Never meet your heroes (except when they’re awesome)

The podcast is a real treat this week as I got to interview a couple of my TV writing heroes. Rob Grant is co-creator of the legendary science fiction comedy series Red Dwarf, and Andrew Marshall is probably best known for the sitcom Two Point Four Children, though my favourite show of his was a black comedy he co-wrote with David Renwick called If You See God, Tell Him… It was so pitch black that it was only ever screened once, here’s a horrifying trailer…

 

Rob and Andrew have been working on The Quanderhorn Xperimentations. A very funny parody of The Quatermass Xperiment, which they’ve produced as a BBC radio comedy and as a novel. I was lucky enough to speak to them at the MCM Comic Con in London recently and it was like my own personal comedy writing masterclass. Luckily, I recorded it for you, dear listener, so you can hear the podcast here, which includes an exclusive clip from the audiobook.

There’s a busy month ahead on the podcast, and we have some fantastic authors, including a 90-year-old eBook pioneer. Here’s a quick trailer…

 


So don’t miss out and subscribe on your podcatcher of choice!

Also this week I interviewed Sam Missingham. She runs Lounge Books, which provides expert marketing advice for authors both indie and trad for £10 per month. The episode is absolutely fascinating and won’t go live for about a month, but our Patreon supporters will be getting the episode later this week. It’s so good I want them to hear it right away (once Dave has done the editing bit!). Check out our Patreon page here.

Oh, and I’ve had a few people tell how sorry they are that they missed the crowdfunding for The End of Magic. To them, and to you, I say YOU CAN STILL PRE-ORDER THE BOOK AND GET YOUR NAME IN IT AND ALL SORTS OF OTHER COOL STUFF. Just click here and hit “Pledge” – thank you!

The Benefits of Being a Squeaky Hinge (as opposed to being unhinged)

What a week… firstly I went with the Gollancz gang to Secret Cinema’s Blade Runner, an incredible immersive experience that I’m still thinking about now. You can read about what happened (including my arrest and interrogation) here!

I also had a great time at the Herne Bay Sci-Fi By The Sea convention at the weekend. Not only was I with my brothers-in-ink Kit Cox and Thom Burgess, but it had a wonderful family atmosphere and I sold and signed quite a few books. I hope to return next year.

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Some of you might understandably cry, “You jammy sod, how do you get those cushy gigs?” Well, one thing I’ve learned over the years is to be a bit shameless and make a bit of noise, and I’ve tried to apply this to every avenue of life, and generally it works. Back when I was starting out as an actor, a friend put me in touch with the film director Vadim Jean. Vadim was hot off Leon the Pig Farmer and, incredibly, he returned my call… but I was out. He left a message with my dad to call back. I had already summoned up all my courage to have left a message for him in the first place, and a weird crippling shyness and fear prevented me from calling him again, and so I never did… God only knows what opportunities I missed because I felt that I was being a needy pain. It’s something I did a few more times in my youth, and I never really remedied it until I had a bit of success and younger writers started contacting me for advice! I was delighted and only too pleased to give whatever encouragement I could to steer them in the right direction… They weren’t being a pain. They were starting out and were bold enough to ask for a bit of help. Ever since I’ve overcome any doubts and been the first to volunteer myself for all sorts of endeavours. It’s one of the reasons I’m presenting a podcast, it’s how I got my agents, it’s how I summoned the nerve to invite myself to various comic cons and pretend to be in Blade Runner.

The world will not come to me, so I need to make a bit of noise to attract its attention.

The same rule applies for my agents and work life: book, TV and film people already have far too much to do, but if you want their attention you need to be a bit of a squeaky hinge. Not too taxing, not rude or obnoxious, but the squeaky hinge that can be sorted quickly so they can get on with their other stuff. Just this week, I politely chased a TV production company for an update and, as a result, I have a meeting with a director next week that could prove to be life-changing (or it could just be a nice chat over coffee… who knows?).

As I discovered with the Blade Runner experience, the more you put into something, the more you’ll get out. Be bold!

Speaking of bold, if you haven’t pre-ordered my fantasy novel, The End of Magic you can do it right now and still get your name in the book. Click here!

And you can download a short story set in the same universe. In How Drust Krax Lost Two Fingers you meet the novel’s main antagonist and it’s all seen from the POV of a defeated warlord who awaits execution, but also really, really needs to use the privvy… It’s available exclusively for my newsletter subscribers, and you can sign up for that here!

Until next time!

Mark

A free short story!

Ahead of the publication of The End of Magic (and while I wait for the dreaded edit notes to come back) I’ve been writing a short story set in the same world.

