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I've been lost in book world for the last few weeks so everything has been a blur.
On 27th August I left my day job. It wasn't the great farewell that most people want, it wasn't even a 'we will miss you' that wasn't really going to happen. I ended up being offered a 6 hour shift instead of 8 so … fuck it, let's go home early! As such, I didn't finish with everyone else. I simply slipped away, pretty much unnoticed by all but a few, got into my car, fired up the quit track playlist on my mp3 player, and drove home with a great big smile on my face.
First on the playlist was the theme to Back to the Future. It felt good to drive through those boom gates with a great big 'dun duuuuhn, du duuhn, du du dun duh dun duuuuuuuuuuhn' blasting through the speakers. (I know you just tried to match the tune to what I wrote there. It doesn't completely match. If this offends you: firstname.lastname@example.org)
The last song was Eminem's Lose Yourself, kinda apt since I'm now taking a year off from working for anyone else and focussing on books, books, and more books. I have that last verse down to a T so I really need to hit a karaoke bar and slay everyone with “bein' a father and a prima-donna
baby mama drama screamin' on and too much for me to want to say in one spot ...”
I got home, had a cocktail, had another cocktail, probably had another one after that … and went to bed not quite feeling like I had actually left my job.
The following day I got a cat. Why then? No clue. My girlfriend and I had been talking about getting a kitty for a while now and it seemed to make sense that if I was going to work from home from now on and be something of a hermit then having a little fuzzy friend to sit on my lap and keep me company might help. Her name is Saoirse (sur-sha). Why that name? It means liberty, and since I had just quit my job it seemed appropriate. I further like the name because it hurts everyone's brains when they see 'Saoirse' and have to reconcile that it's pronounced 'sur-sha'. Hehe.
Victory breakfast was eggs benedict. Victory lunch was chicken and chips. Victory dinner had a few drinks included. As a full time author I need to step up my drinking. It's a must.
I marathoned the last season of Game of Thrones in 3 days. My advice: don't do that. All the episodes blur together and you don't get the great sense of satisfaction in absorbing what just happened, not when you can dive straight into the next episode. From now on there should be a 2 episode per day limit. To my surprise I had avoided all spoilers completely. And it's about time they got Daenerys on a ship heading to Westeros, Jon Snow out of the Night's Watch, and Arya back to being a Stark. They certainly took their time doing all of that! (If you don't like that I just spoiled the season for you: email@example.com)
The holiday did not last long, I'm afraid. I had epic plans for it as well! I was going to have a massage. Maybe even two. I was going to go rock climbing, spend a day in the city rejoicing that I'm not at work, I was going to cook an Indian feast and then stuff myself stupid! Instead, I had burgers with my girlfriend while watching DVDs with a cat purring next to me.
On the 1st September I began punching out the words of … uh … it still doesn't have a finalised name yet. I have one prime contender but as the book is still a mile away from being finished I think it's too early to tease people with a title. No idea what the series name will be, either. It's a Napoleonic-era fantasy story, a mission behind enemy lines and then the repercussions that happen as a result. The hardest part is trying to avoid writing any previous character. Sometimes I default to a smartass Englishman with a dry wit. I am determined to avoid that in this one. Unless of course that's exactly what you're looking for, in which case I point you to Kingston Raine and the Grim Reaper.
True to nature I have abandoned my previously awesome plan. That one was to write 3,000 words a day and then edit the same in the afternoon for another project. That got shifted to: write 4,000 words a day, edit those 4,000 words, do that for September, then write and edit 2,000 words in October while I edit another book completely. But you know what? That doesn't matter either because that plan got scrapped as well.
My plan as of now: write 4,000 words a day. Edit 4,000 words a day. Forget the graveyard story that was going to be published in January, forget the post-apocalyptic story that was going to be published in April, and instead focus on this series of being behind enemy lines until it is done.
Which means I have 8 months to write, edit, and start to publish 4 lengthy books. All told that should be around 600,000 words. I'm 41,000 words into it already. So far so good! I mean, I am slightly behind schedule, considering I should have 48,000 words written by now, and I have only been able to edit 30,000 of those. The big problem I had was not the ten hour days of world building and character creation. The big problem was one annoyingly loner of a character who is somewhat integral to the story. There ended up being a lot of pacing around my office, researching online, and getting stuck on her because she was the harder of the many characters to establish. I'm closing in and I'm getting to know her better so I should be able to see a return to 4,000 word days as a given and ensure that the rest of the 150,000 word book will run smoothly (yes, I did actually say that).
So you wouldn't be entirely surprised that I don't know what's happened to the last two weeks, considering I've spent about 10 hours of each day writing and editing. The rest of the time seems to be eating, DVDs, and sleeping.
But the big question: do I feel like I've actually left work behind? Not quite. I'm not really thinking of it, to be honest. I had the 27th of August locked in for months and I had 'the end of August' pencilled in for a year now so it's not come as a surprise. The surprise is how little of a change this feels like. I can write to my heart's content and my heart is telling me to keep going until I drop. It doesn't feel like a holiday, it doesn't really feel like a limbo state where something is about to happen. It just feels like: get up, write, go to bed, repeat. Perhaps in a month or two I'll feel different. Maybe the shock will kick in the moment my bank account takes a hit from having to pay rent.
That's right, I have a plan that involves writing 4 books and publishing 6 in the next 12 months!
The key component to this plan is to not have children. I can not stress that enough. The next is to fly blindly into a panic that over achievers know all too well, that close enough is not remotely good enough. The last part of my plan is fairly straight forward: write in the mornings, edit in the afternoons.
