Heir is here!

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I tried, I really did: I tried to hold off until Friday, the official publication date for “Heir Apparent”.  But I had to publish it on Amazon before I could order any author copies to send out to bookshops and reviewers, and once I had published it, it appeared on Amazon, and once I saw it on Amazon, well, can you blame me?  IT’S HERE!  “Heir Apparent” has been published and you can all buy it for everyone for Christmas – click any of the links scattered about this website.

I did consider a launch party this time but it was hard to make the numbers work.  I mentioned that I was contacting a couple of bookshops to ask about the possibilities of a launch shindig, and they both responded – which was very kind.  The Cambridge one said that I could hold a launch party but that I would have to pay for the venue (to cover staff costs, etc.) – I can’t remember the exact cost, but it was about £75.  The Saffron Walden one very kindly offered a free venue – but I am realistic enough to know that hauling my friends and contacts from Cambridge to Saffron Walden (about fifteen miles away) on an autumn school night would be tricky.  I might have a blow-out when I have completed the Sam series and hold a “celebration” rather than a “launch” – and then I can choose a better date and location.  This time, the publication is being marked by (a) chocolate cake at home, and (b) lunch out on the “proper” publication day (Friday 18 October).

In the meantime, I am doing what I assume all authors do on such days: I am stroking the cover of the book and smiling smugly.

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A trio of triumphs

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One of the delights (and downsides) of indie publishing (I’m trying to school myself to call it indie publishing rather than self-publishing) is being responsible for your own marketing.  I find that it’s very mood-based: if I’m feeling optimistic and imaginative, promotion and marketing are great fun, but if I’m feeling a bit low, it’s very hard work.  And no matter the mood, it’s important to remember that marketing is a long game: you can put out feelers and tasters and temptations and hear nothing for weeks – months – and then suddenly something happens.  Today I can report three somethings.

First up, we have the marvellous Richard Tearle.  Richard is a great supporter and promoter of indie writers and publishers, and has a special fondness for historical fiction: some time ago he wrote some terrific reviews of the Sam Plank books, and then he asked me to take part in an interview for his new blog, Slipstream.  The questions were thought-provoking, and the interview has appeared today on Richard’s blog.

Secondly, ages ago – in June – I contacted the webmaster of a site called “Order of Books” and asked for the Sam books to be added.  In essence, people can consult this website to find out about series of books and to get the definitive word about the order of the books in the series.  And today – most unexpectedly – my entry has appeared (although I was born in Brussels, not Germany).  Do go and have a look – it’s a really handy website for those of us who love series (and who wouldn’t want to revisit a beloved character?).

And thirdly, I have solved the mystery of the spike in sales of “Portraits of Pretence” (the fourth – green-covered – Sam book).  For several years now I have been in email contact with a lady in California who teaches an occasional college course on historical fiction.  And in a recent email she mentioned that this month her book club, on her recommendation, is reading “Portraits”.  So thank you, Claire and friends in California: that’s eleven copies on the tally!

(And – too exciting – as I write this, I have an eared cocked for the doorbell: the proof paper copy of “Heir Apparent” is being delivered this afternoon.  If all is well, I might even be pressing that big red Publish button a few days early…)

All over bar the selling

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Aye, as Sam would say.  It’s done.  Over the weekend I completed the final editing of “Heir Apparent” and cut and pasted it into the template that I use for the interior formatting.  It’s a bit of a beast, at 377 pages, but everyone who has read it tells me that it needs the extra space because it is more “twisty-turny” than the previous novels.  That would explain the headaches I had during my writing retreat…

I have now ordered my paper proof copy – I’ve checked it online, but it’s important to check it in the flesh, to make sure that the paper quality is good and that the cover looks as spiffy in real life as it does on the screen.  Plus, I can dance around the house waving the proof copy in the air – I just look daft if I do that with my laptop.

