Dealing with a 1-star review

As a new author, with a new ebook on Amazon, reviews are essential, especially good reviews. It therefore came as a bit of a shock, and disappointment, when my first review only awarded “An Illusion of Peace” 1 star out of 5. This was compounded by the facts that this rating had come from someone I know, and that the accompanying review text suggested that the reason was simply that the book was “not my cup of tea”.

In some ways I would have been happier with a direct criticism of the book. If they had found the characters unconvincing, the story dull or the conclusion unsatisfactory, at least then I would have some idea of where I had fallen short. But feedback that suggests that the only thing wrong was that the style or subject of the book wasn’t something that the reader would normally read isn’t terribly helpful.

Whatever the reason, this leaves me in the difficult position of being an unknown new writer, competing with hundreds of thousands of ebooks in my genre, with a 1 star review. It is difficult enough to sell an ebook, even at 99p, but the addition of a poor review might make this impossible.

Was I disheartened? Well yes. Did it make me wonder whether it was worth continuing to write? Yes again. But then, after a rather down day, I remembered why I write in the first place. To some extent it is for my readers, but in the main part it is for me. I enjoy writing, I think that my writing is OK, and there are worlds within me I want to explore. I don’t mean deep philosophical revelations, or ground-breaking insights into modern society and the human condition, I simply mean stories about interesting characters in challenging situations, their worlds, their hopes and how they cope with the crap thrown at them.

So I will soldier on, and enjoy the journey. Hopefully my readers will enjoy both that and the destination.

Plumped for Adobe CC subscription

I resisted it for a long time, but having had access to all the Adobe CC programs in my previous job I found it too frustrating not being able to use Photoshop, Indesign, Illustrator, Premier Pro, Audition etc so have started subscribing to the Adobe CC suite.

On the plus side, I had an interesting afternoon creating an instruction video using Premier Pro and Audition, on the negative side, I have to pay a subscription. The other negative is that I will only be able to open some of the files I create using the CC programs if I continue to pay the subscription. This did seem to be a big negative, but I have files on my computer going back 20 years that I can’t open because I don’t have the programs installed, and probably can’t get compatible versions anyway. OK, I don’t have to pay anything to use them, but I can’t open them so they are effectively useless.

It seems to be the way the world is going. Everything is becoming subscription based. Even Microsoft are moving towards a subscription, browser-based version of Windows. On the plus side, no more worrying whether hackers will be able to exploit an older version of a program, or missing out on the latest whistles and bells (that I probably won’t need).

Whatever, it is great to be able to flick between the different Adobe programs; to be able to edit Premier Pro audio file in Audition; to be able to place an illustrator file in InDesign. I suppose that I don’t have any reason not to produce the audiobook version of my book now!

Newsletter plugin

I have installed a newsletter plugin on my WordPress website. I picked Hubspot as it seems to have good reviews. It allows anyone visiting my site to sign up to receive any newsletters that I have the urge to send out.

Newsletters about what, I hear you ask? Probably about any book launches, audiobook work, possibly even a particularly successful reorganisation of my sock drawer; who knows.

If you would like to find out, or even see what the Hubspot plugin looks like in action, sign up from the Welcome page.

An Illusion of Peace – trailer

Films can have trailers, with dramatic voices and clips, so why can’t we do the same with books? So here is the trailer for my book:

An Illusion of Peace – trailer

‘We started getting reports from other divisions about 20 minutes ago sir’ explained Fisher. ‘London first; their systems started picking up key identifiers in the public communication networks. Since then we’ve had warnings pop up for eight more divisions’
‘London’s gone dark; communication lost’. After a few more seconds more black regions appeared on the map, spreading across the country, heading north and towards us in the west. ‘This is serious.’…

The truck suddenly lurched to the right as a wave of red heat illuminated the view around us. I grabbed the seat under me, trying to hold on as the truck violently bounced, then lost my grip as a sudden crunching stop threw me forward to slam into a mass of bodies, equipment and swearing…

Shots, explosions and flashes continued into the night, spread across the city. Each flash was accompanied by the strange hiss…

It seemed to reach about halfway up the height of the arch and almost as far across, probably about 3 meters tall. The surface seemed to be moving slowly. As the daylight grew I could see colours swirling across the surface of a roughly conical shape. It didn’t seem entirely solid; the edges undulated slightly.
‘I think we might actually be looking at an alien’…

