Mid-year Writing Summary – 2018

 

I believe the greatest pressure applied to an indie author is from within—as should be the case with any self-motivated person. We must have a heartfelt desire to produce work to the best achievable standard. This sets the tone for this post.

Each year, I end with a summary of my writing achievements and near-misses (I try not to class anything as a failure—except my one-time attempt at writing for children). I tend to start the new year with my targets for the year ahead, but it occurred to me to produce a mid-year summary.

This year has already served me with mixed fortunes in my writing.

Codename: Nightshade, a standalone thriller has for several reasons not developed as well as I would like, and will remain a Work in Progress.

Czech Mate, a second standalone thriller has likewise cost me time and effort but I’m unsatisfied with the direction—a second tale to leave on the back-burner.

One Man, Two Missions: and other stories is my next anthology of mixed-genre tales and they are coming along well. Several of the stories started life a long time ago—and we are talking years; not weeks or months. Due publication in summer/autumn 2018.

Lisa: and other short stories by C I Lopez was a collection I felt privileged to assist the author to produce. This is Carmen’s second selection of stories from her wide-ranging files full of short stories. As I did with her first anthology, I provided three ‘bonus’ tales to support the book. This author may be new to some of you, but her work is worth checking out.

 

Curious and Camping: An Erotic Journey developed rapidly from two different ideas, and I believe it worked. In May 2018 it became my second erotica novel. As usual with this genre, good to see early sales, but reviews are hard to come by.

Quiet Night Inn: and other erotic stories is another by-product of not throwing away ideas and has resulted in the successful completion of my second erotic anthology. These tales have been redrafted several times over a long period. Publication – June 2018.

To find out more about my erotica work please visit: Tom Benson – Erotica

 

Paperback conversions had been beckoning me for a couple of years and I’m pleased I postponed the task—and a task is what it is. Of course, I’m suggesting that it’s hard work, but my intention was never to simply copy the eBook files and have a cover designed.

I reworked Amsterdam Calling from beginning to end and apart from reducing the word count and altering the style to cut dialogue tags, I believe the writing is an improvement. The cover was designed by my professional cover designer Aimee Coveney and made to measure.

Having learned many lessons, I followed up with Ten Days in Panama and performed the same disciplines. Once again the job took weeks rather than days, but the end product is pleasing to the eye—in my humble opinion.

What’s next?

I had intended the next paperback project to be the Beyond The Law trilogy, but again, for various reasons, I’m putting that job on hold. I may write a post in a few weeks to explain my rationale for those who are interested in such information.

A Life of Choice, my military, fact-based fiction series-novel is by far my most successful work to date. This story has resulted in my book sales being daily and not sporadic. My page reads (KENP), have for some months been in the thousands rather than the hundreds on a regular basis.

Requests to have the story in the paperback format are sent to me at least twice weekly, which to my way of thinking is a ‘demand’ worth meeting.

Again, it will not be a straightforward ‘conversion’ of digital to paperback. I will have five books to revise, but to make all five books worth the price set by Amazon I intend to move chapters to increase/decrease volumes to keep them at a uniform size—which is appropriate.

My poetry collections had never been a consideration for a paperback, until recently when I thought it might be a good idea to combine all five anthologies as a single bumper edition (250) of my rhyme. It will be a project to keep me occupied when I’m taking time out from other work.  

My writing journey began seriously in 2007. From the outset, although at first, they were of a low standard I dabbled in short story writing. I kept titles, ideas, introductions, passages and whole stories. As my writing has developed I revisit those old snippets and occasionally it takes only a title or a phrase I’ve used and I feel the urge to get a story written using those old fragments.

I am a great believer in a writer never throwing away material, and this has proved an asset and helped my steady production of titles.

During January 2018 I increased my Facebook visibility by creating Tom Benson – First Pages. My intention was always to attempt a daily post and when I felt the page was established, give publicity to other indie authors.

For three months I plugged away, highlighting an excerpt from one of my books. As April got underway I introduced Monday and Thursday as Review days to show my reviews of fellow indie authors’ work.

I don’t know how much notice is taken of the reviews I feature, but I have noted an uptake on my titles over this time. On week-ending 20th May, I stopped all activity on the page—my intention, to leave it dormant for one week. I’ll see how it goes in the coming weeks.

The internet and social networking are wonderful aspects of our modern world, but occasionally I indulge in a partial or complete detox. Over the past week I’ve deliberately kept a low profile and for me at least, it helps recharge my creative batteries.

Thank you in advance to all those who indulge me with a visit here.

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How Far Should We Go?

