The End of Magic challenge, week 6

On 9th July 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 six!

Not much to report this week as I was mostly at Worldcon in Dublin, but a Facebook ad with a video was running in that time (here it is)…

… and here are the resulting sales…

Not a sausage! And here’s the FB ad analysis…

Well, that’s thirty-four quid I won’t be seeing again!

There are no quick fixes here. I’ll look at the ad and see how I can improve it, but I’m losing faith in the ads approach. I spent much of yesterday contacting bloggers to review the book, and I’ll continue to do that today. Reviews and word-of-mouth are essential for a book like this, and it’s working already…

A big thank you to Andy at ebookwyrm for that!

And I was over the moon to get this review on Amazon UK from the wonderfully-monikered Masked Marauder…

Here’s a summary of last week’s “sales” (note the air quotes!)

Kindle units sold: 0

POD Paperbacks: 0

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 1023

Royalty: $0

Advertising spend total: £34.77 (Facebook)

Yes, some folks are still reading it on KU, which is nice…

And here’s the running total…

Kindle units sold: 96

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 8588

Royalty: $42.92

Advertising spend total (since 9th July): $464.00 (and £105.81 in GBP)

AMS: $99.92

Bookbub: $272.70

Still 904 units to go!

That’s a little over 6 a day between now and Christmas.

Thanks again for all your messages of support and to everyone who’s bought the book or spread the word.

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

Buy a copy here in the US, or here in the UK

Tell your friends about the book

Leave an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads

I still only have six reviews on Amazon.com. They’re good ones, for which I’m very grateful, but ideally I need at least 20+. I like my reviews to grow organically and they have to be honest, so if you’re American and have read The End of Magic a few kind and honest words will go a long way.

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

The End of Magic challenge, week 5

On 9th July 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 five!

After releasing last week’s blog I had this wonderful Tweet from the writer Tim Clare…

Tim was saying what I was thinking: the magic advertising wand is an expensive one, and there has to be a better way to sell books. I’ve done almost every convention I could get into this year (and I’m at Worldcon in Dublin later this week), and the newsletter thing definitely works (see below). I’ve dropped a line to a couple of authors I know and have asked if we can mutually plug one another’s books via our channels.

I’m also grateful to Sam Missingham at Lounge Marketing* at for tipping me off about Story Origin. A site that helps authors build newsletter lists and organise book swaps. This is a whole new area to me and so I’m still getting my head around how it works. I’m also hoping to get the founder of Story Origin on the Bestseller Experiment podcast soon to talk me through it all in more detail, so keep an eye out for that.

*If you’re an indie author and you’re not following Sam on Twitter or subscribing to her free newsletter, then you’re really missing out!

Another nice bit of fallout from last week is I’ve been asked to go back on the Writers’ Centre podcast. I had fun last time I was on and definitely gained followers and sold books off the back of it. These are the benefits of sharing your failure in public!

First thing I did after last week’s results was cut all the Amazon and Bookbub ads and focus on building my readership. This meant a switch to Facebook ads.

I started running two ads targeted at Terry Pratchett fans in the US with a budget of $5 per day.

The first offered a free short story…

And the results were so-so…

The second had a pack shot of the book…

This had slightly better results…

I’ve gained 22 newsletter subscriptions since these went live, and if Mark Dawson’s adage that each subscriber is worth a fiver us true, then I guess this has worked…?

I’ve stopped both ads and am going to experiment with a video ad this week. It’s one I’ve used on social media before…

It’s “In review” over on Facebook – and has been for 24 hours – so I’ll update next week if anything happens with that.

Here’s a summary of last week’s sales

Kindle units sold: 11

POD Paperbacks: 0

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 2622

Royalty: $7.56

Advertising spend total: £56.67 (Facebook)

I think that boost on 6th Aug is from the start of the FB ads
Good to see KU page reads are strong. I’ll get a royalty from these at some point!

And here’s the running total…

Kindle units sold: 96

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 7565

Royalty: $42.92

Advertising spend total (since 9th July): $464.00 (and £71.04 in GBP)

AMS: $99.92

Bookbub: $272.70

A mere 904 units to go!

