The End of Magic challenge finale…

On 9th July 2019 I made a big ol’ public 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 the big finale!

So this is Christmas, and what have you done? Sold a thousand copies of your book? Er… no. Let’s have a quick recap since my last update, and then figure out what worked and what didn’t.

You may recall that I had a bunch of promos booked for the run-up to Christmas:

And here’s how they did…

BookRunes and BookRaid – 22nd November:

Bargain Books – 4th December, then Fussy Librarian – 5th December:

The Librarian turned out to be a little too fussy…

E-reader News – 16th December:

Book Barbarian – 24th December:

Quite disappointing in the end, it has to be said. I was hoping for bigger spikes than that, and in between the promos I was running Bookbub ads to maintain what little sales momentum I had. Here’s what the daily sales look like since my last update…

Which gives a not-so-grand total of 286 copies sold since I embarked on this challenge!

A mere 714 copies shy of my target. I’m not completely sure how much I spent on ads, but it was in excess of £700… So what went wrong?

It wasn’t a series:

Something I realised very early on was that this kind of promotion is most effective when promoting a series of books. Book one is your loss leader, and you upscale with the subsequent titles in the series. All I had was a loss leader! Fellow author Ian Sainsbury summed it up here in this exchange on Facebook…

I only had one territory:

Because Unbound have the UK & Commonwealth I could only run this promo on Amazon US, and that can really hamper the effectiveness of the promotions you run. You’re much more likely to be chosen for a Bookbub newsletter promotion when you tick the “International” box, for example.

Real life happened:

I took a holiday in July, and for seven weeks between September and November I was heads down on rewrites of a screenplay and a new novel and let the marketing slip and the sales dropped to nothing. Only myself to blame, but you can’t be a writer unless you write and these are both important gigs.

Too Few Reviews:

For much of this experiment I only had six customer reviews. They were good, but most casual customers will need more convincing than that. I did change strategy to get more newsletter promotions and boosting my mailing list, and then in December Amazon decided to merge the UK and US reviews, so I now have 27 ratings with a 4.7 average.

I might be too British:

I’ve definitely had a stronger reader response from my fellow Brits. I have a writing style that’s quite wry and ironic and Brits generally enjoy that, and Americans can often find it a little baffling (this doesn’t just apply to The End of Magic, I’ve known this about my writing for a while). Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and even Monty Python have cult followings in the US when compared to their profiles in the UK, and my writing owes a lot to their influence, so I guess I’m in the same boat. I take some solace that there are plenty of writers who never cracked the States who make a very good living. I do love you, America, but it seems it was not to be (at least, with this book)…

I still don’t know who my readers are:

I can’t tell you the number of reviews that start with a variation of “I don’t normally read fantasy, but I loved this…” Here’s a few recent examples…

Knowing who your readers are is the key to driving sales. I’ve experimented with ads for fans of Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch and they’ve been very hit and miss. Nothing has made me think: that’s it! That’s my readership! So it’s entirely possible that The End of Magic falls between the cracks: not grimdark enough for Abercrombie fans, not funny enough for Pratchett readers. If anyone who’s read the book has any thoughts do please let me know!

And here we are at the end of this great experiment. I’ve learned a lot and have even more to contemplate, but thanks to everyone who’s joined me, encouraged me and — most importantly — bought and read The End of Magic. If you haven’t so far, then you can find it here.

And if you’ve just stumbled across this and want to see how it all began, here’s the first week of the challenge and there are links to the subsequent weekly updates at the end of each page.

The End of Magic challenge, week 18 – Spend, Spend, Spend!

On 9th July I made a big ol’ public 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 USAUnbound 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 eighteen!

Last week, I announced that after a long lull in activity the only way I can get anywhere close to this target is to go on a bit of a spending frenzy. I started by running some ads with Bookbub. My old artwork needed a bit of a spruce-up, and I asked the BXP Group for a recommendation and Bookbrush came up again and again, so I had a little play…

Don’t bother trying to enlarge these as they have to be weeny as per Bookbub’s criteria.
The free account on Bookbrush gives you three free images per month, but you can upgrade to an unlimited account if you wish (and I think I will).

I started with the James Barclay ad, and lo and behold, I got a few sales…

I started running ads at $10 per day, following the guidelines in the David Gaughran’s excellent book on Bookbub ads, alternating between the Abercrombie and the Barclay. Sales weren’t stratospheric — a couple a day — but they were moving again.

