End of year report & My Top Five Reads of 2017

Hello readers.

2017 has been both a year of change and a year of little change. After five years of struggling as a freelancer, I became a full-time graphic designer once again. It has been professionally fulfilling working with a team of highly creative people with lovely personalities. My design work feels like it has come along by leaps and bounds.

However, there’s little to report on the writing front for 2017. One long short story for Ryan Bracha’s The Thirteen Lives of Frank Peppercorn anthology and one Stanton brothers’ novelette Get Santa just for email subscribers. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Billingham Forum didn’t sell quite as well as I had hoped (certainly nowhere near the sales of The Glasgow Grin) but it beat the bare minimum target I had set for it.  Reviews for it have been good though.

Going into the new year, The Amsterdamned remains unfinished with about 85,000 words written of a 120,000-word target. I expect I’ll finish, edit, and finally publish it in the latter half of 2018. There’s a Stanton novella set just after A Funny Thing Happened… that’s 21,000 words in, and which I’ll revisit when The Amsterdamned is with the editor. Hopefully, they’ll both hit the shelves in 2018. Plus, I aim to release some more subscribers’ short stories during the year, with the ultimate goal of collating them in an anthology tentatively called Just Doing It For The Money as a Kindle ebook towards the end of next year. So if you enjoy my work, there should be at least a couple of more significant releases for you to read next year.

I’ve also decided that if sales of The Amsterdamned and the next Stanton brothers’ novella don’t improve on sales of A Funny Thing Happened… then I will put the brothers to bed for a while and concentrate on writing something specifically aimed at getting released by an Indie publisher. I think it’s about time I wrote something for a wider market; as much as I love writing ’em, the brothers just don’t seem to generate the kind of reader interest that I’d hoped. They seem to be for cult tastes only.

As for reading, my top five reads this year are:

1) You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames: This novella is seriously good. Probably the best thing I’ve read this year. Short, punchy, powerful, with one of the best protagonists I’ve come across in quite some time. The violence when it arrives has weight and meaning, and the reasons for it are justified. Brilliant.

2) Troubles Braids by Ray Banks: Although not quite as good as Wolf Tickets, this barnstorming sequel finds Irish smart-mouth Farrell, and Geordie roughneck Cobb at the top of their games as the pair find themselves stealing from upper-class dealers and crooked cops. A frenetically paced blackly comic thriller by one of the best Brit Grit authors around. Ray Banks’ dialogue remains peerless, and his dual first-person narration is full of sarcastic wit and verbal inventiveness.

3) Skullcrack City by Jeremy Robert Johnson: Johnson’s cracking novel is a highly enjoyable read with enough smarts and invention to make the story soar. Its inventiveness gives it a Phillip K Dick feel, but with a quality of prose that the often sloppy PKD rarely managed. I loved it.

4) The Jones Men by Vern E. Smith: Utterly brilliant. This cold as ice heist thriller set on the very mean streets of seventies’ Detroit might be one of the finest novels of its type that I’ve read. It has dialogue the equal of 70s’ Elmore Leonard and George Higgins, a drum-tight plot packed with double and triple crosses, an awesome cast of weasely, self-serving scumbags, and writing so sharp and clean it cuts like a blade. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

5) Kill Me Quick by Paul D. Brazill: You can always rely on Paul Brazill for a nifty turn of phrase, a superb one-liner, or a nice piece of description. He also delivers cool plots and memorable characters and Kill Me Quick is no exception. When an ageing two-hit wonder musician gets his hand busted in London, he returns home to a seedy town on the northeast coast (basically Hartlepool in everything but name) and gets caught up in all manner of nefarious hijinks. It’s short tale with plenty of meat on its bones and more entertainment per page than many writers in an entire book. If you haven’t read Brazill yet then what the hell are you waiting for. A cracking comic thriller from a master of the form.

A few other notable reads this year were Phoebe Jeebies and the Man Who Annoyed Everybody by the always excellent Ryan Bracha, Dig Two Graves by the fantastic Keith Nixon, Bluff City Brawler (Fightcard series) by Heath Lowrance writing as Jack Tunney, and The Search For Ethan by Robert Cowan.

