Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Here’s a little taste

I have got the edits for The Croaking Raven back, and I thought to share the first chapter with you. I hope you like it. But first, here’s what the book is about:

Harper George, a crisis negotiator for the Metropolitan Police Service, is having a bad day. A hostage has died, the MPS has given her the boot, and she has to handle a heist negotiation drunk. It doesn’t end well.
It’s about to get worse.
A criminal organisation wants Harper to work for them. When she refuses, people start dying. The seemingly random deaths turn out to have a common nominator: Harper, and a negotiation she has failed. Someone wants revenge, but who and why?
Harper is determined to solve the mystery before more people die – and before she has to give in to the criminals’ demands. But then it’s too late. Harper has to face the toughest negotiation of her career: that for her own life. 

  
Chapter One

“Here’s to Johnny.” Harper saluted with her glass to an audience of zero, and then drained the contents. It wasn’t a proper way to show appreciation for the expensive whisky, but the memory she was trying to erase couldn’t be wiped away with anything less than eighteen-year-old single malt.
She waved the empty glass towards the barman at the other end of the curving bar, who was chatting with the only other customer in the pub, a sales rep type of man having lunch. “Hit me again.”
The barman frowned – and was it just her or were barmen getting younger by the day? He couldn’t possibly be old enough to drink legally, let alone to serve alcoholic beverages that were. “I think you’ve had enough.”
“And what, pray, is considered enough these days?” She wasn’t even slurring yet, and her sarcasm came through clear enough. He lifted his hands in defence.
“Hey, no offence. Just an observation.”
“If I were a bloke you’d pour me another.”
He shrugged. “Could be. But you’re not. And women your size can’t really take as much as a man.”
Harper sat up straighter on the barstool, a reaction of hers whenever her short size was mentioned. All her psychological training hadn’t cured her of the habit. “Ah, but you’re not taking age and practise into consideration. And those say I’m good for at least one more drink.”
“Fine, but this is the absolute last one.” He poured her a generous portion of whisky and she paid for it. “The next one is coffee.”
“Yes, Mom.” There were other pubs in London.
“Let me guess. Broken heart, am I right?” the sales rep type asked.
She gave him a slow look. “Because a woman couldn’t possibly have any other reason for drinking than a man.”
He flustered slightly. “Clearly something’s brothering you.”
“You mean I can’t get plastered at…” She glanced at the clock on the wall behind the bar. She had to squeeze her eyes a little for the numbers to come in focus. “Two-thirty on a Monday afternoon just for the heck of it?”
“Well, it does seem peculiar. Is it work related?”
The question made her want to empty her glass. “Yep.”
The man wouldn’t give up. He wasn’t actually bad looking, which probably meant that she had, in fact, had enough to drink. “A deal gone bad? Did you lose a lot of money?”
“Money? Who drinks because of money?”
“We are practically in the City, and the way you’re dressed, I assumed you’d be working there.”
Harper glanced at her red skirt suit, custom made like most of her clothes had to be. At five foot four she was slightly too short for her weight, the excess of which concentrated mostly on her backside and front top, making it nearly impossible for her to find readymade clothes that fit. Shoes were black pumps with higher heels than were regulation, but she needed every extra inch they gave her.
“Well, you got that wrong.” She doubted any City executive would deign to show up in this dump of a pub in Whitechapel anyway. She had only chosen it because it was close enough to work that she hadn’t had to go far, yet was devoid of any co-workers.
“What is it that you do then? A doctor? Did you lose a patient?”
She was a doctor, actually, but not of medicine. Psychology. “If doctors got blasted every time someone died, they’d be permanently incapacitated.” She wasn’t looking for a conversation, but he looked so expectant that she sighed and gave in. “I’m a crisis negotiator.”
“Oh. What’s that then?”
She stared at her drink. “I mediate in crisis situations so they can be resolved without violence or loss of lives.”
If she was successful.
“Who for?”
“The police.”
“Bank heists and such, where people are taken hostage?”
She shook her head. “There hasn’t been a single bank heist that needed a negotiator during my almost decade with the Metropolitan Police Service.”
“So what do you do?”
She sighed, not really wanting to explain. “It’s ninety per cent domestic situations that the police can’t defuse by themselves, and attempted suicides.”
“So no hostage situations at all?”
“Yes, but they’re usually domestic too. Custody battles where one parent takes the children. Or a guy threatens to blow himself or his family up if his wife doesn’t return home, or he doesn’t get his job back.” Maybe I should try that one. “The rest is counselling after traumatic incidents.”
“Did something bad happen to get you drinking? Did someone blow something up after all?” He gestured for the bartender to turn on the TV.
She braced herself for the news that would definitely bring up the cause for her drinking. But she had a more mundane reason for it, too. “No. I was fired. Budget cuts. Nothing ever blows up, so the powers that be decided we’re not actually needed.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. That’s a hell of a way to start the week.”
“You have no idea.” She squeezed her eyes tightly to forget the video she had seen that morning, but the images were clear in her mind. The drinks weren’t working. A barrel of whisky couldn’t erase the memory.
The news was rolling on the BBC 24. There was a police operation underway in London, a large one by the look of it. Blokes from the Specialist Firearms Command were on the scene too, geared up, ready to offer the unarmed personnel armed support if needed – or defuse a bomb. They all operated from the Leman Street station, as did the crisis negotiators, so she knew most of them. She tried to detect familiar faces, but her gaze was too blurred to see the screen clearly.
Then Johnny’s face blasted on the screen and she was filled with the agony of sorrow and failure. “Islamist militants have this morning killed a British hostage, Jonathan Hooper, a photojournalist working—” She covered her ears, and closed her eyes not to see the rest, but too late. A picture of Ashley flashed on the screen with the text ‘journalist still held captive’.
Her beautiful, wilful little sister.
The thought of Ashley in the hands of people who had beheaded her partner was too much to bear. She emptied her glass, but the alcohol had stopped working.
Her phone rang, mercifully claiming her attention. Her boss. Ex-boss. “What?”
“Where are you?” Hugo Cobb barked in the phone.
“In hell. Why? You want to join me?”
“I need your arse down here, immediately.”
“I was fired, remember?”
“Not yet you weren’t. Now move! There’s a situation on.”
“Tough. I’m drunk.”
That made him pause. “How drunk?”
“Halfway between pissed and arse over the elbow.”
He growled. “Can’t be helped. I’m sending someone to fetch you.”
That piqued her interest. “What’s so important anyway?”
“You’ll hear it soon enough. Text me your address. And start drinking coffee.” He hung up.
“Well, fuck.”

