Writing Update 2019 week 1 (belated)

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

Actually we’re at the end of week 2 in 2019 now, but that is for another day (tomorrow!). This week has had lots of interesting bits: a shot of external editing for Mr. Ruin, my own editing of King Ruin, and the International Bookbub.

External editing

I wanted fresh eyes on Mr. Ruin, which I’ve been editing off and on for months (years). All the same plot movements are there, the same characters and concepts, but it took a lot of work to really bring them to the surface – cutting through purple patches, cutting repetition, explaining concepts the first time around, setting scenes better.

So had it worked? I went looking for an editor, though I’ve never had luck with paid editing. I found a guy on fiverr who would charge $40 to beta read the first 3 chapters, and went for it. In 3 days he came back to me with some really useful feedback, ie – the beginning is a little rough, some issues throughout, but generally very refined.

I agreed. In my editing efforts to better set the opening scene in time and place, I’d made the narrative quite choppy, with two paragraphs ‘live’, then a paragraph of tiny flashback to set that scene, and onward like that.

So I changed it. Now it runs straight through. Little things like this in the first few chapters really matter. So, big success! I doubt I’ll get the whole book read through, but maybe… the guy said only $100.

Editing King Ruin

I have edited about a quarter of book 2 so far. It’s good, but suffers from all my usual flaws – now what was a very dense and condensed 5 chapters of 4,000 words each has been aired out to 15 chapters at around 1,500 words.

So much better, way more hooky and breathable. It takes time to do this, but it’s worth it. I’m always learning.

International Bookbub

This was a big one – after spending maybe $100 on Facebook ads in the run-up, across three days (10-12th Jan) I sold 300 99p copies on Amazon (mostly UK), with another 140 on other vendors. 440 total.

That is almost exactly what I predicted/hoped for. 300 amazon, 200 elsewhere. It never ranked so highly in the charts, hitting maybe #350 in amazon uk, but copped a #1 bestseller tag in Metaphysical Fantasy.

Did I make money? Probably I recouped my costs by now. The price is back up, to the lower price of $3.99 (it was $5.99 for a year). Perhaps a little gravy will flow in.

Plans

My next release now will be the Mr. Ruin trilogy, aiming for March some time. Then the thrillers, if no agent has bitten by then – just need to write one more to release 3 at once.

Big things could happen for me in 2019. I’m very keen to find out.

Finally built the new shed!!

MJG DIY, Life Leave a Comment

After blogging about it plenty of times, starting at 9am and finishing around 5:30pm, today I built my new shed! Man, that is a long time – and it is not even finished!

First up was emptying the old shed, tearing it down, moving it out of the way, cleaning up the old brushwood I’d stuffed behind it two summers ago, cleaning up all the rocks I exhumed three years back, sweeping the concrete plate, then beginning the build.

Partially torn down. Rocks at left.
All the junk emptied out. Ping pong table at right.
Down. Rocks and brush to be removed still.

I got all that done maybe by 10am, within an hour. Until 12 I put on the new base, figured out my new drill, and assembled the back and two sides with Su’s help, then hung the door on the front wall.

Lunch followed. Su made tasty omelettes. Then a quick trip to Wickes, because the pilot hole drill bit (1mm) snapped. Start up at 1 and get the front on, the roof bar on, the roof pieces on, then as it was getting dark and starting to splash with rain around 4pm, I rolled out the felt roof and started tacking it on. 100 tacks later, the shed is waterproof!

Well, not wholly. The window needs to go in still, and the door has a big gap to cover. But mostly there. Photos tomorrow – I was too busy to stop and take more today. Lots of trimming bits to add on, then paint it with preservative, then it will be done. Finally the mower, cornhole boards and tennis stuff can move out of the kitchen and dining room!

International bookbub day!

MJG Marketing, Writing Leave a Comment

Today The Saint’s Rise is having it’s International Bookbub! It’s too early to talk about results – but the FB campaign reached a high of 8 copies sold already today, so that’s a nice starting point.

Here’s the copy BB used:

They call the Rot a black lava, which it’s not, but it doesn’t really matter because I suppose it could be. Otherwise it’s pretty nice. Maybe I’ll use it, or the structure of it, for future ads! Also Sen is a boy at the start, a teenager later on, but probably ‘man’ converts better with this audience…

1 day before International bookbub – Marketing Report

MJG Marketing, Writing Leave a Comment

My Facebook ad for The Saint’s Rise continues to deliver, though the price of clicks has increased. I was getting them for less than 20p, now it’s closer to 25p. Tomorrow is the Bookbub, and I think I’ll just switch the FB ads off for the day – then maybe turn them back on in the aftermath, to try and maintain rank.

