How’s the new normal going for you?

To say that things are weird at the moment would be the understatement of the 21st century and I’ve been meaning to update the blog for about two weeks now, but the time never quite felt right.

I’m sure you’ve all seen social media posts and blogs urging folk to “start writing that novel, there’s never been a better time”, but I’ll be honest with you, I really struggled to concentrate on writing those first few weeks.

Apart from the world going topsy turvy, I had also just finished some intense final draft work on a screenplay, so I was pretty wiped anyway… but I’m back in the groove now, and the thing that’s really helped me is using the BXP2020 challenge method of just 200 words a day. That little and often method really helps build a habit, especially if you’re picking it up again after a bit of time off. 

That said, if you’re not in the mindset to work, you should give yourself permission to take a vacation from creativity.These are crazy days and no time to be pressurising yourself.

WATCH, LISTEN & READ

What I’m watching…

My daughter Emily and I recently finished a months-long Game of Thrones marathon. My second time, her first. I don’t care what you say, that final season is magnificent and all the more effective when you give it a seven-season run-up. 

Picard was an emotional rollercoaster and yes, parts of the ending were silly (I see Trek has fallen into the same “More spaceships! More! More!!!” bear trap that Rise of Skywalker opened), but a simple scene of a final farewell between two old friends was more engaging than any number of starships.

I’m three episodes into The Mandalorian (we only just got Disney+ in the UK) and it’s exactly what I want from my Star Wars — just the right mix of Western steeliness, blaster action, strange creatures, childish cuteness, wry humour and jetpacks. All the jetpacks.

Emily and I are also one episode away from the Locke & Key finale, which reminds me…

What I’m reading…

I recently re-read the Locke & Key comics by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez and it’s fascinating to contrast them with the Netflix show, which is appealingly YA in its tone. The comics can be much more nihilistic (particularly with the villains who regularly murder innocents in the comics, but are slightly more sympathetic on TV). I wonder if that indicates a change in Joe and Gabriel’s work since the comics, or simply what it took to unlock it for TV?

I’ve also been researching for various projects. Lots of magic and witchcraft. The Occult, Witchcraft & Magic by Christopher Dell is a wonderful illustrated history, and The Book of English Magic by Philip Carr-Gomm & Richard Heygate is thorough without taking itself too seriously.

I’ve also been reading Tempest, the final volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill. Story-wise it’s not as satisfying as the previous adventures, but the concept of adopting different styles of comics through the ages is ingenious.

What I’m listening to…

I’ve really gone back to basics during the lockdown. Lots of Beatles and Floyd — stuff I can sing along with. While writing this I had on Matt Berry’s TV Themes (tons of nostalgia dipped in acid jazz) and Mozart’s Requiem (weirdly soothing).

I’m also listening to… other people! Before the Corona-crisis I would put off phone calls, knowing I would catch up with people sooner or later. Now I’m taking calls all day, often with old friends I haven’t spoken to in yonks. One of the positives in all this madness.

Leaving the plugs till last…

A couple of my books are on offer at the moment…

In the UK, Back to Reality is 99p in the Kindle March sale. Just a few days left!

Also in the UK, the eBook of Robot Overlords is 99p for the foreseeable future. I asked Gollancz to do this as the opening of the book — where everyone in the world is confined to their homes — seemed somewhat apt. Here’s me reading from it over on my Facebook page. It’s available on KindleAppleKobo and Google.

 Oh, and here’s an important message from our Robot Overlords.

Finally, if you want your book edited, copy-edited, proofread, or just want a reader’s report, reply to this email and we’ll get the ball rollingI have all sorts of services for writers and I have plenty of time on my hands (that won’t last, by the way… I’ve recently had some news about some TV, film and book projects that will make me a very busy boy in the second half of this year!).

Hang in there…


This won’t end overnight. We’re in this for the long run. Weeks at least, months most likely. But together we’ll get through this. I usually sign off emails with “All the best” or “Speak soon”, but lately I’ve been using…

Stay safe and healthy,

Mark

The End of Magic is a year old today (and here are the diaries to prove it)

Good gravy, can The End of Magic really be a year old already? I guess if you’ve been keeping up with the blog and me constantly banging on about it, it must feel more like a decade, but as I get older the years become more of a blur and it’s good to take stock occasionally.