As some of you know, I'm throwing in the towel at my day job and doing what everyone agrees is a universally bad idea: quitting before I have a steady income from writing. But that's a problem for future me. I'll be a free man on 1st September 2016 and there is a good chance that I'll be looking for work again on 1st September 2017. Until then I have three things to do: write as much as possible, publish as much as possible, and promote myself as much as possible.
I know it's crass talking about promoting yourself, but I'd rather write books for a living than work for someone who thinks that listening to teeny-bopping commercial radio is an enjoyable way to kill 8 hours of the day.
So, what's the plan?
I have a Napoleon-era fantasy series that will see its first words mashed blurrily onto the keyboard at 10am(ish) on 1 September. It has something to do with two soldiers finding a near-dead woman in the desert and a bunch of thieves only a mile away who are trying to kill her. My optimistic schedule of finishing the first draft of 150,000 words in two months leaves me with juuuust enough time to take a Sunday off every now and then before the second book begins at 10am(ish) on 1 November. It might begin with two soldiers finding near-dead thieves in the desert and a woman only a mile away who is trying to kill them. Maybe. Not sure. There are 4 books in the series and I am determined to not George RR Martin it up to 8 books in total with each standing at 350,000 words. To complete this epic haul in a year is no mean feat, considering that I'm supposed to stop writing each book at 2pm(ish) every day.
What happens then? A whole lotta editing on something that doesn't involve a Napoleonic fantasy series. I have anywhere from 4 to 6 books planned for a 2017 release. Thankfully I've already written them. They just need some editing before they ever see the light of day.
First up is a horror story in a hellish cemetery where a demon convinces a young man that everyone buried there is still alive and that he needs to dig them up. If he doesn't play along the demon will kill him. If he does play along all of the 5,000 'dead' people will kill him.
After that is a post-apocalyptic story from the Amazon. A lone tribesman heads into civilisation to find help for his people. The problem is, civilisation died out around the world twenty years ago and his people might actually be the last humans on Earth.
There's also the final instalment to the Kingston Raine saga, the one where Kingston tries to hide Satan's son. You'd think that would be nearly impossible, what with all of the seers, psychics, and mystics Satan has at his disposal. Kingston thinks so too.
Then there's a smattering of other stories. Maybe one about an actually scary vampire that doesn't sparkle in the daylight or taunts you with his sexiness, but rather one who has zero consideration for your feelings about his dietary needs because if it doesn't kill someone every day then it dies of ravenous starvation. And speaking on behalf of everyone who feels murderously hungry if they haven't eaten something in a couple of hours, starvation is one hell of a motivator when it comes to ruining someone's day.
So, I have to do all of that. Plus edit the fantasy series from a few paragraphs above so that it can be published in 2018. In a year. It basically comes down to: Monday to Saturday – write 3,000 words a day and edit 5,000 words of something else. On top of that: publish, promote, and find a way of still having a life.
Wish me luck.
(On a completely unrelated topic, I bet you're the type of person who likes reading books that have a 4.8 rating and that are receiving mind-blowing reviews. Do you want two of them for absolutely free? Then click the button below.)
There's not even a 'probably' here, this is *the best* review I've ever had! Many thanks to the Happy Meerkat at My Trending Stories!
As part of the #ComedyBookWeek, the good people at Books and Everything are doing an interview with yours truly. There's even a chance to win a copy of all four Kingston Raine books for anyone who participates. Want to see how many typos I can make over an hour? How about how well I function when the interview begins at 3am my time? Click on the link to find out, participate to make it fun, and with any luck I'll get to do this again!
The showdown begins at 19:00 in UTC+02 on 21 July.
Sometimes you just need to curl up with a good book and make everyone think you're a weirdo because you're laughing your ass off. This is especially effective if you're lying in bed with someone as they're reading something by John Grisham.
Check out some awesome authors and the hilarious stuff they write over here: https://comedybookweek.com/
Who knows, you might even pick up your new best friend.
Dear all paranoid Internet conspiracy websites: explain to me what the hell is going on in this world. Yesterday I went to bed and everything was fine.
Now there are zombies.
The US is bombing everything in sight, the dead are talking back to people, and every time I try to head home I seem to end up going farther away than when I started!
99 cents. It won't stay that way for long. Get it before you miss out!
I'm sure you already have more books than you'll ever have time to read, am I right? All those books you promised to read one day that are being neglected because of the annoying things in your life, like work, spouses, and children. I feel you. So it's about time you treat yourself. Get all the books you want for 50% off! Muwahahaha!
Want to immerse yourself if in an adventure comedy where the Grim Reaper and Satan bicker about the fate of the universe? https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/JacksonLear
Or do you want to find something new and refreshing? https://www.smashwords.com/books/category/1/newest/1
Guess what I'm taking part in? :D
Ana Spoke, author of Shizzle, Inc, has rallied together a whole host of writers and bloggers to take the interweb by storm! If you're interested in doing a book review, interview, or a guest post during 16 - 23 July, let her know.
For more details, check out Ana's ComedyBookWeek page.
It was Stephen King who first hooked me onto writing horror stories. My folks had a stack of his books at home and the best part were the author's notes. No one else really brought me into the world of sitting in their office, smashing away at a typewriter and getting thoroughly stuck half way through the story like him. While that was certainly cool for my fifteen year old self, the bit that really got me was how he described how horror allows you to be that universe's God. You weren't confined to reality. In fact, sometimes the further away from reality you go, the better.