On the 7th, 8th and 9th I spent 32 pounds on FB ads. I switched off the Bookbub ads as I got nothing. On those days I sold 15 copies of The Saint’s Rise on Amazon uk and none on other vendors. That’s about 5 pounds back, given the 99p price tag.

Small numbers, really, for a small investment. It has bumped the book’s ranking to 10,000, up from in the 200,000s, which is good. A better starting point for the Bookbub. I hope for maybe 300 copies sold in the uk tomorrow, with 200 across Canada, India, Australia. That would be hitting the Bookbub average, apparently. Wish me luck!

3 days before International Bookbub – marketing report

MJG Marketing, Writing Leave a Comment

My ad on Facebook continues to perform pretty nicely, in the last 4 days since ads started it has sold 8 copies on amazon, half of those at the full 4.99 price, half at 99p, and 4 copies through iTunes, half at full price, half at 99p.

So I’ve made about 20 pounds, for an outlay of 40 (at 10 a day).

A 100% loss of 20 pounds. So why so chipper? These are better results than I’ve ever really had with a Facebook promo before, and my goal here is not to make momey (yet), it’s to juice the ranking algorithm before the Bookbub hits.

More juice in advance, so goes the theory and my experience of it, means more sales in the tail (ie- after the major promotion is over). A nice long coast into profit town.

Also, it doesn’t consider readthrough. If we consider maybe 25% of those readers will buy The Rot’s War, that’s 4 more copies at full price, so another 12 pounds. 32.

Hmm. Still a loss of 8. But maybe some of those readers will go on to read my other books. Some may leave reviews – a kind of payment of its own. Things can happen. Money will come.

Accordingly I’ll crank up my Facebook spend in the coming days. Maybe 20 pounds tomorrow, the 8th. 40 on the 9th. The 10th is my Bookbub, so either cancel the ads (as they’ll pale into nothing next to the Bookbub) or double down and go big, aiming for the biggest splash possible.

We’ll see.

Still nothing from the Bookbub ads.

Fantastic oral hygiene

MJG Life Leave a Comment

2 days back I went to the dentist for the first time in maybe 4 years, since leaving Tokyo, and she was very pleased with my excellent level of oral hygiene.

How nice. She was also rather taken with my gold fillings – we don’t do gold here in the UK anymore, but it’s the main filling material in Japan.

In other news I’ve finally ordered our new shed, I damaged my shoulder yesterday doing bench-presses, Facebook Ad efficacy is down (zero sales yesterday), and I’m enjoying The ABC Murders on the BBC.

Back to work tomorrow!

Discussion with two-time Doomsday cult survivor Claire Ashman

MJG Cults, Research, Writing 1 Comment

Yesterday I spoke with author and speaker Claire Ashman, a victor (not victim) of two Australian cults which sucked up most of her life, from her childhood to the age of 36 when she finally escaped with her 9 kids.

It was a fascinating, eye-opening discussion for me, and a brilliant step in my research journey to better understand cults, sects, and NRMs (New Religious Movements – which Claire explained). I’m grateful both to Claire for being so generous with her time and her life story, as well as to my good friend Rob Nugen, who introduced us.

The introduction happened on Thursday 3rd Jan, and we arranged to chat on Friday night 11pm for me (9:30am for Claire in Australia). I jumped online to research Claire and figure out what I most wanted to ask her – she has recently completed and self-published her first memoir, Lessons From a Cult Survivor, which details her cult experience up to the escape.

Available from:

I picked up the book and started reading – whizzing through her early life in the excommunicated Catholic sect The Society of St. Pius X, in which modernity and the modern world were pretty much eschewed, information was tightly controlled, and socialization outside the sect was strongly discouraged.

At 15, the 27-year-old man who would become Claire’s first husband came knocking on her family’s door – a man from the community, claiming he was looking for a good pious girl. Little beknownst to them – as Claire told me she found out much later – he’d already tried this same trick on several other families in the sect.

Claire’s folks went for it. Not knowing any other kind of life, she went for it too. Her husband soon wanted something stricter, and pulled them both, along with her growing family, into The Order of St. Charbel, run by William Kamm, the Little Pebble, also known as Australia’s largest Doomsday cult.

