Thursday, 18 September 2014

Foundation for a Universe

Long before I started writing the first Astronomicon novel, I began planning the universe in which the stories are set. Although I always planned to write novels and short stories set within the Astronomicon universe, it was never the primary reason for creating such a large and detailed scenario. I was originally working on a computer game, a multi-player real-time strategy game where players choose which species to play, before setting about annihilating all the other species through space exploration, technological development and military proliferation.

After several attempts to create the game established that it was a far larger project than could be realised with my resources, I decided that the only practical way to proceed was to write novels set within the universe.

With 12 alien races planned out in detail, a wide range of technological development and a projection of Earth history covering the next 200 years, there was a huge amount of potential material for an exciting science fiction novel. The first problem was picking where to begin.

The most obvious place isn't always the most interesting, but in this case most of the potential stories were not going to make much sense unless I introduced the Astronomicon itself, the mysterious device which links all the books. More than that, the title of the entire series needed to be explained, otherwise it would seem oddly abstract. The best way to do that had to be to cover its discovery. Better still, the group of humans who discovered the Astronomicon itself had a back story which was ideal for some classic science fiction. The first book took shape, named Astronomicon: The Beginning, and covering the first interstellar space flight by humans, seeing them survive a concerted effort to thwart their mission to build the first extrasolar colony.

The second novel, Distant Relatives, seemed to be a natural progression, in that it was set immediately after the first one. It shifts the focus back to Earth and opens with a huge alien invasion of the solar system. We get our first taste of  more advanced technology and the human race begins to the see the bigger picture and how they fit into the universe. The colony from book one turns out to be a key element in the ongoing story, uncovering a plot with serious implications for the inhabitants of Earth.

By the end of the second book, my aim was that readers would have a clear measure of the starting technology level and be fully aware of the approaching threat, but would still have no real idea of what technology they might be up against in future. Readers would discover that Earth's history up to the present day is not quite we have been led to believe.

After the universe and style of technology were both established, that left me free to explore other stories. Astronomicon: Those Left Behind was originally a contender for launching the whole series, but I think it worked much better as a prequel to the whole story. It filled in the reason for the Eridani race travelling to Earth, revealed some of their motivations and, for the very first time, gave a sense of the scale of the alien threat. We see how the relentless invasion of their home-world and ruthless extermination of their population drive them to execute a vast and daring escape plan. Only a tiny percentage of the population have a chance of getting away, but millions have to make the ultimate sacrifice to make it possible.

I believe that this is the best novel I have written so far. The emotions and motivations of the central characters are stronger than ever before. The "hero" has to overcome fear itself, avoid an alien menace and even go against his own people to save his children from extermination. Although this book is very much a prequel to the first two novels in the series, it also works perfectly well as a stand-alone novel. It's a good way of trying out the Astronomicon series without committing to a series.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Sci Fi Short: Boundary

You Shall Not Pass

“John, what have you found?” Ann asked, running up the sandy path between the dunes.

“I don't know.” John replied.

He stood just staring at the view across the dunes as the wind whipped up his blond hair and billowed his knee-length khaki shorts. She caught up with him and stopped a few steps behind.

“So why have you stopped?”

“Because I had to. I can't go any further.”


“Not really. It's strange, there's some kind of invisible barrier.”

“Invisible what?” she said, peeling some stray hairs away from her eyes.

“Look at this.”

She watched him bend over and scoop a handful of sand from the dune underfoot. Loose, dry sand ran between his fingers and blew away in the strong sea breeze. He closed his fingers around the sand, raised it up and tossed it quickly at the path ahead of them. Some blew away but much of it flew in a loose cloud for a couple of feet and then simply vanished, in mid air.

Ann stared in disbelief. It looked for all the world as if the sand had just spontaneously ceased to exist. John walked back a few feet and picked up a dried out stick that was embedded in the dune. He moved back to where he was standing before and flung the stick into the air. Again, after a couple feet, it just blinked off.

“That's crazy!” she said.

“Look at this then.” he replied and leapt forwards with as much force as he could muster.

