First Impressions

First impressions are vital in interviews, first dates and any number of social situations. The same is true of books. The first chapter of a book is your first (and sometimes only) chance to impress a reader and persuade them to buy your book.

I’d like to share with you some of the first chapters that had a huge effect on me and changed my reading habits.

Secret Seven Mystery

The ninth book in the Enid Blyton series, Secret Seven Mystery had a profound effect on a seven year-old boy. I had been passionate about books since my mother first took me to the local library as a tot. SSM was the first ‘chapter’ book that I borrowed from the library to read on my own. The first chapter took me to an exciting world where kids solved mysteries and had adventures. In truth, the books haven’t stood the test of time but I still think fondly of that series of books.

The Hobbit

When I was twelve a friend in the Boys’ Brigade gave me ‘The Hobbit’ to read. I had never heard of it and knew nothing about it, but he assured me I would love it. He gave me the book on a Friday night, I had finished reading it by the Saturday afternoon. The first chapter had me entranced, I bought a copy and of course I followed that up with Lord Of The Rings. They remain among my favourite books.

The Big Sleep

As I grew older, the mysteries of Enid Blyton and Franklin W. Dixon no longer satisfied me. I tried Agatha Christie but her criminals never seemed real to me. I mentioned to a teacher my search for something new that would be more adult and more genuine. She returned the following day with The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon. I took them home and before I had my dinner that night, I began Chandler’s masterpiece. Marlowe jumped from the page and smacked me across the face, he was cool and witty. I had found what I was looking for. That first chapter sparks with snappy dialogue and brilliant descriptive writing. That book gave birth to a love affair that took me all the way to writing my own first novel.

The Bourne Identity

This was another find in the library, this time when I was about sixteen. The first chapter sets the tone for a story that at times leaves you breathless, unsure whether Bourne is a hero or a villain. I became a huge Ludlum fan as a result and within two years had read voraciously everything that he had written. He was the king of the political conspiracy novel and is one of the few writers whose novels I can re-read and enjoy as much as that first time.

Dune

I was a huge fan of both Star Trek and Doctor Who from an early age but I had never read a science fiction novel. Every science fiction book I had ever looked at seemed to show dystopian future that was a long way from the positive future envisaged on my favourite TV shows.

A college mate had expressed incredulity that I could be a fan of TV sci-fi but not have read any books. He saw it as a challenge and gave me a few novels to try. The top of that pile was Frank Herbert’s Dune and it proved to be the ideal choice. The first chapter starts a saga that never lets up in complexity of plot with rich and three-dimensional characters that are a joy to read. You don't have to love science fiction to love the Dune series. It is an incredible family saga that spans planets and generations. The plotting of the various factions would not have seemed alien to Renaissance Italians and in many ways the families in the story could easily have been called Borgia or Medici. Needless to say science fiction now forms a regular part of my reading diet.


 

Indie Authors World competition seeks to find a book with a first chapter that will captivate readers. Have you got it in you to write a first chapter that will change reading habits? Find out by entering the Calum Macleod Memorial Publishing Prize competition. As well as the chance to win a publishing package worth £2000, you will be helping the charity Meningitis Now to continue to support families, and educate everyone about the disease.

For more information visit the competition page.


Would a broken computer lead to a broken heart?

Imagine the scene; you’ve worked for months on your book, it’s been edited, refined and honed to perfection. You are pleased with it and feel it’s ready to be launched into the world. You click save and sit back with a satisfied smile and your computer goes phut!, a puff of blue smoke rises from it and then nothing. It’s as dead as a Norwegian Blue parrot. No problem, you’ve got a backup. Oh wait…

Like everything else, computers are prone to the entropy of the universe and will fail eventually. The question is are you ready to cope with that failure? Are your documents, photos and music files safe? In this blog we’re going to offer some suggestions on how you can make sure that months of work don’t end in tears of frustration.

Local backup

By far the easiest way to perform a backup is to plug in an external hard drive or to use a USB data stick. There is a utility that allows scheduled backups on Windows PCs, and as long as you leave both the computer and the external drive powered up, the backup will progress according to whatever schedule you have set. If you have a Mac, you can set up a Time Machine backup to run constantly in the background and you will be able to retrieve deleted files quickly. A USB stick will require you to remember to save a copy of the file to it on a regular basis but it is a simple way to ensure you have a copy of your book.

