Reviews, Writing

Blog Tour Report – Part 2 – Reviewing the Reviews

Blog Tour Part 2

This is the second part of my Monkey Arkwright blog tour report. In part 1, I analysed the reasons for taking part in a blog tour, how I selected a tour host and what happened before and during the tour. You can read part 1 of my report here.

In this part, I will be taking a look at what the reviewers said about Monkey Arkwright; reviewing the reviews, so to speak.

It may seem an obvious goal, but the two areas where I want my writing to shine is in the execution of the plot and bringing the characters to life. So, it was immensely satisfying for me to see that these two themes cropped up constantly across the reviews. Let’s start the review of reviews by seeing what Jasmine, from Jazzy Book Reviews, said:-

Monkey Arkwright is one of those books where you’re not sure what to expect, but once you start, you find yourself falling down a rabbit hole filled with mystery, intrigue, and some strangely fascinating supernatural elements. I rather enjoyed this book, and I now can’t wait to get my hands on the second book in the series.

That’s a great start. Funnily enough, the analogy of a rabbit hole also cropped up in the review on Trails of Tales:-

The action-adventure in this book has been shaped with the essence of a treasure hunt which makes it more exciting to follow Monkey and Lorna down their rabbit hole.

It seems that Jessica Belmont was equally gripped:-

The mystery is well-developed. I fell right into the story and didn’t want to leave. Rob Campbell is a fantastic writer who is able to suck his readers in and keep them in.

 

It seemed that the plot was good enough to drag the readers in. But so much for the plot, what about the characters? It doesn’t matter how well a story is plotted, if the landscape is populated with two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs, the book is going to fall flat. But it seemed that my characters were doing well in the reviews too. Writing on Jazzy Book Reviews, Jasmine said:-

I also really liked Frank. Even with his past, he was a great guy, and he seemed like he genuinely cared for both Lorna and Monkey. George (aka Goofy) and his gang were just plain awful. I disliked all of them very much.

If I’ve got readers liking the good guys and disliking the bad guys then I must be doing something right as a writer. Meanwhile, when analysing the environment in which Lorna and Monkey find themselves, ReasReads made an interesting observation:-

I say again, I do not trust these adults and it meant that I was doubting everything they told Lorna and Monkey about Gooch (the ‘bad’ guy).

I also enjoyed the fact that Jane Hunt Writer had this to say about my cast:-

The characters in this book are complex and quirky, adding to their appeal.

The work that I put into the emotional side of Lorna’s journey isn’t lost on readers either. Leelynn (SometimesLeelynnReads) said:-

This book was interesting for a YA mystery novel. Nothing to take lightly, since one of the book’s main characters has to learn how to deal with the grief that comes with a parent of dying of cancer .…. But yeah, that part broke my heart from the beginning I will have to say, and stuck with me while I was reading this novel.

 

Reading through the reviews, I also enjoyed seeing some of the reviewers explain why it was that they think that my story worked. ReasReads stated that:-

The reason this story works is because the whole way through the book I was second guessing what was going on and what side were the good/bad guys.

Writing on Cheryl M-M’s Book Blog, Cheryl noted that:-

It’s interesting how Campbell lets the reader wonder and debate the validity of the premise along with the characters. Is it luck or bad luck?

An element that isn’t specifically about the plot or the characters is atmosphere. Whether it’s spooky, creeping with dread, nostalgic or displaying the hallmarks of some specific genre, it’s nice to find that you are conjuring some imagery in the mind of the reader. In this respect, it was pleasing to read the following from Mai on Mai’s Musings:-

There was something about the writing style of this book, and the story itself, that put me in mind of the old black and white film noir genre.

Whilst Cheryl on Cheryl M-M’s Book Blog wrote that:-

It has the strange appealing kind of charm associated with stories of such ilk as Stand by Me, perhaps because it has an aura of nostalgia, especially at the beginning of the book.

 

Returning to the plot, how did the reviewers feel about the way the various plot strands were resolved? Fellow writer Jane Hunt felt that:-

The plot is detailed and fits together nicely, it is layered without appearing convoluted and is resolved well.

