Danny Chaucer and the author who’s a glutton for punishment

mm-front-cover-lores-30nov16

Last week I announced the third and latest instalment of the Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer series – Mars Mission – now published as a Kindle edition.

Every published (whether self or traditionally) writer will surely be familiar with the heady mix of trepidation, exhilaration and relief that accompanies the release of their precious baby into the big bad world. It’s the culmination of so much hard work, occasional (or frequent?) bouts of frustration and self-doubt – but hopefully also of some enjoyment.

Why do we do it? It can’t be for the money! Like many others I do hold out the hope that one distant sunlit day I might make enough from my books to be able to write full-time, but I also recognize the odds stacked against me in the regard. Simply put, I love writing and I always will. For me to a large degree it remains its own reward.

Mars Mission is my fifth novel (it gives me a buzz just to reflect on that – who’d have thought it?) and in some ways the business of writing has become perhaps a little easier; or at least I’m more confident of the process and the fact that (lazy as I am) I do after all have the motivation and the ability to finish the job. But that’s not to say, of course, that I find it exactly easy. It’s still proper hard work and it takes time and a certain psychological resilience and persistence (or just sheer bloody mindedness) to be able to keep chipping away at my lumpen prose and finally, slowly, transform it into something fit for publication (I hope).

To that end I need help. Writing is such a solitary pursuit most of the time, but I’ve found it vital to get my manuscripts reviewed by someone else. Some use beta readers, but I always pay for a critique from an established author / editor with experience in my genre (in this case, middle grade children’s fiction). The results of this are always fascinating and hugely valuable. Now I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’d love it if, just once, one day, once of those critiques simply turned out to be: “It’s perfect! It’s brilliant! You’re a genius! The world will buy this book by the truck-load!” But that’s not reality – it wouldn’t be true or helpful.

With Mars Mission, for instance, the critique uncovered one of the book’s central problems, related to the fact that it was the third title in the Danny Chaucer series. This is the first series I’ve attempted, and I’ve realised there are some particular issues and pitfalls to be aware of, as well as opportunities. In some ways things become a little more straightforward in a series: you get to know your characters better, you have a ready-made background and template to work from. It’s interesting to have the opportunity to explore themes and characters in more details and move forward a more detailed story arc, to flesh out a whole new world.

However, one particular issue I had was how much about what happened in the two previous books to include in Mars Mission. I’ve always been mindful of the dangers of the dreaded Info Dump: great slabs of excessive background information weighing down the hapless reader, breaking up the narrative and slowing the pace. There are ways of feeding it in more gradually of course, but how, when and how much? The problem with a series is, you don’t know how many readers will have previously read the earlier books, or how long ago. They might come into a series at any point.

(Also, I don’t want new readers to believe they know the earlier books so well they don’t feel they want or need to go back and read them too!)

I have to admit that with Mars Mission I erred on the side of caution and tended to include too little (beyond a very short prologue) about the earlier books. But worse, it wasn’t just what had happened before that I over-skimped on, but also the characters themselves. The reviewer pointed out that I hardly bothered to describe them, or give away enough about their backgrounds, history or even appearance, and so in general (and with one of them especially) they were sketched rather too thinly. I think that, without really meaning to, I simply expected the reader to be as familiar with the characters as I was. That was a fundamental error and I felt pretty bad about it. As a fiction writer, it’s vitally important that your characters are well drawn, believable and relatable. To present anaemic cardboard cut-outs to the reader is one of the worst sins you can commit, in my opinion.

Furthermore, in a series the characters must be allowed to move on, to change and develop. It would be pretty strange if they didn’t. The three Danny Chaucer stories so far have taken place within a very short time period – over just a few weeks – so no-one has aged very much! Even so, their adventures and their interactions together are bound to have some effect on them. One character in particular does move on quite significantly in a very short space of time, but I needed to show some development in all of them.

Phew! Well I worked very hard on the next draft to put all that right. I made sure I assumed nothing about how well the reader would know the characters: they were each introduced fully, and more key memories of their earlier adventures were woven into the narrative. In so doing I strove to maintain the right balance, to avoid too much ‘info dump’ or dragging down the plot of the current story. I hope I succeeded.

Incidentally, as well as manuscript critiques (which I’ve always strongly believed in), with the Danny Chaucer books I’ve also used a professional cover designer, and had the last two professionally proofread too. Covers are just so important … and I was getting fed up with spotting so many typos after publication (you can’t beat a fresh pair of eyes – one or two errors always seem to slip through anyway, but far fewer than before).

Anyway, I could write for much longer about this, but enough for now. I’m aware of how little I’ve blogged during the past year or so, and that’s because I made a conscious decision to focus my limited time on Mars Mission and other writing projects (including the odd short story). Of course blogging is also writing and I do enjoy it, but I had to prioritise and blogging came second.

As for what happens next … well I’m going to be working more on marketing Mars Mission and the rest of the Danny Chaucer series – I don’t think any author who wants to sell any books can afford to neglect that. I’ll be trying a few things and I’ll let you know if I make any breakthroughs or have anything profound to share! Well, it’s possible …

 

Mars Mission: Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer 3

mm-front-cover-lores-30nov16

Kindle edition published on Amazon 14th December

‘No-one really likes their kids being dragged off to alien worlds by mega-intelligent super-computers in galactically advanced flying saucers. Especially if they’re late home for tea.’

Danny Chaucer leaves his house one morning expecting a nice normal day out with his friends Nat and Sandy, not to mention BOB the hyper-intelligent but annoyingly smug cockney computer. (If you can call a trip on a flying saucer a normal day out, that is.)

But things quickly take a turn for the worse. For a start, why is creepy Captain Frost plotting with oily bully Chad Wilson? Of course Frosty-knickers is still after the saucer – but what exactly is her plan? And is Sandy up to something as well?

Then before long DISC’s crew are racing across the solar system on a stupidly dangerous mission. What with killer radiation, poisonous air, a monster dust-storm, a slightly depressed Martian rover and an unexpectedly troublesome hologram, it soon becomes clear that being late home for tea could be the least of Danny’s problems …

The third book in the Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer series is available now as a Kindle edition from Amazon (links: UK / US) and coming soon (January 2017) in paperback/ hardback.

Moon Zoom: Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer #2

Moon Zoom cover Amazon 1dec15

The saucer’s back – and it’s about to whisk Danny and Natalie off on another awesome adventure!

BOB – the super-computer with a personality as big as its brain – needs more Moon Zoom, the mineral that powers the saucer’s anti-grav drive.

The only problem is, it’s locked away in the top-secret Ganymede Institute. To get at it, Danny and his friend Nat will have to deal with flying scooters, obnoxious classmates and a big bad missile. Not to mention the sinister Captain Frost in hot pursuit.

And there’s only one place to get even more Moon Zoom (no prizes for guessing where). But when the saucer’s crew find themselves stranded, Danny realises that only an incredible act of bravery can save them …

Kindle edition now available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk – and FREE this weekend (5/6 December). Reviews / comments very welcome.

 

Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer has finally taken off

DCFS front

OK, I think I’ve used the ‘taking off’ pun before, probably when the e-book was published. But now the paperback of Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer is here too. I mean I now know this for sure, having seen and handled copies myself and not just seen pictures of them.

Well, it’s available on Amazon.co.uk anyway. On Amazon.com it’s still only available on Kindle (and I guess that’s also the case on all the other assorted Amazons too, though I haven’t checked them all).

Having got this milestone safely out of the way, I’ve now turned my attention back to the second draft of the second book in the series. Which I’d better get back to right now.

 

 

It’s nearly landed …

DCFS back DCFS front

OK, it’s been available on Amazon for about a month now, but now the print edition of Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer is almost here. My publisher Albury Books sent me pics of the proof copies today … I haven’t actually seen it ‘in the flesh’ yet, but that should be any day now. Can’t wait. E-books are great and all, but nothing quite beats the feeling of holding your own printed book in your own hands.

And that’s it – possibly my shortest ever blog post! I’m now off to send a few more review requests … a writer’s work is never done, even when they’re not actually writing …

 

A good day to publish a sci-fi book?

Stormtrooper     Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 1.41.33 PM

Well, Star Wars Day seemed a good a day as any. Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer is now available on Amazon (links: UK, US), initially as a Kindle edition only, hopefully to gain a few reviews and help with the marketing. The paperback edition, along with availability in other channels including the iBook Store, will follow in the coming weeks.

So … after all those drafts, all that re-writing, my third novel has finally seen the light of day. It’s always a special moment. Not that I will pause long to savour it – there’s still so much to do, not least the second book in the series which is currently still stuck in first draft. And the third, not yet beyond outline form. And … a writer’s work is never done. Sometimes I wonder what I’ve gotten myself into – but it’s worth it.

 

 

Why I’ve decided on hybrid publishing

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 1.41.33 PM

I’ve been neglecting this blog big time recently, being far too busy with life in general but more specifically with putting the finishing touches to Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer and completing the first draft of its sequel. But I’m resolved to blog more regularly from now on. Writing’s a solitary business at times and there’s such a great community on WordPress that’s well worth keeping in touch with.

Anyway – back to the main point of this post. When I posted my writing resolutions for 2015, high on the list (after completing DCFS) was to finally decide on whether to continue down the self-publishing route or to hurl myself into the purgatory of query letters, agents and slush piles hoping to win one of those vanishingly rare traditional publishing lottery tickets.

Both options have their pros and cons of course. For me, the biggest problem with self-publishing is that your book will almost certainly be lost in the crowd. And traditional / conventional publishing, despite the unbelievably high bar confronting prospective new entrants (unless you happen to be a You Tube sensation or random celebrity who may or may not be able to string three words together), is perhaps not a great deal better. Put bluntly, most books don’t sell very well, however they’re published. There are exceptions of course, but they represent a tiny percentage of the tidal wave of new titles published every year.

The fact that I’ve sold very few books so far hasn’t stopped me, mainly because I love writing for its own sake. However, I love it so much that I’d like to spend a lot more time doing it, and that’s not really possible unless I start getting a decent income from it.

So is there a middle way? Some way to improve your chances of success – to help you make your books as professional as possible and to have more chance of selling it? There is much talk of hybrid or partner publishing, and these terms tend to mean different things to different people. All I can tell you about is what I’ve decided to do, and why.

DCFS will be published by a company called Albury Books. They are not a conventional publisher but neither do they publish anything and everything that comes their way. DCFS had to be accepted in order to carry their imprint. I have no doubt that their selection criteria were nowhere near as rigorous as a conventional publisher’s has to be when confronted with a tottering pile of hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts and a budget that probably allows them to take on perhaps one of them. But the fact that Albury do have minimum standards was reassuring.

I also liked their website, the fact that they have a children’s book programme, and the appearance of the books they were selling. The covers looked quite professional, for instance. That is not the case with all hybrid publishers’ websites I’ve seen, some of which looked quite amateurish and were jam-packed with covers that absolutely screamed ‘self-published!’ and not in a good way.

I know what you might be thinking at this point. I know because I’d probably be thinking it myself: isn’t hybrid just a polite word for vanity? Ah yes, the dreaded vanity press, exploiting authors’ dreams, taking their money for over-priced services and giving poor value in return. Have I fallen into that trap?

Well, for me, paid publishing services are not a dirty word (or words) necessarily. Design, editing, distribution, marketing … these things, especially if done properly, all cost time and money. Unless you’re one of the lucky few who secures a conventional publishing deal, they won’t come for free (and even then, much is still expected of the author, especially on the marketing side). Sure, a self-publishing author can do much or even all of it themselves – but to what standard, and how successfully? Let’s be honest. Amazon is full of books that aren’t very good, or have lousy covers, or sell few or no copies. There are also many that are very good, look amazing and/or sell in decent quantities, but they are the exception especially on the sales.

So I have concluded that if I want to do things better, going it alone is not the best option. I need some help, and yes that’s going to cost me something. To some extent, how much it costs is up to me. Albury do not sell fixed-price packages or require you to buy services you don’t need. I have got the cover designed through them (see above) – they were OK with my own design but I decided to go professional this time, and I’m pleased with the result. They did require, as a condition of acceptance for publication, that a copy-edit of the text was done by a specialist children’s editor – but they did not insist that this was sourced through them. I could have gone out and found my own copy-editor. (The edit was a good thing, by the way – I’ve never had one before, and I’m certain the book is better for it.)

There are some things I’m still doing myself, and therefore not paying for, because I’m confident I can do them to a good standard. This includes the text layout and the set-up on Amazon. Albury will be handling the set-up in other distribution channels, on their own website and in POD. The standard of the POD printing of their books, by the way, is definitely a cut above what I’ve experienced with Amazon’s, and therefore I won’t be setting up this book in Create Space.

I have to sign a contract, but I get to keep a high percentage of the royalties. The percentage is higher than Amazon’s and certainly miles better than those of a typical conventional publishing contract.

But of course, a high percentage of diddly squat is still diddly squat. The idea is to sell some books. Which brings me on to marketing and publicity services. These are available through Albury but they cost, and I’m still evaluating the options here. Two things I know: there are no guarantees when it comes to sales, and even if I pay for some services the onus is still on me. If I don’t believe in the book, I can’t expect anyone else to. I’ll post more about the marketing another time.

If you have any views or comments on any of this, I’d be pleased to hear them. Thanks.