Monday, 28 March 2016

Book Review - The Facts of Life and Death

The Facts of Life and Death - Belinda Bauer
My rating: 5 stars

On the beaches and cliffs of North Devon, young women have become victims in a terrifying game where only one player knows the rules. And when those rules change, the new game is Murder.

But a madman on the loose feels very far from the crumbling, seaside home of ten-year-old Ruby Trick. Instead she lives in constant fear of school bullies, the dark forest, and the threat of her parents' divorce.

Helping her father to catch the killer seems like the only way to keep him close.

As long as the killer doesn’t catch her first.

What I love about Belinda Bauer's books is that they are so much more than the story. The quality of the writing seems to encapsulate so many different facets. There's a bizarre macabre humour, a quirky original view of the world, innocence and tenderness - all within a dark and cracking-good crime thriller!

In The facts of Life and Death, there are two strands - a serial killer in a small seaside village, snatching late-night foolish hitch-hikers and a family that centres around a girl of ten, Ruby, learning to cope with bullying at school and discord at home between her parents. The police are on the trail of the twisted killer who forces the women to strip, then call their mothers to say 'goodbye'. Creepy indeed. Ruby starts writing a diary and what she sees and who she's with begins to hold significance for both threads of the novel.

Ruby is portrayed with humanity and there's  a 'coming of age', transformational element to her story. She is so well drawn in 3D, she jumps off the page. I did not know where the story was heading, which I always love and the unpredictability is coupled with unusual, clever, true to life, even laugh out loud moments.

I thoroughly recommend this book - I was sad to reach the end.

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-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------              AJ Waines’ novels are Standalones and can be read in any order:

  •  Over 100,000 books sold worldwide
  • Girl on a Train  a Number One Bestseller on Kindle in UK and Australia (2015)
  • The Evil Beneath Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' (UK Kindle charts)
  • No Longer Safe went straight to Number One 'Crime Noir' (US & UK Kindle charts)
  • Awarded Kindle KDP Top 20 'most-read Author' in UK (2015)
Find AJ Waines at: 
Blog *  Website  *  Twitter  * Facebook  *  Pinterest  * Goodreads  * Google+  

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Sunday, 6 March 2016

Is Writing an Obsession?

‘Do you write full-time?’ ‘Is writing a 9-5pm job?’

I’m asked these questions from time to time, so here’s my slant on it.

Since I tentatively dipped my toe into writing fiction at the end of 2008, I haven’t been able to stop. I kept thinking that after a year or two, my passion for it would die down – it’s a fad, right? – but eight years on and it never has. As a former Psychotherapist, I’m keen to know why we do things the way we do. So I asked myself the inevitable question: What is it about writing that has kept me so transfixed?

I have other passions in my life to compare this to. Growing up, my life centred around music. I started playing the piano at four and the cello at nine. By the time I got to 18, I was good enough to get into The Royal Northern College of Music on the cello and off I went thinking I was embarking on my life's career.
aged seventeen
Then something strange happened. I found myself surrounded by people who were practising ALL day long. From the moment I opened my eyes in the morning until the time my head hit the pillow, I could hear the not-so-far-away tinkle of a piano, a violin, a clarinet or the grumble of a tuba. These fellow students were dedicated, with a capital D; some of them were obsessed. I would put my cello away after a few hours' practise and be raring to go and do something else; play tennis, go swimming, read a book, listen to pop music. But everyone else was still practising... I was the odd one out and eventually I left - and went to university instead, for a much more rounded musical education.

With writing it’s different. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done before, because it has become totally addictive. It isn’t just the writing itself, it’s the whole ‘managing my own business’ thing, because for a ‘hybrid author’ like me (ie Traditional and Indie - click the link for a recent post about this), there’s so much more to do every day than just write. And as such, I’ve never worked so many hours before in my life! Here’s a mini resume of some of the tasks that fill my day:
  • Playing around with initial ideas
  • Early planning and plotting, adding character profiles, maps, floor-plans etc
  • Writing a first draft (for me this is more or less the full length of the book, c90,000 words)
  • Revising drafts until the book feels ‘presentable’ (could be 3-5 versions)
  • Writing a jacket blurb and synopsis for my agent/publishers
  • Revising again (and again) after the book has been structurally edited by a copy editor and beta-readers
  • Proofreading
  • Preparing for a book launch - I now allow six months for this and I have a time-managed list as long as your arm, including formatting the book for Kindle, formatting the paperback (yes – it’s different), putting ideas together for the cover (ready to send to my designer), contacting Bloggers etc etc…
  • Daily/regular book promotion on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Goodreads
  • Sharing other authors’ posts and networking/book groups
  • Running Giveaways
  • Posting blogs on my site
  • Writing features for guest sites
  • Responding to comments/reviews and enquiries from readers
  • Taking photos for publicity and sharing on social media (such as my hubbie’s terrific cakes!)
  • Posting book reviews to Goodreads
  • Reading great novels for the above! (never seems enough time for this...)
  • Preparing a Newsletter (quarterly)
  • Liaising with agent and publishers (I currently have an audiobook in production for No LongerSafe, where I wanted to choose the narrator)
  • Learning new IT (such as adding a sign-up form to my website)
  • Preparing my monthly accounts for my accountant (urgh)
  • Okay…you get the gist.

Escape into the story...
The Best Bit
But the best bit is the actual writing – either getting the story down or editing, because for me it’s pure escapism. That’s the time when I climb into the story I’m putting together, take a look around and find out what’s going to happen next. That’s when all my ‘what if’ buttons get activated – What if you wake up one morning and find a dead man at the end of your bed? What if there’s a dead woman in the water and she’s wearing your own clothes? Creative people call this the ‘zone’ and the hours fly by. I always come back to Gloria Steinem’s famous quote below: 

Like many writers, I find I’m buzzing from dawn to dusk. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing at night. When I’m in the zone, I’m afraid to leave the keyboard in case I lose the thread. Capturing the story becomes paramount and I have to be forcibly peeled away from my desk at meal times! I must just finish this scene...I must just finish this sentence... But even when I’m relaxing and watching TV at the end of the day, I’ve still got my 'idea-radar' switched on and I’ll reach for my notepad (one in every room, I’m not kidding!) to catch the thought for later/tomorrow.
Notebooks around the place...
You may ask When does the ironing, cleaning, hoovering and gardening get done? Ah - I'll merely say that there used to be a lot more of that going on than there is now! I sort of squeeze it in and thankfully my hubbie is brilliant with all the cooking and shopping.

This writing business has now become my life and I've come across so many other writers who feel the same. It’s bigger than full-time and it’s the only activity I’ve ever done in my entire life that makes me feel so absorbed. Now and again, I have to re-charge my batteries, but most of the time – it’s just brilliant!

PS. I'm delighted to add that  No Longer Safe sold 30,000+ copies in the first month on sale.

If you enjoyed this post, PLEASE SHARE it. Thank you!
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------              AJ Waines’ novels are Standalones and can be read in any order:

  •  Over 150,000 books sold worldwide
  • Girl on a Train  a Number One Bestseller on Kindle in UK and Australia (2015)
  • The Evil Beneath Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' (UK Kindle charts)
  • No Longer Safe went straight to Number One 'Crime Noir' (US & UK Kindle charts)
  • Awarded Kindle KDP Top 20 'most-read Author' in UK (2015)
Find AJ Waines at: 
Blog *  Website  *  Twitter  * Facebook  *  Pinterest  * Goodreads  * Google+  * Sign up for Newsletter HERE

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Becoming a Hybrid (Traditional and Indie) Author

Thanks to Suz Korb - most of this interview first appeared as a guest post on her blog.

1. How did you start out as an author?

Like many writers, my path hasn’t been straightforward! In 2009, after fifteen years as a Psychotherapist, I felt 'burnt out', so I had a go at writing a psychological thriller, as I loved reading them. I finished it that year and following encouragement from my family, I sent it to a handful of small publishers and agents. During one week in 2010, I had an offer of representation with a top literary agent and an offer from a small UK publisher! I accepted the offer with the agency, who advised me to turn the publishing offer down, but as it happened, the book didn’t go on to attract a big-name publisher. I wrote two more novels at that time, Girl on a Train and The Evil Beneath before my agent and I 'parted company'. That came as really awful shock and I was completely devastated after such a promising start!!

My new agent sent out the two new manuscripts and we got a pre-empt in France and a two-book deal in Germany (Random House). Apparently, it’s very rare to secure overseas deals before getting published in the home language. It wasn’t planned! I think timing was partly an issue. I had a few near-misses in the UK, with several publishers saying they would have snapped up the books if they’d been offered before the financial crash! Bittersweet comments.
German and French editions of The Evil Beneath
2. Have the deals abroad been valuable to you?

Traditional deals involve advances, so it’s good to have some financial security, up front. Of course, you then have to earn out your advance, before you get any royalties. I’ve been pleasantly surprised, however, to sell over 40,000 copies of The Evil Beneath in translation through a book club in France – and I didn’t do any publicity or marketing for that; it was all down to the publisher.

3. So, with your first traditional deals gained in Europe, how did you approach the UK market?

When the novels weren’t picked up in the UK, my agent suggested White Glove – a new programme where authors with agents put their books on to Amazon and get special promotion opportunities. We went for this and it worked well for me.

4. How did you find a market for your books? Was it difficult when thousands of new novels are being added to Amazon every week?

The main issue, as you suggest, is getting noticed without any publisher’s publicity or marketing! There was no book launch or any advance promotion for those first books, so I was advised to ‘build a platform’. Suddenly, I had to switch from being ‘anonymous’ as a therapist to being ‘in the spotlight’ as a writer. I started this blog, wrote features for other sites, set up an author profile on Goodreads, began Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, a newsletter etc, and began building a small readership that way.