Below are some select diary entries from around the time of publication, along with a few asides to put them in perspective. Once again, a huge thank you to everyone who supported the book. It would not have been possible without you.

Monday 28th January

The End of Magic has arrived!

My finished copies were delivered this afternoon and I’m very happy with them. They’re reassuringly chunky, the spot UV on the cover will help them stand out, and the cover art is magnificent in the flesh.

Claire and Emily helped with a little social media video where we played out the where George McFly gets his books and I’m happy to say it’s getting lots of love online.

Wednesday 30th January

A good writing start this morning, but when I had a mid-morning cuppa I checked social media and discovered that folk were getting their copies of The End of Magic! There followed a day of social media madness as the good people who pledged for the book sent photos and congratulations. It was euphoric, overwhelming, and I could get very used to it.

I have an email dated 5th February where I inform Unbound that a reader noticed two typos. This is pretty standard with any book, despite all the proofreading. We fixed the eBooks pronto.

Wednesday 6th February

No writing today for two reasons…

  1. It’s publication tomorrow and there’s all sorts of bits of social media to prepare, and…
  2. My MacBook went kaput yesterday. The keyboard and trackpad wouldn’t respond.

I took it to Stormfront this afternoon and the guy held it up to his ear. “I think there’s something rattling about in there,” he said. He ran a diagnostic, restored it a few times and it was fine. Phew.

Friday 8th February 2019

The End of Magic is out now!

Well, yesterday… Quite an exhausting day yesterday, so let’s take it one step at a time.

Yes, the book is out and off to a good start with reviews: three five-star reviews on Amazon, and a four and a five on Goodreads.

I had a day in London yesterday, starting with an attempt at uploading all kinds of social media for the book via the wifi at Waterstones, Tottenham Court Road. It was too slow to the point of stopping, so I took myself off to the Byron at Farringdon where I was meeting Graeme (author Gray Williams) for lunch, got there early and gobbled up most of my spare data using the hotspot on my phone*

*It still astonishes me how much money I spend on data

(After lunch I met with two of my uncles who showed me where they grew up with my dad. We’ll skip that bit!)

After that I met with writer and comedian Caimh McDonnell. We’re both Ed Wilson’s clients and Caimh is a fan of the podcast. I interviewed him and we had a good chat and drink afterwards. He’s a great guy — generous and funny.

And finally I made my way to the Inn on the Court for Gollancz drinks. Great to catch up with Gavin Smith, Chris Wooding, Ed Cox and Joe Hill.*

*Yes, I do shameless namedropping even in my own diary. It’s partly why I started a diary. I kept meeting amazing people and then forgetting that I met them.

Told you, my memory is like a sieve.

This morning I put together a couple of ad campaigns and caught up on emails.

Tonight, Claire and I went to Vicky Newham’s book launch at Harbour Books and chatted with Vicky and her editor Clio.

It was around this time that I discovered that Unbound had published the eBook with two of the chapters in the wrong order! A bit of a panic as I kept readers updated, while Unbound made the fix. To be fair, they were pretty quick about it.

Thursday 14th February

Tonight I drove down to Tunbridge Wells for the Dominic King show (on BBC Radio Kent) and I got to plug the book and tomorrow’s launch big time. Also started to notice that complete strangers are mentioning me and The End of Magic and saying nice things. Exciting stuff!

Saturday 16th February

Last night was the launch party for The End of Magic and I’m still coming down from the giddy high it gave me.

Claire made amazing cupcakes, George handed them out and charmed the crowd (Yes! A crowd — 20+ people), and Emily live-streamed it and did cool time-lapse videos.

Rich Boarman — The Steam Wizard! — was there with Steam Witch Katie, and the Steam Sorcerer Andrew, and they stood by the door of Harbour Books getting admiring honks from passing cars and drawing the punters in.

Rich, Andrew and Katie and I’m wielding the staff that Rich made to commemorate the launch.

(There’s a bit here where I name people who turned up, but I’m bound to have forgotten someone, so I’m leaving it out here)

I gave a speech thanking basically everyone I know, I read a short extract, and I offered to donate a pound for every copy sold to Nordoff Robbins as part of Jason Ritchie’s 50 Gigs in a Day event (we raised forty quid!).

