A Picture Tells a Story

I was having a discussion recently about the importance of a good cover for a book. With my background in sales, it was something that made sense to me. When first I started in pharmaceutical sales, the Marketing Department would have designed a multiple-page detail aid, a sales process we were to follow, page by page, with the customer. A mix of words and graphics to highlight the key points of our product. Of course, the reality was that a customer would have perhaps a minute and a half to spare me. The reality was that we would use the ‘leavepiece’ rather than the detail aid, a single A5 or gatefold piece of literature, with key product bullet points.

Covers are effectively the leavepiece rather than the detail aid that is the online book listing or the ‘Look Inside’ feature.

But … where do you draw the line between stereotype and communicating your ‘message’? My own genre is paranormal romance. It is a crowded marketplace, so how can I ensure that my ‘product’ has a ‘unique selling point’, that makes it stand out.

Fabulae-Ebook V1The thing that seems to characterise a paranormal romance cover, at least at the moment, is a naked male torso. No head, and maybe just a hint of low-slung jeans. Abdominals, definitely. Perhaps an image of the paranormal creature involved in the story.  A picture of the moon wouldn’t go amiss, considering paranormals were affected by the moon. The image to the right is an early book cover which I used as a promotional item. All the requirements for a paranormal romance seemed to be there. But there was a technical hitch. I tried to run a Facebook advertisement with it. The advert was rejected, on the grounds that the image promoted a ‘negative body image’. Apparently, the abdominals made my model look emaciated. Yes, emaciated. One of my readers commented that she wished her husband looked that emaciated.

Bound Ebook Front V1

When I launched my first book, I chose a pre-made cover from http://www.selfpubbookcovers.com, because they offered options which were not too expensive, and I could customise the book title and author name, using a fairly wide variety of fonts. Their licensing scheme also covered the use of the image for a reasonable number of copies, certainly more than I might hope to sell, so it worked for me.

But then, my friends and I realised that we were writing a series, and that required a different approach. That required a brand identity. In the same way that products in a supermarket have a livery, so to speak, a series of books need to have a ‘look’.

So, here we have “Exhibit Three”. This is a collage of covers from one of my favourite authors, Sherrilyn Kenyon. The top row was from an earlier stage in the author’s career. The second row is from a more recent series of the books. The bottom row is from the author’s series of YA books, hence them having a different look from the earlier books. The key point is that each set has a clear ‘look’ to them.

pizap.com14960738473671

Yet, there are no naked abdominals. Are they not essential? The difference here is that arguably, by the time the second row of titles came out, Ms Kenyon was a well-established author. The main information that needed to be communicated to her ‘customers’ was her name and a clear visual so a reader might know it was a new book. The title of the book was almost immaterial.

So, ask yourself what are you trying to achieve with your cover? Do you want your name to be known? Do you want it clear under what genre the book falls?

There is another aspect to be considered. Example #4 is a different genre from my own:

18697968_10155389171472269_8377672874213698306_nThese books both come under the heading of military history, but they were bought from two very different sources. The book on the left was found in a bookstore in the Military History section. The book on the right was purchased from a supermarket in the Non-Fiction section.  Two very different marketplaces, so different rules apply. Arguably, the supermarket purchase needs to stand out, so you have a light-background and an easily identifiable image to match the title. The bookstore purchase doesn’t need to stand out, since a potential buyer knows what the subject matter will be as the book is in a specialist area. The ‘no nonsense’ look works, because it is a serious subject.

Another factor to take into account: Where will your book be sold?

A final note on covers, and for this I will use my own covers. I mentioned that my stories were clearly forming a series. As it happened, it was two series, so I needed clear identities to link them both together.

pizap.com14960764402281

Row 1 is the original series. The images are tied together by the series title, the wolf image and the similarity of the couple in the heart shape. Row 2 is the follow-on series. It is linked to the original by the strapline at the top, but then it has its own identity. As a ‘shifter’ series, the image combines a picture of the lead male character, as a romance, and the animal into which he is able to shift. Although I have different co-authors, the use of the same style in the author name also serves to tie the books into a series.

I don’t sell my books through supermarkets or bookstores, but at the same time, I want a good quality image for a simple reason. As I said, my genre is very crowded. A reader is likely to search on a string of keywords, such as ‘shifter romance’. As you know, Amazon will bring up thumbnail images. A good quality cover image will stand out, and increase your chances of catching a new reader’s attention.

A final point is how much are you prepared to spend on the cover? I have paid between $69 and £200 for my covers. The higher end of the scale is because they were drawn for me. The lower end is for pre-made covers. The point is that a good quality cover can be purchased for a relatively low amount, but it is a worthwhile investment. It might delay launching your book if you have to think about finances, but it is worth it.

So, in summary, the four questions you need to consider:

  1. Is it important for your genre to be clear because it is part of your identity?
  2. It is more important for your name to stand out?
  3. Where will you be selling your book?
  4. Is the cover optimised for search engines?

