WRITING: For the Curious: My Writing Workstation…

As there are always writers and fans who are curious about the work methods and gear of authors, I decided to show off my workstation.

Warning: this article has a high ‘gearhead’ ratio, so proceed at your own risk.

An Overview:

This is my workstation when I write at home, i.e. my stationary station. I also have a set-up for ‘on-the-go’ (which can be briefly seen here), but I’ll come back to that in another article.

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My seat of creativity… (photo by Martyn V. Halm)

When I write at home, I sit in the living room, street side. My living room doubles as a dojo (and a playroom for the kids), which explains the sword rack and the judo mats on the floor… In the picture, the curtain is down, but during the day I often have the curtain raised to let the sun in. The lower parts of the window are frosted so people won’t be able to see inside (and I don’t spend my valuable writing time gazing outside).

The Throne:

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The Throne: Stokke Gravity Balance with black leather upholstering. (photo by Martyn V. Halm)

My throne is a vintage Stokke Gravity Balance (currently manufactured by Varier). I fell in love with this chair when it first came out in 1987, but it was always hideously expensive. I bought this Stokke chair secondhand for four hundred euro. That might sound like a lot of money for a secondhand chair, but these chairs are built to last. The 2014 price for a Varier Gravity Balance with black leather upholstering starts at twenty-three hundred euro, so four hundred euro is a bargain. The leather was faded, but I managed to get it black and shiny again.

The Stokke Gravity Balance has four seating positions:

When writing, I rest my knees on the two lower pads (with my feet tucked under the seat) and the wooden curves rest on the ground, so the seat is tilted forward. This is an active seating position that fosters a tilted pelvis and a straightened spine.

When researching/reading/watching films, the seat will be in the neutral position (like in the picture). In this position, my feet are often between the two pads or on the left pad.

Listening to music, I lean back into the reclining position and put my calves on the knee pads. In this position I often sit while thinking up new scenes for my books.

Finally, I can push off and tilt all the way back into the ‘zero gravity‘ position. This fully reclining position can be used for napping. The legs, on the knee pads, are elevated above the torso, so the blood flows down to the abdomen.

My Laptop Table:

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The Platform (Photo by Martyn V. Halm)

My 15” MacBook Pro rests on a Lounge-Tek book table. The laptop platform can be tilted and swivel 360 degrees, and is fixed with an angled rod to the main post. On top of the main post is a smaller flat platform where I often place the covers of DVDs and CDs. The height adjustable post stands on two angled feet with hard plastic feet. The sturdy Lounge-Tek table is light enough to push and pull, but stable enough not to drop collapse with my expensive stuff on it. I’ve had this table for a couple of years now (it can easily used in beds or with couches that have a small gap where the feet slide under).

The Soundtrack Equipment:

I always play music when I’m creating.

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Up until a month ago, I used a Grado SR60i headphone, which functions pretty good with the iPad, but only pretty well with the MacBook and just adequate with my stereo. Since Grado has updated its line of headphones, I could get a sweet deal on a Grado SR325iS, which is a giant leap from the 60, but also a bit harder to drive. Hence the FiiO E10K Amp/DAC. So what does the FiiO do? While the signal from the headphone socket of the MacBook is pretty good, the E10K’s Digital to Analogue Converter connects to the USB port, where it both draws its power and converts the digital iTunes signal to analogue (sound) using an external sound card that is quite a lot better than the internal sound card of the MacBook. On top of that, the FiiO has a pretty powerful amp that can power 16-150 Ohm impedance headphones. As the SR325iS is 32 Ohm, the FiiO has no problem enhancing and amplifying the iTunes signal to near Compact Disc quality for the headphones. The E10K also has a Bass Boost switch and a low/high gain switch, as well as an analog and digital line-out. The headphone jack is coupled to the potentiometer to adjust the volume. To protect and store these high-end headphones I found a Sennheiser HH10 padded headphone support that clamps onto the laptop platform.