Although a local backup is very convenient, external hard drives and USB sticks are vulnerable to many of the problems that plague computers. Hard disks can fail and over time flash memory degrades. Due to their size, it's easy to misplace a data stick. The biggest risk is from a fire, flood or theft that takes out both the computer and your backup.

If you wish to use an external drive, it would be better if you had two. Keep one in your office or at a friend’s house and swap the drives weekly. Although you wouldn't have the most recent copy of a file, storing a copy remotely would prevent data loss from something going catastrophically wrong in your house.

The Cloud

The cloud has the advantage of allowing you to store the files at a very remote location. Services such as Dropbox, iCloud, Skydrive and Google Drive offer a convenient way of keeping your files somewhere other than on your computer. With these services a folder on your machine is mirrored on a remote server and you simply save the file to that folder which will then be copied to the server. It’s a reliable and safe way to maintain a backup.

One problem with cloud storage is if you accidentally delete a file on your computer while you are connected to the service, the file will also be deleted on the server. It’s easy to do and it's something you should be aware of.

Dedicated backup services

There are a number of dedicated backup services popping up on the Internet. They offer a remote backup to data centres of all the files on your computer and provide tools that allow you to restore them simply. Backblaze, Carbonite, SOS Online Backup and Crashplan are just a few of the services you can find online. We are using Crashplan as it allows us to backup all the computers we have, at a very reasonable price. You sign up for the service, download a piece of software, tell it what you want backed up and let it do its stuff. The great thing is that you can set it to backup your whole machine, including settings and applications, not just your data. Crashplan may not be ideal for you, so check out the other services to find the one that suits your needs,

There are a few services that are available for free but you should avoid those. There is a risk that a paid service will go out of business, but I think the risk becomes greater for businesses that don’t rely on subscriptions.

Check your backup

There is no point in backing up your files if you can't retrieve them when you need to. No matter what system or service you use, it is vital that you test the backup by doing a restore on a regular basis. You can do this simply by deleting an unimportant file from the disk, and then restore it using the software or copying it from your local disk.

Recommendations

So how do we do our backups? There is a copy of our books on the computer hard drive, on an external hard disk, on iCloud and backed up through Crashplan. As you can see it’s a two belts and three braces kind of strategy.

You might not want to go to those extremes but you definitely need to have a backup strategy. Friends of ours recently had their laptop stolen. The machine itself wasn’t as important as the hundreds of photographs of their daughters that went with it as there was no backup. Don’t let a computer crash destroy your work or precious memories.


Why best selling authors are choosing self-publishing.

I have had a couple of conversations with authors recently who wanted to know if I could help them get an agent and publisher. I am not opposed to publishers; I think there is room for lots of publishing models and self-publishing is not for everyone. Knowledge is the key and I shared some of this info with the authors.

When we started self publishing with Sinclair’s first book – The Reluctant Detective in 2010 – it was still seen by many as the poor man’s publishing option. Sinclair heard statements like, “poor you that’s a shame you had to self publish!” It never felt like that for us – we saw it as an exciting time, of change, taking control and creating new opportunities – fulfilling a dream that Sinclair had to see his book finished and on sale. His dream continues with 7 books self-published and over 100,000 sales.

There is no doubt that the times have changed – with the technology of ebooks and the stores, especially Amazon, open to authors to allow them to reach readers direct many are choosing self-publishing as their first option. Here at Indie Authors World, we are delighted to have helped many authors fulfill their self-publishing dreams, with 3 books launched over the summer months and more in the pipeline.

Although there are still some (mainly the big publishers) who cling on to the old model of the world – many traditionally published authors are now looking at their own situation and going indie. I came across a very interesting article by Karen TravissUK author of military games and comics whose credits include Halo, Gears of War, Batman, G.I. Joe, and Star Wars – that highlights many of the down-sides of traditional publishing.

Karen explained her rationale for pulling her novel, Going Grey, from the publisher was straightforward. After a number of changes in the publisher’s schedule, she was now looking at a 2015 release for a book that she’d already had to rewrite as real-world events kept overtaking it as time dragged on. She needed the book out by summer 2014 the publisher said they couldn’t do it.

Being in control of your own timescales is a big plus for the indie author. Having spent lots of hours, writing, editing and sweating over your book – do you want to wait another year or two to have it on sale? It can be published in weeks not months or years.

For some writers being “published” is validation of your work, it gives a sense of worth. I know the authors we support want to feel validated too, but that sense of worth and respect in the written word must start with you – the writer. If you believe in your work, if you like your story and are proud of it then stand tall, be brave and let the world meet your “baby”.