And don’t forget, gut instinct. Does it feel right for your book? I learnt a lot as I searched for covers for my books. I know I made mistakes, but hopefully, others can learn from them.


LINKS TO THE BOOKS IN THE DIARIES OF THE CWN ANNWN and HELLFIRE PACK SERIES

“Bound”, Volume 1 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.com $0.99: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B016TQFBNY
Amazon.co.uk £0.99: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B016TQFBNY
Smashwords.com £0.00 (Free): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/589130

“Alpha”, Volume 2 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.com $0.99: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01ENZ972O
Amazon.co.uk £0.99: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01ENZ972O
Smashwords $0.99: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/631708

“Beta”, Volume 3 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.co.uk: £0.99 or free on KU https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01KB20OL6
Amazon.com: $0.99 or free on KU https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01KB20OL6#nav-subnav
Smashwords: $3.99 https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/660156

“Merysekhmet”: A love story with bite
http://www.facebook.com/Merysekhmet
A
mazon.com: $2.99 or free on Kindle Unlimited  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XJPK5S7
Amazon UK: £2.99 or free on Kindle Unlimited https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XJPK5S7

Writing and the “Black Dog”

A guest blog co-authored by Casimir Gosselin and Fane Anghelescu

19c46fd0e00dd247b5a56f087e0a2b8bFane looked up as he heard the distinctive sound of his cousin’s Ducati Diavel engine approaching the Chain & Sprocket workshop. He said nothing as Casimir strode into the small reception area, indicating the office with a jerk of his head. It always amused him when Casimir chose to show up in what was clearly his preferred clothing: leathers, one of several brightly-coloured Buffs around his neck. Fane laughed to himself. The difference between Casimir the businessman and Casimir the biker was quite amusing, given what had happened recently.

“Bhavita …” Fane called out to his human ‘desk jockey’ on the Reception desk, “… I will be in the office. No interruptions.” Opening the office door, he noted that Casimir had already helped himself to a mug of coffee, pouring one for his cousin. “So, what brings you to my den of iniquity, cousin?” He drawled, accepting the drink.

“A request from our author-creator.” Casimir answered. “She’s off work at the moment, stress issues. Wondered if we might explain how you and I can help her work through that.” Casimir raised a brow as he took a sip of his coffee. “That is, if you feel you are …” He smiled, unable to resist winding up his cousin, “… not quite up to it?”

boundFane growled, throwing himself into a chair. Pulling up the WordPress site, he keyed in the login and password. “Of course I am up to it, you idiot.” He smirked at Casimir. “I will even modify my language, since I know her blog is read by humans. They just can’t take my usual turn of phrase.”

“So, how do you want to play this? You know she started writing about us because she was spending so much time away from home, stuck in hotels? I heard tell that it was expected she spend at least one night a week away from home?” Fane leant back in his chair, his long legs extended before him.

“It was deemed necessary to do her job.” Casimir responded. “Business requirements are such that it would have been impractical to drive everywhere on the day. She knew that when she took the job.”

“Yeah, right. And I am a fluffy bunny rabbit. You know as well as I do that she ended up doing a lot more than four nights a month. She is a people person, as humans say. She needs her family near her at the very least.” Fane snorted at Casimir’s words. “You going to be the bad cop here, or something?”

“If I need to be, then yes.” Casimir smiled over the edge of his mug. “But back to the point. You trying to say that the pressures of work proved too much. What about that saying, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen?”

“What happened to ensuring a good work-life balance?” Fane barked. “Isn’t that what human companies are supposed to do. All work and no play makes for exhausted employees, and they tend to not work so well or as efficiently. A good businessman like you knows that.”

“She works in a high pressure environment.” Casimir pointed out. “She knew what was required.” He took another slurp of the coffee. “But that’s not the point. She told me that the last time it was this bad was over fifteen years ago. Fifteen years ago. The point was that yes, she was accustomed to a high pressure environment. She has been working in that place for six years. So why now? And more to the point, how do we help her?”

Idly, Fane picked up the six inch blade lying on his desk. “I have a solution …” He suggested with a smile. “Might be a bit messy, but it would solve the problem reoccurring. Even fifteen years since the last time is too soon.” He slammed the blade into the wood of the desk.

sketch
Casimir Gosselin

“Yeah, very subtle.” Casimir drawled. “I don’t think that will solve the problem. I think what she had in mind was how the process of writing about us has helped her deal with stresses do date. More to the point, how do we help her ensure that this doesn’t happen again?”

Fane sighed theatrically. “The fact is the writing gave her an outlet. I heard her say that when she had a bad day, she would write a fight scene. The book she just published, “Merysekhmet”? That started after her co-author had a bad day at work. Each and every one of us helped her over the bad days, the exhaustion, the asinine behaviour, the empire building. All that shit that she said she can’t stand. She just wanted to be able to do her job.”

