The lovely people at the Hair Past A Freckle asked if I could tell them ten things about me as part of the blog tour for The Crow Folk, so here goes…
How long did The Crow Folk take to develop? A lot longer than you might think. In this second part of the highlights of the Bestseller Experiment podcast, I talk about false starts, rewrites, junking old versions, nearly self-publishing, and how some notes from my agent changed my mind.
Hello, folks, welcome to the second part of the highlights from the episode of the Bestseller experiment, we talked about all about this thing.
And in this one, we talk about the development of the book, how long it’s been swishing around in my mind, versions that I got rid of, how it was nearly self published. And we feature notes from my editor. All of this in about eight, nine minutes. It’s jam packed. So do please enjoy…
That’s really what I wanted to ask as well. Mark, a bit about this come up a lot, actually. And people are very curious about how the book was developed. And and Mike Revell,
thanks for your question. Mike, he said, I’d love to know more about your writing process for the book. Now, if I’m if I’m not mistaken, this book was written with the two
hundred word a day challenge, wasn’t it?
No, that’s book two.
That’s book two.
Yeah. But this this was well, the thing is, I had as I said, I had entire drafts of scripts and novels dating back over 10 years and I just got sick of rewriting the same thing over and over again.
So I got rid of it all.
You just what you just chucked it all away?
You just said, well, it’s filed away.
Yeah, very little of those… The village is the same, the name of the village, some of the magical background, but essentially most of it’s gone. Did you actually go through a process as you as you were archiving those notes of saying, what am I going to keep from this? Or was it just..
Yes, yeah. But you kind of think, OK, what’s evergreen? What’s what’s going to… What’s the good stuff? And there wasn’t a lot of it, although one of…The story might come back for book four or five if I get there, you know, because that there’s something about that story that I do want to come back to. But it will be told from Faye’s point of view, not the creature’s point of view. So because I was going for kind of a Swamp Thing vibe with with the original and it just didn’t work. And anyway, so so I had I had all these old drafts and pretty much all of it was jettisoned.
So interesting. And so how did you how did you kind of go through the process from initial notes to outline and draft? Mike asks.
Well, it was because it’s the first in a series, I kind of saw it as a bit of a superhero origin story. Faye finds magic, learns how to use it against a terrible foe, her first real test as a character. And I spent a little time making sure I had the main characters right. I kind of discovered where I wanted her to be by the end of the book, and I did pretty much jump into it. So it wasn’t… I didn’t outline very much. I’d outlined The End of Magic heavily, as you know, Back to Reality. We outlined heavily because we were working together. This was this was much lighter. Now, I was… I’ve been prepping this all afternoon, so I did try and find notes and it’s been quite hard to find where I made the switch. I basically started this in December 2018. That was the point where I think I jettisoned all the other stuff, looking at the different old Scrivener files, you know, so and that draft, that, that first draft I found is pretty similar to what’s been published. And also the other thing is I had planned to self publish, inspired by our own Ian W Sainsbury, friend of the podcast, award winning author. I was going to do a quick release, three novellas, Boom, boom, boom, because and I think what helped was mentally, I was thinking, okay, these are going to be short about forty five, fifty thousand words,
so just jump in and have fun. And I did. I had loads of fun.
So that was, that was the thinking behind that one.
Go for it.
And how many words in the book One? you remember how it turned out.
There’s a little story behind that. And Rhoda asks a question later on about how… Because I got to about forty five in the end it ended up at about sixty five. So still quite short.
But actually Rhoda asks she says, I heard the book started out as a novella and ended up being a full book. Is that right.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
So how did you go about extending it.
Good question. And I did dig out my notes. I’ve got my email from Ed. So let me let me read you…
Ed being your agent, correct?
Ed Wilson, the lovely Ed Wilson. And this is great. So I and I said to him up front, I want to self publish this, but have a look at it and see what you think. And I got his email. He said nothing too major, but all ties into my big point. Why is this book only forty five thousand words? Woodville is completely effing brilliant. And he has, bless him, starred out out the “uck” there. He says tonally, tonally spot on.