Ann shrieked and reached out for him, expecting him to vanish too, but instead he just seemed to hit a soft barrier, stopping him gently and then letting him drop vertically back to the ground. He turned around to face her and shrugged.

“What the hell is it?” she asked.

“I haven't got the faintest, but we can't continue in this direction.”

“Do they have technology to do this now?”

“It's been 180 years since we were frozen. Who knows what technology they have?” he replied.

He walked back to stand beside her.

“So what do we do now?” she asked.

“I think exploring in this direction is strictly off the menu. Maybe if we head down to the water's edge again and head along that way? I can't imagine this barrier extends over the water.”

“Excuse me!” called a voice from a distance down the path behind them, “Excuse me!”

They turned to see who was calling, surprised to find a weasely-looking man, dressed in what looked just like a lab coat. He was stumbling over uneven sand wearing inappropriate black leather shoes. He trudged closer to them and then tried to shake the sand off his shoes.

“Who are you?” asked John.

“I'm not. At least...don't worry about that. I won't be here long.”

“Where did you come from?” asked Ann, visually sweeping the beach for his footprints, but they appeared to simply start from where he first called to them.

“You shouldn't be here.” the odd man said.

“Why? Is it private property?” asked John.

“I don't see any signs.” added Ann.

“Look, just turn round, head back down to the beach and don't come this way again. Just forget about it.”

“Forget about it?! You've got an invisible barrier – how can we forget about that?”

“I really don't want to have to explain this.” said the man.

He looked extremely stressed, and rubbed the sides of his face while looking back at the beach and then back to them.

“This isn't supposed to happen. You two have walked almost twenty kilometres from the nearest settlement. There's nothing here at all! What made you walk this far?”

“The scenery.” replied Ann, “Look at the view. The peace. Nobody else around for kilometres. Getting to walk where no-one has set foot, possibly for years.”

“Or ever, in this case.” replied the odd man.

“Ever!” she exclaimed.

“How can you possibly know that.” laughed John, “You know that things thrown towards this barrier just vanish without trace?”

“Yes, yes, but that's not important. I'm corrupting the program just being here, but we need to persuade you to leave here and go back the other way. Come back in a few days then there will be somewhere to go.”

“A few days?” said Ann, “Are you switching off the barrier then?”

“No. Yes. Not really. It's not a barrier as such.”

“Well it stops us passing this point.” said John, “I want to walk over there and it won't let me. That sounds like a barrier to me.

“No. You can't walk over there because there is no over there.”

“No over there!? I can see over there!” said John.

“No, there isn't.” replied the man beginning to sound irritated. “It just looks like there is an over there. It's necessary to maintain the illusion.”

“What illusion?” asked Ann.

“Is there actually something here, being hidden by stealth technology?” asked John.

“No, there's really nothing there at all. It does not exist.”

“How can it not exist?” laughed John.

“Now I'm saying much more than I should. Can't you just move away from there, set off in the other direction along the beach and simply forget about this. It will be much easier for all involved.”

“You're serious, aren't you?” asked John.

“Yes. It's the end of my shift in less than twenty minutes and I'm going to get in trouble for this. You ignored all the cues and now it's a problem.”

“What do you mean by cues?” asked Ann.

“The temperature dropping, the wind picking up. We made it look like it was about to rain.”

“You made it?”

“I'm really making a mess of this. I am going to get into so much trouble. I'm not even supposed to be in here.”

“In here?” said John.

“There I go again. I think we're going to have to extract you, adapt your memories and put you back somewhere better.”

“What are you talking about? I want to know just what is going on.”

“Okay, if I show you, will you agree to make no fuss when we put this right.”

“No fuss? I'm not going to agree to anything before I know who and what you are.” replied John.

“I've really messed this up.” said the odd man.

“So who are you?”

“Okay. Don't freak out on me or anything. My name is Brak, I work for Cryonics International Inc.”

“The company we had our death insurance with.” said John.

“The same. After your death we had your head on ice for 179 years.”

“Yes, I know that. You defrosted me and sorted out a new body last year.”

“Yes. Well, no. We didn't. That wasn't deemed ethical or practical.” replied Brak.

“So what's this?” asked John, jabbing his own chest with his fingertips.

“That is the same as everything else around here. It's a simulation within a powerful computer network in the basement of our head office building.” He pulled a small tablet computer out of one of his pockets and tapped on the screen several times. To their utter amazement the vista behind them of rolling dunes giving way to darker, greener hills just blinked off, leaving a flat, pink blank area.

“Simulation?” said Ann.

“Yes. Earth, the Moon and Mars all have too many people already. It was deemed unethical to add thousands more people to the population just because they paid to be preserved. The last thing we need is more people.”

“So this isn't real?” said John.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

What is The Point of The Human Race?

Many people ask themselves what is the point to it all? What's my reason in life? Why are we here? Well I'd like to share a theory that I have yet to hear anyone put forward.

Stop for a moment and ask yourself what the human race is best at? What sets us apart from the other creatures on this planet? Of course there are several things, but one of the most important is our ability to adapt. Most species try to make the best of their environmental niche. Evolution allows them, over sometimes vast periods of time, to take advantage of other niches too. Life has spread to very nearly every part of our wonderful planet, adapting to incredible extremes, but humans are the only single species which have been so versatile as to be able to explore the coldest areas, the hottest areas, the depths of the oceans and even into the vacuum of space. We have bypassed the need to evolve to conquer these environments.

Unlike all the other species, we have rapidly advancing technology. Each new generation in the developed countries live in a world of technology that their parents could only dream about when they were the same age.

An important ability we share with many other species is proliferation. Clear proof of this is that there are now too many of us for the planet and population is increasing at an all too alarming rate. We have conquered a huge number of diseases and illnesses, developed technologies to increase food production and have an extraordinary network to distribute food (albeit not fairly) around the planet and have made many other advances that increase average lifespan and reduce mortality rates.

Like every other life-form on Earth, our purpose is to multiply, to spread and take best advantage of any environment we can. As a species we can no longer comply with that as the very fact we have been so successful at this means we have outgrown our planet. We are like a plant which, having grown well, desperately needs a bigger pot.

So how do we get a bigger pot? Our technology already has many of the answers for that but does not yet have the resources to apply that solution. To thrive and continue to spread we simply must, as a species, colonise other planets, other star systems and ensure the survival of the human race.

As individuals we often say that having children gives life true meaning. It is a drive on a genetic level and much of what we do is for our descendants. The campaign to reduce the effects of global warming is for the benefit of our children, and their children. Most of the projections put the significant changes around 50-100 years in the future. The chances are many of us will not be around then, but we still have a fundamental drive to ensure that our genes survive.

If we continue to confine ourselves to one small planet with limited resources then either a terrible environmental disaster threatens us or draconian drops in population in future populations are needed and that simply goes against human nature.

We owe it to our children to put the resources into space travel and the colonisation of other worlds. If we don't do it a future generation will, if only out of dire necessity, but the longer we leave it the worse things will get here on Earth.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

iWatch? Obviously not!

So Apple have finally launched their smart watch product line, ending the bizarre speculation that it was going to be branded "iWatch". I could never see them going for that name as it would leave them wide open to far too many jokes and cause obvious problems with names for future variants.

If in future they, like the other smart watch manufacturers, move away from the 80s style rectangular slab design and produce a line of watches specifically for women, iWatch would immediately become the "iWatch Ladies". Not a good image conjured up by that one.
And what if they launched a kids or teenagers version? Apple Watch Kids has got to be a better option than "iWatch Kids".

The silly thing is we went through this before when a touchscreen iPod was just a rumoured future product. What was ultimately launched as the iPod Touch was rumoured to be named the iTouch. That would have completely ruled out a ruggedised kids version.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

OMG I'm going to Die!!

In an idle moment last night, I did some thinking about the future, more specifically MY future. I considered where I am in life right now and what I still hope to achieve. It's been a busy few years and I suspect I haven't given the subject any thought for a few years, probably over a decade.

And that's the problem. Time goes by, life is busy, work, chores, duties all seem to take up more and more time and many of the things I aim to do in the future are just as far away as they were ten years ago. This would be fine except I now have ten less years to achieve them. In fact, once I start thinking about it, I don't have all that long left to achieve them.

