Friday, 28 October 2011

The thousandth time...my experience with self-publishing so far

I went to bed late last night with my total sales figure sitting at 999. It was a nice feeling to know that I would most probably be over that threshold of 1,000 sales by the morning.

I was. I was a few over the magical mark in the sand, actually. I am pretty damn pleased as to how well it has gone, and also a little scared to think that 1,000 people have paid (even if it is only 99c or 86p) to read my work. I am delighted at how easy it actually was to get into self-publishing after just a little research a few months ago. I had a book ready to go, having turned my Beer and Bloating in Dubai blog into book form, but I hadn't really considered this approach, holding onto some remote hope that I could land a publishing deal the traditional way, even sending out a dozen or so enquires to literary agents I found in the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook.

When I realised how easy it was to self-publish to Amazon, I went for it, and when I put "One Year In Wonderland" up on Amazon for sale in early July, I hoped I might sell a couple of hundred copies. To start with the sales rates weren't spectacular, they ticked over at around 4 a day. I had done some shameless plugging on a few internet forums I inhabit and had mentioned it a few times on Facebook to my circle of friends, but not much more than that.

August saw a slight increase in the sales rate to 5 a day, and my total sales for the month were just over 150. I got one or two reviews on Amazon and a little bit of good feedback from people I "know" from the message boards. One or two pointed out that there were a few typos and grammatical errors throughout the book, so I had a read through and found the problems. I also noticed that the formatting was a bit erratic, so remedied that at the same time. Finally I redesigned the cover, making it sharper and snazzier, in my opinion. I posted the revised edition in early September.

At the same time I sent out a few enquiries to Dubai blogs to see if they would do a review for me. One or two answered, and it was the lovely Grace at Sandier Pastures who offered to do a review. I sent her a copy by e-mail, waited a week or two and the review followed.

I don't think it's coincidence that my sales figures then started to rocket. From the middle of September up until the first week in October the rate went from 4 a day to nearly 23 a day. I sailed past 500 sales in the week following my birthday (24th Sept). The rate has dropped back a little, but I am still selling around a hundred a week, and am reaping the rewards of a little bit of marketing. My book is ranking at number 1 in the Travel>Middle East Category and has been there for at least a month now. I even rank in the top 10 of all Travel books some of the time, and got to the dizzy heights of #278 in ALL Kindle ebooks on UK Amazon. It was scary and exciting.

Around the beginning of October I read an article in a Sunday newspaper supplement magazine about e-book self-publishing, and from that I found a forum called Kindle Boards where readers and writers discuss Kindle books. I've found it a valuable place for advice on marketing, and a great sounding board for people with worries about their book. I do like to go on there and have a whinge about a bad day in my sales fugues occasionally. The article also talked about how to get your profile raised through social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, so I've built up a network of people to annoy the hell out of.

Things got even mopre exciting the other week when a published author and journalist for a major newspaper tweeted me and said he wanted to ask some questions about my experiences for an article he was writing, so I ended up talking to him on the phone, trying hard not to come across as a completely desperate wannabe. I think I came across OK, anyway, and he gave me some glowing feedback on the sample he'd read. Soon afterwards a literary agency I had previously contacted got back in touch asking for sample chapters and a synopsis.

And now I'm plugging away at making my presence felt. The book is staying between 1000 and 500 in the rankings, and I'm getting more and more reviews, none of which have been bad. Of course I would still love to get it or another book into proper print so I can hold it and smell it and put it on the bookshelf. I don't see why this can't happen in the future.

The best side-effect of all this has been the effect it's had on my writing. I'm now writing every day, and am nearly finished the first draft of my next project, which is a book about the Boro. I've got 2 working titles competing for prominence and have put out some feelers to local artists and graphic designers with a view to getting a professional cover for it. I would love to get it out by the end of November, and then move on to something else. I've heard it said that the best publicity is to have more than one book out. There are some intriguing ideas in my head, and the chance to do some ghost-writing. I might even try my hand at fiction in time. Watch this space.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Peed off with being ripped off

I went to my usual morning coffee kiosk at York station this morning and asked for my occasional treat of a regular cappuccino (I asked if I could have it, not if I could get it, of course). I was horrified - OK, slightly surprised - to hear the demanded consideration had gone up by nearly 20 pence. Cuh, Puh, Fuh, and so on.