Just in case it ever got read out on a podcast.
He’s always thinking ahead.
Yes, he’s a smart man, is Ed.
Yeah, he says tonally spot on, perfectly realised, structured and paced, deliciously readable. This is cozy fantasy. The genre mash up we didn’t know we needed the characters zing off the page. You develop a real emotional connection in such a short space of time. I was in pieces at the end, you bastard, which is great.
He’s just written the blurb right there.
And we’ve talked about the praise sandwich on here before. You know how you give criticism. You start with this is good. You know, there’s a but coming thundering over the horizon. OK, so he says but there is sooooooo… I think there’s seven O’s in that so and it’s all in caps. So that’s more you can do because you’ve limited the work and you don’t have time to properly establish the setting before you get stuck into the plot. We need to see more normal village life, more Dad’s Army war preparations, more vicars and oversized veg and tongue in cheek Archer’s style village politics before the talking pumpkins appear, or rather before the villagers see the talking pumpkins. The way you’ve written it, we have the big reveal and the fantastical events go above ground within the first third of the book. And in a book this length that’s too soon, you’re giving up too easy and losing the fundamental tension of what is and isn’t real. Who is and isn’t barmy. When you have more twists and turns, more tension around who and what Faye, Charlotte and Mrs Teach … Those are the witches… Are. You can keep structure and tone the same. Fundamentally, that doesn’t have to change. Just add more tension, intrigue, spooky goings on. Sow seeds for future books. And then once you’ve established the series, you can do pretty much what you want. This first book is vital to establish the series. You’ve got to properly establish it. Book one is too important to have it dismissed as just a novella. So this was great. And I had a manuscript from him marked up all the way through with notes all the way through. So that was my jumping off point to answer Rhoda’s question. It was, you know, the the tension, the questions. I was kind of giving it all away too quickly and just dig a little deeper as a result.
So I’ve got a I’ve got to say, you know, that is the reason why you try and get an agent, because so many people think so many think agents are just, you know, you give given the book and then they go and flog it. You know, they go off and they have a beer or a glass of wine with with their connections. And then they try and sell the book over lunch. But people don’t realize that good agents are your best friends and your best, you know, constructive critics as well. And it sounds like, Ed, at that point in the journey really gave you the crossroads to say, look, these are all the things you can do without. I mean, if somebody is self publishing without an agent, for example they wouldn’t have known where to go at that point. They may have just put it out as a forty five thousand word self published and missed out on what potentially could have been the most incredible ride of their life. So that’s absolutely fantastic. And what a great insight as well to hear that stage of the journey at that point. Absolutely brilliant.
Thank you, folks. Really hope you enjoyed that. All sorts of fun stuff coming up in future episodes, including how I worked with historical language. Writing a book without any swear words. That’s a first for me. I’m comparing my different publishing experiences. So that’s know working in crowd funding and self publishing and traditional publishing, looking at how those all work and all sorts of other good fun stuff. So do please subscribe and I’ll see you next time.
What are the odds, eh? I answer our wonderful listener questions on choosing and developing ideas, working with agents and editors, writing non-sweary period dialogue, and I compare my experiences in traditional publishing, indie publishing, crowdfunding and now with Simon & Schuster… Have a listen here: https://bestsellerexperiment.com/ep303-mark-stay-and-the-crow-folk/
And here’s a quick look behind the scenes before we started recording…
Or, How I Learned to Write Without a Massive Outline
For as long as I’ve written, I’ve loved a good outline. It comes from my screenwriting where outlines are something of a necessity when dealing with agents, producers, directors, etc. They like to know what they’re getting for their money upfront and it’s not unusual for the writer to put together some kind of pitch, synopsis or beat-by-beat outline ahead of actually writing the thing.
I’ve done the same with my novels. I’ve always liked to write a thorough chapter-by-chapter outline — a clear roadmap, because I’d hate to be halfway through a hundred-thousand word novel and not have a clue what happens next, or discover a massive plot hole. If you’re a regular listener of the Bestseller Experiment podcast, you’ll know that it got me a proper bollocking from that nice Mr Ben Aaronovitch (skip to about 26 minutes in…).
Since the Great Bollocking I’ve had two novels published, Back to Reality and The End of Magic, both heavily outlined and people seem to like them. But… both were well in progress when Ben gave us an earful, so I figured what the hell, I should just finish what I started with them.
I listen back to our old podcasts fairly regularly. Not out of any vanity, but I really do believe we got tons of amazing evergreen advice from some of the best authors in the business and it would be daft to ignore them. One thing that became clear is there’s no single method of writing a novel. Lots of writers love to outline, plenty of them are pantsers (writing by the seat of their pants… a term I had not heard before starting the podcast), many do a little of both. There’s no definite, step-right-this-way-to-success system. You have to figure out what works for you and build on that.
I was happy outlining, but I’ve prided myself on never writing anything the same way twice. Every time I start a project, it’s a little different and I learn something new. I figured it was time for a big change, so why not try and pants a full-length story?
But what about that fear of getting lost? Of getting halfway through a story and not knowing where to go next?
It was another podcast that had a nugget of advice that unlocked it for me. I’m a big fan of Scriptnotes, a podcast for screenwriters (and things that are interesting to screenwriters). In it, screenwriters John August (Big Fish) and Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) discuss craft and the industry, and I find it invaluable. Last summer (2019) they released an episode featuring just Craig who gave a talk that he’s given to screenwriters at festivals over the years.
The advice that stuck out for me was this…
“If you can write the story of your character as they grow from thinking “this” to “the opposite of this”… you will never ask what should happen next ever again.”Craig Mazin, Scriptnotes, ep403, 41m 50s
A little lightbulb went off in my head. It was the same question I would ask myself while writing an outline anyway, so why not apply it to the blank page of a fresh draft? Would it be any different? Would it be any better?
I’ve been using and adapting this method for one screenplay (written on spec, no outline necessary) and one-and-a-bit novels and I’m loving it. I’ll start with a one-page outline, but with a bigger focus on character and theme. Who is this character? How will they change, and what’s stopping them from doing it? With those two polar opposites in mind, I rough out a very basic story and then start writing. It can be hard at first as you test the water. When I get stuck, I put the laptop aside and start scribbling in a notebook with Mazin’s advice in mind: What’s what the worst thing that can happen? What will stop this character from getting what they want? How will they overcome it?
If I can’t figure it out right away, I might stop writing altogether and get on with my day. More often than not I’ll have a solution come out of the blue while I’m washing dishes, in which case I dry my hands and email myself the note ready for the next day.
It’s working so far. The screenplay has a director and producer attached and looks like it’s a goer, and the one and a bit novels…? I’m hoping to have some good news about them soon.
I’m not saying this is going to work for everyone, but I’m enjoying living on the edge. If you’re a big outliner, why not give it a go? All you’ve got to lose is your word count…
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.
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…
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…
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
Advertising spend total: £4.94
And here’s the running total…
Kindle units sold: 112
Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 10,839
Advertising spend total (since 9th July): $468.94 (and £105.81 in GBP)
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:
Tell your friends about the book
Leave an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads.
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.
We’ve had two cracking – a very different – episodes of the Bestseller Experiment recently. First up is a report from The Romantic Novelists’ Association conference in Leeds where I spoke to Rhoda Baxter, Nicola Cornick and Sheila Crighton (aka Annie O’Neil) about all sorts of love including instalust, passionate blur and the scale of hotness. And it was great to finally meet Rhoda Baxter (aka Jeevani Charika), who also proved the Lego image above! Listen to the podcast here.
