A matter of timing . . .

Strange times. Strange times indeed. Like the rest of the world I am largely in lockdown. Venturing out to walk the dog, heading into the garden for an hour to throw some weights around (I think the gyms closing hit me harder than the pubs).

I’m still working, although my regular crown and magistrates’ court beat is done and dusted for now – I’m largely writing stories about positive things people are doing for each other during the coronavirus pandemic.

Me with my book – A Garden of Bones

It is pretty much the only story in town at the minute, after all, and to be fair, people are doing some incredible things out there – from launching workout videos to help older people stay active, to donating masks and other protective equipment to the NHS, to cooking off all the fish and chips in their soon-to-be-closed chippie for the elderly and vulnerable and NHS workers.

It’s fair to say that we are living through ‘interesting times’.

‘May you live in interesting times’ is an ancient Chinese curse btw.

I’ve always loved apocalyptic fiction – from Stephen King’s The Stand through I am Legend, and Day of the Triffids, and if I can make any predictions on the back of all of this – aside from a baby-boom and an increase in domestic violence and divorce – it would be a massive spike in people writing ‘end of the world’ novels.

Might even do one myself. We’ll see.

But what is a bit of a dilemma as a recently published author – did I mention I’ve just published my book A Garden on Bones, which is now available to buy on Amazon? – is how do you keep the impetus going during such difficult and challenging times. And, actually, should you?

The answer, I have concluded, is ‘F**k, yes.”

I’m not in any way making light of the situation, really I’m not. But people are stuck at home. People are bored, crawling at the walls. I have never seen so many joggers running past my house. They need something to do, they need something to read.

To make it worse for people who love reading, the bookshops are closed, along with the libraries. Elderly people can’t even meet their friends to swap. I’m planning a book run to my mother’s house later this week – to effectively dump a load of paperbacks on her front lawn for her to collect later from a safe distance.

Problem is that I read a lot of crime, thrillers and horror, whereas her tastes tend to be Victorian romances/hard luck stories, and the only Victorian-based novels I’ve got in my collection are Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet – and I really don’t want to finish her off from any other causes.

So she’ll just have to make do with Robert Harris and Jo Nesbo for now.

But I am pushing my book all the same, and next month I’m going to drop its price on Kindle to 99p for a week (other currencies are available, depending on where you’re reading this from in the world) and I want people to be able to access it and enjoy it (hopefully) at a time when they may be worrying about making ends meet.

Selfishly, perhaps, I also want people to buy it . . . although mostly I want them to read it.

Kindle, in many ways, is the answer for readers through this sh*t-show . . . at least until the electricity does. I AM JOKING.

It takes 30 seconds to pick a book, buy it, or borrow it, and download it.

I don’t think my timing was in any way perfect . . . I’d have preferred not to have put it out their days before the 21st Century’s equivalent of the Black Death . . . but it’s out there. Buy it, read it, borrow it, share it . . . please.

It’s available on Amazon at the moment. I’ll put it out on IngramSpart in a few months, but I’m waiting until the libraries to reopen for that one.

My book is now out, so please buy it . . .

I really don’t want to capitalise on the World Shit-Show that we’re all living through, but hey, what the f**k.

My book is out – A Garden of Bones: Blood Runs Thicker. Available in print and on Kindle. Buy a copy and have a read . . . before the Olivia Colman drama comes out. Get it from the horse’s mouth . . . how it really happened.

I’M BAAAAAAAACK

When I first started this blog I was determined to put up something daily.

Then it became weekly . . .

Then, erm . . .

I have been a bit remiss of late. Sorry.

There have been reasons. I won’t go into the hours at work I’ve been doing, trying to ignore the coronavirus, then having to worry about the coronavirus, family commitments, life commitments, making sure I get my hours in at the gym (yes, I am a fitness obsessive) blah, blah, blahhhh.

You don’t care about any of that . . . apart from the coronavirus.

Firstly, let me sat . . . A GARDEN OF BONES IS OUTTTTTTTTT.

Yep. It’s available to buy in print and to pre-order as an ebook (out on Friday, November 20) – this far on Amazon but will be available on other platforms shortly. Principally IngramSpark, as they have the biggest ‘in’ with the library and indy bookshop market.

And it’s selling. A trickle, perhaps, but it’s only been out there for couple of days, and the majority of us independents sell most of our work digitally. Print is pretty much for those who have not been converted to the brave new world of Kindle . . . and your mum.

I’ve appeared on Hold the Front Page – a website dedicated to journalism news in the UK – and I’m going on BBC Radio Nottingham twice this week to plug it. I’m lucky. The Wycherley Murders was a very high-profile murder back in 2013, and earlier this year it was announced that Oscar-winning actress Olivia Colman would be playing one of the killers in a major new TV drama.

Anyway, I’ve now got an author/book page on Amazon and I’m in the process of doing the same on Goodreads. All the essential marketing and PR stuff . . . again, I’m a journalist, so I know how it works, I know how to ‘get myself out there’.

Where I really hit a wall, and I’m putting this out there to anyone who is going through this process, or who is even thinking about putting a book out through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and the company’s Print on Demand (PoD) service . . .

Please note . . .

IT IS A F*****G NIGHTMARE.

I did everything right.

I ignored all the Amazon guidance on page shapes. They are basically aware that the majority of online readers access books through their mobile phones, so they recommend a page shape that is exactly the same shape as a mobile phone – tall and thin – which is fine for those who red your book on their iPhone, but crap if you buy it on a Kindle, or, shock-horror, prefer to turn a physical page.

I avoided their page formatting tools, their cover design templates.

PLEASE.

SERIOUSLY.

DO NOT USE THESE OPTIONS.

THEY LOOK CRAAAAAAAAP.

I hired in a cover designer and an interiors designer, and I’m so delighted that I did. Both Liam Relph and Andrew Tennant worked wonder. When my first copy landed through the letterbox the other day it looked like it could have been sent by HarperCollins.

The problem was loading the bloody thing up. And there’s nobody to help you at KDP, Nobody to get on the phone to and talk you through it. They’re currently not offering a phone service to writers in the UK. You have to email. And when you do email, you basically get an unhelpful response, basically telling you that you must have ‘f**ked up’ and to go back and work out what you’ve done wrong, according to the guidance that they haven’t really given you.

In the end, after calling my designers back in, weeping on a number of occasions and punching a table, we realised that I’d set the paper colour to white, and not cream. It makes a difference. Cream paper is thinner and by setting it to white it will mean that your cover design is out by a couple of mm – and therefore doesn’t meet KDP’s quality standards. It’s a crap system, and they don’t take any responsibility for the fact that it’s a crap system.

It’s a downside. They are an international company, and the bedrock for any independent author. But because of that, they really do not care about you or their sh**e system. If you don’t or can’t publish your book, there are plenty more in the queue.

Anyway, my book is out. Buy it please . . . on Amazon.

Getting closer . . .

Over the last few days ‘sh*t has gotten real’ as the saying goes. I now have a book cover, following a massive amount of input from friends and colleagues. There have been some tweaks and changes along the way, obviously . . . otherwise what’s the point of consulting people.

The book itself is almost ready to go – print pdfs are back and I’m just waiting on the digital versions to be returned. Over the next couple of days A Garden of Bones should also be visible to the world, after ISBNs were assigned a yesterday.

I can also reveal that the official release date for both print and ebook editions will be March 20

There is, frankly, a vast amount still to do before that date – I’m currently getting a media pack together, which I’ll be publishing on this site in the days ahead, hopefully a round of interviews with journalists and bloggers, an official launch event to put together and the ongoing marketing battle.

And that’s on top of continuing to turn up for the day job.

Hence the brevity of this post. More soon.

Typo paranoia . . .

When I first entered this circus – around about the time of the fall of Carthage – it was a different world, to put it lightly.

Firstly, it was still deemed as a remotely sensible, if a bit showbiz, means of earning a living, It never was, by the way. It always struck me as a bit intrusive – a bit like you were walking into other people’s tragedies and being offered a temporary seat at the table while they poured over their grief.

Maybe it has to feel like that though. If it didn’t feel like that then that would make me a sociopath . . . wouldn’t it?

It also involved a lot of working over weekends, working late into the evening, hoping bugger all would kick off at five to ten at night when you could finally go home,

I have become ‘battle hardened’ and that worries me. Recently there was an alleged double murder in the next village to where I live – and I have to say ‘alleged’ because the person accused of the killing had gone ‘not guilty’, and is, therefore, innocent until a jury makes a decision. Just like with Susan and Christopher Edwards.

I was at the suspect’s first magistrates’ court appearance, his first crown court appearance . . . and the whole thing will now go quiet until his trial later this year. That’s the way it is.

Speaking to people who knew the victims . . . friends or friends of my wife, I have built up a picture of what happened, the dynamics of why someone might, allegedly, kill his estranged wife and her new lover. And there is a part of me which, speaking as a hack of 20-odd years, just sees the story. You do lose the humanity . . . unless you steadfastly insist on holding onto it.

In this game accuracy is everything, and I suppose getting something wrong . . . some fact, some spelling . . . is akin to a plumber coming round to fix a leaky pipe and flooding your cellar. We take such fuck-ups very seriously, on a personal lever as much as a corporate one.

Last week, I covered a case where a solicitor named and shamed a company which had treated a young apprentice very badly. He’s been fired and punched the son of the company’s owners. Only the solicitor had given the wrong name of the company. I’m covered by court privilege – if it’s said in court, even if it’s not true, I am protected. But it still has an impact and you feel that.

You just want to get it right. You don’t want to flood the cellar.