That’s a little over 6 a day between now and Christmas.

Thanks again for all your messages of support and to everyone who’s bought the book or spread the word.

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

Buy a copy here in the US, or here in the UK

Tell your friends about the book

Leave an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads

A quick word on reviews… I still only have six reviews on Amazon.com. They’re good ones, for which I’m very grateful, but ideally I need at least 20+. I like my reviews to grow organically and they have to be honest, so if you’re American and have read The End of Magic a few kind and honest words will go a long way.

In the UK, I now have 21 reviews, the latest arriving just yesterday and is thanks to Ian W Sainsbury including me in his newsletter a few weeks ago. Thanks Ian!!

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

The End of Magic challenge, week 4

On 9th July 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 four!

Okay, so this is half a week, as I was still on holiday or travelling, so couldn’t keep my eye on the ball, but at least sales got into double figures!

These last few days have seen the final push of a 99c/99p campaign in the the US and UK to drive visibility and it kinda worked as I managed to sneak into a chart for a short while…

But it does mean I’ve been spending too much on Bookbub promos…

Bookbub is the only thing that really seems to drive sales, but it really comes at a cost that I just can’t sustain. Today is the last day of that promo and I’ll be putting the price back up to $2.99 and cutting the ads. My feeling is that price promo works better when you have a series and more expensive books to sell once readers have enjoyed book one.

With that in mind, I think the next phase is try and build my readership and, from looking at the usual forums and chit-chat, the best way to do that is to use FB ads to target readers and send them to your book/website. As of yesterday I started running two ads targeted at Terry Pratchett fans in the US with a budget of $5 per day.

The first offers a free short story…

The second has a packshot of the book…

It’s early days, but the packshot ad is getting more clicks…

Both ads are driving readers to my new squeeze page for the book. A squeeze page is a single web page dedicated to one topic (in this case, my book) and with the URL theeendofmagic.com it should give the book’s SEO a boost and make it more visible. Please check it out and let me know what you think!

In other news, the Amazon AMS ads keep trundling along with another 2 sales per week, and again these are now too expensive and I should knock them on the head…

Ooh, it’s like a big smile…

Though the KU page reads are still fairly strong…

Here’s a summary of last week’s sales

Kindle units sold: 20

POD Paperbacks: 0

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 1792

Royalty: $7.35

Advertising spend total: $108.02 (and £14.37 in GBP)

AMS: $33.01

Bookbub: $75.01

Facebook: £14.37

And here’s the running total…

Kindle units sold: 85

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 4943

Royalty: $35.36

Advertising spend total (since 9th July): $464.00 (and £14.37 in GBP)

AMS: $99.92

Bookbub: $272.70

A mere 915 units to go!

That’s a little over 6 a day between now and Christmas.

Thanks again for all your messages of support and to everyone who’s bought the book or spread the word.

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

Buy a copy here in the US, or here in the UK

Leave an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads

Tell your friends about the book

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

Update…

I got this wonderful Tweet from the mighty Tim Clare not long after I posted this. He’s not wrong…

Stay tuned for a change in strategy!

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.

The End of Magic challenge, week 3

On 9th July 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 three!

Oh dear… oh deary dear… I somewhat dropped the ball this week. In my defence, I’m on holiday and have been mostly reading and napping. I highly recommend it for one’s mental health, but it’s not conducive to sales.

For those of you keeping track, I had intended to try a little more advertising last week with a Bookbub campaign aimed at both the US and the UK to drive visibility. There was a hitch however. When checking my links I got this when checking Apple Books…

Oh, bugger…

I got straight on to Unbound, my UK publisher, who promised to fix it, but it took them nearly a week to do so (it was sorted overnight last night). It was, if you’re interested, a “a playorder error in the toc.ncx document in the epub”. So there.

This delay — along with the reading and napping — meant there was no targeted advertising activity from me this week, apart from the tick-tock of AMS ads. Once again, the VE Schwab ad got me a couple of sales…

However, I did continue to get a few residual sales which I suspect came from the book’s inclusion in the newsletters of the wonderful Ian Sainsbury and Andi Cumbo Floyd.