‘We’re trapped’ said Fisher, wide eyed, still cowering down behind the wall.
‘We’re safe. These walls must be a meter thick. There’s no way that thing can hurt us here.’
‘But you saw what it did to Jones, he’s gone’…

The world exploded in fierce light and sound. I was in the air, surrounded by a ball of heat, then falling, tumbling. I was dimly aware of the slap of water, and it closing over me, of a brief relief at the cooling comfort, then darkness swallowed me whole…

A world of voices tumbled through me. I had a sense of a vast network of interconnected minds, of plans, desires and hopes, in a web of thoughts. The cold voice focused on me; questioning, probing, interrogating me. It was wonderful and terrifying…

I knew I was dreaming. In my dream I was standing on a vast plateau, with bright red rock stretching in all directions, flat and unbroken. I looked down. The rock below me was covered with a thin layer of liquid which slowly rippled, even though there was no breeze. It surrounded my bare feet, nestling up as high as my ankles…

The ship was a blur of movement now, spinning so rapidly that it was just a fuzzy sphere. Suddenly there was a scream of metal and I was looking at an explosion of debris as the sphere disintegrated into countless plumes of smoke and cloud…

There was a noise behind me. I turned to see two tall, thin figures facing us, long hollow tubes pointed towards us. They looked human in shape, but I estimated that the taller of the two must have been nearly 3 meters in height. Their hairless pale skin was completely exposed to the cold wind, their only clothing short red skirts…

We charged down the wide thoroughfare, then turned right into the narrow street leading to the portal steps. As we neared the archway there was a stressed crack as it started to collapse. We dived through, narrowly missing the falling stone and rolled down the steps to the landing area. If it hadn’t been for the lower gravity I suspected we would have been either crushed or killed by the fall, if that were possible in this simulated world…

An almost imperceptible red background glow seeped into the void and gradually intensified. I could just make out Olivia by the faint light, her eyes tight closed, her body drawn up into a ball apart from her outstretched arm, ending in that vital contact with me. As the glow grew, she opened her eyes and looked across at me, shooting me a strained smile. A dim red floor started forming below us, and red walls to either side and above. I found I could put my feet down on the surface and it was firm…

‘You have the physicality we have lacked. You are a practical species, we have uses for such.’
Slaves, I thought. Slaves to build your ships, crew them, and carry you to new worlds. No thanks’…

An Illusion of Peace, available now as an ebook on

An illusion of peace: The Consonance series: Book 1 by [Steve Wawman]

To obscurity and beyond

I read a slightly sad Tweet last night from an author nearing the end of her first book. She was bracing herself for the disappointment of watching her much loved work disappear into obscurity. After a couple of years of painstaking writing, pouring herself into the book, she was faced with the very real possibility that it would just disappear into the ever-growing sea of ebooks.

To be honest, her expectations are probably entirely realistic. Figures are difficult to obtain but an estimate is that a new ebook is uploaded to Amazon every 3–5 minutes. That adds up to, well a lot of books a day (I write, I try and avoid maths for the sake of my sanity). Chances are, her book, any book by a new author, is most likely to be swallowed up by this ocean. There are rare cases where a new book may be so good or so in tune with the public mood, and be lucky, and become a best seller or major movie, but you are probably more likely to strike it rich by buying a lottery ticket. That being said, I still half wait from a call from Netflix or Tom Cruise to negotiate the rights to my first book.

But, in my view, that isn’t a reason not to bother. I say write because you enjoy it. Write because there are characters and worlds inside you that need letting out. Write because it is good for your mental health. And, above all, write for yourself.

It is slightly strange to think that my book, such as it is, will still be available for people to read download and discuss many years after I am gone. A little part of me will live on in a much cheaper and less annoying way than having children.

In the meantime, all my cat wants is for me to earn enough to feed him and tickle his ears.

Mind the gaps?

The average day usually has a few gaps in activity; waiting for a bus, waiting for the kettle to boil, even sitting on the toilet. With technology nowadays it is easy to use these little gaps to browse for cat videos, have arguments on Facebook or plan world domination, but just as easily they can be used to write a few words. I tend to use Evernote in those circumstances, as it works well on phones, my Chromebook and desktop, and a fair chunk of An Illusion of Peace was written this way. I then transferred it into Scrivener to polish it up and organise it.

