Friday, 29 March 2013

General writing update, Jan to March 2013

Thought I'd do that egotistical thing and give a brief round up of how things have been going for me in the writing world over the last month, and even back to the start of the year, since we're at the end of the first quarter now.

Not bad.

A few milestones first. Writing-wise, just yesterday I passed 75,000/250 pages for the year, which isn't bad, but should be a lot more. January and February were heavy new words months, but March was taken up mostly with editing, which kind of sucked. I like the end result of editing, but the actual process bores the hell out of me.

Sales-wise, not bad either. I've hit my 100 sales/month target every month this year and earlier this week I made a sale which put me one ahead of my yearly total for 2012. To beat my 2012 tally in three months made me pretty happy, but I'm still not selling anything like what I want to be selling to actually make any money. About 90% of my revenue goes back into advertising and production costs, which rise as my attempts to become increasingly professional also rise, and what little money I make really doesn't equate to a decent wage for the hours I put in. Really, unless you're in the same boat, you have no idea how much time I spend doing this. Don't get me wrong, I love it and I'm having a ball, but we're talking several hours a day, or almost all of my free time.

In terms of new publications, in March so far I've released three mini anthologies in the Five Tales Series.

The main reason for these is that they increase my visibility. I want something I can have on promotion or being advertised every single day. The aim is that if people like the stories they'll go and buy my novels; they aren't really about making me money on their own, although Five Tales of Horror has actually sold surprisingly well. Plus, I came late to the game in self-publishing, so I have a lot of backlog. I meet authors pretty regularly now who have either started writing because it's so easy to self-publish or have just one or two novels in the tank. I'm 34. I started writing seriously with the intent to get published at 18, so I have 16 years of material to work with. Of course, I had huge periods of inactivity, but I also had periods of massive productivity. The result of that was some 80 short stories and the same again in various states of completion. Many of them have been published in magazines and have no reprint value so there's no point in leaving them on the hard drive if I can utilize them.

These are good stories, I'm not dredging the barrel by any means. Trust me, I have a lot of stories that are painful to read, but I won't be subjecting the general public to anything I think is junk. However, I don't have a bottomless well so after a couple more collections I'll need to start filling the coffers again with new material, or rework some old ideas.

These three put my total number of published works on Amazon to 25. My year-end target is 40, so I'm well on the way. I have at least two more anthologies to release, another comedy novella which is almost finished and at least two more novels. That will take me to 30, hopefully by mid summer. Then I'll be trying to get out at least one more novel by the end of the year, either an old one or one I'm working on, depending on how things go.

I have a bunch of half-finished stuff that I haven't worked on in a while, such as a romance novel and also a Tube Riders novella/novel featuring different characters. There's also the horror novel I've started writing, titled Dark Days, which is up to about 15,000 words. That too has suffered because of all the editing I've had to do in March. Novels, of course, are my main aim, because they sell better, and get remembered longer. However, I have to work with what I have and I'm in this for the long haul, so clearly up the backlog makes it easier to focus on new material going forward.

Hopefully some or all of this material will eventually see the light of day, but we'll see.

Anyway, back to work ...

Chris Ward
March 30th 2013

Five Tales of Fantasy

While waiting on my next two novels, Head of Words (at the proofreader) and Tube Riders: Exile (editing) I've been going gung ho on releasing a short story anthology series (un)imaginatively titled, Five Tales of ...

Volume #3 was just published this morning and is called Five Tales of Fantasy. For the cover I cheated a little bit - I bought a stock image but I didn't like it because it seemed too sci-fi and more appropriate for Volume #4, Five Tales of Dystopia. So what I did was cheat a little - I took the old stock photo I used for the first version of Cold Pools, resized it and played around with some colours to make it look a bit more interesting. This is the original and the cover -

 I liked the cover at first but came to think it looked a bit tacky. The new cover is way better (you can see it in the sidebar) but since I owned the stock photo I figured I'd try to use it.

The stories inside include Ms Ito's Bird, which is of course available in another collection and was my first published story, alongside four others. The middle story, Spruscia's Baby, was also published, but so long ago I can't remember where! Roy is perhaps my favorite in the collection, the story of a giant bug bought as a pet. I have no idea why that story didn't get a decent magazine sale, but I refused to call it something generic like A Bug's Life. I like Roy. Keeping Grandma is about what happens when old wizards begin to go senile, while Dinner with the Family is about zombies. I hate zombies - I think they're boring and cliched, so I decided to do my own take on them. It amused me, that's for sure.

This collection, like all the others in the series, will be priced at $1.49. As often happens when I read over my stories, I had a damn, I'm good, why aren't I famous? ego moment last night when I did a final typo check. They're good stories, enjoy.

Chris Ward
30th March 2013

Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Road by Cormac McCarthy - My Review

If ever there was a book written for analysis in schools and universities then this is it. The Road is a bleak, desolate portrayal of one man's struggle in a post-apocalyptic world to protect his son.

In terms of plot, not a great deal actually happens. The man and the boy (they have no names) make their way slowly towards the coast for no apparent reason. Along the way they trust their luck to find food while avoiding bands of cannibals and other thieves looking to either rob them or eat them. We don't really know what happened, as it is never explained, but they live in a world where ash covers everything and nothing grows. The landscape is almost totally grey, and it is almost always either raining or snowing. The man is getting gradually sicker and sicker from some kind of lung problem, while the boy needs repeated convincing that they are the "good guys" who "carry the fire".

They meet several people along the way, from terrifying cannibals to desperate thieves and people who have given up just waiting for death to take them. The whole time the man forces them onwards, moving on even when they find places they could potentially hole up for a while, because nowhere is safe accept possibly the coast. He is resolute and resourceful but more than anything he burns with love for his son. He will not give up like the rest of humanity seems to have. He will do whatever it takes to keep his son alive.

This is a novel that will divide opinion. It is not beach reading nor action packed nor a thriller. It is bleak, miserable, at times frustrating and confusing. There's no romance. There's no happy ending (depending on how you analyse it). It's simply a powerful novel about love and struggle that also serves as a warning to mankind. So many dystopian-type books are utterly unrealistic, but The Road, in the same way as 1984, shows a future that is actually possible. There are powerful people around the world right now whose fingers hover over a button which could condemn us to the kind of struggle seen in The Road. It's a sobering thought.