The Supporting Cast:

Of course I have other gear that doesn’t belong on the laptop platform, but still has to be within reach.

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The Supporting Cast (Photo by Martyn V. Halm)

From Left to Right: Seagate 1TB hard drive for back-ups, Klean Kanteen water bottle, remotes for when I listen to my stereo instead of my MacBook, my trusty iPad2 with bluetooth ZAGGkeys ProPlus keyboard for writing ‘on-the-go’, Samsung mobile phone, magnifier, reading glasses, pen, Kindle e-reader.

The Book Shelf:

Every writer has reference works.

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Reference Works (Photo by Martyn V. Halm)

These are non-fiction books on a variety of topics like crime, weapons, and psychology; and reference books on writing, medical terminology, grammar and proper usage.

That concludes the tour. If you feel like supporting me and help me to keep writing and publishing, head on over to the main page for links to the retailers that sell the Amsterdam Assassin Series.

Please comment if you want to discuss my set-up or your own.


Visibility on Amazon: Changing Categories and Keywords, Part 2…

How to Increase the Visibility of Your Book on Amazon, Part 2:

How to find your category on Amazon:

I got some questions on how to find your category, so here are some detailed instructions:

Go to the homepage of Amazon. Do not type anything in the search bar, but tap the ‘All’ and select Kindle Store in the drop down menu. Now you get everything in the Kindle Store with a list on the left that can help you narrow down your search.

Leaving the search bar empty, you go to the second filter option ‘Kindle Store’, where you have a list:

Kindle Devices (34)
Kindle Accessories (466)
Kindle Blogs (4)
Kindle eBooks (2,627,280)
Kindle Magazines (490)
Kindle Newspapers (157)
Kindle Singles (519)
Kindle Worlds (475)

Select Kindle eBooks (2,627,280)

If you scroll down, you’ll find a list in the left bar with:

Kindle eBooks
Arts & Photography (146,000)
Biographies & Memoirs (115,714)
Business & Money (167,153)
Children’s eBooks (136,939)
Comics & Graphic Novels (21,583)
Computers & Technology (46,320)
Cookbooks, Food & Wine (38,428)
Crafts, Hobbies & Home (49,929)
Education & Reference (162,350)
Gay & Lesbian (25,800)
Health, Fitness & Dieting (165,809)
History (145,069)
Humor & Entertainment (72,955)
Literature & Fiction (856,128)
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense (148,423)
Nonfiction (1,339,206)
Parenting & Relationships (51,240)
Politics & Social Sciences (183,981)
Professional & Technical (209,018)
Religion & Spirituality (275,450)
Romance (189,206)
Science & Math (156,301)
Science Fiction & Fantasy (161,909)
Self-Help (68,535)
Sports & Outdoors (45,612)
Teen & Young Adult (55,344)
Travel (41,338)
Foreign Languages (554,299)

If you select one of them, you’ll narrow down further.
Select ‘Mystery, Thriller & Suspense (148,423)’ and you get:

Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
Crime Fiction (33,009)
Mystery (67,450)
Suspense (42,654)
Thrillers (55,928)

Select Mystery (67,450) and you get:

Mystery
African American (700)
British Detectives (3,561)
Collections & Anthologies (4,130)
Cozy (2,982)
Gay & Lesbian (832)
Hard-Boiled (5,786)
Historical (4,790)
International Mystery & Crime (1,626)
Police Procedurals (6,312)
Private Investigators (3,063)
Series (567)
Women Sleuths (11,826)

This is the last selection you can make in this area. So say your protagonist is a female detective, so you select Women Sleuths (11,826)

Now select the first book at the top.

