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

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.

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.

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…

It started nearly a year ago…

My crowdfunding campaign for The End of Magic started on 14th February (how romantic!) 2018and the first pledge was from my aunt Marion. I got ten pledges on the first day… no day after that was ever that easy again! Almost 90 days of crowdfunding to reach my target, then months in the edit, copy-edit, proofread, cover design and then signing off on it and a few sleepless nights where I was sure there would be some disaster like all the pages being printed upside down.
And then last week, this happened…

My best George McFly impression…

It’s one of those moments that writers dream of and for me it became a reality and I could not have done this without the amazing support of everyone who pledged and spread the word.

I’d become used to seeing the words on a screen and so to finally get a copy in my hands and see the ink on the grain of the page was really special. And then, my social media started going crazy… 

You lot are amazing…

I’m completely overwhelmed by the amazing support I’ve had from you all. I really mean it. There’s so much crap going on in the world, but you’ve proven again and again that there are communities of readers and writers and creators who help each other out and bang the drum for new and shiny ideas.

I thank you all again, and I really hope the book lives up to your expectations.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all my years in bookselling it’s that the launch day is just the beginning. I’m going to be on the sales, marketing and publicity warpath for the foreseeable future and anything you good people can do to help spread the word would be much appreciated: pop a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or social media… let your local library or bookshop know that it’s out… stop random strangers in the street and badger them until they– Actually, you can probably skip that last one…

Whatever you can do, thank you, thank you, thank you. You’re all blimming marvellous and I really hope you enjoy the book and I promise to stop banging on about it…

Till next time…

Mark

PS. Don’t forget, there’s a launch at Harbour Books on 15th Feb at 6:30– there will be cakes, wizards and I’ll be donating a pound for every copy signed and sold to Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy!

Spot UV triumph

I’m delighted to confirm that the paperback of The End of Magic will have lovely, shiny spot UV finishes that will really make it stand out on a display and look utterly gorgeous in your hot little hands. Compare these two images:

The black and white image shows where the spot UV will be…

So, just imagine this finished cover with all that spot UV shininess…

Cover art designed by Mark Ecob: http://mecob.co.uk

Hey, I’m excited! Gimme a break!

Not long now…

The End of Magic is available to pre-order now…

Cover art designed by Mark Ecob: http://mecob.co.uk

And the most amazing people have been saying very nice things about the book…

Cover Reveal for The End of Magic

Behold the cover art for The End of Magic as designed by the magnificent Mark Ecob

I’m a very happy author and this is everything I had hoped for. There’s still time to pre-order and get your name (or the name of a loved/pet/significant other) in the book and you can do that by clicking here!

Gift books for Geeks this Christmas

Geeks. We’re tricky buggers to buy for at Christmas. Yes, our loved ones might know that we like that thing with the spaceships/dragons/zombies, but where do they even start when it comes to selecting that special gift book…? Here! That’s where! Just forward this blog in the safe knowledge that whatever they get you, it’ll be awesome.

Below are some of my favourites for this Christmas*

Support your local bookshop! Order a copy of these books from them and help ensure that our High Streets thrive. However, all the links below are to Amazon UK for reasons of a) convenience, and b) I have an affiliates thing with them and I get 5% of each sale, and c) I have no shame.

Star Wars Icons – Han Solo

Just gorgeous. A chronicle of everyone’s favourite smuggler from conception to casting, through to movies, comics and novels with fold out pages, replica storyboards, little surprises tucked away in envelopes and more. This is the sort of book that’s nightmare to reprint so get in fast. Buy from Amazon.

Inside Black Mirror

Buy from Amazon

A terrific oral history and making-of book of the four series so far of Black Mirror. Compiled by Jason Arnopp, this takes you episode-by-episode with creator Charlie Brooker, Exec Producer Annabel Jones, and collaborators including Jodie Foster, Jodie Whittaker and other people not called Jodie. Essential for fans of the show.

The Incomplete History of Secret Organizations

Buy from Amazon

I’ve loved every minute of A Series of Unfortunate Events and this glorious behind the scenes book is ahead of the game with details and photos of the final series (coming in Jan 2019)… I must confess, I’ve had a glimpse and it looks as sumptuous as ever.

Star Wars Alien Archive

Buy from Amazon

Choc full of Cookies, wampas, Biths and banthas this is crammed full of proper geeky insider knowledge (Porgs have forward-facing eyes to help them catch fish, apparently) for Star Wars fans of any age and for fans of the movies, novels, cartoons and comics.

The Electric State

Buy from Amazon

Simon Stålenhag is probably best known for his crowdfunded book Tales from the Loop, which showed children playing among abandoned robots in the aftermath of a particle accelerator experiment gone wrong. The Electric State continues the post-apocalyptic theme on a journey across a ravaged America. This is sublime storytelling and a feast for the eyes (and the Russo brothers have snapped up the film rights!)

Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down

Buy from Amazon

Another incredible piece of production, this behind-the-scenes book is made to look like a well-thumbed library book, wrapped in plastic, stained and with a thorough breakdown of how the show was made and its ’80s inspirations. I saw a pre-publication copy of this at the MCM Comic Con and snapped it up there and then.

TV Geek: The Den of Geek Guide for the Netflix Generation

Buy from Amazon

I loved Simon Brew’s previous Movie Geek book, which was like my favourite nerdy movie conversations down the pub, and this is very much in the same format. Endlessly fascinating with chapter headings like Key questions raised by watching Peppa Pig, The symbolism of Peaky Blinders and Spoiler Culture and its effect on outdoor filming, and written in Den of Geek’s positive style, TV fans will lap this up.

The Books of Earthsea

Buy from Amazon

And I’ve saved the best till last. Ursula K Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea was the first fantasy I ever read. More than Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, this is what first fired my imagination when it came to magic and dragons. This complete illustrated collection, illustrated by Charles Vess, includes Le Guin’s last ever story Firelight, written when she knew she was dying. It reduced me to a sobbing wreck, and I can think of no better reason to recommend it. But just… look at it…

Buy from Amazon

*Full disclosure: some of these were donated by publishers, but only after I begged/cajoled/threatened them for copies because I really wanted them, and some I bought myself…

Proof Reading. It’s all about talking to yourself…

The proof pages for The End Of Magic arrived at the end of last week. Unbound sent them to me as a PDF, and the temptation was to read from the screen, but I was about to take a bit of advice first given to me by my friend and former audio director at Orion, Pandora White.

Pan said that, almost without fail, whenever she recorded an audiobook they would find typos and errors throughout the book. This was after the edit, the copyedit, the proof read and the final check by the author. Usually, by the time the audiobook is recorded the physical book has gone to print and it’s too late to do anything about it (until a reprint). Errors would always slip through. Except…

… when the author took the time to read the book out loud.

Page by page. Word by word.

So I figured what the hell and made a start last weekend. It’s taken me all week, muttering to myself during every lunch break at work, but it’s done the job. I’ve found 40+ errors in that time…

IMG_4195
Tools of the trade: mini Post-Its, highlighter pen, a regular pen, a bulldog clip, water for the vocals, and a strong rubber band…

They were mostly small typos and missing words, but also a few sentences that were just too long or made no bloody sense whatsoever. Had that version of the book been published I would have been kicking myself, but now my soft and plump derrière can rest safe in the knowledge that I’ve done all I can to keep it from further bruising.

And that’s it. I’ve sent the changes on a marked-up PDF and now Unbound will make those corrections before going to print.

Next – I’m hoping – will be the cover art. Much excitement and anticipation ahoy!

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