“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

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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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On The Road

At last, the new novel Drivers is available to buy from Amazon. On Kindle for now but with the paperback on its way soon.

Amazon UK

or

Amazon.com

Drivers Cover

If you do ever buy, read and enjoy any of my books, I’d be extremely grateful if you could take a little time to leave a review for me. They really do help us authors get noticed and convince others that our books are worth reading. Thanks!

The usual huge chunk of gratitude is due to Dave Lyons and the team at Raven Crest Books for helping me get here!

 

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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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The Price You Pay

Why certain books sell, while others don’t, is a conundrum. Some terrible books sell by the barrowload and some fantastic books…don’t. Books lauded by the great and the good, with terrific reviews and recommendations from others, flounder in the lower reaches of Amazon’s rankings, while others with a couple of simple reviews top their charts. Then there’s the $64,000 question – how much?

Sale

Cheap, that’s what sells. Right? Get your price down as far as you can and you’ll be rewarded with more sales. Granted, your profit will suffer, but as long as you’ve got volume, you’re sorted. Right?

Well…maybe.

I’d like to share two things that happened to me in regard to pricing. One is a cautionary tale, the other an example of the illogicality of pricing. Both reveal the power of Amazon promos.

  1. When I was about to release my second novel, my first was flying high on Amazon, selling c.60 copies a day. I decided to follow the adamant assertions of others and offer it for free, hoping to create a larger pool of buyers for novel two and boost sales post freebie period. After all, that’s what happened to everyone else doing that. Only, it didn’t work; I gave away 2000+ copies of novel one and afterwards sales crashed and novel two didn’t sell all that well. I now know that the crucial error I made was to interrupt an Amazon promotion with my own. In the run up to my freebie promo, Amazon had discounted my book from 99p to 77p (at their expense) and promoted it to their database. I went free and they dropped me from their campaign. This killed my visibility and therefore my sales.
  2. About a year ago, I put the price of In Many Ways up from 99p to £1.99. Almost right away, sales fell and it tumbled down the rankings. I panicked, put it back to 99p and it rallied, a bit. I kept all four of my e-books at 99p and sales trundled along, earning me little in the way of royalties. Last week, I discussed pricing and the new Kindle Countdown mechanism with my publisher. We agreed to raise prices in order to try this promo tool out: you have to sell books at a higher price for 30 days before offering them at a discount on the Countdown. So, all the books went from 99p up to £1.99 and, right away, started to sell. On Monday, things really took off with over forty books selling in four hours! It’s Friday and sales are still far higher than before the price rise. Better still, I’m making four times more royalties from every copy sold! Why, though? They’re more expensive; sales should have dropped, like before. However, it turns out I’m on an Amazon promo again. Don’t know why, but they’re emailing folks with my books suggesting they buy them, and they are, which is nice.

So, you see, there is no logic to pricing but there is every reason to hope for an Amazon promo. Just don’t interfere with them!

Maybe there are other authors or readers out there with views or stories to share regarding pricing? I’d love to hear from you.

Peter Carroll

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