Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Conflict of Interest - Sneak Preview

Conflict of Interest Sneak Preview

There is now a trial version of Conflict of Interest working its way through Smashwords.

This version still has one proofing pass to complete, but is up so we can identify formatting errors, anything that would prevent it going to distribution (which takes three days), get the ISBN assigned, the listing and tags ready and so on. The aim is to get the final version live this weekend.

For anyone looking for a preview, here's the link.
This is a draft, but if you can't wait and buy this version to find out what happens, don't worry. If you pick up the draft, once the final version is up you can download a copy of it from Smashwords free of charge.

Amazon again.

I will apologise in advance for the tone of this entry, but I am tired, annoyed and lacking sleep.

I was up until 2:48 am last night trying to get this fixed, then up again at six a.m. to call their US office. The operator saw the issue and escalated it, which does not explain why the broken page is still live or the two contacts today who didn't believe the page is broken because they hadn't read the ticket. This is no longer even vaguely funny.

Recovery plan:
1) Add a link to "The Docks" website in the comment section of any feature.
2) Don't launch Conflict of Interest on Amazon Kindle: it will just annoy more readers when they can't get The Docks.
3) Keep chasing Amazon.
4) Suggest to the publisher they get Fire Season onto a different format.

Finally: If it's not fixed by the end of the week, pull The Docks off Amazon so the broken page doesn't wreck the COI launch.

Some of the emails I have received have made it quite clear that readers are not impressed. All I can say is that I am trying to fix this to the best of my ability, and I apologise profusely.

The decision I have to make is that the last two days were supposed to be final proofing for CoI. I'm not going to have time to do that now, unless I put the book back again which I am reluctant to do. Delay it - again - or release it with only one round of proofing corrections? Decisions, decisions...

An Amazon update

A breakdown of last night: Amazon don't think there is anything wrong with the listing. So far their support people have all taken one look and escalated it, only for me to get a email back from the technical team this morning that the listing is "fine". My thoughts were unprintable.

Not shown as an ebook, not in the Kindle store, and you can't purchase it. That's not fine.

I phoned (£2 a minute - ouch). They could see the response, and the still-broken product page. The support operator was very helpful and is escalating it along with a note that the first response was wrong.

Unfortunately it will still be broken when the book is featured on 1st September, because the department that should have fixed it yesterday is closed. Republishing won't fix it because the problem is with the ASIN. I cannot really see a way to recover this, because no matter where you send people they still look books up on Amazon.

And Amazon wonder why I won't print publish with them.

Here's a very fast update, ten minutes later: they made it worse. To my great surprise the listing claims the book (presumably printed) is published by Amazon and ships from Canada. This is when I start looking at lawyers, as the print rights have never been sold.

Screenshot of Amazon listing showing shipping line and publisher

Update 14:00: The publisher got onto them. Amazon have emailed back and are confused as to why there is a problem with the page. Let's see:
- Customers can't buy the book
- The copyright info has been stripped.
My screenshot has been sent to Amazon, with details and links. I'm sure I'll find this very funny in a few months time, but right now it is driving me mad...
...mainly because this time last year they did almost exactly the same thing with Fire Season.

My apologies once again to anyone affected. Amazon in Autumn seems to be a bad combination for me.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Good news and bad...

The good news is that I got another review for "The Docks", a good four stars courtesy of the Gathering Leaves blog

"I definitely recommend The Docks for a fast, entertaining read!"
Gathering Leaves (full review)

My new author website is up:, leaving only Fire Season's site to be reskinned, and I have a lot of promotion set up for September, including a sequel to The Docks.

The bad news is really bad: There's a problem with the listing for The Docks and it can't currently be purchased from there. I have flagged this up with Amazon and am waiting to hear back.

Meanwhile, if you would like to get a copy, please use:

Update (9.30pm): I raised this with Amazon at 16:00, who responded and unfortunately made the problem worse. They are now showing a listing for the book in print, and not Kindle. The book does not exist in print, making the listing nonsense (and any copies sold through it pirated). It still can't be purchased. It will be 24 hours before they give me another update.