How Drust Krax Lost Two Fingers introduces the novel’s main villain Haldor Frang, and it’s told from the point of view of the hapless Drust Krax. A defeated warlord, awaiting certain death, who really, really needs to use the privvy…

I’m offering it first and exclusively to anyone who subscribes to my newsletter! To download a copy for your Kindle or any other eReader device, just sign-up here.

Please note: I’ve had all my GDPR jabs and I will never sell your information on to any third parties. It’s all safely tucked away by Mailchimp!

Big thanks to Jack Logan and Julian Barr for reading my early drafts the story, taking them down a dark alley and giving them a good kicking. Thanks also to Kit Cox for the map image used on the cover art.

I really enjoyed writing it and can’t wait to hear what you think of it!

In other news, I spoke to the wonderful Gareth L Powell on the podcast this week. We discussed the slow death of Facebook and how to sing a space opera. Listen here.

There’s also a fab Deep Dive on adaptation this week with Julian Barr (second mention in the blog today). One of us has a PhD. It won’t take you long to figure out which one of us doesn’t… You can listen to a teaser here.

And I’m on BBC Radio Kent tonight (or in the past, depending on when you read this). I’ll be talking to Dominic King on his new arts show about the podcast, Robot Overlords, The End of Magic and more. Listen or catch-up here.

Dominic King

Son of a Beach

It’s been a fun week with a trip to the beach at Whitstable to interview Julie Wassmer. I had hoped to get some lovely audio atmosphere with waves lapping on shingle and gulls screeching overhead, but the tide was out so I had to settle for a gentle breeze buffeting the microphone. Fortunately, Julie is great fun to chat to and she told me all about working on EastEnders, bumping off the locals in her novels, and why all writers should live in fear of a cup of tea and bacon sandwich. Listen here.

I finished the John Yorke Story for Screenwriting course. 16 weeks of pretty intense work. Was it worth it? Check out my thinkings over here…

I also got to visit Hachette’s new warehouse in Didcot. While this may not sound like everyone’s idea of a fun day out, I did get to ride on one of their pickers, which went some 25 metres in the air and the queues were shorter than Disney…

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Getting a lift in the new Hachette warehouse…

A post shared by Mark Stay (@mark.stay) on

Also, if anyone’s concerned that print books are on the decline, this vast palace of storage and hi-tech distribution should allay those fears. This place was built to pump books out into the world and they’ve left plenty of room for expansion.

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I finished a short story this week. It’s a prequel to The End of Magic in which we meet our antagonist. My agent Ed read it and enjoyed it, though he did have one note: “Maybe the humour could be a little less lavatorial…? But that’s probably my shit to deal with.”

I do seem to have a thing about bodily functions… What do you say? Should I take this crap?

Also, I’m going to be on the new Dominic King arts show on BBC Radio Kent next Tuesday 12th at around 8pm. He asked me to put together a montage of voices from the podcast, which I did, but I’ve also made a “Guess the voice” quiz, which you can play here

Till next time!

Mark

Five things I learned crowdfunding with Unbound books

After 90 days of crowdfunding I am absolutely over the moon that my fantasy novel The End of Magic is now fully funded at Unbound Books and will be published most likely in early 2019!

My agent mentioned Unbound early on in the process, and the thing that really grabbed my attention was that I would be working with the editor Simon Spanton. Simon is a legend in science fiction and fantasy. I knew him from his time at Gollancz where he worked with the likes of Richard Morgan (Altered Carbon), Joe Abercrombie (The Blade Itself) and Scott Lynch (The Lies of Locke Lamora). The opportunity to work with Simon was too good to pass up.

“Let’s do it!” I said.
“There’s a catch,” my agent replied. “You have to raise about four grand… in ninety days…”
“Me?! I can barely scrape together my rail fare, how am I supposed to raise four grand?”
“You know lots of people, you’ll be fine.”

This is how Unbound works: by crowdfunding the production and editorial costs of every book they publish, not only does the book build its own readership, but it’s also profitable on the day of publication. Very few publishers can claim that these days.

All I had to do was raise £4000 (actually about five and a half grand before VAT) in 90 days.

Like most Brits I can be queasy when it comes to just talking about money, and like most Brits I am in danger of spontaneously combusting when it comes to asking another person for money. So I knew that I would find this whole process difficult, but I seem to have become this experimental author by accident so I figured what the hell and grasped the nettle.