“Indeed. So when someone else’s cock-up cost her that £20k contract, that didn’t help. But no one was willing to accept the blame. Or rather the individuals responsible tried to pass the blame onto someone else. Very easy to blame our author-creator, particularly if she is not hitting sales targets.” Casimir’s voice had dropped to a growl.

“Wouldn’t it be great if you and I could just leap off the pages of the book and …” He smiled. “… explain to these individuals that it is not a good idea to have our author-creator feel so stressed.” Fane’s expression made it clear that he would ensure that such a lesson was not easily forgotten.

“Don’t I wish.” Casimir gave a bark of laughter. “Instead, all we can do is give her the means to release her frustration on paper.” He shrugged. “If it means I must kill one or two more individuals, who may or may not bear a resemblance, passing and unintentional, to real individuals …” Another shrug. “I can live with that.” His smile was cold. Businessman he might be, but he was protective of those who mattered to him.

“On that we are agreed.” Fane raised his own coffee mug in salute to his cousin. “We need to continue to help her come up with plots, perhaps incorporate some of the idiots who cause that stress. Last thing we want is for her to give up.” Fane gave a mock shudder of horror. “Having had a starring role in several of her blog posts, it’s been quite fun.”

“Perhaps we should come up with a few more ideas with her, ways that our stories will go that might be unexpected. If we can make her laugh again, that won’t be a bad thing.” Casimir nodded. “May I suggest you have a word with your Pack, and I will do the same with mine.” He coughed. “Of course, she is working on Josh and Dylann’s story, as well as Sergei and Karma’s story. Must mean it is your turn.”

Fane grinned widely. “It will be my turn with bells on. She is trying to turn “Ddraig” into a single volume.” He shook his head. “300,000 words by the look of things. I think she might bring it down by 50, 000 words once the takes all the repetition out. I don’t envy her the editing.”

Casimir wandered back to the coffee machine to refill his mug. “So, we are agreed. We work together to ensure that our author-creator continues to see that we are here to help her and support her.” He shrugged. “Not just us, either. All her friends, her co-writers, some of the other indie authors she has met over time. They all support each other, some more than others. But, when the ‘black dog’ starts barking, she needs to know that she is not alone.”

depression-signs-symptoms-infographic-concept-vector-flat-cartoon-illustration-poster-sad-women-character-80480952“Agreed. One individual can’t be permitted to kill her spark.” He toyed with the knife in his hand. “Still, it is a damn shame you are I are tied to the world of fiction. The fun that we could have.” Fane smiled. “The fun, indeed.”


LINKS TO THE BOOKS IN THE DIARIES OF THE CWN ANNWN and HELLFIRE PACK SERIES

“Bound”, Volume 1 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.com $0.99: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B016TQFBNY
Amazon.co.uk £0.99: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B016TQFBNY
Smashwords.com £0.00 (Free): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/589130

“Alpha”, Volume 2 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.com $0.99: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01ENZ972O
Amazon.co.uk £0.99: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01ENZ972O
Smashwords $0.99: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/631708

“Beta”, Volume 3 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.co.uk: £0.99 or free on KU https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01KB20OL6
Amazon.com: $0.99 or free on KU https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01KB20OL6#nav-subnav
Smashwords: $3.99 https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/660156

“Merysekhmet”: A love story with bite
http://www.facebook.com/Merysekhmet
A
mazon.com: $2.99 or free on Kindle Unlimited  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XJPK5S7
Amazon UK: £2.99 or free on Kindle Unlimited https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XJPK5S7

Clean romance: Do what?

As a writer of paranormal romance, there is an acknowledgement that there are specific key elements of what is expected. Yeah, let’s be blunt. This is a classic case of ‘sex sells’. But then, the question arises. How much sex? Graphic sex? Implied sex? And then a further question. How much swearing and violence? A fist fight? A graphic description of spilled intestines? Blood flowing or a hero/heroine looking ‘weathered’?

10923831_10153053784427269_4277710017487629372_n

There is a reason or asking this question. I have noticed that there are some groups on which one might promote one’s books which specify ‘clean literature’ only, sometimes citing that this is because their group is open to under-18s. So what is clean? How does ‘clean’ differ from young adult (YA) classification? And why the restriction?

Life is not clean. Whichever way you look at it, there is violence and bad language. One might not want to hear one’s own children speak in a way to embarrass the proverbial sailor, but unless they are locked up in a castle, they will encounter it on TV, the internet, in school etc. So, when I posed the question in a couple of writing groups, I was sincere in looking for an answer. What surprised me was that the ‘clean’ tag was not just for YA literature. Yes, the stereotypical Barbara Cartland or Mills & Boon reader was out there.

Please do not take this as mockery of such people. I was brought up on a diet of Wilbur Smith and Eric Van Lustbader. Trust me, for a sheltered, convent-schoolgirl, that was a significant shock. As I have grown, so my taste in literature has grown and changed. I would still say that my preferred genre to read and write is paranormal romance, and that is a genre known for ‘details’. However, I find myself toying with the idea of ‘implied sex’, for example.  Then there is the question of violence and swearing. I still write an online role-play fan fiction where my character is known for his paint-stripping language, not to mention the pleasure he takes in dismembering his opponents.

