Half-price books through Smashwords

Smashwords is running a massive 2022 End Of Year Sale, and all my books are included in it, at 75% off.

So check out the sale at https://smashwords.com/shelves/promos/, and pick up a ton of reading to take you into the next year. And if you want to check out my books (dark Dystopian thrillers in the Dominions series, sci-fi/horror with Shadows, or sci-fi/adventure with ShadowTech), check out my page on the Smashwords store.

A quick technical note: unlike some other ebook retailers, Smashwords don’t have a dedicated reader or app (although you can read through their website). So when you buy and download an ebook from Smashwords you download it, you can read it however and wherever you want*‌—‌side-load it to an e-reader, use an app on your phone or tablet, or read it on a laptop. It’s your book, so read it your way.

* More technical note: Smashwords books are in epub format, but Kindles won’t accept epubs directly. There are ways around this, but they involve a little more work. This article (from Dave Chesson at Kindlepreneur) gives three ways to do this.

Hostile Alliances (ShadowTech Book 3) out now!

The title says it all – the third ShadowTech book, Hostile Alliances, is out now. It’s available in ebook from all the usual stores/sites, and in paperback from Amazon.

The Ancients are coming.

When Kaiahive intercepts a signal on the edge of the system, it’s no longer in doubt. Time is running out.

And that increases hostilities between the company and the Heralds, which in turn pushes the shadowy Collective into more desperate actions.

In the midst of this turmoil, the crew are divided. To survive, they must choose their sides. Staying passive is no longer an option. They must decide who they trust, and prove their allegiances.

Get Hostile Alliances before the end of the week-end, before the price goes up.

I’ve got audiobooks!

I’ve wanted to create audiobooks for a while now, but unless I narrated them myself (which wouldn’t work – I’m under no illusions as to what I sound like!), the cost has always put me off. But AI narration has come a long way over the last year or so, and I’ve been experimenting with Google’s AI narration tool.

The results? Honestly, they’re better than I expected. Admittedly, the computer-generated voice doesn’t have the nuance of a decent human narrator, and some passages are a little clunky, but there’s clear expression, and it sounds almost natural.

I’ve worked on some of my shorter books to start with, and they’re only available on Google at the moment (except for one that I’ve also put onto YouTube). Because this is an experiment, they’re short works, and they’re AI narration, I’ve currently set the audiobooks to free.

Give them a listen. I’d love to know what you think.

Impact (A Dominions Story)

(37 minute short story)

Click here to download from Google Play

Click here to listen/read on YouTube

Gatekeeper (A Dominions Prologue)

(42 minute short story)

Click here to download from Google Play

Animus (A Dominions Story)

(59 minute short story)

Click here to download from Google Play

Errant (A Dominions Story)

(2 hour 36 minute novella)

Click here to download from Google Play

Hostile Alliances (ShadowTech Book 3) is now up for pre-order

The third book in the ShadowTech series, Hostile Alliances, will be released on 24th November 2022, and is now up for pre-order.

The Ancients are coming!

There’s no doubt now, not after the signal the company intercepts. And that means the fighting between them and the Heralds will intensify. That will force the shadowy Collective to work harder, seeking a solution before the Heralds and Kaiahive doom humanity.

And in the midst of the chaos, the crew are divided. They must trust themselves, and decide who around them they can trust. They must fight‌—‌for what they believe in, and for their lives.

Subtle Weapon (ShadowTech Book 2) is out now

The second book in the sci-fi/adventure series ShadowTech, Subtle Weapon is out now.

Kaiahive is everywhere, even on the supposedly deserted island the crew escape to. So are the company’s enemies, the Heralds, and the crew are caught in the crossfire, their options dwindling fast.

Can Deva trust old enemies long enough to get her revenge on those who ruined her life? Can Brice and Ryann escape from captivity deep underground? Has Keelin found people who appreciate her for who she is, or are they only using her? And as Piran dives deep into the incredible technology of the Ancients, can he keep their secrets from the company long enough to help save his friends?

As hostilities grow, each of them must fight — for themselves, for their friends, and for their lives.

To coincide with this, I’ve put the first book, Desert Bound on sale until the end of the weekend, at the bargain price of 99c (or your local equivalent).

One-star reviews aren’t pleasant, but they can be useful

I got my first review for Desert Bound earlier this week‌—‌and it was a 1-star. Disappointing, but it happens. Someone bought the book, and it wasn’t for them.

But that wasn’t the case. The review was nothing about the book itself. In fact, the review implied that the reviewer hadn’t even read the book, or bought it.

Instead, the review complained that it ‘says you can order paperback, but it only sells on kindle NO option for paperback!’

This confused me, because Desert Bound is available in both formats. As I write this, I can see a paperback copy on my shelf, and I have the ebook on my Kindle.

I had to dig into this.

Normally, on a book’s page on Amazon, all format options are shown (ebook, paperback, hardback, audiobook and so on). But when I searched for Desert Bound in the Kindle store it only showed the ebook. However, when I searched specifically for the paperback, the paperback came up‌—‌but didn’t show that it was available in ebook.

This wasn’t right. Different formats of the same book are ‘linked’. I checked all my other titles, and found no other discrepancies. So this wasn’t a wide glitch. This was specific to Desert Bound.

I looked closer, and noticed a difference‌—‌the ebook was listed as Desert Bound (ShadowTech Book 1), but the paperback came up as Desert Bound (ShadowTech). Had I entered the wrong metadata when setting the paperback up?

I went into my KDP (Kindle Desktop Publishing) account to check‌—‌and found the same metadata for both books. But, somehow, Amazon had the series title in place of the subtitle with the paperback, which made their system treat the two formats as separate entities rather than different versions of the same product.

So I contacted Amazon. I explained the situation, and asked them to rectify it. I also asked for the review to be removed, as well as asking if there was any way they could contact this (potential) customer and point them towards the paperback.

Amazon replied, and a few days later both formats were showing as available on any search for Desert Bound. But I have to go through a few more hoops to get the review removed.

A part of me is tempted to leave it‌—‌readers are intelligent enough to see that the review isn’t a comment on the book’s quality. If it was one of many reviews, it wouldn’t matter so much‌—‌but it’s my only review so far. It means that Desert Bound has an average rating of one star‌—‌not what I want for a first-in-series!

So, that’s the situation I found myself in earlier this week. I’m trying to look at the positives, and I think there are a few lessons to learn here.

  • Things can always go wrong. Even if I’m certain I’ve entered details accurately, I need to check more thoroughly. Yes, this will take more time (as I’ll want to check the book pages on all retailers, not only Amazon), but it’ll give me greater peace of mind, and help prevent issues like this in the future.
  • Mistakes remain until they’re pointed out. If it hadn’t been for this review, I wouldn’t have noticed the problem, so I thank the reviewer for pointing this out. I would’ve preferred it if they’d contacted me directly, but I can understand why they didn’t‌—‌that would have involved more work, and they were clearly frustrated anyway. Similarly, if there are any typos in my books, I’m all for readers contacting me to point them out. Yes, I do all I can to ensure there are no mistakes, but a few always slip through.
  • Reviews matter, in all kinds of strange ways. ‘Good’ reviews help make the book look more attractive to potential readers, and highlight what works well in the story and the writing. ‘Bad’ reviews can highlight what hasn’t worked, at least for the reviewer. All reviews can be constructive, ‘good’ or ‘bad’ (although some reviews are inaccurate, mean or simply make no sense). And, from my experience here, reviews can highlight issues that the writer hadn’t even considered.

This is only a small issue, but I want my books to be the best they can be‌—‌and that includes the buying and reading experiences. If there’s something hindering a potential reader from getting one of my books, I want to get rid of the problem.

If the reviewer is reading this, I apologise. This link should take you to the paperback page on Amazon.com.

And if anyone out there has read (and enjoyed) Desert Bound, I’d love more reviews.

Can an action story have too much action?

I’m currently reading, and enjoying, Joshua James’ Lucky’s Marines series. Lost of action, snarky dialogue, a story-line with loads of twists, and intriguing tech. It’s the kind of stuff I love to read for pure entertainment.

But I had an issue with the first story, Lucky Universe. The start is strong and intriguing‌—‌a marine coming out of some kind of deep-freeze sleep state in time for an imminent mission, with his internal AI updating him on the situation. Then we’re off, into the mission. Of course, it doesn’t go as planned, and the characters are thrown from one fight to another, from one action sequence to the next. Each time they think they’ve escaped, there’s a new problem for them to encounter (which usually involves lots of shooting and fighting).

The book’s solid action. There’s no let-up.

And that’s my problem with it.

There’s a technique in writing/storytelling that’s often referred to as ‘scene and sequel’. This states that after an action scene, there needs to be a ‘sequel’, a moment where the characters (and the reader) can catch their breath. After a barrage of stuff happening, there needs to be a time to process it.

This doesn’t have to be a long-winded debrief from a mission. It could even take place while action rages all around‌—‌imagine a couple of characters escaping an advancing army and holing up in an abandoned building. There’s still the risk of them being found, and they’ll have to rejoin the battle sooner or later, but for the moment they can pause, reflect on their situation. It might be for a few hours in story-time, it might only be a minute or so.

The action doesn’t have to be fights and battles, either. In a drama, the action will be events unfolding, and character actions that deepen the plot. But after each surprising, dramatic event (or after a few of them), the characters need to take stock, if only for a moment. This might be through internal contemplation, or it might be through dialogue. But without these moments, the story runs the risk of being too full-on.

It’s similar to a well-constructed roller-coaster. If you like coasters, you’re drawn to the twists and turns, to the drops and the inversions. But all coasters have their quieter moments. There’s the crawl to the top of the first hill, building the tension. There could well be slower sections, giving a false sense of security, tricking the rider into believing their near the end, before plunging them into the next ‘event’.

Roller-coasters and action stories are designed to be ‘breath-taking’, to literally leave the rider or reader short of breath. In a well-crafted action sequence, the reader might even hold their breath. But this isn’t sustainable. There have to be moments to breathe‌—‌for the reader, for the characters, and for the story.

Lucky Universe, for me, didn’t have nearly enough of these moments. While I appreciated the action itself, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read another eight books like this.

Thankfully, from the second book onward, the action is interspersed with calmer moments. These are often when the characters are travelling to the next battle (so there’s still tension in these ‘sequels’), but at least there’s time to slow down. And this helps the plot‌—‌in the midst of action, it’s far too easy to lose track of what’s happening, so the quieter moments can help explain what’s going on.

Scene and sequel. It’s something to remember in my own writing‌—‌break up the action with quieter moments. Full-on action can leave the reader disorientated, but having moments of relative calm helps give the reader a more memorable ride.

There are books for every reader, and readers for every book (first thoughts after Self-Publishing Show Live 2022)

Earlier this week, I attended the‌—‌Self-Publishing Show Live event in London — two days of presentations from some of the best in the business, and the opportunity for a few hundred writers to get together, talk and have fun. And learn a lot. I’ve barely started processing everything, and when the videos of the presentations are released, there are many I’ll be studying in detail.

But one thing that struck me was the range of books people are writing. The event kicked off with two sisters (Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti) who, over a couple of years, have built up a seven-figure business (yes, we’re talking millions here) writing dark fantasy romance and bully romance. Bully romance? That’s fairly niche. I can’t imagine mainstream romance fans going for it, but these women have found enough readers that they’re making a very good living from their books. They’ve been at or near the top of the Amazon ebook chart since January. And they’re truly independent, doing everything themselves (or hiring others for the work they can’t do). They don’t have backing from a publisher. They’re not household names, yet they’re out-selling just about everyone else.

It would be impressive if they’d been writing in a more mainstream genre (crime or urban fantasy, for example). Bully romance doesn’t seem to be on the radar of traditional publishing. It doesn’t feature heavily in book stores. But they’ve found their readers.

Ebook sales have continued to rise, especially over the last couple of years (who would’ve thought that being stuck at home encouraged reading?). More people are reading, and people are reading more. Every reader has their own taste, their own things in books that they’re drawn to. And while the big publishers have to aim for commercial, mainstream success, the independents (smaller publishing companies and, especially, indie-publishing authors) can cater for these increasingly smaller niches.

While many of the writers at the event were working in more obvious genres (science-fiction, romance, young adult and so on), a lot were narrowing down, or coming up with interesting combinations of genres. I spoke with a few writers whose stories combined both science fiction and fantasy — a hybrid that might upset some hard-core fans from either camp, but something that is gaining popularity (Chris Fox’ MagiTech books spring to mind — well worth a read if the idea of space battles between gods appeals!). One of those on stage was making a living writing 1920s cosy mysteries. And I managed to spend a few moments talking with Heide Goody, the co-author of books that, among other things, combine comedy with Lovecraftian horror (if that sounds interesting, check out the Oddjobs series).

The list goes on.

I spoke with one writer (sorry, I can’t recall names) who wrote ‘sports fiction’. That’s both a niche term and a broad one — many ‘sports fiction’ books are also romances. His, however, are dramas, similar to Rocky — struggles against adversity set against the backdrop of sports. And while that feels specific (and the specificity means he struggles with advertising), there are readers looking for books like this.

I wish I could remember his name, because I’d definitely check those books out.

Genres can be tricky, though. Words can have many meanings, and getting the wrong ‘word’ can cause problems.

I had a conversation with a writer who thought the first book in her trilogy was romance (yes, romance crops up a lot in self-publishing — it’s a huge genre, and romance writers are incredibly business-savvy). The story focused on someone finding happiness through love, so of course it was romance. But the readers disagreed. She didn’t abide by the expected tropes. Her story might have been about love, but it wasn’t romance.

That doesn’t make sense? People hear ‘love story’ and immediately think ‘romance’, but consider a story like Romeo And Juliet. It’s all about love, but it wouldn’t qualify as a romance by today’s book genre definitions. It doesn’t have the obligatory happy ending, for one thing. It throws out important ‘romance’ tropes.

Personally, I prefer ‘love stories’ like Romeo And Juliet and Wuthering Heights to some of the other romances I’ve read. I’ve tried a few recently, and the insta-love, ‘when will they get together?’ stories bore me. I’ve got nothing against these books, or the many readers who enjoy them — they’re simply not for me. I prefer darker tales. I like books that confound my expectations, that twist or even throw out genre tropes.

I’m in a minority here, I know. I can be contrary, in my consumption of media (I’ve always gone for ‘different’ music and films), and also in the books I write.

I classify my Dominions books as dark Dystopian thrillers, but Dystopian fiction is closely tied to Young Adult, and Dominions is definitely not YA. Also, the thriller aspect is more slow-burn than many mainstream thrillers (like Jack Reacher or John Milton.) The genres fit, but they also confuse.

Then there’s my Shadows trilogy, my attempt to combine science-fiction and horror. Yes, there are very successful sci-fi/horror hybrids (and Alien was a major influence on Shadows), but why would horror fans want to read a science fiction book, and why would sci-fi fans want to scare themselves with horror?

My new series, ShadowTech, is more mainstream, but it’s still veering toward the darker side of things. I’m interested in the internal struggles of the characters, more so than the external action the stories (and the mainstream readers) demand.

But these are the types of stories I enjoy writing, and reflect the stories I enjoy reading. I might be in a minority, but I can’t be alone in this. In fact, I know there are readers who have enjoyed my books — reviews and comments tell me that.

There are millions of individual readers, and millions of books. It’s a struggle bringing compatible readers and books together. But the options are out there. No matter how obscure, no matter how niche, there are books for every reader, and readers for every book.

And when I get my head around everything from this conference, hopefully I’ll be in a better position to make those connections.

The second book in the ShadowTech series is now available for pre-order

Subtle Weapon (ShadowTech Book 2) picks up where the previous book finished, throwing the crew into even more chaos. It’s out on August 18th, but is available to pre-order now from all the usual places. And, as always, the price will rise a couple of days after release, so pre-order now to get Subtle Weapon for a bargain price.

Kaiahive is everywhere, even on the supposedly deserted island the crew escape to. So are the company’s enemies, the Heralds, and the crew are caught in the crossfire, their options dwindling fast.

Can Deva trust old enemies long enough to get her revenge on those who ruined her life? Can Brice and Ryann escape from captivity deep underground? Has Keelin found people who appreciate her for who she is, or are they only using her? And as Piran dives deep into the incredible technology of the Ancients, can he keep their secrets from the company long enough to help save his friends?

As hostilities grow, each of them must fight‌—‌for themselves, for their friends, and for their lives.