necromancy series, and the Galaxy Mavericks series. He writes from the great plains of Iowa and has perfected the art of balancing writing with a full-time job and family, writing 5-7 books per year.

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Sarah Woodbury Interview – Mystery and Romance in Medieval Wales

Maybe you think that novels set in Mediaeval Wales must be a minority interest? Sarah Woodbury would prove you wrong. With sales over a million books, she is a self-published phenomenon. Here she tells me how an American woman became so fascinated by ancient Wales – and how she turned that passion into a thriving publishing business…

Your books are set in mediaeval Wales. Given that you live in America, what even made you think of writing about Wales?

My family had always had the tradition that we had Welsh ancestry, but until I started researching it myself, I couldn’t have told you how I was Welsh. The name Woodbury is very traditionally Saxon, derived from the Saxon god ‘Woden’ and mean’s ‘Woden’s Fort’, but further research showed that one of my ancestors, William Woodbury, joined the church in Salem, Massachusetts in 1638 self-identifying as a Welshman. 

As it turns out, in addition to that tantalizing bit of information, I am also descended from a host of Morgans, Thomases, Kemries, Johns, Rhuns etc.  The line I’ve researched most successfully descends from Llywelyn ap Ifor born around 1300. Many generations later, Anna and Robert Morgan, sister and brother, married into my family line, again in Massachusetts in the 17th century. Through that family, I am descended from Gruffydd ap Cynan, the great 12th century King of Gwynedd and his grandson, the Lord Rhys, ruler of Deheubarth until his death in 1197.

All of this I discovered once I started researching my ancestry, initially as a homeschooling research project with my daughter in the late 1990s. Ten years earlier, I had attended University of Cambridge in England. During one holiday, I was able to visit Wales for the first time. I have particular memories of going to Conwy Castle and walking along the battlements, astounded to think that seven hundred years earlier men and women had lived and died within its walls. To say I fell in love with Wales at that point would not be an understatement. From Cambridge, I continued in academia, ultimately getting a Ph.D. in anthropology. Though my research wasn’t initially directed at Wales, because my focus was on ethnicity and nationalism, it was easy to pivot to Welsh history and culture once I started writing novels.

You must have to do a lot of research. How do you go about that? 

Because I have a Ph.D., I have an extensive background in research, and once I developed an interest in Wales, I read everything I could get my hands on, both fiction and nonfiction, about it. The internet has been a boon to access to obscure documents and books, and Google Earth can be a lifesaver if I can’t quite remember the dimensions of a place or a particular road or castle. We have also traveled to Wales for a research trip almost every year since 2012, though sadly it’s been over a year since we’ve been there due to the current pandemic.

Your Welsh pronunciation is remarkably good – even the difficult “Ll” and “Rh”. Have you learnt to speak Welsh? If so, how did you do that?

It’s really great to hear you say that! I have been learning Welsh since the fall of 2013, mostly through a website called ‘Say Something in Welsh’ but also during our trips there. Truly, I remain an abject beginner, but I try!

You make a lot of very interesting YouTube videos about the history of mediaeval Britain. Can you give me some idea of your video-making process?

My husband is the video taker and producer, and over the last eight years he has compiled an extraordinary amount of video. The idea of creating a series came from wanting to share all that research with my readers, above and beyond what can be culled from my novels themselves. I also wanted to give people the opportunity to delve a little more into British history, to understand the context of the books and why I love Wales and writing novels set in the medieval period. Procedurally, generally I write the script, we shoot me talking about the place, and then my husband shapes the footage around what I’m saying.

Do you know how most of your readers discover you? Is it by browsing Amazon, through your YouTube videos or some other way?

I don’t know for certain, but I think there are three primary ways: word of mouth from friends/family who’ve read my books, Facebook, and Bookbub featured deals. I would like to think that some people have found my books through the videos, but I don’t know how much that is true, and it isn’t their primary purpose.

Do you have a specific target audience in mind when you are writing? If so, how important is it to stick within the traditions of a certain ‘genre’?

When I first started writing, I had no notion of genre at all. The After Cilmeri series, in particular, crosses multiple genres. Honestly, I’m glad now I didn’t have any idea what I was doing when I started out, because I think that’s part of its appeal. That said, there’s something to the idea of giving readers what they expect, which is why we have genres in the first place. 

As to writing to a target audience, for my own work, I think it’s dangerous or can be the death of creativity to think too much about who’s going to read a book and if what you’re writing is what they expect. Clearly, there’s a balance here that every author has to navigate.

For a new reader, which of your books would you recommend reading first?