It was overwhelming. Olivia (from Harbour Books) said it was one of the best and busiest launches they could remember.

Once we figured out how to fit the magic staff in the car — it had been presented to me at the start of the event by Rich, and it is magnificent! — we went for chips.

What an incredible evening.

Saturday 23rd February

Faversham Literary Festival

In the evening I was back for my event with David John Griffin. We had about twenty people and it was good event with excellent questions. We started selling our own books, but then the room was swamped by bloody poets turning up for their open mic session, so few people could actually get close to us… Which was not conducive to sales.

It was around this time that I started planning to self-publish The End of Magic in the US. Unbound don’t have much of a presence there, and I fancied self-publishing it after my experiences with Back to Reality. This had all been agreed at the contract stage with Unbound, but they still fed their edition out to the world, including the US. Having seen this sort of thing happen many times when I was Orion, I knew it was a simple fix and I asked Unbound to sort the feed. They promptly did… but also accidentally removed it from the UK Amazon store… This was after a successful AMS ad campaign that placed it in the top 100 Fantasy titles. It never really got the same momentum again. Sigh.

Friday 8th March

I sent a signed a contract to Amazon for The End of Magic, finally proving that I have US rights, so with any luck I can get that live soon, too.

And thus ended a barrage of emails between me, Unbound and Amazon sorting the rights situation. Would I do it again? Possibly, but it was a right old faff and accidentally removing the book from Amazon was a real blow. Amazon’s algorithms were behind me, I was making my up the charts and becoming more and more visible and then… nothing. Ah well. Onwards. Upwards.

The question I get asked the most is will there be a sequel. Probably not. At least, not with Unbound. As publisher, they have first dibs on any sequels and I don’t fancy going through the fundraising process again, lest I become like that guy in the office who goes on a 5k charity fun run every few months and expects you to donate every time (that said, I am mulling over the idea of doing a Kickstarter for something very different). I have ideas for a sequel, but I had planned for the book to work as a stand-alone, which is does.

The biggest surprise is how many reviews I get that say, “I don’t normally read fantasy, but I really enjoyed this.” That’s my market. Which might explain why it’s been so blooming difficult trying to target them with ads to keep the sale momentum.

But I must stop griping. Overall, The End of Magic has been a terrific experience. I had great editors, fantastic cover art, and incredible support from readers.

Thank you all!

If you want to buy The End of Magic, it’s available from all the usual places, and also here.

Want to get Published? Here’s how…

UPDATE: It looks like this is being bumped to later in the year. You can click on this link to get reminders.

Writers! Want to get published? Course you do… Then come and join me and a bunch of amazing people at Foyles, Charing Cross Road, London on Saturday 8th February for the Publishing Talk one day masterclass for writers…

This was great fun last year, and perfect for any writers who are serious about getting publishing. There’s a great line up this year…

  • Bec Evans, productivity expert, co-founder of Prolifiko and and author of How to Have a Happy Hustle
  • Nicola May, Number one bestselling self-published author of 10 novels including The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay
  • Scott Pack, publisher, editor and author of How to Perfect Your Sumbission
  • Bella Pagan, editorial director, Pan Macmillan
  • Jon Reed, founder of Publishing Talk and author of Get Up to Speed with Online Marketing
  • Debbie Young, self-published author and Author Advice Centre Manager, the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi)

And me! I’ll be talking about the most important things I’ve learned from over 250 episodes of the podcast and the BXP2020 challenge.

Get 20% off your tickets here!

One Year On as a Freelancer… and a Confession…

I’ve been at this freelance malarkey for a year now and I’m somehow still solvent. The principles of what I learned earlier this year remain the same, but I have a confession…

I started applying for jobs.

Y’know, jobs with salaries and pensions and commutes and all the stuff I had consigned to the past when I found myself suddenly self-unemployed. Why? Because the banks insist I pay back this mortgage thingy, and suppliers will insist that I pay for goods and services. Unbelievable, eh?

Around mid-October I started to panic. It was very clear that the money was draining faster than it was being replaced and that I would run out of dosh just in time for Christmas.