OK. So that’s a lot to take in at once.

I sidetracked onto TED Talks. Claire’s done FOUR of them. Here’s one:

Since getting out of the cult, and away from her first husband, she’s been really pushing to spread the word about the terrible impacts cults can have, and how genuinely prevalent they are. With 600,000 people in cults in Australia (overall population 24 million – so approx 1 in 50 people in cults), they’re everywhere.

Soon the appointed time rolled around. We got on the call – Claire was gracious, generous, and insightful. Here are my perceived highlights of our conversation, grouped broadly by the questions I asked.

Cults are bad. But there has to be something good about them, to draw people in. What drew you in, and what ultimately pushed you out?

This opened up a fascinating seam – Claire’s backstory, her studies into cults and sects since she left St. Charbel, and her own reflections on what was happening in her cult.

She talked about ‘seekers’ – terminology for someone looking for something they felt was missing in their lives – in this case spiritually, in the specific teachings of a given sect or cult. Her mother was a seeker (she’d been a nun and missed the convent), and her first husband was a seeker too (of the white nationalist kind, fearing an Asian Army overtaking Australia). They were both looking for something, and their respective sect/cult fulfilled it.

That was the deal, and what they got out of it. A hole filled in, bringing a certain satisfaction. Claire however wasn’t a seeker. She went along with her family and then with her husband, as many of us would and do every day. We only have one life, I figure, and only see the life around us. That is our normal. We talked a little about this – how wider experiences allow you to make better judgments about the life you’re living – whether it’s good or bad or weird or whatever…

Of course the cult wants to control your experience – maybe the first thing it does is control your information intake by banning TV, discouraging interaction with the outside world, attempting to cut existing family and friendship ties. So the cult leader only allows one frame of reference. There is no way to have the thought – ‘this is weird’ – because it’s not weird. It’s normal, the only normal you know.

Financial and behavioural controls follow. Followers must work constantly and pay a tithe to the leader. They are kept on the bread line, too occupied to brew up discontent. They are constantly tested in faith – with circles within circles all centred on the leader. Naturally, you want to be in the inner ring – in the same way most people want to make more money, rise up the ziggurat of their job, achieve success in myriad ways. We all want to achieve success and put some points on the board. In a cult, those points involve getting in with the leader.

Inner circles

Kamm called his inner circle of adult women the Queens and the girls the Princesses. At this point, even if you don’t know the story of William Kamm, you’re probably thinking what I was thinking, based on all our supsicions about cults as brought to us through TV and movies. He was having sex with them, right?

Right. He called these unions ‘mystical marriages’. Teen girls started getting pregnant. It was all kept very quiet. Claire described how every single person was living in their own tailored liescape, their own bubble of misinformation. In later years, one of her daughters told her how she was made to feel like the family slave, which led her to believe she was adopted. Another of her children described how they were warned never to go near the compund’s fence (ie -near the outsdie world) as strange men might snatch them up. Claire had never known that. Each person was on their own, kept isolated as a means of control.

Kamm had many other means of control. Maybe the cult membership ‘deal’ wouldn’t work if there was only carrot (fulfilment of the seekers’ needs) and control. There had to be a stick, too.

Doomsday, Rapture and the prison of belief

Kamm was a proponent that Y2K would end the world. Everything his cult did was to prepare to survive that day, while also preparing for the possibility that the Rapture might happen at any moment.

You wouldn’t want to get caught short when the Rapture hit, would you? You also wouldn’t want to take a risk – like going off the commune or disconnecting from the cult – and then have your daughter get hit by a car. God can get angry. He could get vengeful.

“You’re free to leave whenever you want,” Claire said Kamm would often say in sermons, and leave it hanging. People would start to think they were really free. Then he’d finish up – “but if your son dies, or your husband breaks his leg, you should know that it’s because you left. It’s your decision.”

So Kamm made a prison of belief. Every negative thing could be explained as a failure of the flock to belief enough. Maybe good things were attributable to their piety and complete submission to him. Once he had control of their frame of reference, with being close to himself the pinnacle of their aspirations, he could do anything.

So it’s brainwashing?

Claire said brainwashing is not a thing, debunked by research. Call it indoctrination instead. Call it countless little manipulations that steer you in a certain direction. All your choices are then influenced by an outside force. You’re unable to act in your own best interests, because the pressure is always there.

This is perhaps what fascinates me most about cults – the way leaders compel their followers to act against their own interests. The ultimate expression of this has to be through mass suicide events, like the Jonestown cult. Drinking the Kool Aid.

