The End of Magic challenge – week 1

Last week I made a big ol’ pubic declaration to sell a thousand copies of my fantasy novel The End of Magic by Christmas, and I promised to keep folks in the loop with the ups and downs of sales and marketing with a weekly update.

A few caveats…

  • I can only do this in the USA… Unbound have the UK rights and I have no visibility on sales other than the twice yearly statements.
  • I’m going to stick with Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.
  • I’ll be counting both Kindle and Paperback sales.

Here’s week one!

I’m starting from a position of very few sold already, so my also boughts on Amazon at the start of the week were basically Back to Reality and a handful of self-pubbed fantasy compilations. Not much to give me a clue as to where I should target my campaign. However, there was a VE Schwab title in my also boughts, and one of the USPs of The End of Magic is that it’s a stand-alone.

I fired-up Publisher Rocket to generate a few keywords and started putting together a couple of campaigns to test the water. 

First up was the VE Schwab, which seemed straightforward enough. I figured a quote from the lovely RJ Barker would help readers click on the buy button. So far… not a sausage…

Next was the stand-alone. I used Publisher Rocket and some lists on Goodreads to draw up a list of similar one-and-done fantasy books. And the sales…? Zip.

This was slightly dispiriting, but I realise that these ads sometimes need a little time to get going and may need tweaking. I also ran ads aimed at an indie also bought (the Flame ad with the fab James Barclay quote) and one for Terry Pratchett fans (with a great quote from Julian Barr), but again no sales.

However, I knew one place where I’d had some success with Back to Reality. The mighty Bookbub and their excellent newsletter ads!

Following the instructions as per David Gaughran’s excellent Bookbub Ads Expert, I started daily campaigns. The first two were aimed at fans of Tad Williams and Brandon Sanderson. The results were poor. Just a few clicks and a handful of sales.

Then I decided to target Terry Pratchett readers. I had an excellent quote from the wonderful Julian Barr to tempt them with… 

This seemed to do the trick! Daily sales were picking up, and I had a 1.15% CTR (click through rate), which isn’t bad (anything over 1% is deemed good). I started to run this ad on a daily basis. They peaked after a couple of days, then tailed off. By then my also boughts were improving and I noticed Marie Brennan was second only to Back to Reality, so I tried a campaign targeting her readers. No sales!

That was yesterday. Today I’ve gone back to Sir Terry.

In the meantime, I’ve also been getting great support from folks on my newsletter, on social media and listeners to the Bestseller Experiment podcast. Here’s what the daily sales are so far (that peak on 7th July is when my newsletter went out)…

And here are the Kindle Unlimited pages read…

204 in total so far

And here’s a breakdown of sales and spend so far…

Kindle units sold: 37

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 204

Royalty: $14.14

Advertising spend total: $163.07 – that’s broken down as…

AMS: $10.65

Bookbub: $152.42

Only 963 units to go!

Let’s see, a hundred and sixty-two days till Christmas (taps calculator)… I need to sell about six copies a day to make my target. That feels do-able, though at this rate of ad spend, I could be bankrupt by Halloween.

I’ve had kind messages of support and I’ve been delighted when folks tell me they’ve bought the book, or that they’ll feature me in a newsletter. These will all help and I shall be forever grateful.

If you would like to help, then do please do any of the following:

Buy a copy here in the USA, or here for the UK/rest of the world.

Leave an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads

Tell your friends about the book

Buy 963 copies for your bookclub… worth a try.

If you have any thoughts or comments on what I might be doing wrong, do please leave them below! Until next week… onwards, upwards, sideways, backwards!

A Public Declaration

We had a pivotal episode of the Bestseller Experiment podcast this week. We finally revealed if we made our target of ten thousand copies sold of Back To Reality by the end of Glastonbury weekend. You can listen here…

EP208: Glastonbury Or Bust – Did We Make It?

