Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Will anyone miss #2013?

Tomorrow is the first day of 2014 and I have to admit that I am looking forward to leaving 2013 behind. I began the year with high hopes, full of enthusiasm and plans for new projects. In contrast, I am ending the year feeling like I've been beaten into submission and not much further forward than I was at the end of 2012.

My plan was to release four new books this year. One of them was already complete, just going through the final proofreading cycle in back in January. The second was in the latter stages of editing. It seemed that writing another two novels in the remaining ten or eleven months should have been quite achievable. However 2013 decided to hit me with two bouts of illness, both seriously incapacitating me, one leading to surgery. I also suffered a string of problems at work, most of which were unrelated to my health. I write in my spare time and when work begins to take up more and more of my time, writing pretty much goes out the window.

Mostly through brute force, I succeeded in releasing two novels (Astronomicon: Icarus and Astronomicon: Those Left Behind) but the third novel still lies unfinished. Worse still I'm not currently working on it as I've switched to a different project that I believe will enhance my writing career much more in the long term. Consequently I'm not expecting to publish any books in the first quarter of 2014. That will leave a gap of over a year in my releases. So I feel I should apologise to all the people who are looking forward to the next Astronomicon novel. There will be more but I'm not in a position to predict when.

I have big plans for 2014 and fully intend for it to completely overshadow 2013. So Happy New Year to everyone. Let's make this a good one!

Monday, 9 December 2013

Is there too much new #scifi?

I've been writing and publishing science fiction for almost three years now. Science fiction has been my hobby and fascination for as long as I can remember, so when I started writing it seemed the obvious genre work within.

What I've learned from the last three years is that there are an incredible number of people writing science fiction novels and short stories, and probably just as many creating fan fiction for most of the well-known movies and television series.

I am coming to the conclusion that there's only limited space in the market and the huge number of science fiction writers out there is simply producing far too much material for the market. Up to a point the good stuff will float to the top, but I suspect that these days there is such a deluge of material that even some of the good stuff simply gets lost in the crowd. No-one can possibly be aware of everything that's published (and by that I am very much including the self-publishing world) so those authors without the marketing and promotion skills to draw attention to their work will tend to sink without trace, regardless of how good their writing is.

Short of persuading less people to write science fiction, I don't see any fix for this unfortunate situation.

Although my love of writing science fiction isn't about to end, I'm going to jump ship and try out another genre. What out "Crime Thrillers" - here I come!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Do you always start with the 1st book in a series?

I realise that this will vary depending on the series, but I thought the urge to start with the first would be much stronger with most readers than it appears it is in reality.

Each of the last two novels I chose to read were both members of their respective series, but neither were the introductory novel. I did not deliberately decide to jump in part way through, it was down to which books were physically available at the time. Although I would have preferred to start at the beginning, it was not a strong enough factor to stop me reading either book.

The art for any author is to make any subsequent novels in a series readable and enjoyable without any prior knowledge from previous instalments, whilst satisfying those readers who have absorbed every last detail from previous books. It is a difficult balance to achieve.

My Astronomicon series of science fiction novels has been moderately successful, but the sales curve has not matched what I expected. I always assumed that the first novel (Astronomicon: The Beginning) would outright sell the best, and then 50-60% of those readers would go on to buy the second novel (Astronomicon: Distant Relatives). Predicting the proportional sales of the third novel (Astronomicon: Those Left Behind) was going to be trickier, but I was hoping for it to sell at least 75% as well as book two.

Everyone has told me that it is clearly the best novel of the three, so I was hopeful that it would get close to matching book two's sales. However, for the last couple of months, book three has been selling more than book one and book two combined! Maybe quality matters much more than position number within a series?

What has your experience been of sales of novels within a trilogy or series?

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

What's the best price for an e-book by an unknown author?

You've finished your first e-novel, polished it, got it proof-read and edited and now it's ready to publish for the rest of the world to read. Whether you put it out on Amazon Kindle (KDP), SmashWords or Apple iBooks, you need to pick a suitable price for it. The price is one of the most critical decisions you will make and could make or destroy your e-books sales.

This guide will explain the pitfalls and help you decide on the right price.


Do you read excerpts or sample chapters?