Now, that might ring true for other genres, and certainly Dan Brown probably never allows himself to get stuck for more than half an hour, considering his frequent change of character motives and allegiances, but in most stories you still have to make the world mostly plausible. It's the characters who go a little off the rails.
Horror is different. The world is turned upside down and it's the characters who try to hold onto some sense of normality despite an ever changing environment. If you get stuck, no problem. Introduce a second bad guy and kill off anyone who seems a little too useful. Then kill off half their friends as well for good measure. If you get really stuck, resurrect your dead people and bring them to the bad guy's side. Then make the two former friends fight to the death. Whoever dies gets resurrected again, only now whoever survived has a nasty scratch on their arm and no one is willing to trust their friend in case they turn into one of them. If that isn't enough, introduce a carnivorous fog or a giant talking slug.
In short, people try to maintain the status quo while the world tries to literally eat them. Simple.
When I was eighteen I decided that, as much as I loved writing horror stories, I would never write something about vampires or zombies.
So without further ado I present my zombie book:
Oh, if only I could see the smug look on my younger self's face shatter the moment he realised that his feeble promises meant nothing to future him. He better get used to the sense of betrayal because I have a vampire story on the way as well. Muwahahahaha!
So why did I never want to write a zombie story? Because they're tacky and the bad guy isn't all that interesting. It's an idiot monster who lumbers about with no sense of identity. They can't toy with you, they can't talk back, their only real strength is that there's a lot of them. And, frankly, the idea that zombies could actually overthrow the world when there are a billion guns is pretty stupid. The problem is that I really like zombie films. Hell, I was even a zombie in a zombie film.
That's the back of my head from the 2003 film Undead. The wound has mostly healed over by now.
So while I liked watching a lot of crap, I didn't want to write one, in case it turned out to be even worse.
And then one day I had an idea. What if there's this guy who's backpacking through Spain, much like I did when I was 27? What if there's an outbreak of zombies while he's there, only it happens in as realistic a way as possible? What if thousands of people are running from a single zombie instead of one person running from a thousand zombies? The whole city gets evacuated, with scores of people crammed into the train station waiting to leave, only the trains don't move because there's a body on the train track and they don't know if it's alive or dead. One single zombie is responsible for all of this chaos. Except, what if this zombie was a diversion? While everyone is keeping it in sight the real nightmare builds behind them. What begins as a simple journal of some guy's travels through Europe quickly becomes a desperate story of being forced to flee from every scream and the ever present need to get back home becomes all the more impossible.
I wrote the first draft of Last Words fairly quickly, years ago. To my surprise I actually liked writing about zombies. I also enjoyed the idea that, in the aftermath of the apocalypse, someone finds this random guy's diary about the early days of the outbreak, only no one has any idea who wrote it or if he even survived. Would they be surprised that people are throwing end-of-the-world parties and getting drunk a lot? Or that you can spend months creeping through one infected city after the next only to come face to face with the militia who just shot your best friend for asking too many questions?
Last Words was edited and then quickly put on the proverbial shelf as I got to work on other projects. I got busy with work, life, writing, and I spent a few years getting the Kingston Raine series into a publishable state. I had grand plans for Last Words to be published at the end of 2015. The problem was Kingston Raine and the Lost Angel took forever to write and edit. I was so far behind schedule on that book that at one point I was still trying to finish the first draft while simultaneously editing it twice, letting my beta readers go over it, adjusting the writing according to their notes, and trying to fix any future problems that they were about to fun into. Guess what happened? The beta readers caught up to where I got to and instead of being able to edit 5,000 words a day I was lucky if I could manage 500. I was completely and utterly burnt out. I shelved the Lost Angel (which I always seem to stumble over as I'm convinced it's Lost Words or the Last Angel) and worked on something new to rejuvenate me. But there was no way I could get Last Words done in 2015. I adjusted my publishing goal to January 2016. Worst case scenario, it would be out in February. I am happy to say that it's now due to be released on 7th July. Yep, I got delayed.
It turns out, writing a book in the form of a diary isn't as easily accessible as I imagined all those years ago. It's very much a reactionary story. 'This happened today, I wonder what will happen tomorrow.' The manuscript came back to me full of red pen and lacklustre comments. The January deadline was never going to happen.
I was met with a nightmare of my own: how the hell do you save a book? Thankfully, Stephen King came to my rescue. When in doubt, remember that this is a horror story. Allow your readers to like your characters, give them some flaws and admirable attributes, give them a sense of humour, make the characters indispensable, and then make them suffer. The more suffering, the better. And you know what? Let's kill some of the main characters as well. Not the ones that deserve to die, no. That's too easy. Find out who your beta readers like the most and kill those characters, right when they're at their most useful.
The only problem is that this isn't really a horror story. It's more of an apocalyptic story. The other day my chief beta reader told me that while she's now read an apocalyptic tale of mine she still hasn't read horror. She wants something that will truly keep her up at night and make her shiver.
Last Words follows a 23 year old backpacker who tries to survive a zombie apocalypse and get home. There's some naughty vocabulary in there. You might even find several what-the-fuck moments.
Ah, England. The white cliffs of Dover. The overcast drizzle from a perfect summer’s day. The general attitude that everything is going to be a bit shite. How I have missed you.
Too bad I’m still forced to fucking miss you because I have yet to leave stupid Spain. The train was cancelled. There was a zombie on the track, heading towards us.
