Monthly Archives: September 2012

Opening Lines

It is often said that the opening lines of a book are the most important. If the author gets them right, they’re the ones that will grab the reader and suck them straight into a story. Get them wrong, and the book will be returned to the shelf and never read. No matter now well structured the following 99,900 words are in your masterpiece, get the first 100 wrong and you’ve had it.

When re-structuring The Cypress Branches into a trilogy, I was faced with the problem of how to start each of the three books. But unlike an author who is in full control and can let their imaginations run wild, as an editor, and an editor who can’t communicate with the author, I had to find the opening lines of Pegasus Falling from within the existing text.

Indeed, it was the importance of the opening passage which lead me to decide to cut two scenes from the book.

The Cypress Branches, in its original format, starts with a prologue. Because of the way I have restructured the novel, that prologue will not appear until book three. (This decision alone was something I agonised over for a long long time, but hopefully when you get to read it, you’ll see why I made the decision!) The prologue starts with a very powerful image. Here are the opening lines…

Joyce Williamson, reflecting upon the events following her father’s death, had become withdrawn, suppressing a sort of vague rage. A cold, furious incomprehension at such a calamity. She threw herself into an orgy of frantic, almost hysterical activity. Dismissing her sister’s entreaties, she stripped her father’s room of everything which connected it to him: his clothes, his books, his toiletries, his pictures, his bric-a-brac. When she had finished, she locked the room. She then turned her attention to the rest of the house: polishing, cleaning, clearing cupboards and shelves, shampooing carpets, re-arranging furniture, changing curtains. By this aberrant behaviour, it seemed she was determined to so expunge the familiar that she could not be reminded of the past. She restored all the packages finally into the now gleaming kitchen cabinets and closed the doors upon her labours. She climbed down from the kick stool and, crossing to the sink, filled the kettle and flicked the switch. She sat at the table, gazing out, motionless, drained by her efforts. Suddenly she began to cry like a small child. ‘Oh, Daddy, why did you do this to us? Why, Daddy, why?’

I don’t know about you, but that really makes me want to read on! Who is Joyce? What happened to her father? Why is she reacting in this particular way? In less than 200 words, we’re hooked. We want to know more, and find out what the situation is.

It’s a great opening…and was the perfect way to open The Cypress Branches in its original form. But it would have made no sense to open Pegasus Falling with that prologue. Why? Well, for a start, Joyce and her father don’t feature in it! They do feature, heavily, in what will be the second and third instalments.

I was therefore left with a bit of a headache-inducing predicament. Although I knew I had a good book on my hands with Pegasus Falling, for a while I didn’t feel like I had the right opening. It has to grab you, suck you in and make sure you want to read on, so I had a big decision to make.

And now I’m facing the same dilemma with It Never Was You, part two of the trilogy. Part three is sorted – it will open with those lines you see above. But I can’t use them in part two. And I can hardly open with a doctor throwing his bicycle to the ground and running feverishly up the steps again, can I?!

One thing is for sure, though – the opening lines will be William’s. What opens It Never Was You will have formed part of the original manuscript. This is William’s writing, not mine. I’m close to a decision, but I may have to make more sacrifices just as I had to with part one. But those sacrifices will be for the greater good.

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Kindle Book Review Best Indie Books of 2012 – Meet the Finalists

Just over two weeks ago now (has it really been that long?!), we discovered that William’s debut novel, Pegasus Falling, has been named as a Top 5 Finalist in the Kindle Book Review’s Best Indie Books of 2012 contest in the Literary Fiction category. In just ten days time, we’ll know the winner.

This really is an enormous honour. The book was up against some very stiff competition – out of hundreds of entries, only five Literary Fiction books are left standing, and I can’t quite believe that Gramps’s book is in amongst them.

Since the announcement, life has been a little bit crazy. I came back from holiday (the day before the announcement!) with the intention of finishing editing It Never Was You – part two of the trilogy. But the success of Pegasus Falling has put the brakes on that one just a little bit. I’m still managing to get work done on it, but at a much slower pace than planned…

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Since the finalists were announced, I have been in touch with the other four authors and it has been fantastic getting to know them.

All five of the finalists look like incredible books, and I wouldn’t like to be the one having to choose the winner out of them. Thankfully, it’s not my decision.

Here are the other finalists in the Literary Fiction category, and links to the interviews which have been held as part of the Best Indie Books blog tour which has taken place over the last week. There are some great interviews here revealing more about the books and their authors. Please consider supporting them by picking up a copy for yourself and spreading the word. I’m certain that you won’t be disappointed by any of them.

A Death On The Wolf – G. M. Frazier

For Nelson Gody, the summer of 1969, the summer he would turn sixteen, began as all his past summers had. Life on his family’s small farm outside Bells Ferry, Mississippi, was safe and routine: chores, taking care of his little sister, working at a local gas station, swimming in the Wolf River with his best friend–his world was familiar and predictable. All that would change as young Nelson experiences his first love, wrestles with the secret his best friend has been hiding, and meets a mysterious stranger who appears one day on an exotic motorcycle called the Black Shadow. Capped by the devastating effects of hurricane Camille, the events of that summer ensured that life as Nelson knew it would never be the same again.

In his first full-length novel since since the critically acclaimed Return to Innocence (1st ed. 1999), G. M. Frazier takes us back to a simpler and more carefree time in American life with an uncompromising coming of age story that deals with hard-hitting issues that are tackled head-on with courage, not only by the writer, but by the characters he has created.  For readers who spent their tween on teen years in the late 60s, A Death on the Wolf will take you back to a familiar time and introduce you to unforgettable characters.  For younger readers, the story will give you a glimpse of teenage life that is no more, and yet shows how courage, morality, and friendship are timeless concepts in the face of life’s trials and tribulations.


Buy A Death On The Wolf at amazon.com
Buy A Death On The Wolf at amazon.co.uk

Read Gary’s interview with JoVan Williams
Read Gary’s interview with Rachelle Ayala

After The Fog – Kathleen Shoop

For every woman who thinks she left her past behind…

It’s 1948 in the steel town of Donora, Pennsylvania, site of the infamous “killing smog.” Public health nurse, Rose Pavlesic, has risen above her orphaned upbringing and created a life that reflects everything she missed as a child. She’s even managed to keep her painful secrets hidden from her doting husband, loving children, and large extended family. 

When a stagnant weather pattern traps poisonous mill gasses in the valley, neighbors grow sicker and Rose’s nursing obligations thrust her into conflict she never could have fathomed. Consequences from her past collide with her present life, making her once clear decisions as gray as the suffocating smog. As pressure mounts, Rose finds she’s not the only one harboring lies. When the deadly fog finally clears, the loss of trust and faith leaves the Pavlesic family—and the whole town—splintered and shocked. With her new perspective, can Rose finally forgive herself and let her family’s healing begin?


Buy After The Fog at amazon.com
Buy After The Fog at amazon.co.uk

Read Kathie’s interview with Gemma Wilford
Read Kathie’s interview with Denise Stanley

Come Back To Me – Melissa Foster


Tess Johnson has it all: her handsome photographer husband Beau, a thriving business, and a newly discovered pregnancy. When Beau accepts an overseas photography assignment, Tess decides to wait to reveal her secret–only she’s never given the chance. Beau’s helicopter crashes in the desert.

Tess struggles with the news of Beau’s death and tries to put her life back together. Alone and dealing with a pregnancy that only reminds her of what she has lost, Tess is adrift in a world of failed plans and fallen expectations. When a new client appears offering more than just a new project, Tess must confront the circumstances of her life head on.

Meanwhile, two Iraqi women who are fleeing honor killings find Beau barely alive in the middle of the desert, his body ravaged by the crash. Suha, a doctor, and Samira, a widow and mother of three young children, nurse him back to health in a makeshift tent. Beau bonds with the women and children, and together, with the help of an underground organization, they continue their dangerous escape.

What happens next is a test of loyalties, strength, and love.


Buy Come Back To Me at amazon.com

River In The Sea – Tina Boscha

When a German soldier’s dog bolts in front of Leen’s truck, in a fraction of a second, she must make a choice: brake hard, or hit the gas.

She floors it.

What happens next sets off a chain of events that pitches Leen, just 15, and her family against the German forces when they are most desperate – and fierce. Leen tries to hold her family together, but despite her efforts, bit by bit everything falls apart.

And just when Leen experiences a horrific loss, she must make a decision that could forever brand her a traitor, yet finally allow her to live as her heart desires.

A great choice for fans of Stones From the River, The Book Thief, Those Who Save Us, and Sarah’s Key, River in the Sea is a tale of first love, tragedy, intrigue and betrayal.
Not just another war story, it is that rare book that makes your “emotions just pour from the pages as you read and continue to root for the characters” (Valerie Bowen, author of the For the Sake of Amelia series, 5/5 stars).

Inspired by the life of the author’s mother, River in the Sea is a powerfully moving account of one girl reaching adulthood when everything she believes about family, friendship, and loyalty is questioned by war. 


Buy River In The Sea at amazon.com
Buy River In The Sea at amazon.co.uk

Read Tina’s interview with Joyce Strand
Read Tina’s interview with Sylvia Stein


and then, of course, we have…

Pegasus Falling – William E. Thomas


Arnhem, 1944. Captain Stanley Adam Malcolm Parker – Sammy to his friends – and his platoon have fought bravely, but it was always a losing battle. The bridge was unwinnable. After he and his men are forced into cattle trucks and transported across Germany on a three day journey without food or water, Sammy lashes out at an SS officer with brutal and devastating consequences…for him and his German opponent.

Instead of spending the rest of his war as a POW, Sammy is sent to a concentration camp.

Spared an immediate death, Sammy discovers firsthand the full horror of the final solution. Amongst the desperation and destitution of the camp, he encounters Naomi, a Jewish housewife from Dresden. Having seen her family murdered, Naomi has learned to survive by making the most unimaginable of sacrifices. She is the woman who Sammy comes to depend on to survive himself.

But when the camp is finally liberated, the couple are separated and Sammy embarks on a journey across a continent devastated by war and wracked by ongoing tensions to find out what happened to the woman he loves.

Buy Pegasus Falling at amazon.com
Buy Pegasus Falling at amazon.co.uk

Read Mike’s interview with Amanda Socci
Read Mike’s interview with Juliette Hill

Book Bloggers Appreciation Week – a thank you

I only realised it was Book Bloggers Appreciation Week on Monday when I started to see the various posts appearing on all the wonderful blogs I’ve started to follow. Because it has been such a whirlwind of a week so far, I’m coming to the party quite late, but wanted to mark the occasion with my own tribute to a world which, up until 8 months ago, I knew virtually nothing about, but now I have a huge…appreciation for!

Bloggers have become a hugely important aspect of book marketing, and it has been fantastic to find so many generous bloggers out there who are willing to take a punt on a virtually unknown author like William – especially as it’s his grandson coming begging, and not the man himself! It can be a cut throat world out there for Indie authors and publishers and I certainly would not have been able to get the word out there about William’s books if it hadn’t been for the wonderful bloggers who have not only taken that punt, but come back with wonderful words of praise and encouragement.

I have met some great people behind the blogs, too. Great personalities, funny, clever, occasionally out-there bloggers, and yes, some are very good writers themselves. No blog is the same as the last, and I have loved discovering blogs which have taken a different approach to their reviews or the look of their site. I look forward to meeting more over the coming months and years.

Book blogs have become part of my every day routine now. I look forward to seeing updates appear in my inbox and check out new ones all the time. They are a wonderful source of books I would never have even come across, or necessarily considered if it hadn’t been for their erudite assessments.

It would be unfair to pick out individual bloggers for praise. Every single one who has not only read Pegasus Falling, but also taken the time to tell the world what they thought is deserving of praise and my heartfelt thanks. I know many of the bloggers I have approached over the past year asking for a review had already been inundated with requests from the burgeoning world of Indies, and I am still amazed when they come back to me with an excited “yes please, I’d love to read your grandfather’s book!” It takes an enormous leap of faith to commit to reading a book written by a pensioner and self-published by his doting grandson, so honestly, thank you!

To all the bloggers I have met, and will meet soon, it has been, and continues to be an absolute pleasure sharing William’s work with you. We wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for you guys.

Mike

A matter of Price and Death

What you charge for your ebook is a hot topic, a hot potato and a headache all in one.

And its a matter that I don’t take lightly. Throughout the last 6 months, I’ve read many authors’ and bloggers’ thoughts as I’ve gone through the process of making William’s work available in ebook form.

Pegasus Falling has been available at several price points since its launch in March. I launched it at a fairly respectable (in my then opinion) £1.49 / $1.99. Although this didn’t qualify it for the 70% royalty on the US price, it did represent (again, in my opinion), a good introductory price for those who would be interested in reading it.

However, as I read more into it, it looked like I might have been too eager, and evidence was pointing towards new authors having to price their work at rock bottom to start sales going. On the back of a story published in the Guardian back in February, I dropped the price to the minimum permissible on KDP – £0.75 / $0.99.

Sales started to pick up. This is without doubt partly down to us receiving some very positive reviews from early readers on Amazon and the intrepid and generous bloggers who have taken a punt on an unknown author. But it did appear that if people were seeking the book out, the low price was leading to an on-the-spot sale. After all, it’s less than a quid – where could you go wrong?

Then, as sales started to go slowly but surely upwards,  I started reading around again, and was worried that I was doing the novel an injustice by charging the bare minimum…

This interesting post from Catherine Ryan Howard helped seal my decision. Her argument seemed to ring true with what others were saying around the net – that you should try and price your work at a point where it is simultaneously a bargain and expensive enough not to look suspect. I could see the logic behind thinking that readers would be put off by a price that was too low – after all, you tend to get what you pay for, don’t you? And with me thinking it would be nice to earn 70% of £1.79 (£1.21) rather than 30% of £0.75 (£0.26) with each sale, and confident that sales figures would continue to rise and rise on the back of more and more positive reviews, so I made the changes.

I upped the price to £1.79 and $2.99 on all platforms. And, to be fair, sales continued for a week – albeit with Amazon discounting the book to start with, because they had been quicker to apply the new price, so were still price matching the dawdling Smashwords and Kobo.

But then, the worst thing possible happened. Sales slowed to a barely noticeable trickle. Despite the fact that more positive reviews continued to be posted, with each one, the anticipated flurry of sales failed to materialise. It was more like an occasional drip than a flurry – a lone snow flake blowing in the wind, not the blizzard I had been sure would happen.

So what went wrong? I had priced the book at a reasonable, yet still bargain basement price. But sales made for the opposite direction to where I’d hoped.

It took a while for it to sink in, but after arguably our best and most widely read review yet lead to one of the most lacklustre sales weeks we’ve had so far, I had to come to the conclusion that something was wrong with the price.

Promoting your book is all about making people care about it – they have to want to pick it up and read it. Reviews are one way of getting it seen, and Pegasus Falling has had universally good or excellent reviews. But, as I’ve discovered, that’s not enough to get people to reach into their virtual pockets and pay good money to read it.

The fact is that many people must have had a good look at Pegasus Falling online, but decided that $2.99 is still too much to fork out, seeing as they’ve never heard of the book before and besides, there are other books by other unknown writers out there which are being given away for free, or close to free. That barrier that goes up in a large proportion (whether its a majority or not, I still don’t know) of the reading population when they see a self-published book (or suspect it is) stops a lot of potential buyers from clicking “Add to cart”.

And after all, The Bridge aside, there are no other works of William’s available…for now. Until It Never Was You is released later in the year, he will remain a completely unknown author of only one major work, and people are wary of trying out anything new. 

Although the argument that a higher price will give your book more kudos amongst the reading public might be a very attractive one, I think it is flawed – certainly for the little or unknown author just starting out. Yes, I believe that Pegasus Falling is well worth the $2.99 price tag, but I can’t get passed the fact that at that price, it has sold nowhere near the numbers it has at $0.99.

And at the end of the day, it’s sales that matter at this stage. The more people read the book, the better. We have to make some money from the venture – bills need paying, after all, and yes, the royalties are far lower per unit at this price point – it takes almost five sales at $0.99 to make the same royalty as it does one sale at $2.99. But if your sales increase 10-fold, you win in two ways…you make more money, and more people read your books. 

So, the decision has been made to reduce the price back down to its minimum and the ebook is available on all platforms for £0.79 / £0.99. Whether it’ll be permanent or not, I don’t know, but it will be interesting to see if sales pick up and grow again.

One thing I’d say to other novice self-publishers is this. Although you know your book is amazing and people will love it when they read it, the general public don’t know that yet, and even if it tickles their fancy, they may not want to pay good money on an unknown quantity. Don’t run before you can walk. Although you know in your heart that your book is worth more, price it at a point which makes the most sales. Experiment, by all means – you may be luckier, and find that you can get away with a higher price – but don’t be scared to bring the price down again.

I’d be interested to hear what other authors / publishers experiences have been.


EDIT (4th September 2012): Well, since first writing this post, we’ve had another lacklustre month of sales. Perhaps it was the small matter of the world being distracted by elite sportsmen and women doing what they do best, or the fact that people just don’t buy books over the summer because they’re on the beach reading the ones they’ve already bought, but reducing the price to £0.99 made no difference at all.

And in the mean time, I’ve been talking to other indie authors about the subject. It seems there is no easy answer, but the $0.99 price point is no longer the silver bullet it once was. It’s too low for the book for serious readers to be take it seriously, and too high for those readers only after freebies to consider.

So once again, the price has changed. It’s back at $2.99 / £1.79. With Saturday’s exciting news that Pegasus Falling has been named a finalist in the Kindle Book Review’s Best Indie Books of 2012 contest, the accolades are starting to roll in, and I have to set the price at a point that matches the excellent response its getting from those who do read it.

Pegasus Falling is a serious book for serious readers and I feel that I have to stand by its quality. Others are, so why shouldn’t I?

Pegasus Falling is available now from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Kobo & Smashwords

Happy Birthday William…87 today

William E. Thomas, the author of Pegasus Falling and The Cypress Branches trilogy, was born on 2nd September 1925. Today was his 87th birthday.

To celebrate, the Thomas family gathered to wish him well. 87 is a lot of candles even for someone of a much younger age to blow out, so William made do with just one on his cake.

As many of you will know, William is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. He now resides in a care home in Milton Keynes in the UK. He is visited daily by his family and many friends who take every opportunity possible to spoil and make a fuss of him.

William received an early birthday present yesterday when we received the news that Pegasus Falling has been named as a finalist in the Kindle Book Review’s Best Indie Books of 2012 contest. It is just one of five books in the running in the Literary Fiction category. This really is exciting news and the family are very proud of William’s achievement. It certainly put everyone in the mood for a party!

I’m sure all of his new friends in the indie publishing world would like to join the rest of his family in wishing William many happy returns.

I’ll leave you with a few more snaps from the family gathering earlier on today.

Happy reading,
Mike