Where Did 4 Years Go?

It’s 4 years today since my first book came out.

Cover Title 300Hard to understand where the time has gone.  Of course a lot has happened since then. More books written, some have even sold! The original An Agent’s Demise was followed by two sequels and a combined trilogy. Yet my writing went in other directions. The excitement of hitting lofty heights of number 1 in the charts for a day with Demise has not been repeated.

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I have had (and still have one) two different day jobs since then.

Four years ago my children were still students now they are both post degree and working.

If someone knows where the time went please let me know – I think it’s with the odd socks and pens in my home. Perhaps it’s just the extra wrinkles on my face. Not a good trade.

Now I need Book 10 to get finished. The nine current ones are listed below. You never know someone might want to read one!

The World of Fives
Intervention
The Demise Trilogy
An Agent’s Demise
An Agent’s Rise
An Agent’s Prize
To The Survivors
The Persuasive Man
Landscape
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Is There Anybody Out There?

Not trying to steal Pink Floyd lyrics from the song of the same name and no this is not a comment on the recent planetary discoveries. This is about this very quiet blog. Quiet from me that is after nearly a month without a post. Of course I have done a couple of minor updates to pages. Blink and you would miss them. Updates on pages about books which is, in the end, the purpose of this blog.

Yes despite the politics and commentary I’m trying to sell my books or at least get people interested in reading them. Sorry if that is a shock to anyone that does read the blog.

“How’s that going then?” I hear you not ask.

Well, as of 18:30 UK British Summer Time on 7th September 2016, generally OK. Not great but OK if I take the long view. My biggest seller is currently ranked just over 700,000 out of 6 million plus on Amazon USA and 290,000 on Amazon UK. One sale can move me up tens of thousands of places until you hit the lofty heights of the sub 100,000s. Good news today is that I have had an offer to translate one of my books into Portuguese.

I still have sales occasionally, even rarer to get reviews which may or may not hamper or help sales but we are not here to discuss sales or reviews or even lack of blogs. Oh no, we have bigger fish to fry.

The anyone out there was based on some alarming statistics on the actual number of readers as percentages of the population. I was led to this topic by a GoodReads forum discussion. They had USA figures which implied that only 2% of the US population had read a book in the past year. That is still a lot of people but that means 98% had not – a much bigger number.  So I have been digging.

According to National Readership Survey 65% of UK adults read some print news on a daily basis rising to 92% on an irregular basis and higher if electronic media is included. According to this news story in The Guardian from 2013, 4 million adults never read a book for pleasure which implies that the UK is far more literature inclined than the US and…

A quarter of the UK’s adult population – more than 12 million people – had picked up a book to read for enjoyment less than twice in the past six months.

Which of course means that 75% of adult population had i.e. 36 million potential readers and the numbers are better for a single book in 12 months. I would presume that this number had not gone down significantly in last 3 years.  So I have a massive market to aim at. I should be happy at the potential, I mean even an Apple like 0.0005% (tax Apple allegedly paid on profits in Ireland) would equate to 186 sales – wow I could get to 150,000 or higher on that basis!

Surely there is someone out there that wants to read a book, mine I mean? Is there anybody out there?

Using Scheduled Post

Aside

I’m supposed to be something of a techie so I have just surprised myself by using a feature here on WordPress for the first time. I’m referring to scheduled Post – why I had not used this before is beyond me. I should have used this before to link a post which is automatically tweeted, repeated and posted around other social media.

In this case I have used it to coincide with a book promotion starting – all done whilst I was safely tucked up in bed snoring away. I then awoke this morning to find re-tweets, new followers and so on. – Now what else can I do on WordPress that I’ve not used until now?

The Writer’s Craft

I thought I would take a break from actual writing to show you some of the tools I use to put the story together. As an example I am using Intervention the second part of The Observer Series. Whether what I display makes it into the final cut we will have to see. I am over 50,000 words into the story.

The main tool I use is Scrivener, the chapter manuscript is in the centre of the screen with the list of proposed chapter headings, characters and places/scenes on the left. All my writing is done here and the formatting for eBooks and Paperbacks using Scrivener’s Compile feature.

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In the continuing absence of an iPad version for Scrivener, I use Index Card when I am away from my desktop Mac. It does link with Scrivener but it s not the same.

