Friday, 12 December 2014

Never Go Back

One of those questions that you get asked pretty regularly as a writer is... what do you read? The short answer is not as much as I’d like these days, while the slightly longer answer is the same stuff that I write. I’ve always been a big thriller reader, ever since I discovered that there were James Bond books as well as movies...

I’ve just finished Never Go Back, the latest but one of the Jack Reacher series from Lee Child, one of the top thriller writers of this generation. There are now 19 of these books, one a year from when he started. While Child maintains a very even level of quality in the books that I have read, I have to say that this wasn’t the strongest ending I’ve ever seen.

In fact, it was pretty feeble – I’m not going to spoil it for you, but it led me to start thinking… what is it about writers that people keep going back to them even when they have just delivered a bad book? Not that Never Go Back is a bad book, it’s just a poor ending – but I’m already cue-ing up the new one, regardless of my disappointment. Never Go Back is prophetic, I will, even if I shouldn't...

It’s simply not true to say that you are only as good as your last book.

I think the willingness to stay with an author has something to do with the amount of time we invest in a book. If a movie’s rubbish, it’s a couple of hours you aren’t going to get back. If a book’s rubbish, or has a disappointing ending, it’s the best part of a day that we’ve wasted.

Now – if we take into account that the vast majority of readers only read a couple of books a year – we start to see why they are so conservative. If you were only going to have two cups of coffee in 2015, you’d make damn sure that they were good ones.


It’s not surprising that breaking down this conservativeness in book selection is nigh on impossible. The only chink is to appeal to the much smaller proportion of people who read a lot – they are the only ones who will take a risk on the new. And to do that, I’m starting to think that you really have to write for a niche. And then market hard to that niche. Everyone else just wants to read the same stuff as everyone else. Bad endings or not.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Back on the Blog

I just checked the date of the last post on this blog and it’s the 28th March 2014. It’s just over six months ago, and it happens to be the day when my wife and I moved with our eight month old son to our new house.

It wasn’t far. The new house is in the same village as the old house. It’s probably no more than a hundred metres as the crow flies. That didn’t make it any less stressful. It was pouring with rain. The sellers were late moving out. The boy was tired and grumpy.

Then we got the keys, walked inside, and had one of those oh my god moments. We  had a lot of work to do. In comparison to replacing the leaking conservatory and the ancient boiler, fixing dodgy taps and dripping cisterns, changing carpets, painting outside and inside… In comparison to this, blogging didn’t seem that important. Nor did writing books. Or even reading them. Even my beloved twitter account lay dormant for a long, long while…


Sometimes life just gets in the way, but I’m pleased to say that this particular slice of life is now over. The house is cosy and functional and ready for the winter storms that already seem to be whistling around my new office in the attic. I got the new novel out again today, dusted it off, and started writing. I’m half-way through reading a cracking Jack Reacher and I might even have restarted twittering... and next month, I’m going to blog about writing again.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Last Lines…

I blogged about opening lines of novels a while back, but the endings are just as interesting, if not more so. The Huffington Post recently gathered together some of their favourites, and it’s an article worth a look. There are some fantastic last lines, I think my favourites from this list would have to be either from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby; "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." Or from George Orwell’s Big Brother; "He loved Big Brother". The latter is so wonderfully bleak – something that contemporary film studios could learn from – whatever happened to the brutal, unhappy endings?

Another that pushes those two close is this one; “The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky – seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.” Where else could that come from but The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad?

What about you, any favourite last lines?

This is also a good moment to fess up to a guilty secret. I lifted the last line of my first novel, The Defector, from my favourite book. It fitted perfectly - ‘Sometimes you just know these things’ - and it seemed like a suitable tribute to pay to a book that kinda changed the path of my life. So can anyone out there guess which book it comes from, and does anyone have a copy on their real or virtual shelf?