It depends! I have five series set in medieval Wales, so lots to choose from. Do you like mysteries? Start with The Good Knight or Crouchback. Time travel? Read Daughter of Time (the prequel) or Footsteps in Time (book 1) from the After Cilmeri series. Many of my books are appropriate for teens, and if they like historical fantasy, maybe they’d like The Last Pendragon Saga first. Or lovers of King Arthur should begin with Cold My Heart.

I’m not helping at all, am I? 

Can you recommend any books by other authors (either fact or fiction) that give an insight into mediaeval Wales?

The go-to books for me are first by Edith Pargeter (The Brothers Gwynedd) and writing as Ellis Peters, The Brother Cadfael series. Second, I would read Sharon Kay Penman’s Welsh Princes Trilogy which includes Here be Dragons, Falls the Shadow, and The Reckoning.

You obviously put in a lot of effort to keep in touch with your readers – not just the YouTube videos but also an active blog and a newsletter. If you only had time to do one of those activities which would it be? I’m interested to know which of those you think really helps most to attract new readers and build a solid fan base.

Only one? The newsletter is really important because it’s a definitive way to reach all the people who’ve read my books and asked to be notified when I have a new release. But Facebook is hugely important to me for community and to get to know readers personally, and for them to get to know me. I also can’t imagine functioning without a personal web page. And Youtube has become a big part of my non-novel content, and a way to engage readers.

If I was talking to a new author, I would say that at a bare minimum they need a personal website and newsletter, and then a Facebook author page as part of their outreach to readers.

Do you do anything else to promote or advertise your books?

I pay for ads at Facebook, Amazon, and Bookbub, plus various other small sites. It is an important aspect of my business plan. 

How well does Bookbub work for you? 

Very, very well. The first book in four of my series is free, and the Bookbub promotions for those free books bring in a significant percentage of my newest readers.

Your books have very striking covers. Can you explain the process you go through when getting covers designed?

How kind of you to say! Especially since I design them myself.

I started out the first year of indie publishing designing my covers myself, with ‘design’ hardly coming into it. I sold 30,000 books that year anyway, but that was because readers were desperate for content for their e-devices and overlooked how bad my covers really were. For several years, Flip City Media designed my covers, and thankfully when she stopped that part of her business, she gave me all my Photoshop files so I could learn on my own—which initially was just copying what she had done. But imitation is the purest form of flattery, right?

Since then, I have learned a lot and informed by the process of writing the book. At some point, usually about 1/3 of the way into the first draft, I start itching to create the cover, and start casting around for ideas. Some covers come quickly, and some have gone through a dozen permutations. I have also changed all my covers at least once, and some three or four times until I settle upon what I have now.

You also do audio books. Is that difficult (or expensive) to do?  How do you pick a narrator? And do the sales fully justify the costs?

My sales fully justify the costs, but I sell a great many audiobooks. I first started out in 2014 with a royalty share through ACX with my first narrator. I then switched to paying outright for them, which is a much better way to do it and has allowed me to convert to non-exclusive contracts with Amazon for three of my series, so my audiobooks are now available at all retailers as well as in libraries. My husband found my new narrator, who is Welsh, online, and I feel super lucky to have him narrating my books. 

Can you tell me why you decided to self-publish?

That is a very long story, but I decided to take the plunge in January 2011 because I had an agent who was unable to sell my books to a publisher. In fact, my books have, quite literally, been rejected by every publisher in New York!

What benefit is an agent to an independently published author? 

At this juncture for me, none. I no longer say on my website that I have an agent, though if I ever wanted to submit a book to him, he would look at it.

In your writing and publishing career to date, what has been your biggest mistake? 

Not viewing publishing as a business from the start in 2011 when I published my books myself. Earlier, I said it was good in a way that I didn’t understand genre when I first started writing, but that was five years earlier. Once I started publishing, I needed to understand better what readers expected in terms of covers and blurbs/summaries, and I spent years trying to get them right. Fortunately, they are something an indie author can change at will.

More recently, it was a huge mistake to enroll two of my series in Kindle Unlimited in the spring of 2019. It really damaged my sales worldwide.

If you had to start all over again, what would you do differently?

You can always wish you’d done things differently, but I am who I am and where I am today because of what I have done over the last fourteen years. So I can’t regret that.

What has been your greatest success?

Deciding to self-publish in the first place. In fact, I routinely say that having my books rejected by every publisher in New York was the best thing that ever happened to me.

With over a million books sold to date, Sarah Woodbury is the author of more than forty novels, all set in medieval Wales. Although an anthropologist by training, and then a full-time homeschooling mom for twenty years, she began writing fiction when the stories in her head overflowed and demanded that she let them out. 

