Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Revamping The Cover Of Soft Target

It's a fact of life that, in the world of publishing at least, you CAN judge a book by its cover.

I've been asking my publisher Hodder and Stoughton to revamp some of my early covers. In my experience, revamping a cover can substantiality improve sales. It has worked for my self-published books and I hope it will be just as effective with my Hodder and Stoughton books.

They have agreed to test the water by revamping the cover of Soft Target, the second book in the bestselling Spider Shepherd series.



The existing cover is good, but it has been around for almost ten years.

Hodder came up with this cover as a replacement.


I liked it but worried that it's a bit futuristic, giving it the look of a sci-fi novel.  And I also worried that the figure - who is presumably meant to be Spider Shepherd - is left handed.  The gun is also definitely not Metropolitan Police issue. In my humble opinion the details of a cover aren't that important, what matters is the overall feel. And this feels good. I love the London skyline.

I explained my feelings to Hodder and they came back with a slightly different version.


I think this is brilliant, and it'll soon be up as the new cover. Hopefully it will lift sales. I shall keep you posted!

You can buy Soft Target on Amazon by clicking HERE

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A FREE Dan Shepherd Short Story

Hodder and Stoughton are publishing a FREE Spider Shepherd short story to coincide with the publication of White Lies, the new Spider full length novel which is out in August.

They are currently fine-tuning the cover!



The short story will be out four weeks before the novel and is already available for pre-order HERE

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Judging A Book By Its Cover

It's a cliche, of course, that you can't judge a book by its cover.  In fact, when it comes to self-publishing, a cover is a pretty good indicator of the quality of a book. Generally I've found that while it's not true that all good books have good covers, it does seem to be the case that bad books more often than not have bad covers.

When you self-publish eBooks, the cover is the first thing the potential buyer sees. If they don't like the cover at first glance, they'll just move on and you've lost a sale.

Back in June 2012, I self-published a collection of free short stories - Short Fuses. Since then it has been downloaded more than 50,000 times, which is a success in any terms. The book is a marketing tool - along with the four free short stories I have included opening chapters of half a dozen of my bestsellers, which I hope will bring in new readers.


Recently I decided to refresh the cover, and went to Derek Murphy at creativeINDIE for advice. Derek is an expert at revamping tired covers - you can see his website HERE

I told Derek I'd like something similar, but more modern, cleaner, and with more impact.

He came back with three suggestions.


I liked all three suggestions, but after I had received feedback from my Facebook friends, I settled on the one on the right, with a slight tweak. I thought that having my name on one line would look better.


Derek figured that having FOUR EXCITING SHORT STORIES above the title would have more impact, and I agreed.

So, we agreed on the cover on the left, and I posted it on Amazon and Smashwords on April 25. I think it definitely looks cleaner and more modern, the big question I needed answering was would a new cover boost sales?



The answer is a resounding YES!

Over the first three weeks of April, I averaged 55 downloads a day.

A week after putting up the new cover, I was averaging 64 downloads a day. Yesterday more than 125 copies were downloaded.


I haven't done any promotion or advertising, all I did was change the cover. The number of downloads has more than doubled and the book is now in the Top 200 on the Amazon Free list.

You can download Short Fuses for free at    myBook.to/shortfuses 

Incidentally, I am currently working on a similar anthology of free short stories plus chapters of my early books. It'll be called More Short Fuses and I'm using one of Derek's other cover ideas. Watch this space!


Monday, June 2, 2014

Blood Bath - More Than 16,000 Copies Downloaded So Far

Blood Bath - a collection of seven Jack Nightingale short stories, has been downloaded 16,275 times since it was published last month.  It's FREE, of course, but even so I think that's pretty good going!



Blood Bath is free - you can get it at Smashwords for all eReaders or for the Kindle by clicking HERE  The plan is for it always to be free, it's a great way of introducing readers to the Jack Nightingale series, and to the other writers who collaborated with me on Blood Bath.




Joining me in the book are six other authors, including bestselling thriller writer Matt Hilton, creator of the Joe Hunter series. He joined writers Alex Shaw, Conrad Jones and Andrew Peters, and Nightingale fans Robert Waterman and Lynnette Waterman.  All put their own spin on the character, while remaining true to the original.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Why Is Howard Jones, Conservative Councillor For Leatherhead North, Picking On Me?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, by far the best way of dealing with trolls is to ignore them. Generally they are looking to provoke a reaction, and if the don't get a reaction they'll eventually get bored and turn their attention elsewhere.