So, dear reader, should you dare to venture on a similar quest here are a few of the things I learned from my Unbound Crowdfunding experience that you might find helpful…

1. It’s personal

You’re going to have to contact an awful lot of people, but you must avoid any blanket blind-copy-all emails. This needs a personal touch. You need to draw up a list of everyone you know, everyone you’ve ever emailed, everyone you know on Facebook, and put them on a pledge grid (a secure one in these days of GDPR!). I created columns for:

Name
email
Contacted?
Chased?
Pledged?
Signal boost?
Notes

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This will be your bible for the whole of the campaign. Save it on your desktop and open it every day, because this thing is going to take over your life a bit…

2. Set targets

After the initial flurry of pledges from close friends and family I had a first day total of 5% pledged. I reckoned that if I targeted myself 1% per day that I would make the total within the recommended 90 day period. I figured that it took an average of four or five pledges per day to make my target. Of course, not all pledges are equal (I had some options for £150, £250, £300) but the great majority would be for the paperback, so use that as your average pledge amount.

I referred to the pledge grid on a daily basis, working through the names and sending each individual a template email topped and tailed with personal details:

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Some stats:

38% of my pledges came direct to the site. That is, from links that I sent to people. Only 8% came from the mailings that Unbound send to over 40,000 people. The remainder were variations on mail referalls from Facebook and email links that I sent. It became clear very early on that this book wasn’t going to fund itself!

Oh, and have a cheerleader! Someone you can brag to about your daily total and celebrate the milestones with. In my case it was Simon…

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3. Polite persistence

If there’s anything worse than asking for money, it’s asking for it twice… or three times… or four. What started as crowdfunding became borderline harrasment.

Timing is key: if you’re writing to colleagues then don’t ask for money a week before payday when they’re skint… ask on payday when they’re flush!

And don’t be shy about asking for help when you’re close to a milestone. These were the most effective mailings and Tweets:

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And always remember to thank them when you hit those milestones…

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One problem that threw me was how some people struggled with the idea of crowdfunding. I’ve supported a few myself, so was already familiar with the concept, but quite a few people couldn’t get their heads around why I needed money to edit, produce and print a book (let alone write it and pay an artist and designer for the cover art). Make it clear how it works in a pithy way. Luckily, Unbound provided a handy page explaining it all.

4. Social media won’t do it alone

Very few of my Tweets or RTs resulted in direct pledges. However, there is an old marketing maxim that we have to see something at least seven times before we’re prompted to purchase, and I lost count of the number of times that people told me they were reminded to pledge after a Tweet or a Facebook update. This made their eventual pledge a combination of:

initial email + update + social = pledge.

My regular updates were key. I updated on the Unbound page, on my blog and social media and celebrated every milestone. This was a gentle way to remind those who hadn’t pledged that this thing was still a going concern. It also helped those who had already pledged to take ownership of the project: they were involved in something fun, they had skin in the game, and were as determined as I was to make it work as I work. This has been the most rewarding part of the project: having pledgers bang the drum. It’s a great feeling!

I did dabble with Facebook ads. Don’t bother. A complete waste of time and money. You’ll be better off spending that money pledging yourself!

Oh, and I have to confess that I did resort to this a couple of times. I knew that I would get a mailing from Unbound when I hit 50% and after a couple of days of non-activity I thought screw it and pledged for 5 copies (I can sign and sell them at events/conventions later). This nudged me to 50%, got me the mailing and gave the campaign a boost… Just don’t make a habit of it! It kind of defeats the object.

5. It’s not personal

Don’t be offended when people say no… Okay, allow yourself a moment a rage, but then get over yourself. Though, some of the excuses for not pledging did make me laugh:

Friend, “I don’t read fantasy fiction.”
Me, “You don’t have to read it, just gimme the money!”
Friend, “Hmm… Nah.”

Friend, “Sorry, I’m funding my own project.”
Me, “Cool. I had no idea. Let me have a link and we can pledge to each others’ projects. Let’s help each other out.”
Friend… <tumbleweed>

Friend, “Yeah, I promise to pledge!”
90 days later…  <tumbleweed>

Never forget that people have busy lives and it’s astonishing these days when money is tight that anyone hands over their money. Be grateful for every penny.

Once again, a huge thanks to everyone who pledged (some of them more than once, some of them to the tune of hundreds of pounds!), and those who spread the word, banged the drum, cornered strangers at parties, and wrote the theme tune and created a mini trailer that I used pretty much every day… okay that last one’s pretty specific, but thanks Dom!

A quick note on videos – you’re asked to produce one when you start with Unbound. I made mine with my kids and it was lots of fun, but it was only after I added subtitles that we started getting better engagement. Most people watch social media vids with the sound down, so it’s worth the extra effort…

What’s next? Well, edits, revisions, repeat and rinse, then copy edits, proofreading, choosing the cover art and then sending this baby out into the real world.

Oh, and you can keep pledging! More money means we can spend more on the cover art and finishes (spot laminate on the cover would be lovely, thank you) and of course you’ll get your name in the book. So pre-order now!