Writing on Radzy Writes and Reviews, Radzy said:-

I was gripped, and remained on the edge of my seat until things began wrapping up into a satisfying, well executed ending.

But I didn’t write this as a standalone book, it’s part of a trilogy, so I was pleased to see some comments like the following from Cheryl on Cheryl M-M’s Book Blog:-

I think this has the potential to be a really good series, especially the combination of Monkey and Lorna, their friendship, the secret societies battling against each other to acquire the strange powerful objects.

Jane Hunt seems of a similar mind, describing Monkey Arkwright as:-

An engaging, original mystery with wonderfully individual characters and interesting potential for further stories.

 

Now a short section that is basically an excuse to list some enormously pleasing comments from the various reviewers:-

For a first-person novel, this is effortless, and gives a wonderful sense of realism. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Campbell knows what he’s doing, and has presented us with a story that will be loved by readers of all ages.

Radzy Writes and Reviews

The plot is nicely paced, and there’s enough mystery to keep even the savviest readers guessing as they flip through the pages.

Jazzy Book Reviews

Monkey Arkwright is a fun mystery featuring two quirky characters that had me entertained from beginning to end. I absolutely loved the characters.

Jessica Belmont

 

I’m going to finish off with a comment from Mai on Mai’s Musings:-

Although the book does take a slightly darker turn from around the halfway point ….. it somehow retains a feel of innocence and the old school adventure stories I grew up with. I think as the series progresses it has the potential to develop into something more sinister.

Well, hold that thought Mai, because things do get decidedly darker and more sinister in the second book, Black Hearts Rising.

Thanks once again to all the bloggers who were kind enough to review Monkey Arkwright. There are links to the full reviews on my Reviews tab.

Writing

Blog Tour Report – Part 1

Blog Tour Part 1

The blog tour for the first book in my YA mystery series, Monkey Arkwright, has just ended. The tour was brilliantly organised by Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources, and as a lot of indie authors are in a similar position to me – i.e. seeking ways to give their hard work a bit of publicity – I thought that I’d share my thoughts on the experience.

This is part 1 of a two-part report, where I go through the nuts and bolts of what went on before and during the tour. In part 2 of the report, I’ll be analysing what the bloggers said in their reviews.

 

Why I chose to do a blog tour

Like many indie authors, after moderate success with sales of my first book, I’d hit an impasse in terms of reviews and sales. Analysing my sales graph on Amazon is like mapping the topography of the Netherlands. Or in other words – flat as a pancake.

Monkey Arkwright was published in November 2017, and I published the follow-up, Black Hearts Rising, in February 2019. As I’m signed up to Amazon’s KDP programme, I thought that the trick of giving the first book away for free would be a great way of selling the second book. So I paid various sites to promote my giveaway periods, the largest amount being $40 to E-Reader News Today (ENT), and I did indeed manage to shift over 700 units. However, I saw no noticeable uptick in sales of either book after this experiment and decided that whilst free giveaways may work for some, they didn’t for me.

As I approached the release of the final book in the series, it seemed that engaging the services of a blog tour organiser would be the best way to generate some publicity for my book series.

 

Selecting the tour host

I am a member of the Book Connectors Facebook group. If you are an indie author and you are not already a member of this wonderful group, then I suggest you join. There are a lot of supportive authors and bloggers on there, and you get plenty of good tips and opportunities to engage and promote your work.

Reading the daily posts on the Book Connectors group, I noticed that there were a few blog tour sites that regularly cropped up as being recommended by my fellow authors. Rachel’s Random Resources was one of these sites, so that’s who I picked as my host.

 

Selecting my tour

There’s a dazzling array of products on offer, but reading the various descriptions on the site, they generally follow the same pattern. I decided to go for the 7-Day Review Only Tour, which cost me £55.

I sent an e-mail to Rachel and waited for the response.

 

Dealing with Rachel

Whatever else happened on my blog tour, I can honestly say that dealing with Rachel was a breeze. She was always responsive to my e-mails and it didn’t take long to set up the tour.