Here’s the thing: I have a TV show in development, a feature film script with a great director attached, I have three novels published and one about to go out on submission. I’ve had my best year ever as a writer since Robot Overlords was released but, crucially, none of these gigs are paying anything like a living wage.

If the TV show happens I’m off to the races, but TV is high-risk business. Big budgets mean slow progress. I’ve been paid an option plus renewal (a couple of grand). The same risk and speed applies to the film script, though this is a spec script and it hasn’t paid a penny yet. Books move marginally faster, but the advances and royalties have a long way to go before they pay the bills.

I’ve tried getting TV writing work, but still have a long way to go before I have the kind of contacts who will hire me (a lot of it word-of-mouth/who-you-know). Again, there’s a high risk factor. TV is expensive, and me having made a movie and a stack of spec scripts doesn’t seem to be enough for TV producers to take a chance.

It was becoming clear that writing — the thing that took up most of my working day — wasn’t going to keep me in the manner in which I was accustomed…

I believe the word is “louche”…

And so my mind defaulted to the thing I knew was safe and certain: a job with a salary.

I began scouring the Bookseller and other publishing work agencies for jobs. Preferably for some sort maternity/paternity cover that would tide me over till the TV/Film/Book big time happened (stop sniggering at the back – it’ll happen). I applied for a number of jobs that I was perfect for. I had the experience they needed and I was ready to start immediately. What could possibly go wrong?

Warning: the next few paras will make me sound like a grumpy old man, but I can only speak from my own experience as a grumpy old man…

Nobody wanted me! I had interviews, sure, but the language of job vacancy copy is quite revealing. They blurb excitedly of dynamism and enthusiasm and pro-active-ness, but when you get to my age that all sounds exhausting. Whatever happened to a safe pair of hands? Someone who will come in and do the job to the best of their ability with a smile on their face and not set fire to the place??

Also, middle-aged folk don’t come cheap. We expect to be paid well, unlike the poor Millennials who have all been duped into taking a pittance and expected to work all hours. In the interviews I was treated like a curiosity. A survivor of the digital wars of the early 2000s, and one that would probably answer back occasionally, take an hour for lunch, and leave on time every day. Okay, yes, I guess it was my attitude that lost me the jobs, but there’s also a definite bias against middle-aged-grumps-who-don’t-take-any-crap in publishing. I’m shocked, I tell you. Shocked.

I also had a couple of replies telling me they’d read my CV and that I was a successful writer and grossly overqualified. If only they knew.

I think this was all publishing’s way of telling me that it was done with me.

Rant over.

The mind begins to reel when confronted with a black hole of uncertainty.

I’ve been skint before. I’ve been unemployed before, but not when I’ve been the one paying the mortgage. I’ve been massively overdrawn and in debt before, but I had the security of a monthly salary to at least rob Peter to pay Paul (with interest). I’ve never been in a situation when there was literally no more money coming in and yet here I was. Bear in mind, while all this was going there was a disastrous election, Brexit loomed like a cloud of poison gas, and humanity’s inability to get to grips with climate change made one entertain thoughts of selling-up and digging a large bunker in the Outer Hebrides.

What can you do but persist? I kept applying for jobs and touting for editorial work. The editorial stuff started coming in and that was good, but it was a few hundred quid here and there. Not enough to keep my head above water.

And then, quite unexpectedly, I got a job! It’s a book sales job, it’s dealing with Amazon and it’s with a fun indie publisher called Rat’s Tales selling some very cool thrillers (seriously, if you like a bit old-school Bond-meets-Jack Higgins-style adventure, check these out!). The wage is about half what I need to keep the wolf from the door, but it’s fun, they’re a great bunch and I can work from home.

I’m learning to live with uncertainty.

I’ve been scared of it for too long and now I’m challenging it to an arm wrestle in a crowded bar. Wish me luck…

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.

