Killed By Death

Last night Glen Frey, founding member of The Eagles, passed away, aged 67. As a friend commented on Facebook – that’s no age these days. And it isn’t really. Only, he’s the latest in a steady stream of rockers who’ve died around the age of 70 in the past couple of years. Just check out this (far from exhaustive) list of famous musicians who’ve passed since 2014:

Lemmy and Phil Taylor

   Lemmy and Phil Taylor

David Bowie

David Bowie

Chris Squire

Chris Squire

Jack Bruce

Jack Bruce

Andy Fraser

Andy Fraser

Bobby Womack

Bobby Womack

Johnny Winter

Johnny Winter

All of these guys have died at a relatively young age, and mostly from cancer, but it’s not really so surprising. They lived the rock ‘n’ roll life – smoking, heavy drinking, and industrial-scale drug taking. Only a few of their generation will escape the damage this will have done to their bodies and plough on into serious old age. The sad fact is; the rock ‘n’ roll graveyard is going to be filling up with all our favourite old rockers in the next five to ten years.

However, there’s no point getting down about this. Death is a fact of life. Would it have been better for Lemmy to have been a teetotal, non-smoking, vegan, so he might have lived to be 95? Would it have been better if Bowie continued singing about gnomes and doing mime instead of spawning Ziggy Stardust and Alladin Sane from his drug-addled imagination? Nah, of course not. These were lives lived to the full, with permanent memorials left behind in the form of their music. The world’s cemeteries are full of untended headstones: monuments to anonymity, transience and the ordinary. These guys won’t be forgotten and the music they’ve made is their headstone. That’s something to be celebrated, not mourned.

So, as each of your favourite artists passes on, celebrate, take solace in the music, and remember that rock ‘n’ roll will never die.

I’ll leave you in the capable hands of Lemmy and co and the song that inspired the title of this blog.

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An Open Letter to the DM-ers

Dear Certain Authors,

Imagine you went to a party and someone walked up to you unannounced and said, “Hello, my name is Pete, nice to meet you; I’m an author and I’d be really grateful if you would buy my book. Here’s a link for you to follow to buy it.” They hand over a tablet and wait for you to comply. You’re a bit taken aback and don’t do as they ask but, undeterred, this person takes back the tablet and ploughs on. “No? Ok, well, how about you like my Facebook page, then?” Again, they open the link and hand over the tablet. At which point, you hand them it back and walk away, vowing never to have anything more to do with them.

In the real world, nobody would behave like that unless they were unwell. However, on Twitter, some authors behave like that every day. If you send out auto-DMs to new followers, you are that party-goer. No, really, you are. If you think it’s ok for your first interaction with a person (who knows nothing about you) is to send them an email, generated by a computer, asking them to buy your wares or like your pages, then you’re wrong. It’s not ok. It’s rude and it’s needy and it’s short-sighted.

Do you read spam emails from people you don’t know who are trying to get you to buy meds or sexual services? No? Neither do I, so I wonder what makes authors think their spam is any less annoying? Is it because it is art, dahling? Well, I’m sorry but that’s not reason enough to justify an unsolicited sales pitch and, if I get sent one of those, I unfollow. I’m not alone in this by the way – I’ve had several conversations about this with like-minded tweeps.

You have a profile on Twitter. If someone follows you, you can provide a link on there to something you hope they’ll be interested in. If they don’t bite right away, you’ll just need to try something else; be charming, helpful, friendly, amusing or perhaps even controversial; do something that gets their attention in a positive and engaging manner. If you want a favour, try doing one for someone else first. Chances are they’ll reciprocate and, if they don’t, then move on and try making friends with someone less rude and selfish.

I like Twitter, and I enjoy using it, but I hate auto-DMs. Please, if you have one set up, get rid of it. It’s not helping you sell anything and it’s getting on other people’s nerves. Oh, and those generic, impersonal, auto-DMs that just say thanks for following or suchlike? Totally pointless. We all know you didn’t notice we’d followed and were genuinely grateful, so why pretend you did?