This week’s podcast features John McGhie, an investigative journalist who has worked for the BBC, Channel 4 News and the Observer. John and I met on Whitstable beach at the peak of the football world cup at what felt like a brief moment of optimism in an otherwise politically depressing 2018. We cheer ourselves up by talking about the historical atrocities chronicled in John’s excellent new book White Highlands! No, really, it’s a fascinating episode and we cover writing historical fiction in some detail. Listen here.
And if you want to know more, the documentary that inspired John’s book can be seen here…
And last but by no means least I was once again on the Dominic King show on BBC Radio Kent in the conversation slot. We chatted about YALC, YA fiction, The End of Magic, podcasts, soundtracks and I even wheel out my Sean Connery impression. You can listen here and for my bit skip forwards to 2 hours and 11 minutes…
Here are links to stuff I talk about on the shows below…
- The Romantic Novelists Association:
- The Julie Cohen episode: http://bestsellerexperiment.com/ep31-julie-cohen/
- Find Jeevani Charika online:
- Please Release Me: https://rhodabaxter.com/my-books/please-release-me-choc-lit/
- The Martin House Children’s Hospice: https://www.martinhouse.org.uk
- The How To Get An Agent episode with Federica Leonardis: http://bestsellerexperiment.com/ep16-how-do-i-get-an-agent-federica-leonardis-sonya-lalli/
- Our episode with entertainment lawyers where we discuss literary law, privacy, libel and defamation: http://bestsellerexperiment.com/ep32-legal-eagles/
Safer than Q-tips and a lot more educational and edifying, you can hear me waffle on not one, not two, but three podcasts this week!
First up, of course, is the Bestseller Experiment where I speak to the wonderful Pernille Hughes about her road to publication, why she shared a photocopier with La-La the Teletubby, and we play a game called ‘Getting to know you’ where there are no right answers. You can listen here.
Secondly, comes the second part of an epic three-part trilogy on The Hero’s Journey that I’m recording with the wise and learned Julian Barr. We look at tricky middle acts, inmost caves, and that sort of stuff with examples from The Godfather, Jaws, Star Wars and The Notebook. But the best part of these is the thoughtful, polite noise Julian makes when I say something stupid… These are for our Patreon supporters, but if you’re not one of them (and if not, why not??), then you can listen to a sneaky peek here.
And third is this interview with Tim Clare on the Death of 1000 Cuts podcast. This is especially fun as Tim laughs at most of my jokes, I drop some truth bombs about marketing and publishing, and then a fire alarm goes off during the interview and Tim keeps it in. You can listen on iTunes here, or the thingy below…
I’m now fully rested after a week or so off from the usual routine of commute/write/day job/commute/write/fall asleep in front of the TV. The family and I explored Kent, the county we moved to a little over a year ago. We found castles, wind farms, sea forts, crypts, a submarine, a shell grotto, and an ossuary with skulls lining the walls:
For more photos pop over to my Instagram here.
The podcast continues, however, and we’ve had some cracking episodes. I talk about determination with Cally Taylor, we had a very lively Youtube Live Show with my agent Ed Wilson where we talked very frankly about authors’ earnings and where all the money really goes, and last week we had Sam Missingham on a show entitled A Massive Boot Up The Arse For Publishing, which got an amazing reaction online.
The Deep Dive episodes for Patreon supporters continue with Federica Leonardis and I talking about romcoms, and Julian Barr joining me on an epic three parter to look at The Hero’s Journey.
I was back on BBC Radio Kent with Dominic King, where we talked about authors’ income (it’s the hot topic, dontcha know!), crowdfunding, and the RNA Conference. Click here to listen and skip forward to the 2 hour 12 min point.
And if you’re feeling stuck, here’s an excellent video from award-winning author Marcus Sedgwick on writers’ block. I think we can all find something useful here:
Until next time!
