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.

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??

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.

The End of Magic challenge, week 17 – Where The Hell Have I Been??

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 seventeen!

The more observant of you may have noticed a lack of updates in the last… ooh, let’s see… TWO MONTHS?!

What happened? Where have I been?

A few days after my last update, I got a long-awaited email from my lovely agent Ed Wilson. He had read the draft of my new book… and he had notes. Lots of notes. All good stuff that I was keen to get my teeth into, so I dug in and got started. On top of that I was also working on…

Those are my excuses and I’m sticking to them. But seriously, the book rewrites have been soaking up almost all of my time and energy. It’s been hard work, but I think it’s been worth it. The book is with a beta reader now, which might mean a bit more tweaking before it goes back to my agent, but the bulk of the work is done before it goes out on submission (I hope).

So what happens when you don’t do a single bit of marketing for two whole months? This… this happens…

Hmm. It’s almost as if Amazon has rigged it so that if you don’t spend ad money you won’t sell any books… hmm.

What to do now? Do I call it quits and focus on the next thing? That’s tempting. There are only forty days till Christmas. I’ve sold 137 copies and I need to sell 863 copies – that’s about 21 copies per day. It ain’t gonna happen.

But… dagnammit, I worked too bloody hard on this book to give up on it now, and it’s a good book. I get genuinely good reviews from readers. One big lesson from promoting Back to Reality earlier this year is that throwing money at Amazon does, sadly, work. We sold over a thousand copies in six months and we did that by spending about a grand on ads, which gave us visibility and momentum and it improved our ‘also boughts’ on Amazon, which is crucial. And we’ve not spent a penny since and we’re still selling a few copies every day at full price because of that momentum and visibility, so we’ve almost made all that money back.

Also, the option was renewed on my TV thing, so I have a bit of cash to splash.

Screw it. I’m going on an ad spending frenzy. I know not everyone can do this, but I’m running out of time. Let’s see what damage a grand can do between now and Christmas. Hold on to your hats, folks. There will be an update next week!

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.

CLICK HERE FOR THE NEXT INSTALMENT, “SPEND, SPEND, SPEND!”

Author Advances, Earning Out and Royalties explained…

There’s been all kinds of scuttlebutt online regarding a blog piece by the author Heather Demetrious on how she burned through book advances of several hundred thousand dollars and ended up back working in a day job. I’m simplifying her story massively here, so do give it a read.

It’s a fascinating and honest piece, for which she has received all kinds of sneering abuse online, most surprisingly from other authors. At the root of this is an assumption that she should have known what an advance was, how royalties work, and have an understanding of publishing practices that, frankly, are a bit weird and arcane.

Publishing is an industry that has been slow to progress in many ways. It’s still very white and middle/upper class, and the people you work with will assume you’ve been to the same private schools and universities and that we all read the trade magazines and publishing news feeds.

And, like me and Heather, if you come from a working class background you can throw in a feeling of imposter syndrome when you mix with publishing types. And that can mean you’re afraid to ask even the most basic questions. Here’s the thing…

NEVER BE AFRAID TO ASK A STUPID QUESTION

Also…

DON’T STOP ASKING STUPID QUESTIONS UNTIL YOU GET ANSWERS THAT MAKES SENSE

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Einstein

Here for you, dear reader, is a quick rundown of some of the terminology associated with publishing advances…

An Advance

This is a sum of money paid to an author in advance of the publication of the book. It is usually paid in three stages: on signing the contract, on delivery of the manuscript, and on publication.

It is NOT a salary.

Payment will come through your agent (if you have one) and they will deduct their commission, which can be from 10-20%.

Then, like all income, you will have to pay tax on what remains. If, like me, you’re baffled by taxes I would advise getting financial advice to help with your tax return.

Here’s the big thing to bear in mind… You will not receive any further money from the publisher until your advance has been “earned out”. So what the hell does that mean?

Earning Out

Think of your advance as a debt to the publisher. If they’ve given you ten thousand pounds in advance, you need to pay that ten grand back before they give you any more in royalties (we’ll come to those in a minute).

How do you do that? Simple. Sell enough books to cover the advance. Ideally, you should do that in the first twelve months after publication.

This is harder than you might think. If books are going to sell they need to be marketed and promoted and that will mean heavy discounting. If your eBook is selling for 99p in Kindle promotions it will take longer to earn out that advance. If your eBook is on sale for £9.99 and not being promoted then the chances are it’s not selling that many copies at all.

You see the problem here.

Very few books earn out in the first twelve months after publication.

But let’s say you do – woohoo! – now it’s time to earn some…

Royalties

These are the payments you earn from book sales once you have earned out your advance. They are usually paid twice a year.

Yes.

Twice a year.

Not monthly, like a salary.

Twice a bloody year.

And the payment will be accompanied by the most baffling document in written history: The Royalty Statement.

Ask your agent (or, if you don’t have an agent, contact the Society of Authors) to explain what it all means, and make sure they check it because it will almost certainly be wrong. My agent discovered an error in my last statement with VAT payments on eBooks and got me an additional £300.

Twice a year.

Bastards.

THE CURSE OF THE BIG ADVANCE

Advances are changing. It used to be a spectrum based on predicted sales, now it’s all or nothing: huge advances or piddly little ones. Publishers used to be a bit rubbish at predicting sales, because it was usually done solely by the editor based on little more than their enthusiasm for the book. While this was all very admirable, it wasn’t terribly scientific and led to huge advances for authors who had no bloody chance of earning out. For example…

Case Study 1: Debut author of a literary fiction masterpiece gets half a million quid for world rights in advance for a book that the editor is head-over-heels in love with. The book gets some buzz, but ultimately fails to sell more than a few thousand copies. That author now has a ton of red ink in their profit and loss statement. The author still has the advance (yay!), but the publisher now sees them as an expensive loss and writes them off. The next book is either rejected, or the advance is tiny in comparison to book one. The author’s career never recovers.