Now scroll down to Product Details and you’ll find:

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > Police Procedurals
#1 in Books > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > Women Sleuths
#2 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Women’s Fiction > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Women Sleuths

Copy the link you like:
Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Women’s Fiction > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Women Sleuths

And go through the procedure to tell KDP you want your category changed to: Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Women’s Fiction > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Women Sleuths

Good luck

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Visibility on Amazon: Changing Categories and Keywords…

How to Increase the Visibility of Your Book on Amazon:

Categories on Amazon seem limited when you try to add them to your ebook in the KDP dashboard. When I tried to categorise the Amsterdam Assassin Series, all I could get was ‘Fiction>Mystery & Thriller>Suspense’ and ‘Fiction>Mystery & Thriller>General’, both categories that have hundreds of thousands of books in them. Which makes your book pretty difficult to get on the first few pages. What you need to do is adjust your category so you’re no longer a small fish a big pool, but the big fish in the small pool. And here is how you do that:

Changing Your Category:
If you go to Amazon Kindle Store and you see all the books available, click down on your category. First you select ‘Kindle e-books’ (2,610,028 books), then click ‘Mystery, Thriller & Suspense’{147,801), and select ‘Suspense’ (42,470). You’ll find that Suspense is divided into different categories that were not visible in the KDP dashboard, namely Ghosts, Horror, Occult, Paranormal, Political, Psychological. By narrowing down to, for instance, ‘Psychological’, despite the fact that Psychological is one of the larger subcategories, you still reduce your competition from 42,470 (Suspense) to 9,723 (Psychological).

(Below the categories, you also see two more selections you’re able to make; ‘Moods & Themes’ and ‘Characters’. We’ll come back to that in a minute, but we come to changing/adding categories to your book.)

First, copy the string that denotes the category you want to be in: ‘Kindle eBooks › Mystery, Thriller & Suspense › Suspense › Psychological’’.

Now, go to your KDP dashboard, where you edit details of your book. If you check your categories, they’ll be different from the Amazon website. Now, what you’ll do is go to the bottom of the page, where in the lower right corner you can click on ‘Contact Us’. That will take you to the ‘What is the problem?’ page.

Choose ‘Publish Your Book’, and ‘Add/Change Categories’. You’ll find that you can choose to contact by telephone or email. Select email and in the subject line you put ‘Category Not Listed’.

Fill in the required tabs: Name and ASIN of the book, and you have a window where you can explain your reason for contacting KDP.

Officially, you can have two categories, but KDP is known for adding categories without removing old ones. So, phrase your question something like this:

Hello,
I’d like to add (Title of your book) to this category: ‘Kindle eBooks › Mystery, Thriller & Suspense › Suspense › Psychological’.
If necessary, you can remove the category: ‘Kindle eBooks › Mystery, Thriller & Suspense › Suspense’.
Cordially, (Your name).

In my case, they didn’t remove categories, but just added the new one.

Keywords:
We also noticed the ‘Moods & Themes’ and ‘Characters’ below the Categories and Subcategories. I asked KDP about them, and they replied that they cannot add them to the category, but both can be added to the seven keywords you’re allowed. For Reprobate, I selected (Characters:) ‘Female Protagonists’ (146) (which counts as one keyword!) and (Moods & Themes) ‘Dark’ (362). If you check both boxes, it reduced the amount of books to… 23 books.

Conclusion, by adding ‘Psychological’ to your category, and adding the words ‘Dark’ and ‘Female Protagonists’ to your keywords, you reduce the competition from 42,470 to 23.

So, to make sure that your book can be found easier by browsers, select a less competitive category and insert a Theme and a Mood into your keywords. One important note on Keywords, don’t put words in your limited keyword section that are already in your book title or description, because they are already in the search facility. So, I shouldn’t put ‘Amsterdam, Assassin, homicide’ in my keywords, because those words are already being used. Instead, my keywords should be ‘dark, female protagonist, police procedural, crime fiction’, or something similar.

Although changing category and keywords will make your book more visible than the standard categories and wrong keywords, take you time to experiment by changing/adding other categories and keywords.

