Monthly Archives: December 2012

State Of Play

I’ve gone and done it – I’ve hired a PR company, a firm called Acute PR that specialises in promoting books both in print and in ebook format. They’re also located in Luton – practically next door for me, which was another reason for choosing them. They’re liaising with my agent in terms of co-ordinating the promotion effort – dates, etc. So what happened to the cover designer? Still in abeyance, unfortunately… Some progress is being made, though.

We’ve decided to adopt an approach of launching one of the unpublished books, with the others following on the back of it – the idea is for all eight to appear within a very short time frame. The lead book will be Berlin Endgame, because it’s the third book in a series, following on from The Dutch Caper and Emerald, so there’s an immediate link for people who have read them in print. It’s all still at an embryonic stage – we still haven’t finally decided which conversion company we’re going to go with, nor do we have a cover design set up (although we’ve decided that the covers of all eight books need to have a common theme running through them), but there is a feeling that things are beginning to happen.

The Ones That Got Away: Gold Run

Shortly after completing The Radar Job, my publisher approached me with a suggestion that I take a look at a manuscript entitled The Gold Run Three Affair, by Ralph Gordon, based on the writer’s own experiences shortly after World War II. (NB: Ralph Gordon is not his real name – the reason for my preserving his anonymity will become apparent, but suffice it to say at this stage that he wants nothing to do with Gold Run. It’s also probably better for me not to identify my publisher either, so I shall call him Fred.) The typed manuscript told a good story about an underground Nazi organisation called Die Spinne (The Spider), but Fred felt that it needed drastic editing – would I be interested in having a go at this as it was not a million miles away in content from Faust and Radar? The book would then be published as a co-written venture. I agreed to take a look, then carried out a pretty detailed editing job on it, cutting out, or shortening, some sequences that seemed irrelevant to me, while expanding some others, but this didn’t go far enough for Fred – he wanted a complete rewrite. ‘Write it your way,’ he said.

The problem was that I had been told that the story was at least partly true – but which parts? I didn’t want to make any changes to actual events, so I told Fred that it might be best if I met Ralph to sort that out; Fred apparently agreed and kept saying he would arrange a meeting, but it never happened. I ended up making some pretty drastic changes to the story, changing some of the characters who I was fairly sure were invented and inserting a whole new subplot concerning investigations into Die Spinne, until all that was left of the original were sequences between the three main characters and some scenes involving Army life that seemed pretty authentic in terms of background. I submitted the revised version to Fred, expecting still to have a meeting with Ralph, who had not seen my manuscript at all, but Fred then went ahead and published it anyway, using the name Ralph Gordon on the cover (along with mine).

Some time later, I received a letter from Ralph’s solicitors, saying that he was suing Fred for publishing the book without his consent – I was relieved to find that it had been sent to me purely for information, and I was not included in the suit. In some ways, it was the beginning of the end of my relationship with Fred. I was far from happy with what had happened, and even though the chances of the original manuscript ever being published were virtually zero (it had already been to a large number of publishers without success), I could sympathise with Ralph Gordon to a very large extent; it was his baby and it had been taken away from him.

It was not taken up by Walker Books for publication in the States, either because they were aware of the legal issues involved, or they weren’t very impressed by it anyway. Looking back on it now, I suspect it was the second motive – it isn’t a book that I’m all that pleased with nowadays. I never felt that I was really in control of it at any time – I could not get any real handle on the central relationship, or even on the characters themselves, which didn’t help. Even before I had finished working on it, I had decided that I was not going to be involved in any more collaborations. Fred apparently felt the same; he had suggested that I take a look at a story outline for an espionage thriller that he had been sent, but, after Gold Run, he never mentioned it again.

Fast forward to the year 2010, when I was thinking of releasing the books in ebook format; I tracked Ralph down (I still have never actually met him) and contacted him with a view to republishing the book – there was no way that I was going to proceed without his approval – and I discovered that, even now, he is still bitter about the experience (understandably) and would not countenance the release of a book that he described as an ‘abomination’. I took that as a ‘no’…

Whether it is the knowledge that it is dead in the water or I’m simply looking at it with a more critical eye, I have come to realise that there is far too much that still needs doing to it anyway – for example, the Die Spinne in the book bears little resemblance to the actual Nazi organisation set up in the later stages of the War and which continued to operate for some time afterwards. So that’s it, really – finished, kaput. Oddly enough, it was a book that my Mum always liked, because of the romance that is central to the story, but (sorry, Mum!), it’s that same romance that is the problem – it just doesn’t make sense.

So that was Gold Run. Put it down to experience.




The Ones That Got Away: The Cromwell Exercise

I’ve had six books published in print: The Faust Conspiracy, The Dutch Caper (originally published in the UK as The Radar Job), Emerald, Gold Run (with Ralph Gordon), The Alaska Project and Piccolo. However, I completed two novels between Faust and Caper, The Cromwell Exercise and Phoenix (neither of which have ever seen the light of day despite constant revision and, now, at least in the case of Cromwell, never will). As a result, The Radar Job was actually my fourth novel and I think that explains why, in my view, it works so much better than Faust did (at least in its print version) – I learned from the mistakes made in the second and third manuscripts. Phoenix may yet rise from the ashes (sorry!) but will only do so in a vastly different form, but The Cromwell Exercise has been consigned to the great slush pile in the sky, even though, at one point, it was a close run thing as to whether it would actually be published by Malvern ahead of Faust. Both books were close to completion, but the publisher felt (rightly) that Faust was slightly more developed than Cromwell, so we pushed on with Faust, with the idea that Cromwell would be the second book.

So what went wrong with that plan?

The Cromwell Exercise actually started out as a prequel to another idea I’d had, which was for a novel set in a United Kingdom ruled by a military dictatorship (provisionally titled A State Of Denmark). It occurred to me that it would make more sense to have a novel describing how this authoritarian state came to be, and so The Cromwell Exercise was born. Basically, it revolved around a plot to assassinate a Labour Prime Minister as he was laying a wreath at the base of the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday. It was set up by a conspiracy of right-wing politicians and leading military figures in order to remove what was seen as being an extreme left-wing government; the Provisional IRA would be implicated in the assassination, and in the aftermath of the killing, calculated to provoke maximum outrage, martial law would be declared ‘for a limited time’. In fact, the seizing of power would be anything but temporary, and would only be relinquished once the IRA had been totally annihilated – and probably not even then. The main character, Vinter, is a member of an ultra-secret unit in British Intelligence that, effectively, has carte blanche in dealing with the IRA; their role, purely and simply, is to eliminate Provos. Vinter does not have a problem with this – his fiancee has been killed by the IRA – until he discovers the outlines of the Cromwell Exercise, the codename given to the planned military coup. He tries to prevent it, and almost succeeds, but the final scene shows the Prime Minister lying dead on the steps of the Cenotaph; the coup will inevitably take place.

The point was that it was very much a book of its time; once Margaret Thatcher came into power, the likelihood of there ever being an extreme left-wing government rapidly disappeared. Thus, Cromwell, which had mostly been written in the late 70s and early 80s, became less and less plausible; in any case, there were various plot holes that resolutely refused to be closed. It gave way to The Radar Job as the next in line to be published, then Emerald and so on… I attempted a rewrite of it in the 90s, with the military coup idea being dropped and the assassination being set up by the head of Vinter’s unit because he did not want the unit to be shut down and felt that, by implicating the IRA, it would not be. Unfortunately, in the real world, the peace process was taking place in Northern Ireland and the IRA were no longer seen as being the force they were – and the plot holes were still there, anyway. On to the back burner again…

When I decided to convert the books to ebooks, I had another look at Cromwell, before finally consigning it to history. The IRA were no longer a remotely plausible threat, so I would have had to change the bad guys to Al-Qaeda or some similar group, which would then have meant scrapping entire sections set in Belfast and the Irish Republic; in addition, I found that I had ‘cannibalised’ a number of action sequences from it, adapting them for other novels, so there wasn’t very much left to work with anyway.

Would it have been a success if it, and not Faust, had been published first? Who knows… Like Faust, it had been corrected and revised a number of times, but had never quite ‘gelled’, somehow. And from then on, it became outdated very rapidly. To be honest, I’ve never managed to generate any real enthusiasm in terms of revising it – apart from the plot holes, the characters now seem embarrassingly stereotypical. The strange thing is that Cromwell probably came within about five minutes of being my first published book – but it never happened. And now, it never will…


Ebook Conversion (2)

I’ve been carrying out a fair amount of research in terms of what different ebook publishers offer and I’ve come to some basic conclusions. The point to remember is that, if you don’t have a publishing contract with a print publisher, you pretty much need to self publish, i.e. pay for it yourself. OK, there are free options – you can submit a Word document of your text to Amazon and they will convert it to a Kindle format for nothing. They will then list it on the Amazon site, but, unless you take a fairly active part in promoting the book, that’s about it. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not knocking Kindle or Amazon, but it’s a case of you get what you pay for. For example, unless you provide a cover, you will get their basic text only on a yellow background cover on your ebook; it’s a bit of a sink or swim scenario. (And as regards getting a decent cover, you really need to be thinking in terms of spending at least £200 if you’re going to use a professional artist – unless you know of one still ‘on the way up’.) To be fair, Amazon do give Kindle books a fair bit of exposure – but they give an equal amount to those that they are selling for other publishers (they’re in the book selling business, when all’s said and done).

However, if you want a bit more for your bucks, in terms of a professional cover, along with placement with not just Amazon, but also the likes of iBooks, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Waterstone’s, W H Smith, etc, you’ve got to start looking at the publishers that offer ebook conversion. The level of support varies a lot: some offer a basic service of conversion of the text to epub or mobi and distribution to online retailers, but that’s it – cover designs are extra, along with proof reading and any kind of promotional campaign. Others offer all of the above, but at a significantly higher price overall. The point is that, really, you do need an effective cover design and a book that isn’t peppered with typos or other editing glitches. Once it’s out, you need to spread the word – the book has to be featured on websites (your own along with the publishers and retailers), you’ve got to get some decent reviews together (my books actually did gain some good reviews in the literary press when they came out in print, but you also need positive feedback from readers) and get the book mentioned as much as possible on social media – Facebook, Twitter and so on. Basically, you’ve got to depend on ‘word of mouth’ to give you as high a profile as possible.

To be honest, the best way of promoting your book is to get a PR company involved – again, more expense, but they know all the dodges. If you do want to make at least some money, you’re not going to achieve that by simply getting the book converted and then hoping for the best. I’ve been looking into the possibilities here, as well as sorting out a cover designer.

It all seemed so straightforward when I started…



Ebook Conversion (1)

When I retired from teaching in 2010, I decided that one retirement project was to convert my books into ebook format and release them online; I was able to do this as the copyright on each book had reverted to me. Why did I want to do this, though? Partly, it was vanity; I wanted people to read my books, especially those who hadn’t the first time round. There was also the fact that it was an opportunity finally to produce the versions I really wanted, to sort out the glitches or poor editing decisions (or those that I thought were poor, anyway) like putting the Author’s Note at the beginning of Emerald, where it gave away far too much, rather than at the end, where it was meant to be. And, partly, I confess, there was the thought that maybe, just maybe, I could make some money out of it… There was a little bit of all these in the decision; I’d like to think that it was the second one that predominated (getting the damn things right), but I’m not sure I can give a totally objective assessment of my motives. Anyway, for all these reasons, I decided to go ahead.

Easier said than done, however, because the contents of the books had to be converted to digital format and although the books had originally been written and edited using a wordprocessor, the actual text files were now seriously out of date. I had written all of the novels on an Apple II computer, using Apple Writer, which had been saved onto floppy disks (those old five and a quarter inch things – remember those?). These had already been converted to a RISCOS format for an Acorn Archimedes computer (my next computer), so that they could be edited using First Word Plus, but by the time I needed to access the text for conversion, I had subsequently been using a PC desktop, before returning to Apple for an iMac desktop. In other words, the Acorn disks were about two generations out of date and I could not find anywhere that could convert them even to a PC format, let alone a Mac.

So I adopted a brute force approach. I took a copy of each book, and sliced the pages out of them using a Stanley knife, even though this seemed almost sacrilegious to someone who loves reading as much as I do. The pages were then fed, chapter by chapter, through a printer/scanner using an OCR scan, which converts the image of each page into text that can be edited using Word – to say that this was all a lengthy process is something of an understatement. Each document then had to be proof read and corrected before I could even think about any revisions – but revisions there would be, as the passage of time had revealed a number of flaws in each book. Some were merely typos, but in others (for example, The Faust Conspiracy), the weaknesses were almost embarrassing in terms of characterisation or narrative style, and so here was a chance to produce an Author’s Cut, as it were. Most of the books, however, held up pretty well and only needed to go through a re-polishing, but one book, Gold Run, co-written with Ralph Gordon, was left out of this process completely, both for legal and aesthetic reasons; this will not be coming out as an ebook. (I might be doing another blog entry on this later, but, there again, maybe not…)

There are software packages available to convert Word files to ebook format, or you can have it done by an ebook publishing company (obviously, this costs money, and, most of the time, the book covers can cost as much as the book itself, especially if you want anything half decent). Which is another point – you can’t use the original print covers for ebooks because of copyright issues. I’m using the print covers on this website for the moment as I am not offering the books for sale personally, but they can’t be used on the ebooks without the publisher’s consent. Once the new covers are available, they’ll replace the old ones on the website.

Present state of play: my agent has come up with some figures for ebook publication, but the covers still have to be sorted out. Once that happens, the ebooks could be out in a couple of months after that.