Half-term report

At the end of last year, I set myself an annual target that was intended to ‘steady the ship’ after disappointing sales in 2013. I sold a lot less than I did in 2012, and there were signs that this trend might continue. A Kindle freebie at the end of the year did poorly, and I feared that 2014 would be a worse wipe-out than 2013 had been.

I set my target as a new high water mark; designed to be considerably higher than 2013’s total and only slightly higher than my sales in 2012. I believed it to be a realistic and achievable figure, so long as I worked hard at marketing my books. I even made it one of my writer’s resolutions.

Of course, I had a specific reason for setting my target: It was to determine whether or not I remained a self-publisher.

If I reached my target, I would continue as a self-publisher; and if I didn’t, I would start working towards ending my self-publishing adventure. The options were to write something a bit more mainstream, with an eye towards getting an agent, or to give it all up completely.

I didn’t really want to think about the second option, but I knew that if I got dejected enough, and ended things, I could at least say that I tried and failed.

January wasn’t a great month – I did okay in the US, but in the UK I was already down on the average I needed to ensure that I hit my target. In February, I released The Curious Case of the Missing Moolah, and had my (until then) best ever sales month. Then at the end of the month, I decided to make The Hunters permanently free on Amazon via their price matching function.

It was a calculated decision. The Hunters had been out for a couple of years, and sales were okay, but I still hadn’t finished the direct sequel to that book. That made it the right candidate as a freebie – to get people salivating for The Glasgow Grin, once it finally makes an appearance, and to possibly shift copies of my other Stanton brothers books. As it turns out, making it permanently free has been the best decision that I’ve made as a self-publisher. In March I shifted several thousand copies of The Hunters, which had a real knock-on for my sales. That month I smashed February’s sales record to pieces, and April sales were almost as strong (falling short by only nine copies). I also reached my annual sales target towards the end of the month. May has seen a drastic drop in free downloads, but sales – although down – have been solid, which means that everything I do now just makes 2015’s target a little larger and more ambitious.

So, that’s me happy – at least regarding sales.

The Glasgow Grin is still dragging on a bit, through a combination of slow writing, a lot of freelance work, and a desire to make sure I get the story right. Another couple of Stanton stories (a novella of about 30k words and a long story of around 10k words) that I’ve been writing concurrently are also going very slowly. My muse just isn’t firing on all cylinders at the moment, but I’m not worried – it’ll return. Some other stories that I have percolating in my head, or in various stages of completion, are currently stalled. At this point in time, TGG and a story that I’m writing for Ryan Bracha’s anthology 12 Mad Men are my main priorities. All other writing work – including book reviews – will have to come a distant second, for now.

Right, I suppose I better get back to it. The Stanton brothers, Mark Kandinsky, and Eddie Miles are waiting for me out in the woods, and they’re getting very, very impatient…

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Review: Corrosion by Jon Bassoff

Occasionally a writer comes along and gives a performance that makes me sit back and really think about what I’ve just read. Jon Bassoff is one such writer, and Corrosion is one such performance. It’s as black and dense as freshly distilled tar and just about as bleak as noir gets. Redemption, and hope, is in short supply.

Before reading Corrosion, my previous awareness of Bassoff was strictly through his work as the founder of the crime fiction publisher New Pulp Press. However, the fact that it has modern masters like Heath Lowrance, Matthew McBride and Roger Smith on its roster acted as a recommendation for Bassoff’s work. But after finishing Corrosion, I immediately downloaded The Disassembled Man, which Bassoff wrote under the pseudonym Nate Flexer. I hope it’s as good and dark as this one.

The story begins with Joseph Downs, a loner and Iraq war veteran who has been horribly burnt by an IED, getting stuck in a small Colorado town when his car breaks down. While in a bar he intervenes in an argument between a woman and her husband, an incident that leads to violence, and soon enough finds himself ensnared by the woman, who finally asks him to take care of her brutal husband once and for all. He tries to get her to go an alternate route, by going with him to a little shack he knows in the mountains. Things do not go as planned…

Then the narrative skips back in time, into the head of Benton Faulk, a 16 year old boy whose mother is dying. His insane father tries to save her by concocting a cure in his makeshift lab, despite knowing very little about science or medicine. Being in such an environment leaves Faulk somewhat disturbed, which means his obsession with a local waitress, and a shack in the mountains, leads to a suitably tragic finale before he skips town and runs into Downs…

The final character, who appears as a kind of epilogue to the tales of Downs and Faulk, is the masked Reverend Wells, a fire-and-brimstone preacher who has little time for sins and sinners.

Corrosion is dark fare, filled with sudden acts of violence, desperation, insanity (of all kinds), loneliness, and empty of redemption. Nobody is ever what they seem in Bassoff’s world, and unreliable narrators abound. Corrosion takes the Jim Thompson-esque narrator concept, stretches it to breaking point and then gleefully stomps the broken pieces into the small-town dirt. It’s a well-written, tense tale, that performs the neat trick of making you empathise with and understand some awful characters – the kind of people you would cross the road to avoid in real-life. It’s not an easy trick to do, which makes what Bassoff has achieved all the more impressive. Corrosion won’t leave you feeling good about yourself after you’ve read it, but it will grip you tightly, and it will stay in the memory for a long time after you’ve finished the last line. Highly recommended.

Review: The Big Rain by Paul D Brazill

Regular readers will know how much I enjoy the work of Paul D Brazill – a writer who seems to be on a one-man mission to make Brit Grit (and its various practitioners) known to the outside world. His writing (short work especially) is tight, controlled, inventive and his prose style just drips with atmosphere.

I’ve especially enjoyed the Luke Case tales (Red Esperanto, Death On A Hot Afternoon and The Kelly Affair). He’s a British hack with a nose for booze, women and trouble, nearly always combining the three to disastrous effect. He also has a drifter’s tendency to end up in different places when the going gets tough (which is always), meaning that each story plays out in a new European location. The previous stories were set in, chronologically, Warsaw, Madrid, and Granada. His latest, The Big Rain, is set in a rain-swept Toulouse and deals with the culmination of a story strand that was begun, and left open, in The Kelly Affair. I won’t bother to spoil the plot for those who haven’t read Kelly (or indeed the other tales), instead I’ll suggest that you buy all of them and read them in order. They’re well worth your time and money.

Like in the other stories, the elements and atmosphere rise off the page, so that you can almost smell the tear-gas and feel the rain on your skin and taste the booze at the back of your throat. Brazill is a neat prose-stylist, something that always appeals to a basic, meat-and-potatoes, word cruncher like myself (because it’s not something that I can pull off), but he also has the chops necessary to take a tight grip on the story early in the proceedings. He weaves together characters and strands introduced in the earlier books and crafts a fine tale that builds to a powerful resolution. The Big Rain, like the rest of the Case tales, comes highly recommended. Get it on yer Kindle, quick-smart!