Claire brought up many other examples of people in the cult acting deeply against their own interests – so trapped were they in Kamm’s prison of belief, his inner circles, his line in doomsday ‘shit’ and cobbled together religious doctrine.

He had his Queens so dedicated to serving him that they sought out the young teen girls to serve as his Princesses. In this they aided and abetted a pedophile. He was ultimately convicted and served 9 years of a 10-year sentence, largely in solitary confinement. Claire couldn’t believe he hadn’t been killed in prison.

Isn’t that what they do to pedophiles in prison? It’s what we all hear. But not in Kamm’s case. Maybe he used his conman skills to get out of it – to spin a new line of BS that worked for the other convicts.

He clearly was good at it. He had the parents of girls helping him bring their daughters to him. King David had concubines, after all, so Kamm should too – Claire pointed out how he commandeered useful bits of the Bible like this to strengthen his case. He was going to be the next Pope, after all. Everybody knew that in the cult. When the real Pope died, of course the scuttlebutt was that Kamm was being groomed for ascension. The call was coming any day.

He served 9 years in jail for being a pedophile. When he got out, his cult were waiting for him. Not all of them. But plenty, still. Enough to reconstitute and keep on going.

What?

Yes. That was my reaction. Even after the world judged him guilty, people stayed. We talked more about this. Claire said people who join a cult in their teens are more likely to try it for a few years then leave. But if you join a cult in your 30s, you’re committed. You’re not going to leave. You’ve made your bed and you won’t consider new evidence – in essence you’ve had enough of critical thinking and you’re glad to have an authority figure lead you.

It didn’t matter to him that he went to jail. It didn’t matter that the Y2K Doomsday event, baked right into their doctrine, didn’t happen. It didn’t matter that he was inconsistent in multiple ways on his own doctrine – ways that Claire pointed out to him directly, that ended up with him allowing their hom eto be foreclosed on.

Bailiffs came to kick Claire and her 9 children out. By that point, at age 36, she was ready to go. She went, got a new place, and put the cult firmly in her rearview mirror – if such a thing were at all possible.

I asked Claire about the long-lasting effects of being in a cult. The character in my thrillers was in a cult as a child, and I have him suffering pretty extreme PTSD, panic attacks, nightmares, social dislocation, well into his 30s. Was that realistic?

It seems, yes. Claire herself for a long time didn’t know how to do things. It’s the question of experience again – knowing what to wear to a BBQ party, how to do your hair, what to speak about – we all know these things because we’ve done them, we’ve seen them on TV, we’ve absorbed these ‘scripts’ over many years, and we know the unwritten rules of our society.

Claire and her kids didn’t. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been. Counseling followed. Her kids who were older when they came out of the cult had a more tumultuous time of it. Depression. Multiple challenges in adapting. Generally unsettled lives.

I came back around to Kamm. The leader, the Little Pebble. Was he smart? How did he do these things? How did he control so many people?

He was ugly, Claire said. Short, fat, hairy, ugly. ‘An incel?’ I suggested. An involuntary celibate male. It sounded like it. But more than that. A true beta, who wanted more than anything to be up there with the big boys. Respected. Admired.

A narcissist? A psychopath?

Absolutely, Claire said.

Here I depart a bit into my own observation of human nature. Obviously he was more than ‘just’ an incel, because of the pedophilia. The fact is, most incels and most pedophiles won’t go to the enormous lengths that Kamm did. Incels bitch on the Internet. I expect pedophiles lurk and skulk in large part.

Few act on this scale. Few will go to such lengths to serve the dark whims of their fancy. Kamm did, and used every trick at his disposal to achieve it.

But how? How did he get from nothing to so far along a strange, horrible path, and with such success?

I haven’t interviewed Kamm. I put the thoughts that occured to me to Claire. In many ways, Kamm seems like any other pedophile priest operating within the Catholic religion – of which there must be thousands. Also like Jimmy Saville – the British entertainer who had carte blanche to go into childrens’ hospitals, because he was famous, and do just as he willed.

The authority of fame goes a long way. The authority of the cloth probably goes further. Most pedophile priests don’t invent their own religion, but they use and abuse the power it affords them constantly.

I imagine Kamm saw that. Perhaps he experienced it as a child himself. I personally have never experienced the power of that world. I wasn’t raised in any real faith, certainly not an extreme one or one that I believed. Kamm probably was, and he saw that power, and he wanted it for himself. He figured out a niche in the faith market, where certain people weren’t getting served, and he served up what they wanted to hear.