Amazon routinely provides the first three chapters of e-books for free. Other publishers and book sales sites usually offer similar arrangements. I've seen a lot of indie authors posting excerpts on their social networking feeds and blogs. There's an awful lot of free material out there for us all to sample.

1st three books of the Astronomicon Science Fiction series.
So, my question is, does anyone actually read it? How often do you think that an unknown author sounds interesting so you download the free sample material and give it a go?

Most people I've spoken to about this seem to have the opinion that reviews and reputation far outweigh the marketing effect of free chapters. How many people actually download the free chapters? How many then don't get around to reading them anyway?

Have you ever had a reader say that they read your sample chapters and then went on to buy the whole book?

Marketing our books is usually the hardest thing for indie authors. It would be helpful if self-publishing sites like Amazon gave authors some helpful stats on pageviews for our books and the number of sample chapter downloads. I would not be surprised if my monthly sample download count is substantially lower than my book sales.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Is it worth #publishing one chapter at a time?

Astronomicon: The Beginning
The world of indie publishing is a large and often complicated world. There are an ever increasing ways to publish your work and everyone seems to have different idea of what works. I suspect that different genres and formats are better suited to different methods and media, but are there any firm patterns emerging?

I've tried publishing e-books, paperbacks, short stories and even publishing one chapter at a time on Wattpad.com. The latter has been an interesting experience but I don't feel it's worked too well so far.

I decided to publish the whole of the first Astronomicon novel chapter-by-chapter on Wattpad.com, but rather than just cutting and pasting each chapter, after much research,  I went for a slightly different approach. I created shorter chapters by cutting each chapter into several shorter ones. This both catered for the tendency towards short attention spans online and gave me many more chapters to post. I am currently posting about five chapters per week so having more chapters extends the run time of the experiment. On Wattpad it seems that a lot of short chapters work better than a few long ones. I guess short instalments are more accessible and less of a commitment?

If you want to see this format, check it out on Wattpad.com. There are 25 chapters posted at the time of writing this. What I am most interested to see is the fall off rate of each chapter, to see how many people are still reading by the last chapter. It could prove to be a useful diagnostic tool as any poorly performing chapter, in terms of keeping the readers' attention, should stand out. This may allow me to improve the guilty chapters and increase the book's ability to grip readers.

I will report back soon.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

#Sci-Fi Fans: #Free Chapter Every Day!

Eight chapters so far, but I'll be posting a new one every day until the whole book is posted. To avoid the wait (or just for convenience) download the whole book for your e-reader from Amazon for just 79p (99c).

Monday, 28 October 2013

What's a good number of novels in a series?

We've all experienced trilogies, quadrilogies and even longer series of novels. Some authors only ever write standalone individual books, others love to write larger stories - sometimes a LOT bigger.

But what do readers like?

There's a lot of advantages for an author, especially an indie author, in writing a series as it can really help with the marketing side of things. It allows the author to pour most of their marketing effort into the start of the series in the sensible hope that most readers of the first novel will go on to buy some or all of the rest of the series. Obviously that relies on a good first novel.

The big weakness with that plan is that your first novel is most probably the worst one you'll ever write. Book 3 will probably be a much better novel as you will have honed and polished your writing skills, but readers prefer not to enter a series part way through. If your first novel is good, you are on safe ground, but if the first in the series is the weak link it can kill sales of all the others.

So what's the solution? Some people recommend writing two or three novels and just throwing them away, but I would never advise that. Your first novels are not only necessary to improve your creative skills but also to sort out the skills and help needed to edit and finish your novels. Attempts to promote those novels will also teach you a huge amount about the market, advertising, sales blurb, making contacts and how to use social media to promote your brand. You're going to make mistakes, probably a lot of mistakes, and it's much better to make those mistakes on your early books.

Save your best efforts, once you've learned some of the tricks of the trade and how to avoid the many pitfalls, for your later books. This is a circular thing as the tips you learn from attempting to market your first couple of books can also help you plan and write your later books. Whilst it's nice to think of writing something new within your genre, you also need to not stray too far from what readers in your genre expect. Feedback can be especially important here, and you won't get much feedback if you don't publish anything.

So how does this all work together?

