My seven months of Facebook exile has ended – what have I learned?

After seven months (give or take) away from Facebook I’ve decided to return to active social networking. My reasons for leaving in the first place were manifold. Progress on my novel A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Billingham Forum was in a state of paralysis and didn’t seem to be moving forward as quickly as I wanted. I needed more time to focus on expanding my graphic designer skillset to include web design (web page design and creation and learning HTML and CSS coding (with Javascript and other languages to follow). I needed these skills to produce a graphic designer website and portfolio, along with an entirely separate author website. I also wanted to leave because, at that point in time, my overuse of social media was getting in the way of these goals. Facebook became my means of venting my frustration and anger at the world, anger that increased when I realised my excessive use of social media was slowing down my progress. And so it went in a vicious cycle of anger and frustration until I decided that leaving was the only way I was going to achieve anything.

It took some time getting used to the adjustment. I realised just how many hours I spent on Facebook, doing nothing of much value, either on my laptop or my mobile phone. I actually missed it, although I wasn’t quite sure why. Then I began to fill this spare time productively. I spent hours studying HTML and CSS on Udemy or reading books on the subject. Gradually these languages began to make sense, and I was able to build a first draft author website. At the same time, my novel started to come together.

After a while, I realised that I didn’t need Facebook at all. And I certainly didn’t miss it. My procrastination levels dropped markedly. I bought server space and downloaded some software I needed to put my designer website together, which happened with little fuss. Then I learned about the responsive website design framework Bootstrap and put together a responsive version of my author website. The novel went off for editing (a process that’s now almost finished), and I’m gearing myself up for its release.

Which brings me here.

I’m in a much better place than I was in January. Just a few small achievements, such as learning to code relatively simple languages like HTML and CSS, and building a couple of websites, have brightened my mood considerably. Plus work on the latest Stanton novel is no longer getting me down. I feel like the time’s right to re-enter the world of social media. With a few caveats, of course!

My newfound sense of purpose and self-belief will disappear quickly if I succumb to old habits. So from now on, Facebook is restricted to my laptop. Besides, the Facebook app drains something like 20 percent battery life from most mobile phones. And I’m going to monitor my usage carefully.

So what have I learned from my time away from Facebook? Firstly, I can get things done when I put my mind to them. Second, social media time is dead time that can be utilised better by learning or writing or doing something useful. Third, I’ve got a long way to go before I can consider myself a fully functioning web designer (Javascript, PHP, MySQL, etc.). Fourth, I’m getting slower as a writer and I need to do something to combat this. I’m breaking my next big novel The Amsterdamned into small plot units, and story beats, in an attempt to speed up writing time (otherwise I’m likely to be publishing the fucking thing in 2019 rather than 2017). Fifth, if any of you want to learn a computer language or pick up software skills quickly, then I highly recommend Udemy. It’s brilliant.

Last but not least, I’ve learned that taking time out to pursue goals is the most productive and rewarding thing you can do. Sure, it can be frustrating, and progress can often be slow, but the pleasure from achieving life goals (however small) is immense. I can no longer imagine going back to the way things were.

Hell, I don’t wanna go back to way things were.

Onwards and upwards, my friends. Onwards and upwards.

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Social media hiatus

I’ve been getting angry recently. Angrier than usual, I should add. Most of this is borne out of frustration. A Funny Thing Happened is still moving very slowly, to the point where I’ve considered abandoning it on a couple of occasions, and the important tasks I’d set myself for the first month of the year haven’t even been started. I’ve been procrastinating a lot. Or my own personal favorite: I’ve been juggling so many tasks that I become paralysed and let them all drop uncompleted. This has made me both sadder and angrier.

Then I visit Facebook (the procrastinator’s friend) and get swamped by a tsunami of bad news, murder, racism, clickbait, and this makes me angrier and I feel the need to vent my spleen. Happy posts seem to be few and far between these days. The case is very similar on Twitter.

I’m tired of reading about jihadists murdering anybody who stands in the way of their doctrines and dogma, watching Donald Trump channel Adolf Hitler in his candidacy run, and observing a Conservative government that despises everyone and everything but Big Money and Corporate concerns, and shaking my head at mankind’s blinkered stupidity regarding the state of the environment.  It makes me sad, depressed and perpetually enraged.

And tired. Very, very tired.

All this anger is exhausting. It is gradually consuming all my positivity and drive, and it is burning me out.

So I’m dropping off the radar for a while, at least until I whittle down my ever-increasing to-do-list. I’ve deleted Facebook off my phone and my iPad and will hide my account either later today or tomorrow (assuming you can still do that). I’ve deleted Twitter off my phone and iPad, too. I’ll also log out of my accounts on my computer shortly and not visit them for quite some time. I’ve also deleted a lot of my news apps. Right now, I don’t want to know about the world.

Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I want to conserve my energy and positivity for my home life, my writing and my graphic design work (i.e. how I earn my living). The background can remain in shallow focus for a while. I’ll know it’s there, but it won’t bother me because it’ll be nothing more than heavy bokeh.

At the very least I’ll be off the grid for a month, but I suspect it will be a bit longer than that. Until I’ve got a workable second draft of A Funny Thing… ready for editing, and until I’ve got several other tasks out of the way, I want to maintain my focus. Staying off social media for a while is a good way of achieving that.

Those who want to get in contact have my email or my mobile number. As for those who don’t: So long, I shall see you all in a while (virtually speaking).

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.

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…

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.

Stanton brothers chronology

Since I began to build up a good back catalog of Stanton brothers’ novels, novellas, and short stories, a few folks have been asking about the chronology of these tales. Well, here goes…

For those of you who are interested in such things, the chronology of the stories works in this order: The Curious Case of The Missing Moolah, A Funny Thing Happened on The Way To Billingham Forum, Sexy Lexy (set for release in 2017), The Greatest Show in Town, The Beautiful Game, The Green-eyed Monster, Bone Breakers, One-Sixteenth, The Fight, The Hunters, and The Glasgow Grin. Hope this clears up any chronology issues!

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.