Thursday, 30 October 2014

How To (Not) Give Away Your e-book For Free


     Just over two months ago I gave away free copies of my book Jack Strong and the Red Giant over a two day period. I'd released Jack's adventures to the world a few weeks previous to that, but following the initial sales burst, download figures had slumped, hence my decision to give my book away for free in order to get things and hopefully readers moving again. In total 90 people downloaded my book, including 59 on the first day alone.
     Great eh? Well, watching that big fat green line shoot up like some kind of arrow surely was. If all of the people who downloaded my book read it and loved it and reviewed it and then recommended it to their friends then my book might just get off the proverbial ground and land somewhere in the stratosphere, which is what I'm sure every author thinks when they run a book give away. The problem though, as I'm sure other Indy authors will testify, is that the vast majority of the people who downloaded my book will in all likelihood never ever read it.
     Why? Because it's free. Think about it - the vast majority of people use and/or consume whatever they pay for. If you buy a snickers bar you eat it fairly soon after popping it in your pocket. The same goes for computers, TV's, cars, cups, plates, and especially books. Sure, if someone gave you a free TV or car you'd use that, but would you if you had a hundred or even a thousand to choose from? That's what it's like for the would-be reader of yours and my book. They have hundreds, maybe even thousands of books swirling around the digital netherworld of their kindles, each one demanding to be read. Your free book would have to be pretty special for them to ignore the latest offering from George R.R Martin or Stephen King for example, not to mention the classics (because that's exactly who the Indy writer is competing with). Of course if you are a close friend or a family member of the author then that may just be different, but for the majority of readers your book will likely slip further and further down their reading list until eventually it's forgotten about altogether.
     Over the last few months I've probably downloaded somewhere in the region of ten freebies and read precisely none of them. Not out of spite, not out of ignorance, but out of the fact that I have other more important books to read  - I'm trying to make my way through all fourteen of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series, as well as reading the books by other Indy authors that I've paid money for. It's a shame, because I really would love to have the time to read EVERYTHING that comes my way - and perhaps I will once I finish the WoT, but since I'll likely be neck deep in another fantasy epic by then, I doubt it.

The Long Hard Slog

     Ultimately, the Indy author, aside from giving away review copies for free, has to (like every other author on the planet) embrace the long, hard slog of near-constant promotion in a bid to generate sales, reviews, and buzz, until such a time (if this ever comes about) that it becomes self-sustaining. The only way to do this is to get yourself out there by posting details of your novel on the top social media websites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ and by posting sample chapters online so that people can get a feel for the product (because it is a product just like anything else) that you are selling (this is especially the case when you're an Indy writer with only Amazon behind you). You could also consider setting up a writing blog (like I have) or something to that effect (I'm also preparing to set up a fictional blog for my main character, Jack Strong) in a bid to draw more readers towards your novel(s).
     There is a downside of course - you can kiss goodbye to all those lovely, fat, green arrows and those double digit 'sales' figures and get ready to embrace a few small red ones that don't go very high and come back down to Earth fairly quickly. Since my last and only freebie give away I have sold 18 books, which is an average of about 6 or 7 a month, a number that of course is hardly going to worry the NY Times best seller list, but of these (and here's the good thing) quite a few people have actually read it and posted reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, which should if I'm lucky boost sales figures a bit more.

The Publishing Ladder

I don't want to be an Amazon author forever; ideally, I'd like to climb the publishing ladder and jump, if not to a major publisher, then at least to a small publisher with some sort of outreach that I currently don't possess. One way for me to do that of course is to approach agents and publishers with queries about my book. But there's just one problem: I've already done that (at least in the U.K) and I was rejected by a staggering 100% of them! What I now therefore hope to do is sell a few more books, establish more of an online presence (I have Jack Strong's diary particularly in mind here), and then approach some more agents and publishers. If I could get somewhere in the region of 100 to 200 sales (I'm currently hovering around 60) then I'd be fairly confident of piecing together a good, convincing pitch (at the end of the day ALL publishers want to be sure your book will sell) that would land me a half-decent publishing contract. So of course if all you do is give your book away for free it will be hard to convince the publisher/agent that there's an audience out there willing to pay for it.

Final Word

I'm not going to lie to you - publishing on Amazon and trying to generate sales and buzz is a long, lonely, and often quite tiring road. It takes constant resilience and effort. Sometimes I go a week without selling anything, and then there's a week like last week where I sold 4 copies in the space of a couple of days (yay me!). But if I've learnt anything it's that despite the above target, I have grown to appreciate and value ONE SALE. The fact that somebody - usually someone I don't know - is interested enough in my book to pay money for it and read it is nothing short of magical in my eyes, and at the end of the day I'd rather have one sale than ten or even a hundred free downloads.