Probably his ideology was basic at first. I’m sure he refined it – extending the con, building in more bullshit, scouring the Bible for things to spin. When his schtick got challenged, he found ways to overawe, double down, explicate. He explained the failure of his doomsday predictions, after all. People stayed. He learned on the job and got better at it.

His needs grew as they were increasingly served. His ambitions grew too. 12 Queens, now. 72 Princesses. Many impregnated via ‘mystical marriages’. And why not? There was nobody there to stop him. Once he’d stepped off the moral map, what did he care for normal morality? He was the voice of God in the minds of his cult. He dictated good and evil. When God does it, it isn’t a sin.

And people believed, and they stayed. Even after prison, after it all came out. They believed so much, and had invested so much of themselves in Kamm, that they couldn’t leave, not without tearing themselves apart. So they stayed. They doubled down too.

That’s a dark, depressing place to leave it. It’s not how my conversation with Claire ended though. She obviously left the cult. She got her kids out. She is a victor, not a victim, and now she speaks out against Kamm and cults in general. That must take enormous bravery.

In closing I brought up one of the key questions for my thrillers – how could a vigilante, acting outside of normal legal restraints and morality, truly break a cult? That’s what my hero does, in his fictional world. How might it happen?

Claire said there would be no way to do it through persuasion. If such a person came in to the cult and started talking up dissent, they’d be considered the crazy one. They’d have no standing in that place. So I suggested more extreme. It’s fiction, it’s a novel after all.

How many people in a cult would you have to ‘take out’, either kill or put into prison, to actually kill the cult? Not just put it on pause, but kill it stone dead?

Not just the leader, Claire said. Kamm had a second-in-command who was blindly devoted to him and everything he taught. Followers would stay and await his return all their lives. He’d done such a good job on them.

So all the leadership, maybe? All the inner circle?

Some followers would leave, but the hard-core would remain. They’d form a new inner circle. A new leader would rise up. And Claire pointed out that those leaders already exist. Kamm’s organization is multinational. There are pockets of St. Charbel around the world. Kamm would tour them, picking out the young girls who were most appealing to him to be brought to Australia. That really happened.

So how would you cut off the heads of all those parts of the organization? How would you deal with all the wrong thinking trapped in so many peoples’ heads?

It’s the question my hero answers in the books, and that he will have to answer going forward. It opens the question out to one of extremism in general. We see so much extremism these days. Maybe it was always there, but the Internet brings it to the surface like scum in a broth. People radicalize themselves, and the deprogramming can take a lifetime. My hat is off to the people doing that hard work – helping others escape from prisons of belief.

I’d like to thank Claire again for giving her time for this conversation with me. I learned a great deal, and it gave me lots to think about and ponder going forward. If you found this interesting too, please consider picking up her book ‘Lessons From a Cult Survivor’ – what I’ve read so far of it is raw and real and fascinating.

New ads for The Saint’s Rise

MJG Marketing, Writing Leave a Comment

With my International Bookbub on The Saint’s Rise coming up in 6 days (Jan 10), I’ve started up a couple of new ads focused on the UK market (my biggest market after the US) to try and juice the ranking ahead of time.

Here’s the FaceBook ad:

I’ve never tried putting all retailers links in the body of the ad before, or leading with the major audiobook headline. I also rewrote the story summary – before it was primarily about the bizarre world, but now:

All Sen’s young life he’s been hunted – by the pitiless King and his nightmare monsters, by the scars of fate and a gnashing black mouth in the sky – and he’s had enough. Now it’s his turn to hunt. Like an assassin in the night, he will bring his enemies down.

It gets things going with some punch.

The ad started yesterday with ‘Landing Page Optimisation’ but that led to zero clicks, so I changed it to ‘Click Optimisation’ today and already have some results – some 30 clicks at a price of 18p (25c) per click. Not bad I think – especially with the book still at full price on amazon (where all the clicks went).

Actually – writing this at the end of day 1 of ads – I can see there have been 4 sales in the UK directly attributable to these ads. That might actually be covering the cost of the ad. A silly thing to get excited about – of course such an ad should earn PROFIT – but I’ll take covering my costs very happily.

