What do you think?

My birthday present from Benj finally made it to France from America. It was a Gelaskin for my Kindle. The design is Almond Branches in Bloom by Vincent van Gogh, my favourite artist.

The gelaskin came on a sheet of card and it was very easy to peel off and stick onto the Kindle. You just need to wipe the Kindle first with a cloth to make sure it’s not greasy or sticky.

I think it’s smashing. It’s not the sort of thing I’d have bought for myself so it’s the perfect present. I shall enjoy using my Kindle even more than ever now!

And on the subject of Kindles, don’t forget you can get my Beat the Hackers for yours from Amazon here!

 

Perhaps one day I'll be as successful as JK ...

Now that I have two books on Amazon for Kindle, and many more in the pipeline, I’ve been working hard on building my author platform. So far I have signed up with the following. I thought it might be useful to share my list in case it provides you with a few more ideas for your platform-building. And of course I’d welcome any suggestions of other places where I should be putting in an appearance.

The story so far: 10 day book club; Articlesbase; Bite Size Edits; Bookbuzzr; Booklending; Digg; Ebookling; Expatfocus; Facebook – own page plus in four groups; Feedbooks; Filedby; Free-ebooks.net; Goodreads; Independent Authors; Independent Author Network – thinking about this v seriously (free till 31.8 for one book; Jacketflap; KDP; Kobo; LinkedIn; Livejournal; Library Thing; Lulu; My Writer’s Circle; Pontnoir (local Creuse thing); Pinterest (crafts thing); Reader’s Favorite; Smashwords; Shelfari; Shewrites; Survive France (local); Technorati; Twitter (3 accounts); Wattpad; Your Book Authors*

* = joining fee

I also have two ongoing websites (this one and www.bloginfrance.com) and two more waiting in the wings to accompany my two big adult projects that are coming soon.

Three very helpful books I’ve read on the marketing and self-promotion side are:

How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks – All For Free by Jason Matthews

The First Ten Steps by M R Mathias

How I Sold I Million Ebooks in 5 Months by John Locke

 

Hope the above helps. I’m convinced it will help me!

 

Well, my second book is now up on Amazon in Kindle format. It’s Beat the Hackers, a work of juvenile fiction about hackers and computers with a strong female protagonist. Daughter Caiti designed me a brilliant cover:

And here is a sample from it to whet your appetites. It’s from near the end of the book. Heather and her father Ray are on the run from Domination, a mysterious company that created a universally popular, free anti-hacker software. However, it’s not quite what it seems, and Ray, with Heather’s help, is the only person who can prove it. They have just one possibly ally – Lucien Montgomery, head of Teuthras Communciations. They are meant to meet with him at midday:

Heather wandered over to the coffee bar. She chose four of the stickiest looking muffins they had and ordered two tall, double cappuccinos. She took the heavy tray to a corner table and waited for her father to join her.

They idly watched the passers-by as they ate and drank. Then gradually Heather became aware that they were being watched. She felt a prickling at the back of her neck. She casually glanced around. A few tables away, two people were sitting, apparently minding their own business. But they weren’t ordinary people. The man was tall and blonde and had deep blue eyes. He was immaculately turned out in some sort of designer suit. The woman with him was stunning. She had a beautiful figure and wore a fantastic tailored trouser suit. The perfect couple, thought Heather. Suddenly she stiffened. Perfect. That was it! She thought back to the photos of the perfect people her father had collected when he was researching Domination. Her blood ran cold. These people were too perfect. They were Domination perfect! And they were watching her and her dad.

She glanced away. This time her eye was caught by a tall, good looking man, pretending to window shop a short distance away. Beyond him was another perfect guy, trying to look inconspicuous in an Armani suit and browsing at postcards outside a newsagent’s.

Yes. Domination had definitely found them.

“Don’t look now, Dad,” said Heather quietly, trying to swallow her fear, “but there are some Domination people around. At the table behind us, and two more in the mall.”

Ray almost dropped his cup in alarm.

“What?” he hissed. He glanced around nonchalantly, checking out Heather’s claims. “That’s them, all right. We’re trapped!”

“Stay cool, Dad. Goodness knows how they tracked us down here. But never mind that now. We can run for it, I reckon.” Heather was beginning to make plans.

“We can try,” he said, but without much hope. “Look, I’ll slide you a set of USBs under the table. If we get separated, take these to show Montgomery on your own, OK? If you can’t, never mind. There’s still Marcus to back us up.”

“OK, Dad,” nodded Heather.

Ray discreetly fumbled in his bag and then pushed something under the table towards Heather with his foot. She carelessly leant down, on the pretext of adjusting her sock, picked up the USBs in their bag and slipped them into her jacket pocket.