Here are last week’s sales…

Nine… Nine!!

Not great. The peak came from Ian re-sending his email. I also got a few extra followers on my newsletter, which is very handy. On the upside, the KEDP page reads are still on the rise…

By my reckoning a fair few KU readers got through the book this week…

What’s next? Well, I suspect next week will be similarly flaccid as I’m still on holiday and still reading and napping (really, it’s a fantastic way to live), though I do still have a squeeze page on my to do list. More on that next time. Maybe. If I can get out of the reading/napping cycle.

Here’s a summary of last week’s sales

Kindle units sold: 9

POD Paperbacks: 0

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 2349

Royalty: $3.15

Advertising spend total: $12.35

AMS: $12.35

Bookbub: $0.00

And here’s the running total…

Kindle units sold: 65

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 3151

Royalty: $28.01

Advertising spend total (since 9th July): $233.59

AMS: $35.90

Bookbub: $197.69

A piffling 935 units to go!

That’s a little over 6 a day between now and Christmas.

Thanks again for all your messages of support and to everyone who’s bought the book or spread the word.

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

Buy a copy here in the US, or here in the UK

Leave an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads (this new review just went live on Amazon UK and made my day!)

Tell your friends about the book

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

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.

The End of Magic challenge, week 2

On 9th July 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 two!

After a fairly reasonable start I continued with the Amazon and Bookbub ads, though the Pratchett Bookbub ad that had seemed to do so well started to fade.

Julian Barr kindly dropped me a line to point out that I had a typo in my ad!

“I before E, especially with Tolkien!”

I wondered if the typo had marked me as a complete doofus to Pratchett readers, and so I started a new campaign with a corrected ad, but the results were much the same. Steady, but losing me money.

The Amazon ads have ticked along — and I added one with Pratchett keywords to see if that would generate more sales – but not a sausage so far. The VE Schwab ad has generated two sales, which suggests my patience might pay off…

Should I pull the plug, or does the visibility start to pay greater dividends after a while?

What became very clear from week one was…

Blogging about my progress prompted plenty of people to order the book, so thanks to all who did!

I have the most amazing followers who offered to help.

In particular, Andi Cumbo Floyd and Ian Sainsbury both offered to add me to their newsletters. Ian’s went out today and I’ve already seen a nice spike, which I think I can attribute to him. Andi’s goes out later this week and I’ll report back on that next time.

As an aside, it’s nice to see that the pages reads of KDP are picking up…

Where do I go from here?

Another old friend of mine, Jeremy Mason, got in touch with some advice on how to make Facebook work more effectively for me. FB hates anything that links away from their domain, so instead of just linking to this blog I’m going to try video updates to see if that engages more people. I’m also looking to set up a squeeze page to improve my SEO. What’s a squeeze page? More on that next time!

I’ve alerted my UK publisher Unbound to this and they’re agreed to drop the UK eBook edition to 99p for a week or so while I run more Bookbub ads, which is great, though while checking the details I discovered that the book hasn’t been available on Apple iBooks. Gah!! It’s a technical issue and they’re working on a fix. Very annoying, but such is the cut n thrust of digital book sales.

Here’s a summary of last week’s sales

Kindle units sold: 19

POD Paperbacks: 2

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 598

Royalty: $10.72

Advertising spend total: $58.17

AMS: $12.90

Bookbub: $45.27

And here’s the running total…

Kindle units sold: 56

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 802

Royalty: $24.86

Advertising spend total (since 9th July): $221.24

AMS: $23.55

Bookbub: $197.69

Only 944 units to go!

That’s 6 a day between now and Christmas.

Thanks again for all your messages of support and to everyone who’s bought the book or spread the word.

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

Buy a copy here in the US, or here in the UK

Leave an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads

Tell your friends about the book

If you have any thoughts or comments on what I might be doing wrong, do please leave them below! Stay tuned for another update next week…

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!

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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!

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