It’s not much of a spoiler to say that we didn’t make it. However, if failure is a teacher then we learned an awful lot. Here were the big lessons for me…

  • Write a series – It’s much more difficult to sell a standalone book using advertising tools (Amazon Merchandising Services, Facebook Ads, Bookbub, Publisher Rocket) that are best designed to sell more than one product. So guess what I’m writing next…?
  • Not being able to use AMS in the UK hurt our chances of success. Yes, I know some authors have managed to use loopholes to run ads in the UK, but that wasn’t available when we signed up. I did ask Kindle’s Darren Hardy at the London Book Fair when it might be available and he said it was coming soon, but couldn’t give a fixed date. I’m not holding my breath. Back to Reality is very British in its humour and tone — and it’s been great to get such a wonderful reaction from readers all over the world — but it would have been great to sell more effectively to our Amazon readers in the UK.
  • It might just be that I’m bad at marketing. This is very likely my biggest issue… I did the Mark Dawson course, I read the David Gaughran books, I did everything I was supposed to… but marketing is a skillset you have to develop over years, and I was hardly going to master it in a few months.
  • Genre and readers are key. Back to Reality is a little bit of humour, a little bit contemporary fiction, a little bit science fiction, and a little bit rock n roll, so pinning down one genre was nigh-on impossible. And it’s tricky trying to identify just who your readers are, especially when your “also boughts” on Amazon are mostly for non-fiction “How to write” books (a byproduct of the podcast: our first readers were our listeners who are all writers). Compared to straight-down-the-line thrillers or romance, our novel wasn’t quite as straightforward.
But I’m not complaining!

It is said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results (I guess that makes every author insane). With that in mind, I’m going to repeat this experiment with The End of Magic, but I intend to make ALL NEW MISTAKES!

We’ve long banged on about writers making public declarations on the podcast. They put a fire under your bum and, combined with a firm deadline, can spur you on to great things.

So here goes with my NEW PUBLIC DECLARATION:

I will sell 1000 copies of The End of Magic by Christmas 2019

A few caveats…

  • I can only do this in the USA… Unbound have the UK rights and I have no visibility on sales other than the twice yearly statements.
  • I’m going to stick with Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.
  • I’ll be counting both Kindle and Paperback sales.

Wish me luck! I’ll chronicle my progress here on the blog and in my newsletter. I’ve already started with a couple of AMS ads and Bookbub newsletter ads. I’ll let you know how they get on. Current sales are zero. The only way is up…

If you want to help, why not buy a copy right now? It’s right here.

Six Things I’ve Learned In Six Months Of Freelancing

We’re halfway through the year and here’s a follow-up to my Five Things I Learned In The First Month Of Freelancing blog back in Feb…

1. Keep track of time

Lordy McGrawdy, has it really been six months since I sprang like a newborn lamb into the giddy world of freelancing? Possibly. Who knows? Not me… One of the things I’ve lost is any sense of time.

Having gone from a fairly rigid Monday to Friday, commute to work, an hour for lunch, commute to home, eat, sleep and start over routine, to one of my own making, I’ve started to lose track.

I can’t tell you how often I have to look up what day of the week it is.

I still have my daily routine as outlined in the Feb blog, but I’ve found myself working seven days a week almost without exception. If I had stayed at Orion I would almost certainly have taken a week off by now to decompress, read a few books and spend time with the family. I used to be very aware of the passing of time. Now I look up and it’s fricking July! How did that happen?

Oh, and diarise everything! Even stuff with the family…. Especially stuff with the family. Otherwise you’ll miss it and become one of those parents from a cheesy movie where they miss the ballgame (or whatever it is that American families do in their spare time) and their kids hate them. It might feel weird saying to your kids, “I can squeeze you in at half past three, but I have to be done by four because I have a call booked,” but it blimming works.

2. Make time for others

No, not friends and family. I see plenty of them now! Why? Because I diarise everything! (See point 1 above). But you will have to get off your butt and make some meetings with your fellow movers and shakers out there. I try to get into London a couple of times a month to meet with my agents and other writers to see how we can help each other, and I’ve made more friends in my local writing community, which has led to all sorts of exciting stuff, not least festivals and radio shows.

The world will not beat a path to your door. You have to buy the world a coffee every now and then. The other advantage of doing this is you realise that you are not alone. Sharing your fears and gossip with your fellow freelancers can be such a relief and you’ll often discover a simple solution to something that’s been bugging you for yonks.