“Fancy a refill?” she said loudly.

Ray looked at her puzzled for a moment. He was about to say he’d had enough caffeine for now, but Heather winked at him. “Get ready to run,” she hissed. “I’ll slow Mr and Mrs Perfect here down.”

“Thank you, more coffee would be lovely,” trumpeted Ray.

Heather walked up to the counter, passing close to the Domination people. She didn’t look at them, but she could feel their blue eyes on her.

“Two large black coffees, please.”

The counter assistant handed them over. Heather paid and began to walk back with a mug in each hand. She saw her father poised for taking off. She came to Domination’s table. She paused by it. The man and woman looked up at her, intently.

“Here. The coffee’s on me!” cried Heather, and she flung the scalding coffee into their laps.

Pandemonium broke out. The pair leapt up, shouting in pain and shock. Heather had the presence of mind to tip the table over on them too, knocking them down, before she took to her heels with her father. The counter staff began yelling. Out of the corner of her eye, Heather saw the two lurking Domination members in the mall start to run after them.

But she and Ray had a good few metres’ start. If they could just get themselves out of the shopping centre, they’d be able to lose themselves in the crowd outside. The exit wasn’t far. But then disaster struck. Ray’s shoelace had unravelled and sent him flying. Heather could hardly believe he’d fallen over for the second time that day. She stopped and turned back to help him, but he roared at her to leave him.

For a fraction of a second Heather hesitated, uncertain what to do. She didn’t like to desert her father, but the Domination guys were onto them. He was right – she had to go. So with a last despairing look at her father, she turned and fled.

She didn’t stop running for at least five minutes. She barged her way through the shoppers, who grumbled complaints at her. She wove in and out of the crowd until at last she had to pause for breath. She chose a busy corner, close to a flower stall, to stop and take stock.

 

Increasingly frustrated at the elevated prices on Amazon.com for Kindle books due to the sales tax they add for whatever reason to books going abroad, I’ve now started buying more from Smashwords. I’ve downloaded the Kindle app for PC onto my computer so I can read books in Kindle format on it. It’s not as good a reading experience as on the Kindle, but since I can get 99 cent books for 99 cents, and not 3.74 dollars which is what Amazon charges for them, then that’s a saving worth making. I’m not cheating the author out of royalties, as they receive their payment based on the official 99 cent price.

It’s puzzling. Some books advertised as 99 c are available to me here in France at that price, but the vast majority aren’t. Also, some books advertised as free also aren’t available. I had to buy my Kindle from Amazon.com, as all French customers still have to, so it was a blow to then discover that there were strings attached in the form of this onerous tax, for which this apparently no justification whatsoever apart from greed. It doesn’t cost any more to send the whispernet to France than to anywhere else. It’s ridiculous and is the one bad thing about Kindle from my point of view.

But I’ve found a way around the problem (which is what living in France trains you to do with all problems!) so I can read well-priced books without being financially penalised simply because of where I live. Amazon will be losing out from me from now on, and if the trend is repeated by enough other Kindle owners affected by the tax, then maybe they’ll start taking notice and revise this unfair system.

Good for Smashwords.

Chapter 4: Signing on the Dotted Line

Il faut réfléchir avant d’agir.

You have to think before acting.

Benj in front of the houses - not sure what he's doing!

One night on the ferry and one night in a hotel watching France play Spain in the World Cup later, we pulled into Les Fragnes about midday on the 28th June. Nigel and Philippe, the estate agents, were there to meet us as we rumbled down the drive with our trailer of essential belongings. They were delighted to see us and had laid out a picnic with lashings of wine for the adults and a mountain of crisps for the children. (They’d phoned us a few times during the course of the morning to make sure we were still coming and hadn’t turned and fled en route.) They didn’t have the keys to the houses, though, so we could only peer covetously through the filthy windows. But the buildings were undeniably still there so all seemed well. They discouraged us from walking around too much, saying we needed to get into Boussac in good time. So we took their advice, unhitched the trailer, overindulged and followed them to the town.

Our first stop was at the insurance office. Before we could buy Les Fragnes, we had to have proof for the Notaire that we’d insured it, even though it wasn’t ours yet – one of those chicken and egg peculiarities you learn to live with in France. So Nigel came with me to the GAN office to see M Orsal, the best dressed insurance agent around with a penchant for pointy-toe shoes, and we sorted this out. And on to the serious stuff chez Maître Bouret, le Notaire.