Friday, 28 February 2014

Cool Gus and the Existential Crisis

They say that having children changes your life and they are right – but the bald statement does nothing to prepare you for the moment when that gurgling, crying bundle is in your arms for the first time. It would take a book to communicate just what that means and how your life changes over the ensuing weeks and months, and I’m sure there are lots of good ones... but don’t hold your breath waiting for mine.

Some of the consequences of Aiden’s arrival became clear very quickly; the regular trips to the gym, the surfing and paddle-boarding, movie nights and bike rides all went immediately. Eating out with my wonderful wife survived a bit longer, at least until regular child bedtimes became a necessity. Reading and watching tv struggle on in the gaps in the household routine, at least when I don’t just keel over with the sheer overwhelming exhaustion of it all.

Babies absorb the time and energy of their parents like black holes absorb light. Get over it. All of the above were luxuries and I know that one day those things will be back in my life. Meanwhile, I have the joy of the smiles, laughter and astonishing growth and development of my little boy to weigh against what’s gone.

Other consequences have been slower to emerge. For a while now I’ve pursued a career as a novelist around the edges of a career as a journalist and non-fiction writer. Followers of this blog will have watched my thrillers transition from big trade publishing houses to independent- or self-publication. I’ve charted the process of commissioning covers and editors, of formatting, finding translators, booking adverts and writing blurbs.

It’s been a blast and before Aiden, I had time to do all this and to write the books. But suddenly time has become a lot more precious and I now find myself making choices that I don’t want to make. Should I reformat the backlist to include links to the newly published book, or write another 500 words on the work-in-progress? Should I book an advert and run a price promotion, or write another 500 words on the work-in-progress?

I’ve been choosing the  former (and the short-term gain) far too often. The consequence has been that the work-in-progress just isn’t progressing. I’m a lot less philosophical about that than I am about the surfing and movies; writing fiction isn’t so much a luxury as a fundamental part of who I think I am… cue a minor existential crisis.

All this was in my mind when I was flicking through my blogroll over the Xmas holidays, and I found Bob Mayer talking about expanding his Cool Gus publishing list in 2014. I’ve been a regular follower of the work of Bob and his partner Jen Talty for a couple of years now, and I very much like what they do, how they operate and their strategic view of the fast-changing publishing world.

So I emailed them the same day, we chatted a bit on email and then on Skype, and to cut a long story short, I’m very pleased to say that Cool Gus will be taking over the publication of all my novels, old and new, starting right now. Jen is already working on new covers (the first of which you can see here, a stunning new cover for Powder Burn), and you will soon start to see the changes roll out on Amazon, in the iBookstore and on the Nook.

There will be so many advantages to this that I barely know where to start - editorial support and help, new energy and ideas for marketing, great production facilities... and of course - although we still have a lot of work to do to get the new editions out - it will soon leave me much more time to write new fiction. I can’t wait to get back to it... :-)

Friday, 31 January 2014

Traveller Tim

I never had any intention of being a teacher. My father was a maths teacher and so was my wife. I’ve seen more than enough of the modern British state education system to know that I wanted no part of it – too much red tape, and not enough time with the kids – but state schools aren’t the only place you can teach. I was a sailing instructor on Sydney Harbour for a while, but that hardly counts. And I did a fair bit of coaching when I was a professional sailor. Again, it doesn’t really count. I certainly never had any intention of teaching writing.

So it was a bit of a surprise when Sandy, the owner of Sea Sky Art, the local art gallery, suggested that I might like to run some creative writing classes in her studio – just a short course of five weeks. It ended up being three short courses of five weeks each, held during last winter and spring, and it also ended up being a lot of fun. This week I held in my hands the first fruits of those labours.


I joined Roy Young and his wife Carol in a local pub for a quick drink and was handed a pristine copy of The Adventures of Traveller Tim – a children’s book. Roy was working on the manuscript last winter and we spent a lot of time workshop-ing the opening chapter. Just over a year later he’s finished the book, had it edited, and then published via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace programs. He’s understandably proud of it, and so am I. It’s now on the TBR pile on the bedside table. Just where your copy should be J.