I’ve blogged about my favourite podcasts for writers before, but today I wanted to bang the drum for the other stuff I let into my earholes to on a weekly basis, and how it inspires me as a writer…
Ancient History Fangirl is a gleeful run through the ancient world’s most gory bits. Every fortnight Genn and Jenn regale us with tales of sieges, cannibalism, war elephants and flaming pigs used as munitions. Almost every episode I find myself taking notes for some future story. The presenters’ enthusiasm is infectious and they’re already developing a nice line in running gags and in-jokes.
The Filmmakers’ Podcast (yes, I’ve added the apostrophe even if they’ve recklessly abandoned it) is essential for any aspiring filmmaker, especially if they live in the UK. The presenters, led by the very charismatic Giles Alderson have walked the walk in indie low-budget film and their passion shines through. A recent two-parter with actor Timothy Spall and director Stephen Cookson talking about how they developed the film Stanley, A Man of Variety is inspiring stuff and a great place to start.
I probably look forward to my weekly dose of Smershpod more than any other, simply because of the number of times it has had me weeping with laughter when I’m supposed to be doing something constructive. Each week the wonderfully dry John Rain and a guest discuss either a Bond movie, or a movie with a tenuous connection to the Bond world. They’ve almost run out of Bond films (just Spectre to go), but my favourites have been the side episodes, with Meteor and Highlander being among my favourites, and I would not have discovered the classic horror flick Death Line (aka Raw Meat) were it not for Smershpod. Even if you hate Bond films (and a fair few of the guests do!) I would heartily recommend this weekly pleasure.
If your memories of ’80s movies are all Goonies and Ghostbusters, then you’re in for a shock. In ‘80s All Over, presenters and esteemed film nerds Drew McWeeny and Scott Weinberg trawl through every US release in the 1980s month-by-month, a boy there was a ton of crap released back then. Each episode is thoroughly researched and full of surprises and forgotten gems that you’ll want to watch (only to find that it’s only available in the bloody States). Their knowledge is second-to-none and though they’re currently suffering through the hell that is 1983, they have the joys of 1985 still to come.
If you love movie soundtracks as much as I do, then we still have some way to go to meet the passion of Edith Bowman. Edith can sometimes be heard as a stand-in presenter on the Kermode and Mayo Film Review (another great podcast, but one that hardly needs introduction, surely?), but with Soundtracking she talks to actors, directors and, crucially, composers about their work and their favourite film scores. One of my favourite recent episodes featured the lovely Garth Jennings, and Edith also compiles a Spotify playlist for each episode. Every week, something new gets downloaded to my iPod.
Film Stories with Den of Geek‘s Simon Brew is the newest podcast – only two episodes released at the time of writing and I already love it. Simon is a delightful and enthusiastic presenter, and the podcasts are like gossipy chats with an old friend. He’s covered the tumultuous productions of The Addams Family, Tomb Raider, Patriot Games and Dirty Dancing and they’re choc full of great movie stories. I hope this one runs and runs.
And finally an honourable mention for Junkfood Cinema with Brian Salisbury and C. Robert Cargill. Not one that I listen to every week, but they cover the films that no one else does. This gets a thumbs up for the episode on Sneakers alone. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only person who still loves that film.
Agree? Disagree? What are your favourites? Let me know below…
Oh, and don’t forget my podcast The Bestseller Experiment! Subscribe now and get scribbling.
The new episode of the podcast is online. This was a live recording, inasmuch as were live on Youtube for our Patreon supporters who had either sent questions in advance or were asking them in real time. It’s a format we tried on the launch day for Back to Reality, and I really enjoy it. We talk about mailing list and blog tips, the differences between developmental edits, copy edits and line edits, private Pinterest boards and all sorts of other shizzle.
If you want in on this next time, then come and support us over at Patreon.
In the meantime, you can listen to this week’s podcast here.
And if you’re a fantasy fan, be sure to check out our interview with legend and all-round nice guy Tad Williams here.
And I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t mention that Back to Reality is out now!