Today our blog puts the Spotlight on Author Rik Stone. He writes Thrillers, Crime and Suspense novels. Rik is the author of the Birth of an Assassin series.
Thriller, Crime, Suspense
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Rik Stone worked in the shipyards on the River Tyne and spent time in the Merchant Navy long before he was in a position to pursue his dream of writing full time. Whether the sea was in his blood or he just loved traveling isn't clear, but from his experiences of exotic locations his imagination was fired up and he wrote Birth of an Assassin, the first in a series.
Brazil had been the first foreign soil his feet touched down on and that was when he and other crew members were flown out to pick up a ship. The memories of what he saw on his travels in South America and the images that were conjured up, have lived on in his mind over the years and now, because the story refused to go on hold, he has taken time out from the Birth of an Assassin series to write a present day novel set in an imaginary favela, on an imaginary hillside, in Recife.
SPOTLIGHT Questions and Answers with the Author
Congratulations on your book: The Turkish Connection. Do you have another book on the horizon? Can you tell us the timeline for its release and give us a little tease?
Hi James, thank you for asking me along. Yes, the first books in the series, The Turkish Connection and Birth of an Assassin, introduce different protagonists from different parts of the world and are stories that stand alone. The Man in the Blue Fez, book three, brings the agents together to face new, and old, enemies. The following is the opening from it:
Northern Russia, January 1973
Noon, the sun had begun its descent towards the western horizon and the promise of warmth was sinking with it. Gold and pink rays glanced off mountaintops and spread as one over the frozen lake below. Midway up a mountain slope overlooking the lake and not too far from where the Urals trailed off into the wasteland, Pavel Rostislav lay in wait. A light wind whispered across the incline, the cold it brought found a way through his winter gear and set him shivering. He snuggled into the hollow cut from the compacted snow as far as he dared, but knew there could be no respite. He had to hold his vigil.
With teeth gritted, he raised the standard issue field glasses to his eyes and scoped the fishing hole in the ice lake while trying to ignore the freezing barbs that spiked at his bones. Time pressed on and he took a moment of it to glance at the thermometer on the backpack by his side, shuddered to see the temperature had dropped to minus fifty. Mist clouds would be visible to an enemy, so he expelled his breath against the chinstrap on his snowsuit, but then small ice crystals bunched up there and he exhaled in exasperation, irritation nipping at his spirit.
The sun dropped below the peaks and the ice lake turned bluish grey while the sky on the eastern horizon reflected mauve tiers on snow-knuckled mountains. Snow flurries lifted from drifts nearby and snaked down into the basin, dancing like ashes blown from a dead fire. Pavel’s goggles took the color down a notch further and his heart sank. All he wanted now was to get this thing done and return to camp. However, just as he began feeling that his blood might turn to an icy sludge or his body may be only moments away from paralysis, a blur on the landscape took human shape and his spirits lifted. Shrouded in a heavy arctic snowsuit, the man moved slowly yet gracefully towards the fishing pole sticking up from the ice. The garment he wore should have been brilliant white, but it had turned a dull bluish grey – same as everything else. He wore traditional Siberian snowshoes – same as Pavel’s – large teardrop-shaped hardwood frames with rawhide lacing crisscrossed into a strong latticework. Not a big man and because of that, and his deftness, he hardly left a print as the meter-long constructs dabbed and glided gently over the snow. Any imprints he might have made were swiftly covered as clouds of blue flakes curled around his ankles and stole all signs of his presence.
After clearing newly formed ice from the fishing hole, he pulled on the cord attached to the pole and hauled in his catch. Four fish, equally spaced along the line, flapped on the ice. He cut the smallest free and cast it back into the water. Pavel felt that old excitement bubble up and adrenalin ran hot around his gut. His patience had endured long enough. It was time to end the task. His gloves fumbled as he unzipped the leather sleeve and took out the Dragunov sniper rifle within. The deep scar next to his left eye itched as it always did when the thrill of the chase got the better of him. He ran a finger along the crevice to ease the irritation and then tucked the hollow stock of the gun into the softer flesh under his shoulder. Resting his face on the gun’s cheek pad, he slipped his gloved finger inside the Arctic trigger guard, scoped the target through the range finder and smiled. This was all so easy. Almost too easy. For a rifle like the Dragunov, six hundred meters was an effortless distance. The crosshair settled on an elbow and he slowly panned the weapon until his aim was centered where the man’s temple would be.
“Bang, you’re dead,” he whispered, and gently squeezed the trigger.
The Man in the Blue Fez is due out late 2015.
You have a great following on twitter. How important have your social media relationships been? How did you build your following in your niche? Do you see a carry over to your writing success?
Social media is really important to a writer in need of exposure; and that covers all of us! As you build relationships, you begin to care, pretty much like real life, and the support I’ve had from fellow writers, readers and marketeers has been awesome.
Does it help sell books? Yes, if I run a discount campaign I use professional email blasts, but way after those have finished I continue with Tweets about it that are retweeted manifold by my cyber friends and I see spikes in sales from it.
To be successful on social media means you have to be on a two way street; as in normal friendship. If you want to hang on to your friends you can’t just take, you must give back. With social media, it’s done by giving them the same kind of exposure they are giving you.
Building a following? When I began with Twitter, I followed two maybe three hundred people that had something to do with writing or the arts. A poet, a reader, an artist, or a social marketing buff, didn’t matter, the important thing was they had common interests to my own. No matter how distant the genre, there was every chance they would have something to say that would be of significance to me, and vice versa.
With regard numbers, once the ball starts rolling the ‘following’ becomes organic and, as long as we are part of the same niche, I always follow back, so most of those who unfollow are the ones I don’t have a common interest with.
I’m currently trying to get the hang of Facebook and I must say it has some great content, but I believe it is more of a social thing than business. I like it much better than the news; I see good stuff as well as bad, so I get to laugh instead of feeling sad all the time. And, to be honest, you also get the chance to tell people about your work.
Do you do any book signings, interviews, speaking and personal appearances? If so, when and where is the next place where your readers can see you? Where can they keep up with your personal contacts online?
Book signings for independent publishers are still in its infancy in the UK, but it really is a case of watch this space. I do have some stuff lined up for next year that includes signings and I have previously done a little TV and radio. Book festivals for the independents are beginning to pop up over here, so that is another positive on the horizon.
You have a great book trailer. (See link below.) It looks very professional. Do you know how much impact it has had on your book’s success? Tell us about the process that you used to create your trailer?
That’s kind of you to say, thank you. I haven’t a clue as to whether the trailer has actually sold books, but I’ve had a lot of positive comments about it. Either way, I feel it rounds off the professional projection of the work on offer and it makes the bookshelf that much more attractive. Actually, having said that I guess it must help with sales. The process for creating the trailer was partially out of my hands. The narrative was taken from the audiobook and was in the POV of Jez, my protagonist. He was carrying out his first kill and was questioning himself as to why he was there. Those few words of narrative more or less summed Jez up throughout the book; as good an operative as he was, his mind seemed to sleepwalk through events as if they were out of his control; I think this is real life to an extent, mine anyway. So, that section of audio was a must, but the video itself was left down to the guy who put it together. When it first came back to me I was a little surprised to see that it was a contemporary take on the situation, more of a modern day gang feud than a 70’s military maneuver, but a couple of viewings, one or two changes, and I was really taken by it. Oh, nearly forgot; I uploaded it to several video sites, including youtube, which gives the story an airing to another group of people who might otherwise not be aware of my work.
You have converted Birth of an Assassin into an audio book. What has been the impact on your regular sales? Has the audio books gained a new audience for you?
It has been available for a few months, but the audio is still a work in progress. While it is a very professional production by the narrator, my approach to the marketing has had shortcomings. I should have carried out more research, but, typical me, I learn a lot of stuff in retrospect. Online advertising for audio, certainly in the UK, seems to be thin on the ground, but I have since found out there are quite a lot of folk out there who do audio reviews. The difficult part is finding them! I have been putting a file together and when I think I have enough people to approach, I will hit them all at once. Hopefully, that will have more of an impact should the assault prove successful.
And yes, I believe it is a new audience in the main, although there must be a degree of Venn attached. I know one of my reviewers is a truck driver who listens to books while he drives; I think that might be a bit dangerous if he was a reader. But there are a whole host of reasons that allows someone to listen when it isn’t safe or convenient to read, so even if the audience isn’t new, per se, a new attention slot is certainly gained.
Your website features an audio sample for Birth of an Assassin. Is that a part of the Audible process? How does that work?
To produce the audiobook I worked in partnership with Dennis Kleinman, a Los Angeles voice actor. He was a very easy associate and he sent me one or two chapters at a time for approval. I’m not a director and have no desire to be so; the work was merely sent for accuracy checks and to make sure I liked his take on the story. Anyway, as I checked it out I picked snippets that I thought stood alone quite well. Dennis supplied me with the pieces as separate soundtracks which were then uploaded to the website.
Besides the Independent Author Network, what other writer support groups do you belong too? Do they help with the writing, marketing and the publishing process?
I’m also with BZBooks.com. We are a team of people who support each other: daily tweets; FB likes, shares; getting the word out when one of us has a campaign; and we each have a page on the site advertising our work. This site, although fairly well established, is constantly in development by Mike Smith, the owner, so it often has new takes on projecting its authors.
The Authorsdb.com also gives pretty good exposure. And both sites are free.
Your previous question about building a following is partially answered here. Being part of social groups is another avenue that helps grow your numbers.
What has been your experience in giving your books away free or at a discount? Have you been involved in any other type of giveaways and how did that work out? What was your main goal in doing this? Did you run into any obstacles?
I’ve never tried free yet, but I discount on a regular basis. There seem to be a lot of differing opinions as to whether free is no longer a winner and that 99 cents is in fact the new free. I’m not sure if that is the case and because I’m not, my head bobs back and forth like I’m at a tennis match. If I can get a genuine handle on it, I’m willing to take either path. While a discount campaign isn’t a strategy in itself, I’m pitching it in different ways to try and build a solid game plan, trouble with that is it’s slow going. Although, I have hit number one in my category on both sides of the water and that has been due to the discount periods.
Birth of an Assassin has been in a couple rafflecopters and giveaways. The TBR list grows, but whether they convert into sales is 'wait and see'.
Do you maintain a reader list? What are the methods you use to find your readers and create the list and the relationship? Do you use social media, forums, newsletters and/or support groups to build your list?
I do maintain a reader list, yes. I use social media to drive people to my site where I offer the first two chapters of the Birth of an Assassin audio in exchange for an email address. All of the hype will tell you that such a list is of paramount importance, and who am I to disagree, but I don’t feel I reach as many readers as I’d like to. Also, my website is currently what is called a static implementation, so I’m looking into having it changed to include an interactive blog page that will host interviews as well as writing tips and news of what is going on in my world. Hopefully, that will garner readers to opt into my newsletter.
What is your method of getting reviews for your novels? Do you seek professional reviews, use social media or do you rely on your reading audience to supply them?
If by saying professional reviews you include book tours, then yes, I use them quite a bit; some are excellent and I stick with them, others not so much. I’m not talking about good/bad reviews with the thumbs down brigade, more that they don’t fulfill their obligations.
Quite often I’ve met people I know when out walking and they tell me ‘just read your latest book, really enjoyed it’ I come back with the question ‘enough to give it a review’ and get the answer ‘definitely, I’ll do it when I get home’ – still waiting. I am, however, finding new ways to encourage the reading audience to leave reviews, and it is their reviews that make it all worthwhile – a positive review from an unsolicited source, heaven.
Author's Book List
The Turkish Connection
- A Birth of an Assassin Novel
Mehmet battles for daily survival in the murky Istanbul of 1951 while being forced to learn the craft of theft and violence alongside the other street children. Come evening he curls up under a stinking jetty in a waterway off the Bosporus Strait. Desperation fills him as he yearns to break free from the life inflicted on him by his drunken, womanizing father, little knowing that his rotting body lies at the bottom of those same waters.
Adulthood comes before Mehmet finds out that it wasn't fate that had taken control when he was a boy, but a very real nemesis. But is it too late? Can he yet turn things around and get his life back?
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Birth of an Assassin
Set against the backdrop of Soviet, post-war Russia, Birth of an Assassin follows the transformation of Jez Kornfeld from wide-eyed recruit to avenging outlaw. Amidst a murky underworld of flesh-trafficking, prostitution and institutionalized corruption, the elite Jewish soldier is thrown into a world where nothing is what it seems, nobody can be trusted, and everything can be violently torn from him.
Birth of an Assassin
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