Friday, 29 November 2013

The Fickle Finger of Fate

Every now and again I get an email from Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) team. Usually these are bringing my attention to some discrepancy or other in one of the 11 books I have published with KDP, often requiring swift remedial action. A recent one required me to check the HTML coding that I had used on my book description pages, and to do it in less than 24 hours. They were about to change the way the website presented the HTML, and if I didn’t get it sorted… well, quite frankly, my book pages would look crap… or words to that effect.

So when I see these emails pop into my inbox I open them with some trepidation. Whatever I was expecting from the one that arrived a couple of days before the end of October, it wasn’t this…

We are considering including your book: Il disertore in an upcoming promotion in the Amazon.it Kindle Book Store.”

Promotion? In the Amazon.it store? I read on with a churning stomach. I’ve written previously on the joys of Indie-pub translation, and the Italian edition of The Defector is one of the results of that part of my not-so-master-plan. The lovely Ina Uzzanu approached me after I blogged on the topic and offered to translate one of my books. We talked, chose The Defector, did a royalty-based deal, and it’s been selling steadily in quantities that often have it hovering around the top 1,000 books – but this was an opportunity to hit a whole new level.

Il disertore was to be part of the ‘Offer of the Month’ promotion along with a number of other thrillers. A swift reply was required, and I said yes without any further thought. The fickle finger of fate had chosen me – I had no idea why, but I wasn’t about to blink. I went for the maximum discount for maximum sales and chart exposure, got the thumbs up from the KDP team and sat back to wait.

On the 1st November Il disertore appeared for sale at 99c on the Offer of the Month page and I stopped breathing.... how would I do against some impressive opposition in the promotion?


I’m writing this just short of three weeks later, after Il disertore has been in the promotion for 19 days, and in the Top 100 on the Amazon.it chart for two weeks.


I think it’s fair to say that it’s been a success, although I guess the real test will be to see how well the book does once the promotion is over – but with 15 reviews and 4.3 stars I’m hoping it will hang around in the charts for a little bit longer.

The next question is... how do I get into the same promotion at Amazon.de, Amazon.co.uk and lordy help us... the motherlode at Amazon.com??

If I ever find out, I’ll let you know...

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Non-Promo Launch

It was back in April that I wrote a blog post for Author’s Electric on the process of promotion that I undertook ahead of the publication of my new thriller Powder Burn. By September I had a short story on the blocks and ready to go; called The Sniper, it’s a prequel about the antagonist in my Janac’s Games thrillers. I had a cover, blurb, and an edited and formatted manuscript. What I did not have was time to do any promotion. Since I could not see how things were going to improve any time soon, I was left with a choice of holding back the book indefinitely, or going ahead and publishing with essentially no promotion or marketing.

I chose the latter for three reasons:
1. I’m impatient.
2. I thought it would be interesting to see what happens when you just push a book out on the major ebook websites without any marketing support.
3. My eventual plan for the book is to drop the price to zero and run it as a loss-leader for the Janac’s Games series, and so I knew I would have a second chance at the marketing when the price goes to zero.

So by way of an experiment, I hit publish on the 25th September, sent out a few tweets announcing the book’s arrival, posted links to the various sales pages on Facebook and that was about it. I sat back and waited to see what happened. And now I can report the results of the experiment. 

Nada. Nothing. Zippo. Zero and Zilch. 

I think I have sold about ten copies in total across Amazon, and I doubt it's done much better at B&N, iBooks and all the rest, although I won't know for a while as their sales reporting is much slower. And this is for a series book whose other members have been downloaded or sold in the hundreds of thousands. It appears from this one example that I either play the promotion game, or remain unread. So I will be working much harder at the marketing when the price goes to zero in a few weeks time... 

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