It's on pre-sale now for 99 cents. It'll be on sale 7th July. If you forward me your receipt for the pre-sale Last Words I will send you a free eBook of Kingston Raine and the Grim Reaper. You'll get two books for less than a cappuccino.
After two weeks of gimping shenanigans, I've got a cover for Last Words!
It was a process of turmoil and head scratching. How much of the story did I want to tell on the cover? What genre does the book fall within? What font works well? Should the name be up the top, in the middle, down the side, in a circle, or scattered about?
I first tried a backpack on the ground, looking all destitute and lonesome. I didn't like it. I tried adding a zombie hand reaching for it. I didn't like it. I tried the front face of a zombie. I didn't like that either. Then I tried something that looked an awful lot like this:
But the clouds don't feature all that much in the book. Not as much as, say, zombies. And I didn't like the colour of text either. There was an opportunity to tell another story in just the colour of the text and I had one: the Spanish flag. The bulk of the story takes place in Spain so it makes sense that the cover is flavoured as such.
So right now the book is in it's final few hours of pre-pre-sale. It'll be out on ... the 7th of July!
If you would like a digital advance review copy, shoot me an email.
Have you ever made a cup of coffee while half asleep and you take a sip of scolding hot liquid thinking it's had a few minutes to settle when in reality it's still the temperature of molten lead?
Yeah. I might be speaking with a lisp today.
At some unknown point in the next few months I will be leaving the drudgery of working for someone else behind and experience the crushing doom of being a full time author.
(And with coffee-tongue activated, it sounds a little like, 'ethperienth tha kruthing doom of being a ffull time awtha.')
Or maybe it will be a kickass time! Who knows? Future me knows, but he's being a tight-ass when it comes to hindsight.
So here are some of the challenges facing me right now. If you have any insight, corrections, tips, or wads of money, send me an email! There's a little icon up the top of my site. Or there's Twitter. Or Facebook. Or Goodreads. I am surprisingly contactable.
Problem 1: Not enough books.
A lot of writing bloggers seem to blog about things they've seen on other people's blogs, using the same sources and presenting it in their own words. What they all seem to agree on (because they're reading the same single source) is that financially successful indie authors have an average of 13.75 books published compared to not-yet financially successful indie authors who have an average of 7.4 books published. Where do I fit in?
I have 4 books published and 1 short story. So, I'm in for a challenge. I do have 1 zombie book almost published (covers are pending), Broken Toys is being beta read at the mo', and the final Kingston Raine book was mostly beta read and then put on hold for a year as burn out took over (courtesy of working on 5 books in 2 years featuring the same characters). So by the end of the year I might have 7 books published. Can I get 7 more published in 2017? I'm taking bets now.
Problem 2: Not enough time.
The more financially successful authors have been publishing for 3+ years. I'm clocking in at 2. Why does that matter? Less time to build a readership, less time to learn how to promote your ass off, less time to figure out what works and what doesn't. And I've only really been promoting myself for 6 months, and not even all that effectively. I'm still very much in that trial and error stage.
Problem 3: Not enough money.
I guess there's never enough. I began the year trying to figure out how much money I was willing to throw at promotions. Then I doubled it. Now I'm thinking I might have to double it again. In 6 months I'm willing to bet that I'm going to need to spend $1,000 on every book I publish just to give it a fighting chance at being recognised.
Problem 4: Not enough reviews.
Reviews sell books. I have almost no reviews. Guess how many books I'm selling? Admittedly, I'm getting better at getting reviews, but I'm still in that trial and error stage of knowing where to go and who to talk to. Time will tell how I go with that.
Problem 5: It's all up to me.
Even as supreme poobah of motivating myself, I'm going to have off days. I could probably work 80 hour weeks and not see any difference for years. The whole 'did I do everything I could do?' is going to weigh heavily on me and the simple answer is: no. I'm running a small business here by myself and trying to learn how to master a whole lotta skills that people go to university for and spend years honing in a workplace. I have to teach myself how to do that and pass myself off as a pro within just a couple of months. Even so, there needs to be a balance between life and being productive. I'm exactly the type who, at 10pm and after calling it a day, wants to get back to writing and editing because there really is just a little more I could do. But if I'm taking a year off from working for other people then I'm going to want some decent memories out of it, not just, 'I sat in my office staring at a computer screen for 12 hours a day.'
Of course, if you feel like helping a brother out then I'll just leave this handy little link to a book down below. It's 99 cents. And if you happen to feel like dropping a review, that would be mighty nice of you. :)
Over the last month I ran 10 promotions to test out various sites and marketing strategies for Kingston Raine and the Grim Reaper. Admittedly, the book is really hard to pigeon hole into a genre. It takes place in the afterlife during an attempted coup where the hero manages to teleport through fiction in an attempt to get back to his own world. If there was a category for 'the author was smoking some 'shrooms while writing this,' then Kingston Raine would fit quite snuggly in there. The result of it being hard to categorise is that most readers are probably expecting a different type of book than the one being pushed in front of them, and thus they might skip over this one as it is definitely not what they think of when they search through 'fantasy'. Another thing hampering my success is likely the lack of reviews. I'm sure it is more convincing to buy a book with 50 good reviews than just the 6 I have. But one problem at a time.