The first thing Chris and I did was remarry. Well, sort of. We changed our marital regime. The French see English marriages as being en indivision in nature. This means that if one of you dies, your spouse gets half of what’s left and the kids (or other relatives if there aren’t children) share the other half between them. Not really the best idea. So we took on the communauté universelle regime. Now whichever of us lasted longer got the lot, ideally to fritter away merrily before the kids could get their hands on it. Perfect. That process took half an hour or so and cost about four hundred euro. That’s probably more than we spent in total at our original modest little wedding back at Westerfield in 1986. We went out to check on the kids who were reading happily in the waiting room, and the rest of the cast arrived. First came M and Mme Paray, the vendors. They ran a builders’ merchant’s  in Boussac. They had inherited Les Fragnes from some relative or other and had been letting it out for the last forty years. To M and Mme Leblanc, who were the next to arrive. They were giving up their right to be tenants so the Pasquets could sell to us. They therefore had to be there to sign all the documents too. Nic Orlande rolled up next, our translator. He was a beanpole of a man, with short grey hair and a friendly face. So with us, Philippe and Nigel and the Notaire, we were all assembled. There were slightly suspicious handshakings and cheek kisses, a lot of nervousness, and then proceedings got underway.

The sale took ages. The Notaire read out every page of the long, long Acte de Vente document, which Nic, sitting behind us, concurrently translated and quietly whispered into our ears. Then I got up and initialled every page and finally signed the last one, the first to commit to this crazy enterprise. Then Chris, then the Leblancs then the Parays, and then the Notaire. Phew. By now we’d sent the two eldest kids off with money to buy magazines and ice-creams in the town, and brought Ruadhri in to fidget and snooze on my lap.

And then, momentously, Les Fragnes was ours. The huge keys were given to us. Happy handshakings and cheek kisses all round, no nervousness anymore on the French side but a hell of a lot more on the English. We staggered to the nearest café for a stiff drink before packing up the family and driving back to our farm. The first thing we found when walking round the buildings was that about a square metre of wall was peeling away, just under the roof of the tallest house. That hadn’t been like that back in December. No wonder Nigel and Philippe had kept us well away before the signing ceremony! And going into the houses, we discovered that the hunting club had ripped out the heating range, the lighting and the ceiling i.e. their few redeeming features. To Benjamin’s disappointment, the girlie calendars had gone too. We later found most of the hardware dumped either in the green lane alongside our property, or in the woodland beyond the dam wall of the big lake. Quite why they’d gone all the effort to perform this piece of mindless vandalism is a puzzle. We hope it wasn’t aimed at us. I think it was more a protest against the vendor for vending. But we were the ones who lost out. And talking of the big lake, it wasn’t many days before we realised it was fishless. Despite our agreement to the contrary, the fish had been removed and flogged. That felt extremely personal and was a massive blow.

That evening we were tired and despondent and now terrified by what we’d done. Chris inspected the dodgy wall and realised fully for the first time that the houses were built of mud and stones. And that was it. Just one step up from a mud hut basically. Now, we’d had a sort of survey done. They don’t really have them in France, but you can get a builder or architect to take a look at a property for you and give his or her professional opinion on the state of the place. We’d used a builder recommended by Frédéric, Philippe’s son. He typed up a little report which stated firmly that the buildings were ‘sain et sauf’ i.e. safe and sound. Yeah right, we thought now. But tough. Under French law, there’s no comeback. If you buy a house and it falls to the ground next day, tant pis.

Benj hard at work

I’m in the process of rereleasing most of my children’s books on Kindle. These are the old Mentor Press books. Since some of them go back more than ten years, I no longer have the files for them on computer. The back-ups are on an obsolete device of some sort, so I’d started retyping them out. Now, I’m a pretty fast typist but this didn’t seem to be the best use of my time, not with new fiction to write, a farm and fishing business to run and some freelance editing to do. So Chris set Benj up with the scanner and he’s taken over getting the print books into electronic format for me. He’s going great guns. The only drawback is that he has to disassemble the books in order to get a good quality scan. But I’ve got plenty of copies of them going spare.

Illustrator Roger Fereday will be doing some new covers for me, mainly for the Oh! series and the younger children’s books I wrote. Caitlin is designing covers too, for my older children’s books. So I should have another batch of books up on Kindle before very long. It’s really exciting!

Back in March I wrote this:

This August is going to be a big month for us. On the 9th, Chris and I celebrate our silver wedding anniversary, and on the 13th, it will be five years since we arrived here. We’re having a big party on the 7th to jointly mark these occasions. And I’ve set myself the challenge of having self-published a book on the Kindle by then too. And why not? It’s something I want to do and it’s achievable with a bit of hard work between now and then.