Well, that’s it from me for now. I hope you all have a fantastic New Year and a wonderful 2018. And I’ll let you all know when I’ve got something new for you to read.

Bye for now.

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To free, or not to free? That is the question

I’ve given away plenty of freebies in the past – far more than I have sold, if I’m completely honest – so why am I asking this question now?

Well, I’ve been thinking about it a lot, recently. Partly because I want to sell more books in 2014, and partly because I want to progress as a writer, by turning it into a career, rather than a side-line. There are other elements at play in my thinking, but these main points have occupied me for much of the beginning of the year.

The answer to the title, essentially, comes down to this one question, and how I answer it:

How much do I value my time?

Is the time I spend writing (time that would be more lucrative financially if I spent it chasing clients for new freelance work) of any worth to me? Do the hundreds of hours I spend writing, rewriting, fine-tuning, and editing my work mean anything to me spiritually? Do I have any defined goals as a writer? Do I want to sell more future work?

If I answer yes to any of these questions, then giving all my work away for free makes very little sense.

If I don’t value myself as a writer, why should the reading public? Some stats suggest that more than 70% of the people who download free books never read them. Goodreads figures for The Gamblers and Bone Breakers suggest that this isn’t far from the truth. Of course, they have every intention of reading them – otherwise, what is the point of downloading them? But, as any Kindle user will tell you, downloading free books becomes an addiction. The more they download, the more choice they have; and the more choice they have, the harder it becomes to make a clear decision based on those choices! Also, when Kindles are jam-packed with content (years of it, in many cases), what kind of choices does this force the reader to make?

If you’re like me, you probably base your reading priorities along several lines of thought: 1) novels I have bought (especially if the authors are known to me); 2) authors with a known track-record (I’ve read and enjoyed them before, so they get prioritised next); 3) recommendations (particularly from other writers); 4) publishers that I respect (I might not know the author, but I have read work from other authors that they have published in the past); 5) interesting, well-written synopsis; 6) all other freebies.

Note where all other freebies comes in the list.

I had every intention of reading them at the time, but as I’ve added new content to my Kindle they have been gradually pushed down the pecking order. Why? Because in my mind they have less value than the works I paid for, and, because they have less value, I consider that reading them is less important. When my Kindle gets too full, they are the books that I delete or archive first. Truth be told, I’m probably missing out on some cracking stories because of this…

And so it goes for my novels and stories. Same rules apply.

And when I think about it in this way, I realise that giving my work away makes it essentially worthless to more than 70% of readers. Carelessly giving away my work might garner me a few new readers (even long-term ones), but it will most likely lose me a lot more in the long run.

Also, why should readers take the time to buy your work on initial release when they think, Well, he’s only going to make it free at some point. Might as well wait till then. If your readership thinks you’re just going to give it away eventually, where is their incentive to buy? Nowhere – that’s where.

So, 2014 will see me taking a different approach to writing, and how I market and sell my work.

No more new freebies for a start: The Curious Case of the Missing Moolah, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Billingham Forum, and The Glasgow Grin will never be free. Ever! The same goes for any other future publications (with the notable exception of short stories, because they work as advertisements for my larger works).

The only freebie I have planned for this year is a tactical one. A couple of months before the release of The Glasgow Grin, I will make The Hunters permanently free. This makes sense because The Glasgow Grin is its direct sequel – every other Stanton brothers’ book works solely in its own right. It also makes sense, because I think The Hunters is a good enough read to make people want to get their hands on the sequel.

Otherwise, the free ride ends here.

I think my work is good enough to charge money for it.

And if you’re waiting for me to change my mind, and start giving it away again, you’ll be waiting a long time.

Things I’ll do in 2014

I don’t make resolutions or wishes for the New Year – resolutions are made to be broken and wishes rarely come true – so I’ll simply say what I intend to do in 2014.

I will publish at least three books in 2014
The Glasgow Grin will finally make an appearance this year – I know I’ve been saying that for the last twelve months, but this time it will actually happen. TGG has taken a lot longer than I’d anticipated, partly because it has become the longest and most ambitious thing I’ve written since The Gamblers. It isn’t just about the Stanton brothers any more – it involves three interwoven tales, even though the brothers remain the star attraction. The Curious Case Of The Missing Moolah, which is another Stanton novella, should be out in February (depending how the edit goes). And A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Billingham Forum, also a novella, is on target to be published sometime in April. Once The Glasgow Grin is published, I’ll be concentrating on writing The Amsterdamned, which is another fast-moving, multi-character, multi-strand novel like The Gamblers. This time Mark Kandinsky takes centre stage, and it features a cross-over moment with The Gamblers, which should please readers of that tale. It’ll be big, brash and very bold – so you stand warned. I have a few lengthy short stories that may also get published separately in 2014 (otherwise I’ll gather them together and produce another collection early in 2015)

I will at least double my 2013 sales
Bold proclamation, I know, but 2013 represented a considerable decline on my 2012 sales (a good December helped me reduce this from a massive decline). If 2014 were to represent another decline, then I will have to seriously reconsider my future in self-publishing (particularly as there’ll be three new Stanton books on release). I have a few plans to help my books along in terms of sales and new readers, but some of them are dependent upon factors outside of my influence so, for now at least, I won’t talk about what these plans are.

I will begin to branch out
I have an idea for a straight-up action thriller that I will start to plot whilst writing The Amsterdamned. It will feature little of the gritty British locales that have been my stock-in-trade thus far, there won’t be a great deal of bad language, and the violence won’t be as eye-watering as it gets in some of the Stanton brothers’ books. At the moment it consists of a series of notes, dialogue snippets, and character sketches in Evernote. As the year goes on these will increase in volume until I finally feel the need to start plotting in earnest (which is how I usually approach all my non-Stanton books). I think it will be a wild ride.

I also have an idea for something completely outside of my usual thrillers, but I doubt I’ll get around to it in 2014, so I’ll keep the details a bit closer to my chest for now.

Read more widely
I did a little bit of this in 2013, but not as much as I had wanted to – partly because there was so much good crime fiction around. But in 2014, I intend to alternate between crime fiction and other forms of fiction and nonfiction, just to keep my palate fresh. One book of crime fiction followed by one of everything/anything else.

And that’s yer lot! I hope you have an excellent NYE and a fantastic New Year. I know I intend to.

A few good months – A few busy weeks

Sales didn’t exactly soar in the US over the last three months, but they were healthy (for me at least). I’ve attributed it to the combination of the July release of Bone Breakersalong with providing its prequel, The Green-eyed Monster, free on Reddit during July and August. In the case of Reddit, hosting a free ebook via my blog created a connection with new readers. They came, picked up the ebook, checked out the site, and it seems that they then went on to buy other work by me. It is something that I intend to do again (another Stanton story tentatively called The Curious Case of the Missing Moolah).

Since prices have gone up sales have drastically slowed down in the US, but that’s okay – I did kind of expect it. However, UK sales seem to have really improved after a disappointing July. They were decent in August, September turned out to be my best UK sales month in over a year and October has started off in encouraging fashion. By many people’s standards my sales figures will be pitiful, but I’ve felt energised by the upturn. So much so that I have decided to continue with self-publishing rather than pursuing an agent and a regular publishing deal with my first non-Stanton book in a while, The Amsterdamned (although they will appear in cameo).

But a recent influx of design work has meant that I have been far too busy and tired for writing (books or blog), which means that I haven’t made much progress with any of my outstanding writing projects (The Glasgow Grin or A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Billingham Forum)  and I also haven’t reviewed anything in a while.

I don’t do very good work when I’m tired, so end up having to rewrite most of what I jot down. The majority of my recent writing work has been tinkering and editing and thinking about endings. I’m hoping that an upcoming holiday in Spain (involving no work of any kind – just relaxing and reading) will recharge my creative batteries when I return and give me the boost I need to finish off some of my outstanding writing work. It will also give me the recharge I need to go back to reviewing more indie crime stuff – there are a lot of great writers that I have yet to read.

It’s going to be a busy end to 2013. Hopefully a productive one, too.

Sometimes good, sometimes bad

Bone Breakers first month was a bit of a washout in sales terms, especially in the UK. Aside from the first two days it didn’t sell at all in Britain. I tried plugging on Amazon forums, Facebook, Twitter and Kboards – nothing too OTT, but I did do a bit of pleading for sales – but I’ve realised that unless you’re writing something that people want to read you’re bashing your head against a brick wall.

Some books sell themselves. Certain genres (with a good cover and decent blurb) and certain writers can pull in real sales without massive effort. Others, well, you have to plug them constantly. And I think that’s the case with my books. Unless I’m constantly plugging away, putting it under people’s noses, shouting for attention, then I’m simply not going to pick up anything more than the occasional random sale.

I write what appears to be a very marginal part of a marginal market. Such is life. But I don’t intend to change the genre I write in. I can’t, really. Crime fiction is the only genre I know how to write.

However, my next major project, after The Glasgow Grin is done and dusted, is a more regular thriller called The Amsterdamned, featuring the character of Mark Kandinsky. It’s heist and crime stuff but with less bad language and less sex and violence. Much more of a straight up thriller than my other work. At least that’s how it’s planned, but who knows how it will turn out? It’ll probably end up as black as a serial killer’s heart.

Still, July was a rather decent sales month (for me, at least) in the US. I also had a passable month in June, too. I seem to be doing better on the other side of the Atlantic than on this side of the pond. So, even if UK sales are in the toilet, at least I’m picking up more sales in other territories. Clouds and silver linings and all that.

Recently I’ve found that giving away a free story appears to be difficult. I think some people didn’t like the way the blurb read and maybe some folks just weren’t interested in the genre, but most of all I have a real feeling that some people are very wary of anything free that doesn’t come from Amazon or one of the usual sources. I can understand that. People are wary of things that might not be legitimate. Trust me, if you’re wary, it’s genuinely a legitimate file. And somebody has just kindly pointed out that people also like getting the file delivered direct to their Kindle without having to do the work themselves. Another tick in Amazon’s favour and another black mark against my my method of file delivery (which involves a little bit of user input to get the file on their eReader).

I thought it would be nice to give something away for free, without any strings, to regular readers and new readers alike. I’m not asking for reviews, I’m not asking you to buy any of my other work, I’m just hoping that you might enjoy a decent story (in my opinion) with no strings attached.

I have several other stories that I plan to distribute the same way (free mobi files via my blog) if they are longer than 1,500 words.

I hope you will download and enjoy them.

The self-publishing conundrum

I released Bone Breakers with a bit of fanfare at the beginning of this week and hoped that it would do well in terms of first week sales (maybe a small progression on The Hunters, definitely a progression on The Greatest Show), something to show that I’m moving forward as a writer, collecting a few more new readers along the way. It has a decent cover, is well laid-out as an e-book, has been thoroughly vetted and edited, and I’d like to think it has been well planned and written. All the things the e-book experts tell us are key to an initial burst of sales.

So how did it do in the first week?

Well… the fanfare mostly fell on deaf ears. It was a definite regression on sales of The Hunters and a mild regression over The Greatest Show. A huge disappointment, in so many words.

I realise that I’ve mostly been preaching at the converted, and other writers, and it’s the worst selling tactic in the world – awful, truly awful – but I don’t really know what else to do. The converted are going to buy anyway, some writers might buy, but most probably won’t, because other writers are more concerned at plugging their own work (which is as it should be). But the constant Facebook posts, tweets, Kboard posts, Amazon DOA (sorry MOA) posts, all whining that you should Buy My Book™, have been a barrage over the last week. I despise the sound of my own voice, so you can rest assured that come this Monday there won’t be any more of that malarkey.

Nor much more of my work, as it happens.

I’m going to finish The Glasgow Grin, because it ties up the story started in The Hunters and I feel I owe my regular readers an end to that particular tale, and I’m also going to finish A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Billingham Forum, because it’s more or less done, but after that I’m taking a long break from self-publishing.

I have several more Stanton tales, in various stages of progress, but they’re not going to receive any attention for a while. After The Glasgow Grin is released I’m going to write something aimed at snagging an agent, something aimed at a wider audience, a detective thriller idea I’ve had, or maybe another thriller idea that has been gestating for a while, a crime thriller set in Amsterdam, because I want to know if my writing chops are good enough to catch an agent’s eye.

The other thing is that I’ve grown to despise the marketing and selling process that comes with self-publishing. Over the last eight months or so (since The Greatest Show), I’ve found it more and more difficult to do. The writing I love; selling, er, not so much…

Some writers are brilliant at playing the game – they’re prolific, they have a great online presence, go on blog tours, they engage readers and other writers, they do things in an entertaining manner, and with great humour – and they rack up decent sales, free downloads in the thousands, and a fair portion of reviews as a result.

And fair play to them. Sooner or later it’s those men and women who get the luck, who break out, who get the success that they most certainly deserve, because most of them write well, too.

I’m not one of these people. So be it.

Every time I check my sales figures I feel a little more dejected. Every time I feel I have to say please buy my book on Twitter or Facebook or Reddit I get the feeling that I sound more and more desperate (nobody respects a beggar). The whole process of trying to force books on people who don’t want them makes me tired and angry and depressed. And why do something that does that kind of damage? Life is hard enough without inflicting extra misery upon myself. I can really do without it.

So, fuck it, I’m not doing it for a while, at least until I’ve written either this detective thriller or the crime novel set in Amsterdam, which at the speed I write will be years, not months.

The next two Stanton’s will get a cursory release. I’ll let you know when, I’ll let you know how much, but that’s about all you’re getting from me. I’m not going to force my wares on the public, because it just doesn’t work (at least, not for me). And it’ll be a relief not to feel obligated to send out tweets, or fret over my sales figures for a long. long while.

I’ll keep writing reviews, I’ll keep this blog as up-to-date as I can, and I will engage with other readers and writers on the usual social media outlets, but as for self-publishing – after the next couple of books are done (and they aren’t far off) I’m taking a long and hopefully fruitful hiatus from it.

What’s going on at Casa Stanley

On the off chance that you’re interested in my work, and interested in how it’s coming along (if you aren’t, I won’t be offended, please click away now), here’s a rundown of what I have been doing with my days/evenings recently.

Since stopping all promotion of work that’s more than two month’s old, which is currently everything, I’ve found that I have more time for writing and reading and reviewing. I’ve finished a couple of shorts that are both based around the theme of revenge, with several others on the go, to be included in a short collection that will probably see the light of day sometime in 2014.

Standalone Stanton brothers novella Bone Breakers is out on submission, though I’m not holding out much hope for this, to be honest (It’s been over three weeks since I sent it, and I can already see sections I want to tweak); I’m making good progress on the sequel to The Hunters, The Glasgow Grin, (even though it has changed from its initial incarnation in the redraft process – first and third person narration, for a start – and has consequently got bigger); I’ve also got several Stanton shorts on the go, including one that works as a sort of prequel to Bone Breakers. There are also two other big Stanton projects that I have simmering.

Other projects include three novellas/novels that have either been started, outlined or are close to completion (Cry Tomorrow, When Word Came Down and We Bring The Darkness).

I’ve realised that I write best with multiple projects on the go. If I get bored or stalled with one project I can move on to another and so on until they are completed. I now have so many projects on the go I expect to be tied up until at least 2015 (assuming I finish them all). It’s not a method I recommend; partly because writers who tell other writers WHAT TO DO and HOW TO DO IT bore me bloody rigid, but mostly because you need to be able to thrive within a maelstrom of organised chaos.

And I like organised chaos, so there.

Since ceasing my dull existence of relentless book-plugging I’ve been much happier, much more creative, and I’ve realised there’s more to life than gnawing at my fingernails whilst I check my KDP figures for the umpteenth time that day. However, I did check my sales figures recently and it’s as I expected: during my pimping embargo (now about five weeks) I’ve sold exactly four books, all of which have been in the US. Not good, but I’m not sure the figures would have been that much better even if I did use my usual relentless pushing tactics.

However, I have a two-day sale of The Gamblers coming shortly (partly because I had two free days left before it reverts back to not being in the KDP free program), but you won’t see me plugging it on this blog. In fact, I’m not even going to bother telling you the date.

Why? Well, I figure most regulars here have either read it or have it on their Kindle (to be either read at a later date or not at all), and I hate preaching to the converted. Instead, I’ve paid an organisation about £30 to punt details of the freebie to all the major free book list websites, saving me many hours of work and getting word out to some websites that I didn’t realise existed. I’ll let you know how this experiment goes later in the month.