How to recognise a new kind of sock puppet

There has been a lot of talk in recent months about sock puppets and for those who’ve only just returned to Earth, sock puppetry is buying reviews for your book or making a fake account from a site such as Amazon and giving yourself a glowing review.  That’s the basic version anyway.  Google it for more information.

I’ve discovered a new kind of sock puppet and this one wears a disguise to try to hide the fact that it’s just a sock puppet.  Over on facebook I get invited to many ‘pages’ and ‘events’ run by authors all wanting to market their book or raise its public profile and many of them resort to good old bribery to do it.

They offer you prizes such as Amazon gift cards, kindles, paypal money etc but in return for being allowed to enter this competition (which is nothing more than pulling a name out of a hat) you have to buy their book, download their book, vote for their book and/or leave a review.  Then and only then will you be entered into the draw, which you probably won’t win anyway.

Now, we’d all love a brand new Kindle Fire or £100 paypal money and many people go in for these so called ‘competitions’ without realising what they are actually doing.  They are taking the promise of material reward in return for leaving a glowing review of a book they’ve probably never read anyway, which gives potential readers a totally false view of the product they intend to pay honest money for.

Let’s say for instance that this gal wrote a romance novel and offers such a thinly veiled bribe and people leave glowing reviews of it on Amazon or Goodreads saying how wonderful it is, how perfectly written and how they can’t wait to read more from this wonderful wordsmith etc, you know the sort of drivel.  So a real buyer comes along and likes the look of the hot guy on the cover and thinks about buying it but decides to read the reviews first.  Everyone seems to be awestruck by this wonderful piece of literature so they buy it and eagerly await the postman.  When the knock at the door comes they almost bite off his arm to get at the package and rip it open.  With a fresh coffee to hand and the cat on their lap, they sit down to read.

Then they discover the spelling errors, the bad (or none at all) punctuation, the continuity errors, the horrendously stilted dialogue, incorrect or total lack of research, contradictions galore and generally bad grammar.  They might not know the mistakes are there on a conscious level but they will quickly realise the book is difficult to read, it doesn’t seem to flow and they cannot tell who is talking and who isn’t.  They will get irritated by the overuse of identical dialogue attribution (if it’s used at all) and will find themselves thinking,

“What the fuck is this all about?”

They will feel disappointed and angry at the wasted money and time and will then assume that all  indie/self published books are of a similar standard and will be far less likely to buy another.  For those of us who take a lot of care over the quality of our product, that is a slap in the ta ta’s we don’t deserve.  We must act to raise the bar for the whole indie/self publishing world and a huge part of doing that is to stop trying to con our customers.  You may think it’s okay to help another author out, even if you’re only doing it in the hope they’ll do the same for you (they won’t, believe me) but take a moment to think of the customer who reads your review.  Will they be happy that you told the truth?  If not then remember that same customer might not be too happy to buy your book when it comes out, after being conned with the last one.

The Sinclair V-logs – coming soon

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A brand new space opera series is on its way

The first volume in my new space opera series will be available during February.  The Sinclair V-logs introduces you to Sam Sinclair, Freelance Law Enforcer with the Intergalactic Law Enforcement Agency who will be recounting the more memorable of his experiences in his own series of personal video logs.

Floxham Island

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Sam Sinclair thought this was just another run of the mill job.  As a freelance law enforcement operative, his job is to find the target and deliver them into the hands of the Law Enforcement Agency.  When his law enforcement contacts asked him to find Professor Nembier who they believed had murdered nine of his co workers out on a secluded archaeological dig on Agrillia 3, he fully expected to have the job done quickly.  Finding the Professor was the easy part and was to become the beginning of a terrible nightmare for Sam and his companions.

Delivering his prisoner to Floxham Island Prison should spell the end of the job for Sam and some much needed time off but once he and his companions find themselves stranded upon the strangely deserted prison planet and discover the horror that has recently taken place there, it soon becomes his worst nightmare.  Facing the horrors that lurk in the dark whilst avoiding those that dwell in the light, Sam discovers that a new killer is amongst them.  As their numbers dwindle, Sam races to find the killer and secure the lives of those still surviving amidst the terror that is Floxham Island.