It's getting silly. Prices for everything just seem to be heading up at a frightening pace wherever you look. I bought some extra strong mentholated sweets at the garage the other day...99p! I bought a couple of bags of sweets and 3 fizzy drinks at the cinema the other night...more than a tenner! Then there's the prices I've noticed in the supermarkets. Every little helps, I'm sure, but not at 2 pounds bloody 49p for a few scabby strawberries that go off after a few days. All those adverts and banners telling you that they are keeping prices LOW or crunching this or shrinking that...I just don't believe them, especially when you check their little games like charging more per unit for multi-packs of beans than they cost if you buy 4 tins individually. The swines.

Where we shop we use the petrol station on the way out. Once every few weeks we get a 5p per litre reduction if we've spent more than 50 quid at the checkout, which we invariably do on a weekly shop. That's nice, but it takes no more than a couple of quid off your bill of 60 plus quid to fill the tank of an average diesel-engined car. The prices have steadfastly stuck at over 130p a litre for weeks, despite news that world oil prices are coming DOWN. Now that Libya has rid itself of that Mad Dog the experts tell us we should see oil prices come down even more. Not that we should rub our hands with glee at such a bloody revolution of course; that isn't the point I'm trying to make here. I'm talking about profiteering. Will we see a price reduction at the pumps? Maybe a couple of pence, but they won't come down at the same rate which they invariably shoot up with when someone in Saudi Arabia gets annoyed about something insignificant...such as the price of a coffee at Starbucks...ahem.

And then there's those there utility companies. Their tariffs and tie-in, fixed price contracts are amazingly complex. On her request, I helped my mother-in-law choose what I thought was the best tariff when a chap came round from one of the big companies, and I struggled to understand what they guy was showing and telling me. I hope I chose right, but we do at least have some comfort in the prices being fixed for 2 years. I did have to let out a wry chuckle when I heard how the government had dealt so forcefully with these utility companies by basically letting them get away with all their price increases and confusing pricing systems and telling the consumers to "shop around". Really forceful, really flipping helpful...

As for insurance companies, they're probably the worst of the lot. When my car insurance renewal was due recently, the incumbents casually banged my premiums up by something stupid like 60% even though I hadn't made any claims. So much more retaining loyal customers. I shopped around and found a price more in line with what I'd paid before and switched. Of course, that in it itself isn't terrible, but I've seen how these slippery sods operate when trying their utmost to get out of paying up when you make a claim, and if you even think about making a claim your premiums will rocket. I've seen people who have suffered bereavement having their suffering amplified by these companies as they try every trick in the book.

So what can we do about it? Not a lot, I fear. It's all stitched up and the game is rigged. I hate to come across as a tin-foil-hat adorned conspiracy nutter, but I do wonder about who actually runs the world and who is benefiting from all these upward movements in prices. I don't see people's wages going up by these amounts. People bleat on about "trickle-down" economics, but that's a busted flush. It's a myth and has been exposed as such. We are being fleeced by a small elite who want to take us for as much as they can.

What makes me think these thought even more is seeing things like this: The 147 companies that run the world. , It doesn't surprise me to see how many of them are banks or similar institutions.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

KillerKindle - Home of indie authors and Kindle book reviews: Kindle ebook review: 'One Year in Wonderland' by C...

KillerKindle - Home of indie authors and Kindle book reviews: Kindle ebook review: 'One Year in Wonderland' by C...: I've caught many bugs down the years - colds, influenzas, gastroenteritis - but one bug I've never caught is the travel bug. I do...

Monday, 17 October 2011

Football Console/Computer Games...a Potted History

Today I went into the York branch of Game and bought a pre-owned Xbox 360 copy of Pro Evolution Soccer for 99p. 99p! I was just browsing, but I couldn't resist the temptation. I did have the 2011 version until a few months ago (I traded it in) but had been unimpressed with how the developer, Konami, had messed around with the controls. It's obviously trying to keep up with EA Sports' FIFA series, which has taken top dog status in the football gaming world in many's eyes.

