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!

My First BA Conference (and jeweller’s robbery!) – My Writing Diary Ten Years On – May 1st & 2nd 2007

 

The Booksellers’ Association conference is an annual gathering of the great, the good, and (in my case) the liggers of bookselling and publishing. Orion was paying for one of our customers to attend the gala dinner and I went along to be their handler for the evening. This is when the BA hands out their awards, the Nibbies, and there’s sometimes a quiz, plenty of food and drink, and jewellery shop robbery… Maybe that last one isn’t as common? Maybe they laid that on just for me…?

Tuesday 1st May, 2007

 

Harrogate: The Booksellers’ Association conference. Only here for the gala dinner this year. Journey up was fine. Knaresborough looks like a great place to explore: steep and cliffy. Harrogate is a perfect little town and Betty’s Tea Room smells glorious. My agent got back to me on Dead Man’s Finger*. I don’t need to make a decision till next week… Hopefully I’ll get to meet with Jon (Wright) tomorrow to discuss God Of Scarecrows**. We’re planning to meet at King’s Cross tomorrow afternoon.

Off to the gala dinner. It’s too hot to be dressed as a penguin.

 

Wednesday 2nd May, 2007

 

9:50am. On the train to Leeds… Amazing! Just seen the end of a robbery in jewellery shop in Harrogate! I was happily strolling to the train station when, from around the corner, I heard a woman scream, followed by a series of bangs (three, I think), then a red car came screeching around the corner. Its windscreen was bashed, presumably as a result of the banging I heard. Not gunshots, but someone trying to smash the car’s windscreen. I couldn’t see through the cracked glass to identify the drivers. The car sped away at high speed, but before it had even reached the junction at the end of the road, there were three or four people already on the phone to the police yelling its registration number into the receiver. There were at least a dozen other witnesses to the crime, so I figured I wouldn’t be needed. In the two minutes it took me to reach the station the air was full of the noise of sirens and police cars and vans were in hot pursuit. I guess it won’t take them too long to find a red car with a smashed windscreen.

The incident proved what I’ve always feared: I would be a rubbish witness in court. The car was red, a C reg, and I can’t even remember the name of the jewellers’, although I’m pretty sure it was in Prince’s Street.

Anyway… last night was okay enough. Mark Billingham was MC and managed to inject life into some old gags and there was a fairly funny turn from Al Murray, the pub landlord.

Richard Littlejohn proved himself to be the twat I’ve always imagined him to be: he declared Alastair Campbell to be a mate and then proceeded not only to slag him off, but also suggested that Campbell was responsible for the death of weapons inspector Dr. Kelly. This prompted Mark Billingham to splutter, ‘Fuck, if he’s your friend, what do you say about your enemies?’

Littlejohn’s response was, ‘You should hear what he says about me!’

You should hear what we all say about you Littlejohn, you hate-mongering little fuck.

Home, 11pm. Had a good meeting with Jon this afternoon. He had some good ideas for The God Of Scarecrows. I will have to change the ending. We also discussed an idea. More of a framework for a short film that can exploit extremes of sound. Thinking cap on…

Tired now. I’ve spent too long today in trains and taxis.

 

The car was a Rover! And it was red, and a C reg, so maybe I’m not so bad an eyewitness after all? There’s more here… No idea if they ever caught them, but if you’re looking for an eyewitness with a ready-written statement, I’m your man!

 

 

 

*I have zero recollection of what this is.

**A short film idea that I still bloody love, and might fold into a book project I’m tinkering with…

 

The Endless River and the end of Floyd

This week sees the release of what has been confirmed by the band Pink Floyd as their last ever studio album, The Endless River.

The Endless River

I have a long history with Floyd, and to be around when they’ve called it a day is both sad and curiously satisfying. The end of a great story. Like many of my generation, my first awareness of Pink Floyd came with the release of Another Brick In The Wall (Part Two) and I was all too eager to misinterpret the message “We don’t need no edjacashun!” I also recall poring over my uncle’s copy of the album, its gatefold festooned with Gerald Scarfe’s wonderful artwork.

But it wasn’t until my teens that they really made an impact. Back then, believe it or not, I was a football referee. Something I wasn’t terribly well-suited for, not being a massive football fan and just beginning to need to wear spectacles for my short-shortsightedness. I had to quit after a couple of years when I had no real comeback to the players’ cries of, “Ref, are you blind?”

Back then Wembley Stadium use to employ referees as stewards for football games and major events. My dad – a much better ref than I ever was – would regularly attend FA Cup matches and the like in this capacity. And in the summer of 1988 he asked me quite out of the blue if I wanted to be a steward at a couple of concerts. The first was the amazing Michael Jackson Bad Tour, the second was for Pink Floyd’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason.