It's taken me over four decades to get where I am so far and I'm not even halfway through the list! How much time do I have left? Medical science is always advancing and I have no reason to assume I won't make 80, maybe 90, but beyond that? Okay so the way lifespans are increasing I might live to 120 or more, but will I still be effective and mentally sharp for most of that?

Then there's the element of luck. I could get run down and killed next time I cross a road. The next plane I fly on could be hijacked by a foreign power, flown to a secret airbase for a couple of weeks before being flown to an Eastern European country and then being blown up as though it was hit by an enemy missile. Okay, that one was a little convoluted, but I write science fiction thrillers, so what do you expect!?

However I go, I'm probably about halfway through my effective time on this planet. If I want to achieve the rest of my aims in life, I need to get a move on. Do I want to be lying on my death bed (or in a burning airliner plummeting to the ground) thinking about all the stuff I always wanted to achieve but never even tried?

Stop procrastinating. If you want to achieve something, start work on it!

Saturday, 30 August 2014

What's the best price?

I've been working on this one for months now and I have to admit that I still can't find the optimum price for a science fiction e-book. Astronomicon: Icarus has received great reviews on and has been selling slowly but consistently ever since it was published back in 2013.

At the end of last year I started an experiment, slashing the price of the book from $2.99 to just 99c. My aim was solely to increase sales, in order to increase the novel's profile on Amazon and, hopefully, gain a few more reviews in the process.

It seemed like a good plan, but didn't work out as I expected. During the months of the experiment, Icarus has continued to sell at the same rate as before.

Since it was published, I've tried prices of $3.99, $2.99 and 99c. All I can say with certainty is that $2.99 sells and $3.99 doesn't. Two years ago I would have said that 99c was easily the best price-point for high sales. Now I'm really not convinced.

So now I've increased the price back to $2.99. In the next few hours Amazon will apply the new price and the experiment will end. If you want to grab a copy before the price increase, see it on your local Amazon website, but be quick, there's not long left.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Everyone can be a "Best Selling Author"

Having now spoken to a substantial number of people about this subject, the overwhelming consensus is:

The term "best selling" is almost completely meaningless without proper qualification.

For example, if I self-publish three novels and only one sells any copies at all, that is my "best selling novel", even if it sells a single copy ever!

The term "International Best Seller" is similarly meaningless. The best selling of my own novels (Astronomicon: Icarus), currently sells much better across the Atlantic in the US. As I don't live in the U.S., does that make it "International"?

So far I've found almost 1000 people who claim to be best-selling authors and none of those are very well-known. I always used to think of "best selling" as meaning "sells multiple thousands of copies each month", but clearly this is most unlikely to be true in every case.

I intend to continue resisting the attraction of using the phrases "best selling" or "best seller" to describe any of my books or even to describe myself. My sales are healthy and, from what I gather, I sell more books than the average indie author, but I still feel it's misleading to use the term.

Authors, if you're going to say "best seller" in your status/profile, please ensure you state how you measure that (ie top ten on Amazon). Otherwise "best selling author" means about as much as "magical word wizard" (No offence intended to the magical word wizards out there).

Authors mostly know this, but do our readers?

Monday, 28 April 2014

#Marketing: More important than #Writing?

To be honest I wonder if that has always been the case. There are many, many authors out there all clamouring to get their works in front of as many readers as possible. Sometimes if feels like there are more authors than readers on many of the social networks, and that's a pretty depressing situation if you are trying to persuade people to buy or even just read your books. The situation only seems to be getting worse as more people try their hand at self-publishing.

It seems that everyone and their dog has written a book and wants me to read it. The quality threshold enforced (to varying degrees!) by traditional publishers no longer applies and now it is a minefield for readers. Ratings and reviews can be, and often are, faked. This has led to a slightly distorted experience for both readers and authors. For example I've found that having a single good review is worse than having no reviews, as people seem to assume that the good review is just written by me. It went from a few sales per week to almost nothing at all as soon as the review was posted. (See more...) I suspect that potential readers assume that a single good review was probably posted by the author.