I have also emailed all the lovely bricks-and-mortar bookshops which stock the Sam books to ask how many copies they would like of his chunky new adventure – it’s one of my great pleasures to cycle to my two local bookshops on publication day and drop off their orders.  That said, “publication day” is a rather elastic concept: it’s all very well me pressing – with great fanfare – the giant “Publish!” button on KDP, but then it’s up to Amazon.  One of the Sam books took four (fevered) days to appear; another was listed within the hour.  I’ve learned to chill about it – but for general celebratory purposes, I’m aiming for the long-promised Friday 18 October.

So all that is left to do now is, erm, format the five e-versions that I need (Kindle, Draft2Digital, Gumroad, Kobo and Smashwords) – I’ll certainly be cross-eyed after that lot.  And then I’ll need to sell some books.  Easy-peasy.

Titles and sales

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Apologies for the silence.  I’ve been away on holiday, plus it’s that peculiar limbo phase in the writing and publication of a book: the draft is out with beta readers and I am waiting (nails bitten almost to the quick) for the feedback.  There’s no point making any changes myself until I get that, although I am allowing my mind to wander to the matter of chapter titles.  My working titles are always terrible – “Sam goes to Chelsea”, or “Freame discusses tontines”, for instance – so I remove those from the beta draft as they contain spoilers for each chapter.  Once the text is finalised, I get to devise proper chapter titles, which I really enjoy.

A while ago I asked you whether I should continue with the final (sob!) Sam book next, or launch into my new Cambridge-set series, saving the seventh Sam for later.  At the moment, I have four votes in favour of starting the new series and two (one by email) in favour of sticking with Sam.  Still undecided…

And here’s a conundrum – although perhaps I shouldn’t mention it in case it jinxes something.  I track my book sales quite closely, looking at the KDP sales dashboard a couple (OK, several) times a day – it’s like a nervous tic.  And someone introduced me to the marvellous and colourful (and free) Book Report app, which takes the sale data and displays it as multicoloured bar charts and pie charts, and even tells me how much money I have made today (£4, thank you for asking).  And these have both revealed a peculiar spike in sales of “Portraits of Pretence” – that’s the fourth Sam book, the one about art fraud.  Ten copies sold in the past month, which is many more than usual.  Has it had a good review somewhere?  Is someone’s book club reading it?  Have some art historians discovered it?  I’m not complaining, obviously, but I am curious.  I’ll carry on watching it…

Where next?

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We’re on to the next stage: I’ve just sent a draft of “Heir Apparent” to my beta reader Roy.  This means that the whole thing has now been close-read three times: twice by me and once by my husband, whose slow reading skills come into their own as he picks up double words, missed endings, wrong tenses – and Wilson getting two midday meals on the same day in the same chapter.  When he finished he said that it was the best yet (my husband, not Wilson) – but then he says that every time.  Let’s hope he’s right, as this book was the most difficult to write: I think it has the most twizzly plot, and as I took eighteen months over it instead of my usual year, it was harder to keep it all in my head.

As “Heir Apparent” is on its way out of the door, my thoughts are turning to the next writing projects.  I’m doing a work-related, non-fiction thing in December, but when it comes to my next fiction outing, I’m in a dither and would value your comments.  As you may know, the Sam Plank series is going to be seven books long; “Heir Apparent” is number six, and number seven is already plotted in outline – and then the series will come to a natural conclusion with the disappearance of Sam’s job (all explained in “Heir Apparent”).  I have already decided that I am then going to embark on a new series, set in the same era but this time located in Cambridge (my home town) and featuring not a magistrates’ constable but a university constable – and I think he’s going to be called Gregory.  And I have two options, both of which have advantages and disadvantages:

  1. Write “Sam 7” and then write “Greg 1”
    1. this is logical
    2. it means that Sam fans won’t have to wait too long for the final instalment
    3. but I’ll have to say goodbye to Sam quite soon, which will probably break my heart
  2. Write “Greg 1” and then write “Sam 7”
    1. this may attract publishers who are interested in a Cambridge-set series (a local bookseller has been putting out feelers and says there is interest…), and if the Cambridge series gains a wider audience, it will drive readers back to the Sam series
    2. it delays the dreadful day when I have to bid farewell to Sam and Martha
    3. but Sam fans will have to wait longer – although I promise it will happen (I’m not going to abandon Sam)

What do you think?  From a timing point of view, whether it’s “Sam 7” or “Greg 1” we’re looking at March 2021 – I won’t be able to get either done in under eighteen months.  I’ll tell you what, let’s do an entirely unrepresentative and unscientific poll – those of us living in the UK are very familiar with these…  So please cast your vote and end my dithering!

Breaking cover

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It’s here!  It’s here!  The cover for “Heir Apparent”!  Andrew at Design for Writers has done his usual magic with my incoherent and garbled requests – and isn’t the grey elegant and slimming.

dfw-sg-ha-cover-large

I’ve had a slice of chocolate cake to celebrate – the skeleton reminded me of the dangers of not eating enough for elevenses.

Close reading and cover design

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After the frenzied writing and word-counting of my writing retreat, it probably seems as though I have gone a bit quiet now – but that is the nature of the editing beast.  I have so far read the whole of “Heir Apparent” three times myself (including once when my printer went moody and missed out two whole chapters and I couldn’t work out why the plot made less sense than usual…) and now it is being read for typos, spelling, etc. by my husband.  He is a very precise person – engineer by training, bike mechanic by passion – and therefore good at looking closely at things.  Plus it gives him such pleasure to be able to point out spelling mistakes to me, an English graduate – the things we do for love.

While all of that is going on, an author’s mind turns to thoughts of publication.  And to that end I have been:

  • Writing the “front matter” for the book – which (for me) means:
    • gathering extracts from reviews of the other books in the series – these go on the very first pages of the book
    • deciding on a classical quotation to start the book – I can’t remember why I first did this in “Fatal Forgery”, but it’s part of the process now, and quite good fun for someone who had no classical education
    • writing the dedication
  • Co-operating with the cover designer – by which I mean I give him some rambling drivel about how I think the cover could look, and he creates something amazing out of it (we’re nearly there now – I’ll show it to you soon)
  • Planning the launch – I’ve emailed one bookshop which (perhaps in a moment of madness after a reading) offered to hold my “next” launch party (they didn’t know I’ve never had one before).

After “The Man in the Canary Waistcoat” (book two), I did write myself a list of pre-publication tasks, which had been invaluable: when you’re preparing a paperback and several e-versions, there’s a lot to remember.  And at the end of the list, I have written: Don’t worry about a specific publication date – Amazon will publish when it wants to.  Good advice.

On a related note, you know that I have my free guide to the Sam Plank series?  When I published it, I managed – through publishing on another site and putting that price to zero and then asking Amazon to price-match that zero price – to get the guide listed for free on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.  I assumed – fool! – that this meant that it would be free on all Amazons, but apparently not: a friend in Belgium emailed to say that Amazon.fr was trying to charge her 99¢ for it.  What to do, I wondered?  Thankfully, my friends at the Alliance of Independent Authors came up trumps; I put a query out to them and they suggested contacting Amazon directly and asking to have the publication price-matched across all Amazons – and it worked.  Live and learn, live and learn.

Putting Sam’s house in order

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I bet you’re all wondering how I’m getting on with “Heir Apparent”.  Well I don’t mind telling you that’s its going to be a close-run thing.  It’s Wednesday morning and that means I have today and tomorrow to finish my first draft – with two chapters to go.  My husband reminded me that with “Portraits of Pretence”, I finished early and spent the last day of my retreat swanning around on the paddle-steamers on Lake Léman.  This time, I’ll be packing with one hand and typing with the other.

On the plus side, I am pleased to report that the story works, which is a huge relief.  Until I get pretty much to the end, it’s not a done deal: it could still fall apart.  My great fear is that twenty chapters in I’ll realise that something I wrote in the second chapter makes a nonsense of it all.  And indeed I had a difficult day on Monday when I decided that I just had to rearrange the order of various events in the book – so when I print out the draft I’ll have to read it really, really carefully [beta readers, that’s a heads-up for you too!] to make sure that I don’t talk in the past tense about something that now happens later in the story.