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Stopped Reading REVIEW: The Killing League by Dani Amore

The Killing LeagueThe Killing League by Dani Amore

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, I managed to get to 29% of the Kindle version of The Killing League until the lack of verisimilitude deflated my suspense of disbelief.

I had high expectations of this book, due to the enticing blurb, but the story failed to deliver. The characters were described to provide a visual image, but I got no sense of their internal emotions beyond what Ms. Amore told me they were feeling. The writing is not unskilled, and some of the descriptions were quite visceral, but when someone fires a gun in a forest and:

The smell of cordite hung in the air around them.

That’s a huge red flag that someone doesn’t know what they’re writing about. Cordite hasn’t been used firearm ammunition since second World War and the triple-based gunpowder that replaced might have a acidic metallic smell that might be picked up by extremely sensitive noses, but only if someone fires boxes of ammunition in a closed space, like a small room or a badly ventilated shooting range. In the open air? No chance that a smell will hang around after firing one round.

Of course, Ms. Amore is probably not the only writer who mistakenly uses cordite with post-WWII ammunition, but there was more to The Killing League that failed to engage me.

The lack of characterization was grating. None of the characters was even faintly interesting. Not the serial killers, who seemed derivative and unoriginal, nor the protagonists Mack and Nicole, who are both bland and superficial.

The pace was sluggish because the writer felt compelled to fill whole scenes with descriptions or explanations that were not necessary for any mildly intelligent reader to figure out for themselves. Dialogue was often pedestrian and interspersed with dragging descriptions:

“Hey Boss!” Antony Toffol, her sous chef, called out as she started inventory on the wine selections.
“Yeah,” she said. He stood with the door to the kitchen open. Nicole smelled the olive oil, garlic, onion, rosemary, shallots, paprika and black pepper that were being used in various incarnations.
“Someone dropped off a card for you,” he said. “It was under the door when I opened up — it’s over on the receptionist table.”
“Okay, thanks,” she said.

I don’t like to ‘force’ myself to read. There are so many books still to be read, that I couldn’t justify wasting my time on this one. Sorry, Ms. Amore, but the second star is merely because the formatting and editing seemed professional. The story itself didn’t rate more than 1 star for me.

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Almost Stopped Reading REVIEW: Severance Kill

Severance KillSeverance Kill by Tim Stevens
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This almost turned into another ‘stopped reading’ review, except that I wanted to know what happened to Martin Calvary, the protagonist. So I ignored my many reasons to delete this book from my Kindle and struggled through the formatting errors that cropped up in the last quarter of the book.

Should I have? Perhaps not, but I was curious to see if Stevens had a twist at the end that would be worth it. There was something that should’ve been a twist, except that it didn’t surprise me in the slightest. Maybe less discerning readers will be surprised by the ending, I don’t know.

So, the formatting errors… I actually contacted the author and he wrote me a very nice PM telling me that he had a giveaway through Bookbub with some 30,000 downloads, with all the Kindle versions containing the formatting errors, but not the ePubs. I can understand that through some mistake an older file containing proofreading notes and formatting errors ends up in an e-book.

So, if you have one of these screwed up Severance Kill e-books, maybe you can get a new corrected file through Manage my Kindle. Or you can just ignore the typos, missing quotes and strike-through sentences. And overlook the awkward prose when a sick woman running up the steps is ‘ignoring the complaints from her unaccustomed knees’ and operatives being ‘linked up telephonically’.

However, I pointed out that there were many more mistakes unrelated to the formatting issue. Mr. Stevens didn’t show any interest in my feedback, so I’ll just put them in my review.

On the whole, the book was well-written. I had some trouble with the start of the book, where Calvary is getting his ass kicked out of a fourth-floor apartment, manages to keep from falling to his death, and gets back into the apartment to finish the target. The target, who first puts up a fight and almost finishes Calvary, suddenly retreats into his apartment, where the target suddenly changes into a weakling.