I know some readers simply won't bother with indie authors because they have been burnt in the past by poorly written or unedited work.

Marketing is a tricky and ever changing area that independent authors simply must learn if they want to sell books. Sadly it seems that charisma, marketing and salesmanship have become more important than the actual quality of writing. Just coming up with a good story and writing it well just aren't enough, if they ever were. It often appears that skill with social networking is vastly more important than any literary abilities.

I don't actually have statistics to back this up, but it certainly appears every month sees more and more budding authors entering the market and trying to sell their wares to a market which is simply not expanding as quickly. Standing out from the crowd keeps getting more difficult and simply writing better probably isn't going to make the difference.

If you want to sell your own books you either need to work extremely hard or have a lot of luck. I don't believe in relying on luck. Long before you publish your first novel, it is important to grow an online following on Facebook, Google+, Twitter and as many other suitable social networks as you have the time to work on. Especially at first your efforts will seem like a waste of time. Having a few dozen or even a few hundred followers is not going to make any difference. Ideally you want to be able to measure your social following in 1,000s or 10,000s.

If you post a link to your latest release on your profile/stream/feed don't expect 100% of those followers to immediately click on it. If you get 20% to click the link you are doing very well. Most people I've spoke too reckon than between 5% and 10% is much more usual if your followers have chosen to follow you because they are interested in your work. If you have gone on Facebook and joined posted "Follow Me!" messages in loads of the groups dedicated to building followings as fast as possible, then your click through rate is probably going to be closer to 0.5%.

Now factor in how many of those people will actually continue on to purchase the book (10% if your blurb is excellent and cover eye-catching) and even thousands of followers will only lead to a handful of sales. If you have followers measured in the 100,000s then decent sales will follow.

Of course it's not this simple. There are many factors that affect your sales, but if you have not thought through and prepared your means of promoting and marketing your novel, then just being an excellent book is not going to make it a best seller.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Finding your #Genre

When I originally set about writing novels, I thought the whole "genre" issue was no problem at all. My novels were going to be Science Fiction therefore I would place them squarely in the Science Fiction pigeon whole and everything would be fine.

Defining a Genre

Experience often complicates things or, at least, reveals more details and complexity than you saw at the beginning. Any Science Fiction author with a book or two behind them will tell you that there is a LOT more to it than that. First of all Sci Fi has a plethora of sub-genres, including Space Opera, Hard Sci Fi, Military Sci Fi, Steam Punk (and a range of other "Punks"), Apocalyptic,Post-apocalyptic, Time Travel, Dystopian and many, many more.

Some groups have made serious efforts to formalise the definitions of each of these, but most authors I've spoken too rarely find that their work falls into a single genre. Some authors manage to pick a key genre and a couple of sub-genres but others, like me, find their output really spans about half-a-dozen genres and various from book to book. This makes it extremely difficult for readers to categorise me.

Now I fully realise the importance of tying your work down to a genre as it makes it easier to market, easier to categorise when submitting it for reviews and book directories, and much easier when you come to talk to agents about it. They tend to prefer a clear cut genre for your work so they know how to pitch it and who to pitch it to. Your children's science fiction vampire romance book is going to be hard to sell no matter how good it is, as publishers won't know what to do with it.

How Do I Categorise My Own Books?

Astronomicon: The Beginning
My first book (Astronomicon: The Beginning) was basically classic sci-fi in style. The protagonists were sent to colonise a planet around another star system, things go wrong and they end up fighting to survive in a hostile environment. However this forms the introduction to a much bigger story of human development, politics, technology, space exploration and ultimately war. This now crosses into Space Opera territory.

The second half of the book strays much more into the politics behind the events of the first half, revealing the civil unrest in the mining colonies on Jupiter's moons and sweeping political changes back on Earth. Military action around Jupiter and an assassination on Earth show that there are much greater problems brewing for the human race as a whole. A hefty part of this could easily be categorised as Military Sci Fi.

Astronomicon: Distant Relatives
The second book in the series (Astronomicon: Distant Relatives) is more of an action thriller set within a science fiction setting. A first contact situation opens the story, but surprisingly that is soon overtaken by events of a more local nature. Again the story explores some of the politics involved, but also covers events back on the colony from the first book where a mini-war has broken out.