 

No, it’s not a question about bedroom antics – but I have written a few stories in that area.
Yes, it is do with journeys, but not merely in space, the final frontier – some of the journeys are much closer to home.

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How far are we prepared to allow our imaginations go?

A reader should enjoy more than one genre, even if they tend to lean more to a main one.
Yes, I’m a lover of adventure stories, and thrillers, but I’ve read and enjoyed romance, paranormal, horror, YA, sci-fi, dystopian, and a few more besides.

How does a variety of material reward me as a reader?

Apart from enjoying the variety, I believe it helps me to focus clearly when I return to the bedrock of my reading – the thriller, or adventure story.

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A creative writer ought to try something similar. In my humble opinion, a writer should occasionally get out of their comfort zone, and stretch. They should exercise the main accessory in the toolbox of their craft – imagination.

In the previous section, I mentioned being able to focus clearly on my return to reading thrillers or adventure stories. Switching genre also aids me as a writer.

How can altering my reading assist me as a creative writer?

Until recently, I looked upon Science Fiction as a genre beyond my reach, but one day when my caffeine levels were particularly high, it struck me that it had more to do with imagination than knowledge of the genre.

I will tackle any genre for two reasons.

1 – to find out if I enjoy the writing.

2 – to find out if I can entertain in that particular area.

In the same way a reader might choose to stick with what they know, so too can a writer, but if you’re a single-genre writer, let me, as a multi-genre writer put an idea to you.

Think about the excitement of setting up a new story. Now, imagine trying a new story in a genre you’ve never tried before.

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Let’s go full circle, and get back to where we came in to this article.

How far should we go?

In my efforts to push myself and to entertain those people kind enough to try, or continue to support my brand – I am prepared to go to considerable lengths.

My thrillers and erotica are laced with incidents from my life, some big, some small, but my latest venture has taken me to the stars … and I’ve landed characters on some of them.

The Welcome: and other sci-fi stories

This is not only my work, but includes the efforts of a handful of guest authors who have each been kind enough to indulge me by donating a story.

Why did I invite guest authors?

I didn’t do it because I wasn’t confident to produce my standard 12 stories for a collection.

I didn’t do it because I wasn’t confident in writing a genre I’ve only dabbled in previously.

My aim was to produce the best and most varied collection I could on such a wonderful topic. I want readers of this collection to sit back and think about the stories and the theories long after reading our efforts. I know that my guests would echo the sentiment that we want readers of this collection to truly enjoy the journeys.

I sent out an open invitation a few weeks ago, to give fellow authors an opportunity to join me in this venture. At the time of this article, two of my six guests are novice writers, and four are experienced writers, but all will have their own take on what makes a good sci-fi tale, and for me, that is the exciting part.

This book will have three key components, apart from the running theme of the genre.

1 – Six stories are penned by me.

2 – Six stories are penned by my guest authors.

3 – Three ‘bonus’ stories by me will be added at the end. These three extra stories are already featured in other collections.

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I will not be posting the guest authors’ names on the Amazon page when I publish, because this will connect us in the complexities of Amazon’s referral system. It’s not a topic to deal with here.

I decided it would be more beneficial to put those authors’ names where they belong – right there on the front cover, where I have my name. They will also be supplying personal contact information to be included in the book.

I feel that this is the fairest way to repay and market my guests.

How did I work out whose story goes where?

I considered the various hi-tech methods of dealing with this quandary, and in the name of fairness I’ve interspersed my work with my guests’ stories. I’ve placed the guest work in author / alphabetical order.

Whether or not you are a Sci-Fi aficionado, I would ask you to consider taking a look through your reading telescope at our joint effort when I publish – Sunday 20th December 2015. Perhaps having seen the sample in your telescope you’ll decide you’d like to take a shuttle to our many and varied destinations.

If you should decide to try our work, I’m sure I speak for all when I ask that you be kind enough to leave a review of your findings.

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As always, you have my sincere thanks for reading my thoughts, plans and intentions. All comments are ‘Welcome’.

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Book cover - You're Not AloneIncludes ‘Goals‘.

Smoke & Mirrors - 030714 2Includes ‘Down to Earth

912FmvSHzYL._SL1500_Includes ‘Out of this World

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The Wallpaper Effect – Part 2 of 2

Wallpaper sectionIn the first part of this two-piece article I highlighted what I refer to as the Wallpaper Effect. As promised, this second post is not intended as a list of suggestions to bring success to all, but it is an insight into my own personal strategy.

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It may not seem like much, but if you saw Part 1, you will remember how busy the graphic appeared. There was so much it was difficult to see the information. In the picture above you’ll see the same information, but presented more clearly.

Even in a picture we must remember to keep it straightforward – or the message can be lost, or ignored. For an eBook, the cover must be effective – it has a job to do, so it might be the reason there is little or no interest in your hard work.

Be prepared to change your cover if there are no sales, or after a lengthy period only low sales. Yes it’s true, the cover can be the cause of folk taking no interest in a title.

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Who designs my covers?

The covers of my novels are usually designed by a cover designer – and this has proven to be a good decision. I saw my sales rise when I made that investment.

I created the cover for Give & Take, and then it was enhanced with the help of the very talented Nico Laeser. The whole idea of attempting the genre was experimental, so I didn’t intend a big outlay. Give and Take - the final cover

As we all do for all of our titles, I have high hopes for my erotic story, but I will only have a new cover designed if the sales continue to rise over the coming weeks. This is not through lack of faith in my work, but because of the saturated market in that genre. Since publication about two weeks ago there has been one day when it hasn’t sold.

I design the covers for my poetry and short story anthologies – because it doesn’t matter how good they look – they are both low selling markets.

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Why would I have a cover designed if my erotica story was actually selling?

Statistics used at a recent conference demonstrated that a professionally designed cover increases existing sales of an eBook by 34%, or if you don’t like percentages – one third. In other words if you are selling 30 books per week, the change to a professional cover is highly likely to take your sales up to 40 per week.

My own title Beyond The Law was selling a couple of days per week with the cover I produced. I had a bespoke cover designed. Inside the first week with the new cover it started to sell almost daily, and it is still my best performing title.

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Which outlets do I use?

I was with Smashwords for a year, and with Kobo about three months, and that was whilst I was also using the basic Amazon account. I decided early on not to spread myself too thin and end up with a possible conflict of interest between outlets.

A few months ago I moved all of my work to Amazon, so as I’ve said before in two posts, I’m an Amazon Bitch. Check out Amazon Bitch Part 1 and Part 2.

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What is my philosophy regarding marketing?

I treat my name as a brand with regard to writing. I know that many indie authors don’t agree with the ‘brand’ idea, but if I am promoting the sale of a product – my work – it is a brand. Fact.

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How do I use my books as a marketing tool?

My steadily increasing catalogue of titles is my best asset. If I can capture one reader with any of my titles they might go on to read more of them. If I’m really lucky the reader will talk about their experience.

I believe my general format helps. To ensure the prospective reader is offered a good sample – I place the minimum information at the front of my books:

– Title, copyright, acknowledgements, and Table of Contents (which lists the information at the back).

There is time enough for extra information at the back:

– Endnotes, a word from the author, a short bio, and also by the author – listing each title with a blurb to entice the reader to try another. I will soon be adding links to other authors – if I’ve read their work.

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What about pricing?

I maintain a reasonable and varied price range – bcause I’m an unknown.
My poetry anthologies are the cheapest – because few people buy poetry.
My short story anthologies have 12 stories – because I believe that gives value for money.
This year, I’ve started working on a sequel to one of my novels. I will eventually write sequels for all of them.

Wallpaper section

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Is there anything I do not do?

– When I post about my titles, I do not praise my own work, except occasionally with a humorous comment.
– I’ve learned to reduce my membership of social media to a handful of sites. I believe that one of the reasons for indie authors feeling stress about marketing is because they spread themselves too thin on the ground.
– Even on Facebook I try not to join too many groups. Once again, less is more
– I do not promote my work daily.
– I post on social media regularly, but not always the same title, or the same message. I alternate between the Books page of my author website, the News and Projects page, the Homepage, and this blog.
– I occasionally use a Kindle Countdown Deal, but I do not do FREE books. I have tried it three times and I don’t think it helped my cause.
– I do not rush my writing – so my publishing target date is not set in stone.
– I do not do a ‘release’ page or anything of that sort on Facebook. This proved to be fortuitous, because I postponed the publication of Give & Take by a week, and I believe I improved the overall product.

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How do I produce my books regularly?

I work on at least two projects simultaneously. Most recently I alternated one month on Give & Take (erotica), and one month on Acts of Vengeance (thriller). Whilst one manuscript is ‘resting’, I work on the other. I’ve found that method of working pays me dividends on various levels, but I may write more about that in another post.

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What else do I believe helps to market me as a brand?

– I have my author website which I paid to have designed. Writing is not a hobby for me – it is by choice a new career, so I wanted a professional look.

– I have another website, Creative Writer and Artist, which features both my writing and samples of my artwork.

– I have an account with the Independent Author Network.

– I have my separate page on Facebook: Tom Benson – Writer.

– I have an author page on both Amazon – UK and Amazon.com

– This blog is related to writing – it is not used as a journal of my daily life.

Please remember – if you don’t want to spend any cash, you can use a blog website as an author website.

My one suggestion is that if you do, you must maintain it as such, and not allow it to become a blog. WordPress have a good basic framework to build such a thing, and it is easy to use. This blog is a WordPress site.

Apart from all the efforts online I designed a business card, and business postcard. Image (28)

I have these produced regularly through Vistaprint. I designed the front with a gloss finish and downloaded a QR code so that it can be scanned by smartphones.

The back of the business card has all contact information except phone number.

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Is there anything that helps but indirectly?

It is probably the most subtle of all things, and I have never intended it as any sort of self-promotion. I make every effort to help other indie writers – especially those who are new to the game. There is not one of us so good that we can’t do with a little bit of help occasionally.

There is nothing more to it for me, than the desire to help, so I read and review work by others.
If I see something that would spoil a story, I hold back on a public review – I tell the author privately. There have been cases where the author has dealt with the issues and I was happy to go back and write a 4* or 5* review.

I do not promote an author’s work unless I’ve read it – for many reasons. If I do like an author’s work, I will praise it at every opportunity.

I’m proud to say that I’ve been in support of Paul Ruddock since he set up the Indie Author Support and Discussion group on Facebook. In the early weeks I ventured to send respectful private messages to those who were producing … less than a good quality product.

We lost three ‘writers’, but since then I’m pleased to say that I’ve continued to work the same way and we have several members who accepted my early criticisms and have gone on to produce great stories.

That is not due to my interference – it is down to the individual author’s hard work and positive attitude. They’ve accepted that their skills were lacking in a particular area – and done something about it. I still get the odd message from a fellow writer about a minor issue, and I’m always grateful.

Mutual support is key to our individual success.

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Do I consider myself an authority?

No, I am not an authority, but I learned most of what I do by reading reference material, hard work, and listening to my reviewers. I am now more of a hermit than a socialite, but I have a burning desire to help my fellow writers to avoid issues I’ve had on my journey.

I joined a writing group a couple of years ago, and it helped me in some ways. When it began to feel like a social gathering, I left.

For several years I’ve subscribed to the two main writing magazines on offer in the UK. They are Writers’ Forum, and Writing Magazine. I’ve won prizes and free subscription years with both of them in the past.

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I hope I haven’t bored anybody with my opinions and ideas, and as always, I’m willing to take any comments or criticisms coming my way. I try never to say anything that I cannot later justify.

Thank you for reading. My next post will be about my journey from ‘regular’ genre to the divisive area of erotica.

See you there … all you voyeurs.

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The Wallpaper Effect – Part 1 of 2

WallpaperWhere am I going today with my opinion?

Marketing, and more importantly – self-marketing.

I’ll explain ‘The Wallpaper Effect’ later in this short post, but before we get there I’d like to address what is probably one of the biggest headaches for indie writers.

An indie writer spends months, or perhaps a year or more working on a book. My average is between eight months and a year for a novel, and longer for a book of twelve short stories.

Having taken every care to get the book ready for the world, the writer is then hit with a variety of issues.

Where to publish?
What price to sell the work?
Where to advertise?
How often to advertise?
Produce it in paperback?

That is a short list, but I think long enough to make my point, so let’s move on.

There are those who believe (as I once did), that we should get the book written, publish it, and then plug it at every opportunity, on every available social network, and as often as possible.

I am not an expert, but trust me – that is not the way to go.

Why not?

There my dear reader is where I believe ‘The Wallpaper Effect’ presents itself.

The book is seen so often that it effectively becomes a ‘regular’ sight, so rather than attracting attention – it is ignored. Think of it as negative marketing.

Where did I come up with this theory?

I will use two previous careers to demonstrate my point.

We’ll look at ‘blending in’ versus ‘standing out’.

1 – In my military career, I had to ‘conceal’ my large radio truck in woodland by ensuring I broke up the square edges and straight lines with camouflage. I made it blend in, so it wasn’t seen. If I was on foot, I’d camouflage myself so that I blended in – unseen.

It was desirable to have The Wallpaper Effect.

2 – I now work a couple of days a week as a sales assistant, but before stepping down – for twenty years I was a retail manager, and for five of those years I worked as a ‘support’ manager.

My role encompassed many aspects of the trade, but one challenging area was pointing out to store managers why an in-store display or window display didn’t produce sales. Sometimes it was just badly done – but in many cases it was the ‘wallpaper effect’.

The display had been the same for so long that it became invisible. It had once caught the eye, but sadly no longer.

It was not desirable to have The Wallpaper Effect.

I’d suggest changes were made – and the product caught the eye once again – and sold.

Changes don’t have to be drastic, but we’ll cover that in Part 2 with regards to self-marketing for indie writers.

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In Part 2 of this post, which will be with you in a couple of days, I’ll write about my most recent (and successful) strategy. I will also mention a couple of ideas I’ve incorporated into that strategy.

How do I judge ‘success’?

During the past month I’ve had five days when I had no sales. I’m not big on statistics but I thought I’d throw in that small one. Okay, so I suppose that’s no big deal, but it gives my morale a boost.

For now, in summary I would suggest to the daily, blanket coverage, campaigner – ease off a bit, relax – and get onto your next title. Yes, still go for blanket coverage, but only once a week.

If you want to see what type of hornet’s nest can be stirred up when dealing with this topic, please check out fellow author and blogger Andy Updegrove‘s article.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you again on Wednesday or Thursday.

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P.S. How subtle is that graphic at the top!  😀

Writing Apprenticeship – Part 2 of 2

A handful of the reference books I keep close to hand

A handful of the reference books I keep close to hand

There will be many who take offence at my suggestion that there are some writers out there who are not really concerned with creating a worthwhile product. That in itself is unfortunate, because a short time after posting Part 1 of this very article, I found a FREE promotion by a fellow Indie author which incensed me.

I don’t want to dedicate this piece to that one author, so I’ll leave out a lengthy explanation about the many issues I discovered – and I only read the samples of all three books.

If you missed Part 1 of this article, the gist of it is my concern that we have a large number of people purporting to be ‘writers’, who are turning out badly presented, badly edited, over-priced ‘books’. If we expect to sell our work it should at least be worthy of the price. Even if we are giving the product away, it should be presented to a marketable standard.

You don’t have to agree with me, but I have my own unofficial set of requirements for the ‘average’ Indie author. I believe we should all have the following at the very least:
imagination – ideas – integrity – diligence – knowledge (of subject) – a good story – a decent vocabulary – thick skin (for negative feedback) – stamina – determination – life experience – time – an open mind – acceptance of constructive criticism – a basic knowledge of creative writing conventions.

Yes, the list could go on, I know.

When we produce our book we must have some idea of how to ‘present’ the product. I paid an ‘experienced’ editor to assist on my first book and still found issues after I’d published. At that point I decided to learn more and go it alone with most of the work. Since my first book, I’ve had the assistance of a proof-reader who has stood by me in everything I’ve published.

I develop my story and make minor edits with each draft. By the third draft I use my proof-reader. Invariably this is followed by another draft. At this stage I use a grammar/punctuation programme. I print my manuscript more than once during my process to allow me to edit as I revise the individual chapters. There is no set number of drafts, but I try hard to recognise when ‘enough is enough’.

Prior to being uploaded to Amazon I will have a printed version of my manuscript in front of me in a room where there is no TV, radio, or other people. I perform one final line edit, which is a tedious, laborious, time-consuming, but necessary obligation to the end-user; the reader.
Now having said all of the above, I’m proud to be a member of the Indie Author Review Exchange. We have every level of talent, from the novice with one title, to the experienced author with a considerable portfolio.

Why should I feel a pride in such a group?
– We have an unwritten mutual pledge to help each other which is strong and can be seen by the support offered every day and it’s an International community.
– We have writers whose first language is not English, but they’ve produced remarkable work which they have had successfully translated, which is something that seriously impresses me.
– We have novice writers who are not afraid to ask for help or advice.

Is there a negative or downside?
Yes, unfortunately we have a couple of writers who believe that they’ve done enough work, and they are not prepared to heed a friendly word of advice. Unfortunate, but that is their choice.

Why is that negative?
It is negative because it affects credibility. In the first instance it damages the credibility of the individual author’s brand. Apart from that relatively minor issue, a badly produced piece of work by an Indie writer is a slur on all of us.

Is there anything positive?
There are many traditionally published authors who are unhappy about our emergence and success. They would be happy to see our entire movement curtailed, so the best thing we can do is to prove the doubters wrong – and show them that we are all achieving a high standard in every way.

I realise that like me, there are vast numbers of Indie writers who have a ‘day job’ to pay the bills, or a family to raise, so it is a credit to our movement that we have been so successful both as individuals, and as a growing section of the publishing industry.

Thank you as always for reading my thoughts, and I welcome comments or discussion.