Calvary crouches in front of the sitting target, lays a hand on either side of the man’s face and kills him with a crack… So what did Calvary do? Break his neck? Let’s just say, don’t believe the action movies you’ve seen about how easy it is to break someone’s neck. The author is a doctor with the National Health Service, so he might be hesitant to give an exact blow-by-blow on how to break someone’s neck, but to break someone’s neck while crouched in front of him and holding his ears is quite a challenge.

After that, Calvary gets blackmailed into doing a last job in Prague, where he reminisces about his past kills. And I almost put the book down.

Why?

Because Calvary reminisces about electrocuting a target in his bathtub. By throwing a battery-operated transistor radio into the bath. The death of the target is horrifying. “Crackles and screams, churning mix of water and blood and effluent, like a shark’s attack” and the victim dies with a rictus of agony and a hand clawing the air.

Impressive, if it wasn’t that a battery-operated transistor radio tossed in a bathtub will not have a sufficiently high charge to electrocute a human being. I could start a whole explanation about the milliamps used by transistor radio and how many transistor radios would have to be submerged in your bath to tickle your heart into the high frequency fatal fluttering of a heart attack, but even then the victim will not flail about like they are chewing on a high voltage wire.

And while I can understand someone emptying their bowels when they are electrocuted, how exactly does all that blood get in the water? And what makes the water churn? Not the two 9V batteries in the transistor radio, I can tell you.

If killing someone by tossing a battery-operated transistor radio into their baths would work, lots of disgruntled housewives would be buying battery-operated transistor radios…

With my bullshit radar now on full alert I read on.

Calvary relieves someone of his semi-automatic pistol and thumbs the safety before he slips it in his pocket. When he takes the pistol from his pocket a few pages later and hands it to someone, the pistol turns out to be a Glock 17. And Glocks have not safety to be thumbed. The safety of the Glock is a small ‘second trigger’ inside the trigger.

Moments later Calvary takes ‘the Browning’ because ‘the Browning has to be cocked before every shot and the Glock chambered a new round automatically, making it easier for a novice to use’. The Browning, like the Glock, is a semi-automatic pistol. You might have to pull the slide to chamber the first round, but after that the blowback action of the slide will chamber a new round from the spring-loaded magazine in the grip.

The last part of the story featured strike through sentences, misspelled words like ’trial’ for ‘trail’, omitted words like ‘[character name] phone went’, double words like ‘ahead he fancied saw the car park’ [maybe so you can choose which verb you think is most appropriate?] and quotes missing so you have to guess what is narrative and what is dialogue. Sometimes the Third Person Limited perspective featured intrusions of First Person, often right in the middle of action scenes, ‘one of her feet catching him on the cheekbone. It wasn’t enough to put me off. Calvary began to crawl…’ and so on.

All that could be overlooked if the characters didn’t start doing improbable things, like Calvary on the run renting a car with cash but expressing no worries about having to show his driving license because ‘he [protagonist] doubted [antagonists] would be monitoring every car rental place in the city’.

Really?

Their spy craft must be worse than mine, because—despite not being a professional spy—I would definitely monitor every means of (public) transport in a hundred mile radius if I were looking for a spy on the run.

But then, Calvary could be right about the antagonists lack of tracking skills. The scene shifts to the antagonists who are fretting because one of their operatives has been incommunicado for almost a day. Finally the leader has a brilliant idea and goes to the communications officer, where the leader asks an underling ‘can you get a GPS trace on [missing operative’s] phone?’ The comm officer, who has been twiddling her thumbs apparently, answers affirmatively and set to work.
Again: seriously? These antagonists are supposed to be veteran’ intelligence’ officers, and they wait for hours before they decide to put a trace on their missing team member?

With my suspension of disbelief blown beyond repair I finished the book.

Wasted potential. 2/5 stars. Only recommended if your suspension of disbelief is made out of sturdier material than mine…

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Authors for Wounded Warriors.