I find it a little depressing that some reviews have referred to this book as a bridging piece between the first book and the ongoing storylines. That was not intended, and the book features a ranges of large-scale  key events in the on going story. It is most certainly not a space filler, but I suppose being a bridge is necessary factor in not being the first or last book in a series. That doesn't stop it being an exciting and vital bridge.

Astronomicon: Those Left Behind
The third book (Astronomicon: Those Left Behind) is in many ways a different creature again. It mainly covers the lives of two characters: The ruler of an alien race desperately trying to salvage something in the face of imminent annihilation of his species, and an office worker striving to save the lives of his two children during an alien invasion.

This splits it equally between Military Sci Fi and Apocalyptic Sci Fi. Of course it still fits in with the ongoing Astronomicon storyline, so it's also Space Opera. Which is the main genre? I genuinely don't know.

So what genre am I?

If I had to place all my books (and myself as an Author) into a single category, I would have to make one up. I would call it "Human Science Fiction". Many readers have told me that they enjoy my books even though they don't usually like science fiction and I am convinced that is due to my books being about people. Events occur in a science fiction setting, sometimes driven by technology, sometimes aliens, sometimes even religion, but I tackle those events from the perspective of the people within the story. You see how bigger events affect the lives of people, how they adapt, the challenges they face, the humour, the emotion and fear. I don't write about a shiny future, ruled by computers and where the whole world is united (like Star Trek). I write human stories where people act according to their ideals, fears, greed, patriotism and emotions. This makes it much easier for everyone to relate and empathise with the characters, even if they don't normally "do" science fiction.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Who thought different countries would buy my e-books so differently!

Astronomicon Science Fiction books
I have been assessing my book sales over the last twelve months.Variations are to be expected, but the shape of my sales statistics have been changing over the last twelve months much faster than I would have expected. The truly difficult part is working out why.

*For my analysis I'm only going to use sales in primarily English-speaking countries. I do sell a few books in Germany and France etc., but not enough to be statistically viable for analysis.

Astronomicon 1: The Beginning:

Last year this book was my bestseller in the US, but not any more. Now it sells best in Canada, with the UK coming a close second. US sales have become very weak and I have no idea what has changed.

Astronomicon 2: Distant Relatives:

This book's sales were always split down the middle between the US and the UK. The pickup rate from the first book to the second was markedly higher in the UK, but I always assumed that as I'm British, American readers might find my writing, especially dialogue, a little alien. Now it sells well in Canada and the UK but US sales have dwindled badly.

Astronomicon 3: Those Left Behind:

Annoyingly, this one was never a popular seller. I have always been a little depressed by that as I firmly believe it is the best piece of science fiction I have ever written so far. However it's Canadian sales have increased markedly over the past twelve months and US sales have all but stopped. UK sales have remained pretty static.

Astronomicon: Icarus:

By far my best selling book currently, but last year it was selling two copies in the UK for every one sold in the US. Now the US outsells the UK about 6 to 1. Canada also beats the UK hands down on this one and I have no idea why. It seems that:

  • Canadian readers buy this book and then go on to buy all the other Astronomicon books.
  • American readers buy this book with greater enthusiasm but most stop there.
  • British readers shy away from this one, instead preferring to begin with Astronomicon: The Beginning.


Astronomicon: Icarus has benefited from an ongoing 99c offer which has clearly boosted its sales greatly. Maybe US readers are more easily swayed by a low price offer? 

If I could persuade US readers to buy my other books after purchasing Astronomicon: Icarus, that would fix my US sales issue. Equally if I could somehow make Icarus as popular in the UK as it is across the Atlantic that would also be a major boost.

Anyway, for now my focus is on writing Astronomicon: Deadline, another standalone novel within the Astronomicon universe. Once that is ready for publication I think I will have to sit back and reassess my marketing efforts. If with each book I write, I learn more, hone my skills and expand my reach into social networking then success can be eventually achieved without relying on luck. Marketing is important but it gets easier with more and better books to market.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Still holding the 99c (79p) #offer on #Kindle #novel Icarus

E-book sales can be unpredictable at the best of times. I'm sure a lot of Indie authors have seen surges and lulls in their book sales for no discernible reason, but dropping the price of  Astronomicon: Icarus to 99c (that's 79p here in the UK) on Amazon has been the most successful offer I've launched to date.