Get the complete series with 25% discount

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I am delighted to be able to announce that you can now purchase the complete Lilean Chronicles series for your e-reader and get a massive 25% discount on the price of the individual volumes.

I have set up a special discounted bundle at where you can purchase the complete series for $3

That’s 4 e-books for the price of 3.

Click here to take advantage of this special offer.

The Final Chapter – Out Soon

Just letting everyone know that the fourth and final volume in The Lilean Chronicles series will be published within the next week or so.

All the formatting has been completed and I’m just waiting for my cover art guy to finish working his magic.

The Lilean Chronicles: Book Four ~ Avalanche Effect

It’s been more than two years since Vincent, Farra & Kyle returned from their harrowing experiences on Drycenia and their idyllic family life is shattered by the arrival of a mysterious stranger and the dreadful news he brings them.  Going against the wishes of the Lilean spirit people, Vincent and Farra race from world to world in search of Gabriel and as faces from the past re-appear, they discover the links between a dreadful war, a medal won for valour and a legendary angel.

It began with a broken promise and ended with a change to the path of destiny.  A small action taken in a moment of desperation that causes massive changes to the destiny of others.

NaNoWriMo Update

It’s day 4 of NaNoWriMo and it seems that many of my contacts on facebook are taking part.  This is my first year participating and I must say I’m enjoying it very much.  It is good discipline to make yourself write every day and even if you don’t reach the 50 k you’ll have pushed yourself and learned a little more of what you’re capable of.

I’m doing okay with it so far.  My total stands at just over 20 k and I’m on track to hit the 50 k on the 9th November.  My novel will be longer than that though; I like my novels to be between 80 – 100 k and it would be super awesome to finish the whole thing in the month.  I’ve completed 4 chapters so far and the real action has just begun.

The only difficulty I’m having is actually nothing to do with it being NaNoWriMo.  I’m having a problem making my protagonist nasty enough.  You see, my main guy is not nice, in fact he’s a bastard but I am finding it a real job to make him horrible enough.  I love writing nice guys and I find them easy and natural but this character is proving a challenge.  As with all my characters though, he is building himself in the way he wants to be and I’ve learned not to fight my characters when they dictate stuff.  I let them have the lead and they know I will listen to them.  I may argue sometimes but they always get their own way in the end.  Jake isn’t a nice guy but I’m finding he’s building himself into a different kind of not nice than I envisioned at the start.  His not niceness comes from his own ignorance rather than any real malice; he is so up his own ass that he just doesn’t see what a prick he is and how he pisses people off.  He is building himself into a far more sophisticated kind of not nice than I thought he would be and y’know what?  I like the guy.

Another thing I didn’t plan or envision when I began was how much sex there would be in this book.  I knew there would have to be some, seeing as how my character is a narcissistic megalomaniac celebrity, but even I’m surprised at how often he ‘whips it out.’  This is definitely going to be an 18+ novel.

I’ve also been formulating ideas for the cover art and have a brilliant idea, which I’m not going to tell you about.  The last time I shared a cover before it was published, some other asshole chick stole my idea and published 2 weeks before I was due to.  My cover art guy had to race around looking for a new idea.  Luckily we found one and it’s  actually better than the one I had planned to use so all ended well.  So I’m keeping this idea under wraps.  This book won’t be published until mid summer anyway so there’s no hurry.  I have the fourth and final volume in The Lilean Chronicles series coming out in the first week of December, then I have a second of my novella series to write so I can publish the first pair as a single volume in spring of 2013 and then it will be time for my NaNo project to come out in summer.  I also had a full plot idea fall right into my head the other night as I sat trawling through facebook, so I be getting on with writing that once my first novella pair is published.

So all is well on the writing front here.  I just wish people would buy the books so I can eat and pay a few bills..!