I was also tempted because Pro Evo 2008 was the last version of Pro Evo I'd bought on the PS2, and my son and I had spent many a boyishly amused hour making teams of max-skilled giants with silly names (Phil Dinn and Tom Artoe, for instance) who would thrash Newcastle 37-0. Much more fun than playing out a full season as the Middlesbrough team featuring the likes of Jeremie Aliadiare...

All this got me thinking about how football games for consoles and computers have evolved throughout my life. I struggle to remember the name of the first footy game I played, but I think it was International Soccer on the Commodore 64 back in about 1987 or so. The graphics were shockingly basic, with zig-zaggy diagonal lines on the pitch and square-headed players who were able to head the almost ball from one end of the pitch to the other before smashing it past a 'keeper who dived - or fell over - about 3 seconds too late. I was horribly addicted, of course, and spent many an evening abusing the joystick and ranting like a man possessed at the crapness of my team. My mother told me I could be heard shouting at the other end of the street.

Things were to improve fairly quickly, however. Commodore upped their game with the Amiga, and the increased processing power brought about more detailed and faster games like the Kick Off series and Sensible Soccer. Kick Off 2 was ridiculously fast, but so, so smooth. The bend you could apply to the ball would shame Roberto Carlos. In the mid-'90s Sensible Soccer set the benchmark for football computer games, with easy-to-grasp gameplay and the ability to play against and humiliate friends, as we huddled together around portable TVs, mashing the joystick buttons and applying after-touch to our shots.

The Sony Playstation raised the stakes even more towards the late 1990s, and I remember thinking how superb it was to play a football game by Japanese developer Konami called International Superstar Soccer Pro that finally looked right in terms of dimensions and perspectives, and featured 32 International football teams. The stadiums looked pretty decent as well. The control pad for the Playstation, with its multitude of buttons, increased the options for players, giving them the choice of long or short passes, through balls and shots and also the ability to sprint and display skills. There was even commentary, even if it was some voice actor you'd never heard of before or since. The names of the players were a bit strange as well, although some were slightly familiar. The weird sound effects as you dribbled or passed the ball with a metallic clunk didn't detract from the smooth playability of the game.

FIFA 99 was the other football game I tried on my PS. It featured real teams from the English Premier League and real players wearing slightly dodgy representations of the club kits, and it featured commentary by John Motson and Mark Lawrenson. The graphics were pretty smooth, but the game felt a bit like you were playing on ice at times, and the player movements in cut-scenes made them look like angry gangsta rappers, for some bizarre reason.

Into the new millennium and I was soon investing in the new generation Microsoft Xbox, which took graphics up another level and offered the facility to engage in online play against your friends...who could be miles away at the time. So, so cool. The games didn't disappoint, either. The first footy game I got was Pro Evolution Soccer 4, and it remains one of my favourites, probably because it was such a quantum leap forward from the likes of FIFA 99. The graphics were great, with players looking like their real-life counterparts in many cases. The level of tactical choice was astounding and best of all, there was that ability to play against your mate who was 30 or more miles away and not risk getting a dead arm when you rubbed it in following a 4-0 drubbing. Even the odd bit of "lag", when the game slowed down, didn't spoil the experience. Of course, some people learned to exploit such things and strangers you'd been matched against by Xbox Live often just quit the games when they were losing. Leagues were even formed on on-line communities, but getting them finished was a real challenge.

PES went for realism with number 5, but that spoiled it for me. The game became less arcadey, yes, but it also became too hard. Some would say it got more realistic, but the harsh refereeing made it even more annoying. I was glad when they eased back on the "realism" in the next version.

I was an unashamed PES fanboy by now, obviously, and I gave the FIFA series short shrift for a while. I relented to the wave of popular opinion when I upgraded to the 360 and bought myself FIFA 11. It was slower and more measured, but the depth of the game was really something to behold. Being able to play as a League 2 team with the right kit and properly-named players is quite something, if that's what turns you on. Playing against them on the easiest level is more fun. The Ultimate Team add-on had me seriously hooked for a while as well. I got quite good, beating the likes of Barcelona on the hardest Legendary setting, and I spent a few quid on points for the Gold Packs. I never got a Messi or Ronaldo, though, and was soon bored of losing 7 and 8-0 to kids with the reactions of mosquitoes on speed. I'm getting old, you know.