Many years ago I had a stint as a sub editor, when sub editors still existed. It was their job to go through the copy, sort out the grammar, fix the typos, put in all the stray commas, the missing hyphens and generally make the copy ‘clean’.

They’d also check to ensure that the copy was legally sound, that it didn’t defame or otherwise interfere with any legal processes that may be taking place. There is, frankly, very little worse than being dragged before a judge and being asked to justify yourself in a contempt of court proceeding.

But there is also very little worse than spelling something wrong . . . a typo. The bane of professional writer’s life.

Rolling back 20 years, when I wrote a story, it would go to the newsdesk, which would then take it into a conference, and once approved, it would go back for ‘desking’, before it went to the subs, before it went to the night editor, who would pick up anything that had been missed . . . often literally a missing comma. So by the time it ‘hit the streets’ it was perfect.

Then they got rid of the subs and, in many cases the night editor. It became about the web and immediacy and ‘getting it right first time’ . . . a corporate shitbag in pushing the onus of accuracy onto the reporters; the company taking no ownership in removing layer after layer of scrutiny.

And that’s really how I’ve found the process of writing this book. I’ve produced a little over 80,000 words. A dear friend called Kate did my initial proofs, twice, and I thought it was there, because she’s brilliant.

Then I sent it out to other friends and they came back with more. A total of nine, I think. Handbreak, not handbrake. A few missed hyphens, a few literals. But it’s exhausting all the same. When you want something to be perfect in every way. When you don’t want someone’s lasting impression of the book it’s taken you half a decade to write to be a typo or a stray comma on page 157.

I think as writers though, we need to be paranoid about it. If we’re not then our product will suffer.

To be honest, I’ve had a busy week, I’m knackered, and I could really do with collapsing in front of the telly. Only I can’t because I need to blog, I need to get this book out. So now I’m paranoid that this post will have typos. It probably will. I’m only human. But I hope you will understand.

Almost there . . .

The most difficult thing I’ve had to deal with recently, in terms of getting A Garden of Bones out is deciding on a cover design. The problem, I think, is that I am a creative snob.

I’m going with this one, but changing the sub-head . . . because it’s too flippant.

I had two designs to consider. I loved one, although while, for me, it was more creatively fulfilling, I sort of knew the other one would work better in terms of selling copies. One looked like a true crime book, the other like a crime novel. I’ve said all of this before, so won’t go back over old ground.

I even went as far as asking for a mash-up of the two covers to see if that presented a solution. It didn’t. Everybody hated it and, in a nutshell, saw it as a weaker version (whether they were in favour of one design or another) of the cover they liked.

And I’ve got to say a massive thank you to my cover designer, Liam Relph, for his patience.

What I’ve come to realise, is that from where I’m at now, this has become a commercial over a creative process. It’s about flogging books. And while I initially preferred the other design . . . classier, referenced my involvement in the story, acknowledged me etc etc . . . that was my own ego messing with the process.

I preferred this one, but it was just too ‘true crime’

This is about the book; making sure that it attracts as many people as possible, gets as many people buying it as possible. And for that to happen, you have to take personal ego out of the equation. You have to think about the reader . . . your market, your target audience, and what will draw them in, what will make them click ‘buy’ on their Kindle or their phone.

My strategy, at present, is to offer it to Kindle on their 70 per cent exclusivity deal, and to access their services for print sales.

But the best thing about the KDP thingy, is that it only applies to e-books. They really don’t care about print copies. So you can sign up for this and get a massive 70 per cent on all digital sales, but also push it out to other providers.

So I’m going to go with IngramSpark as my second print supplier, because they supply print copies to a lot of libraries around the world, to a lot of independent bookshops; and because their print editions come out in a much higher quality that Amazon’s offering. Ultimately, if you buy a print book, you want it to sit with the rest of your book collection once you’ve finished it and not look like a cheap addition.

I’ve also resisted Amazon’s preferred manuscript shape. They’d prefer you to publish tall and thin so it works on smartphones.

This was the mash-up . . . and nobody liked it

Fuck that, frankly.

It’s a book, in my eyes, so it’s book-shaped.

This whole thing is running wild at the moment. I’m dealing with cover designers, I’m dealing with page designers, I’m setting up a publishing company, which I’ve called Crazy Dog Publishing (another post for another day), which is essentially for my writing, but wouldn’t rule out expanding.

I’ve forked out £170 buying ISBN numbers – block of 10 when I actually need two – although I may need more in the future.

There may be an audiobook (watch this space) and I sort of want to put out a large print version. My mother suffered a stroke a couple of years ago and is slowly losing her sight. I wanted her to b able to read it in a format that worked for her, but also saw the commercial potential in that market. Old people love a bit of crime, a bit of true crime, don’t they.

But it’s all very real now. It’ all a month away, at best. And I know I’ve got a winner. Afterall, it’s only taken half a decade to get to this point.