Paying for reviews

I recently read an article about an amazon best selling author who admitted to buying the bulk of his 5 star reviews in a deliberate attempt to fiddle the figures so he could get onto the best seller list.  I then read an article about a guy who admitted to running a website offering to write 5 star reviews for payment and how he made an absolute fortune from doing it.

My initial reactions are two fold.  First and foremost I’m not at all surprised that this has finally come out into the open for I firmly believe that this has been going on ever since online publishing/selling has been going on.  Maybe not in such an overtly commercial way but I would be willing to bet that at least 7 out of every 10 self published authors have ‘persuaded’ or ‘cajoled’ or just plain ‘begged’ their families and friends to write a gushing review for them.  I have always been amazed by the vehemence with which authors deny this goes on and similarly, by the lack of discussion or debate on this subject.

Secondly I’m disappointed, of course.  As indie authors we have enough stigma to deal with without this shit adding to our already less than perfect public image.  It also means that no one will ever be able to take a review seriously any more for we will all be wondering “is it a real one or a fake?”  and we’ll undoubtedly assume that gushing 5 star reviews are automatically fakes from now on.  It also means that those who write reviews genuinely (are there such folks?) will be less inclined to give 5 stars in case people think they’re fake.

In reality, it won’t make that much difference to me as I’ve found that people are very unwilling to write reviews at all and although hundreds of my novels have been downloaded, I’ve only received 4 or 5 reviews in total.  This is another thing that proves to me the the vast majority of reviews are fakes; people just don’t write reviews.  They can’t be arsed.  They want your free book and don’t want to give anything in return.  Yes I know readers are our customers but hey, they got my books for free y’know..!

I guess it’s all down to human nature at the end of the day.  People are selfish creatures; we want something for nothing and we don’t want to be bothered giving anything in return.  I used to be a bus driver and I found that passengers were very quick to complain when something was wrong but when everything was as it should be, they never said a word.  This used to amaze and disappoint me and in a way it still does but I’ve become a little more resigned to it now.

So where do these two revelations of review fixing leave us?  What is our next step?  Well, it will still continue of course and possibly even increase now that these two articles have been published to give hundreds of people the idea they never would’ve had before.

Maybe I’m in the wrong trade and I should turn my hand to review writing…!

Is it okay to dislike your protagonist?

This question was raised on facebook the other day and I have to admit that up until I saw it, I hadn’t given it a thought. I’d always assumed that your main protagonist was someone who you must always love. The question as to whether you can dislike them or not had never entered my head but now it has, I can’t decide. Sometimes the answer is simple; if your protagonist is a nice guy/gal who is always helping people, humble, honourable and gorgeous to boot, then it’s going to be easy to love them but what if your protagonist is a murderer?

Suppose you wrote a novel about a serial killer or some other unwashed fruit loop and their adventures; would it be wrong to dislike them? After all, you would very probably dislike such a person if you met them in real life, so why not dislike them as a fictional character? Is it okay to have a protagonist who is an unlikeable character or must they always be nice? I really feel that there’s no reason why one shouldn’t write a novel with a nasty protagonist; they have stories to tell too. The thing is, would such a book sell?

I suppose the feeling is that if the protagonist is someone you don’t like, then readers won’t want to read the book but is this true? Are readers so superficial that they won’t read a book if they don’t fall in love with my protagonist? I feel the answer is probably yes, readers tend to be that superficial and they want to like the characters and I guess that is why the bad guy is always a secondary protagonist rather than the main event. There is of course, another way of looking at this. As in real life, we may be disgusted by the actions and lives of serial killers, but we are also fascinated by them, so maybe such a book would sell?

What are your thoughts? Add your blog link in the comments and join the debate.

What’s in a name?

As writers, one thing that’s central to our work is people. Our books have people in them and people have names so the characters in our books must have names too, as should the places, animals, plants and objects we fill our imaginary worlds with. Now, unless you’re writing a factual non-fiction book, the world contained within your book will be an invention; a product of your own mind and creativity and this means that you will have to invent all of the names. If your book is based somewhere that actually exists, such as planet Earth, then many of the names will already be decided; you can’t go inventing a new breed of animal or plant on Earth unless your story centres around someone who does. In this case you will probably only need to invent the names of the places and the people and your job will be relatively easy because you will be able to choose your names to fit in with the culture, belief system and racial environment in which your story is based. People like myself who write science fiction and/or fantasy stories have to invent everything and this is both an enormous pleasure and a bit of a pain.

