Joanna Penn on the Bestseller Experiment

On this week’s podcast we spoke to Joanna Penn, and blimey O’Reilly it’s an episode crammed with a ton of useful information on marketing and social media for authors. I’ve listened to it three times already to transcribe it for the Vault of Gold and it still hasn’t all sunk in.

One small note; we were using Zencastr to record this episode, which is normally as good as gold, but for some reason I sound like a Dalek gargling Listerine for most of it, and then at the very end I sound like I’m trapped in a tin box. Apologies for that. Normal service will be resumed shortly… CLICK HERE TO LISTEN NOW

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Looking back At The Bestseller Experiment Episode 1 – Who Buys Bestsellers?

At the time of writing, we’re up to episode 35 of the Bestseller Experiment podcast and, as we get close to finishing the first draft of our book, I thought it would be interesting to go back and listen to those early episodes, and give you, dear reader, a little peek behind the curtain.

We kicked off with Vics Tranter, who’s terrific on consumer insight stuff and has sadly since left Orion. Her advice was invaluable, especially pointing out that many of the pioneer readers of fiction are women in their thirties and forties, and how important they could be in spreading that elusive word of mouth. It became clear that Mr. D and I would need to write something that would appeal primarily to women. We did briefly dally with the idea that we might write a Gone Girl-style thriller, but over the next few episodes it became less and less appealing as we realised that neither of us really had a passion for those kinds of books, although we do talk about writing outside out our comfort zones. Have a listen…

A few thoughts listening back…

  • We say that we’ll keep referring back to this interview throughout the series and we have!
  • We ask our guests top tips for wannabe writers and then ask what they’re reading… That didn’t last, did it?
  • We still haven’t got Daniel Cole on the show.
  • I think Mr. D and I have a pretty good rapport from the start, and we slip into our natural cynic/optimist roles effortlessly.
  • Regular listeners will recognise some of Mr. D’s common themes making their first appearance, not least about keeping the language simple, and we still go back and forth about this… We’ll need an editor to make the final arbitration, I think.
  • What’s our hook? Not saying yet, but it came out of conversations we had in the following weeks.
  • This episode also witnessed the birth of the Writers’ Vault of Gold, which at the time of writing is currently nearing 100k words. I’m not just saying this, I really do go back and dip into this constantly. It’s an amazing roster of authors, editors and other professionals and it’s full of great writing advice and it’s currently free. FREE! One day it won’t be. Get your copy here.
  • Scrivener – I really, really did need converting from Pages to Scrivener. I struggled with it to start with, though that probably had more to do with my stubborn refusal to change that the software itself. Interesting that we were eulogising about it so soon as, at this point, I don’t think we had secured their sponsorship.
  • Ah, the Question of the week – or the Question Mark as no one is now calling it. Time to fess up: this first one was completely made up. There is no Andrew in Surrey… well there might be, but he didn’t send us a question. Andrew is my middle name.
  • Sound quality. There’s quite a bit of reverb from my end, which is a sound editor’s worst nightmare, and for the first few episodes I had my headphone volume quite loud, so it would leak to the microphone. This would drive poor Mr D. mad as he worked on the edit.
  • Secret guest… Yes, we really hadn’t booked them yet… and the GollanczFest that would feature many of our first big names was still just a distant speck on the horizon.

We recorded this on 23rd August 2016, waaaay before our actual launch in October. Mr. D and I had been talking about this idea for some time, and the plan was to get a few episodes in the bag before we launched as we had heard that launching with multiple episodes might send us up the iTunes podcast chart. And, it was also to see if it would actually work as a format. Here’s my diary extract for that day…

First interview for the Bestseller Experiment podcast tonight with Vics Tranter at Orion. A couple of technical glitches aside, it went well and there’s a definitely a lot of potential in the project. Could be a ton of work, but might also be very rewarding.

A ton of work… if only I knew. But it has been rewarding, too. Not fiscally, oh no, but hearing from writers on their own progress, and hearing how they’ve been inspired by the show has brought sunshine and happiness to my dark, cynical heart and long may it continue.

