Abraham Lincoln and Wilmington

DSCF0122I saw “Lincoln” recently. Daniel Day-Lewis was phenomenal. He is one of the few actors who achieve perfection, or near-perfection, in every role they play (I would place Meryl Streep in the same category).

Until I saw the film, I had forgotten the importance of Wilmington NC as a strategic shipping port in the Civil War. By August 1864, when Mobile, Alabama fell to Union forces, Wilmington had become the last big Southern seaport open to the outside world. As the hub of the Confederate shipping trade, it was a major target for Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses S Grant and blocking access to the Cape Fear River was one of their key objectives.

I had none of this in mind when I selected Wilmington as the location for a big chunk of The Girl with the Haunting Smile. I chose it because (a) I know it well, as my sister and brother-in-law live there (b) in my eyes, it is an extremely pleasant and attractive place. I featured Airlie Gardens, the riverwalk and some downtown streets because they are so picturesque and colourful. There are plenty more I could have included.

Still, it’s good to be reminded that the town where I set much of my novel is a key part of America’s great history. It will be clear from The Girl with the Haunting Smile that I love Wilmington. Now that I recall its place in the growth of a great nation, I’ll view it with awe.

Eureka! Five stars from an Amazon Top 500 reviewer

DSCF0122Two blogs in a day – in fact, in less than two hours! What is the world coming to?

But I simply have to share my joy that Ionia Martin, one of Amazon’s Top 500 reviewers, has awarded five stars to The Girl with the Haunting Smile. She speaks of “emotionally developed characters that you can’t help but like”. She adds: “I love the dialogue in this book and can’t see how it could possibly be better.”

Wow! I said in my last post that it is an endless drag to track down Amazon top reviewers. Suddenly, that drag seems well worth the trouble.

Seeking reviews

DSCF0122I wrote about reviews not so long ago but here I go again. The fact is, it’s hellishly difficult to get them. Countless thousands of novelists are begging the bloggers and reviewers to add them to their list, so it’s a lottery in which your poor old ticket is more than likely to stick to the bottom of the urn.

That’s not to say I’ve had no luck. After days of trawling through long lists of bloggers, I’ve managed to line up quite a few to review The Girl with the Haunting Smile between now and the summer. If you’re in the same boat as me, you have to understand that (1) their lists may be closed because they’re inundated (2) they may not accept ebooks (3) they may not accept self-published authors (4) your book may not belong to a genre they’re prepared to read. Even if they add you to their queue, they make clear there’s no guarantee they’ll read and review your book. All they’re doing at this stage is to add you to their list of possibles. They’re in this powerful position, of course, because they don’t get paid for their services and can therefore pick and choose as they please, which is fair enough.

For all my efforts, I wouldn’t have got to this stage if it hadn’t been for an angelic fellow author who slipped me the names of three bloggers who have now agreed to review my book. I’d love to give her a resounding shout-out but won’t in case she gets a shoal of begging tweets or emails in hot pursuit of the same favour.

Scouring the Amazon list of top reviewers is the most laborious experience of all. Only a small percentage are book reviewers and most of those want to make their own book choices, so they don’t leave contact details. But what makes it an endless drag is that you have to click whenever you want to change page (there are 10 reviewers per page). I’ve reached 2,200, so if I want to look for more Amazon reviewers, I’ll have to do 220 clicks before I can even start. On some other websites which incorporate lists there’s a search box where you simply enter a page number and, eureka, you’re there. Why can’t Amazon, a market leader in high technology and ultra-complex algorithms, offer the same facility?

More guns? Get real, NRA!

DSCF0122Normal service is resumed. This blog, rudely interrupted by crazed folk shouting in panic that the end of the world was upon us, took to its silo but has now emerged, ashamed that it ran scared in the face of something as harmless as a mere apocalpyse.
And to what has it emerged? Something far scarier – the National Rifle Association, no less. A couple of years ago, in an earlier draft of The Girl with the Haunting Smile, I said there were only three things I didn’t like about America. One of them was the gun laws. I’ve forgotten the other two, which proves what a big fan of the US I am.