Sometimes I do sit down like a proper writer and spend an hour at my desk bashing out words, and this can be very productive. But I find it difficult to say ‘right, I will spend a set time at my desk every day writing’, especially as I spend most of the rest of the day at it occupied with my proper job.

So use those gaps, make them work for you, and leave your readers wondering if the amazing scene they are experiencing was actually typed out in the bathroom. Alternatively, plan for world domination and send me a postcard when you achieve it.

Motivation for writing

I am very lucky to belong to a great little writers group and enjoyed our regular bi-weekly meeting this lunchtime. As for many things nowadays, this was online, but I think we are all well used to this by now, and the meetings are always enjoyable.

They are a great motivation to me to keep writing, not because I feel embarrassed if I haven’t banged out thousands of words since the last meeting, but because I can see how much of a challenge it is for everyone. People go from dull-drum periods where they feel their writing is crap, through times where they can’t motivate themselves at all, to productive, enjoyable, sometime sustained, bursts of enthusiastic writing. And why is that motivating to me? Because I am just the same, and that means that it is OK to wonder whether it is worth it sometimes.

It must be wonderful to be a consistent writing, pushing out a steady few hundred or thousand words every day, of good quality. I also suspect that this is also extremely rare. So I will accept the periods where the writing gets away from me, where sentence structure is as natural as eating a wheelie bin; stop beating myself up about it, and enjoy the times where it flows. When it doesn’t, I shall just try to get a few words down, in the knowledge that when the better times come I will have raw material to work with. Easier to edit something than nothing.

Ultimately, I know I am never going to make a living from writing, it is just an enjoyable pastime for me. If people enjoy my writing, great, but if I don’t enjoy it, what is the point?

1st or 3rd person?

My first book, “An Illusion of Peace“, was written in the first person, following the events of a small team fighting aliens, told through the eyes of their leader. As such it was all first person. I turned out quite well, if I say so myself (which I just did).

The second book in the series has a wider range of characters and two distinct story arcs. Much of it had already been written before I had even started on the first book, for various reasons that may, or may not, become apparent at some point in the future. Thus far the draft is in the third person, probably the more usual format for a novel of this genre and structure. But I very much enjoy writing in the first person and have been debating with myself whether I can apply it to the new book.

Would readers cope with a novel written from the point of view of 3 or 4 characters, across two story arcs? I am thinking that each chapter would have the name of the point of view character at the top. It might be difficult to do effectively. It would certainly be fun to try. It could either end up a mess or an interesting way of describing the events of the book, to be called “Surfacing event”.

I guess I will attempt a re-write on the draft and see how far down the rabbit hole it goes. Wish me luck!

Weekend October gardening

We are enjoying a brief October warm spell in the UK and, despite not being a terribly keen gardener, I was out in the low autumn sun cutting back weeds, pulling up stinging nettles and generally tidying up before the winter arrives. It seems that to have a successful, neat garden it is necessary to be out titivating every five minutes, least a weed appear in an otherwise pristine border, or a squirrel attempts to dig a hole in the lawn. I must admit that I am OK with a bit of disorder in the garden, and am quite keen on squirrels, especially if it means I can spend more time writing, going out for a meal or generally enjoying activities that don’t make my back hurt. Gardening seems to be the ideal way to ache. Why does everything have to be at ground level?

When I write, I sit on a nice comfortable chair with my keyboard and monitor ideally positioned for ease of use. Perhaps I need a garden at desk height, preferable in the warm, and sheltered from the rain. Each spring I do have a little burst of enthusiasm for gardening, but fortunately it soon goes away, even without counselling. Maybe when I retire a keenness might suddenly emerge for the garden, but since my calculations indicate that I will only be able to afford to retire about 2 years after I die, that is less than likely.

In search of reviews

As my new ebook reaches the dizzying heights of three whole sales, and I debate what to do with the £1.05 royalties, I am on the search for some honest reviews to appear on the Amazon site. Hopefully the reviews will be good, but if not, they will at least be useful as feedback on my writing.

But how to obtain them? My current plan is to switch it to free for a few days and reach out to known reviewers on Reddit, Twitter and wherever else I can find them. I think the book is good, and hope that others will do so as well.

Writing a book is half the effort, marketing and getting it noticed is at least the other half, and not something that comes naturally to me. The skills needed to write a book and those needed for marketing and sales probably don’t have a lot of overlap.

(If you are wondering, the cash went on the bottom third of a very nice latte.)