I was required to send copies of my book (I sent mobi and pdf versions), plus cover art, author photo and various other bits of information that are pretty standard for any publicity exercise.

 

What the tour offered

Once I’d submitted my information, Rachel took over. She created a tour banner and added a dedicated page on her website before inviting potential bloggers to sign up for the tour. You can see my tour page here.

Now came the most nervous part of the experience – the blog tour offered a minimum of 5 bloggers and a maximum of 21 bloggers, but if the minimum quota is not met within 5 days of Rachel’s first e-mail to bloggers, the tour is cancelled and you get a 90% refund.

It’s not that I was bothered about losing £5.50 (the 10%), it was just that if there weren’t 5 bloggers interested in my work when a professional tour organiser offers them a copy for free, what hope is there for selling my book?

The waiting (as Tom Petty once sang) is the hardest part….

 

Before the tour

It turned out that I need not have worried. In fact, the period before the tour was quite exciting. I checked the tour page after a few days and was relieved to see that seven places were already filled. After this point, I began to check the page daily, and it was great to see new additions here and there. It didn’t take long for the tour to fill, at which point Rachel sent an e-mail telling me what would happen next.

At this point, I must confess to my first minor disappointment. The tour that I’d paid for was a “review only” tour, but the e-mail said that out of the 21 bloggers, 12 would be reviewing and 9 would be providing promo spots. It would have been nice if all 21 bloggers were to provide a review, but being philosophical about things, I probably should look at the 9 promo posts as a bonus. After all, the tour could have gone ahead with just 5 reviewers and I’d have still paid the same money.

All things considered, I remained excited for what was to come – the tour was on!

 

During the tour

Promo posts and blogger reviews appeared throughout my 7-day tour. Rachel did her bit by retweeting links to the posts at regular intervals, and it was good to see some of the other members of Book Connectors retweeting and liking the various posts. As previous noted, I’ll cover what the reviewers said in a separate report.

There was a slight lull in the middle of the tour caused by some no-shows. Between days 3 and 5, 4 out of the 9 bloggers did not post. Maybe this is an acceptable loss for tours of this type, but a strong finish with 5 superb reviews over the last 3 days left me feeling pretty good about the whole experience.

 

Conclusion

I was very happy with how the blog tour for Monkey Arkwright turned out. Rachel was an efficient and effective tour host, I got some fantastic reviews and made contact with a few bloggers that may be mutually beneficial in the future. Whilst there was no obvious impact on sales, I do feel like I’ve gained a little of that hard-to-get publicity in what is a very crowded space. If you are an indie author in a similar position to me, I’d recommend giving a blog tour a shot.


Rob Campbell is the author of the Wardens of the Black Heart trilogy (“Monkey Arkwright”, “Black Hearts Rising” and “The Well of Tears”) — a mystery series that will appeal to fans of 80s films such as “Stand By Me” and “The Goonies”, where people stumble across strange things in the woods or uncover dark secrets hidden in the abandoned places around a small town.

Events, Writing

Book #3 Progress Report – December 2019

writing

Work continues on the editing phase of The Well of Tears, the final part of my Wardens of the Black Heart trilogy. It’s taken me five weeks to get through the first edit, and I have to say that I’m really pleased with how the book is shaping up. I found editing my second book a long and exhausting process – nothing to do with the story or characters, more the number of stupid grammatical mistakes that I made in the first, and second, and even third drafts. I remember reading Black Hearts Rising seven times on my Kindle before release, which was far too much. The biggest change for the upcoming book was using Microsoft Word’s “Read Aloud” feature earlier in the process. Although listening to your words read back by a machine (not quite robotic, but hardly Stephen Fry) is tiresome in its own way, it’s amazing how many dumb mistakes you spot. I’ve found that the human brain is a fantastic editor for readers – replacing “or” for “of”, inserting a missing connective or article and even editing out the double “the” – but can sometimes be the enemy of the author. Read your own work and those little errors that will jump out at the reader are sneakily masked by your own meddlesome brain. Getting your computer to read your work aloud is a Godsend, and I now use it at three different points in the editing process: once when I finish writing each chapter; again when I’m reading through the whole manuscript for the first time, and finally during the first edit. Taking this into account, here’s a summary of my writing and editing process, as used on The Well of Tears:-

  1. Plan novel (months of jotting ideas down in an electronic notepad).
  2. Write each chapter.
  3. Run each chapter through Grammarly.
  4. Use Word’s “Read Aloud” feature on each chapter, correcting mistakes.
  5. Pass batches of chapters to my editor (youngest daughter, Rachel) for comments.
  6. Make any necessary changes to chapters, run through Grammarly again.
  7. Combine all chapters into a single document. First draft complete.
  8. Read each chapter on the computer, using Word’s “Read Aloud” feature to read the whole document, correcting mistakes (yes, there were fewer on the second read!). At the same time, make a note of the areas that need attention in terms of plot, character and general descriptions.
  9. Edit the chapters that need attention. Use Word’s “Read Aloud” on updated passages or chapters as required.
  10. Pass completed second draft to Rachel for full read-through.
  11. Edit entire book, correcting mistakes and considering any suggested improvements.
  12. Put on Kindle and read through.
  13. Correct any mistakes (hopefully few and far between at this stage).
  14. Repeat steps 12 and 13 until I don’t spot any mistakes.

I’ve certainly learned a lot about the craft of writing in putting together my trilogy. It’s an enjoyable and rewarding process, but can be tough at times, especially when being an author is essentially a hobby and you still have a full-time job and family life to think of. But I’m getting better at both writing and editing, and all of the hard work so far puts me in a good position to release my new novel early in the new year, probably mid-February.

But writing and editing isn’t the only thing happening around here. I’ve commissioned a cover for The Well of Tears, and once again, Olivia at Oliviaprodesign has come up with a stunning cover. I’ve asked somebody who’s been very supportive of my work if they’d like to feature the cover reveal on their website, and I’m hoping that this will happen soon.

Finally, With the January blog tour for Monkey Arkwright on Rachel’s Random Resources getting ever closer, I’m hoping that it’s going to be a great start to the new year for Lorna and Monkey.

Writing

Book #3 Progress Report – June 2019

writing

Readers of my blog are probably due a progress update. As I often say on these pages, it is slow progress on the writing front during the summer months, with all manner of activities competing for my time. Our garden is pretty easy to maintain, but nevertheless, a bit of care is needed here and there. With the weather improving (well, admittedly, it’s bucketing it down at the moment), there’s more walking opportunities, more holidays and recently I’ve been pretty busy at work. One of the downsides of being a software engineer and author is that after a long day in front of a computer screen, the last thing you feel like doing is writing a new chapter or even fine-tuning something that you’ve already written.

Well, if you think all of this is my way of laying the ground for bad news, then think again. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’m pleased to announce that work on Monkey Arkwright’s latest adventure, The Well of Tears, has reached the halfway stage. Kind of.

It’s worth noting that in my previous progress report (in March), the old scoreboard was reading 10 chapters / 21,000 words. Fast forward to June and that’s ticked over to 19 chapters / 41,000 words. I was going to wait until I’d finished the next chapter before getting the bugle and bunting out and announcing that I’d reached the halfway mark, but the next chapter requires a bit of thought and might take a couple of weeks to chisel out. By the time that that chapter is done, I’ll probably be just over halfway.

All the usual caveats apply: this is only a first draft, but I do take my time with the chapters and do plenty of editing, proofreading and using Microsoft Word’s text-to-speech function as I go. I’m still aiming to complete the first draft before the end of the year, before commencing with any re-writes and tweaking the plot and characters as necessary.

I know there are at least a handful of people waiting for a resolution to that cliffhanger at the end of Black Hearts Rising, and I’m doing my level best to make sure the work-in-progress lives up to what’s come before, finishing off the trilogy in a way that does justice to the story arcs I’ve set in motion.

In the meantime, thanks for reading my blog and for buying and reading my books.