A lot of the criticism of this book that I've seen concerns the writing style. I sometimes think that a lot of readers really can't handle anything more complicated that what they can find on the rack in the giftshop next to an airport boarding gate. There are no speech marks and rarely apostrophes for contractions. And the problem is ...? Who really cares whether he writes "didn't" or "didnt"? And it is never, at any point, difficult to tell when someone is speaking nor who is speaking. The effect is hypnotic. It gives the whole novel a dreamy - make that nightmarish - quality. People that can't read a book that has no speech marks should try reading something that is actually difficult to read, like this. Danielewski's House of Leaves makes The Road look like Spot Goes to Town. The kind of reader who doesn't understand everything that this book represents is exactly the type of person who should read it.

Same goes with the grammar. I've read a lot of reviews that complain about it being hard to read. McCarthy does stuff like put adjectives in the wrong place or link five or six clauses with "and". This is a guy who won a Pulitzer Prize for literature. Every single word in this book is in it's place because he chose to put it there. As someone who writes vastly inferior books to this it is something to be treasured, because every line is something to learn from. And really, it's not very hard to read at all, nor is it frustrating. I found it fascinating.

A lot of people are going to hate this book. I had my own frustrations with it - mainly not knowing what caused the world to turn into a burned wasteland, while the ending will divide opinion - but it is not always about what is said but what is not said, or what is implied. The Road isn't a book that is going to make you happy, it's a book that will likely haunt you. However, a little dark makes the light so much brighter, and we could all do with a little haunting sometimes.

A bleak, chilling masterpiece. And the film is damn good too.

Chris Ward
25th March 2012

Friday, 22 March 2013

Goals, goals, goals ... OR ... How to motivate yourself

I generally write this blog for readers of my books (and anyone else who wants to follow the madness) but I've recently had a few indie authors get in touch with me and one thing I've found that many people have in common when they start out is issues with movitivation.

Just as a disclaimer - I'm a lazy bastard. Doing something hardcore like getting up at 5 a.m. in mid-winter to write for two hours before work just isn't going to happen. In general I'd much rather surf Facebook or mess around on YouTube than be productive. I'd been scrapping around for years writing a book here and a book there without ever really getting anywhere.

On the 24th of January 2012, I entered the world of self-publishing for the first time with a short story called Forever My Baby. I was five days shy of my 33rd birthday, and after fifteen years of collecting rejection slips from agents and publishers I decided to give it a crack on my own.

I had seven novels and roughly eighty short stories already written, in various states of repair. I knew that I couldn't just rely on the backlist, though, I would need new material.

When I first pressed that self-publish button I was hellbent on eventually making writing my career. I knew I had the talent - I'd sold thirty odd short stories to magazines, two of them professionally, and Tube Riders came within a whisker of getting an agent - but whether I would have the dedication and the business sense to get anywhere on my own was another thing entirely.

Prior to self-publishing, my writing motivation was at an all time low. In 2011, for example, I wrote perhaps 20,000 words. That's nothing.

When I first started self-publishing, I concentrated on getting out the backlist, a few short stories, a collection, and then Tube Riders in March. The rest of the time I spent doing things like playing around on Twitter and emailing bloggers. In June I decided I needed new material.

Since June 20th last year I've written 325,000 words. It would probably be a lot more but for the last month I've done nothing but editing.

That's the equivalent of three full novels, or roughly a novel every three months. There are guys I know writing a novel a month but those are God-like levels. Three to four novels a year is a pretty solid output for an average mortal like me.


It's an easy answer - goals.

I have dozens of little goals, and each one of them is important, but I don't want to talk about me, I want to talk about what you - the starting out writer - can do to motivate yourself.

The first and foremost rule of setting goals is to keep them attainable. Set yourself stupidly difficult goals and you'll spend all your time frustrated.

As example of a bad goal - last November I was feeling all confident so I took on NaNoWriMo. I took it a step further - I tried to write a 50,000 novel from scratch while carrying on with all my other stuff.

It was a bridge too far.

I started out okay, but a week in my computer broke. I lost 10,000 words, most of them on my NaNo. I started out again, but it just wasn't to be - I had another computer crash and lost another 5000. You guessed it - that was my NaNo. I tried a third time but my motivation was done and I quit. And all the while I was wasting time trying to force myself to rewrite a novel that I was force-writing in the first place, I lost ground on all my other stuff.

Big mistake.

Keep your goals simple.


Wordcounts are the easy one. If you struggle to write 1000 words a day but can quite easily get 600 - 700, set your goal at 500. That way, you'll easily attain it and you'll feel good about yourself. If you set your goal at 1500 and you only make 1200, even though you've actually achieved more, you'll feel like you haven't.

Make a big spreadsheet, and every time you start a new work in progress, put it in and keep a daily tally of the wordcount. Don't limit it to daily, either - have monthly and yearly targets plus targets for each work. If you're like me and usually have five or six different WIPs on the go all at the same time, you'll find that you'll always be within 100 - 200 words of one target or another. Keep pushing to get that extra 100 - 200 words down and then you'll see another little target to aim for. I can easily get 2000 words down by aiming for these little targets.

One other little thing that I cannot say often enough - if you can't touch type, LEARN. It's the one single most useful skill I have. People tell me my writing has really good rhythm - that's because I can type it almost as quickly as I think it. If you're plodding away with two fingers doing ten words a minute - get a program off the internet or take a course. You won't regret it. It takes time to learn - after doing a course in my final year of school - I spent six months with a tea towel draped over my hands while forcing myself to use the correct fingers for each key. It was brutally frustrating, but so, so worth it. So, one more time LEARN TO TOUCH TYPE. Don't um and ah, and mutter about how difficult it is when you start out ... JUST DO IT. Trust me on this ...


Once you've started publishing, set publication goals. Remember to keep them realistic. For example, in 2012 I published 21 items - two novels, one short story collection, two novellas, one novel split into three and a bunch of short stories. My aim for the end of 2013 is to hit 40. I just published item number 25 and I have nos 26, 27, 28 and 29 in the can and ready to go. It'll be a push but with a handful of short stories I should make it. My target for 2014 will probably be 50 - by the end of next year I'll have a lot less backlog and will be relying mostly on new material. Remember - as a self-published author you're not just relying on only new material - you can bump up your publication count by creating packages or bundles. For example, if you have ten short stories, there's no reason why you can't have two collections of five, an omnibus of ten, and then each story individually, all at different prices. Remember, this is business. I don't agree with ripping people off but what you're doing is offering purchasing options while increasing your visibility. Buyers choose whether they want to buy something. As long as your description accurately matches what they're buying, you're not doing anything wrong.

My goals are pretty high but I consider them attainable. Remember to set your own - for example a short story every two months, or a novel every six months, or one novel and two short stories a year. Keep your targets within what you are confident you can achieve.

Marketing Goals

You can pick and choose what these are, depending on your preferred forms of marketing. If you use Facebook a lot, then you can aim at building up your number of likes. I'm currently aiming for 500, mostly by using Facebook ads to target possible readers and then engaging the people that join up as much as possible to make them stay ... for a comprehensive breakdown on how to use Facebook for marketing, study and memorise every word of this excellent post by a good writing buddy of mine, John Daulton. That is the blueprint to using Facebook as an author.

Twitter, also is another one that authors often use. I'm not a big fan, but setting follower goals or tweet goals can be useful. Personally I've had little success through Twitter, mainly because I hate it, but some people swear by it.

Goodreads is my favorite place on the net for marketing. There are tons of things you can do there - set up groups, run events, giveaways, all sorts. One stat I keep an eye on and try to improve is how many users have my books on their to-read shelves. You can get on loads of these by doing paperback giveaways. My target for 2013 is 2000 unique users. Currently it's 1082, but I should make it if I do perhaps one giveaway - of a single book at a time - every two months. This is one of those things that you won't see an immediate sales bump for, but it's part of visibility and its that whole "speculate to accumulate" thing. I currently put about 80% of what I earn into marketing and book stuff - covers, formatting, editing, proofreading.

When you start out, it's best to concentrate most on writing rather than marketing. This post by the very successful thriller writer Robert J. Crane basically sums up why. In short, if you write a book that someone likes, you want them to have a bunch of others to choose from. It's possible to blow up and be a bestseller with one book, but it's rare. You're far more likely to have steady success across ten books.

Sales Targets

My personal favorite - this is where you get the cash. In theory ... Again, be realistic. If you have just one short story out you might be lucky to make a sale a month. I've been there. I have shorts out now that haven't sold a single copy in six months.

As always, keep them reasonable. Of course, when I published Tube Riders last March, I was hoping to have sold 10,000 copies by the end of the year. It didn't happen - but that doesn't mean it won't sell 10,000 this year, or next year. However, putting your money on a sudden boom like this is unrealistic. They happen, but not often. It's far better to look at your overall trends and aim for a gradual improvement as you put your books out.  By August or September last year my target was a sale a day - and it was a struggle, but they gradually came (mostly from hammering Amazon free promos). This year my aim is 100 sales/month. I've managed it four months in a row, mostly through endless free and bargain book promos, some of which are costing me money. Again, speculate to accumulate. If you're a real writer you're in this for the long haul - building up repeat customers over time is of paramount importance.

Long Term Goals

So, what do you want from all this? Do you want to be a pro, or do you just want to make a bit of cash for a year or two? It's all up to you, of course, but again here's another opportunity to set targets.

Mine, of course, are huge. I started this just shy of my 33rd birthday and my goal is to be doing this for a living by the time I'm 40. Seven years. In the interim, my three year goal is to be making $500 a month. I'm currently making about $200, although most of that is going back into the business. I'm not getting rich yet. Still, got to start somewhere ...

As always, look at what you think you can achieve, and keep your goals realistic. I know writers who've been able to quit their day jobs within six months, but out of half a million or so self-published writers that really is like being struck by lightning. It might happen, but it probably won't, so plan according to what you think is attainable.

Well, my hands are getting tired from typing all this, and I apologise for not being one of those bloggers who breaks up blocks of endless text with cute pictures - I could put some book covers in but I think you've seen all those already ... I hope some of you out there find this useful. Feel free to add any comments or link to this blog anywhere you like and if I think of any more information to add I'll update the blog as I get to it. Most of it is pretty basic stuff but you're building your career from the ground up after all ...

Chris Ward
March 23rd 2013

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Sayonara to Free Promos (for Tube Riders)

I know that a lot of people came to my books from picking them up as freebies on Amazon during promos. To date I have given away a shade under 40,000 books.

Maybe that figure shocks some of you. I don't really think about it, because compared to the number of ereaders and beyond that the number of people reading books, that figure is just a drop in the ocean. I write mostly spec fiction, which isn't a particularly big genre in the grand scheme of things. Some people writing romance, for example, will give that number away in a single promotion.

Most writers who've been doing this a while know all about Kindle Direct Publishing, the Select program and its five days per quarter that you can set your book price to free and get a bunch of downloads (in theory). I write this blog for readers, though, and I thought I'd explain a little bit about it.

Basically, people like free stuff. For books, that's why libraries exist. I probably only buy one in three books that I read because good books are passed around, so one sold book could end up being read five or six times, if it's a good one.

KDP is a wonderful thing. It takes literally a few minutes to publish your book and within a few hours its available for people to buy on Amazon. Select is part of KDP, but it's an opt-in program that means you have to give exclusivity to Amazon for three months. Therefore, if your book is available on Barnes & Noble or Kobo, for example, you have to pull it down while it's in Select. In exchange, Select books are available to be borrowed by Amazon Prime members, netting the author between $1.80 and $2.30 per borrow, depending on the size of the kitty that month. In addition, you can put your book free for up to five days during that three-month period, potentially exposing you to thousands of new readers. It costs a fortune to advertise in magazines or on billboards, but putting your book in the hands of readers is free, at least for ebooks. Of course, it is also possible to set your price elsewhere to free and get it price-matched on Amazon, but this may or may not happen and there aren't many promotion sites that will pick up perma-free books.

Of course, only a tiny fraction of those downloaders will ever read it - ebook readers are notorious hoarders, and if you get 1/10 people reading your book you've done well. While you might gain a few fans, these people are not your target. Your target is the paying customers who see your book in the days after your promotion when it appears in the "Customers Also Bought ..." section at the bottom of the Amazon page of other books. This is where you make your money.

However, Amazon, despite implementing the system, now seemingly doesn't like it. Back in the good old days (of course before I started self-publishing) paid and free books were listed in the same bestseller lists, so that if you came off a free run in which you gave away 20,000 copies, you'd still be listed really high up the bestseller list, getting you an absolute ton of visibility, and with it a ton of sales. Now they have separate lists, the free list is often hidden, free books only count as 1/3 of a sale for the also-bought algorithms, etc., etc. In short, when once you could have given away a few thousand books and seen a few hundred sales afterwards, now the rewards are not so much.

In my most recent major promo, I gave away 14,000 copies of Man Who Built the World. How many did I sell in the month afterwards? About 100. 14,000 free copies netted me 100 sales. I made a couple of hundred dollars, that was it.

Still, that's 100 sales more than I might have made otherwise, isn't it? Of course it is, which is why, even though KDP Select is a dying beast, I'm still prepared to play the game with my standalone novels. MWBTW is staying in it, and Head of Words might end up in it too. But I've pulled Tube Riders.


The wonderful thing that comes with giving your book away is that you're at the mercy of freebie hunters, and many of these are also torpedo reviewers.  These are people who download anything they can get their hands on and then write scathing one-star reviews of books that not surprisingly don't live up to their expectations. There are a number of reasons for this. One is that the vast majority of self published ebooks are utter junk. Sorry, but they are. I know a lot of really good, really professional indie writers, but there are literally hundreds of thousands of people out there now calling themselves authors. KDP opened the floodgates. Perhaps the top 5% of this veritable landslide of books are worth reading, the rest are just throwaway rubbish. Of course, this means that the vast majority of freebies will be junk, "books" written by unprofessional hopefuls dreaming of selling loads of copies. I very rarely download free books. I've read a couple of good ones but the vast majority are terrible, and the net result of all this crap is that a lot of people approach free books expecting them to suck. Their finger is often on the one-star button even before they've started reading.

Do I rank myself among this sea of crap writing? Hell, no I don't. 29 five star and 27 four star reviews on Amazon USA tend to agree with me. However, I've been hit. Particularly Tube Riders has been hit. My one star reviewer on Tube Riders didn't read more than a few pages before slamming it. A few pages of a 600 page book. Cheers. Another who two-stared me copied and pasted their review from a bunch of other books, suggesting it wasn't even a reader but a bitter indie author looking to drag down books in their own genre. This happens a lot, and it's very, very sad.

If someone genuinely doesn't like my book, then fine, that's their opinion. What I don't enjoy is getting hit by reviews by people who otherwise wouldn't be anywhere near it, as a result pulling its average rating down so that it will no longer be listed by any big promo sites. Tube Riders sits at 3.8 in the US, thanks to three bad reviews. Most major promo sites require a minimum of 4.0 stars on Amazon USA.

The possible exposure is worth it on books that stand alone, but Tube Riders is part of a series. If part one gets hit too many times, then I won't be able to get any exposure for part two. And while it's all very well shrugging and saying it doesn't matter, I want this to be my livelihood. A few bad reviews by nasty little assholes can cost me a lot of money.

There is a lot of stigma attached to indie publishing, which is why I list a publisher name on Amazon. I don't feel any great association with a "movement", I'm just a writer using what platforms are available to market and sell books. Indie, trad, whatever. I'm not interested in flying anyone's flag. With obvious indie books, you get reviewers complaining about typos unnecessarily or claiming something wasn't edited, even when it was, just because they assume that one or two blemishes are a sign of a greater problem (usually these readers are bitter indie writers - they stand out a mile). I found three typos in a recent Booker Prize winner that I read. Did I feel the need to complain about it in a review? No. Someone recently accused me of only using Word spell check to edit Man Who Built the World. I used five proofreaders, and I'd be interested to know how many actual errors that person found. Of course, after that review my sales tanked. Only the bunch of five-star reviews I've since received has started them ticking over again.

The problem is, there are a lot of unpleasant people in this world, and when you do something that exposes yourself to them, you're putting yourself at risk. And if I'm going to put myself at risk, the rewards have to be worth it. If I made $500 dollars for each one star review, I wouldn't care. Fact is, I don't.

Having said all that, I'm not completely giving up on Select. It requires exclusivity to Amazon, but on the books I've moved on to other platforms I've experienced approximately zero sales, so this doesn't bother me. And with carefully targeted promotions you can keep down the torpedoes a little. And it has exposed me to readers - I've had some wonderful emails from people who loved my books after finding them for free. I want to find more of these people, because they're awesome.

However, for the time being Tube Riders is leaving free promos behind. I'll still be doing bargain price promos - as many as I can - but the possibility of four or five bad reviews ruining the chances of a three or four book series that takes me five years to write is just too great a risk. I'm a small fish; my career hangs on the whim of one big company and a handful of people who may or may not choose to write a review. It's necessary to tread carefully, which at the moment is what I'm trying to do.

Thank you for your understanding.

Chris Ward
March 20th 2013

Five Tales of Loss

The second in my Five Tales series went live today. These are five rather mournful tales of failure, aging, death, etc. No comedy here. I'm rather proud of them, though.

Anyway, here's the cover.

The cover is actually from this stock image of an abandoned house, which I bought from for $20 or so.

I just cropped it, and used a kind of black and white effect from Picasa Creative Kit. I think it came out rather well. I used the same font as for most of my short stories. I'd love to have all of these covers professionally done but I just can't afford it, so the next best thing I can do is attempt a bit of branding by keeping the fonts the same, even though I tend to change the size and colour. You'll notice how it stands out from the background a bit - that's just two layers of text in different colours, slightly staggered. It's basic stuff, but this time last year I'd have had no idea!

As for the stories, Clones and Once We Were Children were written in 2012, and I consider them to be two of my best stories. Clones is about a man trying to a girl he almost had a short romance with at a holiday camp. It's very loosely based on a holiday romance I didn't have once, although only the situation, not what happens after. I wrote it after reading Ray Bradbury's The Lake, and tried to copy the style.

Once We Were Children is about an old Japanese man looking back on the good times of his life. I wrote it after watching yet another of the melancholy family dramas that the wife loves. I wanted to see if I could write something better. I don't know if I did, but I like it.

Death Depends is the oldest story in this collection and dates back to 2002. It's available elsewhere, which is a feature of these collections - one story that you can read somewhere else and four new ones. It contains my best twist ending. You won't pick it, I guarantee it.

Faster than the Wind is a kind of mundane sci-fi, which is basically sci-fi which doesn't contain any science. In this story, we are in a near future world where some humans are growing significantly taller than others. Larry is a Tall, and reaches almost nine feet. He's also a sprinter, and wants to enter the Olympics. However, there are a few obstacles in his way.

Lost Soul, Waiting by the Port, Brindisi, was written in 2008 and was actually sold to a pro magazine that then went bust. I used to live in Brindisi, Italy, and really wanted to write a few stories set there. I was having such a good time in those days that I didn't have much time for writing, but this story came a few years later. It's not based on anything that happens, but contains a rather strange situation for the central, unnamed character.

And there we have it. The next mini collection is tentatively titled Five Tales of Dystopia. I'll be putting it out in the next couple of weeks.

In other news, I started editing Tube Riders: Exile this morning ...

Chris Ward
March 19th 2013

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

New Cover for Five Tales of Horror

After just a few days on sale I decided to update the cover for Five Tales of Horror.

This is the original cover.

I think that's a great stock image and I liked the spooky writing, but I realised you can barely see it in thumbnail size. So I gave it a refresh, changed it to the same font I've been using for all my short stories, and added a slight red tint.

This is the new one. A little snappier, I think.

Just to prove what I'm getting at, this is them both side by side in small size.

 I think you'll agree that the second is a little nicer to look at. Looks a touch more blood-curdling too!

I gave it a sneaky little free promo this week, and I gave away about 240 copies. That's hardly anything for a free promo - in the first promo for Man Who Built the World I gave away 360, and I sold one copy in the following week - but I sold a couple in the days after. Then, when I changed the cover, sales "took off". I've actually sold 12 copies now. Compare to this time last year, when I gave away 2000 copies of Cold Pools, and sold a massive 9 copies after the promo. I'm actually quite proud of this little collection. It even got a five star review this morning.

I'm not really expecting to make any money (it would need to sell 40 just to pay for the stock image I licenced) on it. I consider these mini collections as free advertising, but if I make any sales its a bonus. Very pleased so far!

Chris Ward
March 21st 2013

Monday, 18 March 2013

Oh, I'm tired, but it's (almost) done

Yesterday I finished my own edits on Head of Words. Roughly six hours of reading it over and over. I love that book but if I ever have to look at it again my eyes will explode.

I hadn't planned to give it another revision, but I'm a bit of a perfectionist. I can't understand these writers who finish a draft and shoot it straight out to an editor. I know a lot of people do, but what are they thinking? The less an editor has to do, the better. The less an editor has to do, the more of that book is mine. No one sees my books until I personally can't find a single blemish. Then I send it to someone who spots all the blemishes that my caffeine-soaked eyes missed. There are always a few...

What I was mostly doing in this revision was cutting. I hacked about 6000 words, bringing the book's final word count down to 98,400. Dan Barker has a habit of telling little anecdotes, and a couple of those didn't make it. I was also tightening the paragraphs, cutting unnecessary or repeated description, rewriting lines to make them flow better, looking at the rhythm of the paragraphs. It lost a few lines of description that I loved, but I think it's better for it.

Now it goes off to get a pro polish/clean up/proof. Then I'll go through it again to make the corrections and it'll go live. I'm still shooting for a late March/early April release.

And it'll be done. The odd little book I started writing in 2005 will finally be out in the world.

Unlike Tube Riders and Man Who Built the World, it wasn't dumped on from a great height by dozens of agents and publishers. From the moment I typed "THE END" I knew I'd never sell it unless I already had a name as a writer, so I just moved on to the next book and forgot about it. It's just too ... weird.

I've always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with this book. On the one hand I love it because I went to places with plot and story that I'd never gone to before, and somehow or other I made it out the other side. On the other hand, I always felt it would struggle in the marketplace because it's a confusing book that requires the reader to suspend a lot of belief and also to look back on the book when they're done and see how everything fit together. There's a twist - well, two twists - which aren't really twists at all, because what happens is not really designed to be a big secret. The reader is actually supposed to know what's going on before the main character does, however, I'm expecting lots of reviewers to be like "well, I saw that twist coming", which you're kind of supposed to. You want a twist of mine you wont spot - go read Death Depends. You WON'T pick it. I guarantee it.

In short, while I'm proud of Head of Words as a novel and proud of myself for pushing my own boundaries with it, I think it will disappoint some readers. Fans of Tube Riders or Man Who Built the World (and yes, it seems like there are one or two! :-) ) will find it a hard read because it's nothing like either. The content is also a little nasty in places. There's a lot of recreational drug use, prostitution, violence, and tons of swearing (mind you, I just started reading JK Rowling's Casual Vacancy, and if she can drop a c-bomb in chapter 2 then anyone can ...). It might actually gain me more readers, but we'll see. I like to think I'm developing a small but loyal fanbase who've come to expect the unexpected. There will be more Tube Riders books, I promise you (#2 Exile is done, and #3 Revenge is being planned). However, beyond that, who knows? :-) I'll write whatever storyline punches me in the face the hardest, and I'm taking a lot of hits at the moment...

So, I really need to stop waxing lyrical here and get back to it, because I have a ton more books to write.

Chris Ward
March 19th 2013

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Plastic, oh how I despise thee

To call myself Mr Conservationist would be a little bit much. Pretty much the sum total of my efforts to help the environment consist of not driving all that much and separating my garbage for recycling.

Like everyone else I'm sure, I'm constantly bombarded by "save-the-world" type messages on Facebook, by internet do-gooders whose only effort to help the world they spend their time criticising is forwarding on other people's pictures and messages.

I usually read these messages and look at these pictures and think the same as I always do, that I ought to make more effort to help the environment, but I usually don't do anything.

Then the other day I saw this video (BE WARNED, it's harrowing - I balled my eyes out).

If that doesn't shove home the need to make a little more effort to clean up our world, then I don't know what does. So, rather than just forward the video on and sitting behind my computer berating the state of the world, I decided to do something about it.

I'm no great hero and I wouldn't ever pretend to be. I've written a few environmentally themed stories (The Cold Pools, The Tree, etc) that hardly anyone ever reads but I wanted to do something on the ground which I could actually see the results from.

Near my house is a river. I took a couple of plastic trash bags down there to see what I could find. Here's a couple of pictures of my haul.

The plastic thing is a broken kendo sword.

I didn't weigh my total haul but it was heavy. I'd estimate about 15 - 20kg, and that's what I picked up in just over an hour. The sign, incidentally, says don't litter ...

The stretch I litter picked is from where I'm standing to that bridge you can see, a distance of about 50m. The thing on the right is my school's baseball ground, although I won't go blaming my students because 99% of what I found had clearly been washed down the river and had been there a while.

I admit it felt good to do it, and it was easy to motivate myself. I figured that if it took say 100 grams of plastic to kill a sea bird then in one hour I potentially saved 150+ birds from a horrible death. That's simplifying it of course, but I'm sure you understand what I mean. What really makes me feel bad though is that this is just a tiny stretch of a pretty small river, and to find so much trash in so short a time the total volume worldwide getting gradually washed down to the sea must be horrific. If only more people would take a little bit of time away from their TVs and their Internets to do a bit of litter picking, the world would be a cleaner, nicer place.

While I write to entertain, my books do carry undertones of serious issues. Tube Riders, for example, has hints of the plight of the people of North Korea, while Head of Words is basically about mental illness. I write about these things partly to examine them for myself and partly to educate, but at times it's necessary to pull on a pair of gloves and do some dirty work. Not everyone can storm a castle and save a princess, but we can all pick up trash or separate garbage or generally give a shit about the world enough to actually make an effort. We created the problems, so it's up to us to fix them. If we stop expecting someone else to do it for us and all make an effort together, the world will be a better place.

Okay, that's all.  Sermon over!

Chris Ward
March 17th 2013

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Author Interview - Tony Riches

On today's blog we have an interview with the very talented thriller writer, Tony Riches.  Welcome, Tony, to A Million Miles from Anywhere.

Please tell us a little about yourself.

I was born not far from Pembroke Castle, birthplace of Henry VII, founder of the Tudor dynasty and live by the sea with my wife Liz in the far south west of Wales UK. When not writing I enjoy long kayaking trips and riding my Kawasaki motorcycle down the twisting country roads.

Why did you start writing?

I’d written short stories, journal and magazine articles with some success for years before I started writing books.

Which of your books are you most proud of and why?

I am proud of my first novel Queen Sacrifice as it was fun to write and the idea of bringing a famous chess game to life came to me ‘fully formed’. It was also the trigger to make me give up other work to become a full time author.

Please give a little information about your writing process.

I start with a strong idea and do plenty of research to make sure it’s really original. Then I make a rough plan and write the first few chapters to get a ‘feel’ for how it’s going to work. I’ve completed NaNoWriMo for the last two years (50,000 words in 30 days) which has really helped me understand the value of daily word count targets. I’ve also realised the benefits of having a professional editor’s help with the final manuscript.

Are you traditionally or indie published? What do you think about the “other” way of publishing?

I’m a committed ‘Indie’ and really like having complete control over every step of the process. I particularly like being able to keep my non-fiction books up to date at no cost and being able to experiment with different covers etc. It must be great to have a big advance from a traditional publisher but I would never pay to be published.

Please give a little information about your most recent book.

I’m very pleased with my latest novel The Shell, as it is a book I’ve been meaning to write for some time. I lived in Kenya as a child and went on holidays to Mombasa, so it was great to go back there and write about the tensions between the old and new Kenya.

What do you think sets your book apart from other books in the same genre?

‘The Shell’ is based on my own experience in Mombasa and draws on current news reports, so is an accurate reflection of the dangers of modern East Africa. My ‘beta readers’ included several Africans, so I’m very confident of my authenticity.

Why would you suggest someone read your book over all the other books out there?

If you are looking for something a bit different, this is a stripped down action adventure in one of the most dangerous parts of Africa.

What do you hope people will gain from reading your book?

Consider how you would cope if you suddenly found yourself alone in the wilderness. That’s what my main character has to do. It helps you think about how resourceful you could be if you really had to.

If there was one thing you would change about your life, what would it be?

I was always studying when my children were small, so although I fast-tracked my management career I would like to have spent more quality time with them.

If there was one thing you could change about the world, what would it be?

I’ve been closely studying the events of fifteenth century Europe for my current work in progress, The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham. I’d like to see a more effective UN peace keeping force step in whenever trouble flares up - backed up by real economic sanctions. The UK government recently announced an additional £6.5m (nearly $10m) for the most up-to-date prosthetic limbs for British soldiers who have legs amputated. It makes me wonder about the real cost of the Afghan war in human and financial terms. We need to learn the lessons of history.

Any last comments ...

I’d like to end on a positive note and highlight the highly productive collaboration between indie authors. Although we are all competing for readers, I’m always impressed by the amount of support and advice writers are sharing on every type of social media. Long may it continue!

Follow my blog The Writing Desk and find me on twitter

Thanks very much for coming on to the blog today, Tony.  Good luck with your next book and I hope to host you again soon. 

Friday, 15 March 2013

Why ebooks will never be better than paper books

Recently I upgraded from a Kindle app on my iPhone to a Kindle Paperwhite, and I love it. It's small enough to carry around in my coat pocket, contains an entire library of books, the battery lasts for ever, and I can access the Amazon store pretty much at any time (I have the 3G version).

 On a recent bus journey

In fact, there's little to not recommend about it.

On a Paperwhite I can adjust the text size, spacing, width and even the font. I can set the book up any way I want it. It provides a perfect reading experience.

And that's just the ereader. As an author, ebooks offer huge potential and flexibility. I can publish at any time of day or night, and see my book available online within a few hours. All I need is a computer with Word. And if I find an error, I can nip into the file, correct it, and reupload.

There's also the possibility to "keep modern". Say in five years something has changed in the world that renders one of my storylines obsolete or absurd. I open up the file, make a few edits, reupload. If I want to pretend that the book was recently written, I just unpublish and republish, with a new publication date.

Ebooks can never go out of date. It's perfect.

Or is it?

One thing that paper books have that ebooks will never, ever have, is history.

I don't mean the story, I mean the physical product itself. Books date back hundreds of years, and reading a book that is a hundred years old as opposed to reading a new edition is a completely unique experience.

Recently I found myself on a school trip to a place in Japan called British Hills. It is a study camp/hotel that has been created from original British buildings and contents. Every single thing was bought in England, shipped over, and recreated perfectly. One of the rooms was a library complete with antique British books.

The library at British Hills

Everything in the library is antique, including the books. During some time out of class I had a leaf through, and came across some really interesting stuff.

 The contents page of The Guide to the Home: Vol V (1909)
Do people really write books about how to conduct garden parties these days?

How to deal with Eczema in cats, from The Guide to the Home: Vol V (1909)

Now, I might not be a veterinarian, but I'm pretty sure that putting arsenic on a cat is not a good idea. Also, I loved how they use the phrase, "the size of a shilling". A book called The Guide to the Home from 1909 would be obsolete now. It's content is outdated and it's writing is hardly the stuff to teach in schools. You could argue it has no value at all to the modern home owner. If this was an ebook that someone was hoping to sell, they would surely update the content to be relevant in today's society.

In its current form it has no use. However, as a historical artifact it's wonderful.

Books are not all about content. Books are about history.

This book is no classic. All I could discover about the author was that she died in 1899 and wrote some 200 adventure books. There was no publication date inside the book, nor could I find a record of it on the internet. It's quite possible that this book has been erased from history barring this one single copy.

The world might have forgotten Eaglehurst Towers by Emma Marshall, but it still exists. And the book as an object was wonderful. There were pictures inside, and the edge of the pages had been coloured in the same design as the front. As a product it was intriguing.

The Complete Works of Dickens. I could download everything Dickens ever wrote on to my Paperwhite for free in the next five minutes. But would those files hold the same merit as this old collection of books? Literary merit, maybe, because they would have the same words, (unless someone had updated the files), but in terms of historical merit there's no comparison. I don't know if this collection is priceless, but everything about the way they look, feel and smell certainly makes them unique.

And can there really be any comparison to reading an ancient book in an ancient place? Here's me sat in an old, old chair reading an old, old book. I could have pulled out my Paperwhite and downloaded the complete works of Poe, but it really wouldn't have had the same feeling.

I make a little bit of money selling ebooks, but my heart will never be given over to a computer file. My childhood dream was to walk into a bookshop and see my books on the shelves of a bookstore. In a hundred years I hope someone might find a dog-eared old copy of Tube Riders or Man Who Built the World in a library and sit down in an old chair to read it, looking back on 100-year-old text and thinking perhaps about the long-dead man who first wrote those words down.

What's far more likely however, is that someone will open up a computer fire in some far future version of Starbucks and flick their eyes over whatever font they chose to use, while sipping on some futuristic latte.

And I'm sure that whether they know it or not, they're be much poorer for the experience.

16th March 2013

Monday, 11 March 2013

Author Interview - Jess Mountifield

I recently decided to begin hosting other authors on my my blog. First up today is the very talented British writer Jess Mountifield, who is not only an author but also runs a film production company called Flight Productions and designs her own clothing line.

Welcome, Jess Mountifield, to A Million Miles from Anywhere.

Please tell us a little about yourself.

I am a quirky person who lives in the gorgeous Roman City of Bath, UK. I'm married with a very dapsy cat and spend most of my time (if not writing) watching films, exploring the countryside and doing anything a little crazy with my friends.

Why did you start writing?

I wrote a lot as a kid, for therapy, especially when I had nightmares. After writing them down they never seemed so bad, but I stopped when I was seventeen. Several years later a good friend mentioned he was writing something. When I told him I used to write he asked why I'd stopped and I realised I didn't have a good answer.

When I went away and thought about it more I had an idea pop into my head and then I was set. That idea led to my first novel, With Proud Humility and I've not really looked back since.

Which of your books are you most proud of and why?

Probably Sherdan's Prophecy. It's a Sci-fi book that sort of also classifies as Christian. I really stepped out of my comfort zone with this one, dealing with characters being tortured and all sorts of other challenging subjects like science vs faith. So far all the feedback has been really good, from people who have some kind of faith and people who don't, which has made the hard work seem all worthwhile.

Please give a little information about your writing process.

I'm pretty much halfway between a plotter and a pantser. I get an idea and add it to my notebook, then let it bounce around the back of my brain for a while until I feel like I know the characters well enough to write about them, then I'll write a 500-1,000 words long outline, of what I think happens to them in their story, not really enough to be called a plotter and more than the fly by the seat of my pants approach.

Usually after that I try and write about 1,500-2,000 words every week day until the books finished in first draft. Once I'm happy everything's written down I leave it for a few weeks and then go through the massive editing process. I do a second draft, send it off to me editor, then after all that's sorted it goes off to my two proofreaders and then finally I look over it once more. Only then do I dare to declare a book done. Since there always seem to be mistakes missed even after all that I usually find I do one more go through, adding a few corrections that are pointed out.

Are you traditionally or indie published? What do you think about the “other” way of publishing?

I'm an indie all the way. For me personally it's never been a tough decision. I like getting to sit down with my own cover designer and plan out what I'd like. I also like being able to write what I want. If I'd been trying to go the traditional way I'd never have Sherdan's Prophecy out there. It's too gritty to be picked up by a Christian imprint and God is mentioned a few too many times to get a standard Sci-fi publisher to pick it up.

Please give a little information about your most recent book.

My most recent book is a fantasy short called Wandering to Belong and I'm running it's official ebook launch on 16th March here. It's set in my fantasy world, Ethanar and features a young human girl, Aneira, as she wanders the wilderness, trying to look for her people. She finds something she really didn't expect instead.

Click for Jess Mountifield's Amazon Page

What do you think sets your book apart from other books in the same genre?

A lot of books in the fantasy genre, have epic plot-lines where the main character has to save the entire world and risk their lives in the process. With my short fantasy books I usually write about more everyday characters, people we can relate to, as they go about their daily lives and encounter a dose of the unexpected. I'd like to think all of them have something a bit more normal about their journeys and stories.

Why would you suggest someone read your book over all the other books out there?

This is a tough question to answer, there are a lot of awesome books out there, but I'd like to think I offer good easy to relate to characters who tackle adversity well, even if they make a few mistakes.

What do you hope people will gain from reading your book?

I would hope people would always feel a little better after reading my books, a little stronger maybe or a little braver, with a bit more hope that life really is what you make of it.

If there was one thing you would change about your life, what would it be?

I think I'd make myself better at living in the now and getting excited about what's happening right now rather than always looking to the future and the next big thing. I'm a determined person who strives for great things most of the time. Sometimes I need to remember the now should be appreciated for being awesome too.

If there was one thing you could change about the world, what would it be?

I'm torn between intolerance and injustice, although I think to some degree they go hand in hand. So many people think their way of life is the right way and try to enforce their ideas on other people and so many people put their own needs above those of the people around them to the detriment of society as a whole. I think we'd all benefit from having more respect about what people belief and feel and have as basic rights.

Any last comments ...

Thanks for having me on your blog and asking some very interesting questions and thank you everybody who read this! If anyone wants to find out even more about me or check out my books, my website is full of all that sort of stuff -

Thank you Jess, for coming on to the blog today.  Good luck with your writing and for anyone looking to find out more about Jess's work you can use the contact links below -



Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Five Tales of Horror

I have decided to start a new series of short story collections entitled Five Tales of ... (original, eh ;-)), in which will be packaged, um, five stories in a similar genre.

Each mini-collection will be priced at $1.49 in the US and 99p in the UK.

In the past I have released short stories individually as well as in collections (well, one so far). My reason for doing this is partly one of value for money, partly one of visibility, and partly to do with branding.

My short stories don't sell many copies so I thought I would try putting them together. Another reason is that not all of my short stories are too short to sell individually, but as part of a collection they fit in okay. There will also be a little overlap - one story in each collection that is available elsewhere.  Why would I do that?  Basically to make my shorts stretch further! I'm pretty sure I don't have enough dedicated followers to get upset about it, but in the unlikely event that you've read everything I've written and you want more, drop me an email... there's a ton of stuff on the hard drive!

Anyway, part one of the collection is titled Five Tales of Horror. These were pretty easy to choose.  I've got an old one in there (Road Stop, written in 2003), plus a couple of personal favorites (Forever My Baby and Room 666 - which very nearly sold to a pro mag a couple of years back) and a couple loosely based on places I worked/visited.

And here's the cover, one I knocked up using Picasa on my iMac.

I absolutely love that skull picture, which I picked up on I'm already thinking about the next one, which will possibly be titled Five Tales of Space Exploration or Five Tales of Alien Worlds, depending what stories fit best. Watch this space.

So, while you're waiting for Head of Words, please enjoy these dark tales in the meantime!

CW 7th March 2013

Sunday, 3 March 2013

The Passage - Justin Cronin (book review)

I just finished reading this book, which was recommended to me by a friend.

The Passage was an exceptionally written book which really transcends the whole virus-ends-the-world story and stands head and shoulders above anything else I've read in the genre. It's basically Stephen King's The Stand plus vampires as written by Michael Critchton. It's deep, layered, involving, and had enough plot twists (particularly near the end) to set it apart from the conventional storyline in these kind of books.

A lot of reviewers have complained that there are too many characters. There are, and I almost docked it a star because of it.  Cronin has a habit of explaining many major events from multiple viewpoints, and while this can work, over such a long book it became a little wearing. A lot of characters, particularly those in the Colony, were entirely surplus to requirements. You invest an interest in a character or a group of characters only to have them die off screen. I understood that Cronin was going for a realistic world view and he completely achieved it, but there were instances where I found myself scowling at the screen, right up to the last chapter. However, it was obvious early on that you should never assume anyone is dead until you've seen their body in the ground.

There were a few things that I was dubious about, for example after a hundred years would canned food still be edible? Or, judging by my own clothing after just four or five years, would stuff just lying around in shops not just fall apart the moment you pulled it on? However, the depth of Cronin's research was obvious so I'll just trust him on it, and enjoy the story for what it was.

The virals, I have to say, were awesome. Insect-like vampires with more in common with I Am Legend than Dracula, they were frightening and deadly. And Babcock has to be the coolest uncool name for a vampire ever.

If you like vampire apocalypse type books you will love this. However, it's a massive time and emotional investment. I read the entire Hunger Games trilogy in half the time it took me to read this one book, and while I enjoyed that series, in comparison to The Passage it was like some kiddie playground sandbox stuff.  This is a big, bad, hardcore apocalypse novel for adults. I will definitely be reading the second book in the series but I'm going to take a break now and read some lighter stuff because it left me emotionally drained.

Overall, an excellent book, if extremely long.

Last thing - apparently Ridley Scott has optioned the movie rights, which is great news. I'd be at the cinema in a second if this came out as a movie. However, it's so damn long than I think it would work far better as a TV series.

Easy five out of five.

C.W. March 5th 2013