While her ancestry is Welsh, she only visited Wales for the first time at university. She has been in love with the country, language, and people ever since. She even convinced her husband to give all four of their children Welsh names. 

Monday, 13 July 2020

Iain Rob Wright interview – Apocalyptic Fun!

If you enjoy apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction or just like to be scared by a good book, you will almost certainly be familiar with the name Iain Rob Wright. With dozens of best-selling books on Amazon, Iain has gained a loyal fan-base of readers eagerly awaiting his next chilling story. Here Iain tells me how he began writing and what is his secret of success…

How did you become a published novelist? Did you decide right away that you would go it alone? Or did you go the traditional route of papering your room with rejection slips?

I knew that traditional publishing would be a long slog filled with disappointment and resentment, so when I learned about KDP, that’s the route I went. I didn’t want someone else’s permission to be a writer and I also wanted things to be immediate.

Mankind is about to become extinct. The world’s best scientists are baffled when bizarre, immovable black stones appear across the globe. Society spirals into panic when the stones begin to ‘wake up’.

Has traditional publishing had its day now? I mean, is there any good reason why a writer should go through agents and get deals with publishers?

No. Traditional Publishing isn’t going anywhere, and they will continue to make their money from celebrity cookbooks, autobiographies, and massive IPs such as Harry Potter and Jack Reacher. Mainstream fiction is no longer theirs to control, however, and that’s a great thing for many reasons.

What has been the toughest challenge (apart from the writing itself!) in becoming successful author?

Staying power. Sales are in a constant state of decline, and it’s only willpower and ingenuity that lifts them. There are certainly good times in terms of sales, but the low points can take a lot out of you, and it always seems like a disaster when you’re there.

Why do you think apocalyptic (and post-apocalyptic) fiction is so popular?

Because it’s terrifying, and people like to be scared in a controlled environment such as reading.

Has COVID-19 changed that? I mean, don’t people want complete escapism when we are in the middle of a pandemic?

I don’t think the virus has changed what people enjoy reading, although it has given some people more time to read. If you liked apocalyptic fiction before COVID, then I’m guessing you'll still like it now. It’s make-believe, fun, and a great way to face fear head on, which is always healthy.

Grieving alcoholic Harry Jobson expected to end his night facedown in vomit like most nights down the pub. But when the body of a mangled teenager crashes through the pub’s front window, Harry is forced to sober up and be the man he used to be.

How did you go about publicising and marketing your first novel, ‘The Final Winter’?

I didn’t. I published it in 2011 with a homemade cover and that was enough. Things were a lot easier back then.

And how has your approach to publicising and marketing changed now?

I have spent over £150,000 on Facebook marketing now and my career has greatly benefited from that spending power. I was forced to learn online marketing in order to get people to find my books and buy them. I would prefer to focus on writing, but unfortunately the business is very competitive, and it takes many other skills to be successful.

What do you do when you can’t think what to write?

I can always write, and a little bit of thinking is all I need to get myself unstuck. Writer’s block usually comes from not having planned out your book well enough beforehand.

Cheryl is about to learn that the people she works with are keeping a secret. One they are willing to kill for. 

I read in one interview you did that Bookbub was (at that time) your number one sales promoter. I’ve just had a look at Bookbub’s charges. It looks incredibly expensive. Do you still use Bookbub much? Does it justify the cost?

Yes, I still use Bookbub. It isn’t as profitable as it once was, but I have never lost money on any of the two dozen deals I have had with them. For a writer starting out, it provides even more value as it provides a massive amount of new readers.

In your interview with Joanna Penn last year you said that Facebook advertising began as a disaster for you but ended up incredibly profitable. What did you change?

Honestly, I don’t know. It just worked the second time, and it’s never worked as well since. I remember targeting people with Kindles and that made a difference. I also chose to target other books than I did on my first attempt.

What about Amazon advertising? Some authors say it’s vital. Others don’t bother with it? What’s been your experience?

I have tried and tried, but it just doesn’t seem to do much for me. I still rely on Facebook ads.

Have you been able to figure out how most readers ‘discover’ you for the first time?

Facebook ads mostly, followed by personal recommendations between friends and families.

You give away a lot of your books? Why?

Because I can. I have over thirty now, so giving away books is a great way to entice people to buy the ones they don’t have. Also, it’s nice to give in such cut-throat times.

How important do you think a good cover is? And what do you think makes a good cover?

It’s vital. Vital. Look at traditional bestsellers and copy them. People look for designs they recognise and feel comfortable with, not fancy paintings or artwork. Each genre has certain conventions, and you ignore them at your peril.

Martin Gable is a boy becoming a man, but nothing can prepare him for the evil that has entered his home.

Have you ever changed a cover and, if so, did that have any impact on sales of the book?