Writing

Book #3 Underway

writing

As I wrote Black Hearts Rising, the second book in my Wardens of the Black Heart trilogy, I posted regular updates on these pages. It occurs to me that in the excitement of writing the final part, I have neglected to post any updates. First off, I don’t have to refer to it as ‘book #3’ because as anybody who has made it to the end of Black Hearts Rising will know, I’ve already put a promise in the end of that book that Lorna and Monkey will return in The Well of Tears.

What is ‘the Well of Tears’ I hear you cry? Where is it, and what’s it got to do with what’s been happening to Lorna and Monkey so far? Naturally, all will be revealed in the heart-pounding conclusion to this epic tale. Wait a minute, did my publicist write that? No, because I haven’t got one, and if anybody has to make my books sound exciting, then it’ll have to be me!

I’ve been preparing notes for the final book in the trilogy going back to the time I was editing Black Hearts Rising in the final weeks of 2018. The main ideas were already in place before this, but in terms of setting fingers to keyboard, I began writing The Well of Tears in the middle of February. I am pleased with the progress that I am making on the first draft: 10 chapters and 21,000 words so far, which represents about a quarter of the book, maybe a little less.

I’m aiming for a similar timescale to the previous book, with an unbalanced schedule in which I try to reach the 33.% point by Easter. I’ll think about what I’ve written and lazily add the odd chapter here and there over the summer months, so that I’m about 50% done by August. When the Autumn rolls around, I’ll attack the second half with renewed energy, as this is my favourite time of the year to write. I’ll give myself three months for the necessary rewrites, edits and general tightening up, ready for a release in February/March 2020.

So, what’s The Well of Tears about? First of all, you will get a conclusion to THAT cliffhanger ending in Black Hearts Rising. Naturally, this being the final part of a trilogy, the plots that are in motion will be brought to rest in a way that I hope is both entertaining and satisfying for the reader. You’ll find out how things turn out for our heroes and also the Wardens themselves, and it wouldn’t be a Monkey Arkwright story if our titular character didn’t get to do a spot of climbing and urban exploration. I can also promise that plenty of revelations will be spilled, and there will be a desperate race for the finish line.

In the meantime, thanks for reading my blog – an even bigger thank you if you’ve read my books.

Writing

The Hundred Heroes Column

black hearts promo 2 - pre-order

Before the release of Black Hearts Rising on Friday, I thought that a short post was in order where I give credit and thanks to various people. For an indie author, the process of editing, publishing and publicising a book is a daunting task. Nobody lives or works in a vacuum (except astronauts), and I am immensely grateful to a lot of people for their help in getting my work out there. So, without further ado, thanks …

To fellow indie author, Ed Ryder, for showing me that self-publishing your own book was (and is) a viable proposition.

To the various members of The Digital Fix Forums for supporting me by providing encouragement and valuable feedback (and buying and reviewing the books!)

To Mr Craig “Tech” White for keeping me amused with his banter and doing his best to help spread the word about my books.

To author Mark Tilbury, for being good enough to buy and review Monkey Arkwright.

To Lorna Holland for inviting me to take part in a Q & A on her blog, The Writing Greyhound.

To Michelle Whitham, for her enthusiasm and much-appreciated review of Monkey Arkwright on her blog, Curled up with a good book.

To the other two bloggers who have agreed to review my book – as the reviews haven’t appeared yet, I won’t mention any names, but you know who you are, so thanks!

To anybody who has bought my books – especially if you’ve reviewed them – your support is much appreciated.

And now the big three …

My eldest daughter, Lauren, and my friend and colleague, Darrin, who both read my books before release, providing valuable feedback on whether the story and characters are working.

Finally, my youngest daughter, Rachel, who puts in countless hours reading the books several times, spotting not only inconsistencies, but also the missing commas, poor grammar and howlers that litter my text before the average reader gets their eyes on it. Without Rachel’s help, my final product would undoubtedly be far poorer than it is.

Thanks for reading my blog, and if you’ve bought Black Hearts Rising, I hope you enjoy the continuing adventures of Lorna and Monkey. I can assure you that any failures will not be through a lack of effort in bringing it to publication.