As I've said before, science fiction thriller Icarus has had good reviews and no bad ones but, better than that, almost everyone who buys it seems to go on to buy all the other Astronomicon books. That's the best vote of confidence I could ask for. I should take this opportunity to again say thank you to everyone who has taken the time to review my books. It's nice to get feedback, especially the positive kind, and it helps encourage other people to give my books a try.

The most bizarre thing I've experienced with Icarus is that almost all my sales are on the other side of the Atlantic. The US and Canada account for well over 90% of the worldwide sales. Prior to starting the 99c offer, about 60-65% of my book sales were here in the UK. Why Icarus appeals so strongly to those on the North American continent is a mystery to me. If anyone over there understands why Icarus is SO much more popular over there, please let me know.

You can check out Icarus on your local Amazon website, see more reviews on or find out more about the whole of the Astronomicon science fiction series on the Official website.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Getting readers to read your #science-fiction

Selling books is tricky. Most of the indie authors I speak to seem to find it almost impossible, struggling to sell even one book per day. If you are not already well-known, it's hard to persuade people to part with their money. It's a gamble for them but there's a way around that.

Amazon and Smashwords both provide a try-before-you-buy option that authors can offer to potential customers. The problem seems to be that few readers seem to take advantage of it. We all need to make an effort to remind readers that the facility exists, allowing customers to download a portion of the book to their favourite e-reader device for free. It costs authors nothing and takes away the risk of making a bad purchase for customers.

Over the past months I've also posted free samples in a variety of other places, including Goodreads, my Astronomicon blog and Wattpad. I've given up on Goodreads as I've made no headway at all with that, and my blog doesn't really get enough visitors to make any impact. The only place I've been able to successfully encourage people to take a look at my work is, and I would not rate that as a great success. Like any popular social site, it's hard to stand out from the crowd and get that all-important word-of-mouth marketing going.

My most successful offering of free chapters has been Astronomicon: The Beginning on Wattpad. I've managed to get a few hundred reads there, but I'm still looking for that elusive means to turn it into tens or even hundreds of thousands.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Is #99c the new #free for Kindle books?

When I first entered into the world of indie publishing, there were many fewer independent authors publishing books each year. Standing out from the crowd was much easier and there were many ways to get your books onto potential readers e-readers. Assuming your writing was good enough, that would lead to decent sales.

Things have changed. There seems to be little consensus on the numbers apart from there are many times as many authors self-publishing and marketing their works everywhere they can find. This obviously means that there is a lot more competition. Now I have never really been afraid of competition, but now there are SO many authors that it has tipped the market into a problem I would not have predicted a couple of years ago.

Just being a good writer is simply not enough any more. The days when you could just launch your book for free are going fast. I did some research on this but no-one seems to know how many free books are currently available for download. It is certainly measured in tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands. More and more readers are downloading more free books than they can sensibly read. This causes two problems. Firstly they might download your free book and never get around to reading it. But also, even if they read one of your books and like it, with a huge number of other free books out there they are going to have to REALLY like your book to spend money on the sequel.

How do you get around this problem? It seems the best solution is simply to stop giving books away for free. Persuading everyone else to do the same, although a nice idea, is never going to happen. But I have found that by pricing an e-book at 99c instead of giving it away free you get several beneficial effects:

  1. You are not undervaluing your work. If you give it away for free, it makes it seem valueless.
  2. If a reader pays even a token amount to download your book they are a LOT more likely to read it as they have already made an investment in it.
  3. Sales at 99c count more towards your sales ranking (on Amazon) than give-aways.
  4. You get a (very) small amount of extra money towards your monthly Amazon payout.
Astronomicon: Icarus
Find all the Astronomicon
 books on Amazon
As always I continue to experiment with different price points and a range of other ways to promote my books. I've tried a variety of time-limited 99c offers on several of my books with a variety of results, but now I have an ongoing 99c price on Astronomicon: Icarus on Amazon. Obviously the numbers sold do not compare to the numbers given away on a freebie offer, but it is leading to almost double the sales of the other books in the Astronomicon series.