Well the detail is very much up to you, but I would advise writing a couple of standalone novels first. It's the best way to learn and they will be most helpful to practice your marketing skills, building a following and making some useful contacts. With all you learn from that experience, crack on with a series.

Some genres are better suited to a series of novels than others, but within Fantasy, Science Fiction and Thrillers, a series will usually be well received by readers and you will benefit from increased sales.

Follow me on Google+ or Facebook for more.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Read a #free chapter every day

Here’s an excellent new way to read Astronomicon: The Beginning (1st novel in the epic sci fi series). Starting today I will be posting a free chapter every day until the whole book has been posted.

You can read the first chapter here. If you like it, please take a second to vote for it. It would be really nice to see some votes to go with the good reviews.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

What's the best price for an e-book?

Astronomicon Science Fiction Novels
Having now tried a variety of price points, it looks like I'm going to move the price of the introductory Astronomicon (The Beginning) back to $0.99.

It's still selling at its current price of $3.99, but just not achieving the numbers I need. Although I am making slightly more money from selling fewer at the higher price, this has serious repercussions when you assess the whole series. Just over half the people who buy book 1 go on to buy book 2 (Distant Relatives) and almost all of those go on to buy Book 3 (Those Left Behind). Overall, lower sales of book 1 means less people get introduced to the series and I lose out.

There are so many factors to take into consideration when choosing a price for your novels and sometimes the only way to find out for sure is to try out the variants and see what works best for you.

If you want to find out more, try this article.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Progress on the Celtic Conveyor #3D #Model

It’s been a while since I posted a progress report on the Celtic Conveyor design. I'm really not getting much time to work on it, but Sketchup is such an easy package to use that it doesn't take much effort to put complex things together. Even without a concerted effort, the design is moving on at a decent pace.
Celtic Conveyor Interplanetary Freighter 3d design

More structure has been completed, all 24 cargo pods and now most of the upper deck too. The upper deck, known as the “Command Deck”, the focus of this shot above, houses the bridge, operations room, senior crew accommodation and the captain’s cabin and office.
Celtic Conveyor Interplanetary Freighter 3d design

This full-length shot clearly shows how almost two-thirds of the vessel’s length is taken up with the cargo pods, each almost 8 metres hight, 20 metres long and over 13 metres wide. Although the accommodation for passengers is a significant part of the vessel, it is at heart a freighter.
Celtic Conveyor Interplanetary Freighter 3d design

Another view of the accommodation section, from the rear. This highlights how much smaller the command deck is than the passenger deck. Behind the main airlocks on the passenger deck you will find the recreational and medical sections of the vessel. Due to voyages from Jupiter to Earth taking upwards of six weeks, the vessel, must include all facilities necessary to occupy and care for passengers and crew for the duration. This includes a sports hall, small gym, exercise area, doctor’s surgery, infirmary and comprehensive pharmacy.

The End is Nigh!

The 99c special offer on Astronomicon: The Beginning will be coming to an end this Sunday (25th August) and will returning to its usual price of $2.99.

Until Sunday you will still be able to download this 360+ page quality science-fiction novel from Amazon US for 99c (please check your local Amazon for the equivalent price in your region). Almost all devices can handle this e-book, including Kindles, PCs, Android devices and even iPhones and iPads.

"3 Space craft, 240 colonists, 25 trillion miles and an unexpected discovery that changes everything.

Classic science fiction that will appeal to fans of Arthur C. Clarke. Astronomicon: The Beginning follows the human race’s intrepid first steps into interstellar space, a colonisation mission to Proxima Centauri. The colossal distance and harsh environment are not all that stand between them and survival.”

Click here to find out more.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The Importance of Eye-Catching #Coverart

With the growing dominance of e-books it's tempting to thing that front covers no longer matter, but the importance of eye-catching artwork on the front of your novel is just as important as ever. Potential readers browsing through book related sites and online bookshops still need to have their attention drawn to your work and the most powerful way to do that is an impressive front cover image.

Better still, a good cover can become a marketing tool in its own right. I like to upload my best covers to art sites, picture sharing sites and now I've started entering book cover artwork competitions too. Here are my two favourite covers, which I've entered into the AuthorDB.com competition.

Vote for this cover here.
Find out more about Astronomicon: Those Left Behind here.