10 Productivity Tips For Writers

On the most recent live show of the Bestseller Experiment podcast we got talking about how to make the most of your writing time. You can listen to the whole podcast here (where we also launch the BXP2020 challenge, which will make 2020 your best writing year!) and I’ve listed my top ten productivity tips below…

Procrastinate first

This may sound a little odd, but we all have our favourite forms of putting off writing, so why not just get them done and out of the way? Mine is social media. If you follow me on social media, you might notice that I’m busy first thing in the morning (breakfast), I might pop up for ten minutes or so mid-morning (tea break), then there’s lunch and then the evening when I’m done.

Diving into Twitter and Facebook first thing in the morning quenches any curiosity that there might be something more interesting going on in the world. I pop in, have a laugh (or get outraged), put it aside and then jump into the writing.

Close the door

The old advice from Stephen King. Most people think The Shining is about a writer battling his inner demons, but I reckon Jack just wants to make his daily wordcount and his wife and kid complaining about the terrors in the Overlook Hotel really isn’t helping the poor guy hit his targets.

Closing the door works. If you’re lucky enough to have a room of one’s own then use it, and make sure your family or flatmates know what it means: no knocking unless there’s a fire, nuclear war or similar*.

Before I was lucky enough to get a writing room, I used to write on my commute on a busy train. I used headphones to block out the world. If you’re a time poor writer — and who isn’t?! — you have to make the most of your writing time and any distraction can be detrimental to keeping your train of thought. Which brings me to…

*Unless they bring tea and biscuits. I can allow that occasionally.

Silence (or nature sounds)

I used to have specific music playlists for any writing project and I find these useful when I’m brainstorming ideas and trying to get into mood… But when I’m in the thick of a draft I now need complete silence. It might be a middle-age thing, it might be that I just need more brain capacity to concentrate on this stuff, but I can’t write now if the theme from The Witchfinder General is scratching at my brain.

When I’m travelling and using headphones I’ll use a nature sounds app. This blocks out extraneous noise and is far less distracting than music, though you if you find that you start getting annoyed by repetitive bird calls, then maybe switch to a white noise app.

Set targets

What are you actually going to do today? Is this a first draft and you’re hitting a word target? If it’s a screenplay, how many pages do you want to do today? If you’re editing, are you working on a particular chapter, character or thread? Whatever it is, set yourself a goal. Once you’ve hit it you can either smash through or, what the hell, take the rest of the day off and binge something on Netflix. One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned on the podcast is setting achievable goals is one of the biggest boosts to writing productivity.

It’s one of the reasons we launched this thing.

Know your arguments

It’s all very well splashing words onto the page, but what the hell are you actually saying? What is the point of this book? This character? This scene? And where are you in the story?

I always take a moment to figure out just where I am in the story. If my protagonist starts at A and ends up at Z, where am I in the alphabet of change? How is this scene helping them evolve and head towards that ending? What change is occurring through drama? In other words, how does this scene earn its place in the story? I find that once I have a clear idea of that, the rest comes relatively easily.

Make notes always

One of my favourite moments of the podcast is when Sarah Pinborough challenged the “Write every day” theory that we were really excited about.”That’s bollocks!” she said…

Listen to the whole episode here

And she’s absolutely right. Keeping that story brain ticking over in the back of your mind is so important. But, if you’re like me, you have no idea when inspiration might strike. It’s usually at two in the morning, so I have a stack of Post-It notes by the bed, or I’ll be out for a walk and a story problem might solve itself and I end up sending myself an email on my phone before the thought it gone…

And that’s the dread thing. I know now that if I don’t make a note STRAIGHT AWAY, it’s gone. For good. Again, that might be a middle age thing, but it’s real. Always be ready to make notes wherever you are.

Change medium

I’m a pretty speedy typist. My dad used to be secretary of football referees association and I used to type up his handwritten notes for their newsletter on a second-hand fire-damaged BBC B computer, so I was a touch typist from about age eleven. The temptation for me is to stick to typing on a screen because it’s so fast, and that’s great when I’m on a roll, but when it comes to problem-solving you can’t beat pen and paper. There’s something about scribbling on a pad, or a scrap of paper, or on a whiteboard that fires up a whole new set of synapses in my noggin. I’m hearing a lot of writers are switching to dictation now that the tech is getting more reliable. I haven’t tried it yet, but watch this space.

