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).

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.

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.

A matter of perception

I read a rather good blog post recently by Anthony Neil Smith (who, if you haven’t read him before, should be bought and read more widely). In it he wrote about why he has felt like quitting writing recently (although he obviously gives the reasons why he hasn’t). Smith could probably be categorised as a small-level writer, but one who (with between 5-10,000 regular readers) seems to bumping his head on the ceiling that will take him up to the next level. What this means is that his books sell, but not quite well enough to make his living from it. But the real feeling I get from the piece seems to be his frustration that he keeps hitting his head on the ceiling without actually breaking through it, so that he can ply his trade amongst the big hitters, or at least among bigger hitters.

I understand these frustrations but at a much lower level. In fact, my frustration stems from the fact that my readership doesn’t seem to be growing but declining. Sales of The Hunters in its first year were less than The Gamblers (I had hoped it would be the other way around). Sales of The Greatest Show have been… spectacularly awful (I think aside from a very small cadre of regular readers, and a few newbies, nobody has bought it). I would kill for Smith’s sales, I would be ecstatic with his level of readership. Hell, I’d kill for ten per cent of his regular readers, if I’m completely honest. At least it would feel like I’m getting somewhere.

Then I realise it’s all about perception. Every writer perceives their plight differently. We all have our frustrations and we all think about quitting the writer’s life at some point, for reasons that seem entirely reasonable to us but might seem melodramatic or whiny to those who don’t write, or those who have it worse than us.

I think we writers are, by breed, a frustrated bunch. Frustrated about our sales, frustrated by how our latest writing endeavours are doing (my new habit of stockpiling projects is certainly annoying the hell out of me), frustrated upon re-reading the old ones, frustrated that the plans we’ve made end up somehow shittier than we had anticipated.

And then I think of a writer who wrote one of the finest, funniest novels of the last fifty years (a piece of brilliance that I will never have in me), and killed himself because he couldn’t get a home for it. When I think of John Kennedy Toole and Confederacy of Dunces I realise it could be a damn sight worse and I should stop feeling sorry for myself because… I’m being an arsehole.

It could be worse.

Perception, right?