The only way I can think to fix it is to pull the listing and republish, but that takes it down for a day or so and takes it off and where the book is still live. My main advertising feature is on the 1st September.

I've already lost sales from today's review, and had complaints about the listing. I would like to apologise to any readers inconvenienced by this, and confirm that I am trying to get this fixed as quickly as possible.

For anyone curious about the issue, here's the side-by-side screenshots:

Amazon Before and After

Any advice on what might be causing it or how to get it fixed would be welcome.

Update (1.45am): Amazon said it is fixed, but one look at the listing says it isn't, so I've batted it back to them. I will republish tomorrow AM if it isn't fixed by then. Once again, my apologies.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Conflict of Interest rewrite

I took a risk at the start of the month, pulling an edited and ready-to-be-released version of Conflict of Interest back because I had a sudden idea. Yesterday I showed the first revised draft of the new version to the beta readers. They like it. Specifically, from the feedback I got, they liked it enough to read in one sitting and forgot to eat their pringles while reading.

Looks like the risk paid off.

Going from 'good' to 'gripping' makes it worth the delay and rewrite. It will be a while yet before it is ready to come out (Q3 instead of August) but I'm a lot happier with it.

The slightly embarrassing thing is that the sample I released last month is part of the book that hit the cutting room floor. Please look at it as bonus content.

I'd also like to say thanks to Marvin on Goodreads for his review of The Docks:
"the days of Dashiell Hammett and Mickey Spillane which is a big compliment. Those guys knew how to mix character development and action together and so does V. H. Folland." - Marvin, Goodreads (read full review)

Being compared to either of those authors, I regard as a very big compliment. Thanks!

Friday, 19 August 2011

New websites & Riot Relief

A small marketing update. Rather than the basic website (a Google site) that is currently up, a set of new sites under the URL are being put up.
The first two are now live:
Fire Season and my own site will be moving under this setup soon. As always feedback would be welcome.

On the topic of riot relief, the Reeves family have set up a fund to rebuild the Reeves corner area. It isn't just their own 150 year old business, but all the small businesses and houses that were affected (twenty-eight families lost their homes and possessions).

The fund accepts Paypal, as well as credit cards or cheques. For anyone who pledged to Mark Thompson's campaign, this is where you can redeem the pledge.

Rebuild Reeves Corner

Friday, 12 August 2011

A general update and appeal

I haven't posted here, or much anywhere else, this week. For those of you following events in London, you can probably guess why. The end of the week was spent cleaning up the fallout, something which has been delayed by the fact that many sites are still crime scenes or outright unsafe.

If you would like to help, please view #riotcleanup or follow @riotcleanup for details of planned cleanups.For more ongoing relief efforts, the Evening Standard has details here.

An Appeal

Which brings me to a local tragedy: the destruction of Reeves Corner and House of Reeves. Founded in 1867, the House of Reeves store has been a landmark in Croydon for longer than living memory, run by five generations of the same family. It was completely destroyed on Monday night by the looters.

More than simply a landmark, House of Reeves is a thriving business and local employer. When the flats above the shops by Reeves Corner were caught in the blaze, people lost their homes and possessions as well as their livelihoods.

Sign my pledge at PledgeBank
A pledgebank account has been set up by blogger Mark Thompson, which is open to anyone who wants to pledge. Click the button below for details.

If you can help, please do. Pledges can be made worldwide. (Pledge to Reeves)

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Pen names

One of the most common questions that comes up is about the use of pennames. Recently, the arguments over the use of real names on Google+ and Facebook which include several authors losing profiles because they are listed under their pennames, have really brought attention to this.

Several people assume that aliases or pennames must be used to be evasive or commit fraud, and yet this is not the case at all. This is a brief summary of some of the reasons why authors may use a penname, and a few known examples.