So, the sex side and clean romance. The first thing I have discovered is that it does depend on which market you wish to target. In the UK, whilst the stiff British upper lip is still there, it seems that there is less of a reaction to sexuality: descriptions, same sex or M/F relationships. However, cross the Pond and it seems it is a whole different ball game. Depending on the area of the country, I would suggest that the mentality can vary from fairly relaxed to positively Puritan.

10614356_10152666659217269_7805130466771278311_n

Curiously, when considering swearing, drugs, violence, there is a completely different attitude. “Sweet baby Jesus!” is something I hear from many of my very religious acquaintances, particularly in the USA. Yet, dropping the ‘F-bomb’ seems completely out of order for them. Talk of  drugs doesn’t seem so bad in the USA, so I have been told. Difficult to comment on that one, as my books don’t feature that side so much.

13900350_10154406547232269_1180981328571448735_nViolence? Now we are talking. By dint of my early reading, my own knowledge of martial arts, archery and a fascination on body mechanics, I do have several fight scenes in my writing. They range from a few kicks and punches to a determined intent to kill the bad guy. But the picture? Surely that is not violent? I included that picture to highlight a key point. Implied violence. This picture shows a cluster of arrows. If you believe the intent is to have all in the gold, then it shows a lack of accuracy. However, if you take into account the gold, when the target is on a stand, is supposed to be the height of an average Frenchman’s heart, then it takes on a new meaning. This is a picture of three arrows striking the throat, and three striking the heart. Implied violence and a definite case of dead.

So back to the original question. What is ‘clean’ literature? There is no one answer. Market conditions and prevailing moral attitudes can take one person’s mild violence to beyond the pale. Similarly, with sex scenes. The blow by blow account of lovemaking as opposed to the implied scene can make a difference. Many readers of paranormal romances feel short-changed if there is no steamy sex.

A closing question though has to be this: how many of those who disapprove of sex in literature actually bought or borrowed a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey?



LINKS TO THE BOOKS IN THE DIARIES OF THE CWN ANNWN and HELLFIRE PACK SERIES

“Bound”, Volume 1 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.com $0.99: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B016TQFBNY
Amazon.co.uk £0.99: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B016TQFBNY
Smashwords.com £0.00 (Free): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/589130

“Alpha”, Volume 2 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.com $0.99: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01ENZ972O
Amazon.co.uk £0.99: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01ENZ972O
Smashwords $0.99: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/631708

“Beta”, Volume 3 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.co.uk: £0.99 or free on KU https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01KB20OL6
Amazon.com: $0.99 or free on KU https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01KB20OL6#nav-subnav
Smashwords: $3.99 https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/660156

“Merysekhmet”: A love story with bite
http://www.facebook.com/Merysekhmet
A
mazon.com: $1.12 or free on Kindle Unlimited https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XJPK5S7
Amazon UK: £0.99 or free on Kindle Unlimited https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XJPK5S7

 

You write romance?!?

One of those facepalm moments. You finally pluck up the courage to tell someone, a colleague or a friend, that you write novels, and then what happens? What sort of novels, they ask. Romance, you reply. And then what happens?

The sniggers start. Romance, huh? The comments start: everything from jokes about porn, which is just great in a conservative industry like mine, or even better, comparisons to that book series, which is being made into movies.

But, you know what? Romance is one of the biggest selling genres out there. A crowded genre to be sure, but it is still much bigger than many others. The graphics I have used are from the Romance Writers of America site and a few other sources, and make for a definite eye-opener, particularly when your precious love story is mocked for being a … love story.

sales by genre

Yes, folks, it looks like that worthy classic literary fiction category, the ‘good’ books that everyone is reading, was the lowest selling category in 2010.

Whoops! Still think it is just a flash in the pan that romance is a worthwhile genre? Let’s have a look at 2014 then …

sales by genre

And, would you look at that … Not only is Romance still the biggest category, but Indie Published Romance is the largest category in there. That brings me onto another topic.

How many times as an independent author have you heard one of the following:

  • You need to find an agent
  • You are not a real author unless you have a publisher
  • Indie? That’s just vanity publishing.
  • Indie? Isn’t that where you pay someone to publish your work?

I don’t mind admitting that hearing someone tell me I am not a ‘real author’ without have a recognised publishing name behind me has one result: I want to smack them and as a qualified 1st Dan black-belt in Shotokan karate, I do know how to make that count.

Let’s straighten one thing out here. I am an indie author. I publish my own work via Amazon, CreateSpace and Smashwords. More recently, I have used KDP to produce a print-on-demand version of my latest book. Yes, I do my own editing (sharp intake of breath). Yes, I make mistakes. Yes, I have had the embarrassment of having to pull a book so that I can upload the corrected version. But, it is a learning process. And no, I don’t have an agent or a publisher.