Since the US is going through an interesting time with election primaries I made sure my promos did not conflict with any election or public holiday. Without any further ado, here are my results:
9 April: Digital Book Spot. Cost: $10.50. Result: 4 sales.
16 April: Awesome Gang. Cost: $10. Result: 0 sales.
18 April: Bargain eBook Hunter. Cost: $22.50. Result: 1 sale.
20 April: Betty Book Freak. Cost: $15. Result: 3 sales.
1 May: Bookscream. Cost: $3. Result: 0 sales.
3 May: Discount Book Man. Cost: $10. Result: 0 sales.
6 May: eReader Cafe. Cost: $35. Result: 13 sales.
9 May: Lovely Books. Cost: $15. Result: 1 sale.
11 May: Read Cheaply. Cost: Free. Result: 2 sales.
16 May: Book Gorilla. Cost: $50. Result: 30 sales.
Overall, it cost $171 to run that leg of the promo. I sold 54 books. I'm not all that disappointed, since this is one of those trial-by-fire situations that everyone has to suffer through before getting any traction, and it's definitely useful to know which site works for me and which doesn't. I'm willing to try most of them again later in the year, but only with more reviews under my belt.
Updated: after speaking to Vinny at Awesome Gang he gave me an additional push on twitter and pinterest. Got 2 sales, so thanks to him!
Yesterday I got the beta version back for Last Words, a zombie story. I'm forever stumbling over this title because the last book in the Kingston Raine series is the Lost Angel. So between the Last Angel and Lost Words mix up, things get kinda screwy. This is actually the second beta-version I've worked on for Last Words. The first was done in January and was awash with notes and a general consensus that it wasn't ready yet. Have you ever had a project you've worked on that you are mostly happy with, are aware that it might be a little flawed, and then have a reader tell you it's just not any good? You have to roll up your sleeves, sit your ass down, and take a spoonful of suck-it-up, because they're right and every story you have can be improved.
Last Words is already a tricky book. It's written in the form of a diary as one guy backpacks through Europe only to find that he's done so right at the start of a zombie outbreak. As all transport deserts him he's left to his wits and humour to survive in a country that barely speaks English, having to trust people he barely knows, and figure out a way to travel the several thousand miles back home without anything killing him.
There are many pros and cons to writing an epistolary book. It worked for Dracula, it worked for Frankenstein. Being compared to those is a pro. A great big con is that everything written takes place after the event so there is very little dramatic build up. When a horde of zombies chases our hero we know he makes it out alive because he's there to write the story. So, things can't be as straight forward as they would appear. And the events that happen to this poor sap have to be surprising enough to keep people interested, which makes it kinda crap when your beta version comes back full of flaws.
I was left with quite a dilemma: how do you save a story that's focussed on a 23 year old who has limited life experience? Make him as sarcastic and funny as possible, give him an ex-girlfriend who he still pines over, and finally: find out which character your star beta reader likes and GRUESOMELY KILL THEM right when they're needed the most. Then casually hand the book back and wait for the moment of evil joy when you hear, “What the fuck??? Did you just kill Xxxxxxxxxx???”
Then you taunt them a little more. “Read it quickly or I'll kill your favourite character in the next book as well.” Or I might just be randomly chaotic, pick out a name from a hat and a cause of death from a mug, and throw in a red herring or two because the sassy lady everyone likes starts to cough and wheeze, the old man is short of breath, and the pregnant teenager has a habit of darting across the road when there's lots of traffic. Give this an A+ or someone else dies! Muwahahahaha!
Anyway, Last Words is almost done. The cover mock ups should be done in a week or so. ISBN assigning should happen around about then as well, then it'll go into pre-sale mode. Whoo!
I admit that I'm crap at keeping this whole blog / news thing up to date. I'm trying to get better but my mind tends to head towards things like actually writing books and less towards telling people about the books I'm writing.
In a couple of months I'm going to post a road map of what I've been doing in the last two years to get my books into the hands of readers. Some of it will be a 'I wish I had done this sooner' and part of it will no doubt be 'I wish I had avoided this sooner'.
Today's 'I wish I had done this sooner' is doing a Goodreads Giveaways. Goodreads is a social media and networking site all about books, authors, and readers. There are forums, opportunities to connect with authors, and a place to find the next book that has the power to twist your mind around out and leave you clamouring for more. The giveaway section is where an author runs a competition and the winner receives a free paperback. Sounds pretty straight forward and yet I avoided it for nearly two years.
At first I couldn't see much of an advantage in giving away a paperback. They are horrendously expensive. The books are printed in the US, I live in Australia, and the winner could be anywhere in the world. In theory, holding a competition where I have to pay for a book to have a round the world trip seemed cost-prohibitive, especially when there is only a 25% chance of getting a review. Furthermore, the competition is open to anyone, so the winner might be someone who just went click-happy looking for free shit and they're not going to read the book even if it's hand delivered to them.
The two blogs that turned me around were:
Kudos to them. It turns out I was looking at the giveaway from the wrong angle. The focus was not on that 1 person who won the book but on everyone entering the competition who might end up being interested in reading the book. Goodreaders are able to add a book to their to-read pile. One day, hopefully, the book I've written will climb to the top of their to-read pile and they actually read it, like it, and tell others about it. The point of the giveaway is to gain some worth while interest from hundreds or thousands of people.
Some folks have 30,000 books added to their to-read list. Clearly, any indie book is likely to be lost in that sea. But some readers have less than 100 books added. After doing a stupid amount of research I settled on a simple assumption that 10% of those who added the book to their to-read pile *might* actually read it some day. It would be great if the other 90% did, but not even I am able to get through all the books I've bought, despite them sitting on my bookshelf for years. So, that 10% is my target.
