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.


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.


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.



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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.


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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.


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.


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:


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.


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.


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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To Pay or Not to Pay

Earlier today I noticed a book promotion site being used by lots of writers via a hashtag on Twitter. It looked interesting, so I went to the website and started to delve into the detail.

The main headline declared that they offered free promotion. Excellent! My publisher is a small independent and a marketing budget is not delegated out to me, which is fine. Free is what I need and I’ve posted on various sites via Facebook, blogs and Twitter. I’m not sure what impact these have had on my sales but it’s free, so there’s no risk either way. The only cost is my time to upload the book details and my bio.

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(Apart from the money you have to pay for it)

The site in question (I’m not going to name it as I’m wary of lawyers and their ilk) looks slick and promises big things. I soon discovered it wasn’t really free. I could post one book for free, out of the five I have written so far. Not only that but to really get the most from the site, I needed to consider a sliding scale of payments. At this point I would normally walk away and look for another route to market that suits my budget – FREE – but there were a few well-known indie authors amongst the clients. Maybe this one was worth paying for?

The main testimonial was by an author I didn’t know but he claimed the site had helped make his book a bestseller. I duly checked his sales ranking on Amazon and discovered he may have been embellishing those credentials. The problem is, if a book hits a niche category on Amazon, it can top that category with very low actual sales. The term bestseller has thus been widely abused.

images (1)

Number one in Hindu Yak Milking Manuals!

Not to worry, I thought. I’ll check out a couple of the better known guys – see how their sales are going. Again, not that well.

Another testimonial directed me to a nice, well-meaning lady’s website and Facebook page where she extolled the virtues of paying extra to get sales. In her case, she attributed four sales to this site. It cost her nearly $16 to get those sales and given the margins on offer, I suspect she made little or no money from that deal. However, she was about to up the outlay and pay $30 a month to get some extra promotion.

A further list of testimonials baffled me. Some writers were raving about gaining two, four or six sales via the site. I mean, come on people, that’s not worth paying for! If you’d added hundred to any of those numbers, I might have been tempted. I checked more books but none of them were flying high on Amazon. However, there was one last sting in their tale. This charge was per book! I would have to pay nearly $150 PER MONTH to get all my books listed. I wasn’t tempted. I went elsewhere.


There are a lot of people out there waiting to take the money of indie or self-published authors, promising great things for them in terms of sales. But, I’ve got bad news for those who decide to spend big on such platforms. Their influence is negligible. These sites are visited, populated and patronised almost exclusively by authors, who only go there to promote their own book. For the vast majority of readers and book buyers, the only player in town is Amazon. If they promote your book and you get a bit of luck (as all the true smash hits have had), you will sell lots of books. If they don’t, you won’t. I truly believe paying for promotion on one of the many thousands of book promotion sites out there is a total waste of money. That’s why I’ll be sticking to the free sites and keeping my fingers crossed that Amazon get behind one or all of my books.

Maybe you can prove me wrong?

Peter Carroll

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Getting Ready to Drive

I’m delighted to have received very positive feedback from beta readers, editor and publisher regarding the draft of my new novel ‘Drivers’. I’ve just worked my way through revisions, suggestions and so on and am very close to submitting the final manuscript.

Here’s the blurb:

What would you do if someone offered you a great job with a company car, an expense account and the chance to drive the girl of your dreams around all day? You’d bite their hand off, right? What if the guy offering the job is a violent gangster and the girl of your dreams is his only daughter? Still keen?

Ross Fleming decides to take the job but his dreams turn to nightmares as the girl takes him on a journey he’ll never forget.

Revenge, justice, loyalty, lies, love, anger and an identity crisis. Turns out, the new chauffeur is not her only driver…so buckle up and enjoy the ride.  

No U Turn

And, here’s the first chapter. Please note the usual caveats regarding sweary words and violence!

Drivers Chapter One

Watch this space for further announcements.

Peter Carroll

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