Dark Minds – An anthology by Bloodhound Books

I am honoured that one of my short stories has been included in Dark Minds, an anthology of short stories to be published by Bloodhound Books. A Christmas Killing is a dark tale set over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with several twists that will keep you changing your assumptions. All proceeds will go to the charities Hospice UK and Sophie’s Appeal.

The book will be on sale from 13th December as both eBook and paperback. I believe an audio-book version will also be available.

dark-minds

It seems I am in some esteemed company. For example, the list of authors includes Louise Jensen.  Her debut novel, The Sister, reached #1 this year in the Amazon UK charts.

The full list of stories and authors is as follows:

Ten Green Bottles –  B A Morton
London’s Crawling – Emma Pullar
The Shoes maketh the Man – Louise Jensen
Never tell a Lie – Tara Lyons
A Christmas Killing – Richard T Burke
By the Water – Betsy Reavley
A Cup of Cold Coffee and a Slice of Life – Tony R. Cox
Slow Roast Pork – S.E.Lynes
A Lawful Killing – Ross Greenwood
Sticky Fingers – JT Lawrence
You will meet a tall dark stranger – Ron Nicholson
The Wages of Sin – Lisa Hall
Hidden – KA Richardson
The Sydney Dahlia – A.J.Sendall
Pop Dead – The Pension Papers – Pete Adams
The Sins of Muriel McGarry – A.S.King
The Shepherd’s Bothy – L J Ross
Life after Life – Paul D Brazil
The Smallest Acorn – April Taylor
An Onion – Joel Hames-Clark
I’ve Gone – Anita Waller
The Bridge – Simon Maltman
The Moth Jar – Jim Ody
Jimmy Jimmy – Steven Dunne
Be Careful what you Wish for – Peter Best
My Own Eggsecutioner – Tess Makovesky
One Last Job – Alex Walters
A Stranger’s Eyes – Paul Gitsham
Dangerous Actions – M.A.Comley
Captive – Stephen Edger
Left Behind – Nick Jackson
Horror – Roz White
Mary and Joseph – David Evans
Love you to Death – Lucy V Hay
Fastball – Alex Shaw
The Retreat – Jane E James
Out of Retirement – Mark.L.Fowler
Don’t go to Marsh town, Johnny Ray! – Charlie Flowers & Hannah Haq
Everything Comes – B.A.Steadman

This book would make the ideal Christmas gift!

Decimation: The Girl Who Survived – Coming soon

How far would you go to save the human race?

The Decimation logo

This is the first post relating to Decimation. Hopefully the book will be out later this year depending upon how long it takes to edit. The premise of the story is as follows:

In 2032, pregnancy is a death sentence. A virus has infected every living person, lying dormant until a woman gives birth – whereupon she dies.

Sixteen-year-old wheelchair athlete Antimone Lessing thought she would be competing at the Delhi 2032 Paralympics. Instead, she is nine months pregnant and going into labour. When she unexpectedly survives childbirth, she becomes a vital clue in the race to develop a cure before the world’s population declines beyond the point of no return.

But survival comes at a price. As her doctors try to understand why she is still alive, she must choose between saving herself and the future of the human race.

How far would you go to save the human race?

Decimation now has its own Facebook page

Thinking About the Future
One of the more fun aspects of writing this book was thinking about how life might have changed fifteen years from now. I work for an electric motor company so self-driving cars (or autonomous vehicles as they are known in the trade) were a must. One problem with this technology is the likelihood that it will be abused by other drivers and pedestrians. If you knew a vehicle was going to stop for you, wouldn’t you be tempted to pull out / walk out in front of it? I introduce a solution to this problem early in the book.

User interfaces are going to change over the coming years. In the book, phones and computers use haptic technology where devices project ultrasound to provide tactile feedback in mid-air. See www.ultrahaptics.com for details of a company that is working in this area right now.

Smart watches seem to be gaining new features by the month. For example, heart rate monitors are already commonplace. By 2033 I expect that such gadgets will be able to tell whether you are pregnant (I’m sure you can guess why from the blurb!).

Finally I had some ideas relating to new fashion trends but you’re going to have to read the book to find out more.

First Book Club

Spoiler Alert – The following article gives away some plot elements from The Rage.

The Rage was recently chosen as the book of the month at a book club in Hook, Hampshire. Sue Morrow kindly invited me to attend their meeting and on Thursday I finally met my public! It was with some trepidation that I turned up clutching a copy with the newly designed cover. My nervousness increased when one of the club members arrived with a long list of typed questions. Were they going to rip the book to shreds and lambast me for my poor prose? Were they going to throw my book on a literary bonfire and torture me with cries of derision?

I exaggerate slightly; I play badminton with Sue’s husband, Owen, and most of the members were either friends of friends or their partners. Owen and I discussed beforehand the code word to bring him running and rescue me should things turn nasty, but we didn’t actually get round to choosing one, except maybe “Help!”

IMG_0263
Caroline trying  to look intellectual with her list of questions. From left to right: Lou, Sue, Alison, Clive, Caroline and Liz

I needn’t have worried. We sat outside looking onto Sue and Owen’s immaculately kept garden, kept warm by a patio heater (technically it’s not yet the start of summer). Our hosts plied us with alcohol and snacks and the conversation soon turned to whether a woman who suspected her husband had just been murdered would sleep in the same room as a paramedic who had just saved her life three times in the space of four hours; or whether the pub landlord would be happy for the same paramedic to spend the night locked in the cellar with his psychotic wife and daughter.

I have included a scanned copy of the questions below:

Hook book club questions
Caroline’s list of questions

I have to admit to not knowing all the answers. For example, I hadn’t really thought through what all the characters were doing when they weren’t the focus of attention. After all, you have to leave some things up to the reader’s imagination.

It was interesting (at least for me) to chat about what people thought worked well and what worked less well. There was even some talk about what direction a sequel might take, not that I have one planned at the moment. The next book (Decimation) has nothing to do with The Rage.

In conclusion, it was a very enjoyable evening. Thanks to everyone who attended for making me feel welcome and especially to Sue and Owen for their hospitality. I also greatly appreciate the offer to act as beta readers for the next book.

After meeting my readers, I finally feel like a real author!

From left to right:
From left to right: Liz, Me, Caroline, Lou, Sue, Alison, Clive

A review of automated editing tools

You’re a self-published author and you’d really like to hire an editor but the thought of spending thousands of pounds puts you off.

I suspect this is a common problem for writers but there are automated solutions that are relatively cheap and can provide useful analysis and advice. In this article I’m going to review Autocrit and ProWritingAid.

I should start by saying that I bought a one year license for Autocrit Platinum at $8 per month and a two year license for ProWritingAid Premium, normally priced at $55 (I managed to pick it up in a special offer for the one year price of $35).

Both tools provide broadly similar functions: they analyse text and provide a variety of reports highlighting issues in a number of different areas. But more on that later.

ROUND 1 – Platform and Price

The first aspect of this review deals with the platform that the tools run on. Autocrit is web-based only whereas ProWritingAid runs in a browser, as a Word plugin and as a standalone (beta version) Windows desktop application. If you use a Mac you can of course use the browser version but there is also an earlier beta version of the desktop application My understanding is that there is no Word plugin for Mac. The different versions of ProWritingAid provide the same basic functions but present the information in slightly different ways. It’s worth mentioning that all versions require an internet connection to work.

At this stage I should point out that you can use the basic features of ProWritingAid for free once you register, up to a limit of 3000 words. That’s probably enough for most things but can be annoying if you exceed the limit. The Platinum version of Autocrit allows 8000 words to be uploaded but the cheaper Gold version at $5 a months is limited to a paltry 1000 words.

I’m going to allow 1 mark for range of platforms and another for price. ProWritingAid wins on both fronts so the score for this round is:

ProWritingAid 2-0 Autocrit

ROUND 2 – Range of Reports

Both these tools provide more reports than you can shake a stick at. If you ran all of them it would take years to address every issue in an average-sized book. I’m therefore going to concentrate on two or three reports that are common to both tools and then highlight one from each tool that is not covered in the same way by the other.

To evaluate these tools I’ve used an extract from Hemingway’s “A Call To Arms”. Amongst other things it goes to show that you don’t need to address every issue to be a successful author!

The first report is the overused words report. The screenshot is from the ProWritingAid Word plugin but the online version provides the same information. This analysis counts the number of common words in a piece of text and suggests where they are used too often. In this case the tool is suggesting that there are too many occurrences of the words “were” and “was” and about three of them should be removed.

ProWritingAid overused words
ProWritingAid overused words

This is the equivalent Autocrit report:

Autocrit overused words
Autocrit overused words

The results are similar but Autocrit is also complaining about the number of instances of “that” and “there”. A useful feature not offered by ProWritingAid is the ability to turn on or off the highlighted words [Correction: this is available in the beta desktop application].

The next report is the repeated words report. The tools are looking for words that are repeated close together, within a paragraph or two of each other. ProWritingAid shows all the words together making it hard to see where the duplicates are. The colour coding helps a little but it still feels a bit like a game of Happy Families (you remember the card game, right?).

ProWritingAid repeated words
ProWritingAid repeated words

Autocrit’s approach is better. Here it’s possible to turn individual words on or off one at a time with a single click, making it far easier to see how close together the multiple occurrences are.

Autocrit repetition report
Autocrit repetition report

Finally, some of the more unusual reports. I quite like the ProWritingAid sticky sentences check. This highlights sentences containing a high proportion of glue words such as “in”, “of”, “that” and so on. As with most automated reports, you need to evaluate whether it’s really an issue.

ProWritingAid sticky sentences
ProWritingAid sticky sentences

An interesting analysis from Autocrit is the showing versus telling report. This highlights words that might be an indication of the writer telling the reader what’s going on rather than showing it. Again, take the analysis with a pinch of salt.

Autocrit showing versus telling
Autocrit showing versus telling

And so to the scores for this round: I’m going to call it a draw. The ability to turn on or off individual words or issues quickly and easily in Autocrit scores a point but the wider range of analyses and (somewhat limited) configurability offered by ProWritingAid equalises.

ProWritingAid 1-1 Autocrit

Round 3 – Final Conclusions

The final score is:

ProWritingAid 3-1 Autocrit

And so for the overall conclusions. In my opinion Autocrit’s user interface is superior to ProWritingAid’s but is limited by the fact that it is web-based only. It becomes a pain to transfer work backwards and forwards between the browser and word processor. In terms of analyses, they are well-balanced. ProWritingAid seems to offer more reports but are they all useful? I suspect not. Are either of them as good as a human editor? Definitely not, but if you want a cheap alternative these tools are well worth considering.

In the basis of its free 3000 word online checker and the much cheaper price, my award goes to ProWritingAid but I have to admit to having a soft spot for Autocrit.

The mystery of the refunded sales

A few weeks ago I did a five day free give away of The Rage on Kindle. During that period there were about 2000 downloads and a steady trickle of sales thereafter. Amazon provide statistics on the Kindle Direct Publishing page including a button to download a report. I hadn’t looked at one of these reports before so I decided to check it out.

The report gives a daily breakdown of the sales by book and by region. I have only the one book at the moment so all rows were for The Rage. As I studied the report, my first reaction was I haven’t sold that many. Upon further inspection I noticed a column called “Units Refunded”. In the week after the free give-away this accounted for about 30% of total sales. So what’s going on?

I did a search on Google and discovered several articles from people who had discovered the same thing. There seemed to be three main schools of thought:

  1. People had downloaded the book thinking it was still free only to realise that it now cost them the huge amount of £1.99 and had requested a refund from Amazon. Possible, but some were a good five days after the end of the give-away so unlikely in all cases.
  2. People felt that the description did not match the product. One example might be that the book was far shorter than expected. Not applicable in my case at about 115,000 words.
  3. Dishonest people download the book, strip off the protection then ask Amazon for a refund. You would have thought Amazon would pick up on this practice as the perpetrators are likely to be repeat offenders.

So basically I have no real plausible explanation. It’s not enough sales to get excited about but if anybody can shed light on this I would be interested to hear from you.

 

There’s more than one author called Richard Burke

Many years ago (12 to be exact), my wife came across a book whilst shopping in Devizes. The book was called Frozen and the author shared my name. She wrote a message inside the cover and gave it to me for my birthday. Well yesterday I discovered the other Richard Burke’s website (www.richardburkeward.co.uk/) and decided to send him a message.

Two books
Two authors, one name
Frozen
My wife’s message

Richard responded almost immediately and offered some very interesting insights into the life of a published author. After the success of the first book, published by Orion, he struggled writing the second but eventually published Redemption through the same publisher. Interestingly his third book, Payback, was self published and Richard says that he would go down this route again for any future books. In his words, “far easier and potentially far more lucrative”.

You can find Richard’s books on Amazon here.

In a show of solidarity he also bought a copy of The Rage and offered to act as a sounding board if I wanted to bounce any ideas off him – a generous offer for which I am very grateful.

These days Richard earns a living working mostly on factual film scripting (details on his web page).

When I read Frozen all those years ago (I recall that it was very good), I never thought that I would ever write my own book and exchange emails with my namesake.

Hopefully we will now stay in touch. After all, us Richard Burkes must stick together!

Experiences with fiverr

In a previous post I mentioned that I was going to use the services of somebody on fiverr to help promote my book during my Kindle free promotional days.

First the statistics:

Kindle Free downloads 2016-02-13

Over the 5 days approximately 2000 free copies were downloaded but can you spot the days when the book was being actively promoted? They were in fact the first three days shown. Yes, Sunday the 14th was the day with the highest number of downloads but in terms of overall numbers the first day was also the lowest. It’s also interesting that there were a few free downloads on the 6th day – I assume this is something to do with different time zones.

I read somewhere that the best promotional days are Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday and this is borne out by the figures although I didn’t actually include a Thursday.

Another point of interest is where the downloads came from. Approximately 95% originated from Amazon UK but I guess this is hardly surprising since to date that is where all of my reviews have come from. Also the story is set in the UK and might not appeal so much to your average American reader.

So what are the conclusions?

  1. I need to get more good reviews on amazon.com.
  2. The guy from fiverr was totally ineffectual – I might have been unlucky but I can’t help thinking that I would get better results from adding the book to the free book websites myself. Having said that, it didn’t cost much.
  3. Sunday seems to be the best day to promote on, followed by Wednesday and Thursday.
  4. In future I would divide my promotional days into single days rather than offering five consecutive days.

Now all I need to do is wait for the deluge of sales to come rolling in!!!

 

The Rage – An update

So The Rage has been available on Amazon now for just over two months and it’s been a mixed bag. The feedback so far has been very positive – six out of six five star reviews (update – now 10 out of 10) including some from people I don’t know. I’ve sold over sixty copies in hardback and about a quarter of that in Kindle format but things have stalled a bit at the moment.

I need to promote!  KDP Select offers the option of five days of free promotion during each three month period. You might wonder how giving a book away for free can improve sales but the idea is that you promote your book on free book sites and get the numbers of downloads and reviews up. Once you pass a certain critical mass, Amazon starts promoting your book when readers are looking at details of other books in the same genre or at least that’s the idea.

There are numerous lists on the Internet of free book sites but I came across a website called fiverr where there are people who will promote your free book at the top 25 free book sites for $5. It would take me several hours to enter details on all the sites so it seems like money well spent.

The promotion runs from February 13th to 17th so I will see how it goes. If you can’t wait until then I urge you to get a copy at a very reasonable £1.99 on the Amazon Kindle store!

Lulu – you make me want to scream

You may have read my praise for Lulu in an earlier post (Lulu – you make me want to shout!). I might also have criticised CreateSpace. I now find that my opinions have changed somewhat. Having decided to self-publish, I uploaded my latest draft to Lulu and started looking at how to sell through Amazon and other outlets.

And that’s where the first shock came. The minimum – and I should say again *** minimum *** – I could sell my book for on Amazon was over £10! You’ve got to be having a laugh, Lulu. £10.76 and at that price I make precisely nothing for every book I sell. Yes, it was cheaper to buy on the Lulu website but when was the last time you heard anybody say “That book I bought on Lulu was really good”?

So back to CreateSpace. I modified the manuscript to the size that CreateSpace prefer (6″ x 9″) and uploaded it. A minor whinge about flattening transparencies, easily ignored, and CreateSpace seems happy. I spent a day or two on cover design (which I was going to do anyway) and I’m good to go. The minimum price on CreateSpace, £7.24. At this price, again zero commission on every sale but considerably better than Lulu.

So the book is currently advertised at £7.99 for the paperback and £1.99 for the Kindle edition (again really easy from CreateSpace).

In conclusion, if you don’t mind changing the format between draft and final version, use Lulu for review copies and CreateSpace for the final version.

If only CreateSpace could ship review copies from the UK.