Oh, and I still haven’t read Gone Girl.

 

I’ll be covering episode two soon, so please subscribe to make sure you don’t miss out!

The Bestseller Experiment launches today!

A simple proposition: write, edit, publish and market a self-published eBook and get it up the Kindle charts… in a year. Fifty-two weeks. Yeah, a doddle…

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Oh, and while you’re trying to achieve this, and on top of all the other crap you have going on in your life, you’ll also be helping run a weekly podcast where you interview folk from the industry and maybe a few authors? Maybe even a few bestselling, mega-million-household-name-type authors?

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And yet, here we are… Luckily, my cohort in this exercise in insanity is the super-driven entrepreneur and life coach Mark Desvaux who could convince the most devout nun to abandon her vows and take up pole dancing (don’t worry, he only uses his powers for good, not evil).

Mark is also that wannabe writer who’s started writing a novel a few times, but has never finished one. He still has that joyous naivety that all it takes is a bit of application and before you know it you’ve written Harry Potter And The Cash Cow Of Azkaban.

I, on the other hand, am a cynical sod who’s worked in bookselling and publishing for over twenty years and have seen more disasters than Donald Trump’s press office. There’s no way you can cynically take a dash of Dan Brown, add a smidgen of James Patterson, sprinkle it with EL James’s chutzpah and wait for the royalty cheques to come rolling in.

However, that’s not entirely our plan. While our book may end up the literary equivalent of the Hindenberg, we are totally convinced that there are writers out there who can beat us to it. Writers who might have a half-finished book in their bottom drawer, writers who just need a little guidance from the experts (that’s not us, let me make that absolutely clear!), and could get their work published and read by the masses.

So, if you think that’s you, or a buddy of yours, or you just like listening to fantastic interviews with the likes of Joanne Harris, Joe Abercrombie, Maria Semple, Michelle Paver, Scott Lynch, John Connolly, Michael Connelly and many more (yeah, we got some of those million-sellers recorded already, baby!), then join us. It might end in utter disaster, but it will be fun.

We launch today with three episodes, so you can really get your teeth into it, and they’re all fab. You can find the podcast on iTunes: http://bestsellerexperiment.com/itunes

Please subscribe so you don’t miss future episodes, and, if you like us, please, please, please leave a review and a rating on iTunes. I had no idea how important this stuff is to keeping your podcast alive. Apple use these as their major metric when it comes to making the podcast visible and easy to find! Without them, we wither and die… and I want this to fail because I was right, not because of some sodding metric!

If you’re not on iTunes, you can listen and download from our website: http://bestsellerexperiment.com/podcasts/

We’re also on Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, oh, and if you sign up to our newsletter you get a free eBook, The Writers’ Vault of Gold

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This really is aces. Updated every week it’s the highlights of our interviews, and by the time we’re done there will be about 80,000 words of advice from some of the best authors on the planet… For free! You’d be crazy not to.

Still not convinced? Then check out our trailer for a quick peek…

Like I said, this is going to be fun.

Oh, and to the chap who left a comment on our Facebook page bemoaning the whole exercise and declaring that Graham Greene would never have stooped to this… it’s called the Bestseller Experiment, not the Timeless Literary Classic Experiment.

That’s next year…

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My First Agents – My Writing Diary, Ten Years On: Sunday 14th May & Monday 15th May, 2006

I had not one but two agents at this very early stage of my writing career (that word still makes me look over my shoulder to check that no one’s sniggering at me). I met my first literary agent at a networking event at Waterstone’s Piccadilly called ‘The Film World Meets The Book World’ (I think). I can’t remember how I heard about it, but I knew that I had to go as there would be agents and film producers and people who would surely see my colossal writing genius for what it was and insist on flying me out to Hollywood to introduce me to Mr. Spielberg that very weekend… I’m nothing if not optimistic.

Like many British people I can find it difficult just introducing myself to strangers for no reason other than personal gain (or “networking” as it’s known) and like many aspiring writers I found it borderline fraudulent to introduce myself as a writer at a time when I’d only written and staged a handful of plays. But one of the most important lessons I had learned from my failed career as an actor is that no one will knock on your front door and ask if you fancy a role in the Royal Shakespeare Company… You have to go to them and let them know that you’re good and what you do could be of value to them.

And so I walked into a crowded room where everyone seemed to know each other and I knew no one.

Eventually, and I have no real recollection how, I found myself talking to a very nice lady who ran a well-established literary agency, primarily for children’s books. I had no real desire to be a children’s author (at the time), but happily chatted with her and pitched my first play to her, which had a teen protagonist. She thought it would make an excellent children’s book and asked to read it. She was also intrigued that I worked in publishing and we discovered that we had a few mutual friends. I made it very clear that I wanted to be a screenwriter first and foremost and she said that was fine and that she would hook me up with a film agent, too.

Which is how I ended up with two agents. This all came together in the autumn of 2003, so I had been with them both for a couple of years at this point and had been trying, unsuccessfully, to pursue the children’s author career. I had written a couple of books that got some very nice rejections from publishers, and the pleasant lady who ran the agency had since passed me on to one of her junior associates. To be honest, the junior associate and I did not get on. She pulled strange faces when talking about my work, and seemed to treat me like a nuisance if I ever got in touch.

The film agent, however, was terrific. She was very encouraging and wanted to get me work and I was kicking myself for faffing about with the books for so long, and so in 2006 I made sure I would have a spec script for her to show around town. Few spec scripts sell, so I was determined not to worry about budget or anything that might seem small or too kitchen-sink-British. I wanted to write a commercial Hollywood movie that would get me noticed by commercial Hollywood people, and I came up with an idea called The Last Time Machine, which was epic stuff with time travel, dinosaurs, Roman Legions, the Luftwaffe and the end of the known universe  (I write more about this project and how it was doomed here).

By May 2006 I had finished a polished draft (written in Microsoft Word, hence my note that it needed formatting!), my script agent had read it, and we were set to meet for lunch on the Monday, and here are my diary entries for that time:

Sunday 14th May, 2006

Had a quick read-through of The Last Time Machine script in prep for tomorrow’s meeting. Made a few minor notations. I’m proud of it, just a shame it’ll never get made.

Monday 15th May, 2006

Had lunch with my agent today. She loved ‘The Last Time Machine’ and has a whole list of people she’s going to send it to. I just need to format it finally and she’ll send it off. She said a very nice thing: she’d wondered if she’d been having too good a day when she read LTM because she had so few notes. She really couldn’t find anything wrong with it. I explained that this was my first truly original script without the baggage of having previously been a play. We talked about other movies I could write – she’d love to see me write a horror movie – and my career. I asked about the teams that write for the likes of Spooks and Hustle. She’d rather establish me as a feature film writer first (her words – there’s something a little bit unreal about all this… at least until I earn some money from it or see my name on the big screen).

I wasn’t so aware of it back then, but she was doing the things that a good agent should aways do: she was encouraging, she was critical, but in a positive way, and she was talking about my future and the direction of my career. The horror movie thing is interesting, as horror features are often the best way for a commercial writer to get a film made: they can be produced for a low budget and can be very profitable, thus giving your career a great start. The very next thing I wrote was a horror film and it very nearly got made, introduced me to some very influential folk, and definitely took me up a notch.

The junior associate literary agent also had some ideas about my career, but they didn’t tally with the direction I wanted to go in and so it was an uncomfortable relationship. Like dating someone you know isn’t right for you, but you’re so desperate to cling on to a girlfriend/boyfriend that you’ll put up with the unhappiness, but we all know that can never end well. If you’re dreading an email or a phone call from your agent then something is seriously wrong.

I stayed with the literary agent until they eventually dropped me in 2010, but it became an increasingly distant relationship. I wanted to make films, and 2006 would be the year where this once-fantastic dream very nearly became a reality…

 

 

When is my script ready to send out…? Or, Am I ready for Edna Krabappel?