First and foremost, Twitter is a social network, so be sociable, and sales will follow.

Kind regards,

Peter Carroll

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A Bit of a Dog

It’s fair to say that my second novel Pandora’s Pitbull has presented me with some dilemmas. It’s never sold all that well and reviews often seem to be polarised. I’m still hopeful it could do better and the latest instalment of its rehabilitation started today.

I’m a big fan of dystopian TV like The Walking Dead, and films like 28 Days Later, Zombieland and World War Z and the influences of these are in the story. The idea itself came from a scene in my first novel In Many Ways. Originally, I considered calling the book Dawn of the Ned because of this, but the pun is a bit too parochial and might imply a spoof or comedy – a la Shaun of the Dead. Although it does have some black humour in it, it’s not really that kind of book, so I used a line from the novel to create the title. Even now, I’m not sure it works – that author’s self-doubt kicking in again.

PP5

The first cover was stark (sorry!) and aggressive. I thought this would be eye-catching and help it stand out. However, after a while, and some repeated feedback, I decided that it needed to be toned down and we re-designed the cover. I was much happier with this reworking. It still shows the eponymous dog but, it also has a photograph from an electron microscope of a virus in the background, and the graphics were much improved. It made little or no difference to sales as far as I can tell!

PP NEW 2013

Reviews have been mixed! One kind person said it was “Funny and ferocious a very enjoyable read.” Another less favourable review from Australia said “IT IS AWFUL! Even as a Kindle 99cent special it is AWFUL! Have I mentioned IT IS AWFUL?!!!” Overall, though, it’s had fifteen five star reviews versus five one star reviews (and one of those is a diatribe about the cover and pitbulls by someone in the US who didn’t buy it or read it). If three times as many people love it as hate it, it’s got to be worth keeping on trying with it.

UK-map

The latest initiative is to add this map to the book. I think for most readers, it will prove a useful aid to tracking the movements of the various characters across the UK (even the fictional bits!) and I’m hoping it’s a wee bit of added value folks will appreciate. I don’t expect it to kick start a sales avalanche but if it’s appreciated by a few and helps people make sense of what’s going on, then I’ll be happy with that.

If you have read it, and haven’t posted a review yet, please consider doing so. It might help get it noticed. Thanks.

Grrr!

Peter

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Building Bridges

My first novel, In Many Ways, came out four years ago. I sometimes find it hard to believe that I have since written five more, but I have. In that time, I’ve struggled to find the winning formula to kick-start sales to a level that I might consider taking up writing full-time. Marketing the books has become as big a part of my life as writing them – with mixed results.

I’ve tried all sorts of things to get the message out to a wider audience; to let people know the books are there. I have decent numbers of reviews for all of the books in the UK (219 Amazon reviews with 87% of them four or five stars) but I have struggled to find readers and reviewers in the US (17 Amazon reviews with 76% of them four or five stars). My Goodreads ratings are ok – 60 in total and an average of 3.6 out of 5 stars. I’ve had bursts of sales during promotional periods that make me think maybe I’ve cracked it, only to find sales fall back again after they finish. It’s a frustrating business.

I’ve connected with folks through social media and some of them have been very generous in their efforts to promote my stuff to their followers. I’ve joined a few author groupings although I find the levels of cross-promotion variable, and mostly poor. A lot of folk seem to join these collectives full of good intentions but are either not tech savvy enough to work out how to take part, are too self-absorbed to cross-promote others, lose interest after a bit, or find their time taken up elsewhere. I’ve done interviews and appeared on other writer’s blogs or websites – all of those have been highlighted here previously. I don’t consider any of this wasted effort, and I’m always grateful for any kind of leg-up from a fellow writer or a blogger, but I don’t know how effective it is in gaining new readers.

Me and Alan Gray at Kennetpans Distillery. This is one of the locations in Stark Realities.