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The next tool I use is to keep my timeline straight. This is Aeon Timeline which integrates with Scrivener. This one shows a couple of Arcs (chapters or scenes) with events and then cross linked to characters, scenes etc. I do not need this for all my stories but when it gets complicated i.e. with travel, synchronous events, etc.  it keeps things organised

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Next comes the ever present Excel. Nothing very clever here, apart from all the ratios and calculations to convert Earth measurements and time into my alien settings. Of course I do not need this for every story but I find it essential in my SciFi. I like to think that my stories could work if you ignore the faster than light etc elements. Before I used Scrivener and Aeon, I also used it for character lists and timelines i.e. calculating how old people are and what day of the week it was/will be.

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Finally, there is, of course, research. In the screen shot below, from a Physics site, (http://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/circles/Lesson-3/The-Value-of-g), I was checking up on how G is calculated, then using the formula in Excel to calculate for my other planets. Research varies considerably from Google Maps for other stories to University research papers that I read when writing To The Survivors about how viruses spread.

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I know that many writers use other tools from simple text editors to complex design systems for covers. I use PaintShop Pro for that. One of my last Windows only tools. Keep trying to learn others but have not found a layered system one (that can import my old ones), as easy to use – I just wish there was a Mac version – come on Corel anyone would think Macs were new!

I have also used  a CAD program for laying out physical buildings. I have also used mind- mapping software – that was in An Agent’s Rise and I actually created the mind map I had the characters do.

SQL for Sequels

Mixing my topics today and probably confusing everyone in the process including me.

SQL stands for Structured Query Language a method of querying databases to find results but often used to describe the database itself. It is normally pronounced sequel hence the connection.There are several databases that call themselves SQL including Microsoft’s larger server based system, right down to SQLite Personal Edition running on various operating systems. Why is a SQL database on my mind? Because my sequels are causing me problems.

Part Three of the Demise Conspiracy, An Agent’s Prize, Part Two of The Observer Series, Intervention and an as yet unnamed sequel to To The Survivors currently named TTS2 by file name. What has this to do with databases. Characters that is what. Characters and timelines and scenes. Of course it’s all my own fault for trying to write several books (not just these) at the same time, but now I have added to my problem. Which character appeared, when, in which book, and do I need to explain their role or half the story of the earlier parts.

As I have previously blogged, I use Scrivener to write and it is an excellent system to list characters and scenes within a manuscript. I have tried importing all the characters over from the earlier parts but that just makes the lists longer. What I need is a clever database that tells me when, where and in what context I wrote about the character or the scene. In other words i need to add all the meta-data and link all the appearances of the character in Scrivener. I also need to know how much I should cover of the earlier story in order to have the current actions make sense. Not sure any tool can help with that. Many might say it did not make sense in the first parts!

Currently, I end up re-reading long sections of the earlier books, using Scriveners’ tool set to find the relevant section, but then comes the real problem. I end up wanting to change the original for grammar, construction or even plot to fit in with the next part’s scene. Oh if only I had written it differently, called the character something else, not killed off xx. God knows how longer series writers manage. Did  J K Rowling have a database of Harry Potter characters? Now if I had a database of all my ideas, characters etc there would be one place to go. This would avoid one section I just had to change where I used the same character name in two different manuscripts.

So clever database designers get on it. Get me a SQL database with the right easy to use queries so that I can look it all up. My writing would increase in speed, I could effortlessly cross reference and the world would be a better place.

Of course I could just get better organised get the sequel written without SQL at all.

New Book Description For Landscape

Aside

There is a new book description for Landscape

She is a PA who dreams of running her own art gallery. He is an IT technician gambling away everything he wants. They meet and fall in love. Their relationship is threatened by endless bets even whilst they share their love of paintings.

Years later some dreams are fulfilled others are dashed. Will the former lovers meet again?

Mea Culpa

Yes I’m guilty. In this case guilty of hypocrisy. What leads to this confession you ask?

Reviews, yes reviews the bane of all self-published author’s lives (alongside marketing, editing, sales – oh and writing). The reason for this self-assessment is that I was about to bemoan the lack of reviews on Amazon for my work. Despite steady sales reviews seemed to have dried up. How can it be that no one wants to post how much they loved/hated/ignored my last work. Then as I started to compose this blog I stopped and thought. I don’t review on Amazon either and haven’t for ages. I do review and rate, briefly, almost diligently on Goodreads for all my reading. This has led, once, to a minor disagreement with the author about my review, but generally I have written a paragraph about the latest Read book. Some people have even liked my review or retweeted the rating across the World.

For me though, on Amazon, nothing despite email reminders from the Amazon team. Of course the ratings systems are different between the two sites, despite Amazon owning Goodreads. Reviews do not flow through. Book purchases can flow from Amazon to the My Books section on Goodreads, if the user selects to do so, but no review transitions.

Now I could go back and cut and paste my reviews for each book onto Amazon adjusting star ratings as I go. It’s a lot of work as I am at least 50 books behind. Still I may have some time soon as I switch main jobs.

It doesn’t help my lack of reviews on Amazon, Goodreads or anywhere else for that matter. What would help is if Amazon.com allowed other Amazon sites’ reviews to show up on Amazon.com. They do the other way round, then my latest reviews, more recent in the UK  and for books not reviewed in the US, would be available to all. Not sure why Amazon has it set up that way – I’m sure it does not help sales, but then again if I don’t review on Amazon, I’m not helping either. As I said Mea Culpa!

 

Progress or Lack of it

It’s been a few weeks since I posted anything. Not that I haven’t had lots to say, it’s just the time to say it. My biggest excuse is of course writing of the main kind. Oh, and of course I work for a living. Still never let anything like earning a living get in the way of writing. I’m sure the mortgage company would agree. can just see that discussion playing out.

“Dear Sir we are repossessing your home”

“But I’m and aspiring writer”

“Would I have  read anything by you”

“Probably not”

“An you receive an income for this work do you?”

I can’t see that going well.

Still I do have some news on what I have been writing and designing a cover for Landscape. This was going to be another novel but it’s turned into a short story. It now needs some Beta reading. See what you think of the cover below. Not finished yet but It’s a start:

Landscape coverIn other writing I have been making progress on An Agent’s Prize the third part of the Demise conspiracy series. Speaking of that series I have an audio book version of An Agent’s Demise underway on the ACX platform. Not sure when it will be finished but sometime in the New Year.

Part 2 of the Observer Series has also had some additions. Still looking for a title.

Then the start of something some readers have been asking for since it came out. Yes a possible sequel to To The Survivors. Again untitled but I have a few chapters written, no idea where that one will go. When I wrote the first part I had no direction at all, it just went. Most of my other writing has at least a target plot and story in outline. That one just goes. Must admit it is hard to get back in the flow of those characters. It was very emotional to write the first time, a real difference from Demise.

Other projects remain stalled or with just a few words here and there. So enough chat and back to the real job – I mean writing!

Writing to Reading

One of my work colleagues is a process improvement expert. He is a Six Sigma Lean Black Belt which surely as a title should be leaned as a process improvement itself. He can frequently be found drawing diagrams of processes and extracting critical details from our business colleagues. These details, decision points and sub-processes demonstrate where efficiencies can be made. I was contemplating him taking a look at the whole self publishing process, which strikes me as being in desperate need of improvement.

Let’s start with the basic problem. Too many books chasing too few readers who are willing to pay for the book. Economists would focus on the over supply or the under-demand aspect of the problem. To increase demand many writers have resorted to the price tactic of reduced cost to the reader, including free, to generate that demand.  Many marketing strategies emphasise the use of free to generate interest for other books by the same author. Traditional publishers have resorted to inflated pricing of e-books to protect the hard copy versions, much like the music and movie industry kept digital downloads more expensive than CD/DVD and Blue-ray packages.

The pricing and marketing elements and the social media excursions are all about launching or promoting the book after it has been produced. The lean methodology came out of Toyota’s factories i.e. it focused on the method of production.  Although the techniques have spread into post-production and anywhere else efficiencies need to be made. These techniques have led directly or indirectly to just-in-time supply, significant automation and other changes to the production workplace. Many American commentators often critique lean and claim Henry Ford should be credited with the methodology. It is not an argument I would wish to get into as I am not an expert on the history. For the purposes of this article it is irrelevant.