If you get a malicious review, just ignore it. If you get trolled on a forum or a blog, just ignore it. And if a troll vents his spleen on Twitter, just block the person and they won't bother you again.

Some of the best advice on dealing with trolls comes from self-publishing guru Joe Konrath. His mantra is - ignore them. –  ALWAYS GREAT ADVICE FROM JOE KONRATH

The big question, though, is how long you have to ignore a troll before they move on and pick on someone else.   Most trolls give up after a few weeks. A few will persevere for a month or two, especially on Twitter because Twitter makes it so easy for trolls.

But some really don't know when to give up. I've written before about Howard Jones, a man I have never met, never spoken to, and until he Tweeted about me, I'd never heard of.

Out of nowhere, back in March, Howard Jones posted a very strange Tweet. Someone had posted about a character called Mo Ansar being evasive  and Howard Jones then Tweeted ‘Makes Stephen Leather look easy to pin down.’





According to his Twitter profile he was a barrister, politician, historian and cricket lover. He mentioned his dog, Arthur, but there is no mention of a wife or children. I had never heard of him. I'd never spoken to him or about him. I didn't know him and he didn't know me. So why the gratuitous insult?



As I said at the time, I was somewhat concerned, because when a barrister says that you are hard to pin down, it suggests that he has met you and gathered that impression from something you had done. And I was very sure that I had never met Howard Jones, in his professional capacity or indeed in any capacity. My worry was that people might think that he had questioned me in court! 

I didn’t want to send him a public Tweet but then I noticed that he was following my Twitter account.  I was following him and he was following me, and when two people follow each other they can send each other a direct message, a Tweet that only they can see. A private Tweet. So I sent Howard Jones a private Tweet, just for his eyes, saying that I wanted to get in touch with him. I asked him for a number so that I could call him.  Unfortunately, instead of getting in touch as I’d asked, he then fired off four public tweets, for everyone to read.



In the public Tweets he said that I had been putting some time and research into trying to get in touch with him. That’s a bit of an exaggeration as I spent just one minute on Google and one minute on the phone calling his last place of work. Ten seconds to send him a private Tweet.

And he made it seem as if I had been doing something wrong in following him –  completely ignoring the fact that he was following me.  If he hadn’t been following me, I wouldn’t have been able to send him a Direct Message.

But what really worried me was his public comment – “Should I expect grief or do you have to be a fellow writer to get grief?’

I was stunned that a barrister would think it appropriate to ask such a leading question in public.  It’s on a par with the legendary ‘how long have you been beating your wife’ question. I doubt any judge would allow such a question in court and I don’t understand why he felt it necessary to say that in public.  I did notice that not long after he sent the Tweets, he changed his profile to say that he was a non-practising barrister.



I thought that would be the end of it, but I was wrong.  Not long after that, Howard Jones started Tweeting about me again, but this time he made more serious allegations.



In a series of Tweets, Howard Jones accused me of being behind a sockpuppet account that had been active on Twitter.

That is an absolute lie. The account is nothing to do with me. I Tweet through two accounts and both are clearly labelled with my name on the profile page, @stephenleather and @firstparagraph.  Those are the only two accounts I use.  I don't know why Howard Jones decided to make those allegations in public, but they are lies and I deserve an apology. I doubt I will get one, because Howard Jones has demonstrated an unwillingness to engage with me directly, he prefers to Tweet insults and lies.

Howard Jones was recently elected as a Conservative Councillor for Leatherhead North - and yes, I appreciate the irony that my name plays such a large part in his life. He changed his Twitter profile to let the world know of his new political office. He removed the word 'politician' and added 'Councillor For Leatherhead North'. 





It was a close-won race. Howard Jones received 525 votes, only slightly ahead of Adrian Daniels of UKIP, who polled 512 votes, and Lib Dem Christopher Lloyd who got 519 votes. 





I hope the fact that he now is in office means that he'll stop trolling me. It's one thing to be trolled by a member of the public. It's another to be trolled by a (non-practising) barrister. But if  a Conservative Councillor for Leatherhead North takes to Twitter to harass someone they have never met or even spoken to, then that's a different matter. I'm sure that his constituents would rather he spent his valuable time looking after their interests than Tweeting baseless allegations about me. We shall see.











