I had good fun being interviewed by Lee Middleton on the Cover to Cover podcast this week. We talk Star Wars, the Bestseller Experiment, Back to Reality and my thwarted dream to become a firefighter. It’s a fab show for readers and writers alike. Click to listen… https://m.mixcloud.com/Studio5OnAir/cover-to-cover-episode-12/
There comes a time when a writer must release their book into the big, bad world for people to read, praise, critique and ponder (or tell you how they would have written a different ending*).
You’ve lived with this book for some time. At least a year, if not longer. You’ve come to love the characters, their surprising quirks, their voices, and how they overcame seemingly impossible odds to find themselves at the end of the story a better and more complete person. Much like yourself, because we all know the writers are the real heroes, right?
Of course, the book isn’t perfect. None of them are. And the temptation is to continue to tinker, but the seasoned writer knows that sooner or later, like Queen Elsa of the ice kingdom Arendelle, they just have to let it go.
I’ve heard some writers compare finishing a book to the passing of a loved one, but that’s probably a tad insensitive. I’ve certainly experienced mournful feelings as I realise that I won’t get to spend time with these characters, but it’s nothing like proper grief, it’s more like… the death of a minor pet. Maybe a goldfish. Yeah, you’re sad for a bit, but then you realise the garden centre has loads more finny friends in their tanks.
So the key is you have to be brave enough to bury your goldfish.
Put that on a meme and see how far it gets…
Anyhoo, this is a long-winded way of telling you that I have finally “let go” of the novel I wrote with the Majesty of Motivation, Mr. Mark Desvaux! This is culmination of a fairly intense year of The Bestseller Experiment, the weekly podcast where we discover what makes a bestselling novel while trying to write, publish and market one in just a year.
I won’t lie to you, there were times when I thought this would be a complete and utter car crash, but here we are, with what I reckon is a really fun, page-turning adventure with characters you’ll love! Here are some amazing quotes…
So CLICK HERE to grab your copy now.
And in the meantime… I’m feeding another couple of goldfish.
*Yes, this happened to me recently… Two years after said book was released. ‘You’re a bit late, mate,’ I told him.
In the third of our daily mini-episodes in the run-up to publication of Back to Reality (out on October 16th!) we look at Beta readers and reviews and how to cope with feedback.
You can definitely hear the mania beginning to set in with this episode. We recorded all of these on one night last week, and it was around the third episode that our banter became babble… but there’s some great stuff here. Our beta group on Facebook has been incredible: they have forensic attention to detail and they’re wonderfully supportive, which we really need as we careen towards our publication date (DID I MENTION THAT IT’S OUT ON OCTOBER 16TH???).
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
Up till Tuesday night this week, I was invincible.
I had spent the weekend polishing a TV spec script that was going to be my calling card. It was, without a doubt, the best thing I had ever written. I had spent maybe a year and bit slowly bringing it to life, researching the historical background, building the characters and the world, and it had already been through two beta-readers, who had given me excellent notes and were very positive, and it was ready to go out.
But I wanted one more opinion before I did that, just to be sure, and so I sent it to another writer friend for his opinion.
His notes were like a punch to the gut.
He found problems with the protagonist, the tone, the antagonists, and the ending.
And the worst thing is, he was right.
This is where my old friend self-doubt made an appearance. How could I have been so blind to the script’s flaws? Worse still, how could I have been so supremely confident that it was ready, when it clearly wasn’t even close? I’ve been doing this for long enough that I should know this, surely? I really did not know if I had the judgement to continue with writing. If I couldn’t see my own flaws, then how could I even possibly think about a career as a writer? I was useless. Hopeless. Worthless.
The notes arrived via email late at night, and I barely slept after that, constantly turning dead-end rewrite ideas over in my head.
By the morning, however, almost all of that doubt had gone. I had formulated some ideas for a rewrite and this time it was going to be awesome.
I’m hoping that this sequence of events is familiar to other writers.
I’ve gone through various incarnations of it ever since I started writing at school. I spoke about this on the podcast recently, noting that coping with tough feedback can be a bit like going through the stages of grief. Not to denigrate the overwhelming intensity of losing a loved one, but we writers can be melodramatic, and it cannot be denied that the similarities are pretty remarkable:
First comes denial: They’re wrong! How dare they misinterpret my genius!
Then anger: Fuck ’em! Look at these shitty notes: he contradicts himself three times, so why should I listen to him?
Bargaining: Maybe I should email them, pointing out the stuff they missed, which will help them see just how brilliant the story really is?
Depression: I’m utterly worthless, a total fraud and I should never put pen to paper ever again.
Acceptance: Ah, y’know what? Maybe they had a point? Let’s get to work.
Earlier that evening I had been messaging a writer friend who was going through the same thing, and I think that’s possibly what exacerbated things this time for me. I was telling my friend to keep his chin-up, you’ll get through this, you’ve been published, people love your books, you’re awesome… And all the while I was thinking how lucky I was to have put those days behind me.
What a doofus I was.
It never goes away.
I think good writers are able to hold conflicting thoughts in their heads. It’s the only way you can have characters with opposing views convincingly have at each other on the page. The trouble with this skill is you can be all too empathetic when people criticise your work. My inclination is to immediately agree with them; yeah, you’re right, it’s crap isn’t it?
I looked back at the notes that my friend had sent me. There was so much positive stuff in there. He loved the pace, the characters (mostly), the period, the maguffin, he said it was huge fun, unusual and really visual. Why was I only seeing this now? My eyes had somehow glazed over this and chose to focus on the shit.
I’m not posting this for ‘Aw, hun’ hugs, I just want other writers to know that if you’re going through this rollercoaster, you’re not alone.
And once you start to recognise the stages, it becomes easier to manage them, move through them more rapidly, find yourself working on solutions, and thanking your lucky stars that someone cared enough to help you make your work better.