Featured in The Wall Street Journal - Nov 2015
It was a real shift in mentality, but the biggest barrier for any writer – even if you’re published traditionally – is making your book stand out above all the other books out there. But, sometimes a simple article can unexpectedly lead to great things. I wrote a piece this autumn, about book titles for an online site which was seen by a journalist from The Wall Street Journal. He interviewed me and published a feature, which was then followed up by The Times and The Independent on Sunday. This led to an audiobook deal for all four of my books in the US, so you just never know.

5. What do you need to be most aware of as an Indie writer in the UK?

My situation is complicated, as I’ve got two books on the White Glove scheme (Girl on a Train and The Evil Beneath) and also two new ones on Amazon that my current agent suggested I publish myself. So, in all, I have three types of publishing: Agent-managed, Indie and Traditional - and there are plus sides and downsides to all of them!

For the White Glove scheme, agents’ approaches vary considerably and some will format and convert the ebook for you, pay for cover design and copy-editing, etc – but others don’t foot the bill. Invariably, I need to do all the marketing and publicity, because an agent doesn’t have the time or resources to actively sell the book. The agent does have control of the account, however – they ‘manage’ the book entirely; change the pricing, manage the meta-data, arrange promotions etc and they take a commission on royalties.

Some agents are more proactive than others – mine is very good - at keeping the books in the limelight with promotions and special deals. I went to number one in the UK and Australian Kindle chart due to a special deal my agent set up and I sold 30,000 copies of both White Glove books in the first six months of this year, so they’re doing a great job! Agents seem less likely to want to manage the Print on Demand versions (CreateSpace) as the Amazon royalties are so low, so I manage all these myself.   

6. Are you still hoping for a traditional UK publisher?

It’s an interesting question and a few years ago, I would have said yes, absolutely. Now, I think it would have to be the right deal. It used to be the case that once an author got a publisher, it was for life, but now, even authors who get a two or three-book deal are finding themselves back to square one if the books don’t sell as well as hoped.

My traditional foreign deals seem to involve spin-off imprints, so they can be lucrative, but some authors are actively choosing to self-publish because the royalties are better. It also depends on whether you have your heart set on seeing your books in a high street store and libraries. Despite not getting a UK publisher, I’ve been incredibly lucky with sales.

7. What has it been like to produce the last two books, Dark Place to Hide and No Longer Safe, entirely on your own?

The nice thing is that I’m not actually alone - I have a great ‘Team’ around me, including a cover designer, copy editor, proofreaders, beta-readers, reviewers and so on. My agent confirmed that these books are ‘commercial’, but they aren’t involved at all, so I project-manage everything from start to finish, together with the online accounts, launches and publicity. It’s a lot of work, but it’s been great to know I’ve done the whole thing myself – I even managed the ebook formatting on the latest one, No Longer Safe!

8. What advice would you give to a new author, Indie or Traditional?

Promotion is really key – I see it as an essential part of a writer’s life - as well as a cracking novel, of course! Books are no longer only found in bookshops, so I think it’s more or less par for the course now, that new writers have an online presence, traditionally published, or not. Appearances at festivals, libraries and book-signings are time-consuming, so I focus entirely on online publicity. No writer who wants to be successful can afford to release a book without all the whistles and bells that go with it. Learn from authors you admire – that’s what I did. I tracked what other writers in the same genre were doing to get themselves known and then set up the aspects I liked, for myself. It’s quite refreshing to put up a review on Goodreads or a guest post on my blog amidst the rigours of daily writing. It’s also incredibly rewarding and touching when readers get in touch and I try to respond to every message, if I can.

9. No Longer Safe has been out nearly a month, how well is it doing?

I have to admit, I'm totally blown away by the response so far! I've had some great bloggers getting the word out, with super reviews. A huge thank you to them. I think the ending has been knocking readers for six! It's been selling in excess of 1,000 copies a day, in ten countries on Amazon! It went straight to Number One in the 'Crime Noir' category in US and is now also Number One in 'Murder', 'Serial killers' (US) and 'Crime Noir' (UK). Thank you to all my lovely readers!

If you enjoyed this post, PLEASE SHARE it. Thank you!
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------              AJ Waines’ novels are Standalones and can be read in any order:

  •  Over 100,000 books sold worldwide
  • Girl on a Train  a Number One Bestseller on Kindle in UK and Australia (2015)
  • The Evil Beneath Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' (UK Kindle charts)
  • No Longer Safe went straight to Number One 'Crime Noir' (US & UK Kindle charts)
  • Awarded Kindle KDP Top 20 'most-read Author' in UK (2015)
Find AJ Waines at: 
Blog Newsletter  *  Website  *  Twitter  * Facebook  *  Pinterest  * Goodreads  * Google+