3. Prepare for disaster

Income waxes and wanes – and it wanes more than it waxes at the moment – so when you have a month like June where your boiler goes kaput, your vacuum cleaner dies (twice), and you spill water on your laptop turning it into an expensive aluminium paperweight (this happened yesterday!) you need to have funds put by to cope with these acts of an Old Testament God.

That’s easier said than done, of course, but I’ve had to get over my old wage mentality of “Well, there’ll be more along in a minute,” and save, save, save. Above all, you must resist all temptation to blow any spare cash on a trip to that new Star Wars world at Disneyland. Resist! RESIST!

4. You Don’t Have To Take Every Opportunity

Yes, we might have long term plans to conquer the world, but opportunities will come along that will allow you to try something a bit different and then you have to make a choice: stay on track, or take a gamble on something new? I’ve done a bit of both, but the important lesson here is you don’t have to say yes to every opportunity. I sometimes feel like I’ve been conditioned by the fear of missing out to grab all the sweets in the shop, but I’ve discovered that saying a polite “No thank you” can be very liberating.

Sometimes you might be lucky and have a choice between two exciting options…

Gig A, which isn’t very glamorous but it’s happening right now and it pays money and we need money because we keep spilling water on expensive electrical equipment, or…

Gig B, which might not happen, but is a dream project and might not pay off for ages, but is everything you’ve ever wanted to do, but you need money because food is important and please move that glass of water away from my laptop, thank you…

I have no solid advice for you on this, but these dilemmas do come along and you need to take them one at a time and, above all, don’t be afraid to…

5. Ask For Help

Because you bought the world a coffee or two, you will find the world is much more amenable to helping you out when you need it. I’m a white, straight guy, so obviously I am an authority on everything*, but even I have to “reach out” (as they say in cheesy films about families and baseball) to others for help. Like you, these other freelancers will be busy scrabbling to make ends meet, so be prepared with simple questions and don’t waffle on and listen and make notes. I’m finding the generosity of others a reassuring balm in these troubled times.

6. Own Your Mistakes

One of the mental health benefits of salaried work was the pure joy of blaming your boss for the ills of the world. But now I have no one to blame but myself. And boy howdy have I made mistakes. I mean, I put the bag down for a second and then it tipped over and the water leaked all over the laptop and… Sorry, where was I? Yes! It’s my fault. All my fault. You get used to it. You figure out where you went wrong, feel sorry for yourself for a permitted period of time, vow not to do it again, learn from it and move on.

It’s scary, because you are the one making things happen now. Yes, you can sit at home with a bag on your head and wait for the world to knock at your door, or you can get out there, be bold, screw things up, or… maybe something amazing will happen?

Ask me again in six months.

*Irony. Don’t @ me.

Speaking of help, I have a writer services consultancy thingy… Are you looking for feedback on your novel or screenplay? Maybe you just need a second opinion on that submission letter that you’re sending to agents? I offer all kinds of services for writers at all stages in their careers. There are more details below and get in touch now for a free ten minute Skype consultation and a quote.

A few words on writing endings… with MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR GAME OF THRONES

The following blog post has MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR GAME OF THRONES

Have I mentioned the MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR GAME OF THRONES?

Still here? Good. You’ve been warned…

Endings are a bugger. There’s no getting around it. Often, writers are advised to start with the ending and work back from there. Though the problem with that is as you get to know your characters you’ll start changing their story trajectories. And that’s where things can start to get muddled and how endings can end up making no sense whatsoever or just fizzle out into nothing.

I’ve just watched the finale to Game of Thrones for the second time and, for all its flaws, I found it immensely satisfying and for me it illustrates a great principal of storytelling:

Characters will get what they need (or deserve) and not what they wanted…

Dany gets to defeat Cersei and at least touch the iron throne (though she doesn’t actually get to park her bottom on it), nor does she get the satisfaction of seeing Cersei die, which may be why she still thirsts to bring the rest of the world under her heel, triggering Jon to (eventually) grow a pair and stop her.

