Subtitle Fatigue: The Gripping Post With the Twist that’s got Everybody Talking

Am I the only person out there who’s bloody sick and tired of seeing Kindle books with SEO subtitles that are like a mini-essay?

For example:

The Girl with a Girl Tattoo: The psychological thriller novel with a gripping twist that you just won’t see coming!

A Man Without Eyes: The astonishing debut thriller novel that will grip you by the genitals until the very last page!

Book titles with colons and a short essay of random keyword bullshit seem to be the new trend for indie fiction and some self-publishers, now that The Girls… are beginning to wear out their welcome. Every new book that seems to be hitting the Kindle charts at the moment is followed by some ludicrously long subtitle/essay. I’m not sure if you agree (maybe you don’t), but this whole thing just screams AMATEUR! It also automatically makes me not want to buy the thing. In fact, if your title is followed by a colon and a random-arse description of what it contains then I’m sorry, but you’ve just been scratched off my to-read list forever. It could be the best novel ever written, but I’ll never know because I just won’t read it.

Is that writer and reader snobbery? Perhaps. Call me strange if you like, but I prefer not to be informed about an impending twist, and I don’t need to be persuaded that something is gripping. I prefer to read for myself and make an informed decision. And if I’m looking for thrillers, if your novel shows up in my search I can safely assume that the fucking thing is, in fact, a “thriller novel.”

I know I won’t stack my work with subtitles for a competitive advantage. If I can’t say what needs to be stated within the genre selectors that Amazon provides, along with its generous keyword provision, and my book blurb then, frankly, my novels deserve to fail.

Rant over!

 

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2016: No Resolutions, just a resolve to push forward

2015 was the year I finally finished and published The Glasgow Grin. The process was more difficult than I’d anticipated, which meant that I barely wrote another word for a good couple of months. To be honest, I felt written out. If I’d tried to write a sentence as simple as The cat sat on the mat during this period I would have fucked it up. Instead, I sat back and studied my initial sales in the hope that GG would make a decent start to its life.

I’d set myself a sales target of 1,000 books in total for 2015, hoping that The Glasgow Grin would make up the largest percentage. This would be a decent increase on 2014, and would mean more readers and a bigger audience for the next one. During my two-month period of inactivity The Glasgow Grin quickly gained sales momentum and became my biggest seller.

Then it kept on selling…

It was the first of my books to break the 200 sales in a month barrier, then it was the first to break 500 in a month, then it sold enough to propel my combined sales through the 1,000 in a month threshold. And then it repeated the feat in the following month. It also managed to break into the UK Top 1,000, albeit briefly. In short, it was the (not so) little book that could.

Sales of The Glasgow Grin hit 3,400 this year and all my other books took the total just over 6,000.

Not bad for somebody who just wanted to crack the thousand mark.

I’m not going to try and break the 6,000 barrier in 2016. Instead, I’m going to try and maintain and build on my current audience. To do this I intend to finish and publish A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Billingham Forum in the first quarter of 2016. This is actually set earlier than The Glasgow Grin (In fact, it occurs after the events of The Curious Case). Not because it was intended as a prequel, but because I started a lot of novels and ideas at the same time – they just happened to finish in an utterly random order. A Funny Thing just happens to have taken far more time than everything else.

After all, I want to make sure it’s a good read.

After this, I’ve got a novella called Sexy Lexy, started simultaneously with A Funny Thing and set during the same time period. It might make it into 2016.

Then I’m sending the boys on holiday, and I’m writing something different for a while: The Amsterdamned is the most obvious candidate, though I have an idea for a psychological thriller that should come together quite quickly (famous last words).

I also intend to build a more specific author website for myself, with an email subscribers’ list to keep interested readers up-to-date with the latest news, and merge this blog and reviews into that.

Adios for now!