But even I didn’t believe this great country could produce such a nut as Wayne LaPierre, one of the NRA’s top dogs, whose response to the Sandy Hook massacre of young kids and teachers was that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”. The only way? Really? How about stopping the bad guy from having a gun in the first place?

If LaPierre’s vomit-inducing statement is the “meaningful contribution” the NRA promised after Sandy Hook, God help us all. Yet we shouldn’t really be surprised. LaPierre is a lobbyist by trade and the NRA is known for its fearsome lobbying activities on Capitol Hill. The ready availability of guns will be curtailed over its dead body (a consummation devoutly to be wished).

What gives the NRA such influence is the antiquated Second Amendment to the Constitution, which states: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”. This reference to militia and free state make it clear what the lawmakers of the era had in mind. They were making provision for a citizens’ army, not issuing a license to kill to deranged individuals. But the Second Amendment still stands and is a formidable barrier to gun law reform. Until, miraculously, it is scrapped or reworked, the awful events of Sandy Hook will be repeated and LaPierre, who called for armed guards to be put in place at every US school, will be able to say sanctimoniously, “I warned you, didn’t I?”

We Brits also had a dreadful school massacre (Dunblane in 1996) but at least it was followed by a vigorous public debate and two Firearms Acts which made it illegal to possess handguns. If we’d had an NRA, we’d still be debating.

Reviews? How do I get them?

DSCF0122The launch of The Girl with the Haunting Smile has been and gone and family, friends and other generous folk got me off to a good start. I’ve promised myself I won’t check again on sales data till a month has passed and I’ll stick to that, however loopy it may seem.

In the days after the launch, I got a tad uptight (see my last blog) about my small number of retweets from folk I’ve enthusiastically supported in the last six months with mentions and retweets. This has partially sorted itself out but I remain a teeny-weeny bit upset that some of those with whom I’ve linked most closely have offered no support. Okay, it’s easy to miss a tweet but not all the ones I’ve sent!

My next priority is to get reviews (one so far). This matters because, when you have ten, Amazon slots your book into key lists like “also bought” and the chances of readers finding it are much greater. In addition, many book websites won’t promote a novel until it has 10, 20 or even 25 good reviews on Amazon, so I have a long way to go!

The problem is that many professional book reviewers are in such demand that they’ve closed their lists. Others deal only with genres that don’t apply to The Girl with the Haunting Smile e.g. crime, paranormal. My next step is to identify some available reviewers and send them cajoling letters. Wish me luck. Even better, if you have any ideas on how best to get reviews, please let me know.

In the meantime, I’ve booked my first (modest) ad. It’s for the New Release Alert feature on Digital Book Today and it will appear at some point in January. Let the good times roll.

Hardly an RT? What did I do wrong?

It’s three days since The Girl with the Haunting Smile went live on Amazon and Smashwords. My epublisher tells me it did well on the first day (mainly thanks to family and Facebook). I haven’t kept tabs on it since and don’t plan to for a month or so. Meanwhile, I’ll keep up my promotion efforts and hope they pay off.

One thing has taken me aback, however. As of today, I have 8,200 Twitter followers. I’ve been quite choosy, adding only those with whom I shared interests. I’ve been supportive of the writers among them, often handing out RTs and Favorites (even posting a few reviews) and building up a good rapport in the process.

Yet, just when I need them most, they’re nowhere to be seen. My first five tweets since my novel was published have brought me – wait for it – one single RT! There was nothing unusual about my tweets. The first two read “The Girl with the Haunting Smile is now out US http://amzn.to/UnKmwi UK http://amzn.to/10Y4Ux3 $3.11/£1.94 #romance #mystery”. When they produced no RTs, I made a more direct request. “Please RT. The Girl with the Haunting Smile is now out etc”. I know how easy it is for tweets to slip off screens unnoticed but mine were sent at various times of day to acknowledge the different time zones and with hashtags to give them more focus. I can hardly believe that none of the folk with whom I’ve regularly exchanged tweets have spotted any of mine over the last couple of days.

Or am I missing something? What could I have done better? If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear from you.

The Big Day Has Arrived

The big day is here at last! My first novel, The Girl with the Haunting Smile, is available as an ebook on Amazon and Smashwords ($2.99/£1.94). The web links are:

US http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AD2MO0Y UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00AD2MO0Y

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/257077

This is my shortest post yet, as I have to spread the news on Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets. Back soon with more reaction!