I hope you found that useful and if you have any further queries, then do please drop me a line below and I’ll do my best to answer them and good luck with your own project!

 

UPDATE: I got to speak to Unbound’s Head of Crowdfunding Jimmy Leach on the podcast, and it’s full of great info, so be sure to check it out here.

For regular writing tips, news and other stuff to help a writer get through the day, sign-up to my monthly newsletter, and grab a FREE eBook while you’re at it!

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The End of Magic is 100% funded! Now where’s my bloody book…?

It happened overnight while I was sleeping, but one of you beautiful people nudged me over the finish line with less than 24 hours to go. Here I am getting all excited after breakfast…

A massive thank you to you everyone who pledged (some of you more than once!), banged the drum and kept the faith – this has been an incredible experience and a massive learning curve.

Already I’ve had a few messages from you asking when the book might come out. Well, it is written but will need an edit, then revisions from me, then maybe a second edit, followed by more revisions, then the copy edit, more revisions, then a proof read, more revisions, and then we need to sort out the cover art and schedule a publication date.

Based on my own experience in publishing I reckon we might be looking at early next year, but I’ve yet to properly liaise with the Unbound team, so I’ll update as soon as I hear from them.

Again, thank you all and here’s to the next stage!

All the best,

Mark

PS. The funding doesn’t end here. If you haven’t pledged yet, you still can! Do it now while you can still get your name in the book.

£519 to go on the End of Magic

There’s about a week to go until the 90 days of pledging are up and there’s just £519 to raise for my fantasy novel The End of Magic.

That’s roughly…

  • 52 pledges for the £10 eBook
  • 35 pledges for the paperback
  • 26 Patron paperback pledges (you get your name in the front)
  • 21 ‘For a friend’ pledges (you get two copies),
  • 11 Robot Overlords pledges
  • or just 7 of the five-copy bundles! (Why not go crazy and by a bunch for your fantasy fiction friends?).

This is it – the last push to make this happen: click here and hit that beautiful blue PLEDGE button!

Thank you and a huge bearhug for all you beauties who’ve pledged already!

Mark

 

80% and 200 backers, but I’m lost… does anyone have a map…?

The End of Magic is 80% funded! Wallop and thank you… Though I’ve not had a single pledge in the last few days, and I’ve contacted everyone I know (twice) and chased everyone who hasn’t pledged (two or three times) and what was fundraising is now bordering on harrassment! But all is not lost, and I’m hoping to make an exciting announcement very soon…

Please keep spreading the word!

All the best,

Mark

The End of Magic: 78%, 69 days and 196 backers…

Just a quick update, but another big thank you to everyone who’s pledged so far – you’re all scientifically proven to be more gorgeous, intelligent and frankly awesome than those who have yet to pledge… That’s science. You can’t deny that. Why not join their ranks and help me make it to 200 backers? Click here and hit that big blue ‘Pledge’ button.

Oh, and here’s me reading an excerpt if you like to try before you buy…

You may have seen some online chatter about this book’s editor Simon Spanton being made redundant from Unbound. Here’s the story on the Bookseller: https://www.thebookseller.com/news/unbound-makes-four-editors-redundant-due-cost-cutting-773346

Simon is a top bloke, and a fantastic editor with an incredible track record, and he was the main reason that I decided to go with Unbound for this book. I have been assured that Simon should still be able to work on the book, a) once all the redundancy negotiations are over in about a month’s time, and b) should he choose to do so.

Whatever happens, I will do everything I can to ensure that this book will be as good as it possibly can be. If you have any concerns do please leave a comment below, or drop me a line and I’ll get back to you with the answers.

Until next time, thanks again for all your magnificent support!

 

Mark

Surviving your first year as a debut author with Ed McDonald

I had the pleasure of speaking to the superb Ed McDonald on the podcast this week. Ed talks very honestly about his first year as a professional author, achieving his dream of getting published, and then he asks the question, “What next?” It’s a very revealing chat and you can listen here.

I was over the moon to see my friend Deborah Haywood’s movie Pin Cushion premiere at the East End Film Festival last weekend. It’s funny, dark, and cat lady mad with a brilliant cast. Have a look at the trailer here.

And if you’re looking for a major time suck, the BBC have opened up their sound effects archives for non-commercial use. There’s some really freaky stuff available for your delight. Listen to this doll singing Oranges and Lemons and tell me you won’t be sleeping with the lights on tonight…Oh, and I’m 77% funded on The End of Magic with less than a month to go! If you’ve not pledged already, now would be a wonderful time to do it. Just click here and hit that lovely blue pledge button.

Till next time, happy writing!

Mark