Karen wrote, “If you’re a musician, an artist, or you work in comics, independent production’s been part of your professional landscape for much longer. Nobody thinks third-party validation is necessary; everybody knows it’s about creator control. I realise some writers want the validation of a publisher. Please take it from someone who’s had it that the only approval that counts is the reader’s.

Does being under the roof of a publishing house guarantee a successful book? No is the short answer. The publisher hopes it will as your book is their route to profits but there are no guarantees. With marketing budgets cut to a minimum your book has a very short time (6 weeks or less) to sell or it is dropped in favour of another.

With self-publishing you are responsible for all your own marketing. It can be daunting but it’s a marathon and not a sprint. You are not going to ditch your book in 6 weeks. There are loads of free ways to market your book and we are exploring how to make marketing easier for our growing community of Indie Authors.

Publishing is packaging and distribution,” says Karen Traviss, “readers rarely care or even know who your publisher is, though. Why should they?”  Whilst I agree, I also know that packaging and distribution are essential to make your book attractive and create routes for people to buy it. Karen already had a lot of knowledge of the industry and no shortage of skills to find her own path. First time self-publishing authors can struggle to get to grips with the cover, book layout and formatting and if you get that wrong then even the best story can be overlooked. Then there’s a lot to learn about how the distribution process works.

We created our Bookcamp training programme to help indie authors fill that gap in knowledge and offer an alternative to being totally on your own or seeking a publisher. Learning to create professional packaging and decide the best way to distribute your book, keeps you in the driving seat.

So what about money? Gone are the days of a six figure advance from a publisher and being treated like a rock star (if they ever existed). If you have dreams of earning big money with your books the reality for most published writers is very different.

In fact, Karen quotes “ how naive I’d been to think Big Publishing would look after my interests because I made money for it. Unless you’re one of a small handful of mega best-selling writers, you’re not the one getting rich off your work.”   Publishers have a lot of people to pay from your book proceeds before you and it seems that somewhere along the line the industry seemed to forget the producer of the work is the heart of the business.

The Author Earnings Report has been tracking sales and earnings for over a year now and in their July 2014 report concluded: “We can now say that self-published authors earn more in royalties than Big 5 authors, combined.”

Another interesting fact about signing up with the big publishers is how long they want your rights for. Karen Traviss’s experience is fairly typical – sign away all your rights for the lifetime of the copyright. As she said “ that’s 70 years after you’re dead – marriage may last as long as ye both shall live, but even death won’t release you when you wed yourself to a publisher. And if they screw up, you can’t normally take your business elsewhere without an expensive lawyer.”

Traditional or self-publishing it’s your choice but make it an informed one. And what of the authors I met up with? I am pleased to report that they have opted for self-publishing and I will be sharing their book info soon.


How collaboration can increase sales

As a writer do you think of other writers as your competitors? Or is your literary world one of collaboration and friendship?

People who love books will read lots of different authors. Don’t you love it when you find a new author that you like? I reckon this makes it easier for writers to help each other out when it comes to promoting books. Publishing companies will get the writers under their umbrella to recommend and review each other’s books. So what can Indie Authors do to help each other out?

Social media makes it easier to find people, so searching for savvy Indie Authors isn’t too difficult. Look out for blogs –www.sinclairmacleod.blogspot.com for example. Search for writers on Facebook or Twitter and introduce yourself. Start conversations, get to know each other – this is not a race to the finish line, it is about building real connections with other authors.

Once you have established a relationship then you can explore how you can help each other to promote your books. This can be as simple as retweeting posts and sharing Facebook status updates or more interactive maybe interviewing each other, writing guest blogs and reviewing each other’s books.

Each one of us has our own network of friends, family and hopefully fans of our writing. Connecting with other people potentially opens up their network to you. This is how information “goes viral” so imagine that a great review of your book, a blog post and an interview gets shared with your connected authors who in turn share it with their network. If people in the network then share it the reach becomes much greater.

Our vision for Indie Authors Scotland is to help facilitate this process, to provide an opportunity for like minded Indie writers to make connections and help each other out. We believe in community – we have been building our physical community in Scotland for some time through our meetup group and now we are working on building that community online to benefit more people. We will be unveiling more of our ideas soon but we’d love to know what you think – so connect with our Facebook Page and join in the conversation.


The Story Behind Bookcamp

Our Bookcamp training programme is ideal if you want to self-publish your books, control your budget and have the support of experienced self-publishers to ease you through the process.