Vote for this cover here.
Find out more about Astronomicon: Icarus here.
Obviously to maximise the exposure gained from the competition, I really have to win it. That's a hard target considering some of the competition there. There's everything from the very poor to the truly excellent in the competition, but with the support of my readers, friends and family I believe my covers will make a good show, even if they don't win.

Which of my science fiction front covers above do you like best? Have you voted for it?

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Looking to #promote your E-book on #Facebook?

If you're reading this, you're probably one of the many aspiring authors out there who have one or more e-books desperately looking for more readers. In the last few days an excellent new resource has been created to help you tap into the vast potential audience of Facebook users.
E-Book Specials Group

There are a great number of e-book groups, author groups and e-book promotional groups on Facebook. Finding good ones is tricky, finding ones that aren't just full of spam is even harder.

This new group has the advantage of being strongly moderated. Authors are encouraged to post announcement of promotions and freebie offers of their e-books but all posts are checked to ensure that everything is on topic and suitable for the group. We trying to foster a friendly and helpful atmosphere where authors can learn to maximise their potential and reach an ever growing number of potential readers.

Click here to see the Ebook Specials group.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Latest progress with Celtic Conveyor design

This is how far the design of Interplanetary Freighter Celtic Conveyor has progressed.

There's still a great deal to add to this model. The central connecting corridor provides mounting points for rows of cargo pods, but those haven't been attached yet. When I attach them, the vessel will look substantially different as they will make up well over half the bulk of the vessel (it is after all a freighter) The main accommodation deck, that dominates this photo, is mostly furnished and the structure of the deck above (the command deck) is beginning to come together too.

The command deck will only be about 25% of the size of the main accommodation deck. Originally I wasn't going to include it in the design, but now quite a few scenes from the new book will be set there.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Revealing the Big Secret...

I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t hear about the “secret" of turning your e-book into a best seller. There are people selling success checklists, courses on blurb writing, secrets of cover design, magical power words, secret knowledge and more, all over the place.

It becomes attractive to think “my book is good enough to be a success IF ONLY I  could find that secret extra factor that will catapult it into the big time". It’s comforting to think that you’re almost there, just one step from success.

So, do you want to know that secret? You do? Well here goes...

The BIG SECRET is...there is NO SECRET!

Obviously there are things you can do to enhance your chances:

  1. Make sure your book is perfectly written, but if we’re brutally honest it’s not necessary. Polish isn’t going to be the difference between a best seller and a non-seller.
  2. Have the best, most eye-catching cover you can.
  3. Develop the best blurb you can.
  4. Network as much as you can. Get as many  followers as possible on Twitter, Google+, Facebook etc.
  5. Pay a fortune on advertising (not worth it unless you REALLY know what you’re doing).

But none of these things individually will make much difference at all, and even doing all of them probably won’t lead to significant sales.

Here are the things you can do to drastically improve your chances of success:

  1. Be very, very lucky.
  2. Become a major celebrity outside of the book world and use your fame to promote your writing.

Don’t forget:

Stop trying to learn the “big secret". Keep writing - the more you write the better you’ll get. Keep networking - you can’t have too many contacts. Keep learning - no-one is going to kill you because you know too much. Don’t miss an opportunity to spread the word about your books. You may be a writer, but you have to keep your sales hat ready at all times. Don’t get demoralised. If you don’t try, you can’t succeed.

Oh and while you’re reading this, buy my books. (See - sales hat!)

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

You used so much spice...

Nice to see a cross-over funny between two usually unrelated genres.

Deciding what to write next...

Front cover of Astronomicon 3: Those Left Behind
It's been quite a few weeks since I finished writing Astronomicon 3: Those Left Behind, and now I'm reaching that time when I have to commit to which novel I'm going to write first. I've always got four or five books in active development, but recently I've been concentrating on developing ideas for just three.

Last week I thought I'd narrowed this to just one, but then I had some great ideas for one of the two I'd put on hold. Now to make it worse the book I'm supposed to be concentrating on has hit a plot issue which I seem unable to solve.

So now I don't know which of these books will become my next full-time project:

Astronomicon: Deadline
The very first humorous book based within the Astronomicon universe. One man's quest to get back to Earth in time to claim his mystery inheritance. Will pirates, an aggressive robot, a hi-jacking or the discovery of alien life get in his way?