I had envisaged having Heads Above Water, the first of my living in France books out, but in fact it’s my children’s book Oh Auntie! that pipped it to the post. I’ve finished the second draft of Heads Above Water and am currently reading through. I’ll be talking to Roger Fereday about the cover very soon, so I foresee epublishing it in September, all being well.

 

My next book on Kindle will be Beat the Hackers which I’ve just finished typing up and updating. Caitlin has designed an excellent cover for it. Like Oh Auntie!, this is a book that was previously published in traditional format by Mentor Press, but since that publisher closed its children’s publishing arm several years ago, the rights have reverted to me. So the plan is to re-release all my twenty-odd Mentor books and this time round give them the publicity they deserve. I’m writing new books too.

So – I met my challenge. In that case I’ll set another. I’m coming round to the view that writing challenges can be very productive. I want to have my work of adult fiction, Something Fishy: A Marcus Summers Mystery up on Kindle by December. This is a racy fishing-related mystery. There aren’t many in that genre yet but I think it’s a winning combination.

I’d been wondering what the recent explosion in self-publishing was going to mean for traditional publishers and, in particular, for literary agents. It’s been all too obvious lately with what it’s doing to bookshops. Several big chains have unfortunately gone under due to the rise in ebooks – Borders in the US and Angus and Robertson in Australia are two examples.

To a large extent, literary agents have always been the hangers-on in the publishing world. They’re not contributing original material, like the authors are. They’re not producing the finished goods, like the publishers are. They’re somewhere in the middle taking a cut of the author’s earnings.

So it looks like some agents are becoming ‘self-publishing enablers’, offering ‘assisted self-publishing’. They will undertake to do tasks such as reformatting the author’s manuscript into ebook friendly formats, organising cover design, uploading files to Amazon, Smashwords etc  and drawing up marketing plans. These are all things the author could do on his or her own, with a very little bit of effort. First time is always the hardest preparing a manuscript for the digital market, as I know from experience, but once you’ve got the hang of what to do, it’s quick and straightforward. Most indie authors are up for doing as much as they can for themselves generally, so it remains to be seen how well this new agency role will catch on.

I was about to launch into  a longer discussion of this, but then came across David Gaughran’s excellent discussion of the topic here. He has far more clout and involvement in the world of digital publishing and can discuss the area much more knowledgeably than I can. It’s interesting to see I’m not the only one who’s questioning the new route agents will take.

 

 

 

I signed up with Xinxii today. OK , so what’s Xinxii? Xinxii is a digital self-publishing platform which launched in Germany in 2008, and began operating in English last year. It allows you to sell your documents in up to 15 different formats.

Xinxii evolved from CEO Dr Andrea Shober’s publishing company, which focussed on guides for expats and business people working abroad. She decided to launch a platform where authors could upload and sell their works in this area, and it took off from there. Authors keep full control of editing and copyright, and sell their works through their own Xinxii e-store. Constantly developing, Xinxii will be able to support ereaders and mobile platforms in the very near future.

Xinxii runs in four language versions – English, French, German and Spanish. But customers can come from anywhere – they can pay in dollars, euros or sterling. It’s free to upload your books to the site. You, the author, sets the price (minimum 99 US cents) and get paid for every purchase. You keep 40% of the net sales for documents priced between between 99 cents and 2.48 dollars, and 70% for books priced 2.40 and above.

I’ve got Oh Auntie! up on Xinxii and will be very interested to see how it goes. The site offers lots of advice on publicity using social media and so on, which I shall take plenty of time to study.

Check Xinxii out at www.xinxii.com. You’ll find Oh Auntie here.

I’m busy mugging up about book marketing and came across the term ‘freemiums’. To my shame I had no idea what they were, so I looked them up. A freemium is promotional or business model that offers something basic for free, while charging for more advanced or premium related products. (That’s where the ‘free’ and ‘mium’ of freemium come from.) So I’ve been coming across freemiums all the time without realising when I’ve signed up for free ebooks or newsletters on sites that are hoping to sell me something eventually. This website explains the model in detail.

Will they work for authors? Undoubtedly. The Internet is all about getting things for free, so surfers these day expect to get some sort of freebie from every website. And if they don’t find it on yours, they’ll go elsewhere. Joanna Penn explains in a fascinating guest post here on The Savvy Book Marketer that authors have an advantage when it comes to freemiums as they can write, and the vast majority of the free products offered are written articles. It’s fairly painless, therefore, for us to rattle them off. Her suggestions for some good freemiums for writers to offer include:

  • Blog posts and articles for free, but your books are premium.
  • Short stories or first couple of chapters are free, but the whole book is premium.
  • You make your first novel free, but subsequent ones must be paid for.

So, freemiums look like being an interesting book marketing avenue to explore.