Many times, and yes. My first covers were comic book style digital paintings – and awesome – but they were all wrong. My covers now are more in line with traditional publishing and sales have increased.

When someone is browsing for a book on Amazon, you somehow have to convince them that your book is one they’d want to read. What do you think is the most important way to grab a potential reader’s attention – the book title, cover, blurb or something else?

Book Cover > Book Title > Product Page/Blurb > Sample Chapter/Preview = Sale.
If at any point readers are not convinced by any of these items, you don’t get the sale. Therefore, all are important.

If you were starting out all over again in your writing career, what would you do differently?

I would start a mailing list from day 1. It’s never too early to start gathering your readers into a place where you can influence

One of Horror's most respected authors, Iain Rob Wright is the writer of more than twenty books, many of them bestsellers.

Iain’s web site is : where you can get five of his books free!


Tuesday, 30 June 2020

London Noir – Greg Keen’s Soho Success Story

As soon as I saw the covers of Greg Keen’s novels I could see that here was a kindred spirit. They are dark and neon-lit so I knew I had to interview Greg for Dark Neon. Here Greg tells me not only about his writing but also about the benefits of working with his publisher, Thomas & Mercer – who happen to be a branch of Amazon!

What makes you want to write?

I think it’s basically a compulsive urge otherwise it would be difficult to face the amount of rejection tyro novelists almost inevitably face, including me. Where the compulsion comes from, I’ve no idea.

How much of your Soho novels is based on your own experiences and how much is pure invention?

The places are mostly disguised venues I’ve visited at some point. Very few are entirely invented.  

What’s your approach to research? I’m assuming you have never actually been a private detective or socialised with gangsters. So how did you find out what that world is like?

Right on both counts! I worked for a publishing company based in Soho for ten years and became obsessed with the place. There are a number of books about the area, many about criminals and criminal activity. Much research came from these.

Do you outline your novels before you start writing or do you just ‘go with the flow’?

I’m very much a plotter and usually write a lengthy document outlining the story. This always changes as I write - one character often pushes to the front  - although having the safety net of a plot gives me the confidence to improvise. 

On Amazon, I see that your novels are ranked in ‘Humourous Dark Comedy’,  ‘Noir Crime’, ‘Private Investigator Mysteries’, ‘Mystery’ and ‘Suspense’. Is it useful for an author to be categorised in specific genres? In fact, is it useful for an author deliberately to target a novel at a specific genre?

I’d say yes. It’s important to think about the genre requirements. That doesn’t mean they should stifle originality, just be aware that readers (and publishers) will expect certain ingredients to be in the mix. 

On your web site you say that you train and coach sales people, account managers and others. Can you explain (briefly) what that means?  Who are the people you teach and what, of practical benefit, do they learn?

I help media organisations and ad agencies pitch their services using narrative techniques. This allows them to show how they differ from their competitors in an engaging and memorable way. In addition to this, I also coach writers.

Your novels are published by Thomas & Mercer which is, I believe, a branch of Amazon. Did they approach you or did you approach them?

They were on my agent’s radar and she approached them along with conventional publishers.

What are the benefits of publishing with Thomas & Mercer compared with self-publishing?

Thomas & Mercer are great people to work with in general and I can’t imagine having a better developmental editor. By far and away the stand-out advantage is when it comes to marketing though. 

Based on your professional profile, I assume that you are super-good at marketing in a way that most writers aren’t? If so, what’s your top tip to help us do more effective marketing?

Actually, I don’t have a marketing background so am probably not the best person to ask. Also, as Thomas & Mercer is a division of Amazon, that means its marketing clout is considerable, as I’m sure you can imagine.

Do you do any advertising (for example, Amazon or Facebook) for your novels? If so, what, if anything, have you found works well?

Not really. Again having Amazon as your publisher is a huge advantage in this area.

Did you succeed in getting your first novel published right away or did you spend a few years starving in a garret papered with rejection slips?

Very much the latter. Soho Dead – the first book in the trilogy – was the fourth full length novel I completed. The first draft was rejected by several agents and entirely re-written twice. Winning the CWA Debut Dagger was a huge advantage in getting the book read by prospective agents.

What advice would you give to someone who is writing a novel for this first time?

Get your first draft down as quickly as possible. Many writers don’t finish as they are trying to write and edit at the same time. It's amazing how much your second draft can improve, but you do need to get to the end.

What are you writing now?

A book about a crime novelist and a serial killer. It isn’t specifically based in Soho, although a couple of characters find their way there.

Greg Keen is the author the Soho Series of urban noir crime novels. He lives in and writes about London.

Greg provides coaching services for writers at