Saturday 24 August 2013

Why are box sets so popular?

The Duke Series Boxset One
 When someone suggested I bundle my books - or in other words - put three together and sell them as a virtual boxset, I was intrigued. I put the first three 'duke' books together, Jane Dixon-Smith did the cover and put in a table of contents - and the boxset was ready. I was astonished at the success of this venture - hundreds sold the first week - and suddenly I was earning serious money form my writing.
The Regency Series Boxset One
I think everyone loves a bargain - at £1.99 readers were getting a free book. They are more popular in the US - and my single title sales have dropped in proportion to the sales of the boxsets. As boxsets gain 70% royalty this more than compensates for the loss.
I have told all my friends about this phenomenon and all but one have experienced the same surge of sales. One week in July - the holiday weekend - I sold 1000 boxsets!! Things have settled back and I am now selling around 50 a day - I am also selling around 15  day of my mainstream historical, Barbara's War, Hannah's War and Miss Bennet & Mr Bingley.

 I just love e-books - I buy a several  a week - never paying more than £1.99 - so always know I have something to read. I don't mind if I don't like a book at that price -  I'm prepared to try something new.
However I never buy a boxset - I don't want three books by the same author one go - so can't understand their popularity.
Why do you buy them? Value for money? Or am I missing something here.
This is my latest offering -  published yesterday.

Saturday 17 August 2013

A Chance Encounter – new Regency adventure.

Jane Dixon-Smith cover.
"A Chance Encounter" was previously published by DC Thompson and Linford Romance and called both "Saved for Love" and "An Unexpected Encounter".
Although the book had been edited by DC Thomson I found a lot of missing words and so on to correct. I also rewrote some of it and got it professionally proofread. I was horrified to discover just how many things I'd missed even though I'd corrected it twice on the computer and twice as hard copy.
Linford Cover
I think it's impossible to find all the mistakes oneself - if you wrote it then you read what you expect to see and only pick up glaring errors. Many of mine - in fact most - were inverted commas reversed and missing full stops and question marks.
I use Dragon software and this often omits words and replaces 'then' for 'than' etc.
All the problems are now in the past as I've found a fantastic proof reader to make sure I never again publish a book with proofing errors.

Blurb for "A Chance Encounter".
Miss Victoria Marsh has a chance encounter in the church with a disagreeable, but handsome, soldier recuperating from a  grievous leg injury. Major Toby Highcliff believes himself to be a useless cripple, but meeting Victoria changes everything.
Will he be able to keep her safe form the evil that stalks the neighbourhood and convince her that he is the ideal man for her?
MWPN cover.

This has to be the worst Regency cover ever! There are no swords, Toby does not have long hair or a beard, and it is not set in the 17th century. At no time did a sword wielding villain chase Toby or Victoria and his horse was not a relation to a dragon! The DCT covers are now very good - which is a great relief to all who write for them.
In fact Toby and Vicotria are exactly like my lovely Jane Dixon-Smith cover. Being able to have control over all aspects of my books is why I have chosen to mainly self-publish.

I am almost half way through writing the first new story for over a year. I have such a long back list to edit and publish that this has been taking up most of my time.This is another 'duke' book and should be ready to publish late next month. Then I shall start writing the second and final part to Barbara's War - several readers have asked when this will be done so I must make it a priority. I'm hoping to publish both e-book and print in the New Year. Cricket and new grandson might make a dent in my writing time. :)

Fenella J Miller

Friday 9 August 2013

Alison Morton - author of Inceptio.