 

10 Days to Publication

It’s a funny time, the period just before your first novel hits Amazon’s virtual shelves. You’ve blogged till the cows come home. You’ve done your share of social networking and built up strong followings on Twitter and Goodreads. You’ve joined in the chat on their forums and on World Literary Cafe.

Okay, I know I could have done a whole lot more. There have been no blog tours, no Q&A sessions, no giveaways. My epublisher isn’t a fan of Amazon KDP Select, so I’m not going down that route either. I’ve spent very little time on Facebook and Linkedin and I haven’t gone near Pinterest. If that means I deserve to fail, so be it. When you’re learning the tricks of the self-marketing trade, you have to prioritise. You can’t do everything.

Two fabulous blog hosts, Paul Dorset and Jenny Milchman, have offered me the chance to feature on their blogs. I hope others will be equally helpful. I’ve arranged for some publicity in the Mensa magazine and am contacting local newspapers in Scotland and North Carolina, where a big chunk of The Girl with the Haunting Smile is set.

What more can I do at this stage? Any ideas will be gratefully received.

Coming to a Kindle Near You

The Girl with the Haunting Smile will be published on Monday 26th November, so it’s high time I told you what it’s about. The simplest way to do that is to share with you the synopsis that will appear on Amazon:

Greg Harris has been besotted since he was eight. As soon as the young Scot saw a photo of Ellen Fromm, a gorgeous ten-year-old from Wilmington, North Carolina, he was hooked by her soft, haunting smile.

He is devastated when, six years later, his beloved pen pal stops writing and vanishes. For many years he makes feverish attempts to contact her but in vain. He feels as if all meaning has gone out of his life. But he never forgets Ellen and clings to the dream that, one day, they will be together.

At long last, when he is thirty, he finds a letter Ellen once wrote to his granddad that transforms his life. When she and Greg eventually meet, it says, she reckons she may fancy him in a big way. As this huge boost revives his mission in life, Greg arranges a job in Wilmington, flies out and for ages hunts high and low for Ellen.

But a major doubt lurks in his mind. Ever since he was a kid, he has had Tourette’s Syndrome. He has never told Ellen about it. Even if he finds her, will his secret ruin his chance of happiness?

That’s it, then. At its core, The Girl with the Haunting Smile is a romance novel, the tale of a sensitive love that embeds itself deeply and refuses to be dislodged by the passage of time. But it’s also the human story (told in the first person) of a guy with Tourette’s, what it does to him and how other people treat him. I know of only one other novel whose main character has Tourette’s, so the theme hasn’t been overworked. In the last month or so, two TV programmes – The Town That Caught Tourette’s and Let Me Entertain You – have increased public awareness of the condition, so this may not be a bad time to bring my novel to the market.

In the course of my career, I’ve met a fair number of people with Tourette’s, so I’ll say a bit more about it in my next blog.

Just a month to go!

Just 31 days to go! Exactly a month from today - Monday 26 November – the great publishing adventure begins when The Girl with the Haunting Smile goes live on Amazon and Smashwords.

I know I haven’t made all the smart marketing moves. There are no giveaways, no Q&A sessions, no blog tours. Facebook is almost virgin territory for me. I won’t be going down the KDP Select route as my epublisher isn’t a fan.

My focus has been on Twitter, followed by Goodreads and the World Literary Cafe. Plus my blogsite, of course. This is my 19th blog since I started five months ago. An average of around a blog a week isn’t too bad going, I hope.

What has lifted me most has been the supportive attitude of other writers. I’ve had very helpful comments on my blogs from lovely folk like Terry Tyler (@TerryTyler4) and Karen Einsel (@K_Einsel), to mention just a couple.

Now I must roll my sleeves up even higher as the great day looms, then keep them rolled up in the months that follow. If, sadly, my novel languishes on Amazon’s virtual shelves, I don’t want it to be for want of marketing effort on my part.

It occurs to me that I’ve been so focused on making friendly contacts that I haven’t even explained what The Girl with the Haunting Smile is about (it’s not quite as clear-cut as it may seem). I’ll put that right in my next blog.

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