Imagine you’re going on a date. It’s someone you’ve fancied for ages, and after finally plucking up the nerve to ask them out for a cheeky Nando’s, the time has come to woo them one-on-one with your wit and charm. How do you prepare for this night of nights? Shower, brush your teeth, wear the most obscure geeky film reference T-shirt in your collection, and wear clean underpants. And then you rush straight out the door, yes?

Of course not. What kind of idiot does that?

We all check our appearance in the mirror, or, better still, ask someone else to check for us, ‘How do I look?’ And it is this wonderful friend who points out that there’s a huge bogey dangling from your left nostril, a massive zit threatening to explode on your chin, or that your flies are undone and your Captain America underoos are exposed of all the world to see.

That person just saved your life. And every writer needs at least one person who will do the same for their work, and yet so many of us will gleefully ejaculate our work into the wild without so much as a second glance.

And I know that feeling all too well. I recently finished a draft of a new book. I’ve been working on it for about 18 months in between script work and writing pitches. It’s been my happy place for all that time. I love the characters, the settings, and the story excites me every time I return to it.

Typing ‘The End’ — a naive act by any writer on their first draft, and yet we all do it — activated that overwhelming impulse to send it out immediately to agents and publishers and everyone in my address book. It’s perfect! I even did a ‘But’ pass…

… I checked for all my usual tropes, I made a timeline, and I even drew a bloody map. Surely it’s ready?

A few years ago I would have succumbed to this seductive urge, but experience has taught me that doing so would have killed the project before the poor wobbly-legged lamb could have staggered to its feet.

Nothing is more likely to wreck a writing project’s chances than sending it out before it’s ready. That agent/publisher/producer is your hot date with Edna Krabappel, and as Sideshow Bob said…

My life was saved by my friend Graeme. I work with Graeme and we’re both writers and we’ll read each other’s stuff and give notes.

I got about five pages of notes from Graeme.

Five!

As well as words of encouragement, he confirmed many nagging doubts I had about certain parts of the story, and he also spotted a couple of whopping plot holes that would have almost certainly made me look a complete dingus.

I bought Graeme lunch. It was the least I could do. He wanted the film rights and a co-writer credit, but I could only afford lunch.

I shall rewrite accordingly. And then I shall probably give it to another friend — a fresh pair of eyes — for their opinion. And I suspect yet another rewrite will be on the cards after that. I’m not on a deadline with this. I can afford the luxury of time and I intend to spend it.

So, when will it be ready to send out…?

I was asked this when talking to some third year writing students recently, and the truth is I still don’t know. There usually comes a point where you go completely word blind and can’t tell what works and what doesn’t. So maybe then? Maybe when I run out of Graemes. Eventually, we all run out of Graemes. What I do know is that I’ve not made the error I’ve made so often in the past by sending it out too soon. Edna awaits…

I’ll be at the MCM Comic Con, London 23-25 October – come and say hi!

MCM Comic Con 23-25 OctoberExcel – London – Royal Victoria Dock

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I’ll be in the Comic Village at the mega MCM Comic Con at the Excel in London. Come along and say hi, ask me about the behind-the-scenes secrets of the Robot Overlords, and get yourself a signed copy of the book (or, if you’ve already got a copy, or a DVD, or Blu Ray, then bring them with you!) this will be your last opportunity before Christmas! (After this I’m having a lie down…)

I’ll be in the company of the splendid author and illustrator of the Union-verse books Mr. Kit Cox (who kindly invited me along with the promise of good times and tea and biscuits).

Now, here comes the complicated bit… I’ll be there all day Friday, Saturday afternoon, and all day Sunday. I won’t be there Saturday morning, because I’ll be here instead…

London Screenwriters’ Festival, Saturday 24th October, 9-10am (Yes! A.M.!).

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Join me for a post-breakfast panel (bring your own croissants!) – should be good fun. Here’s the blurbery…

Robot Overlords is an unusual beast: a British indie family science fiction adventure movie starring Sir Ben Kingsley and Gillian Anderson, with a hefty (for the UK) VFX budget.