To boot – all of this is without even adding in the 99p line in the promo, which should boost clicks. I’ll duplicate the ads for that, and not just alter the existing ones – in case it has some weird, negative effect…

Here’s the Bookbub ad:

Again here I’m going with a more active tagline – instead of ‘No Heroes Endure’ we have ‘Join the Hunt’. It’s targeted at UK readers on Google, Kobo and Apple, so no Amazon, because I haven’t reduced the price to 99c on Amazon yet.

As of end of day, I’ve received a few thousand impressions but not a single click.

I don’t know why this is. Maybe this audience is too thin on the ground? The FB ad only converted on Amazon so far. I’ll add in Amazon on BB in a few days. But, it’s also true I never really have success via Bookbub ads.

In summary

Some actual conversions are happening on FB. It is a mystery as to why. Could be luck, or the new copy, or the targeting, or that I’m narrowed to the UK, or any other thing. We’ll see tomorrow if things bear out. If they do, then it’ll be worth dabbling my toe with ads in the other Bookbub International Deal audiences – Australia, Canada and India – and maybe ramping up in the UK.

Taking care of business…

MJG Life Leave a Comment

The last few days were meant to be dedicated to editing the Mr. Ruin books, but instead I have used them for taking care of fairly dull New Year business:

  • Renewing my driving license (still not finished, machines at the Post Office were busted)
  • Researching remortgage rates – coming up in a few months
  • Researching a car to buy! This is quite exciting. We are mostly sold on a Dacia Duster. 15k all in, SUV, high driving position, looks pretty cool.
  • Setting up The Saint’s Rise Bookbub price of 99c around the world on all vendors (except in the US)
  • Finally ordering a new shed! It is due in a few days.
  • Joining the dentist, with a cleaning scheduled for tomorrow (first visit to dentist in 4 years!!)

Now however for 4 days I can double down on editing.

I’ve also lined up some research on cults for me to be getting on with – maybe a discussion with a cult survivor, as well as multiple documentaries and books about cults and mind control to absorb. Good to steep in it.

Writing Year in Review 2018

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

2018 has been a stellar, benchmark writing year for me on all kinds of fronts – sales, series completion, partnership with a trad publisher, trying on a new genre, working on my craft, networking, and reworking old material.

In at the end deep end:

Sales

$12,200 for the year, counting only Amazon (where most of the money has been). That’s actually quite a surprise to me. It’s a pretty good chunk of change. $1000 per month. We can write off a few thousand off that on promotions, cover art, etc… but still – my best ever:

2017 – $7,600

2016 – $8,500

2015 – $3,200

Yes, I am surprised. On some level I felt it was a slow year of sales. I released only 2 books. The Light came out in April, closing out my Last Mayor/Zombie Ocean series at book 9, and sold less than 500 copies for around $600 only. Not amazing, but no surprise given the falling off sales throughout the series.

The Rot’s War came out in June and sold less than 1000 copies for around $1000. Wha…? So where did the money come from? Well, The Saint’s Rise was still coasting its very successful launch in Jan and Feb, with a few thousand sales coming to around $6,000. That plus The Rot’s War accounted for $7,000. The other $5,000 came from the Last Mayor series as a whole – which is pretty good, considering I hardly promoted it at all.

I also got some cash from audiobooks and other sellers online, but not really worth mentioning. I lost a few thousand to tax, of course, but came out with a tidy sum – most of that waiting now for re-investment in covers and promotion or something else…

Production

I wrote somewhere around 300,000 new words in the year. Call it 800 words per day. A bit shoddy, really.

I had a slow start to the year, working on the promo of The Saint’s Rise, starting to edit The Rot’s War, and finishing off maybe 50k of The Light. Finishing a 9-book series was a huge milestone!

Then a (wonderful) trip to visit Suyoung’s folks in Korea threw me off my game a little. It was on that trip that I heard from Podium Publishing that they wanted The Saint’s Rise audiobook rights – so I spent the next two months intensively getting The Rot’s War up to speed – making my launch date nicely. I had to do a heck of a lot of work, with some 50k of new words on top of plenty of edits.

That left me halfway through the year, 2 books down. Not bad, but not great.

I then moved on to my thrillers – a project I’d been loosely planning for a year, maybe. Thrillers were a totally new genre for me. I aimed to write pretty straight, set in the real world, somewhat heightened thrillers like 24 or James Bond. My guy would be entangled in cults somehow, be a minority himself, and deal with modern day issues blown up on a big scale.