Tuesday, May 20, 2014

White Lies Covers

My publisher is trying a neat experiment with the new Spider Shepherd book - White Lies - which they will be publishing around the world this August.


They've already decided on the above cover, which I think looks great. But they have decided to go with a completely different cover for the American market.


I'm told that American book buyers prefer their action covers to be red and orange. True or not, I love the US cover!

You can pre-order White Lies HERE

Saturday, May 17, 2014

White Lies - The Cover Is Ready

The cover for the new Spider Shepherd novel - White Lies, which will be published in August by Hodder and Stoughton - is pretty much done, and I love it!



The book is already up on Amazon for pre-sale and is available by clicking HERE

I'm really pleased with White Lies, it's more action-packed than previous books, with Shepherd heading off to the badlands of Pakistan to rescue a former protege who has been kidnapped by al-Qaeda.

The tagline at the bottom - The Truth Can Get You Killed - is mine.

I also had a hand in the writing of the blurb - the copy that goes on the cover and which is a vital marketing tool.  Most people do indeed judge a book by its cover, and once they've looked at the picture they go on to read the blurb (hopefully). Blurbing is an art - that and the cover are often the two main selling points of a book. A good blurb can sell a book, and a bad one can condemn it to oblivion.


I learned about blurbs many years ago watching my then editor Bill Massey. Bill handled my breakthrough book The Chinaman and his blurb was as close to perfection as you can get.

These days I often have a lot of input into my blurbs. Blurb writing is a totally different skill to writing a book. The trick is to sell the book to the potential buyer without giving away too much of the plot. Punchy, active sentences work best and you need to keep punctuation to a minimum.

Somewhere around 120 words works best.

Here's a suggested blurb I was given for my new Hodder and Stoughton book, White Lies, which will be published in August.

When Osama Bin Laden was killed in Operation Neptune Spear in May 2011 there was a British observer on the US-led mission. Dan ‘Spider’ Shepherd along with Raz Chaudry was at the heart of a high-risk MI5 intelligence probe which uncovered Bin Laden’s hiding place. Shepherd’s place on the raid was his reward for favours rendered.

Now Raz has been sent back to Pakistan on a near-suicidal mission to infiltrate an al-Qaeda terrorist cell. He’s soon falls under suspicion and tortured for information. Spider will do anything to save Raz’s life even at the risk of his own.  But unknown to Spider and the Pakistani Forces tasked with recovering Raz from a remote desert fort, their mission has been betrayed. A bloody fire fight follows and now it’s Spiders turn to fall in the hands of the vicious extremists. It’s only a matter of time before he or Raz crack and admit their part in Bin Laden’s death.

There’s one chance left to extract them – working behind the scenes, Spider’s MI5 controller, Charlotte Button, pulls strings to bring in America’s finest -- the elite SEALs who carried out Operation Neptune Spear – in a do-or-die operation to rescue the captives.

White Lies is vintage Stephen Leather: fast paced, beautifully characterised, a seat-of-your-pants thriller which will have you hooked from first page until last.

And here's the blurb I wrote, using the above words as a starting point:

Dan ‘Spider’ Shepherd is used to putting his life on the line – for his friends and for his job with MI5.  So when one of his former apprentices is kidnapped in the badlands of Pakistan, Shepherd doesn’t hesitate to join a rescue mission.

But when the rescue plan goes horribly wrong, Shepherd ends up in the hands of al-Qaeda terrorists. His SAS training is of little help as his captors beat and torture him. 

Shepherd’s MI5 controller Charlotte Button is determined to get her man out of harm’s way, but to do that she’s going to have to break all the rules.  Her only hope is so bring in America’s finest - the elite SEALs who carried out Operation Neptune Spear - in a do-or-die operation to rescue the captives.

White Lies is a fast paced, seat-of-your-pants thriller which will have you hooked from the first page until the last.

My blurb is shorter, and I do believe that shorter blurbs work best.

My blurb concentrates on the hero - Spider Shepherd - because it's the hero that you're trying to sell. And it spells out the danger the hero's facing.

It's less cluttered and I think it's easier to read.  Will it sell the book?  We'll have to wait and see!