A man walked in the pub when Harper was down to her second cup of coffee. She gave him a onceover and approved of what she saw, fairly sure it wasn’t the alcohol affecting her opinion this time.
He looked around, ignoring her and the sales rep at the bar. When the place proved empty of other people, he turned to them, frowning. “Harper George?” The question was military sharp.
Harper gave him a lazy salute. “Aye.”
He startled, as if he hadn’t expected her, but recovered and walked to her. “Garret Thomson, from Thomson Security.” He offered his hand to her. She shook it automatically, trying not to wince when his grip turned out to be military sharp too.
She had come across the type before — ex-soldier who had put his training to use by starting a security business. This one was so new to civilian life he hadn’t let go of his training yet. He was tall and fit with lean muscles, and alert like not even the cops were, as if constantly prepared for getting killed.
“Are you ready?”
“Could I see some identification first?” To his credit, he didn’t hesitate to whip out his ID, and she tried to peer at it. Close-up didn’t work so she pulled it arms-length away from her face.
He snorted, amused. “I was warned that you’d be drunk. But … wow.” He shook his head.
“Yeah, well.” She finally managed to read the ID. He was thirty-four to her thirty-six. He looked older than that, courtesy of the harsh conditions of military life. His skin looked like it had been sand-blown, and there were crow’s feet around his brown eyes. His near black hair was military short with a hint of grey at the temples. The picture was fairly recent, or he always wore a similar black T-shirt. His black cargos looked well-worn too, so he probably lived in them.
“Are you the boss himself, or is there another Thomson pulling the strings?”
“There’s only me.” His tone, a mixture of pride and annoyance intrigued her, but she was too drunk to analyse it.
“Well, aren’t I flattered. Who sent you?”
“Not trusting my word?”
“Nope.”
He nodded, approving. “Hugo Cobb, the chief crisis negotiator for the Metropolitan Police Service.”
“And why you?”
“He couldn’t spare anyone else.”
That sparked her interest. “What’s going on?” She should have paid better attention to the news after all.
“I’ll tell you on the way. Let’s go.”
Harper began to climb down from the tall barstool, an operation for her even when sober. Her legs gave under her, and he reached to steady her by her arm. “Whoa. Give me a second.” The room was spinning uncomfortably and she had to swallow to keep the contents of her stomach in.
He frowned. “We don’t have a second. Take off those stupid shoes. You’ll break your ankles.”
“Well excuse me, but not all of us are over six foot tall. I need every extra inch to make an impression.”
“You’ll make an impression all right.”
“Hey, I’m not the one dragging a drunken woman to a crime scene.”
He huffed, and before she realised what he was about, wrapped an arm around her waist and marched her out of the pub. A large black off-roader sporting the name of his security firm on its side was waiting outside the door, and he helped her onto the high back seat. “Don’t throw up in there.”
He took the front seat next to the driver, who got the car moving before he had properly closed the door. “This is Riley Wilkins, my right hand man.” Riley gave off a similar military vibe as Garret, but his hair was completely shaven and he had greater upper body bulk, which made him appear both younger and much larger.
“There’s coffee and bacon sandwiches in that bag,” Garret said, pointing at a Tesco bag on the seat next to her.
“Thanks,” Harper said, peeking in. The notion of eating didn’t exactly entice her, but she had to sober up. She opened the sandwich package and the smell of greasy bacon hit her nose, making her gag.
She didn’t want to sober up that badly.
Fighting the nausea, she didn’t pay much attention to where they were going. West, towards the City at first, but then Riley turned to the ring road that circled central London from the north.
“Where are we going?”
“Paddington.”
“What, the bear took everyone hostage at the station?” She snorted at her own witticism, but the men weren’t amused.
“No. A man has locked himself in a small branch of NatWest with hostages and explosives.”
Harper’s hand paused midway in stuffing a sandwich in her mouth. “Really? Well, that’s convenient timing. Who’s at the scene?”
“Pretty much everyone.”
“Then why am I needed?”
“Because, Miss George, the hijacker requested you.” 
***

If you liked the first chapter, you can read the second chapter on my webpage


Monday, 15 December 2014

Genre hopping. (And a cover reveal!)

I have written a thriller. Or maybe a crime novel. It could be a suspense story too. I’m not entirely sure. I haven’t written this kind of book before.

I’ve been genre hopping.

All my books so far have been romances. There are paranormal romances and contemporary romances. Romantic suspense and romances just for romance’s sake. This book: no romantic elements whatsoever. And no paranormal elements either, for that matter.

I didn’t intend to switch genres. I have quite a few Two-Natured London books still to write, and I didn’t really have time for this book. But the idea struck and wouldn’t let go, so I had no choice. What’s more, I believe I will write another book in this genre too. Because I liked it.

The lack of romantic elements was refreshing. I didn’t have to think of every interaction between characters in terms of romantic interests. And unlike in romances, the heroine didn’t have to find fulfilment in the form of a husband and the happily ever after.

New elements replaced the old. There was the matter of good and bad, for example; the good guys and the bad guys, and – hopefully – all the characters in between that are both, or not quite either of those. There is a crime or a mystery to solve, preferably one that readers won’t figure out too early. And there is a hero or heroine solving it.

The heroine is the cause for my genre hopping. She materialised from the depths of my imagination and wouldn’t go away until I wrote her a book. Her name is Harper George, and she is a crisis negotiator for the Metropolitan Police Service in London. She is connected to the police, but not accustomed to detective work. It allowed me to have a different angle to the crime solving process that I hope isn’t done to death already.

I couldn’t avoid the clich├ęs entirely. It’s difficult to when writing in a genre of any kind. My heroine ended up being a bit of a loner with a budding drinking problem. In her defence – or mine – she has personal issues that occasionally require a glass of whisky. But I tried not to make that her defining characteristic. And I gave her other features that I hope will help her stand out.

The book is called The Croaking Raven, and it’s about revenge. Harper is being coerced into working for criminals and when she refuses, people start dying around her. But the deaths aren’t random. They are connected to a hostage negotiation she was involved in that failed. Someone wants revenge, and she is determined to find out who before more people die.

Writing in a new genre brought up the issue of pen names too. I have two, Susanna Shore for my paranormal romances, and Hannah Kane for my contemporary romances. For almost the duration of the writing process, I was sure I would create a new pen name for this book. I didn’t want my existing readers to be disappointed with the lack of romance or paranormal elements – or the new ones to find my previous books disappointing, if they venture to read them.

However, in the end I decided to publish it as Susanna Shore. Even though the book isn’t urban fantasy, it has similar elements. It has a strong heroine who is thrown in an unfamiliar world and has to rely on her wits to survive there. People around her are alien, not because they are paranormal creatures, but because she has never encountered quite their like. And despite the lack of romance, there are a couple of strong alpha males like in any good urban fantasy. It feels like a Susanna Shore book to me.

All in all, this hop to a different genre has been refreshing. I learned a lot writing it, and feel energised and ready to return to writing the next Two-Natured London book. With romance and all.

The book is currently with the editor, but as soon as I get it back, I will publish an excerpt on my website. Stay tuned for that. And, as promised, here’s the cover. As always, it’s my own creation, and I’m pretty satisfied with it. Its genre appropriate, eye-catching, and fresh. What do you think?

The Croaking Raven by Susanna Shore

Monday, 1 December 2014

Running a Facebook ad? Here's five things to consider.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I have a new Facebook page. Last week, I tried my hand in advertising on FB for the first time. The experience was positive. Partly it’s because advertising there is easy; partly it’s because I had a limited campaign to run.

I ran a Kindle Countdown Deal for the Two-Natured London series on amazon.com from Thursday to Sunday, which I advertised from Friday to Saturday. Having a limited time, specific location, and selected books made it easy to compose the advertisement. I had my target audience (readers of paranormal romances), and FB knew where to find them.

Facebook makes it easy to advertise there. Compose the post – I had a large colourful picture to add with mine for maximum attention – and click a button. You can then choose the target area (the US in this case), target demographic (women between 25 and 60 for my books), the sum you’re prepared to use (FB tells the minimum, you can choose how much you’re prepared to use), and the number of days the advertisement will run (two days). 

You can then further specify the audience based on their interests. I chose those interested in e-books, romances, werewolves and vampires. The payment options were credit card and PayPal, and the account was charged afterwards.

Based on my settings, Facebook promised me a reach of 2000-5000 people; not all that lot, considering the potential. Spending more would have given me a wider reach, but since this was my first try, I wasn’t prepared to do it. I was also informed that the photo I used in my ad might not meet the requirements, because it had too much text in it. That turned out to be a false alarm. However, it tells that they won’t allow you to advertise just anything there.

This is the image I used in my ad.
How did I do? According to FB, the ad reached 4880 people. Of those, 62 people liked the ad and two people shared it. 19 people clicked the link. Furthermore, my FB page got seventeen new likes. All in all, FB stats inform me there were 114 acts on it; about 0.023% of those who saw the ad reacted to it. Its not terribly much, but I count it all as a plus. It’s a new page and it needs all the attention it can get.

I didn’t sell many books. However, compared with the sales before the ad – some – there was a change. The advertisement paid itself, but that’s about it. It’s difficult to say, if spending more on the ad would have brought me better results. I might have got more likes for the page, but I’m not sure I would have sold enough books to pay for it.

Even though I didn’t sell many books, I liked the experience, and will try it again. So here’s a recap of what I found important:
  1. Make a good, visual ad. (Truly put some thought into it.)
  2. Make sure you advertise a specific item or event. (The audience must have a certain way to react to it, buy, enlist etc.)
  3. Target the audience carefully to those interested in what you sell. (Don’t make it too narrow, though.)
  4. Limit the advertisement to your target audience. (More isn’t better if no one is interested.)
  5. Even a little sum can bring (good) results. (It's better than nothing.)
Here are my thoughts after the first try. Do you have good advice to add?