If you have different experiences with pricing, please let me know in the comments below. The market is constantly changing and different genres seem to hit different classes of reader, so what works for science fiction may not work for horror or romance.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

What does it take to make you #review a #Kindle book?

I guess this is the eternal question that most authors would ask their readers. I've been trying to find out the industry standard rate for book sales on Amazon to reviews left, but the data is either elusive or does not exist.

It would be nice if it was 2% or even 1%, but so far I seem to get one review for every 300 or so sales. One of my books does a little better than that, but there's not a big margin of variation.

All my books feature a page at the end politely asking for a review or at least a rating, I've tried to persuade readers to leave a review in discussions on Facebook and Google+, and I've even given copies away free in return for reviews (which in the majority of cases did not lead to reviews).

Obviously, there are review sites out there, but I am dubious as to how a review generated that way would compare to one by someone who chose to read one of my books because they liked the sound of the story or read the sample chapters and wanted to go on and read the rest of it. I'm doubtful that someone who reads and reviews books in order to create content for their blog/website is as likely to enjoy what they are reading and write as positive a review. I've heard horror stories about authors getting bad reviews from people who didn't even like the sound of the book before they read it and then the resulting review damaging future sales.

I hoped I could get some of my friends to review my books, assuming they like the genre, but I've had no luck there either. Most of them are not big readers anyway.

So if you are a reader, what is the key thing which makes you want to leave a rating or write a review?

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Is one good #Amazon review worse than no reviews?

I may have made a mistake recently. I had five novels out on Amazon but, as you would expect, the most recent ones were better than the first ones. I would hate to reach a point where my writing skills are not improving, but an unfortunate consequence is that my older books won't be as good as what I'm writing now. As I've been writing a series of novels which should be read in order, I decided to revamp the first novel.

This wasn't just a quick edit or tweak. Instead I took the first two books, extensively edited them and combined them into one 390+ page novel. It was then submitted to the proofreading and editing process and given shiny new front cover artwork. I am very pleased with the results, but the changes were too great to simply make it a new edition of book one.

So I removed the original book 1 and book 2 from sale and launched the new one as a new release (Astronomicon: The Beginning). As a side-effect I lost all my original reviews, but with renewed enthusiasm I tried to persuade readers to leave reviews and ratings of the revamped book.

My efforts were quickly rewarded with a good review (4 stars and some most positive comments) but that's when the problem started. As soon as the book had one review, sales all but stopped. At first I put it down to the usual random fluctuation in sales, but nothing improved. Even a string of good ratings on  made no difference.

It's been suggested to me that having one good review makes potential readers suspicious. They often assume that I've reviewed my own novel, rendering one good review much worse than no reviews at all.

Has anyone else had similar experiences?

Friday, 17 January 2014

Don't forget Icarus is still only $0.99

Whilst working the Trojan asteroid cloud, Captain Taylor and the crew of the deep space mining vessel Icarus discover a mysterious prototype ship drifting in space having suffered a catastrophic failure.

Battling the dangers of the asteroid field, the Icarus crew attempt to rescue the survivors of the stricken ship. Meanwhile a vessel from Earth is coming to deal with the damaged prototype but with a conflicting agenda. After unwittingly discovering the bizarre secret of the prototype vessel, the crew of the Icarus end up fighting for their very survival.

Although it's not the first book in the epic Astronomicon science fiction series, Icarus forms an excellent introduction to the Astronomicon universe. It is a stand-alone novel, but still firmly set in the same technologies, politics and history. It gives you an exciting taste of the Astronomicon universe without committing to the ongoing series.

99c US (or 77p here in the UK) is a bargain for over 160 pages of quality science fiction.

To find out more visit the official Astronomicon website or visit your local Amazon website. There are now four Astronomicon novels and another one on the way soon. The fifth novel, Astronomicon: Deadline should hopefully be published in the third or fourth quarter of 2014.