Jon’s ethos of honour and duty at all costs sees him banished to the Night’s Watch, which is where he was off to in the pilot episode anyway. He could’ve saved himself an awful lot of trouble and stayed there in the first place. Bless him, he tried. Though he did stop Dany from turning other cities into dragon-flamed barbecues, so we should all be thankful for that.

Arya doesn’t get to tick Cersei off her list, but on seeing the bodies of children in the streets of King’s Landing she’s realised that her childhood has been spent pursuing empty vengeance, and so she’s off on the Westerosian equivalent of a gap year exploring the unknown.

Sansa wanted nothing more than to be a princess to a handsome king, though Joffrey the Bellend, first of his name, was enough to put her off that ambition and now she’s Queen in the North with a neat line in costume jewellery and she’s taking crap from no one (see how she tells Edmure Tully to sit down).

Bran was just a little boy who wanted to climb and have adventures and now he’s the fricking king with second sight. Betcha never saw that coming in the pilot. Oh, wait, you all did? Okay…

And Tyrion has the most satisfying arc of all. He has come a long way from his whoring and drinking, and his final scene opens with him arranging chairs in order to make a good first impression. He’s gone from an irresponsible smart arse with zero responsibility to someone who, as Bran says, will spend the rest of his life atoning for his sins.

These, along with dozens of little callbacks to the opening episodes, close the circle of the Game of Thrones story, as well as giving all our surviving characters new beginnings.

So, if you’re stuck on your ending or it doesn’t hit you in the feels hard enough then think about your characters’ wants, needs, new beginnings and… er… uhm… y’know what? I don’t have a proper ending to this blog. I… oh, this is embarrassing. Er… BUY MY BOOK!

Need some help with your writing? I can help you out…

Pop over here to drop me a line and book a FREE 15 minute Skype/Facetime chat.

Seven Books on Writing…. by Women!

There I was, feeling all kinds of smug about my new blog post on seven books on writing, getting all kinds of lovely clickthrough action, when I woke up this morning to discover that I was called out on Twitter…

Gah! Typical bloke… In my defence, this wasn’t supposed to be a definitive list of the best books, but the ones that I had found to be the most helpful over the years and for some reason I find myself – a middle-aged, flabby man – reading books by other older (and dead) flabby men . But that’s no excuse (well, it’s the only one I have), and here in a craven attempt to redress the balance are some excellent books on writing, from my shelves, written by women…

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss

This was on Julie’s Tweet above and I’m kicking myself for leaving this off, because I recall devouring this when it first came out. This book should be handed out to anyone who opens a social media account, with its clear and concise approach to punctuation there’s simply no excuse for getting anything wrong after this. With the exception of semi colons; no one knows what to do with those anymore. I also had the pleasure of driving Lynne from bookshop to bookshop to promote her book Going Loco and she’s completely delightful and not the grammar Nazi that people might think she is.

Dent’s Modern Tribes by Susie Dent

I bought this just a couple of days ago when I was lucky enough to meet Susie at the Whitstable Literary Festival. I’m reading it at the moment and it’s hugely entertaining. Susie – who folks will know from Countdown and Eight Out of Ten Cats do Countdown – has an encyclopaedic knowledge of words, but is no stick-in-the-mud. The English language evolves and twists and turns and that’s one of the reasons it has endured this long. With Modern Tribes she investigates the languages used by bankers, DJs, Hells Angels, Soldiers, Politicians and more. If you have a character that inhabits these worlds you will want this book to hand to add that extra snap of authenticity to your dialogue. Susie has written about a dozen other books on the English language and they’re all a feast.

The Pitch by Eileen Quinn & Judy Counihan

I definitely should have included this one because it has actually got me writing gigs (though sadly it appears to be out of print with no sign of an update). Eileen and Judy have decades of experience in film and TV production and this was the first book I found that dug deep into what producers and development executives are looking for when a writer pitches their work. Even if you’re not a screenwriter this will sharpen your pitching skills. I have a permanent bookmark on page 73 for the PFC: the Pitch Format Card, their essential ticklist for any pitch document.

