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.

Advertisements

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…

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.

Current writing projects (or total madness)

A couple of days ago, I decided to take stock of why I’m still struggling to get anything out for sale in 2013, despite writing my arse off for much of this year. When I realised just how many projects I’ve got on the go at the moment, I truly understood the depth of the problem I currently have. I’ve literally been writing myself to a standstill, ironically by jumping around from project to project like a kid with ADD on pharmaceutical-grade speed.

This has to stop. And it will from today.

The list as it stands (as projects are finished they get a line through, like this):

  1. Bone Breakers – novella (currently in final edit stage – want it to be ready for a July 1 Kindle launch)
  2. The Glasgow Grin – novel (three quarters done, needs more work)
  3. The Green Eyed Monster – short story (prequel of sorts to Bone Breakers – 2,000 words in)
  4. A Funny Thing Happened on the way to Billingham Forum – novella (first draft, badly needs a second draft)
  5. Parked Cars – short story (2,000 words in and nearly finished, just needs to be typed up and polished)
  6. Bangkok Bound – novella (2,000 words in)
  7. Laughter in the Dark – novelette/novella (3,500 words in)
  8. Cry Tomorrow – novella (6,000 words in)
  9. Last One’s The Charm – short story (250 words in)
  10. The Gods Won’t Save You (AKA Hell’s Waiting-Room) – novella (800 words)

In addition to these are several other projects without titles and without any idea of what they are and where they’re going.

As any sane person can see, there are far too many projects here to juggle at once. My creativity at coming up with ideas and starting them with a roar of concentration is a good thing. The fact that this concentration peters out when another idea pops into my head is not.

So, from today, and in numerical order, it’s one project at a time (or two, if I’m editing, but no more than that), and each project will be seen through until the draft is finished. At which point the next project on the list gets its turn.

Any new ideas get sketched down (and I do mean sketched) and added to my Evernote account, and dealt with as soon as I can reach them, not before.

This is the new way. Now let’s see if my productivity picks up.

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.

A literary vacation

On Sunday I go off to Spain for 13 days of sun. I have a house to myself, along with plenty of time, and although I’ll be doing my day job during the days, what I’ll be doing for the most part will be writing – lots and lots of writing.

I’ve set myself an adequate daily word count of 2,500 words a day (after which I’ll allow myself to call it a day and hit the local town for tapas and Spanish beer). I’m hoping that the 30,000 plus words that I’ll create will be enough to finish off The Glasgow Grin, which is already 11k in.

A few people have been wondering where the sequel to The Hunters is. Well, in all honesty, it has been delayed by issues I have had with my short story collection The Greatest Show in Town. I occasionally go through periods where if I look at something for too long I start to see nothing but flaws. This is what has happened with my short story collection. Stories that I liked when I first wrote them have been deconstructed and put back together and, in some cases, expunged from the collection altogether. I’m ‘just about there’ with TGSIT but I’m still fiddling, which means that ‘just about there’ is probably a synonym for ‘nowhere near being finished yet’!

My tendency to sometimes fiddle and fuss and fret had affected my writing rather badly in this case. It stressed me out to such a degree that I stopped writing for a while and concentrated on reading and reviewing on my blog. It then took a while to get back into the flow of things, and get my creative juices flowing again.

However I recently started and finished a first draft of a Stanton brothers’ novella, Bone Breakers. It is set before the events in The Hunters and is third person rather than first person. Once I’ve got the first draft of The Glasgow Grin out of the way, I will edit Bone Breakers and have it on sale before the end of the year. It doesn’t need much rewriting – considering that IMO it’s the tightest thing I’ve ever written, and is as lean as they come.

I figured it was only polite to let my three readers know that I’m still writing and haven’t forgotten about the fact that they might wish to see The Hunters’ sequel sometime in the near future!