First of all, thank you for having me as your guest today, Fenella.
 Tell us about yourself …
I’ve been a wordsmith much of my life – storyteller, playwright (aged 7!), article writer, local magazine editor and professional translator. After a bachelor’s degree in French, German and Economics in the mid-1970s, I was back ‘at school’ in 2006 to do a masters’ in history and now live in France with my husband.
 I came to novel writing in reaction to a particularly dire film; the cinematography was good, but the plot dire and narration jerky.
‘I could do better that that,’ I whispered in the darkened cinema.
‘So why don’t you?’ came my other half’s reply.
Ninety days later, I’d completed the first draft of INCEPTIO, the first in my Roma Nova thriller series.
 What are your favourite novels?
Add caption
That varies so much, but I love anything by William Boyd (Restless, Waiting for Sunrise) and Robert Harris (Fatherland, Pompeii, Lustrum), plus all of Jane Austen. Other favourite authors include Ann Patchett, Rose Tremain, Margaret Attwood, C J Sansom. I could go on forever! Basically, I like engaging characters and a cracking good story with a dose of history and a dash of romance added in.
 What can’t you live without?
Tea! I think wine would be a close second...
 What do you watch on TV?
Currently, I’m watching The Americans , a drama about undercover KGB agents in 1980s USA and Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen. I love anything Mary Beard does on Romans and most Horizon documentaries. My guilty pleasure is watching New Tricks.
 What is your favourite quote?
“There is no such thing as a free lunch.” It’s a saying supposed to date from the 1930s and was popularised in Robert Heinlein’s 1966 sci-fi novel, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Although it intrinsically means you have to pay for everything in some way, it’s motivating as it means it’s up to you to put something in and make the effort if you want to succeed.
 If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be and why?
I’ve already done that one! I live in France, just south of the Loire Valley – something my husband and I dreamed about. I’ve lived, studied and worked in France so I know the language and am familiar with, even if I don’t always understand, the way things are done here. Crossing cultures isn’t for everybody!
 And why? The usual suspects; wine, cheese, fresh, fresh food, the markets, caf√©s and restaurants. And the Loire Valley is the home of that alternative (often better) to champagne, the famous Cr√©mant de Loire. Did I mention I was now on a diet? But it’s the tranquillity and the slower pace of life here, the taking time to talk to people, the friendliness and good manners. Of course, there are exceptions...
 What is it about the idea of an alternative rather than standard history that attracts you so much?  
This goes back into my own near-historical past!
An eleven year old fascinated by the mosaics in Ampurias (huge Roman site in Spain), I asked my father, “What would it be like if Roman women were in charge, instead of the men?” Maybe it was the fierce sun boiling my brain, maybe it was just a precocious kid asking a smart question. But clever man and senior ‘Roman nut’, my father replied, “What do you think it would be like?”  It bubbled away in my head for years until that fateful cinema evening.
 Alternate history is based on the idea of “what if”? What if King Harold had won the Battle of Hastings in 1066? Or if Napoleon has defeated Wellington at Waterloo? Sometimes, it could be little things such as in the film Sliding Doors, when the train door shuts and Gwyneth Paltrow’s character splits into two; one rides away to an alternative life, the other is left standing on the platform.
 In my book, the country of Roma Nova battled its way from a small colony somewhere north of Italy in the late fourth century into a high tech, financial mini-state which retained and developed Roman Republican values, but with a twist. The thriller story then takes place against this background.  Ultimately, alternate history allows your imagination to explore outside the confines of the set timeline and to introduce conflict and challenges to history in your own terms. And that’s a lot of fun!
Alison with her book.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Probably a hybrid, say 20% plotter and 80% pantser.
I start with imagining the main character, where she is now, what her concerns are and what problems she could have. Then I repeat this for the principal secondary ones. Next, I write thirty lines of plot points, taking the main character from the bombshell or mystery that has landed her in the first chapter to the resolution of her story. Those thirty lines will have three pivot points, a black moment, then a resolution. This sounds very stern and serious, but this is my wireframe, or blueprint. It’s only as I write and listen to the characters developing in front of my mind that I start weaving in the scenes based on these points. As the story develops and the characters interact and come alive, the plot details may well change, but I always keep in mind my original main story goal.
 How do you research for writing stories set in an alternative history timeline?
Reaching into the past means getting inside the heads of the characters, imagining what they see in their everyday world, what they smell, eat and touch. If you set your story in a different country, you can visit the places your characters would live in, smell the sea, touch the plants, walk under the hot blue sky, or freeze in a biting wind. But if you invent that country, then your task is doubled.
 You have to get the geography and history of your imagined country right as well as the social, economic and political development; this sounds dry, but every living person is a product of their local conditions.
 Luckily, I’ve breathed in history since I was a kid. I even ‘went back to school’ to take a history masters thirty years after my first degree. So I have enough of a grounding in the aspects of Roman history I want to draw on before I start the story. As I’m a ‘basher-out’, I write the basics of a complex scene, then if I need to check or investigate some aspect in deeper detail, I mark the text up in bright blue square brackets which gives me a visual signal to go back and research further.
 The key, though, is plausibility. Take a character working in law enforcement. Readers can accept cops being gentle or tough, enthusiastic, intellectual or world-weary. And whether corrupt or clean, they must act like a recognisable form of cop; they catch criminals, arrest and charge them and operate within a judicial system. Legal practicalities can differ significantly from those we know, but they must be consistent with that society while remaining plausible for the reader.
 One way to do this is to infuse, but not flood, the story with corroborative detail so that it verifies and reinforces the original setting already introduced.  Even though my book is an alternate history thriller set in the 21st century, the Roman characters still say things like 'I wouldn't be in your sandals (not shoes)when he finds out.'  And there are honey-coated biscuits (honey was important for the ancient Romans) not chocolate digestives in the squad room.
 A vital way to connect to readers when writing in an unfamiliar setting is to ensure characters display normal behaviour. Human beings of all ages and cultures have similar emotional needs, hurts and joys, often expressed differently, sometimes in an alienating or (to us) peculiar way. But a romantic relationship, whether painful, instant or intense but slow-building, binds us as human beings into a story.
 What characteristics should a hero have?
The most important characteristic of both heroes and heroines is that they engage the reader. Although the heroine Karen, narrates INCEPTIO, the hero, Conrad is a joint main character. He’s a special forces soldier, so physically he’s fit (in every way you wish to imagine that), strong, decisive and able to endure. He keeps his distance at first and tends to go by the book, unlike the rather more flexible attitude Karen adopts. But he had a rotten childhood which has made him reserved towards others. However, like the best heroes, some things knock him off balance and we see the rawness underneath. Heroes should have both strength and weakness, including a moment or two of helplessness, but I think as readers we like to see the strength prevail. A sense of humour, even if it’s a little robust, is essential.
 I like to have some visual signals to appearance – hair and eye colour, and height, plus a slight flaw, a limp, a broken nose, something that shows a bit of life experience.  Body language mirrors a hero’s inner emotions; this parallels the way we as humans act in the real world.
 What is your biggest distraction when it comes to writing?
Facebook! More accurately, the supporting promotion that all authors have to do in a fiercely competitive market. But from my readers’ comments and book groups I belong to, there seems to be a voracious appetite out there for good stories.
 What are you working on now?
I’m delighted to say that I’ve just sent the first proof amendments back to the publishing services company that prints my paperbacks and have approved the designer’s first cover proof for PERFIDITAS, book two in the Roma Nova series. It’s scheduled to come out in autumn.
 Book three, SUCCESSIO, is next on the list and re-visiting the first draft I wrote about nine months ago will fill my work time up to the end of this year.

New York, present day, alternate reality. Karen Brown, angry and frightened after surviving a kidnap attempt, has a harsh choice – being eliminated by government enforcer Jeffery Renschman or fleeing to the mysterious Roma Nova, her dead mother’s homeland in Europe.

Founded sixteen centuries ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women, Roma Nova gives Karen safety and a ready-made family. But a shocking discovery about her new lover, the fascinating but arrogant special forces officer Conrad Tellus who rescued her in America, isolates her.

Renschman reaches into her new home and nearly kills her. Recovering, she is desperate to find out why he is hunting her so viciously. Unable to rely on anybody else, she undergoes intensive training, develops fighting skills and becomes an undercover cop. But crazy with bitterness at his past failures, Renschman sets a trap for her, knowing she has no choice but to spring it... 

You can find INCEPTIO on your local Amazon  here:

You can read more about Alison, Romans, alternate history and writing here:
Twitter: @alison_morton

Thank you, Alison, for that insite into your working life. I invited Alison to my blog after reading her book, Inceptio. It's one of the best books I've read this year and I know it's going to be be a best-seller.

Thursday 1 August 2013

Dianne Ascroft : Why she is an indie-author

This week I have Dianne Ascroft as a guest on my blog. Diane is an indie author and her latest book - Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves is now out. Thank you for coming Dianne.

Tell us about your latest indie book
Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves is a collection of half a dozen short stories. The ebook contains tales of outsiders who discover they belong, a humorous slice of life yarn, heart warming love stories and a tale of taming fear. In these stories the shadows are on the wall, in the heart and clouding a woman’s memories while tangible foes tramp through the physical landscape. The stories were previously printed individually in a variety of publications, including Ireland’s Own magazine, Dead Ink Books’ website, and the writing collections, Fermanagh Miscellany and Tuesdays At Charlie’s.

What made you decide to go indie?
When I was working on my novel, an historical fiction titled Hitler and Mars Bars, I entered the first chapter of the book into a contest run by a POD company and it won. The prize was a publishing package for the book. At this point I hadn’t considered whether or not to look for a traditional publisher. This win decided me – I went indie.

Do you design your own covers?
I don’t do the actual work but I submit images and my ideas to a designer and she puts it together for me. Then we tweak it until it’s the cover I want.

Do you write your own blurb etc?
Yes, I’ve written the back cover blurb and the Amazon page descriptions for all the books I’ve released. When I tried my hand at this I was surprised to discover that I enjoy the marketing side of publishing.

What are the pros and cons of going indie.
One of the most obvious pros is that the writer has total control of the writing and publishing process. There’s no need to conform to a specific genre or length to meet the publisher’s requirements and deadlines are set by the writer. Cover design and the marketing strategy are also decided by the writer.

The downside of this total control is that the writer must do the work or pay others to provide services such as editing and cover design. Doing the work yourself is time consuming and paying for services that a publisher would provide for a traditionally published writer can be expensive.

On the marketing side, most indies don’t have the contacts or mailing list that a traditional publisher has so their marketing efforts don’t reach as many potential readers.

Indies are also still battling the perception in many quarters that traditionally published books are better quality than indie published ones so marketing is a challenge.   

Many people think being an indie author involves little cost and less time than being traditionally published. Is this true?
It definitely doesn’t require less time. Since you are entirely responsible for writing and marketing your books it requires more time than if you were able to hand over much of the editing and marketing to someone else.

It also costs money to produce a good quality book: the fees for services such as editing and cover designing come out of your own pocket. There’s also the cost of marketing. Some writers don’t pay for any advertising but many use a combination of free and paid advertising. Since you set your own marketing budget you can decide how much you want to spend but you will likely invest some money in the book’s marketing.

How do you publicise your books? 
I’ve experimented with lots of ways so I’ll just mention a couple that are my mainstays. I have a website as well as Facebook and Goodreads pages. I interact with other readers and other authors on Facebook and Goodreads and I guest post and participate in blog hops. When I have something to announce I tweet about it and I use a limited about of sidebar and banner advertising on sites such as Goodreads and Kindle Users Forum.   

Do you think Twitter and Facebook really help in getting word out there?
I hope so! I’m more active on Facebook than Twitter. This is partly because I think that potential readers will be more attracted to a book when they can see its cover and read a description of it. But I tweet when I have announcements to make about my books.

Do you read any indie authors yourself?
Yes, probably more than half my reading material, fiction and non-fiction, is indie. Historical fiction is my favourite genre and during the past few months I’ve read books by Tim Hodkinson, Lorna Fergusson, Madeline Stringer, Hugh Ryan Fitzgerald, Hazel Gaynor, Patricia O’Reilly and Laura Elliot. And I shouldn’t forget to mention that I’ve read several of your books too.  

Would you accept a traditional publishing deal now?
I would still want to release some of my work independently so I would be happy to accept a traditional deal if I could be a ‘hybrid’ author. There are two main reasons for my willingness to embrace a traditional deal. Firstly, traditional publishers have the ability to reach a wider audience than I can and this exposure would help to promote all my books.  Secondly, in many readers’ minds there is still a divide between mainstream published and indie. So publishing at least one book with a traditional publisher would lend credibility to the novel as well as the rest of my writing. I did something similar when I released Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves. Most of the stories I included in this book were previously published in magazines and writing anthologies. When potential readers scan the book’s Amazon page they see this mentioned and it reassures them about the quality of the material they’ll find inside the cover. 

What advice would you give to writers thinking of going indie?
My advice isn’t new but I think it’s important. Write the best book you can and then learn about the publishing side of the business. When the manuscript is ready take your time to prepare the cover and marketing materials before you release the book. Don’t rush, no matter how excited you are about your book. It’s much better to do it right the first time and create a good impression that will last in readers’ minds. This will contribute to the success of your debut novel and pave the way for future books.
Dianne Ascroft presents an engaging and authentic view of country life in these winsome, humorous and evocative stories, filled with hope and the possibilities of new beginnings. They resonate with the interdependence of a close-knit, rural community and focus on the small things in life ― the subtle day-to-day occurrences that often slip by unnoticed in the busyness of our daily routine.” Laura Elliot, author of Deceptions, Stolen Child and The Prodigal Sister.

Dianne Ascroft is an urban Canadian who has settled on a farm in rural Northern Ireland with her husband and an assortment of strong willed pets. She writes both fiction and non-fiction and her articles and stories have been printed in Irish and Canadian magazines and newspapers; she has released a novel, Hitler and Mars Barsand a short story collection, Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves. Online she lurks at

Thank you, Dianne, I'm sure everyone found that insight into your writing both informative and interesting.
We all have different reasons for becoming an Indie author. For me it was the return of my back list from my traditional publishers and the arrival of KDP. I still sell to D C Thomson and Linford Romance so would be considered a 'hybrid' author as I have feet planted firmly in both indie and traditional publishing.
Fenella J Miller.