How Not To Write A Novel by Sandra Newman & Howard Mittelmark

Yes, yes, Howard is a bloke, but this also should have been on my blog the first time round, because this is essential reading. It covers the perspective of both the author and editor when it comes to novel writing and the most common mistakes that authors make and it’s very, very funny and frank and for the first time I felt like I was reading a book by people who had sat in publishing meeting rooms and had heard the kind of despairing comments that publishers might make about some of the submissions they get. Don’t make it easy for a publisher to reject you. Buy this book.

A Feast of French and Saunders.

Barmy by Victoria Wood

I’m going to do these together as I bought these when I was in my late teens and was writing comedy sketches with friends after school. These books were some of the first sketch comedy books I ever got and I can’t begin to tell you how much learned about comedy dialogue, timing, pace and character from these. Both have moments of surrealist humour, but it’s the back and forth of dialogue that has filtered into my work. Like the Pythons, Victoria Wood and French & Saunders rarely had punchlines in their sketches, but unlike the Pythons their characters were recognisably human and incredibly funny for it.

Monkeys with Typewriters by Scarlett Thomas

Okay, I confess I haven’t read this one yet, because after this morning’s Tweets I figured I owed it to my sisters in words to go and bloody well buy a book on writing by a woman. There were a number to choose from, but I went for this because it covers everything from Plato and Aristotle to fairy tales and tragedies, and because the bookseller raved about her writing, and she lives up the road from me in Canterbury, so once I’ve read it I will do my darnedest to get Scarlett on the podcast to talk stories.

I hope that goes some little way to redressing the balance and I shall definitely look into the recommendations from Margaret and Julie as should your good selves!

If you need any help or advice with your writing, I provide writer services too. Drop me a line here for a free consultation.

Seven books on writing

I’ve just finished reading Will Storr’s book The Science of Storytelling, the latest in a long line of books that will be snatched up by storytellers like myself in the hope that they will finally find in these pages the secrets to writing a bestselling masterpiece that will be admired until the heat death of the universe.

Here’s the thing: I’ve read enough of these books to realise that there are no secrets, there are no absolutes and there’s no right or wrong way of doing this (unless you’re eating crayon and vomiting it onto your laptop, that’s probably not as productive as it sounded when you thought of it in the shower), but some books are better than others and here are a few that I’ve found helpful over the years.

Poetics, Aristotle

This the grandaddy of “How to Write” books, written no doubt because he was fed up of hearing clichéd Homer rip-offs at his local writers’ group in Macedonia. In here you will find ground zero of Western storytelling, with clear observations on plot and character that have stood the test of time. It’s only about 150 pages long and you can find great translations for free on Project Gutenberg.

Story, Robert McKee

After Aristotle, no one had anything interesting to say about story until Robert McKee arrived (at least, that’s what he would have you believe). There’s been something of a McKee backlash since I first picked up my copy in the late ‘90s, but this was the book that first fired my imagination and even though he’s basically taking Aristotle’s ideas and illustrating them with examples from Chinatown, Casablanca and The Godfather, he is a great teacher and he makes the craft of storytelling accessible in a way that few others have managed.

On Writing, Stephen King

This came along at a great time for me, and a bad time for Mr. King. He was hit by a van while out walking in an accident that very nearly took his life and this was what he wrote while in recovery. Here, finally, was a book on the craft of writing by someone who had actually written and sold one or two novels. He talks about the craft, the language, characters and he keeps it concise and — more importantly — he treats it as a job. This is his work. Up till this point, writing had always seemed mysterious to me, on a par with alchemy and necromancy. The advice that still lingers from reading this book nearly twenty years on? Shut the door and write. And y’know what? It works!

On Film-Making, Alexander Mackendrick

Okay, so the content of this book existed before McKee but it was only in 2004 that Paul Cronin and Faber brought together the teachings of the mighty Alexander Mackendrick for the world. Mackendrick was the director of some of my favourite Ealing comedies including The Ladykillers, and The Man in the White Suit. But, crucially, he’s a director, not a writer. This book gave me the clearest understanding of the craft of film production and how to effectively tell stories in a cinematic way. Mackendrick spent twenty-five years teaching film-making and storytelling at the California Institute of the Arts in LA, and it’s all distilled in these pages. (I can also recommend Conversations with Wilder, by Cameron Crowe who patiently ekes out nuggets of gold from Billy Wilder, director and sometimes writers on classics such as Some Like It Hot, Double Indemnity, The Apartment and Sunset Boulevard).