But I digress because this piece is about romance, and why it is the largest selling category. The reason is remarkably simple. It could be argued that the same reason explains why religion exists. Life can be hard, so it is human nature to want something better. Quite simply, a well-written romance can lift the spirits.

quotes-love-doesnt-make_1791-4

Not always, but it is more likely to lift the spirits than a book about how hard the protagonist’s life is. If all you have before you is pain and suffering, then yes, you may feel better because at least your life is not that bad. On the other hand, read about love and you have another option. You have the possibility of hope. Yes, your last relationship may have ended badly. Yes, your ex-husband/wife may have been a demon lowlife brought to human form. But that romance, that happy-even-after or happy-ever-after-for-now has given you hope.

It is that nebulous potential of hope which, to my mind, makes romance one of the biggest genres in the fiction market. Laugh all you like at Mills & Boon, but it is big business. People want to believe in the light at the end of the tunnel. Even if you can’t have the fairy-tale, there are the small ‘loves’: a smiling child, a word of thanks. Little flashes of light which give us hope that perhaps tomorrow will be better. That is why romance sells. It is not an undying love for smut or sex. It is the hope that a good love story will bring.

I have just finished writing a story, in which the male protagonist is based on an idea I had relating to my fascination with the Egyptian Goddess, Sekhmet. It started as a way to burn off a bad day at work. It will go live on Amazon on 31st March, although courtesy of their system, the print-on-demand version is available now. It deals with prejudice, but when it comes down to it, the hero and heroine find that the bond between them is stronger than the prejudice of others.

The downside of writing romance is that it is a crowded marketplace. It could be argued that perhaps it is easier to make your name in a less crowded arena. Big fish, small pond and all that. However, another way of looking at it is that, with it being such a big marketplace, perhaps readers might be willing to take a chance on a new author. Who knows? That reader might like what you have written, might recommend it to someone else, because you brought a promise into their lives.

Hope. Hope that there is a better world out there. That’s the promise of romance. So the next time someone mocks you for writing romance, you can smile. At least you brought hope into someone’s life. That’s not a bad thing to do.


LINKS TO THE BOOKS IN THE DIARIES OF THE CWN ANNWN and HELLFIRE PACK SERIES

“Bound”, Volume 1 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.com $0.99: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B016TQFBNY
Amazon.co.uk £0.99: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B016TQFBNY
Smashwords.com £0.00 (Free): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/589130

“Alpha”, Volume 2 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.com $0.99: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01ENZ972O
Amazon.co.uk £0.99: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01ENZ972O
Smashwords $0.99: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/631708

“Beta”, Volume 3 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.co.uk: £3.05 https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01KB20OL6
Amazon.com: $3.99 https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01KB20OL6#nav-subnav
Smashwords: $3.99 https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/660156

“Merysekhmet”: A love story with bite
http://www.facebook.com/Merysekhmet
A
mazon.com: $1.12 or free on Kindle Unlimited https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XJPK5S7
Amazon UK: £0.99 or free on Kindle Unlimited https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XJPK5S7

Blow my own trumpet time

Modesty. Yeah, we are always taught that it isn’t polite to blow one’s own trumpet. Most of my blog posts have been about how I have created my stories. This one was ‘inspired’ by research into author associations. I am a member of the RRBC (Rave Reviews Book Club), RRRBC-Logoand am considering joining the Romance Writers of America (https://www.rwa.org) even though I am UK based. So, I thought, there must be UK versions of these organisations … Seems logical, right? Wrong!

RWA-Logo-300x145

Put in ‘author associations uk’ into Google, and yes, you do return some results. But then, it seems that whoever runs at least one of those groups is missing the point.

I have alluded to the perception that to be a ‘real author’, you must have an agent, a publishing contract and have sold loads of books. Otherwise, it is just vanity publishing. So, in my search, I came across one group, which did have a category of membership for ‘self-published authors’. Click on the link and I nearly spat my coffee out over my laptop. Why? In order to be considered by this group, one had to have sold £500 worth of books or over 100 copies. Yet, when I looked at the sorts of topic they covered, they were topics aimed at new authors e.g. how to build a fantasy world. So why the disparity?

I can’t say that I know the reason. But what struck me was that, if you expect an indie, self-published author to have sold £500 worth of books, you are talking anywhere from 500 copies to … well, the sky would be the limit. In effect, they are expecting an indie author to have the same sort of sales as an author with an agent actively pushing their work, and a publisher doing the same sell-your-books-1024x685

Why do I have an issue with this? I am an indie author. I don’t want an agent and I have my own registered company which I list as my publisher. My day job is working in sales, so I appreciate the whole issue of sales, profit margins, production costs etc. I sell my books at prices of £0.99 to £3.05, with one book on Kindle Unlimited by Amazon. I have print-on-demand versions available for those who prefer a ‘real’ book rather than an e-book.