We have strong values and ethics about sharing knowledge, empowering and supporting you to produce the most professional book possible. We love the community that we are developing, helping you to market and sell your books too. This is why we developed our unique Bookcamp programme – we thought we would share how it came about and what brought us to this point.

When I (Sinclair) focused on writing to help me cope with the tragic loss of our son Calum to meningitis in 2007, my first target was to finish the book. I had always written but life had got in the way (something many of you will recognise) and there were a number of unfinished stories on my computer. My work career had somehow wandered into the world of IT, fixing computer problems and then web design. Writing was something I did to switch off from the stress and unleash my creative side.

About a year after Calum died I decided that life really was too short to not do what I loved and so the Reluctant Detective began his journey from my imagination to the written word. Spurred on by the encouragement of Kim and close friends and family, I did finish the book but the next question was how to get it published.

I contacted some agents and publishers but had no success. I was determined not to leave my book, that was dedicated to my son, lying in a drawer so I decided to self publish. My very first publication was a PDF version that you could download from my website. I was delighted with what I had achieved and we celebrated the achievement with a book launch where we gave everyone a copy of the first chapter. This was back in 2010, just as the eBook readers were taking off and this was my next challenge. My IT skills were put to the test figuring out how to format my book for the eBook readers but after several attempts (and lots of swear words) my book was now on sale to the world.

I have a love of books, I read all the time and our house is full of books. I wanted to have my book printed but I had no money to pay a printer for a run of books. More searching and Kim discovered the self-publishers dream – print on demand publishing! More skills were put to the test, this time it was typesetting, testing fonts, sizes, working out margins and gutters. My flat book cover now needed a spine and a back cover, bar codes and an ISBN. The learning process was steep and infuriating at times but I did it! I had my paperback in my hands.

Now all I had to do was sit back and wait on the sales starting! That proved to be another steep learning curve – How do you market a book? What is social media? How does distribution work? Where could I sell it? In reality it was about a year before I answered these questions and the sales started. With the sales came the reviews and I found that people loved my book, they wanted more and so my career as an Indie Author really began. I have now published 9 books that have achieved great success, my Glasgow-based ‘The Reluctant Detective’ series and spin off police detectives Russell and Menzies, have sold over 100,000 copies and I have books in the Amazon top 20 bestsellers lists.

When I started self-publishing I knew nothing about the publishing world, but I have learned so much in the last few years. Other authors started to ask me how I had produced my books, and after spending many hours over coffee with writers, Kim suggested that we could help more people if we developed a training programme. We knew it can be a difficult and tough learning process for writers who want to self-publish, and many turn to service providers to produce their book. With packages often costing thousands of pounds to publish one book we recognised a need for an affordable alternative that puts you, the writer, in control.

Kim, who has also self published her own book From Heartbreak to Happiness, has a background in training and coaching and we knew that we could offer a different approach to help writers to self-publish. Our training has evolved too from a very intense full day course, through evening classes to our online flexible Bookcamp programme.

We are really proud of what we have developed. Bookcamp is a wonderful blend of practical publishing knowhow with coaching support and encouragement. We help you to learn not only how to produce professional quality books but how to make the most of your strengths and go for success. Kim and I have blended our skills to make this programme unique. We say that I am technical and Kim is mental!!

Last month our Indie Authors Scotland business was boosted by being selected for Scotland’s premier start-up and investment programme for creative industry entrepreneurs, the 2014 Starter for 6. Our Bookcamp flexible training programme really impressed the Starter for 6 team and we are so delighted to have been chosen in what is a highly competitive process. With the support of Starter for 6 we are extending our reach to help more writers and adding extra support for authors as we truly want to develop a centre of excellence for self-publishing.

Indie Authors Scotland already has global reach with authors in Scotland, England, USA and Canada participating in the Bookcamp. Our writers benefit from making connections around the world and it means that we can help market and sell books together. With Starter for 6 help we are building a worldwide community of independent authors and that has huge potential for us all.

When I started writing The Reluctant Detective I never dreamed that we would be helping others to produce their books. Kim and I are delighted to be helping people like you to achieve their dreams, we get so excited when our authors publish their books we are like the proud grandparents ( Kim says auntie – she’s not old enough to be a granny!) We set ourselves a target to help 100 authors publish their books this year and we have a few deliveries expected soon.

We would love you to come and join us in the Bookcamp or if you know of someone who needs our help please share our message with them.