If you want to read my novel Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures in space please check out the link below:

Thursday, 23 October 2014


Finishing a Novel

As if finishing a novel isn't a hard and long enough process, there's drafting (editing) to look forward to a few weeks or even a few months afterwards. For the writer, it's like climbing up Mount Everest, only to realise that K2 awaits a little farther off into the distance. But rather like our imaginary mountaineer, we need to give ourselves a little rest before we attempt our next summit, otherwise we are in danger of burning ourselves out. This rest can last weeks or even a few months (though you should be writing something else during this period, be it a novella, a few blog posts, or even a few poems), but it should be long enough to ensure that you are mentally-relaxed enough for a few months of hard, solid, often-frustrating drafting.

But I don't need to draft - I'm a writing genius

The first rule of writing is that everybody needs to draft. We only become perfect by being perfectionists, and by respecting the metaphorical mountain enough to go back and re-read what we've written. And this doesn't just apply to relative newcomers like myself (I put my first novel Jack Strong and the Red Giant through approximately ten drafts), even the likes of Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, and a lot more besides hammer and chisel away at their manuscripts until they are satisfied enough to pass it onto their publisher.

How do I draft?

Ultimately, what method your drafting takes is down to you - you have to do whatever you are comfortable with, so long as you are giving your would-be masterpiece a thorough sifting through. For example, when I put Jack Strong and the Red Giant through its first re-draft I printed the whole thing out and read it all from the first page to the last, making notes as I went along, before (slowly) typing up my alterations on the computer. That wasn't the end of the story of course: after that there were months of reading and re-reading ahead, until finally I was happy enough to declare it finished. As for how many drafts it will take, that's up to you; it just depends on whether or not you are satisfied with the finished article. If you're not then keep on hammering it into shape until you are.

What am I looking for when I draft?

When you put your novel through a series of drafts you should be focused on it much like a reader would. Try to ask yourself some of the following questions: Is the story original, believable, does it make sense? Are the characters likeable? How will they be perceived by the reader? Does the dialogue jump out at you, light up the page, and even direct the narrative? Is it grammatically correct? How long are your paragraphs - are they too long? Can they they be broken up? Is there any 'fluff' that you can cut out (I must have cut close to 40,000 words from Jack Strong and the Red Giant)? The list goes on and on, and a lot of the time it all depends on you as a writer and the kind of novel, character etc that you are trying to produce. For example, partly as a result of my time reading and writing poetry I am very keen to get as much colour as possible into my writing, I find that it helps the reader picture what I'm writing about that much easier.

The Final Draft

Now when you've finished your final draft and all those nasty, little kinks have been ironed out you may think, (quite like I did when I finished the first Jack Strong book), that you've finished, that it's over, and that you can now plough onto the synopsis and the query letter and ping off some e mails to some agents and publishers - but you'd be wrong, dead wrong in fact. What you should do now (as I have just done this week) is give it one more check for punctuation errors, because it may just be that a few - or perhaps more than a few - slipped you by in the drafting process. Then and only then should you consider approaching agents and publishers, or publish on Amazon etc.

Final Word

When it's done, it's done and there's nothing else you can do about it. Try to resist any further alterations or else you will be tinkering with it for years. After that it's up to the reader to judge. But even if you're initially unsuccessful in finding a publisher (Stephen King's first two books The Running Man and The Long Walk, were both rejected) that doesn't mean that you should give up (I haven't). The more you read and write the more you will learn and the better you will get at it, until one day you write something that is EXACTLY what someone in the publishing industry is looking for.

If you want to read my novel Jack Strong and the Red Giant about a bullied, 12 year-old boy's adventures in space check out the link below:

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Finishing a Novel


     When I first started writing my debut novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant three years ago I imagined that upon its completion something akin to fireworks would explode: I would dance, thrust my hands in the hair, fist-pump, and hug and tell all my friends. In the eventuality however, these feelings of joy and triumph never materialised; in the end I felt more melancholy than anything, like a hot air balloon without its helium. At first, I thought that this must be a one-off since I'd been writing a collection of poetry for my MA at the time, which had tired me out a great deal, but lo and behold similar sensations of lethargy and emptiness also accompanied the completion of the second book in the Jack Strong series as well as my most recent effort, Dragon Rider. Where do these feelings come from and why are they here at all?

