How to write a review

Reviews are the lifeblood of book sales on Amazon. The more reviews your books have, the more this “social proof” will persuade potential readers to buy them. It’s a simple psychological fact: when lots of other people like something, you are more likely to consider it than if no-one has shown any interest.

But reviews are hard to get. You give out free books to people, and they somehow never get around to writing a review like they promised. You have free promotions on Amazon with hundreds of downloads... and no reviews. It’s frustrating. Read More...

New cover - and a new chapter

Some exciting news: as promised, I’ve added a new chapter to Airship City. Amazon should push the revised file out to your Kindles if you’ve already bought the book. If you haven’t yet bought it, you’ll get the new edition right away if you buy it now.

And to go with the new edition, a smart new cover! I’ve been working hard on this cover for the last couple of months, learning the software and refining my vision, and I’m quite pleased with how it’s turned out. Someone on Twitter said it was reminiscent of Doctor Who, and while that wasn’t what I was going for, I can see it now, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all.

Here it is:


Airship City on Kindle Countdown

Amazon have launched a new thing called Kindle Countdown, which lets you reduce the price of your book for a pre-determined time. A countdown timer tells you how long you have to get the reduced price. So I’ve put Airship City up on Kindle Countdown for the next six days! Grab it for more than 50% off. (UPDATE: the deal is now over, sorry.)

Airship City goes free!

Exciting news if you’ve been sitting on the fence about buying Airship City, or just like free books: it will be FREE to download on Amazon, starting tomorrow, the 11th of August, for three days. The starting time is midnight, Amazon time, which translates to early morning in the UK, but most people in the US will see it a lot earlier (and in Australia you’ll probably not see the price cut until Monday, I’m afraid. Although it will obviously go on until Wednesday instead of Tuesday.) To get your free download, just click on the link .

How I Write part II

In the first instalment I covered how I actually generate the text that makes up a book, by bashing it out on my iPhone. But of course there is much more to writing than just putting words into a document. I’m not one of those writers who can just start typing with no idea of how things are going to turn out: I need to outline the plot in a fair amount of detail, using index cards (one card per scene, usually), so that when I am writing, I can just concentrate on the description and the dialogue and so on, without also needing to generate the plot on the fly as well.

Obviously I don’t stick to the index cards slavishly: sometimes things turn out differently from the plan, as I realise that a character would behave in a different way, or if something isn’t working. But it’s what I need to get started. I went through the first couple of drafts of Aeropolis with just index cards and the individual iPhone documents, pasting them all into a big Word document when I wanted to revise, or give them to my beta readers (at that stage, it was only my wife). This was a huge pain, and it was then that I heard about Scrivener, through a writer friend.

Scrivener is writing software that was developed from the ground up (by a writer) to be a fantastic writing tool, and it succeeds in this task admirably. It’s an incredibly comprehensive offering, with tools that are useful for a wide range of writing, from journalism to academic articles, to screenplays, and of course, novels. The brilliant thing about Scrivener from my perspective is that it uses a system of individual documents, one per scene usually, that you can split, merge, drag around to put into a different order, et cetera, and then compile into a single complete document at the press of a button. In one of its views, you can even represent the individual documents as index cards!

So it was fairly straightforward, conceptually, for me to transfer all of my individual iPhone documents into Scrivener, and once this was done I was even able to synchronise Scrivener with the Elements folder in Dropbox, so that any writing or editing which I did on the iPhone was updated to my Scrivener project whenever I did a sync. Fantastic!

I was greatly aided in this endeavour by David Hewson’s Writing a Novel with Scrivener. David is the author of the popular Nic Costa thrillers, set in Rome, but his informative blog posts on his writing techniques have fascinated and informed me in equal measure. And this book is just wonderful, setting out in great detail how he uses Scrivener to produce his awesome output, with plenty of invaluable tips and tricks.

Scrivener makes revisions a lot easier, because you can easily see the flow of plot in the novel. You can even track things like point of view, so that you can compile a single point of view into one document, to check that it makes sense on a standalone basis. Structural problems become easier to see and to solve.

I use both paper and Kindle to revise, and Scrivener can output a very serviceable Kindle file, or a Word document. You can choose at the compile stage how the document should flow together, with page breaks and chapter headings (auto numbered if you desire), and of course you can recompile with different settings within seconds if something isn’t quite right.

I’ve heard it said that whenever two writers get together the conversation almost invariably turns, sooner or later, to a discussion of how great Scrivener is. I can well believe it.


Reading A Clash of Kings

I started reading Game of Thrones after watching the Sky Atlantic production of George RR Martin’s epic sword and sorcery reinvention. Despite already knowing what was going to happen, I still enjoyed it immensely. In fact, knowing the story in advance allowed me to spot and appreciate some of George’s foreshadowing, and there was a richness of backstory that inevitably a TV show is not going to be able to do justice to.

I enjoyed it so much that I have immediately moved on to reading the next book, A Clash of Kings, even though production of the second series has barely started, and so I am likely to have finished the book long before it makes it onto our screens. So I will have the opposite experience with the second book and series: watching something I have already read!

By the way, if you read the Kindle edition of Game of Thrones, and possibly the paper edition too, George has included a chapter from A Clash of Kings at the end of the book, which I read. It is not the first chapter, though, and when I came to it in the second book, I decided to read it again. Good thing I did, because George has expanded it somewhat. So don’t skip it!


Kindle screens

I love a lot of things about my Kindle but the random pictures which appear on it when you turn it “off” aren’t among them. Some are OK but most are awful. It’s quite easy to “hack” the Kindle to replace these images with something more to your liking. I found a few nice images on teh interwebs, but thought I’d also have a go at converting some of my own pics.


These two look quite nice on the Kindle. To download one or both for your own Kindle, just click on an image to get a Kindle-sized one. Then right-click and save!

Zoo City

I’ve got a lot of unread books on my Kindle. It’s just too easy to buy them. Whenever I come across something interesting on the web, and it’s on the Kindle and not too expensive, I end up buying it. So when I finally finished Aegypt (which will be the subject of another post) I decided to read one of the unread ones sitting enticingly in my home screen.

Unfortunately I didn’t like many of them. I started three or four, and just gave up after a few pages. Some self-published books are that way for a reason, I found. One book had about three pages of exposition and back-story before anything happened. And all of this detail seemed to have been lifted straight out of Lara Croft, Tomb Raider. Others just dumped me into an incomprehensible world of weird names and unfathomable things, with no hint that it would be worth making the effort to understand. So it was a great relief to finally start reading Zoo City.

This is the Arthur C Clarke award-winning novel by Lauren Beukes, a South African writer. Now if you think great SF can’t take place in South Africa, you obviously haven’t been paying attention to the District 9s of the world. And like that movie, Zoo City has the gritty authenticity of life in South Africa. I can vouch for this, because I lived in Johannesburg for most of my life. And I felt like I was back there.

The story is told in the first person, hard-boiled noire style, with all of the laconic wit that one could hope for. Beukes has an outstanding way with similes, absolutely nailing the descriptions with acute observations. First-person is hard to pull off, but the heroine’s voice is utterly believable and compelling.

The conceit is clever: in an alternative reality, some people have developed a psychic connection to a particular animal, something like the familiars in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. This endows them with a specific sort of magical power. Zinzi, the heroine, has a Sloth that gives her the ability to find lost things. But in using this gift she becomes entangled in a murder...

This book is available in paperback and Kindle versions. At time of writing it’s cheaper on the Kindle.