Tag Archives: Ralph Kern

A Well-Paved Road to an Indie Author’s Success: Part 2, Lesson’s Learned

By Ralph Kern

Screen shot 2015-03-10 at 11.54.10 AM

Amazon Review: Take a little Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke then add a dash of Star Trek, shake well and enjoy.

So from all that, what have I learned?

1. Editing is vital.  And yet something I’m cr#p at. I don’t enjoy it, and I’d rather be doing something else entirely. What I do love is the coming out with the story and even more than that, the research that goes into it. A good percentage of you will probably be the same. Some of you may enjoy it, but I know I don’t.


Continue reading »

2. You find an editor who compliments you. I’ve had three editors. All have improved my manuscript. But, when you find someone who, when faced with your work, somehow has an X Factor…that’s when the magic happens. Editing suddenly goes from being a crushing chore, to something you look forwards to. My current (and hopefully permanent) editor compliments me in that she doesn’t let me get away with stuff and constantly teaches. For example, in the draft of my second book she looked at, she ran ‘Find’ on Word for passive voice, and sent it straight back with a load of guidance on how to sort it before she would review it properly. Why? Surely it’s her job to sort that kind of thing out? Well no actually, it’s mine. That’s something I can do to improve the book, and she shouldn’t have to deal with laziness AND polishing. And now, for next time, I’ve learned a little something extra.

3. Target your audience. Mine is in America, On the SF/F Chronicles, this is a raging debate where people have clearly expressed their views, both pro and con, on “Americanization.” Whether an author chooses to do it or not, that’s their decision. For me, it became a point that was no longer optional, but critical.

4. Sales rank is everything. Lose it, and you will struggle to regain it. Your only chance to beat the odds is to grab those early adopters. If you’ve built that sales rank as a self-published author and then decide to go to a publisher, keep it on your bookshelf. And remember, if you have that sales rank, it will be you deciding on the publisher, not the publisher deciding on you.

5. Paralysis by analysis. The way I did okay for myself was by charging forwards. I’ve seen critiquing threads where people have agonized over the odd sentence, and it probably matters not an iota to a reader. Bearing in mind points 1 and 2, which ended with don’t be lazy, sometimes you just have to pick something and do it.

6. Reviewers are all individuals. Some of them consider three stars good, some five. Some are just harsh—one said I should be shot. Currently I stand at 131 Amazon reviews with a bunch on the odd website. Fortunately I’m at four stars average which keeps visibility high. Hopefully, that will creep up now that (also hopefully) no one will be able to find the plethora of errors previously in it, and I’ve addressed the concerns given in point 3. But definitely use reviewers. If they raise a point, you can actually do something about it! Why just sit there grumbling about the fact your readers are moaning about you saying, “He was sat on a chair” as opposed to “He was sitting on a chair”? (I kid you not, that came up on several reviews!). Sure a traditional publisher might get them sorted from the get go, but if you’re not traditionally published, then you can sort it out!

7. Whether fame or fortune, you can get that with self-publishing. But treat it with the same drive for quality that a traditional publisher seeks. It should just be a case of who foots the bills. Decide if you think the cut you give the publisher is worth it, considering that you can probably do it for yourself. In the short term, going with a traditional publisher will be a saving for you. In the mid to long term, it might be a different story. Interestingly, many SF TV series and film coming out this year are based on self-published books.

Screen shot 2015-06-03 at 6.35.31 PM

Sergeant Ralph arresting the competition?


Ralph Kern started the path that lead him to become author with a few jaunts about the world. He began with adegree in aerospace technology from Coventry University, worked in Milan on designing a satellite, hopped across “the Pond” to get his pilot’s license in the States (even before his driver’s license), then wound up back in England. There he flew air cadets in motor gliders and for a year was an officer cadet in the TA (Territorial Army). After all of this, he had a bit of a quarter-life crisis. He succumbed to the kid inside and chucked it all for a career chasing bad guys, becoming a police officer. In the course of rising to sergeant, his job has exposed him to many things that started him thinking about “the big issues.” He noticed a hole in his life that made him turn to writing, where he, like the authors he has read and loved all of his life (Arthur C Clarke, Stephen Baxter, Alistair Reynolds and many more), can confront those larger issues.

A Well-Paved Road to an Indie Author’s Success: Part 1

By Ralph Kern

Screen shot 2015-06-03 at 6.05.32 PM

One hung-over New Year’s Day 2013, I decided to knock something off the bucket list and started to write a novel. Seven or eight months later, I had a sparkly first draft. In my isolation from other writers, I thought it was the bees knees. I self-published it on Draft 2 Digital, which at that point put it out across all major e-book sellers. It did okay, but not brilliantly, and I got a fair few sales and a few reviews. All of them said pretty much “loved the story, but he soooooo needs an editor.”

Continue reading »

So I decided to pull it, and spent the best part of six months picking through it, again in isolation, although at that point, I think I had joined the SF/F Chronicles, an online science fiction and fantasy community, where I picked up some stuff that certainly helped. What I came out with at the end of that period was a draft someone would feel comfortable putting before a publisher. My decision not to seek a publisher was pure pragmatism, and one that proved correct financially. I then rereleased it.

This time, it didn’t just do okay, it rocketed, no pun intended considering the novel’s subject matter. At the height, I was hovering around eighteenth in SF on Amazon’s Top 100 List and that was in the company of traditional publishers, self-published authors, and everything between. I was full of beans. I was selling better than many of my heroes of literature. Sales were at over one hundred a day. For a while, I was earning far more than I was from my job. I paid off a car loan and had money to spare.

The reviews were pouring in at a rate of several a day. (I have only “come out” to a couple of people who know me in person as an author, so those reviews were genuine ones.) The general theme was still the same, people loved the story, they loved the subject matter but hated the editing. So after a few months, I thought, fine, I’ll use some of this cash and get an edit done.

I got it done, updated the file, and let it roll for a bit longer. I was still getting overwhelmingly positive reviews, yet still had comments of typos and grammar mistakes. This frustrated me. How could I still be getting these when I’d had it tidied up? Turned out, the majority of my readers are in the States. There are a surprising number of subtle differences between UK English and US, which is also the international standard.

My thought process at the time was screw em, I AM English, I’ve got it on my author page that I am, so they know it and should accept it. In other words, they can put up with it.

At around this time I got approached by two publishers, Tantor, who wanted to publish my book as an audio book, and Tickety Boo Press.

So I negotiated with Tantor and got a reasonable advance and royalty rate from them. I didn’t feel particularly disadvantaged by not having an agent to do it.

Then I responded to Tickety Boo Press. Two things about them perked my interest. One was that my edit would be done by Ian Sales, who would bring some SF pedigree to proceedings, then it would get Americanized with a US editor, all on Tickety Boo’s tick.

Fine, let’s do it.

Screen shot 2015-03-10 at 11.54.10 AM

Endeavor, book one of the Sleeping Gods series, has been compared to A.C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End and has been on 7 Amazon Top 100 Lists.

Since we first looked at the stars, there has been a silence, no signs of alien life, no one who has tried to speak to us, a mystery that a long dead scientist called the Fermi Paradox.
“Where are they?”
In 2118, the first daring mission to another star, Tau Ceti, twelve light years away is launched. Tom Hites and Harry Cosgrove command the Starship Endeavour on an epic journey to solve the Fermi Paradox. From the first, nearly disastrous steps on a distant world, their quest takes them further than they ever imagined. Out amidst the mysterious long abandoned worlds and ancient relics they discover, some strange, some wonderful and some deadly, that question they seek to answer becomes:
“Where are they now?”


The Truth is Stranger…

By Ralph Kern

I had the privilege of meeting Ralph when Tickety Boo Press hired me to edit his already Amazon bestselling book, Endeavour, for a rerelease. He was a pleasure to work with and to read, and if you have the opportunity to do either, I suggest you take it!

Screen shot 2015-03-10 at 11.54.10 AM

Endeavor has been compared to A.C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End & is currently on three Amazon Top-100 lists.

That the truth is stranger than fiction is an old adage, a cliché even, yet one I have found to hold water. In my ‘day’ job, I’m a police sergeant. I run a team of fifteen officers and have been doing the job for the best part of ten years. Whenever I meet new people, they generally ask some version of “What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever seen?”

Continue reading »

Very early on in my career, having ruined several friends’ and families’ meals in restaurants with an honest answer to that question, I realized that what they’re actually asking is “What’s the most PG13 grossest thing you’ve ever seen?” or even better, I just give them some amusing anecdote involving the dubious, and sometimes downright perplexing, behavior of people on the lower end of the social spectrum. As for the weird stuff—well sometimes I struggle to believe my own memory about what I’ve seen people get up to, let alone having to listen to someone else tell a story about it. Basically, people don’t want the truth…they want a sanitized version of events.