It's still quite cost-prohibitive, though. Each book costs $27 to print and ship to Australia, only for me to autograph it and ship it probably back to the States for another $14.40. On one of the blogs above they mention that you can ship it directly from CreateSpace and bypass that extra $14.40, so I might try that in the future, but you do lose the ability to say AUTOGRAPHED COPY! in the giveaway. Those tend to get the better results. Just how cost-prohibitive is it? You can get Kingston Raine and the Grim Reaper as an ebook for 99 cents. In order to break even I would need to sell 120 copies per giveaway. Thankfully the other books in the series get a better royalty rate and I'd only need to sell 15 to break even. But, still, by the end of this promotion run I will need to have sold 360 copies of the first book and 45 of the following. That's a big ask for someone who has only broken the double-digit-in-a-month barrier in sales once in the last 18 months.
(Spoiler: I sold 12 Grim Reapers and 5 of the others.)
I ran six giveaways from the end of January to the beginning of April. 3 were for Kingston Raine and the Grim Reaper (as it is the first in the series) and I did 1 each of the following 3 books.
I varied the length of each promo and usually overlapped one book with another so that entrants would notice that there was a series going on and not just standalone books. I made sure the post was advertised with AUTOGRAPHED COPY! so that readers would know that their book has travelled halfway around the world and back again.
For my first Grim Reaper giveaway I took a 'let's see what happens' approach. It ran for 9 days and received 1,497 entrants. Better still, I ended up with almost a thousand people adding it to their to-read pile!
The Bank of Limbo ran for 10 days, received 973 entrants, and got 365 to-reads. Not bad for a sequel.
The second Grim Reaper giveaway ran for 21 days, received 1,885 entrants, and got 250 to-reads. My goal here was to make it to the most requested page and I did! With 1 hour before the competition expired!
The Arena of Chaos ran for 22 days, received 968 entrants, and got 358 to-reads. That's pretty damn close to its predecessor, which is good to see.
The Starlight Muse ran for 9 days, received 626 entrants, and got 245 to-reads. Hmm. Something weird happened there if the second and third books had 350 more entrants and 110 more to-reads. For this one I mentioned: 'Ideal for fans of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.' Perhaps that had something to do with the lower results. Either that or people didn't like the cover.
The third Grim Reaper giveaway ran for 21 days, received 1,981 entrants, and got 200 to-reads. My goal was to reach 2,000 entrants. I *almost* got it. I'm not disappointed by any stretch of the imagination and it was good to see the numbers go up from one giveaway to the next.
The results were far better than I expected. 1,577 unique readers had seen my books and spent some time to add it to their collection. I also gained 60 followers on Goodreads, a few on Facebook, I got a couple of reviews there and on Amazon, a couple of ratings, and best of all I ended up selling 17 books. Certainly the start of any promotional campaign is not going to show much progress, but at least I saw *some* progress. It's encouraging to set a new personal best in terms of sales and with any luck this trend of people finding me continues. I'm going to let the giveaways rest for a while and try again when my next book (a zombie story titled Last Words) comes out. I'll double up on the Grim Reaper and Last Words for a while and see how that goes.
What I wish I knew beforehand:
These books are heavy. The Grim Reaper and the Bank of Limbo are just under 500 grams. The Arena of Chaos and the Starlight Muse are just over 500 grams. I was able to sweet talk the Australia Post lady and get the 504 gram Arena of Chaos down to 499 grams but I couldn't do it for the Starlight Muse. It was 540 grams and I arrived at a busy time of the day when flashing some man cleavage didn't work. Instead of costing $14.40 to ship I was met with a new bracket: $35. So the winner just won a $62 book about the silly antics of Kingston, Death, and Satan as they chase a deranged muse across the world. There is certainly a disadvantage in running giveaways for meatier books. I'm assuming the cut off point in terms of weight for these CreateSpace printed books is 360 pages. Anything less and you're okay. Anything more and staging a giveaway becomes too stupidly expensive.
Want to see what grabbed 1,577 people's attention?
A master of terrifying mazes encounters one that finally lives up to its reputation.
(It's also free.)
Do you see that handsome devil in the bottom right picture? It's me! Photographer Nicola Bernardi did an incredible job of making me look fabulous. I guess I better get back to work!
Who doesn't love free shit?
If you are even remotely book-geeky then winning an autographed paperback is exactly what you need to make your day a little more awesome. You'll probably unwrap the mysterious packaging from Australia while still next to your front door. Then when you realise that you have a new book you can grab your phone and Instagram the shit out of your 'Look what came in the mail today?!' post. Couple it with some #bookporn #booklover hashtags and you'll be envy of everyone you've ever met.
Hell, you might even read the damn thing, all 308 pages of whimsical goodness about a smartarse industrial thief who escapes from Limbo. Along the way he even causes some mischief.
So, if you're a member of Goodreads and would like to win a free autographed paperback of Kingston Raine and the Grim Reaper, then click here. It will end on the 27th of January.
Aaaaaaand if you also happen to send me a Goodreads friend request before the 27th I will happily send you the Grim Reaper ebook for free!
It's almost time to farewell 2015. It's been a busy year, an overly ambitious year, and overall a not-too-bad year. So bring on 2016!
What will the new year involve? In all likelihood I will quit my job and be Batman ... an author ... for a year. Like, a proper author. One who can actually stick to a deadline. By the end of that year I'd really like to keep on being a proper author because working for someone else when the only motivation is a paycheque can be quite tedious.