So now I've got PES 2008 again and have convinced my son that he should recreate the team we called "The Jammers" (I don't really know where that came from, it was his idea). In the twenty-odd years I've been playing them, football games have changed a lot, but I'm still a sucker for a quick blast on a moderately easy setting to see who can score the best, acutest-angled, longest-range goal possible.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Feeling one's age...

Over the last two days I've driven to and from the Midlands for what was called an "Employee Engagement Day" at a large residential training complex. It was all presentations, speeches and team-building events such as building aeroplanes with brie and filling each others pockets with free cakes. Despite my latent cynicism about corporate BS, I had a reasonably good time. I ate far too much of the lovely free grub, and had one or two more glasses of red wine that I really should have during the evening social event.

For the trip down in the car I was joined by a young new recruit to the company. He is fresh out of university and was keen as mustard to absorb the information at the event and also mingle with his new colleagues. He asked lots of questions about the company and the projects we were working on, and I tried not to sound too world-weary when I answered them. Once the work talk had been exhausted on the three-hour drive, we started talking about music and books and films and all that good cultural stuff people have in common or otherwise. I was a little startled when more than a couple of a my cultural references went waaaaay over the young man's head. He hadn't even heard of the legendary band Simple Minds, for goodness' sake! I established that he had been born in the late '80s, and I started to feel every bit the archetypal Middle Aged man. When I had a little rant at the traffic (as is my wont) on the M1, he said I reminded him of Jeremy Clarkson. Oh sweet baby Jesus...

After the first day's presentations there was a chance for people to go and do some physical activity, be it football, swimming or jogging. I opted for a quick snooze in my room, after checking my e-mails and book sales numbers, naturally. If I'd had my mankini with me I may well have treated the swimmers to the sight of my body, but they were spared this particular ordeal. I mooched around for a bit near the social/fitness club and watched a few of the less fitness-minded people trying to play pool. I spied the footballers playing on the indoor court through a window. They were mostly young, fit things, but one or two were in their late 40s. I watched in wonder for a few minutes as they huffed and puffed gamely (as it happened they played for 2 hours straight) before heading back towards my room to get ready for the social event. I bumped into two other colleagues who were just back from a 10km run. They were soaked with sweat, red-faced and out of breath. I wasn't sure if I felt envious of them or sorry for them. I've decided that jogging isn't for me, having learned that the man who made it popular in the 1970s actually died of a heart attack whilst out jogging. Still, I half-wished I could motivate myself to run like these chaps.

At the social event after dinner I tried my usual trick of flitting between groups of people to see who was entertaining and who was easily annoyed by my presence. As the night wore on, people became more and more merry and relaxed, and started talking about possible venues to visit after the bar closed at 11.30. The night was definitely young for some of these people, even though many of us had started the day earlier than usual. I staggered to my room at the far end of the complex; that was more than enough exercise for me. I found out this morning that some had been in a pub in the nearby town until the wee hours.

How do they do it? Early start, long day of corporate stuff, sports, drinking, then on to even more drinking until some silly time in the morning. I wouldn't have been able to move this morning let alone get up at 7.30am for breakfast and breeze into the morning's events looking as fresh as a daisy. Well, OK, there were a few sweat-beaded foreheads and bags under eyes, but they lasted the rest of the day without too much trouble.

So I'm feeling my age tonight. Older than that, even. The drive home wasn't too bad, just tiring. I get very stiff sitting for long periods now and have to stop regularly for toilet breaks and stretches. My earnest colleague was still as lively as yesterday, and talked at length about the event. I tried to keep up with his energy levels but was just happy to listen to Radio 2 and mull things over. Radio 1 is too shouty and loud for me these days...

I guess that the last two days have shown me that I am approaching a mature age, but on the other hand I've seen people of my age, if not older, doing the sports and the socialising. I sometimes feel like I've got the body of a man twenty years older. I'm getting to one of those moments again, as I did in the New Year. Time to drag out the Wii Fit board and get my head around eating healthily again. I can't keep making excuses if I want to feel healthy and youthful again. There's no reason why I can't, right? Right!?

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Bullying...It does hurt

I noticed this evening that BULLYING HURTS is trending on Twitter. It hit a nerve, because bullying is something I know about.

I went to a boarding school in the north of England between 1982 and 1989. For the first two years I became accustomed to running the gauntlet of the older pupils, especially those in the year directly above mine. It wasn't really bullying as much as a well-worn ritual of making life difficult, and I wasn't alone in being on the receiving end of cruel jokes, taunts, minor physical abuse and being given stupid and menial tasks to do as punishment for the most minuscule of transgression. It was the way of the world and everyone got on with it, and when our year moved up to become 2nd Years, we treated the new 1st Years with the same disdain meted out to us.

I expected life in the boarding school to become easier and easier as the years progressed, but had something of a shock waiting for me when I returned as a 3rd Year in 1984. There was a new boy in our year, and he was different to the others. He had lived abroad for a long time and had a brash confidence about him that bordered on arrogance. He didn't immediately make many friends. Was that partly why he behaved the way he did later on?

After a few months of settling in, this new boy - let's call him Peter - decided I was an easy target. I was quieter than the other boys, and was obviously more sensitive. He started by picking on my physical appearance and added in the fact I had a limp because of the disease I'd had in my hip as a child and the numerous surgeries I'd had as a result. I'd previously been given a nick-name by the rest of the school which connected me to a famous motorcycle racer with metal in his legs, but that wasn't really hurtful; in fact I liked the name. Peter made his names as nasty and vindictive as possible, calling me a cripple and other horrible things as often as possible. He knew it upset me by the way I reacted, so he kept doing it.He soon added a physical element to his abuse, putting me in headlocks and punching my arms when he got the chance.

I wasn't alone in the bullying. Another pupil in our year - a tiny slip of a lad with the nick-name "Twiggy" - also came into Peter's sights, and by Christmas we were glad to get away from his constant abuse. At boarding school, the only time we were away from his crap was in lessons. He was in the same dormitories as us, and made the most of any time he was alone with us. I remember quite well that he wasn't half as bad when there were other boys around.

By the end of the 3rd Year, both me and the other boy had had quite enough, and made the massive mistake of telling our parents about Peter's bullying. They in turn told the school, who told Peter's parents, and he was given a stern warning as to his behaviour.

When we got back into the 4th Year in September 1985, Peter was waiting for us. When he got his chance, he told us we were both evil little snitches who would now suffer even more for daring to tell on him. Nice. We were the guilty parties all the way, and the 4th Year was utter hell for a lot of the time. He found a diary I had written with entries about a girl in the day school I had a massive crush on. He delighted in keeping it and threatening me with revelation to the whole year. I was wise and lucky enough to steal it back and destroy it when he wasn't around one day.

"Twiggy" left at the end of the 5th Year, having managed to administer a black eye to Peter on one occasion, much to the amusement of the rest of the school, who knew what Peter had been doing. He was still not very popular.

From then on, things eased up. Into the Sixth Form years, Peter eased up on the abuse, even trying to be friendly with me at times. I played along, but didn't trust him one bit. The experience he had put me and "Twiggy" through wouldn't be forgotten quickly.

Years later, at a school reunion in around 2003, there was no sign of Peter. No-one at the reunion knew of his whereabouts, and didn't really seem bothered. The one person who was interested in where he was, and was slightly upset at his absence, was "Twiggy", who was now a strapping, 16 stone, shaven-headed man, dressed in military-style clothing. He stated quite plainly that he would like to punch Peter if he ever saw him again. He didn't stay long at the reunion, and I found myself feeling quite lucky that whilst I hadn't forgotten what had happened, I didn't harbour any violent intent towards my tormentor.

If I met Peter now, I'm not sure what I'd do, to be honest. I'd probably try and laugh it all off to his face, but I'd like to think he felt some kind of remorse. I don't hate him or pity him or anything clich├ęd like that. I just hope he knows that what he did was pretty awful, and affected two people quite profoundly. I can forgive it, but I will never, ever forget what it was like to be bullied.

And now that I have my own children at school, I watch like a hawk for the slightest hint that they are suffering the slightest of bullying. If there's any sign of it, I'm going to make sure they don't have to stand for it. I believe now that it has to be nipped in the bud before the person doing the bullying thinks they can get away with it.

Bullying hurts, and it needs to be stopped.