Book number 8 notched up – time to move to the next one

Well, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Billingham Forum is finally done, dusted, and delivered to Amazon. And I’m glad to see the back of it.

Why?

Well, it was hard to write, for starters. It began life as a short story (encompassing the initial robbery at Billingham Forum). But as soon as the short was complete, I wanted to know what happened to the characters I’d created (the short story leaves the fate of several of them up in the air). So I decided to fill in the gaps…

The novella came next. It fleshed out Bobby, Harry, ToJo, and Thrombosis, but, again, left me wanting to know more about Billy Chin, Jonno, Joey, and Ramon. So I went back again, and gave the story a third go.

The novel took much longer to assemble than the novella and short story because I wanted the tale to be more character driven than in previous works. I used a lot more foreshadowing. Many of the characters make decisions that come back to haunt them later. Sometimes you can’t plot these things. Occasionally they just need to bubble to the surface. For a plodder like me, that take times.

I learned a lot by writing this novel. I found out that expanding a short work into something much longer is not for the faint-hearted. Often the plot changes course because what works in a short story (or even a novella) doesn’t always succeed in the more generous word count of a novel. Characters evolve because they can grow into the pages. The lack of limits makes them less black and white.

Endings changed, first chapters came and went, characters emerged from the chrysalis of a cameo to become fully-fledged main players. Most of the main players got at least two or three killer lines and moments, or in Billy Chin’s case got to steal virtually every chapter in which he appears. The Stantons were much nastier in the short story, partly because this was the first Stanton short I ever finished (that’s right, the first – which goes to show how bloody long the novel took to write). It was only when I wrote The Hunters that they developed slightly softer edges and became more sympathetic. A Funny Thing Happened… came together in such a way that it was overtaken by every other project. This is why what seem like prequels actually aren’t. I write about six projects at the same time. It just so happens that The Hunters was the first project after The Gamblers that I was happy to publish. A Funny Thing Happened… was last one to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

The next Stanton story due for publication (early in 2017, most likely) has been almost as protracted. Sexy Lexy is set roughly a month after the events of A Funny Thing Happened… It was originally slated for release in The Greatest Show In Town, but I felt it needed lots of work and dropped it at the last moment. And, much like A Funny Thing Happened…, it expanded to become something bigger and broader – in this case, a novella.

After Sexy Lexy, I’m planning to put the brothers away for a while and concentrate on The Amsterdamned, which should come together quickly, because I’ve plotted it meticulously. Then I intend to fix my sights on We Won’t Leave This World Alive, which continues storylines from The Glasgow Grin (the Stanton brothers, Bob Owden, Gupta Patel, Jimmy Raffin, all get leading roles).

Anyway, enough talk about future publications…

Now it’s time to start pushing A Funny Thing Happened… to my readership.

I hope you enjoy it.

It was hard to write, but I think because of these difficulties it’s a pretty good read.

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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.

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!

 

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).

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!

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…

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.