Of course, it will mean that my entire career now rests on my shoulders. I will try to periodically off-load some of that burden onto you guys, so a nice review and a little word of mouth would really mean a lot to me. :)
I'm planning on publishing at least two books in 2016. One is called Last Words. In it, a British backpacker is caught in the middle of Spain just as the zombie apocalypse kicks off. Does he hide in a rickety country house and wait this thing out? No. What about hiding in a shopping mall? No. What about calling upon Milla Jovovich and asking for some help? … Maybe.
The other book geared for release in mid 2016 is Broken Toys. In a sleepy English town three young boys climb into the wrong backyard ... a twenty year old abduction sparks new interest among the locals ... and a shadowy figure known by everyone but rarely seen a second time seems to haunt the streets at all hours of the day.
So those books are kind of my plan. Any tips and feedback will be greatly appreciated. :)
For all you Kindle fans out there, my first four books will be free for a very short and never again period of time. As I move onto other eBook platforms I will leave behind the exclusivity I have with Amazon which means no more freebies will ever be possible. So, really, this is your last chance.
Here are the dates:
Kingston Raine and the Grim Reaper: Saturday 17th October and Sunday 18th October.
Kingston Raine and the Bank of Limbo: Saturday 24th October and Sunday 25th October.
Kingston Raine and the Arena of Chaos: Saturday 31st October and Sunday 1st November.
Kingston Raine and the Starlight Muse: Saturday 7th November and Sunday 8th November.
All dates are for Pacific Standard Time (don't live in the US? Just adjusted your daylight savings and you're not sure if you lost an hour of sleep or gained an hour? Just Google Los Angeles' time and you'll be set).
For the last month I've been quietly spreading the word that the fifth (and, hopefully, the last) book in the Kingston Raine series, 'the Lost Angel', will not be out this year. So, it's time to announce it officially. It might not even be out next year either.
I had planned on releasing another book this year as well. It's a horror story that I've already begun to caution people about because really bad things happen to undeserving people. I know that's common in horror stories and that bad things happening is kinda the point, but these are really bad things. That ain't gonna be out this year either.
If you're a reader who wonders why the hell author's embark on a series and then can't complete them on time, and you're pulling out your hair thinking, 'Well, just write more and faster, this is your job, damn it,' then you're a lot like me. After all, George RR Martin has been taking his sweet ass time with the final book and that won't be out this year either. Surely by now he knows exactly where the story is going and what needs to happen to get it moving along.
The worst part is that the Lost Angel is pretty much finished. People have begun to read it and have sent back some of their notes. The feedback seems to be, 'you're burnt out and it shows.' That's not really a good way to end a series. It reads like a stand up comic is just reciting his jokes instead of performing them.
I don't have writer's block. I'm just burnt out from being around the same characters for years. The book is almost twice the size as the first one. I spent the entirety of the first draft working full time for someone else doing weird shifts and not spending enough time writing. During that time the apartment I was renting was up for sale and there were three months of twice-weekly inspections when no one came except for the sales agent. That kind of disruption isn't great for a writer. Then I moved house (I got tired of inspections) so I became the inspectee! (The spell checker tells me 'inspectee' is not a word. It probably isn't, but you know exactly what I mean, right?) A month of me inspecting properties and then moving things back and forth, then setting up a new office so that it feels comfortable spending hours a day in there … life just got in the way.
So I'm shelving the book for a year. Maybe more. I need to recharge. I had originally planned on publishing it in November 2014, so to be here a year later and it still isn't ready eats away at me. Earlier this year I thought it might be possible to publish this book in June and another book around about now, but good old Kingston managed to take up so much of my time that the final draft to the horror story just kept getting pushed back. I've had to shelve that one for a few months as well. Why shelve a new story? Because it feels like I've done nothing but editing for the last couple of years. I need to write something fresh, from scratch, and recharge before going over an old project and finding out why I fell in love with it when I first wrote the story.
So that's the update. It might take me another six months to get something off my hard drive and into the real world.
By the way, I just finished reading The Martian. I actually stayed up until 4 in the morning to finish it.
It's my birthday! And to celebrate, here's a free book! Kingston Raine and the Grim Reaper. Available from Amazon for free until the end of the Thursday Pacific Standard Time (I'm having a long birthday. Sue me.)
A few months ago I met this awesome photographer, Nicola Bernardi. You know how you meet someone who claims to be 'a photographer' and when you see their photos you're pretty sure you could take a better shot? This was not one of those occasions. Nico is actually a photographer who really fucking delivers.
Straight out of high school I worked on a few film crews, from being a lighting monkey to a sound jockey (you might be wondering how a monkey lights or a jockey sounds …), so aside from being able to tell you what the best boy does (they are the primary assistant to either the key grip or the gaffer) I am quite comfortable sitting in a room crammed full of cameras and lights. This, however, was the first time I was the star of the shoot.
(You might also be wondering what a key grip and a gaffer do. Grips set up the camera dollies (the crane looking thing) and the key grip is their supervisor. A gaffer is the supervisor to the lighting department. Both jobs require moving heavy equipment millimetre by millimetre while giving the evil eye to the sound department, because the sound guys finished setting up half an hour ago and have been talking to the make-up girls with a fresh batch of coffee in their hands.)
I had a blast! The whole shoot took three hours in a great house (it isn't mine) in Melbourne. We began outside to take some portrait shots to loosen me up (posing can be a bit weird at times as sometimes you have to sit/stand in an awkward position and make it look comfortable). That took just five or ten minutes.