However, the key thing is that for me, I don’t expect to make my fortune from my writing. If there are people out there willing to buy my books, then well and good. I thank them from the bottom of my heart. But, that set of criteria for joining the UK organisation could be very discouraging. It takes time to establish yourself, and if you have to work a day-job in the meantime, it decreases the amount of time you have for self-promotion.

The right kind of self-promotion is what helps to sell your books. Can you see the ‘Catch 22’ of the situation? Some will not perceive you as a ‘real author’ if you don’t have the sales. But I am a writer. I have sold books. If ever I reach the dizzying heights of selling a few hundred books, I will be rather pleased. But, dreams don’t pay the mortgage. So the day job stays, with the acknowledgement that it limits the number of hours I have for self-promotion.

So, where does blowing my own trumpet come into this? There is one thing that I would like to think I have done. I am fortunate in that, in writing my stories via ‘live’ posts on Facebook, in the style of ‘online role play’ which I export into Word for editing, I have also met some wonderful people. Many enter the world of online role-play because they want to write, but without the hassle. Does that make them any less of a writer? Some of them write some incredibly involved and detailed stories. Due to the risk of Facebook attacking their author accounts, I can’t give them to public praise that they deserve. Thus, many of them remain hidden. But one or two have been willing to work with me.

On 31 March, I will publish my latest book, “Merysekhmet”, written with the wonderfully talented Kaitlyn Bosch,Kaitlyn a Californian-based author whom I met online. Kaitlyn had a bad day at work, so I suggested we wrote a fight scene. Previously, we had been discussing characters to whom we wanted to give ‘voice’. We decided to use two such characters: Ramses Tariq-Omari, a lion shifter and doctor, and pair him with Elizabeth DeAnglo, the assistant to one of the other characters, who was very much under-utilised. A fight scene led to a meet up for coffee, so Ramses could check Elizabeth was healing after the fight. Then Elizabeth was threatened by the Wendigo who had killed her husband. Ramses, being the conscientious doctor that he was, couldn’t leave her unattended, and she finds herself in his apartment …

If you want the rest, you have to buy the book, or download it if you have Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited.

Trumpet blown. I am happy with what I have done. I have made some fantastic friends online, not all of whom I have met in person, but it doesn’t make them any less my friends. If you don’t sell hundreds of books, it does not mean you are not a ‘real author’. I have a small group of followers who read my stories as I write them. Even if they don’t buy my books, although some have, it does not make them any less my fans.

And, going back to that UK-based organisation? In a business world, which seems to be their focus, they should perhaps remember that they are not the only organisation out there for romance writers.


LINKS TO THE BOOKS IN THE DIARIES OF THE CWN ANNWN and HELLFIRE PACK SERIES

“Bound”, Volume 1 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.com $0.99: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B016TQFBNY
Amazon.co.uk £0.99: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B016TQFBNY
Smashwords.com £0.00 (Free): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/589130

“Alpha”, Volume 2 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.com $0.99: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01ENZ972O
Amazon.co.uk £0.99: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01ENZ972O
Smashwords $0.99: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/631708

“Beta”, Volume 3 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.co.uk: £3.05 https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01KB20OL6
Amazon.com: $3.99 https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01KB20OL6#nav-subnav
Smashwords: $3.99 https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/660156

“Merysekhmet”: A love story with bite
http://www.facebook.com/Merysekhmet
A
mazon.com: $1.12 or free on Kindle Unlimited https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XJPK5S7
Amazon UK: £0.99 or free on Kindle Unlimited https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XJPK5S7

Males and motorbikes …

Something of a pet subject of mine, as an armchair biker, is the frequent use of motorbikes to set the image of the male (generally) lead in a romance novel. In the main, and this may be because many books are set in the USA, the chosen bike is a Harley.

548979_10200487083132338_2137114455_n
Honda NC700X (a.k.a. Toothless)

Whoa Nellie! Why Harleys? There are loads of bikes out there, as illustrated at the top of this post by the Triumph Tiger and the BMW R1200. Ah yes, but those are not Harleys, you know, Harley Davidson, the choice of bad boy bikers everywhere, the epitome of the free spirit.

So, my first question to anyone thinking of including a Harley Davidson as the bike of choice for their male lead is this. Have you ever ridden one, or even sat on one?

Why should that matter? Look at it this way. Would you use a straight-bladed screwdriver to remove a Phillips screw? No, you answer scornfully as it would be the wrong tool for the job. In the same way, the wrong bike can set the wrong scene.

Let’s look at some examples:

  1. Ride out, at speed, around some winding roads in NY State
  2. Ride out, from NY State to one of the closer Southern States
  3. Ride out, through woodlands where some may be riding pillion
  4. In town riding, where traffic may be an issue

Each of these is like the analogy of the screwdriver above. For each of them, a different riding technique is used. If the male MC is a keen rider, then he will be accustomed to a specific style of riding. Much in the same way that you wouldn’t take a Mini on an off-road track, it is conceivable that a different bike needs to be used.