The Lilean Chronicles series is what used to be called space opera but is now just science fiction/fantasy with a paranormal/spiritual thread and my stories all contain space travel and visits to many different planets and races of beings, all of which require names. Then there are the creatures and plants that inhabit these worlds alongside the ‘sentient beings’ who are the central characters; all of these need names too unless I just skim over them in the story. A lot of the time I can do just that, but now and again one of these creatures or plants takes a more central role for a paragraph or two, and then they need a name unless not knowing the name becomes a part of the story. Lastly there is the ‘hardware’ that the characters use in the stories; the vehicles, gadgets, gizmos, weapons, medicines etc. All of these need names and descriptions and it is a difficult job giving them suitable ones that don’t automatically speak of some definite Earth culture or belief system.

Some names are very specific to certain races, cultures or belief systems and when we hear them, we automatically get a picture of the environment and people connected with that culture. For instance if I called one of my heroes Francoise, the reader would automatically think of him as French, even if this process was a subconscious one and they might even imagine him talking with an appropriately French accent..! Now this would be fine if my story was set in France or Canada, but if it’s taking place on the planet Zog in the 37th century, then a French feel to my character would not be totally appropriate and would decrease the ‘realism’ of the whole thing. For me, keeping it real and plausible is very important and I take great care when choosing names for my stories and I believe that the realistic feel is picked up by the reader and makes it easier for them to believe in the story and feel a part of it.

So what do I do with my names? Well there are two options as far as I can see. You could be clever like Tolkien and invent a whole new language and have your character speak that and have totally invented names. If you did this however, you would then need to include a translation. For me, inventing a new language and then including a translation requires far too much knowledge and time. The other way, which is what I do, is to take names we already know and slightly change them to make them more ‘neutral’. Let me give you an example. In my sci fi series The Lilean Chronicles, there is a fairly central character whom I have named Toma. He is a male character, young and titled and has his whole life ahead of him. He comes from a world inhabited by a very spiritual, and technologically advanced race. Because he’s not from Earth I had to give him a name that sounds young, cool and up and coming, but at the same time doesn’t sound too Earth-like and risk tagging him with the wrong identity. What I did was take the name Thomas as a starting point. This is a name that titled people often have and it doesn’t automatically make you think of a particular race or culture; it’s suitably bland. I then messed with it a bit; dropped the letters h and s and kept the rest – Toma.

It’s a similar process I use when naming planets, animals, plants and gadgets. With gadgets, I come up with the physical description first, and then I add its function into the mix and then invent a name that ties in with both so that it sounds plausible and fits its function. Other things like animals, plants and the names of planets I just have fun inventing them for they don’t necessarily have to ‘fit’ with anything.

One important thing to remember when naming your characters and other content; google the name first to make sure someone else hasn’t already thought of it. I wrote the whole of the first book in The Lilean Chronicles series before being told that the name I’d given to a race of people was already in use by the makers of Dr Who. I had to spend several days thinking of a new name for them, before going through the entire book and changing every occurrence of the name. A lesson well learned.

The Bodily Functions Question

One thing I’ve noticed in books and movies too actually, is that the characters rarely ever need to attend to their bodily functions. You do see people vomiting and taking a pee, or talking about needing to pee but it seems that in books and films generally, bodily functions stop at vomiting and peeing.

Take flight of the phoenix for instance. Not once during that movie do we see anyone taking a shit or hear them talking about going to shit, or wanting to take a shit. Neither do you see the woman talking about menstruation or the need to take care of her sanitary needs.

I fail to understand why we can watch and read about people vomiting and peeing but we can hear them say “oh hang on I must go and take a shit,” or “stop the car I must buy tampons.” We all do it for crying out loud so why deny its existence in books and movies?

I must admit that even though I feel strongly about it, every one of my 4 novels in The Lilean Chronicles series contains no mention of shitting or menstruation. Only one mentions peeing and only two mention vomiting. So why haven’t I mentioned the other bodily functions? I guess that although I know it’s stupid not to, I also know people probably wouldn’t like it.

I guess some things really are better left to the imagination huh?

Tentacles, Gloop & Flying Fried Eggs

I write science fiction cum fantasy cum space opera novels. All of my work includes travel to other worlds, other races of beings, fearsome predatory creatures and amazing technology. I find this genre affords me huge freedoms that writing stories set on earth in the now, don’t. When forming a new planet, a new race of people or a technological gizmo I can let my mind wander where it wants to go without being too bound to today’s rules of physics, biology or engineering. This means I don’t have to do very much research, which is a huge blessing. I don’t have to study engineering or today’s known limits of electrical power and I don’t have to know anything about history. My characters can be whatever I want them to be, do whatever I want them to do and the fact that such things aren’t possible today, doesn’t matter.

Some writers of this genre take this freedom to what is for me, a ridiculous extent. I’ve read books and seen movies containing beings made of gelatinous goop, tentacled ‘things’ and even the famous Star Trek flying fried eggs. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not averse to a tentacle or two here and there but I find the idea of gelatinous gloop with intelligence and reasoning and the power to make the choice to be good or evil, a little too far fetched. My sentient beings are all basically humanoid in appearance and for me this is important for one reason only – it gives the reader a familiar concept to identify with, which they recognise and feel comfortable with. I’m don’t dismiss the concept that out there somewhere is a world with super intelligent blue gloop, it’s just that I think readers need something they recognise to make that initial connection with and which will lead them willingly into the rest of the story.

I do have a ‘bad guy’ character who doesn’t have a physical body at all, but that is still better than flying fried eggs or tentacles with IQ’s higher than mine. With today’s acceptance and interest in all things paranormal, having a baddie who is just a spirit form is not only acceptable these days, but probably desirable. Maybe it’s just me but the concept of intelligent blue gloop or gelatinous tentacles with personalities, is a stretch too far. I’ve ordered my mother to shoot me if I ever put a flying fried egg into one of my books, and she’s agreed to do so..!

My sentient characters are all therefore, humanoid. I start with the basic humanoid structure and then enhance it in whatever way I want. A tweak to a brain function here, a slight adjustment to musculature there and I have a person everyone can recognise and identify with right away, but who is also different enough to us that we can accept him as ‘alien’. This is the only area where I do some research. I have this little quirk, idiosyncrasy if you like, that anything I claim for my character must have some basis in what is known and accepted science today. Even a fairly tenuous link will do, so long as there is a foundation of plausibility upon which I can build and enhance.

For instance, my main characters are Lileans. They are from the planet Lilea and they have a very close working relationship with spirits, with whom they interact and communicate with ease. I have given them this ability as an inherited, genetic trait and I’ll explain my ‘science’ behind it. Within the human brain is an area called the Thalamus. This gland has many functions but I concentrated my focus on two of them. The Thalamus takes in all the raw data brought in by your other five senses and sorts it out so that you can make sense of the world around you; so you can understand your world. The Thalamus is also the gland responsible for altered states of consciousness.

What I did with the Lilean Thalamus, was to make it much bigger than it’s Earth counterpart, more complicated in structure so that the Lileans can enjoy a much greater degree of altered states of consciousness with far more ease than us Earthlings do. I also invented a disease for this gland – Thalamic Breakdown. Sufferers have difficulty making sense of the world around them due to the diseased Thalamus not interpreting the data brought in by the other 5 senses correctly. Sufferers also lose the ability to connect with their spirit friends. I then also invented a drug treatment for this disease – Manopterfilamide THZ7.

Because I’ve based my characters’ abilities in today’s known science, they seem all the more plausible to the reader. I do this with everything concerning the biology of my characters and I feel it gives them a ‘believability’ that flying fried eggs and blue gloop can never have.