So what would a lean book production look like. Starting with the authorship. Clearly a writer drives a fictional story but let’s face it. We all suffer from foibles. Some writers are very good at scary scenes, others romance. Some are excellent with descriptive passages whilst others can create fabulous dialogue.  Clearly despite the inefficiency caused by increasing the number of writers involved, a lean book should focus on the allocated expertise of multiple individuals to create the book. The justification for the perceived inefficiency would be that more books of a higher qualitative standard would be produced in a shorter time frame. Not something that most authors would contemplate. Yet this type of authorship is common in the workplace – collaborative documents anyone?

Judging by the rumour mill several name authors already produce books in this way for traditional publishing houses.  Who knows if this is true but remember mainstream publishers are businesses not art houses. They want regular product to sell. They do not want to wait till the artist is ready, they have a production schedule to keep and a line of employees from copy-editors to marketeers to keep busy.

The next stage of the production involves the various forms of editing and proof reading. Starting with the authors own efforts (see above where each author could complete this stage). This process varies greatly from a qualitative point of view depending greatly on the skill level of the editors involved. There is a significant variable cost to this process in terms of production costs. An area that under lean should be ripe for automation. Of course if all the authors were experts in grammar, structure and spelling, then editing would be greatly reduced. This would require a major expansion of the processes to be studied extending our lean approach to childhood of the authors from learning to read and write all the way through the education system. Probably outside the scope of this article.

There have been major efforts in the software industry to automate much of the editing process. I think like most operating systems there is still a good way to go.

The next stage of production is formatting and then printing. (I will skip over the cover artwork elements) The new creation of e-books has been a very lean process, prompted by technological change. E-book production in whatever format and through whichever seller is remarkably cheap and efficient. What was once a huge barrier to entry (typeset, review, print review copy, review, print for distribution, distribute, book sellers sell) has been reduced to a few clicks of buttons. Even hardback versions can be produced very quickly.

With a finished manuscript and cover (if not using available default ones) the new publishing process can be completed in under an hour (excluding the seller’s review process) Yes there are foibles of the systems to be overcome regarding pricing, copyright and for Amazon the KDP Select or not decision. Then with the click of a menu item, the new book or a revision is launched on its way. Now here is where us authors need some real process improvement. That newly minted tome is just one of several thousand published each month. It is not only competing with thousands of other new self-published authors but also all of the output of the traditional publishers. That is of course just for books. In the entertainment industry it is competing with similar amounts of music and and hundreds of movies and TV shows for the attention of the buying public.

One of the elements of the lean process is the value chain. The value chain of any published book is long from the hours and hours of writing to the endless revisions and edits. Then we get to the sale. Prices in $ for comparison sake and because that is how Amazon requires prices to be set. Free, 99 cents, $2.99, $4.99 for an ebook. or higher. A new Blu-ray with two and a half hours of movie is approximately $20. Yes there may be extras, but how often are they watched and how often is the film re-watched. Like re-reading a classic book sometimes, but not often. Like most books are read, a movie is watched once.A full novel which should last a minimum of six hours is 99c or Free! We must be mad as self published authors to value our work so little. Even if the book is short, poorly edited and a rubbish story, it will still have some value.

So as a final reference to lean this should not refer to price but to process. The technology process has meant that we have a very efficient production and selling process. The pressure of over-production has created over supply which has been used to drive price down in an attempt to increase demand. I believe this process has failed as the buyer now perceives no value in the product. As the self-pub writer gets no return on their investment they cannot invest in the quality of their product i.e. editing or a better cover. Now the rant…

Amazon as the largest player you have created this monster by allowing books to be given away to support hardware sales of Kindles and other tablets. Yet Amazon has to provide the infrastructure (storage, network, billing) to support a zero price. A zero price provides no covering income for anyone. So Amazon and the others please ditch the free sale and its distortion of the market. It’s not free and puts no value on anything. It also massively distracts readers and reduces the quality of the overall product. I seriously doubt whether it actually increases reading.

For my fellow self-pub authors is your product really worthless, if not why do you price it as such! Being top of a best seller list cannot mean free as nothing has been sold.

For my fellow readers – how many free books have you actually read – was it worth your time. The reading process is not lean – it consumes time. Yes libraries have provided free books but of course they are not free – they are paid for in taxes. The books provided have a value – so should ebooks.