Join co-writer Mark Stay to see how this idea evolved from a two-page pitch to a finished film that premiered at the London Film Festival and topped the home entertainment charts.

Topics Mark will cover in-depth include:

Writing pitch documents

Working and writing with a director

Writing for VFX

The perils of British distribution!

Read the script (available in the booking & submissions page) then watch the movie on DVD/Blu-Ray or digital download ahead of the session to get the very most out of this in-depth dissection of one of the most ambitious UK genre films of the year.

For more info click here.

Robot Overlords – The Book of the Film!

Hurrah and huzzah, now that the PR gods have finally announced it from on high – for we must all wait upon such things in these times of heightened, super-whizzy media – I can now talk about the film tie-in novel of ROBOT OVERLORDS wot I wrote.

First of all, let us gaze upon the awesomeness of the cover art…

It's a robot... a big one!
It’s a robot… a big one!

The Sentry robot was kindly donated and posed by the good folk at Nvizible (laser weapon, model’s own), and the rest was co-ordinated and designed by Nick May of the Orion art department and the wizards at Blacksheep Design, who’ve won awards for all sorts of cool covers, not least Adam Roberts’ JACK GLASS, one of my favourites of last year.

The book has been huge fun to write and, in the tradition of my favourite tie-in novels, will expand on scenes and characters from the film, as well having plenty of new material completely original to the book. My hope is that the book and film will complement one another, so if there’s a moment in the film that leaves you wanting to know more, you’ll find it in the book.

Tie-in novels are usually a late addition to a publishers’ schedule, often written in a rush by an outside writer. So I am very grateful that Gollancz took a punt early on in the process, and gave the go-ahead to this while we were still shooting the film. It’s given me the time to write the book I wanted to and, thanks to the brilliant editing of Gillian Redfearn and the copy-editing skills of Lisa Rogers, it’s become a much better book than I could have hoped for.

It’ll be available in paperback and eBook, and there might even be an audio edition. The publication date will be as per the release of the film. We’re saying February 2015 at the moment, but that will almost certainly change. There might even be a special edition with some top secret added extras. I’ll be sure to update here with any news as soon as I get it, and be sure to follow @Robot_Overlords on Twitter for news about the film.

 

Mitch Benn’s Terra

It’s a perk, nay privilege, of working for a publisher that I often get to see manuscripts of books long before anyone else. So you may well see a few posts like this where I’ll start eulogising about a book that you won’t be able to read for months if not longer.

But I finished this one on the train home today and I’m still fizzing about it and I like to wax lyrical about stuff I like while it’s still fresh. I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers, but if you’re the kind of person who thinks a spoiler is hearing anything at all to do with the story (and there are people out there like that), then adios and I’ll see you next time, amigo.

There’s a great story behind how Simon Spanton at Gollancz acquired this book, and being a fan of Mitch Benn’s songs on the Now Show I was definitely intrigued if maybe a tad doubtful. ‘Celebrity’ authors’ books (though I doubt Mitch would cast himself as your typical sleb) are usually an exercise in stunt publishing and a quick buck for all concerned*, but by the end of the first page I was totally convinced that this was something special.

I won’t say too much other than TERRA begins with an alien from a distant planet abducting a human baby on Earth. The story starts like a Roald Dahl classic with the worst parents in the world, and then becomes a love letter to Douglas Adams, and then becomes its own thing entirely; truly wonderful, laugh out loud funny and genuinely moving, wearing its heart on its sleeve and daring you not to blub near the end. If there’s one criticism, it’s that it has that old SF trope ‘silly name syndrome’ – all consonants and no vowels – but even that seems to be a tip of the hat to Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles and you soon get into the groove.

The only downside is that it’s not out till 2013, but it’s going to be a key book for Gollancz and I’m sure you won’t be able to miss it. In the meantime, here’s Mitch’s finest 5m 27s…

*Yes, I hate to break it to you, but I don’t think Katie Price writes every word of her bestselling novels. Anne Widdecombe does write all her own stuff however, so you takes your choice…