Writing these proved to be a real eye-opening project. I learned plenty about pace and what makes a book gripping. By Sept I’d written the first, 100,000 words long, and decided to send it off to agents for my first submission in years. A week ago I finished book 2, at 95,000 words. Again, I learned so much about craft, and my own good and bad habits.

At the same time I’ve been editing the Ruin War series. The first books I wrote (finished in 2015) formed a trilogy that never sold. I’m hoping these extensive rewrites will fix that. They’ll be my focus in the next month – but more on that in:

Plans

January – Finish editing all 3 Ruin books and prep for huge relaunch in March.

Feb – April – Write thriller book #3, then either get a trad pub deal or set up my self-pub of all 3 for fast-release in April/May.

May – August – Write book 3 in The Ignifer Cycle epic fantasy series, after the Saint’s Rise and The Rot’s War.

Sept – Dec – Write 2 more thrillers, books #4 and #5, and launch.

That’s 4 books written. 9 books launched in 3 different series and genres. It could be a huge, breakthrough year for me.

Craft

So what has writing these thrillers taught me about craft? First off, it’s many of the old lessons over again:

  • I get caught up in the characters overthinking a problem

I’ve known I do this for a long time. I’m an analyzer myself. My characters analyze. I almost know now, that when I’m in a section with the character analyzing their own choices deeply, that I’m going to have to cut heavily in the edit. It’s the strangest thing, because these are the easiest, fastest bits for me to write. They just flow.

They also drag to read. I know that well – it’s been a running complaint from some about the zombie books and the fantasy books. Slow pace, usually due to excessive thinking.

I know now that if it’s this easy for me to write, I can’t quite trust it. Maybe sometimes this is me explaining character motivations to myself. Working it out on the page, so to speak. One thing I’ve really learned, especially dealing with my thriller hero, is that he is smarter, faster and generally better than me.

Of course, right? So what might take me hours or days to figure out will take him seconds. He already knows what he needs to do well before I do. I just need to catch up. And then cut right back the thinking that got me there…

  • I overwrite

I actually do this way less than before. I used to do huge patches of adjectives, adverbs, lacking grammar and just running on. Heaps of made-up words. Concepts that are brain-ticklingly difficult to grasp. New races. New invented terms that never really get explained.

When I look at the Ruin books now, I think they are self-indulgent. I gave myself permission to go all-out with all the stuff I knew and could make up. I got emails from people with doctorates in neuropsychology telling me that the way I was talking about the brain was just too complex. Not incorrect, mind – just too damn hard to follow.

I didn’t know that. I didn’t fully know it for my zombie series. I didn’t know it for the fantasy books – which are primarily about a totally new, made-up fantasy world with none of the old tropes in it. A lot of people get dizzied by all that and switch off.

I get that now more than ever, and now I recognize it far better too. In thriller #2 I wrote a section crammed with backstory about cryptocoins and hacking and gamer terminology. It was so easy to write! It flowed beautifully! This taught me not to trust it. I was getting carried away again.

I knew as I wrote it that it was too good to be true. Too easy. I went back and hacked at it for hours. I got it down from 2,000 words to the essential 800 or so. That was hard, but I extracted the best bits and junked the rest.

So I think I can sum up these learnings as:

  • My writing benefits from tighter restrictions

I would never have welcomed this, if this advice had come from the outside. I’m stubborn and resistant to criticism. I’ve had to see it again and again. When the writing comes too free-wheeling, it’s probably not great. Some people advocate that the inner voice knows far better than the editing voice what is the right thing to write – but they’re either wrong, or they’ve got their inner voice already nicely trained.

I’m still training. My editing eye sees the inner voice’s work, and sometimes cracks a smile. ‘Shucks, look what that crazy inner voice got up to when it was let entirely off the leash.’ Then it gets to work tidying up all the dug-up flower beds. As such, I’m getting the two into closer alignment. I still don’t use an editor. Maybe one day soon I will. But it’ll be hard to actually trust another person’s opinion that deeply at this point, after this much training.

Rewrite only to editorial order. That’s pretty much my feeling. One of Heinlein’s Rules. I’m not interested in second-guessing myself. Only in making improvements that I fully understand as improvements, and thereby evolving my writing.

Networking

I networked like crazy this year. Since 2017 I’ve been co-organizing a group of Indie Authors in London, but only this year did I put more of a mark on the way the group runs.

  • Indie Authors

We used to get speakers in and/or go round the group letting everyone speak. Now we never get external people in – rather we get our own members to flaunt and explain their successes in a highly scheduled way. I love it. We get more supportive of each other’s work, while simultaneously getting inspired by people coming up right alongside us. They’re usually there every month, so we can check in and track each others’ progress.