Jacko was awesome, as you’d expect, but the Floyd gig triggered something inside of me. I found a sound that I hadn’t even realised was missing from my life, but I suddenly had to have more of, immediately. The bigness of Richard Wright‘s keyboard sounds, the ‘ting’ of Nick Mason‘s ride cymbal – a pleasing acoustic noise absent from all the electronica I’d been listening to that summer – and all of this led by David Gilmour‘s siren-like guitar. And not forgetting Roger Waters‘ lyrics… Ah, Roger! Not only had I found the perfect band, but one with a story that stretched back to a tragic figure called Syd Barrett, followed by an unprecedented success forged by a group living in the shadow of a genius, then torn apart again by that very success. There were lengthy magazine articles and books chronicling this epic odyssey, including Miles’ excellent Visual Documentary.

I devoured everything, and while my contemporaries were discovering rave or grunge I was stuck firmly in the ’70s and became a boy obsessed. I made compilation tapes for all my mates and even successfully converted a fair number of them, dragging them to gigs at the ghastly London Arena, glorious Knebworth and Earl’s Court. Even the lovely, patient woman who was to become the love of my life was not immune, having to endure my guitar practice as I learned to play their songs (having all but given up on the instrument a few years earlier). I even studied the lyrics of The Wall as part of my GCSE coursework, discovering how to stretch out my thesis “It’s about alienation, innit” to 1500 words.

One of the most significant decisions in my life was dictated by a Floyd connection. At the time I was a sales rep for a publisher, driving all over the South East of England and writing plays in laybys in my lunchbreak. I was in a happy little rut. Then I bumped into a fellow rep who said there was an account manager job going at Orion Publishing, and was I interested. At first, I refused: I loved the freedom of the open road, and working in an office would mean regular hours that wouldn’t allow me to put on plays. Then something occurred to me, “You guys are publishing that Pink Floyd book by Nick Mason, aren’t you?”

“Yup.”

“WHERE DO I APPLY?!”

And so I ended up in an office job, gave up on the theatre, and started writing screenplays instead. And see where that got me.

Oh, and I got to meet Nick Mason. A lovely, lovely man who put up with my fanboyish tendencies with the patience of a saint. Tangentially, I also got to meet David Gilmour, Richard Wright, Gerald Scarfe and the wonderful Guy Pratt, whose brilliantly funny book My Bass And Other Animals was published by Orion and should be read by everyone and anyone with a passing interest in music.

I missed out on Live 8 and with the passing of Syd and then Richard it seemed like it was all over, and now it really is. I’ve played Endless River on an endless loop today. It’s arguably the boldest album the band have released in thirty years, and all those things that had me fall in the love with the band are present and correct, but now it sounds like the distant echo of something passing into time, fading into the past. A fitting farewell from a band bigger than the sum of its parts. And that’s a beautiful end to their story.

Back to the day job… and no more failing quietly.

I’ve had a pretty incredible 2013. I also have a row of bruises on my arms where I’ve been constantly pinching myself, for 2013 was the year of things-that-do-not-happen…

For example, not only did I get the joy of co-writing a feature script with the incredible Mr Jon Wright, but it actually went into production. Yes, my debut feature is an ambitious, science fiction family movie with some proper stars and incredible VFX, and is based on a spec script. That never happens!

The way it usually works is you get your first job on a low-budget horror, or maybe on one of the BBC TV shows like Doctors, and you struggle for years before getting a break. Or, if it is a ambitious movie, you – the inexperienced writer – are eventually fired by nervous producers and replaced by someone with a better CV.

None of these happened. Well, I’ve certainly done the struggling bit. I’ve been writing for years and failing quietly. But with each dead end, every trip to development hell, and with every new draft, my writing improved and I made new friends in the film community. I have that low-budget horror movie on my CV, it just never got made (yet).

Then, once the film went into production, my day job employers at Orion Publishing were gracious enough to allow me to take a six month leave of absence to concentrate on working on the film. Again, that never happens! Employers might understandably be wary of extracurricular activities, some might even back you into a corner and ask you choose between the security of a regular paycheque, or the risky world of a the freelance writer. Not these guys. They were incredibly supportive, and have kept the door open for my return. I could not have asked for more.

Pictured on set: smug git.
Pictured on set: one jammy bastard…

Those six months allowed me to be on set during production, to be readily available for rewrites, to work solidly on [redacted], and that script about [redacted], and to really get my teeth into [redacted]. All top-secret eggs, laid in 2013 and hopefully all hatching in 2014.

I also got to live the freelance writer life for six months. Writing in solid chunks 9-to-5, instead of sporadically on the train/lunch breaks/nights/weekends. I did not waste a second, and this has been the most productive year of my writing life.

So, tomorrow, I return to the day job. Some friends have asked if I’m dreading it. Not at all. It’s a pretty cool job, it’s not working in a salt mine or anything, and I work with some fantastic people that I’ve missed very much. I will go to work tomorrow with a skip in my step.

But I’ve had a taste of another life these past six months, and I liked it. It’s a world where the work and money is precarious, and there’s no more failing quietly once the general public get their teeth into what you’ve written, but it’s the thing I love to do most, and in 2014 I’ll be working harder than ever to make it a reality again.

Thanks to everyone for their good wishes and support and I hope you have a fantastic 2014.