Authors For Wounded Warriors is a collective effort and the brain-child of author Ashley Mackler Paternostro.

A group of talented writers (and flat-out good human beings!) gathered to support the dream of filling one Kindle that will be part of a silent auction at the March 30th, 2013 12th annual Guns ‘n’ Hoses Charity Hockey Game played at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois.

“In the final year of the Guns ‘n’ Hoses game, to hear that the charity of benefit is the Wounded Warrior Project is absolutely prolific, having the benefit of knowing where it all began back in 2002.  We are proud to do our small part in helping to raise money for such a worthwhile and important organization.” -Ashley

About the Guns ‘n’ Hoses Charity Game

The first Guns n Hoses game was played in 2002 in order to benefit a firehouse who lost its members in the 9-11 attacks.  The Wounded Warrior Project exists to honor and empower Wounded Warriors who incurred service-connected injuries on or after September 11, 2001.

WWP is the hand extended to encourage warriors as they adjust to their new normal and achieve new triumphs.  Offering a variety of programs and services, WWP is equipped to serve warriors with every type of injury-from the physical to the invisible wounds of war.

Guns ‘N’ Hoses 2013 is inviting you to be a part of this unique and historic event to honor our warriors.

More information about the Skatin’ Bacon Hockey and the Charity Game at:

www.skatinbacon.com

About The Wounded Warrior Project

MISSON:
To honor and empower Wounded Warriors.
VISION:
To foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation’s history.
PURPOSE:
To raise awareness and enlist the public’s aid for the needs of injured service members.
To help injured service members aid and assist each other.
To provide unique, direct programs and services to meet the needs of injured service members.

More information on The Wounded Warrior Project and how you can help can be found at:

www.woundedwarriorproject.org

Donation Information

“When I originally put out the idea I thought maybe I’d receive a handful of donations … but the kindness of others never fails to amaze me.  The absolute generosity of authors and companies has blown me away … and continues to do so.  I’m always interested in amassing more donations — my goal is to super-load that Kindle and keep the lucky winner busy for a very, very long time.” – Ashley

Please check out the About page of Authors for Wounded Warriors here. One of the donated books is Reprobate.


Like to REVIEW Reprobate for Free?

To get the Amsterdam Assassin Serie noticed among the many books already out there, I offer free copies of Reprobate in exchange for reviews on Goodreads, Scribd, Amazon, Kobo and iTunes.

REPROBATE

Assassin Katla breaks her own rules when confronted with an unusual witness…

Blessed with an almost non-existent conscience, Katla Sieltjes, expert in disguising homicide, views assassination as an intricate and rewarding occupation. Hidden behind her male alter ego Loki, Katla receives anonymous assignments, negotiates the terms with clients through electronic means, all to protect her identity. Her solitary existence satisfies her until she meets a blind musician whose failure to notice a ‘closed’ sign causes him to wander in on Katla’s crime scene. And Katla breaks one of her most important rules – never leave a living witness.

Reprobate is the first novel in the Amsterdam Assassin Series. With authentic details and fast-paced action, featuring an uncompromising heroine and a supporting cast of unusual characters, Reprobate gives a rare glimpse in the local Dutch culture, information on the famous Dutch capital, the narcotics trade, computer hacking, motorcycle gangs, mehndi bridal tattoos, martial arts, the psychology of social engineering, and the brutal effectiveness of disciplined violence.

This e-book now features a glossary.

So, if you want to support me and help me get noticed, send an email to katlasieltjes@yahoo.com with ‘Reprobate Review’ in the subject and tell me what e-reader you use and I’ll send you the Reprobate e-book file attached to the email. You can download the file and upload it to your e-reader. Available files are .mobi, for the Amazon Kindle, and .epub for the Nook, Kobo, Sony, iPad and most smartphones with e-reader compatibility.

Thanks to everyone for your support.