Save the Cat, Blake Snyder

The only book here where its title has become part of screenwriting jargon, “Where’s the Save the Cat moment?” Snyder had worked in the Hollywood mire for some time and had pitched and sold more screenplays that most of us can ever dream of. This is a largely practical book, with exercises designed to not only build your story but to also sell it. It’s unashamedly commercial and bullshit-free, inspiring and huge fun. (I can also recommend Writing Movies For Fun and Profit by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon which is fantastic on the harsh realities of writing for film, though you can tell it’s written by overexcited screenwriters by all the EXCLAMATIONS IN CAPITALS!).

Into The Woods, John Yorke

The likes of McKee and Vogler will instruct us on how stories work, but it was only when I read Yorke’s sublime book that I began to discover why we react to stories the way that we do. A veteran of British television, Yorke writes in a clear and no-nonsense style and digs much deeper into the beats of story and character than anyone before. Full disclosure, I’ve interviewed him for the podcast and I’ve been on his screenwriting course and if I could I would have him on speed-dial twenty-four hours a day.

The Science of Storytelling, Will Storr

What is there new to say on the craft of storytelling? I must confess that I was sceptical when I first picked this up (Science?! How reductive! This is an art, don’tcha know!) and the first few chapters made it clear that I would have really pay attention as there is some proper science going down in these pages. Storr starts by looking at how our brain perceives the world, giving me genuine chills by reminding me that my brain is stuck in a dark bone box and relies rather heavily on eyes and ears that have received much abuse from me over the years. He explores the role that story has played in our evolution and why it is so important and gives examples as to how we can use this knowledge to improve our own writing. And he makes comparisons between The Epic of Gilgamesh and Mr. Nosey (both lessons in humility), which makes the book both highfaluting and accessible. All I can attest is there were severable times I had to put the book down and made notes on my current work-in-progress and for me there is no higher recommendation.

Notable omissions

And that’s that. My favourite books on the craft writing… But wait, you cry! What of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and Vogler’s Writer’s Journey? Surely these are the the sacred texts of storytelling? Well, if I had written this blog ten years ago I’m pretty sure they would have been at the top of my list, but when I look back I think that ne plus ultra perception of them probably did me more harm than good. Campbell and Vogler are great on structure and myth, but less so on character and this led to me writing scripts and novels that had perfect structure but characters that were bland, passive and dragged along by the plot. And yes, that’s my fault, but the accepted wisdom of these books as the be-all and end-all of storytelling blinded me to that, and if I had a time machine I would go back and slap the younger me and tell him to focus on character first. That’s what it’s all about. Humans trying to make sense of the world with stories. Right… back to work!

What?! No books by women?? Uh, yeah, about that…

If you need any help or advice with your writing, I provide writer services too. Drop me a line here for a free consultation.

Eastercon Update

EasterCon – I’ll be at EasterCon on the Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st April…

Saturday 20th, 7-8pm: I’ll be reading from The End of Magic with some amazing authors in the Earhart Room. More here.

Sunday 21st, 10:15am: I’ll be on the The Current State of Podcasting panel in the Johnson room. More info here. 

Last time I was Eastercon, I was reading from Robot Overlords and had an excellent time! Hope to see you there.

Back to Reality is out in paperback

Somehow, in all the hurly-burly of launching The End of Magic, I have yet to mention here on the hallowed pages of the blog that the novel I co-wrote for The Bestseller Experiment podcast is now out in paperback!

Ooh, pretty!

Here’s the blurb…

Jo’s world is about to change forever, and it’s about time

Her marriage is on auto-pilot, daughter hates her, job sucks and it’s not even Tuesday.
As Jo’s life implodes, a freak event hurls her back to ‘90s Los Angeles where, in a parallel universe, she’s about to hit the big time as a rock star. 
Jo has to choose between her dreams and her family in an adventure that propels her from London to Hollywood then Glastonbury, the world’s greatest music festival. In her desperate quest, Jo encounters a disgraced guru, a movie star with a fetish for double-decker buses, and the biggest pop star in the world… who just happens to want to kill her.