These days the advances are calculated by an unholy cabal of sales, editorial, rights, production and marketing and they’ve become a lot better at using data to predict sales. And their predictions err on the cautious.

But… this does mean that if they’re willing to give you a big advance that they’re far more more confident that it will earn out. For example…

Case Study 2: Debut author of a commercial thriller gets half a million quid for world rights in advance for a book that the editor is head-over-heels in love with. Because the sales, rights and marketing departments were involved in calculating the advance they are more engaged when they sell it in. The buzz is great, and the rights are sold all over the world, including the movie rights. A miracle! This means the book has earned out its advance before it’s even published! Every book sold will earn the author a royalty and for the next deal they will be able to to negotiate a higher advance. Hurrah!

The above is an unusual outcome, but it does happen. Publishers need a handful of these every year, otherwise they would go out of business.

However, here’s what most deals are like these days…

Case Study 3: Debut author of a genre book gets a few grand for world rights in advance for a book that the editor is head-over-heels in love with. Because the sales, rights and marketing departments were involved in calculating the advance they are more engaged when they sell it in, but… they also have that commercial thriller with the big advance at the top of their priority list, so they give less attention to the genre book with the small advance. The author has to work harder to get publicity and marketing, they pay out of their own pocket to go to festivals, and have to write the second book while holding down a day job and bringing up a family. The rights are sold to France and Germany for a small amount. No one buys the film rights. But… after twelve months the book earns out and over five to ten years the author slowly builds a profitable and credible career.

No one said this would be easy, and you should not give up on your dream of becoming a full-time author, but the odds are it will be a long journey with all kinds of ups and downs. My advice is to keep writing and never, ever be afraid to ask for advice. Speaking of which…

Need advice?

I’ve worked in bookselling and publishing for over twenty-five years and I offer all kinds of bespoke services for writers, from reader reports to full edits. Drop me a line here for a free consultation.

The End of Magic challenge, week 10 – Sales, glorious sales!

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 ten!

Blessed be fantasy author Michael R Miller, for it is he who broke my duck, popped my sales cherry, rang my bell, and gave me water after the longest drought. In other words, Michael was kind enough to include my book in his latest newsletter and got me a dozen or sales this week…

More proof, if we needed it, that the key to publishing success is to get your book onto a more successful friend’s newsletter. And hey, if you love fantasy or LitRPG then check out Michael’s stuff, because he’s amazing and he even started his own publishing house!

This was part of a week-long 99c/99p promotion, so these aren’t massively profitable sales, but they have got the momentum going again which is half the battle. I did ask Unbound, my UK publisher, to drop the price to 99p for the same period. They dropped it to 92p for about three days and then put it back to £1.87. I’m sure there’s some solid gold logic to this, but for the moment it escapes me.

You may recall in last week’s update that I was sinking in the search results. When you typed in “The End of Magic” on Amazon I was coming fourth and below the line…

To combat this I started a KDP campaign focusing solely on winning back that search result and I’m delighted top announce that after a week I am in fact… still fourth… But I swear that just a few days ago I was second! Really! I think this is an ongoing battle that may never end, but it has got me a few sales…

I think I’ll keep this campaign simmering away on the background as it might prove to be more profitable over time.

I also dipped back into David Gaughran’s excellent book Strangers to Superfans to get some inspiration, and I realised it was time to give The End of Magic’s blurb a bit of a refresh. For this I went to the wonderful BXP Group* on Facebook for their feedback and I was not disappointed. Their advice was considered and incredibly helpful.

*For those who don’t know, the BXP Group is a closed group exclusive to Chart Topper patrons of the Bestseller Experiment podcast. It’s a small group of really engaged writers who are now getting deals, bestsellers and awards and they really are the nicest, smartest bunch of people you’ll meet online.

Here’s the new blurb…

… and I’m still getting feedback from the group, so there will be further tweaks. Again, I think this is something that will need constant attention.

Another bit of good news is that I finally got a new customer review on Amazon USA…

Short and sweet – thank you, Tiffany!

That takes my total to 7 reviews with an average of 4.6/5. I still need more, so if you’re in the US and have enjoyed the book, do please leave a few words. It makes all the difference to the book’s visibility.

In the UK I now have 29 reviews with an average of 4.8/5. And many thanks to David H for this magnificent review…

The only disappointment this week has been the massive drop in Kindle Unlimited page reads…

Only 14… I had nearly 800 last week

Again, visibility is the key to upping these, so I need more reviews and more sales generally.

Here’s a summary of last week’s sales…

Kindle units sold: 19

POD Paperbacks: 0

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 14

Royalty: $5.95

Advertising spend total: £4.94

And here’s the running total…

Kindle units sold: 112

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 10,839

Royalty: $52.93

Advertising spend total (since 9th July): $468.94 (and £105.81 in GBP)

AMS: $108.73

Bookbub: $272.70

Still 888 units to go!

That’s 9 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.

FOR THE NEXT INSTALMENT CLICK HERE

I’ve just finished with a client on a writing project and now have a slot available on my writing services schedule. If you’re looking for feedback on your novel or screenplay, or 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 here.

Did you know I offer feedback for writers…?

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