This brings me neatly onto the thrust of this post. Several years ago, I started writing. No particular reason for it other than a New Year’s resolution. I had a story idea and basically thought “why not?” So I started laying down my novel, Endeavour, which is a sci-fi piece bearing no relation to my career.

While that was ticking away though, I decided to try my hand at a number of short stories, partly to get my skills and drills up to scratch and partly because, as many writers undoubtedly find, a change is as good as a rest sometimes; writing shorts can be a constructive break from tapping away on your main work.

One of these short stories involved a pair of cops driving to a job. Now, to add a bit of context, I’m a member of an online SF/F community where critiques can be posted, and I thought I’d put up some sections for feedback. I hadn’t told anyone I was a police officer.

Anyway, back to my two cops. They get their next job over the radio, so one of them pulls out his phone (when the screen lights up, it shows a picture of his family) and puts in the address, bemoaning the fact that he only has a little power left.  With that, they start driving to it. Ahh, perfect opportunity to do a bit of character building! I thought. So while on route, they begin talking about a bit of personal stuff. All in all, that short passage summed up how we really go to jobs.

Controller: “Sierra XYZ, Control, burglary in progress at so and so address.”

Me: “Code five, give me the info on the address.”

Control: “It’s a so and so shop with several previous reports.”

One of us enters the address into the phone to nav it while the other activates the blues and two tones, and we set off.   Then we undoubtedly catch up on gossip.

Me: So, Bob. How’d that hot date go?

Cue a probably sordid tale with a variety of anatomically unlikely scenarios involved.

The critiquers slaughtered me! “Police would have sat-navs fitted into their cars,” they cried. “They would never be so unprofessional as to talk about personal matters on their way to a burglary,” they bemoaned.

Well, unfortunately, Her Majesty hasn’t seen fit to equip our cars with sat-navs, leaving us with trusty google maps. The other day, I held an in-depth conversation about what I had for dinner the previous night on the way to deal with an axe-wielding maniac. Why? Because when it’s your tenth job of the day you tend to get a bit bored with growling at each other in the melodramatic fashion that’s shown on TV.

Another person was asking for “reasons a mother would leave a baby.” An emotive subject, perhaps.  The standard response from many people was “a mother would never leave her child, maternal instincts, etc., etc. I made one brief attempts to relay some of the reasons I’d come across at work—the malicious, the nasty, or the just plain old very bad parenting. Needless to say, it’s not a discussion I’ll get involved in again any time soon.

I learned very quickly that the truth about jobs like the police (a role that by its very nature, tends to make for some entertaining tales) is that people are not really interested in the truth. They want the media version: Cops don’t talk to each other, they growl and bicker. Blue-light runs are exciting car chases, not the calm collected and most of all safe journey that they actually are. When people are shot, bullets leave neat little holes. When they’re in a car crash, the victim’s insides are where they should be—inside. No one soils themselves when they die. Fights are neat kung-fuesque-type affairs, not rolling around on the ground in the dirt and worse. And so on and so forth.

Is that my limitation as a writer—that I can’t write the truth convincingly? Maybe, but then it seems like I share the same failings as ninety-five percent of police fiction writers in that regards. You know what? I think that this holds true across the spectrum of jobs that people seem to like writing about, and more importantly, like reading about.  People often just want to hear that a knight is a paragon of honor and virtue. Not that he’s been in his armor for the last three months and smells like a hobos underpants. Astronauts never swear. (Geek moment, Pete Conrad, one of the men who walked on the moon, was borderline Tourette’s!) Secret agents never suffer from impotence and so on.

The moral of this post is, even with the best will in the world, sometimes you have to make things generally readable and relatable to a wider audience for them to enjoy it. And maybe, just maybe, sometimes the truth is too strange for fiction.

Endeavor, book one of the Sleeping Gods series, has been compared to A.C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End and is currently on three Amazon Top 100 Lists: 

  • Top Time Travel
  • Top Hard Science Fiction
  • Top Space Exploration

An updated version of Endeavor will be released by Tickety Boo Press and available in spring of 1015 on Amazon.