Back to Reality is a funny, heartwarming story about last chances, perfect for fans of Rowan Coleman and Helen Fielding.

I’m really proud of this book. It’s very different to the usual science fiction/fantasy stuff I write, but it’s funny, fast-paced and has a big heart, so if you’re looking for a little bit of uplit to brighten your day, then grab a copy now!

But don’t just take my word for it…

Should Writers Avoid Getting Political?

Back to Reality, the novel I co-wrote with Mark Desvaux for the Bestseller Experiment podcast, has been having a good run with reviews since its publication in 2017. Folks have liked it a lot and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. To meet our rather ambitious self-imposed target of ten thousand copies sold by the end of the Glastonbury Festival (our book climaxes at Glastonbury) we’ve been dialling up the advertising and asking anyone who’s read the book to leave a review. That means I’ve been checking the Amazon customer reviews fairly regularly, and that’s when I noticed that we received our first ever one-star review for the book. At first, my heart sank a little, but then I clicked on the review and had a read and this is what I found…

For context, here’s the part of the book that the reviewer objected to. Our hero, Jo, has travelled back in time from contemporary England to ‘90s Hollywood. She finds herself on a late night chat show where she reveals that she’s a time traveller…

There are two things going on with this review. First is an inability to make a distinction between the protagonist and the authors.

This still manages to surprise some readers. To write crime thrillers, you don’t need to be a cop or a murderer, to write science fiction you don’t need to explore deep space, and you, dear writer, can write repulsive characters and not agree with their world view.

Although, for the sake of clarity, here’s where I stand on Donald Trump. The man is a misogynist, homophobic, racist, narcissistic fool and a failed businessman whose time would be better spent indulging in his sexual peccadilloes behind closed doors while the rest of try and save the planet from climate change.

In short, I’m not a fan.

But this is what writers do: we put ourselves in the shoes of these characters and try to imagine would those people might be like — and very often it can be based on personal experience — and we try to convey that in words.

As an aside, I think this is why there is such a liberal bias in the entertainment industry. Creators will try and see both sides of the argument in a story, character or situation and present them in a compelling way. That sense of fairness is very much a characteristic of liberals, especially in contrast to the meritocratic views of the right. 

The second aspect of the review is the disappointment in the reader that we’ve dragged the messy world of politics into their reading. This prompts the much bigger question: should writers get political? Sure, if you’re writing a political thriller it’s expected, but when you’re writing in an escapist genre like comedy, romance, science fiction or fantasy should the poor reader be inflicted with soap box politics? And is it worth it for the writer? Think back to The Dixie Chicks when they made disparaging comments about George W Bush and the effect that had on their sales. Isn’t it just safer to avoid any political content altogether?

Here’s the thing: all writing is political… if it’s any good.

Fiction isn’t like a family gathering where you avoid religion and politics. It should be a truthful reflection of what the creator believes, otherwise what is the point?

I’m not saying that our joke where Jo compares Trump to Hitler is some kind of profound insight into the human condition. Far from it. It’s simply the thing that stuck out for the reviewer. What that reviewer missed was the masses of other political content in the book. The themes of family, compassion, sexism, work, money and greed are threaded throughout the story, and if you don’t think those are political then you’ve not been paying attention to the world around you.

So, will we lose sales because we’ve upset some fans of Trump? Possibly. We’re hardly the Dixie Chicks, but to be honest if you’re a Trump supporter I don’t want your money. You’re going to need it when you realise you’re on the wrong side of history and need to pay for therapy.

In the meantime, I shall continue to write about the world through the eyes of characters that both attract and repulse me. It’s pretty much the only way I can make any sense of the chaos around me, especially that Trump fella… 

PS. To be clear, there are my opinions and not those of The Bestseller Experiment or my co-presenter -author Mark Desvaux…

Four things I learned from the publication of The End of Magic…

The End of Magic came out a month ago today!