Twelve Mad Men – Ryan Bracha interviewed

When the outrageously talented self-published author Ryan Bracha (Paul Carter Is A Dead Man, Strangers Are Just Friends You Haven’t Killed Yet) contacted me about being part of a wild anthology idea that he had regarding twelve mad men in an institution I jumped at the idea. It was an exciting project involving a lot of seriously talented writers (Paul Brazill, Keith Nixon, Gerrard Brennan, Les Edgerton, just a few of those participating) – how could I not get involved? The concept involved 12 tales featuring fictionalised versions of each author around which Bracha would construct a bridging tale before tying the strands together at the very end. Kind of like one of those anthology horror movies from the 70s, but much better. I’d be bloody mad if I shirked this opportunity (especially as I’d never submitted a story to a collection before).

And now Twelve Mad Men is finally finished and out there – adding some serious craaaaazy to Amazon’s website. I interviewed Ryan about the project and what brought it about etc. Have a gander at how it went.

How did you come up with the concept for Twelve Mad Men?
It came to me one night when I was a bit tipsy and spouting off at fellow writer and friend Mark Wilson about how, as indie writers, we’ve got a better opportunity than ever before to experiment with our work. It was all about how there are so many writers out there trying to rip off what’s worked on a massive scale in the past (Harry Potter, Fifty Shades, Lord of the Rings, Terry Pratchett etc.) and trying to grab a quick buck rather than use the creativity and imagination they were gifted with to do something awesome. Mark tends to feel the brunt of the ideas factory that is my brain. I come up with several ideas every week to try to do something original, most will be completely ridiculous and fall by the wayside, but some of them grow legs and I can run with them. This one was one of the latter. I wanted to put a bunch of wildly different, but equally talented writers in one place, and see what they did when given the exact same brief. I wanted to challenge myself to think on my feet, so the improvisation aspect jumped into the picture. The narrative theme just gave each writer the scope to be as ridiculous, violent, intense or comedic as they wanted to be.

How do you feel about the finished product?
I’m extremely happy with it. All eleven of the men I invited to contribute surpassed my wildest expectations, and gave me some phenomenal material to work with. The finished product is a seriously good signifier of the talent currently writing and publishing today.
Did the fact that you were improvising the tale that linked the stories cause any problems?
Not as many as I thought it might. Getting the stories submitted in the staggered manner that I did gave me the opportunity to really think about how I was going to introduce a character, and how I might leave that character be, taking what I needed to push the main plot on. Sometimes I did get carried away and went off on a tangent, but rather than delete and rewrite, I’d just go further back and drop some clues in about what was to come. I enjoyed the process immensely, truth be told. The challenge excited me.
Do you prefer anthologies with an overall unifying theme?
Yes and no. If it’s an individual writer’s collection then I like it to be a broad spectrum of what they can do with words, a whole range of themes, characters and styles. If it’s a multi-author piece of work, then yes. I like to see different takes on the same theme. I always loved those projects at school where everybody got one word, and had to write a piece of fiction with that word as the title. It shows how diverse we are as thinkers.
Do you hope to start a trend with this collection?
Definitely. I devised and implemented the idea according to a set of rules that I’ve termed The Rule of Twelve Manifesto 2014. It’s a series of guidelines for getting it written and published. I stole the general basis of rules from the Lars Von Trier spearheaded cinematic movement, Dogme 95, where the story would be the driving force, with no effects, or music to drive emotion. I wanted the writers involved to come up with something reasonably quick and without retrospective editing to get the essence of them as creative types. I would hope that somebody else might take the ball and run with it, and come up with their own Twelve project but if they don’t then that’s fine. The process isn’t for everyone. I’ll just continue to do them myself.
What are your future writing plans?
Before the writing I intend to kick off my new imprint Abrachadabra Books which will embody my approach to the writing game, and submissions will open once I get the first book out. I’m in talks with one of the Mad Men about putting his new one out. That’s a secret, though!
As far as my own work I have the second novel in The Dead Man Trilogy (The first of which is Paul Carter is a Dead Man) to finish hopefully for a January release, then I’m going to do another Twelve project, which will have some of the same names involved as this one, with some fresh blood in there too. On top of that I’m going to work on some shorts to go into a new collection. But the best laid plans and all that. Ask me next week and I might be planning a novel written entirely on cash that’s currently in circulation. Until Wilson talks me out of it!

Twelve Mad Men is out now. All proceeds go to Teenage Cancer Trust, so there’s really no excuse for you not to buy it here.

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.

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.