Astronomicon: Holy Earth
After surviving one of the worst disasters in space exploration, Mina, a senior engineer in the Colonisation Program sets out discover how the terrorists got a nuclear device past the Program's state-of-the-art security. She uncovers a conspiracy that goes deeper than she could ever have feared and becomes a target for some very dangerous people.

For now I will keep working on the planning for both, and I'll let you know how things develop.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Cover art for Astronomicon: Those Left Behind

Cover art for Astronomicon: Those Left Behind
This is the excellent front cover design for Astronomicon: Those Left Behind. I hope you'll all agree that this is one of the best designs for an Astronomicon cover. It follows the same basic template as the other three books in the Astronomicon series, but features just about the most eye-catching imagery so far.

In case you are wondering, the image shows a planet being bombarded from orbit. When invading another world it makes sense to take out as much of their defence systems as you can before even considering visiting the surface, and a basic orbital bombardment is usually the best way to achieve that.

This image shows the Eridani homeworld, shortly before the Cephali ground assault commences.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Astronomicon: Those Left Behind

Astronomicon 3: Those Left Behind front cover
In the face of imminent destruction, a population makes a last stand against insurmountable odds.

Classic science fiction that will appeal to fans of Arthur C. Clarke. Astronomicon: Those Left Behind is the epic account of the deadly invasion of the Eridani homeworld. Caught up in the mayhem and destruction, one man strives to save his children. The evacuation fleet is their only chance, but first he must ensure that the fleet escapes without detection.

This third volume in the epic Astronomicon series is the story of the Eridani people's last stand, their attempts to  foil an alien enemy's attempt to wipe them from existence and a mystery that runs deeper than any of them suspect.

This was a particular interesting book to write, and most probably my best work to date. I gave many of the main characters much stronger motivations within the story and this, combined with the background of one species invading another, led to more emotion and drama within the story, driving it forward to a tragedy success at the end.

Bizarrely it's set a long time before any of the other Astronomicon books, with the story beginning in 1968, but it's important to read book 1 (The Beginning) and book 2 (Distant Relatives) first.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Astronomicon: The Beginning FREE TODAY!

Cover art of Astronomicon: The BeginningFor two days (today and tomorrow) Astronomicon: The Beginning is available as a free download from your local Amazon. Don't miss out on this excellent offer!

If you do miss the free offer, don't forget that you can always check out the first six chapters for free any time, buy using Amazon's amazing Click to LOOK INSIDE. You can also have the free sample chapters sent to your Kindle or compatible device (Android, PC, MAC or iOS) - it doesn't get much easier than that!

Saturday, 1 June 2013

3 Space craft, 240 colonists, 25 trillion miles and a discovery that changes everything.

Fans of science fiction will be pleased to get advanced warning that Astronomicon: The Beginning will be available as a completely free download from Amazon for Kindles and ALL compatibles (Android, PC, Mac & iOS) on 12th & 13th June 2013.

Front cover art of Astronomicon: The Beginning

As you can tell from the title, this is the first book of the Astronomicon series. It will appeal to all fans of classic science-fiction, so don't miss out on this fantastic offer.
This first volume, over 125,000 words in total, introduces readers to mankind's first interstellar flights, the first colonisation of a planet around another star and a bizarre and unexpected discovery. It also covers dramatic events back in the solar system, including political changes, assassinations and the fight for Jovian independence.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Early views of Celtic Conveyor designs

Before writing any of the Astronomicon novels, I like to plan out the locations in great detail. It not only makes life easier for me during the writing, and improves continuity, but also throws up a lot of ideas which I might not otherwise think of. This can lead to some interesting ways of using the scenery.

Years ago I did this planning on paper, but technology has moved on for all of us and now I use Sketchup to throw together the layouts and designs. Below are a couple of example views from the designs for the setting of the latest Astronomicon novel. These show the passenger deck of interplanetary freighter Celtic Conveyor.

The undecorated area to the left of the first picture is the cabins area. The bridge and administration areas will be on the deck above. There are two lower decks below the passenger level. The upper one contains the crew quarters, stores and service areas (laundry, wastemanagement etc.) and the lower one houses most of the automated systems such as air processing.