     Chickens and Eggs

     If the author is the chicken then the novel is most assuredly the egg and in a sense this metaphor helps explain the melancholy that often comes with the finishing of a novel. The writer has spent so long - years or even decades in some cases - knocking out storylines, framing characters, and spitting out words that a sense of sadness at the end of this process is not entirely unreasonable - it is our baby after all and at the end of the day we are sad to see it go.
     But what should we do about it, if anything? First of all, I think that you should accept it for what it is - I do - it's part of the novel writing process after all, but I also think that for a week or two afterwards you should do something different, something non-writing related. If I can I try to time the completion of a novel with a holiday, or if that's not possible I do a few of the things that I've missed out on over the previous three or four months, namely spending some quality time with friends, or else even checking out some of the sales at the local shopping centre. That way I give my body and my brain time to relax and refresh: I have to be full of energy after all to write the next novel. Just make sure you don't spend too long chilling out at the beach or in some nightclub - all you need is two or three weeks of R and R and then you should be ready to sit down in front of the proverbial typewriter again.

     It's a Marathon, not a Sprint

     Unfortunately, writing and publishing a novel is not a sprint, it's a marathon. Finishing the last sentence is really just the start of a long, drawn out process of a race that you may never actually finish. After the last words have been typed out and after a break of anywhere between a few weeks and a few months the writer is faced with the hugely difficult task of editing anywhere between 40,000 words for a small novel and 150,000 for a really big one. This process can often take longer than the actual time it took to write it and can be very stressful for the author, especially as he/she struggles with tiredness and a niggling sense of "Will this ever get done?"
     Then after the author declares the editing finished, there is the veritable jungle of trying to find an agent and/or a publisher (and if they're really lucky readers), and if this first part of the journey is unsuccessful (which it so often can be) then there's the Amazon route, which of course is not without its own considerable challenges. Which ultimately is why a writer, upon finishing the first draft, isn't fist-pumping and dancing with all around him: because they know that deep down it is only the beginning down a long and winding road ...

     If you want to read my novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures in space then check out the link below:

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Why I Write


The main reason why I write Children's/Young Adult novels (poetry seems to be slipping away from me at the moment) as well as this blog is that it is FUN! For me there is nothing more enjoyable (Okay, hiking a windswept mountain comes close) than sitting in front of my computer, mug of tea by my side, tap-tap tapping away as I bring life to my stories and my characters. Ultimately, it's not habit or ambition (though they are important too) that draw me back to the worlds of Jack Strong and Danny Moo, it's the fact that it's a better, more productive way to spend my time than most other things I do.

My Career

Another no less vital reason for me to write is that one day I would like to get paid for it. It would be great if, one day in the not-too-distant future, I could leave ESL teaching and China behind and just concentrate on my writing - and with two novels and a poetry collection waiting to be edited, plus the 3rd Jack Strong novel on the horizon I have plenty to do. Besides, wouldn't it be great to see my book published and adorning the shelves of bookshops across the world? If I want to be the next Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, or J.K Rowling I can't very well get there by NOT writing can I?

Honing My Skills

With each page that I write, nay with each sentence, the better and more accomplished I become as a writer. Writing is sometimes less of an art form and more of a craft or a skill: the more you do it, the more you learn from your mistakes and the better you get. So it is with me. When I first sat down to write Jack Strong and the Red Giant it was hard work at first, and though I'd read a fair amount of novels, all I'd written before were poems so I was very rusty and still very much finding my feet as a writer. The total word count for Jack Strong is just above 80,000 words but I must have binned at least half this amount during the whole process. By the time I was penning my second novel however, all that had changed and everything seemed to flow easier and faster, the result being a far smoother, less chaotic novel completed in a quarter of the time with hardly any rejected text.

My Stories and My Characters

The more I write, the more my stories and my characters and the universes that they inhabit take on a life of their own. I can't let Jack Strong and Vyleria Romen (the main characters in my novel Jack Strong and the Red Giant) die by either by procrastination or through losing hope. To me they are no longer characters in some novel of mine, but close friends that almost have a life of their own; lives that deserve to go on and be written about and read over and over again.

My readers

Now whilst I don't have legions of fans scurrying around and haranguing me for my autograph yet, my book has been read, reviewed, and commented on by numerous people. What I really love are the reviews from those people who want to read more, who demand to know when the next book is out, and what will happen to this character and that character etc. Reviews like these are Red Bulls to writers like me. They give me hope. They make me want to write on and have the belief that maybe someday more people like them will appreciate what I'm doing, buy my book, and hopefully spread the word.

Final Word 

These are the reasons why I write, but what about you? I'd love to hear from readers and writers alike in the comment box below ...