Me and Alan Gray at Kennetpans Distillery. This is one of the locations in Stark Realities.

My latest attempt to promote my books has involved a partnership with a friend who’s also a talented photographer – Alan Gray. I met Alan because our daughters skated at the same club. One day, while browsing his website, I came across a superb photograph of the Clackmannanshire Bridge. I knew it was perfect for my next book cover as the bridge features prominently in the story. I asked him if he would let me use it and, thankfully, he agreed. We could both see the potential benefits to each other’s business from doing this. We came to an arrangement about payment and usage rights and my publisher, Dave Lyons, set about creating the cover. We used an agency called 99 Designs, who ran a design tender process and, as part of that, we also asked our Facebook and Twitter followers to voice an opinion on the final three options. It was a fun process and got lots of engagement.

Once the book was launched I approached the local press as I always thought it made a good local-interest piece that we were working together in this way. I was right. Two papers have run articles in the past week.

Stirling News Article August 2015

One thing I have noticed since I started working with Alan is the numbers of views my Facebook posts get are up significantly. I only have 209 Likes on my author page; he has 543 for his photography page. My previous record for views was 875, but two posts that Alan helped by cross-promoting exceeded 1000 views, with one of them hitting 1,300. That’s a lot of extra reach I’ve gained from us working together. He tells me that he’s seen an increase in website traffic but no upturn in sales as yet. It remains to be seen how effective this partnership will be for us in terms of increased revenue, but I still think it was a good idea and well worth doing.

Whatever happens, and despite the lack of a big breakthrough, I’ll keep on building bridges with other folks and see where it leads. It’s a lot less lonely working in partnership and I like helping other people out when I can. If you think we might be able to work together to each other’s mutual benefit, please do get in touch.

Peter

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“Stark Realities” becomes a reality!

After many months of toil and heartache, I have finally released the latest Adam Stark novel – the third in the series – Stark Realities.

Many thanks go to Dave Lyons and the team at Raven Crest Books for getting me to publication yet again. Ebook for now, with paperback to follow soon.

Realities Cover

The fantastic photo of the Clackmannanshire Bridge on this cover was taken by Alan Gray.

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Let It Bee

IMG_0640 (2)

My Garden

I have to confess I’m not much of a gardener. Let me re-phrase that. I’m not a gardener. I have a garden and I cut the grass and pull up some of the weeds, but that’s really about the extent of my horticulture. In eight years living here, we’ve never used a single chemical agent on the ground and I am happy to let some nettles and other weeds grow. My neighbours, on the other hand, are suffering from OCGD – Obsessive Compulsive Gardening Disorder. They’re good neighbours by the way – caring, thoughtful and easy-going. I like them and get on fine with them. It’s just that they spray and they trap and they weed and they lay down pellets in order to achieve garden perfection. This can make my garden appear a little wild in comparison. However, today, I decided that I don’t really care whether they approve of my approach or not. I care about wildlife a lot more.

We’d been away for about a week – my daughter won a bronze medal in the British Solo Ice Dance Championships (woo hoo!) and, afterwards, we spent a couple of days in Norfolk on holiday and a day in Lincoln for her to attend a training camp. This meant I returned to a lawn in dire need of a haircut. However, as I was starting to mow, I noticed how many bees were feeding on the clover flowers and how many moths were fleeing the spinning blade of my push-mower. It made me pause and think.

Bees are in big trouble. Unless you’ve been keeping Robinson Crusoe company for the last two years, you’re bound to have heard something about this. We need bees to pollinate our food crops so we can eat things and not die of starvation. Bees need us not to cover our crops in nasty chemicals that bugger up their sense of navigation and prevent them finding their way back to their hives. They also need us to stop suffering from OCGD or turning our gardens into car parks, which reduces the amount of food they can find, which makes them weak and susceptible to parasites. Numbers have been crashing and we need to do stuff that might stop them continuing to die off in such massive numbers.

