Monday, 28 January 2013

A New Chapter, A New Beginning

After a couple of weeks of serious writing I have a new novella to send out into the world! It still needs polishing and editing, but it's pretty much finished and the most exciting thing about this book is that it's in a new genre for me. I've decided to put romance to bed for the time being and I'm not going to link my two pen names for a while because I just love the whole idea of starting something with a fresh new page.

I'm building a new blog to go with my new pen name name so this blog will be neglected indefinitely, but who knows, I may be inspired to write another romance some day. I have a couple of WIPs that are on hold as I explore new territory, but I'm sure I'll get the urge to finish them sooner or later.

Thanks to everyone who has shared my journey as a fledgling romance author! It's been such an awesome roller coaster ride so far, and I'm sure the next leg of the journey will be even more thrilling. I'm starting a writing course soon so this is a good time to re-evaluate and decide which direction to go in, and to learn the craft as thoroughly as possible. Wish my luck in my next incarnation!

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Multiple Pen Names: A Good Idea?

I've started to plot out some ideas for a novel in a different genre from what I've written before, and I'm wondering if it's a good idea to have a different pen name for this book? I've heard of writers who have a few different names and I've always kind of liked the idea of having multipe identities.  Let's face it, writers already suffer from multiple personality disorder, but a new pen name does raise some questions.
 1. Should this pen name be kept completely separate from what I've written before or should I state on my Amazon page, blog etc that I'm also writing under another name?
2. Because it's a different genre, do I need to set up a new blog, twitter account, website etc under the new name which is in keeping with this genre? I'm not overly keen on this idea as it seems like a lot of work but everything I've read on writing emphasizes the importance of branding.
3. Is it really a great idea to write in completely different genres or should I just stick with what I know?
Now my grasp on reality is already pretty tenuous so I'm wondering if it will be any good for my mental health to switch between different writing identities (LOL). My feeling is that it will actually help to refresh me and to make me look at things in a different way, which can only help my writing. It's daunting to start again from scratch, in a sense, but it's also very exciting.
What might make it a little more difficult is the decision I've made recently to begin working on more than one book at at time. I've always been the kind of person who only reads one book at a time and focuses completely on one manuscript until it's done, but it's getting harder and harder to do this. Part of it comes down to my reduced attention span which I completely blame on technology. It's just too easy these days to flip between books and websites and there's always something competing for your attention. I've been fighting this tendency for a long time but now I've just decided to embrace it and read what I feel like reading and write what I want to write instead of forcing myself to stick to one thing.
 I was inspired to take this approach by a book I'm reading at the moment called Secrets of Successful Writers (it's free on Amazon and I'd recommend it). The books consists of interviews with bestselling authors and I noticed that many of them have a few WIPs on the go at once. I'll give this way a chance and see how it works out. If it doesn't I can always go back to doing things the old-fashioned way. Meantime I have to come up with a whole new author identity and 'brand' to go with my new book which at this stage is just a basic plot outline. It's like inventing a whole new character, which is always great fun. I might even change genders this time just to mix things up a bit.

Monday, 14 January 2013

My Recent Experience With KDP Select

I recently did a 5 day KDP select promotion for my paranormal suspense novella Colton Manor and it was successful beyond my wildest dreams, at least by my standards (which are nothing compared with some author's out there I realise). I've never been one to blow my own horn before, but.... toot toot!

With my previous promotions I got less than 1000 downloads on average per book, which I still think is great, but this time I got 8000 downloads and my book went to number 2 on the paranormal list in the US. I also reached 52 in the free kindle list which was a huge thrill. I have absolutely no idea what the difference was this time and why it shot to the top of the list. I advertised in exactly the same places and really did nothing different. Before it went free I don't think I'd sold a single copy outside of family and friends. Maybe it was the genre, or the cover or I just got lucky with the timing. Who knows, but I'm very grateful that so many people decided to take a chance on my book.

I really wasn't expecting much with this book because it was something I started for an anthology and never completed in time. I just wanted to get it finished and didn't have the same investment in it as I've had with other books, although I do think the storyline is unique and interesting. I thought I would probably sell a few copies here and there if I was lucky. I didn't even proofread it as well as I normally would and this has come up in some of the reviews (I've since remedied this). I've had some good feedback and some not so good but that's okay, it all comes with the territory. I also have reason to believe I've picked up a troll/cyber-stalker, but cest la vie, karma will take care of them. Actually I think it already has (Sorry!!).

This whole experience just goes to show that you never really know what is going to take off. I've found that it's generally the books you put the most effort into that get the least attention. I'm realistic and know Colton Manor will probably just fade back into oblivion soon, but it was really nice to see my book up there almost in the number one position for a few brief, shining moments. I'll always have my screen-shots to remind me.

I'd love to share some wisdom about how to crack the top one hundred in free books but I really believe it was just a fluke.

The only advice I can give is:

1. Make sure your cover is eye-catching. I really love the cover for Colton Manor and this could have had a lot to do with the number of downloads. Unless you are good at graphic design get a professional to do it for you. There are many sites that sell premade covers for next to nothing. My cover cost just $25!

2. Write a blurb that makes people curious. Put a few teasers in there to make people want to download the book to find out more. I put in a cryptic line about Shakespeare right at the end that was meant to arouse interest.

3. I've found that using the 5 days for KDP select in one hit usually gets the best results. I schedule mine from Wednesday to Sunday as it gives you a chance to pick up momentum before the weekend, when downloads/sales spike.

4. Make sure you have tagged your book correctly in KDP direct to ensure it appears in the right listing. This is vital for reaching the right target audience.

5. Advertise. There are so many places that advertise free kindle books for nothing, you just have to give them a bit of advance notice. Author's marketing club has a free kindle book submission tool which is really handy.

After you've done all this cross your fingers and hope for the best. There are no guarantees in this game and I figure that if even just a few people or a few dozen people decide to download your book then you've achieved something by reaching some new readers. Good luck!

Colton Manor is available on Amazon for 0.99 cents.

Monday, 7 January 2013

A Tale of Two Formats

To kick the new year off I decided to read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.  Now I know I have 2-3 copies of this book floating around on my bookshelves and in the boxes of books scattered throughout my house. After half-heartedly scanning a bookshelf I decided to search for it online and I was thrilled to discover it was free. I knew some of the classics were free, but until I searched for this book I had no idea that so many of them were available. It truly blows my mind that the greatest books ever written are available at our fingertips for absolutely nothing. Have a look here for yourself if you don't believe me. It was like Christmas all over again and I spent a couple of hours merrily downloading everything I hadn't read (the only downside is that my TBR list has now grown dramatically when I was supposed to be reducing it this year!).

After I'd finished my downloading spree I was suddenly hit with a wave of nostalgia for all of my books mouldering away on shelves and in boxes. I'd always assumed that one day I'd resurrect these faithful friends and read them all over again. Most of them already came from second hand bookshops and their yellowing pages and musty smell only enhanced the reading experience in my opinon, but after I'd seen them online these most treasured of possessions began to look more like relics from a bygone era. In the past when people argued about ebooks vs hard copies I always claimed there was room for both, but after this experience I began to wonder if hard copies really are on their way out. I felt saddened by the thought of homes of the future with no bookcases or dog-eared novels lying around on the coffee table to be picked up and browsed through at leisure.

Fast forward a couple of days and I was reading my Kindle in 40 degree heat when it suddenly just gave up and conked out. I had to put it down to rest in a dark, cool room and even then it took a couple of hours to revive.  Nothing like this would ever happen to a 'real' book, which is made of much sterner stuff. Hard copy books laugh in the face of extreme temperatures and electricity black outs. They can be read by candlelight, dropped, thrown around the room and jammed into boxes without even leaving a mark. Kindles on the other hand can't even handle something as simple  as being accidentally sat on (as I can attest to after losing my first Kindle in a tragic accident which still brings tears to my eyes).

The moral of the story is don't throw away your old books just yet. Ebooks are convenient and great in their way, but technology is fallible, and it always pays to have a back up plan. I look at my bookshelves with renewed respect and I'm going to make an effort to pick up a 'real' book every now and then just to remind myself of how good it feels to hold something solid and tangible that has proven it can stand the test of time.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The Mysterious Woman

**This story is based on a real-life mystery which you can read about here.

The night Rebecca Browning died was the best night of her life. At least that was the impression she left with all who witnessed her dancing away her final hours at the Harrodsburg Springs Hotel in the summer of 1882. Those present that night had no way of knowing that the lovely young woman they all admired wasn’t quite what she seemed to be or that her name was not even Rebecca Browning.  It would be many years before her true identity was revealed and one piece of the puzzle, at least, would fall into place.  

On that summer evening the woman who called herself Rebecca Browning did not seem to have a care in the world as she twirled from one partner to another with a radiant smile on her face. Every man fell in love with her, and every woman was captivated by her sheer life force and joy. None of them could have guessed that before the evening was over the beautiful woman would lie cold and still beneath a funeral shroud, the bloom in her cheek forever faded.

She had arrived at the hotel just as dusk was falling that day. The desk clerk had thought it strange that he had not heard a coach outside and that she carried no travelling cases with her. The woman paid her bill in full and went quietly to her room. She emerged later when the band started playing, and every eye turned in her direction as she came down the stairs.

She was dressed very simply in a white dress. Her fair hair was loose about her shoulders with a red rose woven through it. Her dance card was filled in just minutes, and for the rest of the evening she did not take a rest even once.

It was during the final waltz of the evening that her face grew very pale and she closed her eyes never to open them again. The men who had danced with her later recalled how little she had revealed about herself in response to their questions. She had simply replied that she was passing through on her way to somewhere beautiful, and that was all they needed to know.  Any further queries were met with a smile and a gentle shake of the head.

She had no identifying papers on her when she died, and the name she had given came to nothing. No young woman matching her description was reported missing, and the only possible clue was a strange sighting not far from the hotel just before dusk on that fateful day. A girl called Ella-Maree had been playing with her dog in the woods when she claimed a ghostly figure in a long white dress passed her by. She called out to the woman but she just continued walking as if in a trance, and when she came to a puddle of water she did not stop but glided right through it. Ella-Maree ran home in a state of terror, convinced she had just seen a ghost. When she told her parents they scolded her for lying, and her story was dismissed by all as the fantasy of a child.

When no one had come forward to claim the woman’s body after seven days she was buried in the grounds of the hotel where she had spent her last hours. It seemed fitting that all of those who had been present during her last moments were also present at her funeral. They mourned the loss of someone so vibrant and young, and gave thanks for the joy she brought in the few brief hours they had known her. Everyone claimed to have been profoundly affected by her life and death.

These sentiments were not in any way unusual in response to such a mysterious and tragic event. However, what made these speeches so different to the usual platitudes expressed at funerals was the extent to which they turned out to be true. When they looked back in years to come, those who attended the funeral service would recognize that the young woman’s passing marked a pivotal moment in their own histories. The following day Raymond Fisher finally worked up the courage to ask Mary Stowe, his secret love, to marry him, and to his amazement she said yes. Dan Travers saw that alcohol had been poisoning his life for years and he never touched another drop. Lizzie Martin, a kitchen maid at the hotel, walked out on her abusive husband and never looked back. Many others also reported that they had made important, life-changing decisions around that time. It was as if the mysterious woman had taught them something important about life and instilled them with the courage to change.

 In the years that followed her death the woman’s legend grew, and many people claimed to have seen her ghost in the park where the hotel once stood. She was said she to be wearing the same white dress with a red rose in her hair, and she was always smiling and carefree. It was only on happy occasions that she seemed to appear, and to see her was considered a harbinger of good fortune.
While the unknown woman’s body rested in the ground at the Harrodsburg Springs Hotel for well over a century, just twenty miles east another grave lay empty for the same length of time. The headstone said Christine Mary Thomas, beloved daughter of Harold and Catherine and sister to Matthew, Sarah and Josephine. She had been just twenty-one years old when she died in the summer of 1882.

In different circumstances the empty coffin may have held onto its secret forever, but in 2012 the graveyard was excavated to make way for a car park. As the workers were levering the coffin out of the ground in the rain it slipped and fell, and its lid came open. Inside were not shrivelled clothes and skeletal remains of a long-dead girl but rather a gaping emptiness. The coffin was completely unoccupied apart from a yellowed piece of paper which fluttered to the ground. One of the men bent to pick it up and he read it aloud to the others. It was a quote from Socrates: “Look death in the face with joyful hope, and consider this a lasting truth: the righteous man has nothing to fear, neither in life, nor in death, and the gods will not forsake him.”

The strange episode would probably have been forgotten if an historian called Michael Ryan had not been at the graveyard that day to supervise the excavation. He became intrigued by the mystery of the empty coffin, and he decided to do some investigating. Despite his efforts in researching Christine Harris and her family he could find no reason why the young woman’s remains were not where they were supposed to be. She had led a tragic but uneventful life, and there was nothing to suggest her death had been in any way unusual.

It was through sheer luck that he came across a sketch of the mysterious woman from the Harrodsburg Springs Hotel in his research. He was instantly struck by the strong resemblance with a portrait he had seen of Christine Harris. It took much hard work and arguing before he finally convinced the government to exhume the body of the woman who had called herself Rebecca Browning. Her DNA was sent away for testing and matched against samples from Christine Harris’ living descendants. When the results came back everyone was stunned, except the man who had set the whole thing in motion.

Christine Harris had died at home in August of 1882 after a long and debilitating illness. She had once been a very happy girl who loved to dance and sing, but when she became sick at the tender age of sixteen she was confined to her bed for the rest of her life. She missed out on all the wonderful things about growing up that she had dreamed of for so long, but she did not become bitter as she watched the world move on without her. Neither was she afraid to die. Her one last wish was to dance again, just one more time, before she passed away. Sadly it was not meant to be and Rebecca slipped away in her sleep without ever knowing the joy of dancing again.

She was buried two days after her death in her favourite white dress, with a single rose woven into her hair. The only vague hint the historian could ever find that all might not have been as it seemed at her funeral was a comment by one of her uncle’s in a letter to a friend in which he stated that “the coffin was light as feather, because our poor little Rebecca had wasted away to less than nothing.” The comment could be dismissed as just a coincidence, but what couldn’t be dismissed so easily was the fact that on the same day Christine Harris was buried an identical woman had turned up at the Harrodsburg Springs hotel twenty miles away. Now they had incontrovertible proof that the two women were in fact one and the same person.  

News of the mystery spread far and wide, and many were drawn into it. Possible solutions were debated endlessly. Had the young woman only appeared to be dead when she was placed in her coffin? When she awoke in the night did she steal away to fulfil her final wish? Or had she been raised from the grave by a higher force so she could dance again? All their speculation only raised more questions, and most people eventually came to accept that it was a mystery that would never be solved. They drew comfort and strength from the story of the woman who had defied death to dance one last time, and they joked that she had probably waltzed right past the pearly gates and into the arms of heaven.

THE END......or is it?

If you liked this story you might also like my novella Colton Manor which is available for 0.99 on Amazon.