I also have to thank the gang on the BXP Team for recommending various book promo sites they had used in the past. Astonishingly, I’ve not tried any of these before, so I’ve really gone for it now, booking a bunch of them in the run-up to Christmas:

The first one of these ran a few days ago with Bookrunes and Bookraid on 22nd Nov. I stopped all Bookbub ads in order to see what effect the promo had on sales (drumroll, please…)

Meh…

Well, it’s better than nothing. And there were a couple of sales the day after. There’s also a charge per click…

No profits to boast of, but we knew that didn’t we? I’ve still not resumed the Bookbub ads to see if the promo has a longer tail, but nothing so far. I’ll think I’ll spruce up the artwork again and resume the Bookbub ads until the next promo with Bargain Booksy on 4th December.

The BXP Team also recommended Kindle Countdown Deals, but because I had already discounted the title before applying I don’t meet their criteria. Besides, Amazon have had enough of my money already.

Jack Logan also got in touch to recommend using Etsy, which hadn’t occurred to me before, but might be a good way to shift a few signed copies of the paperback before Christmas.

Here are the sales since last week…

Y’know what, that’s not bad. The best week since I started… and all it took was a ton of money. Hmm. Of course, I need to be doing these sorts of numbers on a daily basis to meet my target — there are 29 days till Christmas, I’ve sold 171 copies and need to sell 829. That’s 29 per day!

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 (especially on those big fantasy reading groups on Facebook, please!)

Leave an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads.

Until next time…

HERE’S THE FINAL WEEK – DID I DO IT??

Joe Abercrombie A Little Hatred giveaway

THIS GIVEAWAY HAS NOW CLOSED! THANKS TO ALL WHO ENTERED

I’m giving away a proof/ARC copy of Joe Abercrombie’s A Little Hatred. To be in with a chance of getting your hands on it, simply sign up to my newsletter here before 23:59 UK time on Saturday 31st August. Full terms and conditions are here. Good luck!

A few things to note…

This is a proof/advanced reading copy sent to me by the good folk at Gollancz, and not the finished book. That’s coming in September and I have a signed copy on order from Waterstones!

This copy has been read… by me! I took it with me to Dublin and back and have been reading it all week (so it’s a little ragged around the edges). And I rather liked it…

Click here for full terms and conditions.

The End of Magic challenge, week 5

On 9th July I made a big ol’ public 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…

FOR THE NEXT INSTALMENT CLICK HERE

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!

FOR THE NEXT INSTALMENT CLICK HERE

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’ public 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…

FOR THE NEXT INSTALMENT CLICK 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.

Are you looking for feedback on your novel or screenplay? sending to agents? I offer all kinds of services for writers at all stages in their careers. There are more details here and get in touch now for a free ten minute Skype consultation and a quote.

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…

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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.

The Copy Edits Are Done…

After two rounds, the copy edits on my fantasy novel The End of Magic are done. I was so happy to get Lisa Rogers as the copy editor. Lisa worked on Robot Overlords and I loved her attention to detail, her forensic knowledge of the English language and all its wonderful nuances, but most of all I loved how she saved me from looking like a complete and utter numpty on countless occasions.

A copy editor (sometimes known as a line editor) will check and format your punctuation and grammar, but will also highlight continuity problems, factual errors, inconsistencies and timeline issues. For this book, the timeline was the real bugger. I had characters having breakfast when they should’ve been having supper, I had a character sneaking into a camp to look through a telescope at the stars… in the middle of the day… and, in a first for me, I had a character wander around with their genitals hanging out for all to see after having a pee…

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Next comes the proof read, where a new set of eyes will find even more errors. Writing a novel is essentially a process whereby you fail a little less each time, until you reach something that’s not quite perfection, but at least won’t be a tedious collection of typos.

Another exciting development was the cover questionnaire that arrived this week. Unbound’s art department asked me for details about the book, the characters, the settings etc. They also wanted a list of comparable books in the same genre, and a mood board of images. Luckily for me, I’ve been keeping a private Pinterest board for this book since I started writing it and I blogged about book covers a while ago, so I was able to ping these back fairly quickly. It’ll be fascinating to see what they come up with… don’t believe any of that “Don’t judge a book by its cover” nonsense. It will be crucial to get this right.

The good news is we’re still on schedule for a February release. Pre-order now and tell your friends!

 

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