IMG_0580

A bee with some bee food

Now, at this point, loads of human being type people will probably be sighing, shrugging their shoulders and saying something like, “Yeah, but it’s all about the farming, dude. Nothing I can do will make any difference.” Those human beings are wrong! If everybody with a garden in Britain did a little thing, it would add up to a big thing overall.

I looked at the honey bees and thought about how they like to let their pals know about where the food is. If I chopped all this lot down, they’d come tomorrow and find nothing. The lads that passed on the news would likely get lynched but, more seriously, they would have wasted valuable time and energy coming to my garden for nothing. It’s not as if my neighbours are offering an alternative with their chemicals and non-native flowers the bees find it hard to feed from. And, so, this morning, Bee Island was formed in a sea of shorn grass – well, I say grass, it’s mainly clover, daisies and moss but you get the idea. It’s not big but it is clever.

Bee Island

Bee Island

This newly-formed, island state immediately welcomed what I could only assume was a Scottish bee, given his ginger hair, but this is no exclusive resort. I’ve known some racist b’s in my time but all the bees are welcome here, no matter their colour or racial background.

Jimmy Bee

Jimmy Bee

I’ve also sub-contracted out the pest control to Mr H Hog (he’s also in bother by the way but that’s a whole different, similar, sad story). He came highly recommended and was cheap, as in free.

Hedgehog

Mr H Hog – Pest Control Services

If we all make an effort to do something to help our little hairy friends with the massive tongues (and the spiky ones with less massive tongues too) overcome the scourge of OCGD, then maybe, together, we can make a difference to their chances of survival – and ours.

 

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Reviews – Are They Really All That?

The accepted wisdom in publishing is that reviews are critical to the success of a book. On Amazon in particular, people claim that a host of five star reviews is key to turning your book into a best seller. But is that really the case?

The more I’ve written, and the more I’ve read, the less convinced I’ve become that reviews are really the most important aid to purchase. This is because reviews seem to me to fall into five broad categories:

Gushing

A lot of these are written by friends or relatives. We’ve all got them but some folks go out of their way to encourage it. My mum and my sister posted reviews for a couple of my books and, although they felt they were being sincere and truthful, I asked them to remove them. They were a little hurt, bless ‘em, but I explained that, as well-intentioned as they were, and as grateful as I was for their support, those reviews would not be credible in the eyes of a customer who wasn’t related to me. However, in truth, I’m not sure many people would have noticed or cared that much. Friends and relatives are often the first to review and, although they might not be entirely neutral, it is possible they did really enjoy the book. It’s hardly crime of the century if it’s half a dozen or less. Much more insidious and damaging to the validity of good reviews have been the paid-for and sock puppetry scandals of the last couple of years. Of course, there are genuine gushing reviews and if you have a load of those, well done.  However, I think people’s natural cynicism means they take anything at an extreme with a pinch of condiment.

Dismissive

The majority of one or two star reviews I have ever read are couched in the language of the smart-arse. They rarely influence whether or not I will buy a product. If they’re not written by a smart-arse, then they’re usually written by someone who’s unable to construct a coherent sentence (never mind argument) to justify their rating.

Irrelevant

I received a five star review that read as follows:-

“Got the deliver to me on the first estimated date rather than the last day”

Yeah, brilliant, mate. Very helpful. Well done! Boosted my overall star rating though …

Balanced and well thought out

These are rare and, because of that, unlikely to have as big an influence on potential readers as they should. This is particularly true when a book has hundreds of reviews. Who has the time to trawl through them all to look for one of these? I know I don’t.

Too brief

Since the advent of the automatic prompt to review when readers reach the end of a book on their Kindle, I’ve noticed the length of most reviews has become shorter and shorter. I mean, what can you really decide about a book from sixty reviews that say ‘Good book’, ‘enjoyed it’ or ‘great read’? On Goodreads, people can just add a star rating without any text. I don’t think either of these rating types is likely to influence anyone’s decision making process. I also know that, in my case at least, I never review via that Kindle prompt. I don’t like it. I’ve had no time to consider what I thought of the book let alone formulate a coherent review. I also find it intrusive and distracting as it so often pops up before I’ve had a chance to check out the credits or some other addendum such as bonus chapters of the next book in a series or the like.