My book Jack Strong and the Red Giant is available @:

Friday, 3 October 2014

Prologue from Jack Strong and the Red Giant


The boy pulled the bundle of furs close as the last of his fire rocks went out.
He couldn’t stop shivering. It was getting colder and colder every day now.
Outside he could hear the Nagwhals calling, their shrill whine bouncing off the ice falls, reaching deep into the cave.
He was so hungry. He hadn't eaten in days.
Beneath the pile of rotten fur he held onto his brother, now stiff with cold.
Down the tunnel he heard a long, piercing shriek and a loud splash. Moments later a big silver head followed by a long silver body squeezed itself out of the darkness and slid towards him, its huge, jagged teeth snapping at his rags.
A yell and a lunge and it was all over.
He let go of his brother as the Nagwhal tugged his stiff body back down the dark tunnel.
He was alone now - the last boy alive on a long dead planet.
The boy shivered, and waited for the Nagwhal to come again.

Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year old's adventures in space is out now on Amazon:

Thursday, 2 October 2014



     The last few posts that I've written have centred around the subject of criticism and in particular how to categorise it (Type one = immediately reject, Type 2 = immediately accept, and Type 3 = Accept after a period of reflection), but this then in turn raises another problem: how do I know if the critic is right or wrong? As an author, the best way to answer this question, is by honing and sharpening, not unlike a knife, your capacity for self-criticism. The best and only way to do this is by reading and writing more. The more you write, the better you get at it and the more you instinctively know what makes a good character and an interesting story, as well as what words are appropriate in any given situation. So when somebody - it could be a friend or an online reviewer for example - gives you some criticism (remember if it's not constructive it belongs in the bin!) you can deal with it accordingly.

     Will it make me a better writer?

     Sometimes I think that it's best to ask yourself this one, simple question: If I make the changes that they're suggesting will it make my novel, short story, or poem better? When I showed the first chapter of my novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant to Sherry Ashworth, my professor at Manchester Metropolitan University she suggested several changes, not the least of which was deleting a lot of the over-description (there had to have been at least ten pages describing the living room in great detail!). Of course I'd rather she had praised the whole thing and given me an 'A', but that's not how these things work, at least not initially. After a few moments of reflection I could see quite clearly that by deleting the offending paragraphs that my novel would be all the better for it, that the narrative would flow more freely, and that the reader (Rule number 1 of writing: the reader is always right) would enjoy it all the more. Ultimately, by listening to and actioning Sherry's criticism the novel as a whole was improved, not least because I didn't make the same mistake twice.


     The inner critic is also cultivated by the more books you read. Books, not unlike sunshine and water to plants, are what allow our literary and creative minds to grow. The more we read the more words swill and bounce around in our heads, and the more we connect with real, publishable characters, as well as believable worlds and convincing storylines. Ultimately, these are all what the MODERN READER wants and BUYS, so as writers we have listen to them. This is not to be confused with imitation - we always have to strive to be original - it is merely a tool to show us what is acceptable and what is not, and what is publishable and what will likely end up in the agent's slush pile.

    The final draft

    Criticism in inevitable, whether you are Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, or a struggling young (ish) writer like myself, but the trick is to keep it to a minimum. If people are tearing apart your final draft then the odds are that you've made some howlers, but if it's a few niggles here and there that can either be explained away (you are allowed to say you're right occasionally) or actioned appropriately then you are well on the way to getting your first book or poem published. What is important though is that you work extremely hard on your project and draft! draft! draft! until you can get it just a few notches off perfect (I for one believe that perfection is impossible). You can do this by asking yourself a few simple questions: For example, is it an interesting story? Do the characters come to life in your head and captivate you? Is the dialogue believable and modern? (remember most people do not speak like the Queen!) Is it too short? Is it too long? At the end of every chapter do you want to read further? Do you have to use a dictionary to understand some of the words? Does it make you laugh? Does it make you cry?


     Whatever kind of writer you want to be, just make sure that you are a confident one. You have to believe absolutely in your story, in your characters, and in the language you use, because some people (not all of your readers will be nice) will knock you and rock your boat and attempt to do all that they can to capsize it before its even set sail. Everyone is entitled to their opinion of course but that doesn't mean that you have to listen to them, especially when they aren't being constructive with their criticism. If you are too shy, and too easily influenced by others then there is a good chance that all you will do is listen to this person's advice and then that person's until eventually you are blown off course.  Sometimes, as writers, we have to be prepared to say: This is my story. I wrote it, I believe in it. Take it or leave it. After that the rest is up to the reader ...

    If you want to read my debut novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year-old boy's adventures in space please check out the link below: