The Numbers Game…

I’m not sure why, but there’s a seemingly endless fascination with rankings and chart numbers.  In certain circumstances, sports for instance, this all makes sense: it’s about competition and determining victory and there are a whole host of governing bodies to ensure fair play.  Charts are also considered helpful to indicate relative popularity but this kind of benchmarking is much less reliable and is liable to manipulation or abuse.  Of course, you might have guessed that the charts that I seem to be most fixated with are Amazon Sales Rankings.  I confess: I try not to look at them  but for some reason I can’t help it!  Anyway, I thought I’d share a little of what I’ve experienced about them over the last few years.

When I first published Firebird, back in 2011, the concept of ebooks was still very new.  Back then, Firebird would oscillate between the top 10,000 and top 100,000 books in both the UK and US Amazon charts.  At that time, the general author consensus was that if you were in the top 10,000 then that was a very good sign.

Nowadays, however, things have changed.  All of the major publishing houses have, to some extent, conceded to the ebook format and published their back catalogues.  Indie writers, good and bad, are pouring their wares into the e-marketplace and the trend of publishing shorter stories as “novellas” is not doing anything to reduce this literal tsunami.

So, two years on, Firebird is selling more strongly than ever – albeit that this means approximately two copies per week – but is now generally ranked as being between 100,000th and 200,000th.  A good day might see it spring up to a circa 30,000th slot but, within a day, it’ll drift back into its more normal resting place.

Thunder, despite having a lower overall circulation, is not too dissimilar.  It ranges between 200,000 and 500,000th.

Initially I was concerned about this.  Now I’m not.

I celebrate days when either book breaks the top 100,000 as this tells me that someone new has been kind – or perhaps crazy – enough to try out my efforts and I have settled into being satisfied that if my books are anywhere in the top million then that’s still pretty impressive considering the wealth of global competition they’re up against.

And who knows?  I may have to add even more zero’s to my benchmark in another couple of years!

That’s it, I’ve started…

Well my trip to Finland was, once again, extremely restful.  Except for the journey home where, somehow, I managed to damage my lower back on the way to the airport.  Eight hours of transit and tight connections later; I couldn’t even stand upright unassisted!  Ouch …

My doctor says, “Things like this happen, as you get older…”

Thanks, Doc.  That makes me feel much better…

Anyway, I’m pleased to report that I’ve made a start on the new novel and the opening pages – assuming I don’t shuffle things as I go – have been drafted.  Openings are vital for any piece of writing, particularly novels.  They need to drag readers in by the eyeballs and may, in the end, determine the entire success or otherwise of a story.  As a result, I try not to be too precious about the opening pages.  If I get a better idea later, I’ll swap stuff out.  Looking back, Firebird hasn’t got a ‘bad’ start but I think Thunder’s is better.  For me, I’m looking to stir up shock, confusion and to create intrigue from the get-go – although I don’t deliberately sit down and try to force this to happen – and recently I’ve been to paying more attention to missing things out, rather than putting them in…  In other words, I’ve noticed that a little deft cutting sometimes adds more value than a hundred extra words…

On another subject entirely, I noticed yesterday that Amazon have adjusted their pricing regimes again.  As a result, I’ve been able to reset Thunder’s pricing so that it’s a little bit lower than it’s been since publication.  Other authors might also want to check out the pricing policies in detail.  Certain country price points are lower than the US which, thanks to Amazon’s global price-matching rules, means that there’s a little bit of headroom to offer better deals for your readers (and for us to still get a few cents to contribute toward our next computer upgrades!).

Right, it’s time for me to go and enjoy the, highly unusual and probably short-lived, British sunshine…!

Tomato Time…

Yes, it’s almost time for my annual pilgrimage to Finland and I’m looking forward to meeting up with friends and family over there.

This year’s visit is timed to coincide with the local town’s Tomato Carnival which celebrates the community’s agricultural cornerstone of… you guessed it… tomatoes.  Blog regulars will be familiar with this concept and there are even a couple of photos in here somewhere.

It’s always fascinating for me to have chance to visit, what is for me, a completely different lifestyle: almost a different world.  Where noise consists mainly of the sounds of wildlife, where affluence is having fresh food and a good fire, where happiness blossoms from simple social interaction and rich conversation.  The Finns do always make me feel so very welcome.

Work has been, what can only be described as, “mental” for these last few weeks and, whilst this has been going on, I’ve only been able to find enough moments to continue to develop the story-lines, content, and characters for the next novel.  As a result, I’m also looking forward to getting some solid writing time whilst I’m away.  I’m really itching to start drafting; whole passages are queuing up in my head and bursting to get out!  And I might even have finally settled on the book’s title, but I’m not quite ready to share that, yet…

Firebird and Thunder continue to tick over gently, which is a real delight, and I’ve even received some nice encouragement from readers recently.  So, wish me luck: it’s time to get Book Three started…!

RIP Iain Banks

And so, once again, we are reminded that the only certainty in life, is death.  And that death can come with little warning, at any time.  Every breath is precious, every second should be treasured…

This is not a long post.  I cannot claim to be anything other than one of the many hundreds of thousands of people who have been captivated by the words, worlds, and utterly staggering imagination of this seemingly quietly-spoken Scotsman.

Iain, wherever you are, know that your life made a lasting mark on me and I, for one, will sadly miss you.

What’s Up?

Apologies for a distinct lack of posts recently.  I’ve been kept rather busy by the boring and mundane necessities of living a normal life and only being a part-time writer!

Nonetheless, I am cracking on in the background on the storyboard, character biographies and research for my next novel.  Things are progressing nicely although, for the first time, I’ve realised that the scope of the tale is now definitely far beyond a single work.  This is kind of tricky, and new ground for me.  Whilst Firebird and Thunder are both written with open hooks for pre or sequels, the storyline I sat down with for each of them had a contained beginning, middle, and end.  It was clear how much ground they’d cover.  This is not the case with the new one. In fact, I’m scoping and storyboarding across what will likely be several manuscripts.

There is the option to write one, massive, blockbuster – but I’m not sure that the few fans I’ve got – or even I – have got enough patience to wait till I’ve finished it! So, as it is, I’m just marking up thoughts and ideas for later works and concentrating on honing the important components for at least a “Book One”.

It’ll be another sci-fi/fantasy/action and adventure mashup with possibly a tiny dash of UF just for the hell of it…  Crazy?  Maybe, but my objectives have and always will be to try to create stories that are a little bit off the beaten track!

Anyway, I also promised an update on how my pricing programme was progressing.  Well at the moment, my jury is still out.  Firebird does seem to be ticking over slightly more regularly at its price of 99c and Thunder is also selling the odd copy at my old base price.  Recent weeks have seen a very slight upturn, but that might just be a seasonal effect.  I’ll keep you posted as the months roll by.

To be honest, I’m way past thinking my books will ever earn me more than the odd pound or two and I’m genuinely excited and honoured whenever I see that someone has taken a punt to give one of them a go.  And at least with slow sales I’m not under any pressure to pump out the next one!

Theres A Typo In Here…

And anyone daft, or masochistic, enough to want to publish a novel will no doubt have spotted it.  However, just in case any budding book-reviewers are busy sharpening their critical pencils, the one in the title of this post is deliberate…

Anyway, what’s prompted this blog is a fascinating email I received about Firebird from Amazon last week which advised me, most helpfully:

There are typos in your book. You can see this error at the following Kindle location(s): 6548 … “An unusual number compared to the surrounding arid countryside.”

i.e. the sentence in quotations contains a typo…

Well, I looked and I looked…

And I looked some more…

‘This must be a real cracker of a typo,’ I thought to myself.  ‘Not like that blistering, bold typeface, spelling mistake I just saw in the middle of XYZ [yep: my self-preservation instincts force me to refrain from naming of oft-offending but otherwise entertaining novel, and its perhaps-responsible professional publishing house]…’

So I tried reading each word out loud.  First forwards, then backwards…

Nope.  Still nothing…

Then I noticed that Amazon had kindly offered their erudite wisdom to aid me: poor illiterate that I am.

Anyone want to hazard a guess as to what I’d apparently got wrong?

Well, according to Amazon, my sentence should read:

“An unusual number compared to the surrounding and countryside.”

You may need to look carefully…  I had to; before I laughed out loud…

I have, of course, not inserted the above, grammatically-incorrect and ill-advised text into my book…  The word arid is welcome in my vocabulary, and it can stay just exactly where I’d carefully placed it in Firebird.

So, has this experience diminished my paranoia of all things typographical?  Not a chance.  My passion to eradicate any real mistakes I might find lurking somewhere on my pages remains indefatigable…  Or as an Amazon proofreader would perhaps have it: in the fat gable…?

Typos, eh?  I think they’re just the fingers’ way of keeping authors’ minds humble…

The Eternal eBook Pricing Conundrum…

There’s not much writing going on at the moment: partly because the routine distractions of life are preventing me from having much mental bandwidth and partly because I’m simply not in the mood.  Given that my writing is a hobby, I’m not going to try to force myself…

Instead, I’m trying a bit of an experiment.  Having two books in circulation gives me the opportunity to try out different pricing regimes.

I’ve always kept my pricing as low as possible within the constraints of Amazon’s royalty-based rules.  I’ve also learned, from promotions, the risks of ascribing zero value to a book. One thing I’ve not done so far is try out the lowest royalty band and, as the levels of royalty I receive are pretty much nil, now seems a good time to play with a few changes!

Personally, I think Thunder is a big step forwards from Firebird; so I’ve been considering for a long time adjusting my pricing to reflect this.  Although, as an aside, the first US review for Thunder claims that Firebird is better… hey ho… each to their own…!

Anyway, for a few weeks I’m going to trial having Firebird at the lowest price point available to me: 0.99 cents.  Let’s see how it goes and I’ll let you know if I see any results…

From Snow to Snow…

I’m back from my trip to Canada.  The long journey was recompensed by lots of nice powder-snow, some bright sunshine, and news that the UK was colder – at times – than British Columbia!  Have to admit: it is blooming chilly here…   Roll on Spring!

I’ve noticed that, whilst I was away, both Firebird and Thunder have picked up some nice reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.  I’m always very grateful for any words of support and encouragement, so thank-you to those who have taken time to write them!  I really appreciate your support.

Am still storyboarding my next project which will be a return to a science-fantasy, action and adventure, theme.  More news and updates shortly…

[Now then, where did I pack my woolly jumpers…???]

Valentine’s Action…

I entered  a short story contest, a few weeks back, which was Valentine’s Day themed.  It was something of an accidental entry, in that I wasn’t originally planning to join in but then I had a whacky story idea and decided to use the exercise for a bit of descriptive-practice.  My twist – because I seem to have an inherent need to swim against prevailing currents – was to try to write a Valentine’s piece from an Action and Adventure slant, and to do it in as few words as I could whilst successfully circumnavigating the competition’s mandatory word-hurdles…  Well, nothing-ventured, eh?

The main character had to be alone on Valentine’s, the word limit was 600 to 1200 words (I ended up at around 800 after edits) and the mandatory words were: heart, ice cream, toe nail clippers, black and flower (yes; Mistress Suzie can be just plain strange at times).

Anyway, here’s the story:

~~~~~

Forget Me Not

by Anthony Bellaleigh (830 words)

His heart beat furiously against the rough-spun fabric of his shirt as if it was trying to fling itself out of his chest.  Above the trench-line, the sky was a swathe of angry black-grey clouds tinged with a barely visible hint of amber that might be from the distant fires but was, more likely, from the pending dawn.  Another day was starting: February 14th.

With one trembling hand he reached inside his jacket – his fingerless woollen gloves had done little to hold back the frosty cold of another French winter’s dawn and his fingertips felt as if they had been planted in a tub of ice cream – but he was relieved to find her letter was still there: tucked into an inside pocket.  Despite his icy-digits, he could just make out the well-thumbed edges of the scented parchment and, for a second, he felt warm inside.

‘I wonder how Lucy will spend Valentine’s,’ he thought to himself as something whistled overhead, streaking away into the far distance, heading inexorably in a direction that he really didn’t want to travel but knew that he’d have to follow soon…

“Look sharp!” a deep booming voice barked out through the half-light from somewhere to his left, “Keep your eyes peeled!”.

Oh, how he longed for the chance to be at Lucy’s side today!  How he longed to be able to return to the so-called trials and tribulations of his earlier life.  To days when looming exams made you think that nothing could get more stressful.  To days when the worst you could expect for failure was a whipping from your father.  To days when…

“Hodgkins!  Look alert, I said!”  The booming voice demanded his attention.  “Jump to it you miserable Toenail!  Clippers, get the ladders up!”

Another of his fellows – he knows only too well that he has no real friends here; just those who shoot at him, or don’t shoot at him – moved in front of him as he quickly straightened up and readied himself: pulling shut his jacket to cocoon its precious paper contents close to his chest, and buttoning the fastenings tight as if in some crazy way this fabric could offer shielding from what was to come.

Clippers glanced back at him.  Nicknamed after his role as make-do barber for the squad, and generally a quiet and softly spoken soul, this other man’s wide eyes now betrayed only mortal fear and terror.  He guessed his own would look much the same.  Neither of them smiled.

“Ready?” Clippers asked.

He grimaced and nodded, but could not speak.

Oh, to be back in the schoolyards, to be stealing glimpses of her beauty across classrooms, to be running hand-in-hand across the muddy lanes, and into the meadows.  To be grabbing handfuls of wild flowers to present to her whilst hot blood rushes to warm cheeks.  To be feeling; not fear, but an animal flush of lust and desire.  To be kissing her soft lips…

The last remnants of night vanished in a sudden blaze of white light which turned the trench wall before him into a hard line of black-haven and the sky beyond into a fiery glimpse of Hell.  A rippling concussive boom ripped through the air, pounding at his stomach and blasting at his eardrums.  And now more blazing lights.  And more concussive booms.  Until it all becomes an endless, awful, roar of noise.  And the white light becomes swathed in red, and yellow, and even black as huge handfuls of earth are grabbed by monstrous invisible hands and thrown skyward…

“Get ready now!” yells the voice.

He places one, unexpectedly steady and supportive, hand on Clipper’s trembling shoulder, and leans forward so he can be heard as he whispers into his comrade’s ear, “We’ll be okay, mate.  This push’ll be the one.  Just you wait and see.  The barrage will clear the way this time…”

“It didn’t before,” Clippers whimpers.

He knows that Clippers is right.  It’s never worked before…

Not in 1914, nor 1915, nor yet in this year…

A piercing whistle strikes up from somewhere in the distance.  Then another.  And another.  The chorus builds and the alien sound moves ever closer…

This is it then.

“Now!” yells the booming voice and his own Captain’s penny-whistle joins the piping throng.

Clippers starts up the ladder in front of him, legs shuddering and bouncing the rickety wooden frame as he climbs fearfully toward the reaper who waits patiently for them all: bare inches inches above, bare seconds away…

And he pushes his own reluctant limbs forward and starts to follow as fizzing and whistling sounds and small plumes of dirt announce the arrival of machine gun rounds.

In the distance the barrage continues.

Screams begin to rip through the air.

Clippers disappears over the top.

Disappears into Hades.

And now he is following.

And he wonders as he climbs, how his Lucy will spend Valentine’s Day…

 ~~~~~

[p.s. Am going to be off-line for a couple of weeks: see you when I get back!] 

Brain Pickings…

Jenelle Schmidt

Jenelle Schmidt

Fellow Authoress Jenelle Schmidt recently contacted me to see if I’d mind being interviewed for her blog site.  So – after some debate as to whether, given such madness, she might better benefit from some counselling – I succumbed and the resultant ramblings can be discovered here…

Q&A with Anthony Bellaleigh

Fellow writers might also be interested in participating: if so, why not drop her an email?

Fantasy fans might also like to check out her novel: King’s Warrior

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