 

I’m not saying reviews are irrelevant or worthless – of course they’re not – but, if reviews are not having as big an influence on potential readers as some people would have you believe, what else can you do to convince them to try your book?

Last year I joined Book Bub – as a reader, not as a contributor – and they send me a daily email offering a book deal or two. The more I’ve done this, the less reliant I’ve become on reviews and the more reliant I’ve become on the blurb. If I like the blurb, I’ll take a chance, if I don’t, I won’t. And, let’s be honest, I do judge by the cover – at least in part.

Surely, I’m not alone in prioritising a good blurb and a decent cover over a host of three-word, five star reviews? It’s made me think I should revisit my own book blurbs and covers – make sure they’re working hard enough to sell my books without reviews. Basic stuff but true nonetheless.

Of course, if you have read one of my novels and enjoyed it … you know what to do.

Five Stars

 

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Just the Ticket – Not!

In 1983 Kiss put on their first proper tour of the UK. Aged 14, four of us got tickets by getting an older sibling to phone the box office on the morning they were released. They cost £5 each, and we went along to the Glasgow Apollo to see this historical event. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s I continued to go to whichever gig I wanted to, without ever struggling to get a ticket – if I really wanted one. This week, System of a Down (a band I’ve never seen live yet but would really like to) announced they were playing London next April, and I am not even going to bother trying to get a ticket. Getting tickets for ‘big’ gigs has become an irritating and pointless exercise.

Kiss Programme System

Bands have tried many tactics to outwit the touts over the years but, particularly since the advent of the internet, those who bothered have been fighting a losing battle. Touts have always been around. I even used one to pay three times face value for an Aerosmith concert in 1989. The main way bands try and stop them now is through pre-sales; with a special code to get access before general release. In theory, this rewards and assists proper fans, with a genuine interest in the band and its music. At first this worked pretty well. However, the touts have circumvented this process by getting teams of buyers (who are not interested in going to the gig) to pretend to be fans, get the codes, and maximise their uptake.

However, it’s not just traditional touts that are interfering with genuine fans’ chances of seeing their favourite bands live; an army of vested interests and poseurs has joined them. Corporate tie-ins, where big companies siphon off whole blocks of prime tickets to give to employees, as rewards or inducements for business partners, or to reward ‘loyal’ customers; trendy, middle-class folk, show off by paying stupid amounts of money for VIP packages with whole blocks or front rows given over to this ostentatious grandstanding; radio stations, TV programmes, magazines, websites, et al get dozens of tickets to ‘give away’ in competitions. The majority of these tickets end up on the internet at many times the face value – thousands of individual touts fleecing the real music fans and ripping off the bands. Even worse, in some ways, is tickets left unused or taken up by folk who really didn’t give much of a toss in the first place but won them or got given them.

Tickets 2 Need Tickets

The latest, and most reprehensible, development has been the emergence of ticket resale websites. These masquerade as a service to people who bought a ticket but, for whatever reason, are no longer able to go, and want to sell the ticket on. However, all they really are is a place for people who were never going to the gig, to sell tickets at massively inflated prices to desperate fans. The worst thing is the corporate complicity in this process. It’s just legitimised and facilitated touting. I recently tried to get tickets for an up-and-coming band – Royal Blood – but found they had sold out instantly. On the Ticketmaster site, which told me there were no tickets left, there was a side bar with a resale site called GetMeIn. Within seconds of selling out on the Ticketmaster site, they were being offered at £200 on there. Meanwhile, on the same page telling me there were no original £14 tickets left to buy: “Why not try ‘GetMeIn’?” suggested Ticketmaster. “Why not f*ck right off?” I thought.  That’s a 1300% mark-up and not one penny of it would be going to the band. This ‘service’ is run by Ticketmaster. How can that be right?

Royal Blood

Royal Blood

With the forces of darkness lined up against me, I have opted not to waste my time and emotional energy on trying (and failing) to get SOAD tickets. I also won’t feed the beast by paying anyone way over the odds for them. It’s frustrating and upsetting but I fear there’s too much money to be made for it to change anytime soon.

 

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Forever Young

It’s 1980, I’m eleven years old, and I’m lying in the bath. At the side of the tub is my radio/cassette player. The cable snakes out under the door and into the upstairs hall, where it’s plugged into the nearest socket.  I’m oblivious to the potential damage the steam may be causing to my unsophisticated listening device. I press play.

A PA hums, charged with expectancy. The crowd go wild. A raw, bluesy, jagged guitar stutters into their midst: meaty chord laid upon meaty chord. The drums rumble along as these partners in rock build to a crescendo. There’s a short moment of stilled silence. Then, a riff so fluid, so sinuous it could be reptilian; so loud it could be geological. The crowd respond. The band kicks in. And we’re off. One and three quarter minutes in and the riff rings out, leaving centre stage to bass and drums and, in a second or so, vocals.

I reach down, press stop, rewind and press play…again. This might be the tenth time I’ve repeated this action. I’ve lost count and I don’t care. The cassette in question is “If You Want Blood…You’ve Got It” by AC/DC and the song I’ve become obsessed with is opening track “Riff Raff”. To be more specific, I’ve become obsessed with the intro.

If You Want Blood

The man responsible for that riff, for that total absorption in musical nirvana, that formative moment in my life, is Malcolm Young. Tragically, this week, it emerged that he has been struck down by dementia and will never be able to play that (or any other) riff again. I have to admit that I’m finding it hard to come to terms with this.

Dementia has to be one of the cruelest diseases that can afflict a human being. It robs a person of their memories, their personality, their very essence. It also inflicts terrible suffering on those who witness it snatch a loved one away. To me, it seems somehow even harsher that it’s depriving someone of the joy of playing a musical instrument; a lifetime’s effort to master the guitar to the point of effortless, consummate, public performance, erased from his mind. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I shed a tear for one of my musical heroes. I also don’t mind admitting that I find the prospect of something similar happening to me terrifying.

However, it’s important at times like this to try and focus on the positive; to celebrate; to be thankful for what we have, not mourn what we have lost or will lose. Malcolm Young has left a legacy that will endure. He has written songs that stand up against any of the greatest rock classics ever written by anyone. The precise manner of his passing is mere detail, the proverbial footnote in history. He will leave behind way more than any of us could ever dare dream to.

Brave faces aside; I wish it had never happened. I wish this terrible condition was not about to rob his loved ones of a father, grandfather, brother, uncle, cousin, friend. But it will, and I am well aware that my grief and disappointment will only ever be a fraction of theirs.

To their critics AC/DC may be dumb, raw, repetitive, predictable even, but critics be damned;  I loved them from the moment I first heard that PA hum and I still love them now.

Malcolm Young. From all of us who have ever rocked … we salute you.

Malcolm Young

 

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I’m A Pulp Pusher!

I am incredibly happy to say that one of my favourite Scottish authors, Tony Black, has invited me to guest on his esteemed blog; Pulp Pusher. If you want to read a bit about what inspired me to write, and the journey so far, hop on over and see what I’ve got to say.

Pulp Pusher

If you’re not familiar with Tony Black’s writing, I’d urge you to take a look while you’re there. He’s renowned for gritty crime novels, black comedic novellas and police procedurals but, recently, he’s also branched out (rather successfully) into literary fiction, so there’s something for most tastes.

The Last Tiger Cover   The_Ringer01    Long Way down Final AW_LR   HFS1

Thanks for having me, Tony!

 

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