Ghost writing or work for hire, I am leaving off this: in those cases the author has taken the decision to write work that will be released under someone else's name, where they often surrender most or all rights and may not receive royalties. This is not the same as a conscious choice to use a penname: where the author retains rights, is still the author and if the book reverts it falls back under their control.

That said, on to pennames.

Unfortunately there is a perception that men write thrillers and action, while women write romance. This can lead writers to adopt an alternate gender penname for marketing purposes. A modern example is Jessica Stirling, the Scottish romance author.

Some female authors use initials, because there is a common belief that boys don't read books by female authors e.g. J.K. Rowling who was allegedly told by her publisher that "Boys don't read books by women".

The idea that female authors need to disguise their gender is an old one: Currer Bell's Jane Eyre is one example. Charlotte Bronte and her sisters desired privacy, and also felt that critics rarely judged women writers by the same standards as men, so adopted indeterminate pennames. George Elliot (Mary Ann Evans) had similar reasons.

Security and Privacy
Some authors value their privacy highly, to the point where "the reclusive author" has become something of a stereotype. Nowadays, with social network, appearances and more, the use of a penname to further protect privacy is simply another step.

While Stephen King's Annie Wilkes may be fictional, there are stalkers, fan boys and obsessive individuals out there and it is a sad truth that more then one celebrity has been attacked or killed by them. Mercedes Lackey's essay "The Last Straw" highlights her experience with this risk. Some authors adopt a pen name in advance, to reduce the risk to themselves and their families should they become famous. Authors writing on controversial topics may adopt a pen name to try to avert an organised response to their publications. Many political authors use this to avoid their professional life being affected by their writing.

Professional concerns

Some writers need to seperate their writing and professional careers e.g. Trevanian who used multiple pennames both for this reason and to seperate the genres he wrote in.

There is the possibility that writing can impact on your day job, and not necessarily only if a story you release is controversial. People may not be happy if they look up their accountant or lawyer and the first thing they find is their novel writing career. Also, if people know you are a writer there can be problems in your day job, both with being taken seriously in a professional field and with running into co-workers who are fans of your work.

There is a further concern in that some writers may need to avoid being seen to represent their company, depending on what field they write in. e.g. Nevil Shute, an aeronautics engineer who wrote aviation novels. There may also be legal concerns. Several organisations, often government or regulatory ones, ban employees or sub-contractors from advertising products completely - e.g. The BBC is well known for taking a very strong line on this, and has apparently released people over the issue. In some cases contracts of this types mean that while an author can write a book under their own name they cannot promote it - and very few authors make enough to quit their day job.


Some authors adopt pennames to seperate their genre: Hugh McCracken, well-known author of YA and child's fiction, writes his gritty crime thrillers under the name Alastair Kinnon. This stops YA readers accidentally picking up the more adult work. In the era of SEO (Search engine optimisation), this is even more important if you want readers to find your books quickly.

It can also be to prevent market saturation - Stephen King wrote several early books as Richard Bachman.

More unusual reasons:

Alastair MacLean wrote several books as Ian Stewart, not because of any further need for privacy or because the books were in a different genre, but to prove that fans were buying his books because of his writing and not his name.

There is also the other reason that had cropped up more recently, for an established author to adopt a penname but list the book as "Writing as" which is to do with book ordering. Some chains will order 10,000 of an author's first book. If they sell 9,000 they return the rest and then buy 9,000 of the author's next book. If they only sell 7,500 of that book, they will only order 7,500 of the third book and so on. By the third or fourth book this can really impact the author's sales, so some authors used pennames with "Writing as" as the computer ordering systems reads it as a new author, but their fans can still find it.

I documented my own encounter with yet another reason here. There are, I'm sure, many other reasons to use a penname but hopefully this gives a quick round up of the basics. There are also reasons not to use a penname, but I'll go into those in another article.

Do you use a penname? Have any other reasons I should include? Please have your say below: