2013 – and what the future holds

I’m not sure what the next year holds in terms of writing success (or lack of it), but I know I want to up my game in 2013. Write more, sell more and, most important of all, improve with every piece I produce.

I’m currently sitting on a second draft of a Stanton Brothers’ novella called Bone Breakers, I’m two-thirds of the way through The Hunters’ sequel The Glasgow Grin, I’m a good 5,000 words into a revenge-noir novella tentatively called Cry Tomorrow. I’m also sitting on a few long and short stories on the subject of revenge, which I may or may not turn into the basis of another short collection (if I don’t decide to try giving them to others to publish). All of these projects will hopefully see the light of day in 2013, but this is one area where I need to up my game. I need to release more of my stuff without fussing over it. Making sure that I’ve edited and polished my stuff is important, but fussing and tinkering is not. I need to learn when to let go.

Sales in 2012 were at the same level as 2011 (when The Gamblers was released on Kindle) in terms of volume, which means a decrease in sales in real terms due to the fact that The Gamblers wasn’t actually released until April of 2011 (whereas 2012 has been a full sales year). Like everybody else I’m shouting to be heard in an ever more crowded marketplace and I’m clueless as to what I can do about it. If last year is anything to go by, 2013 will see a record volume of stuff released on Kindle, meaning more competition for all of us. So I really need to think carefully about how I proceed over the coming year.

Do I continue down the self-published path? Or do I try and submit my stuff to a small Indie press and see if they like what I’ve produced (and there’s no guarantee of that)? Or do I take a half-and-half approach (some work stays self-published, other work I pass to Indie houses)? Decisions decisions.

If I do stick with self-publishing I am going to have to work a lot smarter if I’m to increase my readership over the coming year. I have some ideas, but without some effective marketing of them on my part they probably won’t amount to much. Ideally, I would like to double my sales in 2013, but I’ll be more than happy if I sell more than I did this year. That doesn’t mean big sales (far from it), but it will mean I have at least increased my readership considerably. And a bigger readership of better work will mean a good basis for 2014.

I intend to work my cojones off in 2013, travel further down the path of the writer, and produce more fiction and more reviews, improving with every piece I produce. And I hope you readers will be there to join me for that journey.

Happy New Year

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My Favourite Crime Novels 24

Maigret And The Idle Burglar by Georges Simenon

Georges Simenon’s critical reputation is based mostly on his Roman Durs (Dirty Snow, The Strangers in the House, The Man Who Watched The Trains Go By to name but a few), dark, bleak novels that aren’t afraid to leave the reader dazed and confused. Their endings are never happy and even the few faint glimmers of hope that briefly light up the lives of the main characters are extinguished at the end. Abandon all hope those who enter here seems to be the main theme of these dark, cold, beautiful masterpieces.

However, his success as a writer (hundreds of millions of books sold) is based on his Maigret novels. The detective walked the Paris streets for many years solving cases and drinking lots of beers and calvados. His method of solving cases was not by deductive reasoning or amazing genius but by observation and absorption. When he entered a room Maigret seemed to suck up the atmosphere and the relationships between the suspects like a sponge. He might not have had the brain power of Sherlock Holmes, but he was no slouch in the brain department and unlike Doyle’s creation he wasn’t an insufferable know-it-all (I know exactly who I’d rather sit with in a pub for a beer). Maigret was also happily married, not some loner with addictions and relationship problems (which is why he feels fresher than many of the cliched detectives who followed in his wake). However, the novels are not cosy, comfortable things. Whilst they may be a lot warmer than the Roman Durs they do share some of their darkness. None more so than Maigret and the Idle Burglar, which is up there with the Roman Durs in my opinion.

A burglar is found battered to death on a night in Paris. He was murdered, stripped of all ID and thrown from a car on to the icy street, yet his criminal background has Maigret’s superiors eager to dismiss it as an underworld thing and brush it away. They are more concerned with solving a high-profile case involving a gang of armed robbers. The thing is Maigret doesn’t quite buy the underworld vendetta angle and starts finding out a few things about the burglar and also the Parisian upper-classes, none of which are particularly to his liking.

The beauty of the novel, aside from Simenon’s awesome, tight, spare prose, is in how Simenon uses the novel to attack both the upper-classes, who disguise their feral, grasping nature behind money and pretensions, and an increasingly bureaucratic police force obsessed with solving big crimes and treating crime as figures. The other great beauty of this novel lies in the fact that Maigret solves both cases, though only one is ever solved to his satisfaction. The dark ending leaves Maigret knowing who the murderer of the burglar is but with no way of ever proving it. Of all the Maigret novels this one is my favourite – superb.

Festive Spirit – The Martin Stanley December Sale!

Gamblers Greatest HuntersI’m not known for my festive spirit, in fact I’m universally renowned as a cantankerous miserable git, so this is a rarity for me. However, call it the festive season getting to me, call it the potential Mayan Apocalypse, or just call it plain craziness on my part, but from 21/12/2012 (or tomorrow, if you prefer things simple) until the end of the month ALL of my books will be $0.99 or £0.99 on Kindle.

That’s right, you read that correctly. $0.99/£0.99 on ALL of my books.

The Gamblers (normally £2.99/$3.99), The Hunters (normally £1.99/$2.99) and The Greatest Show in Town (normally £1.99/$2.99) are all CHEAP AS HELL!

That’s right, you read correctly. CHEAP AS HELL!

If you haven’t bought my books before then now is the time to do so. This offer is strictly limited – so spread the word.

My 5 Best of 2012 (plus 3 spares)

It’s that time of year, I guess; when as an occasional reviewer of books I should recount my faves of the year. 5 seems to be the magic number this time around, rather than 10, so I’ll give you mine (with three ‘spares’ thrown in – because the difference between all these books is for the most part so bloody tight). Of course that doesn’t mean they were written and released this year; just that I read them in 2012. They are listed in order of preference except for the spares:

5) City of Heretics by Heath Lowrance
I simply had to have something of Heath’s in this list, because I’ve enjoyed his work so much. I polished off Dig Ten Graves and The Bastard Hand in record time, and both were on the longlist of my faves of the year, with the final decision about which I liked the most being a tricky one. However, thankfully, the appearance of City of Heretics took the decision out of my hands by being so damn good. It’s the tale of an ageing con who’s looking to get some payback on the people who betrayed him, only to get sidetracked by a search for a serial killer, which leads him to a shadowy organisation that uses killers to further its warped ideology. It’s as tight and tuned as a drum skin and the lead character Crowe is one of the finest I’ve come across this year. If you haven’t read it yet you should – it’s a damn fine read.

4) Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock
I’ve read some excellent short story collections this year, but this one took the prize. Alternating between ugly and beautiful, with an eye for spare prose and dark finales that would make Gordon Lish scream and shout with joy, Knockemstiff is a stunning performance with the kind of writing that makes most writers green with envy (I know I am!). The story Honolulu is probably the most perfect short I’ve read this year. Brilliant.

3) Wolf Tickets by Ray Banks
Bank’s thriller about two friends searching for some missing money (and a cool leather jacket) was one of the treats of the year, and certainly the most entertaining. I loved the pace, the story, and most of all I loved the voices of the two lead characters (Banks gives them alternating chapters to tell the tale). It’s a storming read by one of the finest British crime writers around. I polished it off in a day and was sad when it was done.

2) Capture by Roger Smith
Roger Smith’s Dust Devils was probably the best thing I read last year (and its villain Inja Mazibuko was easily the finest bad guy I’d come across in years), so I was eagerly looking forward to the follow-up. Obviously I wondered whether Smith could create another book quite as good as that noir masterwork – but I needn’t have worried. Smith’s pitch-black follow-up, Capture, a tale of murder, obsession, voyeurism, and psychological cruelty, is a stonking noir that starts low-key but gradually works towards as tense a climax as its possible to get. I’m still amazed at how Smith manages to make us care about characters as dark and practically irredeemable as these but somehow he does; and in Vernon Saul he has created easily the best villain I’ve read in recent memory (somehow even better than Mazibuko). If you’ve not read it yet, download it today. You won’t be sorry – it’s masterful.

1) The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
This really is the surprise of the year, for me. It’s not that I don’t read modern literary fiction, it’s just that I don’t read it that often (and by modern, I mean the last 20 years). Half the time the hype just leads to disappointment – the discovery that behind all the pretty prose is a story that probably could have been told faster, more economically and truthfully by ‘lesser’ genre writers. However, Barnes’ tale of friendship, memory, and the secrets that we keep really was a superb performance – the kind of tale that only a literary writer could do justice. The prose was economical but dense, the storytelling masterful, and the ending in its own quiet, unflashy way was one of the most powerful I’ve come across in quite some time. As you might be able to tell, I loved it.

THE SPARES:

All The Young Warriors by Anthony Neil Smith
A fine thriller from a writer who seems to improve with every book. This really was in the the top 5 until Julian Barnes sneaked in at the very last moment. I have a feeling that if Smith’s next Billy Lafitte book is an improvement on this one then I might need to keep the top spot free for that!

Beautiful, Naked & Dead by Josh Stallings
To be honest, I’ve read so much good stuff this year that choosing a top 5 has been a major bloody pain. And this excellent detective thriller by Josh Stallings is, like Warriors, really only out of the top 5 by a tiny, tiny margin. Superb stuff, and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the sequel Out There Bad.

Bullets and Fire by Joe R Lansdale
Lansdale’s novelette (and even novelette might be pushing it in terms of length), is a revenge thriller with the kind of jet propelled storytelling that few writers possess. Ultra-violent but with a heart (even if it happens to be so twisted and diseased it’s gone black). In terms of pure narrative entertainment this is second only to Wolf Tickets.

Adios, this is probably the last you’ll hear from my blog till after Christmas, so have a happy and safe holiday season!

The Greatest Show in Town is here

GreatestShowInTownCover.inddI’m proud to announce the release (just in time for Christmas) of my short story collection The Greatest Show In Town and other shorts on Kindle (Kobo version to follow soon).

This collection serves up 11 nasty bits of Brit Grit for you to sample. They’re not gonna go down easy, but you don’t want that, right? You didn’t come here for sparkly vampires, boy wizards, and easy reading – you can get that elsewhere. No, you’re here for stories that grab your nuts and don’t let go. Tales that beat you down and do nasty things to you while you’re out cold. That’s what I’m giving you here – and you’ll take it and like it!

A security guard gets more than he bargained for when he pays a visit to The Carpenter’s Arms; two women cause all manner of mayhem when they suffer from a bout of Bus Rage; a mother’s death brings about a permanent rift between brother and sister in The Short Goodbye; and the Stanton brothers cut a kneecapping, bone-breaking, ball-busting, sweary swathe through the underworld in The Greatest Show in Town, The Beautiful Game, One Sixteenth and The Fight.

The Greatest Show In Town will eventually be £1.99 ($2.99) but throughout December you can grab it for the bargain price of 99p ($0.99). You lucky things!

And you you can grab some grit here in the UK and here is the US.

Balancing act

A couple of months ago I made the decision not to plug my wares on Twitter and Facebook. The reasons were numerous. Firstly, I wanted to see if my books could stand on their own two feet and sell copies without me asking for sales all the time. Secondly, I wanted to concentrate on writing rather than self-promotion (my short collection was giving me some issues and I was also pressing ahead with work on a couple of Stanton Brothers stories). Thirdly, I always felt a bit shifty plugging my stuff all the time. Lastly, there’s still a part of me that wonders whether I’m actually any good at this writing malarkey – manifesting itself in horrible moments of self-doubt and self-reflection.

However, since I made this decision my sales have nosedived horribly. I went from having a handful of sales a month to bugger all, practically overnight. December should be a good sales month (it being Christmas and all that), but at the time of writing it has been my worst sales month of the year. Not one single sale.

Hopefully this unpleasant situation will change when I release The Greatest Show In Town, but it has also made me realise that I’m not in the situation where I can stop peddling my wares on social media. My books can’t stand on their own two feet as I have what can only be described as a very small reputation; I haven’t sold enough books to be able to rely on word of mouth; and I don’t have enough reviews from my peers to be able to rely on them to sell my book, either. My blog has gained more of a readership over the past year, but that alone isn’t enough to boost sales. So in this sense my decision has been a bit of a disaster.

In other respects my decision to concentrate on writing has gone well. I’ve completed a 26,000 word Stanton brothers novella, Bone Breakers, which is currently sitting in a virtual drawer awaiting a third draft; I’m making slow but constant progress on The Glasgow Grin, the sequel to The Hunters; and the problems I had with my short story collection have been ironed out through a combination of persistence and, I believe, some skill. 

I now realise that I can’t completely abandon self-promotion of my work – I simply don’t have that kind of gravitas or reputation yet – but I don’t want to be obnoxious about it, either. Somewhere along the line I have to find a balance where I can sell my wares without alienating Twitter and Facebook followers.

So what that means is that a couple of days a week you’ll find me doing a few tweets and Facebook posts where I push my work for profit. I’ll try not to do it too much, but I’ve come to realise that if I want to sell anything at all I’m going to have to do it occasionally. I apologise in advance if this offends you, but I guess you can always unfollow me if you don’t like it.

But of course I hope it doesn’t come to that. Have a good rest of the weekend.

The Greatest Show in Town arrives on Monday

GreatestShowInTownCover.inddI’m proud to announce that on Monday (just in time for Christmas) my short story collection The Greatest Show In Town and other shorts will be released on Kindle (with a Kobo edition following afterwards).

This collection serves up 11 nasty bits of Brit Grit for you to sample. They’re not gonna go down easy, but you don’t want that, right? You didn’t come here for sparkly vampires, boy wizards, and easy reading – you can get that elsewhere. No, you’re here for stories that grab your nuts and don’t let go. Tales that beat you down and do nasty things to you while you’re out cold. That’s what I’m giving you here – and you’ll take it and like it!

The Greatest Show In Town will eventually be £1.99 ($2.99) but until the new year comes around you can grab it for the bargain price of 99p ($0.99). You lucky things!

Tell your friends, your neighbours, your loved ones and total strangers about this momentous news. Because I’m skint and need to eat at some point this side of Christmas.