In November 2016, I attended the MCN Live show in Birmingham. I was buying replacement gear for my son, which is another topic I shall address. However, I wanted to work out a specific type of bike for a specific scene in one of my books. The scene was Item 3 above: ride out through woodlands where some may be riding pillion.

ducatiIn the actual scene, the pillion passenger is actually blind, a former comrade-in-arms of the bike’s rider. The ground is uneven and muddy. Going can be slippery as the scene took place in early Autumn/Fall. I had narrowed it down to two bikes, both Ducati Scramblers, but which one would I pick. After a discussion with the Marketing Manager of Ducati (female), a suggestion was made.

Some of the bikes I have seen suggested have completely inappropriate tyres. This one, she suggested had the right combination and could be ridden by two people.

2016-ducati-diavel-carbon-2_1280x0wMy own favourite MC in my books actually has two preferred bikes and it depends what he plans to do. The first is his Ducati Diavel. Why? He lives in New York City and commutes occasionally out to his home in the Catskills. The road to the Catskills is relatively straight. It is an open-the-throttle-and-let-rip kind of road. So, there he used the Diavel. On the other hand, in a scene where he and a member of his Pack had to give the appearance of being something other than American, they chose to use European adventure touring bikes. Casimir rode a Triumph Tiger Explorer, and Vittorio rode a BMW R1200. The intention was comfort and a bike capable of carrying a decent amount of luggage. They wanted maneuverability. With the best will in the world, these are not features of the generally customised chopper-style Harley assigned to a male MC. Harleys are great on straight roads. That is what they are designed for. But nipping around winding roads? Perhaps only if there is no oncoming traffic.

bikesafeReturning to an earlier point, have you ever sat on any of the bikes you choose to use? Why does this matter? I will illustrate the point with a photo of my son on the UK Police Bike Safe bike. My son is 6ft 2in tall, and he is not a small or skinny type. Put him in his bike gear and he is impressive to say the least. But, look at him in relation to the size of the bike. Take a good look. Does he fit or does it look like the bike is too big? If he was carrying a female behind him, would she be comfortable?

My final point is on bike safety gear. Yeah, yeah, I know that it is only us wussy Brits and Europeans who wear helmets and safety gear. Big, bad American bikers don’t bother with than nonsense. Really?

helmet-injuries

Take a look at the comparison between ‘killed’ and ‘incapacitating injury’. It would really squash your romance if your male MC ended up as a bloody smear on the road because he wasn’t wearing a protective jacket, or worse still ended up in a coma because he chose to forgo a helmet.

Serious bikers wear safety gear. It is that simple. It is not a fashion statement, although the Harley dealerships seem to think it is with some of their ranges. It is practicality and the need to stay alive in the face of idiot car-drivers.

In conclusion, what are my key suggestions if you are planning to use a motorbike with any of your characters:

  1. Make sure it is fit for purpose
  2. Make sure it is the right size for your rider
  3. Make sure that you include description that demonstrates why you have chosen that bike
  4. Don’t forget the damned safety gear.

Other than that? Happy riding. By the way, my son actually owned both the Honda NC700X and the Triumph Tiger.

15621722_10210250089241389_3253404623339618251_n
Triumph Tiger (a.k.a. Ddraig Goch)

LINKS TO THE BOOKS IN THE DIARIES OF THE CWN ANNWN and HELLFIRE PACK SERIES

“Bound”, Volume 1 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.com $0.99: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B016TQFBNY
Amazon.co.uk £0.99: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B016TQFBNY
Smashwords.com £0.00 (Free): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/589130

“Alpha”, Volume 2 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.com $0.99: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01ENZ972O
Amazon.co.uk £0.99: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01ENZ972O
Smashwords $0.99: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/631708

“Beta”, Volume 3 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.co.uk: £3.05 https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01KB20OL6
Amazon.com: $3.99 https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01KB20OL6#nav-subnav
Smashwords: $3.99 https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/660156

“Merysekhmet”: A love story with bite
http://www.facebook.com/Merysekhmet

Birth of a New Story

Every writer has a different creative process. For some it starts with a character, or a picture or it starts with an idea, and the characters are created to fit an idea.

Digital StillCamera
From little acorns …

This is how it works for me, using my current work in progress as an example. As for why I decided to write this? Well, two questions made me think. The first was a simple question of which comes first: characters or plot? The second was which three movies, or songs, inspired your writing?

I have made no bones about my first foray into writing, in my adult life at least, was as a result of my love of the work of one author, Sherrilyn Kenyon. Ironically, the first of her books which I read was the 12th in her Dark Hunter series, and I bought it only as it was the only fantasy-type story in English in a foreign airport.

51ygdx98xl-_sx309_bo1204203200_

Serendipity played a major part in my writing, because if the original group in which I wrote my SK-based fan fiction had not imploded, I might not have decided to see if my own ideas would work. Characters played a major role in my own creative process. From the time I was in my teens, I had dreamt of a dark-haired male, with a huge smile who wanted me to tell stories. He was the starter. My love of legends was next. Legends are stories which I like to see as ways that our ancestors filled in some of the mysteries of their lives and deaths. Greek, Egyptian, Celtic … it didn’t matter to me. The more the merrier. But it begged the question of what if these creatures still walked among us?

Thus, my original series, the Diaries of the Cwn Annwn was born. But when I had taken those characters to a certain point, I wanted something different. My own long-standing favourite has always been the Egyptian legends. So, when it came to designing a new character, that was where I looked. I am fortunate in that I can visit the Egyptian gallery in the British Museum regularly, and there I found inspiration in a book on heiroglyphs in the translation for the words “Beloved of Sekhmet”. Merysekhmet was born.

But where should this character fit in my little universe? With my job association in the NHS, I wanted to give my Merysekhmet characters a medical/scientific background. I had the vague idea that I wanted to use my character to highlight some of the sterling work done in the NHS. No problem there. Then I met another gifted storyteller, who lives in Alabama. The idea that “Karma” had was that she had a hacker character, a former FBI agent who had been the victim of experimentation in a secret organisation, resulting in her having the ability to shift her features and mimic the look of others. I tied this with an earlier part of my series, where the main character had encountered the Nazi regime’s fascination with the paranormal. Her shadowy organisation become a bioengineering facility led by ‘Doc’, the son of a Nazi geneticist. He had been running experiments using his father’s notes. “Karma” was just one of his subjects.

argonnes_midwest_center_for_structural_genomics_deposits_1000th_protein_structure

Ramble on … But this gave us the way to introduce some new characters and also look at the whole concept of mutation. Yes, the X-men franchise have covered mutants and what they can do, but what starts the process? We took the idea of a ‘scientist’ working from information that paranormal creatures actually existed, and determined that he felt that they must have interacted with the human race. Interaction meant procreation, which meant that their genetic material was out there somewhere. Finding it was just a process of intense searching. Once it had been found, the subjects might be the source of further experimentation to see what might trigger a recessive gene to be triggered.

It didn’t matter if the subjects didn’t know of the secret within their DNA. An unusual ability in gymnastics, or in the swimming pool? An unusual turn of speed on the athletics track? An ability to see in the dark? Find these people and let the testing and experimentation begin.

But they are ‘free individuals’. Why would they agree, because you can bet anything they won’t be paid for this? That’s easy. Kill them off in their normal lives. If no one knows they still lived, then no one would come looking. And thus, begins their new life in hell, where they are an experimental subject and nothing more than that. What happens to the mind and the spirit with that level of abuse, particularly if everything is geared towards reducing you from a ‘thinking human being’ to an ‘animal’?

In our stories, the Cwn Annwn and their allies will destroy the bioengineering facility. Having seen the potential of such experimentation in Nazi Germany, my original main character, Gavril Negrescu, is firm on that. They know that there are ‘subjects’ being held, but these are individuals pushed to their limits, with the ‘bonus’ that they have more abilities. Thus we had the story to follow Merysekhmet.

1marssschool

Josh Abbott, a ‘deceased’ member of the USMC, whose genetic make-up included recessive characteristics from a Native American grandmother several generations before, when North America was being settled by the incoming Europeans. When the bioengineering facility is destroyed, he flees. He trusts no one. He is a male in mental and physical pain, having been pushed for the gratification of his captor’s experiments. But, buried in the pain is a Marine, a male raised on the stories of an adored Great Grandpa. Reading the Native American legends of the cougar, Toho, I knew I had my paranormal angle.

Returning to those two original questions: characters or plot? I had the rough plot with this one first, and then the character had to be built, because research must be done. At the very least, Josh is a Marine, so he needs to walk and talk like a Marine. That takes research.

Birth of a new story? Well, when the question is posed; about character or plot first, there always seems to be an element of one or the other. The point I wanted to make was that it is not set in stone. Sometimes one works more than the other. Merysekhmet was about the character first. Toho was the plot first. Don’t be tied down to a formula. Relax and go with the flow. Listen to your dreams and surprise yourself.


LINKS TO THE BOOKS IN THE DIARIES OF THE CWN ANNWN

“Bound”, Volume 1 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.com $0.99: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B016TQFBNY
Amazon.co.uk £0.99: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B016TQFBNY
Smashwords.com £0.00 (Free): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/589130

“Alpha”, Volume 2 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.com $0.99: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01ENZ972O
Amazon.co.uk £0.99: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01ENZ972O
Smashwords $0.99: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/631708

“Beta”, Volume 3 of The Diaries of the Cŵn Annwn
Amazon.co.uk: £3.05 https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01KB20OL6
Amazon.com: $3.99 https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01KB20OL6#nav-subnav
Smashwords: $3.99 https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/660156

“Merysekhmet”: A love story with bite
http://www.facebook.com/Merysekhmet