And here are four essential “learnings” (ugh, what have I become?) from the last month…

A good launch is essential…

… but it’s only the start. The book had the most amazing launch week, thanks almost entirely to the gorgeous, wise and undeniably sexy people who had the foresight and canny knack of knowing-a-good-thing-when-they-see-it to support the book in its crowdfunding stage. When their copies arrived they shouted about it from the social media rooftops. Without doubt, this was the most exciting part of the whole crowdfunding experience: seeing them take ownership of the book and saying lovely things. And then one of them did this…

I mean, that is above and beyond… thanks, Jason…

They came to the book launch at Harbour Books and dressed up and made it a magical evening…

However, these good folk have lives to lead and cannot be called upon to sustain that kind of manic energy for long, and so it is left to you, the author, to continue to pimp yourself and the book for all eternity. You can only ride on the goodwill train for so long, and one of the biggest lessons learned from Back to Reality was that unless you continue to promote your book it’s in danger of sinking without a trace. Every week, new and splendid books come along to draw the eye of the reader, so how can you tome survive in the post-publication wilderness…?

You will need to pimp yourself

Unbound only publicise a few books, and I wasn’t assigned a publicist. It’s been quite sobering to be an author who can’t afford a freelance publicist (I was quoted two grand) and is left to their own devices. You’re definitely at a disadvantage. When I was published by Gollancz, you could be confident of reviews and coverage and festival slots because the magazines and websites know the terms of the unspoken deal: support our debuts and midlist authors and you’ll get the interviews with our big name authors… I had no such bargaining chip. However, I was lucky enough to know a few people and have had some great coverage in the likes of Starburst, BBC Radio Kent, and blogs, and I’ve managed to blag my way into various festivals. It can be exhausting, but it’s been worth it, leading to sales and more coverage.

I made Tweets like these with the Pixaloop app… https://www.pixaloopapp.com

Publishers will surprise you… 

A couple of weeks after publication I started getting messages from readers letting me know that The End of Magic was featured on a Bookbub newsletter. This saw me hurtling up the various Kindle fantasy charts and let to this little moment of happiness…

Not only that, but I was a Hot New Release (stop sniggering at the back)… and I was riding high in a number of other charts, too. Momentum was building and I had a clutch a really good customer reviews. Then…

Publishers will screw-up…

I’m planning to self-publish the book in the USA. My agent and I discussed this before we signed the contract with Unbound and I wanted to experiment with self-publishing and Amazon ads over in good old United States of America Land, and I was planning to do this after the Unbound edition had been published in the UK.

However, I got a message from a reader in New York telling me that I had been featured in an Amazon.com mailing. I checked and he was right: my book was available for sale in the US. Tut-tut, but these things happen and I dropped Unbound a line asking them to update the metadata on their feed to remove the book from sale in America.

Which they promptly did. And then someone must have ticked the wrong box, because it all disappeared from the UK, too.

For nearly 24 hours the eBook wasn’t available in the UK. I plummeted down the fantasy charts and all that great momentum was lost.

Such is life. To be fair to Unbound, these things are easily done and they responded rapidly… Ah well, easy come, easy go. 

Oh, and they put one of the chapters in the wrong place…

That was a fun weekend…

But, again, they fixed it fast and that’s all cool, but these little blips can test your nerves. Luckily I have years of experience with these kinds of screw-ups and the best advice I can offer is don’t panic, get on it fast, be clear and concise when describing the problem and never, ever refer to it as a disaster. The Titanic and the Hindenburg were disasters. Something going wrong with your book online is a minor glitch in the greater history of humanity…

What’s next…?

Nothing less than the conquest of America.

Eventually.

One of the issues triggered by Unbound’s release of my book in the US is that Amazon doesn’t believe that I retained the US rights to my book and I now have to prove it, which means sending them scans of signed contracts (which I don’t have) and getting Unbound and my agent involved. It’s a right old faff, but it will get sorted eventually.

After that I shall be using the Amazon and Facebook ad skills I’ve been developing with Back to Reality to send The End of Magic up the amazon.com fantasy charts and start earning some dosh.

Again, a huge thank you to everyone who has banged the drum or left a rating or a review online. You’re all wonderful and you should know that every time you retweet, like, leave a nice review or comment, you make an author’s day and this author will never take that for granted.