And thank you for your thoughts and comments on the back cover blurb.  I’ve made a few adjustments as a result – great improvements, all of them – and now that’s off to the cover designer.

The next time you hear from me, Sam and I will be back in Blighty – and, just to put you out of your misery, it’s Suffolk.

Honing the sales pitch

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Today is something of a red letter day for me: after months of writing (and a fortnight of my writing retreat) I finally know how “Heir Apparent” will end.  To be clearer, I always knew how it was going to end, but now I know how it is going to get there.  It’s a mighty relief, I can tell you.  And to celebrate, I am allowing myself to think about life after writing, i.e. publication.  And the task that is occupying me now is preparation of the text for the cover.

The Sam covers – entirely deliberately – conform to a template.  Each has a background image of a document (usually a bit blurry), then a foreground line drawing of a person.  The title goes across the middle of the cover, with my name beneath it.  Across the top of the front cover is a banner identifying the book as “A Sam Plank Mystery”, and across the bottom of the front cover is a complimentary quotation from a reviewer.  And on the back cover is the dreaded blurb – that some authors say is harder to write than the book itself.  I have written a draft blurb and would very much value your views: would it make you want to buy the book?  What can I do to make it more “grabby”?  And please bear in mind that, for continuity and consistency, I use the back cover blurb elsewhere too: it’s the text that appears on Amazon as the “product description”.  So here goes:

In the final weeks of 1828, a young man returns from the family plantation in the Cayman Islands after an absence of six years to be at his father’s deathbed – and to inherit his estate.  But is the new arrival who he says he is, or an impostor?  Anyone who doubts his identity seems to meet an untimely end, but his sister swears that he is her beloved brother.

With their investigations leading them into the complicated world of inheritance law and due process after death, Constable Sam Plank and his loyal lieutenant William Wilson come face to face with the death trade and those who profit from it – legally or otherwise.  Among them is an old enemy who has used his brains and ruthlessness to rise through the ranks of London’s criminal world.  And as plans progress for a new police force for the capital, Sam and his wife Martha look to the future.

Taking the Alpine heir

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Now I know we’re all rather wary of polls, elections and referenda these days, but I’d like to thank the thirty-four of you who overcame your understandable scepticism about democracy to take part in the process to select the title for “Plank 6”.  And the people have spoken and issued a clear mandate: fully 50% of the votes were cast for “Heir Apparent”.  Coming second, with nine votes, was “Dividend of Death”.  I’m delighted – I think it’s an excellent choice.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on what’s going to go behind that title: the book itself.  And (in the spirit of full honesty about the self-published writing life, which is the purpose of this blog) I will confess that I have found this writing retreat harder than the previous ones.  Thanks to a busier working life than usual and some unexpected family illness (all fine now, thank goodness), I came away with less of the book written than I had intended.  To make sure that I head home with a complete first draft, I worked out that I needed to write about 3,000 words each day – with no days off during the seventeen days of the retreat.  And it turns out that that is really tiring.  Who knew that sitting on your bottom all day could be exhausting, but it’s more the mental effort of concentrating and being inventive for hours on end.  So far I have had to take two days off – turns out that the standard weekend pattern (five days on, two days off) is there for a reason!  It’s been a handy lesson for when I – one day – become a full-time author.  Planning to write imaginatively every day is unrealistic; I’ll make sure to create a balance of writing, promotional activities and administrative tasks, and factor in some rest time too.

That said, I am pleased with progress on the days I have been writing.  Gaps in the story are filling themselves in nicely, and today Sam and Wilson are off on a trip to Kent Surrey Suffolk (I keep changing my mind).  Barring unforeseen disasters, “Heir Apparent” will be hitting the shelves in mid October as planned.