Glasgow grinning

Yesterday was the day I sold 1,000 ebooks in a single month.

If you’re also a writer and you guffaw at this figure (and say to yourself, “Well, I sell that many in a single week, day, hour), then congratulations, as you’re obviously very successful. I salute you.

However, if you’re a writer like me – one who set himself a target of reaching, and hopefully bettering, 1,000 sales for the entirety of 2015 – then you’ll understand my joy at reaching this milestone. You may also understand my complete and utter lack of comprehension at how I managed to reach my target so quickly.

You see, I haven’t a clue how I did it. Well, I have clues, but lack the intellect needed to assemble them into something approaching an idea.

Obviously, I understand that the majority of those sales come from The Glasgow Grin, but what I don’t understand is how or why it has been so successful. My sales strategy for GG has been as haphazard and piss-poor as every launch that preceded it. In fact, if you were to gather a group of ebook marketing specialists together and ask, “So, folks, just how did he do it?” I honestly think their brows would lower with concentration for several minutes, they would collectively shrug their shoulders and offer a terse, “Fucked if we know,” in response. “But it’s obvious that this man is a marketing dunce.”

It could be the successful freebie of The Hunters that I ran last year, which shifted over seven thousand units. If only ten percent of readers read the tale (and liked it enough to want to read my other stuff) then that could account for some of the Glasgow Grin units sold – people wanting a resolution to the narrative started in The Hunters. Also, judging by the total numbers of units shifted of all my ebooks last year (around 672, not counting borrows, most of which were Stanton tales), I’d say I gathered enough regular readers to shift maybe a hundred units of GG to them. Considering that I’ve shifted over 750 units of Grin alone this month (and well over 1,100 in its first three months), there are a fair few folks unaccounted for! So what else?

Algorithms, or, as I like to call them, Amazon’s magical book fairies.

What do they do? Buggered if I know, mate. My limited brain power suggests that they process the maths behind sales and correlate them into user consumption figures that compare and contrast what people are currently reading with what’s already on its shelves (I’m figuring by the power of keywords and other search optimisation), to give readers a list of things Amazon think they’ll like. So if Reader A likes stuff with the tag Brit-Grit or heist then the engine will recommend other books that feature in that list. It will also suggest things that other readers bought at the same time. So if Readers A through Y bought The Hunters, The Curious Case, Keith Nixon’s The Fix and Ryan Bracha’s Paul Carter then Reader Z will be recommended at least a couple of those titles when they inspect each book individually. At least that’s my understanding of it – though don’t take my word for anything, because I’m a fucking idiot.

The Glasgow Grin seems to have been paired with Amsterdam Rampant and Ryan Bracha’s output a lot in the Readers Also Bought section. The Ryan connection I get, because I’ve reviewed his work and featured in his novel of stories Twelve Mad Men (and historically he has sold a lot more books than me), but I think that having Glasgow in the title (which is a reference to a violent act rather than the place), has seen me paired with various Scottish authors.

Still, it’s now about making sure that the next book is well written. And once I’ve achieved that, then the work becomes about making sure that it does at least as well as The Glasgow Grin. That’s how real progress is made and measured – over time. I’ve got several works featuring the brothers over the next 12 months and then I plan to take a bit of a hiatus, to concentrate on other work (including Mark Kandinsky’s first novel The Amsterdamned, in which the brothers make a small but very funny cameo). It’ll be during this period that I find out if what I’ve achieved with GG is sustainable or if it is a particularly pleasant one-off.

I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it’s the latter.

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Review: Perfidia by James Ellroy

I loved James Ellroy’s LA Quartet. They are about as perfect a series of crime novels as it is possible to get, and in White Jazz he produced one of the best novels ever written (in any genre). It works as a character study, a beautifully plotted mystery, a linguistic extravaganza, and the perfect way to bookend a brilliant series. It’s also got fucking Eyeball Man. Any book that has Eyeball Man in it is improved by exactly one hundred per cent. The Underworld USA trilogy of books (the superb American Tabloid, the excellent but difficult The Cold Six Thousand, and the fine but flawed Blood’s A Rover) were also massive achievements. However, some of his other recent works have been patchy to say the least: Shakedown was poor and the autobiographical The Hilliker Curse is very mediocre in comparison with the brilliance of My Dark Places. Also, he’s not a very good writer of short stories.

A few years ago, when he did a Q&A in London to promote Blood’s A Rover, Ellroy told the audience that he planned to do an earlier LA Quartet, running from Pearl Harbour right through to the period just prior to The Black Dahlia. Being a bit of a renowned practical joker (in fact, much of Ellroy’s shtick is an act), the audience laughed and chuckled and went oh, right, Jimmy, pull the other one. Nobody believed him.

So when the press release went out that Ellroy was indeed working on another earlier LA Quartet, everybody in that audience must have felt very foolish. I have a feeling that those people might have experienced some trepidation too. After all, a writer revisiting a previous success after years away can sometimes be a recipe for disaster.

So, is Perfidia a disaster?

No, it’s not a disaster, but it isn’t great, either.

The huge story concerns the ritual murder of a naturalised Japanese family and its proximity with the attack on Pearl Harbour. It also involves land grabs from interned Japanese Americans, eugenics, pornography, and Communist conspiracies. As with all Ellroy novels with plotting is superb with nary a foot put wrong, but to get to the point where you realise that this is a decent read you have to wade through the first quarter. From goosestepping Japanese snitches, to Dudley howling every time somebody cracks a joke, to over-abundant alliteration (more so than usual), there are a lot of the worst Ellroy excesses in this. And it’s frankly fucking tiresome. So much so that I nearly shelved it.

And then something clicked, though I’m not sure what caused that click, and I began to enjoy the novel. It has some massive flaws. Kay Lake’s diary for starters, which reads exactly like James Ellroy, with no modulation in the writing style. In the original LA Quartet, Dudley Smith was served up in small portions, and there’s a reason for this – a little Dudley goes a long way. In large portions he becomes dull – particularly his ridiculous speech about communing with a wolf in Ireland (especially ludicrous if you know that there haven’t been wolves in Ireland since the 18th century), and his doomed and somewhat pointless affair with Bette Davis. Also get this, Dudley is Elizabeth Short’s father – that’s right, folks, the Black Dahlia herself – which really isn’t necessary because it adds nothing to the story. However, the bits involving Hideo Ashida and Bill Parker do work well, particularly when they interact with Dudley, and the plot mechanics are well assembled and mesh beautifully. The language (aside from the over-use of alliteration in places) is as sharp as ever. The style is less telegrammatic than that used in the Underworld USA trilogy and is all the better for it (though he really should have altered his approach for Kay Lake’s diary). And the man’s storytelling chops remain impressive, even if there is too much padding and the first quarter is a chore. I can recommend it to seasoned Ellroy readers (you folks are going to read it anyway), but those new to Ellroy would be better served by reading the first LA Quartet, The Underworld USA trilogy or the Lloyd Hopkins novels first.