So here I go with another rewrite. And this time, it really will be the dog’s bollocks.
Hope this wasn’t too depressing. Normal service will resume shortly. But if you think you know a writer/creative who might benefit from this post, then please do share… or give them a hug… or tea and biscuits usually does the job!
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!
Well, of course he didn’t…
But this was the premise for a sketch that I filmed with some old friends a couple of years ago. Friends that I was writing comedy sketches with back when I was a teenager. The way I remember it is we would meet in the drama hall after school, writing, improvising and laughing for about two hours non-stop. And by laugh, I mean breathless, bent-over-in-agony, pounding the floor, thinking you’re going to die, convulsing in spasms laughter. I have not laughed so hard since.
As a teenage boy there was a kind of comedy arms race among my peers: we were always trying to be the fastest and the funniest, and a few of us tried to get it down on paper, then on its feet, thinking we were going to be the next Monty Python…
Well, of course, we were not…
But it was the first writing I did with an audience in mind, and we’ve since all gone on to do cool, creative things: Jeremy is now a documentary filmmaker, Dom is an incredible musician and award-winning filmmaker, Paul works in West End theatre, and I write words and sometimes get paid for them. There’s a moment in Jerry Seinfeld’s documentary Comedian where he recalls the same thing. His friends at school were as funny as he was, if not funnier. The difference is, he pursued it as a career and didn’t allow the formalities of life — getting a job, behaving like an adult in polite company etc. — slowly beat it out of him. It’s a sobering thought that I’ll never be as funny as I was when I was a kid, confirmed perhaps by the sketch we filmed when we all reunited again for Paul’s fortieth birthday…
Yes, that’s me on the right as Michael Caine (as Widow Twankey), with Paul on the left (Aladdin), in a sketch written by Dom and filmed by Jeremy. There’s an alternative universe where we’re begrudgingly reuniting for a stadium tour, we’re all millionaires and we all hate each other… I wouldn’t want to live there, but it might be worth a short visit.
My son is fourteen, my daughter seventeen, and they’re both quick wits and make me laugh every single day, and I regularly plead with them not to let life beat that humour out of them.
Cling on to the funny, folks.
Christ knows, over the next few years I suspect we will need a good laugh more than ever before.
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…
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?
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…
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…
I was at the London Screenwriters’ Festival last weekend, and it was delightful to meet so many writers, young and old, starting out on their writing careers. Their optimism, energy and determination
made me feel very old invigorated me… and they reminded me of myself ten years ago. My script, Waiting For Eddie, had a producer in Dean Fisher, a director in Jon Wright, and we were waiting for news on our submission to London Film’s inaugural Microwave film scheme…
Wednesday 6th September, 2006
A most excellent day. Dean called to confirm that we’re through to the final stage of the Microwave scheme! A week of intensive script development awaits me in October and, with any luck, we’ll start production.
Told my agent and she was very excited. She also let slip that Working Title have agreed to read The Last Time Machine – they’ll reject it, of course, but it’ll be interesting to hear what they say.
I also bought my Apple MacBook today. It’s gorgeous, though I’ve spent most of the evening trying to figure out how it works.
Before you go rushing off to IMDb, I should warn you that (spoiler alert) neither Waiting For Eddie or The Last Time Machine were made into films, so all that talk of ‘Going into production’ was fuelled by the same kind of optimism, energy and determination those new writers had at the London SWF. Okay, you might call it hopeless naivety, and some days that’s all you’ve got, but when someone else shows interest in your work I would encourage every writer to enjoy and revel in the moment… then put it aside and get on with writing the next thing. Because, even if it your script is picked up and made into a movie, they’ll want something new right away, and if they don’t, you’ll need something new for the next round of
crashing disappointments submissions.
**Even less true.
Summer 2006 suddenly went very quiet on the writing diary front. Producer Dean Fisher was pitching my script Waiting For Eddie around town, and then everyone goes on holiday in August. These are always worrying times for a writer. The phone stops ringing, emails don’t ping in your inbox, and you begin to wonder if all the enthusiasm for your project has just evaporated… Then summer ended and it all started kicking off again. September 2006 began with a fortuitous meeting with someone who was to change the course of my writing career, film director Jon Wright…
Friday, 1st September, 2006
I jumped on a train to London for the really important meeting of the week. Dean, Jon Wright and I headed off to a meeting with Film London (to pitch Waiting For Eddie for the first ever Microwave Scheme).
Jon and I hit it off immediately. Quite literally: we bumped heads as we both sat down. Jon had some notes on the script, which were excellent. He definitely gets the script and it’s hugely gratifying to hear someone enthuse about it who will hopefully be in a position to make it a reality.
The Film London meeting went really well. Both Maggie Ellis and Sol Gatti-Pascual were friendly and encouraging and I have to say that Dean, Jon and I certainly held our own (I was a bag of nerves). I got the feeling that Sol really wants to work with Jon, so this could definitely work in our favour. We’ll hear if we get through to the next stage on Tuesday, but both Jon and Dean said they wouldn’t be despondent if we didn’t get through as they’re confident we can raise the budget elsewhere.
So, yes, in the kind of meet-cute you could only find on the corniest romcom, Jon and I met by head-butting each other. To put it in some kind of context, he was the first proper film director that I had ever had a meeting with, and I started by giving him a Glasgow Kiss. For a second I seriously thought I had completely ruined any chance I ever had of working in film ever, but fortunately he laughed it off and we got down to business.
The real boost was getting his very insightful and thoughtful notes. Like I said, he really understood the tone of my warped ghost story and it became clear that we shared many sensibilities, which would definitely pay off in the future, as he would eventually become Obi-Wan to my… Jar Jar…? Stay tuned for more…