We also started doing critiques of blurbs, covers and marketing plans. I love this too – it’s what I wanted most when I started looking for a marketing group. Real, practical help. Run like a regular critique group, we all get to chime in with constructive criticism of each others’ marketing materials. I’ve been through the mill a few times and it definitely helps.

  • Society of Authors

I joined the Society of Authors once in 2016, when a movie option came in for The Last, and they checked the contract multiple times – but I never got any networking from them. I’m sure it was there, but I wasn’t seeking out networking with trad-pubbed folks then, and figured that’s what they were.

This year I took another look at that. I joined the SoA and went along to a meetup of London novelists – all trad-pubbed, and all very pleasant, interesting, and perhaps not making any more sales or money than I was.

They made their money from teaching writing. Or editing, or doing mauscript appraisals. The keys to all of those remain trad-publication. Not even big-time or with a lot of sales. Just trad-pub deals on the scoreboard. That definitely made me think I want to get an agent and a deal – to pursue this kind of side career.

How great would it be to teach Creative Writing at uni? I didn’t put this in my plans, but I’m thinking to do an MA in Creative Writing now. For a long time I’ve put it off, thinking I had little to learn. Maybe that’s the stubbornness in me. Maybe I’m right? Either way, that piece of paper would help a lot when seeking work. Maybe a PhD would be necessary too?

I can justify the MA by saying I’ll learn about areas I don’t know much about, yet which I might need to teach. Like poetry and screenwriting. I have no interest in these, but I could definitely learn something by studying them, I’m sure.

So that one networking session was eye-opening.

I went to another by SoA invite, for new members. There was a huge mixer, and I mixed it up good. By the end I was chatting to the President of the SoA, and he was saying how he was definitely going to go independant with his next books, certain he’d make more money that way! That was fun.

I also bumped into a gang of thriller/crime writers. I’d never have considered myself on point to talk with them before, but as I outlined my thriller – they assured me it was also crime. There was another monthly meeting called First Monday Crime that I should go to and network some more.

  • First Monday Crime

First Monday Crime was a panel discussion -with 4 published thriller/crime authors at the front taking questions from the moderator. I thought it was pretty dull at first – I didn’t know any of these people – then they started talking about research.

That threw me into a crisis of confidence for a few weeks. They wrote letters to serial killers? One went to North Korea? One watched a autopsy?

What the heck? Was this writing or journalism? I thought maybe I should be doing more research. But what? Into cults? I have no interest in doing that myself, thank you very much. Watch some Loius Theroux or listen to Jon Ronson, sure. Read some books. But actually dig in myself – why?

After a month maybe, I figured out that I’ve already done more practical research than many of these people combined – with all my haikyo adventures. If you want to talk about paranormal and hauntings, I’ve experienced the reality more. If you want to talk about sneaking around in places you’re not supposed to be, evading security, gazing into the darkness of the human soul, I’ve done it more than them, with the photos to prove it.

So, that was nice to realize. For everything else, there’s secondary research.

Going hybrid

I mentioned earlier that I got Podium on board for my audiobooks in the Ignifer Cycle series. This has been extremely exciting, and a big piece of gatekeeper validation that came and sought me out.

Now books 1 and 2 are both out. I expect they’ll do 3 when I write it, and 4 and 5. I’ve got a Bookbub on The Saint’s Rise on Jan 10, so that could go big.

At the same time, I’m sending the thriller book to agents. Two so far requested the full. Darley Anderson said it had real potential. I’m waiting to hear, but I won’t wait forever. When book 3 is done, I’ll usher it out the door. I want to get my score on the board to facilitate a move into teaching creative writing, but the writing itself is more important to me than that.

And we live in a beautiful time for writers. I can try to trad-pub, then self-pub if that doesn’t work out. Three books in my pocket, ready for fast-release. Anything could happen.

Summary

To sum up, it’s been a huge year for me. Until I wrote this post, I didn’t think that. All the big money came right at the beginning, on the tail end of a Christmas 2017 promotion and launch. But through the year there have been some major developments in all areas. Closing out the Last Mayor. Podium. My thrillers. The craft lessons I’ve learned. The networking I’ve done and can further look forward to.

2019 should be big. Fingers crossed! Happy New Year to you, and best wishes with all your endeavors, creative or otherwise!