Then we moved inside, cluttered the fuck out of a table, and blinded me for the next hour or so with flashes just two feet from my eyes. Seriously. You see the laptop in the picture below? There's a flash sitting on the keyboard to light up my piercing blue eyes. Blinding.
We tried a few sexy lighting shots with an orange light coming from outside, then we changed it to blue and got an eerie, yet fantastic look. There was a lot of tweaking going on with everything that normally sits close to my computer at home and Nico laughed out loud that one of the props I brought along was a sandwich. Mostly the tweaking came from how I was sitting. Lean forward a bit, chin up, forehead down slightly, tilt your head this way, a centimetre more, focus on a dot on the far wall, give me a concentrating look, write something, now look back up again, lean back, head this way, deep in thought, stare into space …
It helped that Nico and I have been friends for six months already, but even so he had very good direction. To stop him from eye balling my sandwich I brought a bottle of wine to share. He's Italian, so that seemed to work. Then we moved onto the kitchen shot.
Do you see all of that atmospheric clutter on the benches? None of that is mine. The household were furniture sitting (apparently that's a thing) and had to get rid of the bench and table the following day, so they were pulling everything out from storage and figuring out where to put it. And all the while we were there shooting some author pictures during a crazy time in their house. We managed to blind a few of them as they were in the red light room using the microwave just as one of the main flashes fired, blinding them and making them think the microwave had just exploded in their face (sorry!).
It was fun. It was relaxing. It actually made me feel like something of a professional. Have you seen some of the author photos on the internet? They look boring. They're either just a black and white head shot which offers no personality at all or it's a writer standing in a bookshop. I wanted something different, atmospheric, and good enough that wouldn't be replaced in six months with a nicer shirt against a new collection of books. I got the photos I wanted.
Then … it was a wrap! (Alas, there is no wrap picture, but imagine there were cheers and high fives all around) It was time to pack up, get dressed, and have a beer down the road to see what Nico is up to next. If you even remotely like these photos of me you'll loooove looking over Nico's portfolio on his website.
One year ago I finally published a book!
I should mention that you all have my most sincere apologies for a complete lack of updates, posts, or feedback of any kind. My time management skills have been a disaster. Case in point: My actual anniversary was three weeks ago, so even this post is late. At least I'm consistent.
But what a year it's been! In the beginning I had no idea what to do. I still have barely any concept of how to make a living writing books, but I'm kinda getting there.
A slight back story:
The 'published author' tag began with Kingston Raine and the Grim Reaper, a dark comedy set in the afterlife. For years I had no intention of ever going down the indie route. I went through agent after agent, getting rejected and ignored for years. I tried one book, then another, and I kept going until the Kingston Raine series popped up as a query letter to agents across the US, Canada, England, and Australia.
By then I was used to having my hopes and pride punched out of me, so when I was rejected again I simply put Kingston Raine on the shelf and got to work on something else.
Then the whirlwind of mid-2013 struck: In the space of three months I went from having an apartment, having a job, and having money, to living on my own for the first time in years, having lost my job (much in the same way that you would lose your keys, I guess), and having spent just about every penny I had on practical needs like buying the cheapest second hand car that wasn't going to crap out on me in a couple of months.
There I was, pacing around my apartment with far too much time on my hands and nowhere near enough money to see me through to the end of the year. I had to get my act together.
I made the bold promise of publishing a series of five books in 2014. They were supposed to be out in March, May, July, September, and November. The first three went off without a hitch. The fourth was a month late. The fifth...? Well, it's April of a whole new year and not only has the book not been published, the first draft has only just been completed. Kinda. The ending is a little shabby, but at least I have an ending.
If anyone was hoping like hell to read that particular book before Christmas … sorry! It was easy being ambitious with publications when I had no idea how to actually get published, in the same way that selling a million copies should be fairly straight forward until you realise how agonising it is to even sell 20 books to complete strangers.
Believe me, I wish the final book was done. Nothing sucks quite like knowing that you've sailed passed a deadline that there is no way of catching. And here I am, five months past the publication date, and instead of finishing the last draft, I'm writing a blog to explain why I'm not celebrating with wine and take out.
In short: I crashed out. For two years straight I was working on the Kingston Raine series. Not every day, but more days than not. I've been juggling full time work as well, so the writing time has dwindled which meant the agony of not being as productive as I'd like has lengthened, but over all it has been a fantastic year!
… Getting back to the point of the blog:
I've connected with other writers. I've revamped my website which will inevitably require constant tweaking and updating but it's a hundred times better than what it was. I've met up with some awesome and inspiring people, I dug myself out of being a hermit, and got myself a social life. I've watched more comedy, read less and less, worked more and more, taken time off to recharge, drunk my share of shiraz, picked up the guitar once in a while, sat in the bath way too often, and actually made something of a business plan (which can be summed up as: be more productive, be less lazy).
So what's next?
I have a photo shoot with a remarkable photographer, Nicola Bernardi, that will put me alongside Heidi Klum. (I can't believe how much I'm actually looking forward to that.)
I've got a website overhaul in the next few weeks, - so if you have any awesome ideas, let me know!
I'm also planning an eBook give away in early June (for my birthday), so stay tuned if you are at all interested.
Anyway, take care folks, I hope you enjoy the wacky antics of Kingston and his band of merry smartarses.
Until next time!
It's done! The hours (and hours and hours) spent on this were worth it.
Let me introduce the revamped (and much sexier) cover for Kingston Raine and the Grim Reaper ...