Thrillers with a twist

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A great review for Annihilation

A great review for Annihilation: Origins and Endings on the Books From Dusk Till Dawn Blog.

You can also find reviews for Decimation: The Girl Who Survived and Termination: The Boy Who Died on the same site.

Who is Theo?

The dedication to my latest book, Annihilation: Origins and Endings, reads as follows:

For Theo

My silent companion during the writing of this book. You didn’t offer any suggestions, but you sat beside me throughout.

The question is, who is Theo?

Two years ago, my aunt was no longer able to look after her dog, a Maltese Terrier, due to ill health. We offered to look after him, and Theo soon became an integral member of our family.

How much do you know about future technology?

Decimation: The Girl Who Survived is set twelve years in the future and features a variety of new technologies that don’t exist in commercial form today. Take the quiz and see if you can guess how many of the listed technological developments are already in use or have just been made up for the book.

Only one answer is valid per question.

The Colour of … Your Engineering Team?

It’s certainly not true that all authors earn huge amounts of money and lead a life of leisure. Whisper it quietly, but I don’t make enough as a writer to live in the manner to which I have become accustomed. That means I have a day job, which pays the vast majority (in fact all) of the bills. I try to keep the world of work—in which I am a Software and Systems Manager—separate from my life as an author.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when the two worlds collided, and I received a message to my work email address referencing one of my books in a lot of detail. With the sender’s permission, I have quoted the exchange below:

Can anyone see the colour of a soul?

In my latest book, The Colour of the Soul, the main female protagonist wakes from an eleven month coma with the ability to sense auras. But how common is this condition? Can anyone really see the colour of a soul? In this short article, I’m going to explore the science behind auras.

Writing About the Future

This is a copy of an article I wrote for Emma The Little Bookworm’s blog.

It’s May 2017. A deadly new virus has emerged. Within weeks it will sweep across the globe and infect every living person. The true horror of the pandemic will only become evident when pregnant women start dying moments after giving birth. This will have a catastrophic effect on the global population and in less than twelve months the birth-rate will reduce to practically zero. For the next seventeen years, scientists will strive to develop a cure. They will be unsuccessful.

Welcome to the world of Decimation: The Girl Who Survived.

Using Animated GIFs in Facebook Posts

Decimation: The Girl Who Survived. Buy at Kindle UK Kindle US

This post is just a quick tip about how to put an animated GIF onto a Facebook post. See how the tear in the above picture is flashing on and off? It doesn’t go into how to create an animated GIF – more on that in a later article.

Firstly, you need to upload your animated GIF to another site – your WordPress site for example! You can use any website you like. If you don’t have your own site, you can easily create a WordPress blog at https://wordpress.com/.

Next, copy the link to the GIF file (from whatever website you have uploaded it to) and paste into your Facebook post. The easiest way is to right click the picture and copy the image address. This is a screenshot from the Chrome browser.

In my case, the link is https://www.rjne.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Decimation-animated-tear-small.gif.  When you post to Facebook, just make sure it’s the first link in the post. Facebook will follow the link and embed the picture, together with its animation.

That’s all there is to it.

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!

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