Regular breaks

This might feel like more procrastination, but at my age I have to get off my arse every hour or so, if not more. If I’m working from home there’s always a bit of washing to put on, a dishwasher to empty, some vacuuming to do. Getting up and moving around gets my blood flowing and it’s a good way to let the brain take a breather, and it often leads to solutions to story problems. And of course nothing beats a good walk…

From one of my very productive walks… Yes, this is work!!

But doesn’t all that interruption break into my concentration…? Well, I have a thing for that too…

End mid-sentence

Whenever I take a break, and especially at the end of the day, I try to end either in mid-sentence or in the middle of an incomplete scene. This means that when I resume work I’m not faced with a blank page or fresh chapter to start. I just need to polish off what I was working on yesterday. I’ll often leave myself a note along the lines of, “You were thinking this, and this thing was going to happen next.” That’s usually all I need to get started and before I know it I’m up and running and ready to tackle the next chapter.

Similarly, if I ever get stuck I’ll go back and rewrite or edit the pages running up to the moment of stickiness. This run-up usually gives me the momentum I need to break through the sticky bit and keep going.

Prepare to change

Here’s the thing. What worked for me two years ago, doesn’t necessarily work for me now. I’ve never written a script or a book the same way twice. I’m always looking to shake things up. I think the day I think I’ve got it all figured out is the day to give it up.

Bonus tip: Back up your work

Every day. Back up your work to a dongle, a cloud, email yourself — whatever it takes to ensure that your magnum opus isn’t sat on a device that will inevitably crash and die. There’s no “maybe” about this. Tech dies every day and often without warning. Sometimes it’s unavoidable and that’s horrible, but you can and should take steps to avoid it.

The 3-2-1 back up rule is best: keep three copies of your data, two on different storage media and one off-site.

I hope this was helpful. We talk about this more on this episode of the Bestseller Experiment.

And do please leave your own tips and comments tips below

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.

Did you know I offer feedback for writers…?

Readers reports, mentoring and more. Check it out here…

Writing Goals… Do They Work?

I set some writing goals at the beginning of the year and jotted them down in my diary on January 1st…

For those of you who can’t read my scribble (ie: everyone), they are…

  • Launch The End of Magic and get it to as many readers as possible
  • Relaunch and sell 10k copies of Back to Reality by Glastonbury weekend
  • Self-Publish one or more of the Woodville books
  • Find a publisher for Interstellar Mega Blaster

Have I reached them? Sort of… Well… no…

The End of Magic had a great start and is ticking along very nicely in the UK. A fab launch, great reviews and it topped quite a few Amazon charts. I’ve set myself a target to sell a thousand copies in the USA by the end of the year and it’s been tough so far.

Back to Reality didn’t hit 10k, but we did sell over a thousand copies and it’s given the book momentum.

I have finished the first of my Woodville novels (a series about three witches in a Kent village in the Second World War: think Bedknobs and Broomsticks meets Pratchett’s Witches), and I’ve started the second, and I was all set to self-publish, but my wonderful agent read it and it made him cry on the tube (twice… in a good way) and he wants a shot at selling it. He calls it “commercial gold dust”, which is nice.

And Interstellar Mega Blaster is my middle grade science fiction adventure, which has had a few encouraging rejections. All par for the course.

The more astute of you will note that I’ve not achieved any of these goals (so far). Does this mean I’ve failed? Heck, no.

Goals aren’t immovable objects like Stonehenge. You can shift them, squeeze them and even toss them away. And no, that’s not cheating.

Really, it isn’t. Okay, you might reasonably ask, What’s the point in setting goals if you’re just going to keep moving them? Well, if you’re like me, they’re what get you out of bed in the morning to start writing. They’re aspirations, dreams, and even if we fall short we’re still ahead of bugger-all, which is what we started with.

One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned on the Bestseller Experiment podcast is that setting a clear goal, a definite deadline, and making a public declaration are the most effective things you can do to boost your writing.

Be ready for real life to give you a swift kick in the nadgers every now and then, and be just as ready to pounce on the new opportunities that come along, too. Set a goal. Today.

I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.

Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

Do you have a writing goal? Tell me about it and maybe I can help you make it happen.

I offer all kinds of bespoke services for writers, from reader reports to full edits. Drop me a line here for a free consultation.

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.

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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