A Shadow Intelligence by Oliver Harris – Review

MJG Reviews, Thriller Leave a Comment

As a big fan of Oliver Harris’s Nick Belsey police thrillers, I came to this book loaded for bear, expecting a rollicking ride in the grips of a dark hero operating on the fringes of legality/lethality. I ended up getting scooped up and swallowed whole. Damn, Harris knows what he is talking about, and damn if he doesn’t stream that knowledge hard and fast through a sniper’s ricocheting trickshot of a plot.

We begin with MI6 agent Eliot Kane, man of many identities and worlds, getting pulled from a mission and furloughed in London for reasons unknown – in the midst of which he receives a mysterious video file showing some CGI-rendered deep fake of himself appearing in a place he’s never been and meeting someone he’s never before seen – sent by his spy ex-girlfriend who’s now gone missing.

Damn. Kane slips his MI6 handlers, activates protocols to go dark for a while, and absconds to Kazakhstan – where his ex-gf was last seen and where the footage came from. Thus begins the Belsey-esque pinballing of Kane between his multiple cover identities past, present and future, between private and government intelligence agencies, state actors, environmental groups and more, following the trail of his deep-fake mock-up and his ex-gf, who of course was mixed up in something bigger and scarier than anyone expected.

I know for a fact that Harris went to Kazakhstan and drank deep from the local experiential trough – the details he parses out throughout this story are utterly convincing, and when combined with the level of tradecraft on display I’m starting to think Harris the author is actually a deepfake of himself, covering for a spy identity unveiling his cryptic, fast-moving world for us norms to see.

The storyline races at a hectic pace as Kane pursues his off-book investigations throughout the Kazakh capital Astana, all the while trying to keep MI6 off his back and unpuzzle the threat his own deepfake image poses to him, to his ex-gf, and who knows, maybe the world? The writing is spare when it needs to be, full-bodied when we’re ready for more, and deeply in command of the facts.

If you like Belsey this is definitely for you. If you like Fleming, Le Carre and Rankin this is for you – but come loaded with heavy-gauge munitions and be ready to dance – you’re in for a helluva ride.

Get it here – https://www.amazon.com/Shadow-Intelligence-Oliver-Harris-ebook/dp/B07JL2TDNR

Writing Update 2019 week 15 & 16

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

Hardly anything has happened with my writing in the last 2 weeks – it’s all been focused on getting Soul Breaker (Soul Jacker book 2) ready to go out the door, then Soul Killer to follow it. Now Soul Breaker is out, Soul Jacker is up to full price at $2.99, and I am still tallying up sales…

Otherwise, as I finish up the third pass on Soul Killer, I’m also looking ahead to my new incarnation as a thriller writer. I’m reading thrillers and studying their covers and blurbs to get a better idea how to market what I already have.

It is absolutely all about marketing in this crazy old world. It is a wonderful thing to ‘write from the heart’ as I heard somebody on a podcast say, but it is very hard that way to reach people. As much as we all clamor about wanting something original from Hollywood, we really don’t.

We want something just like something we already liked – maybe with small changes. We like the same stories set in the same worlds told in the same ways. That’s people. To tell them stories they want to hear, you have to harness your ‘writing from the heart’ to a frame they already love.

I’m applying this lesson wholeheartedly to my thrillers. They do crazy things, but so much of them is familiar. As the writer I amped up the uniqueness. As the marketer it’s my job to take some of those edges off and present them in a familiar, yet exciting way.

Let’s get it on. Updates on this to come!

Writing Update 2019 week 13 & 14

MJG Marketing, Soul Jacker, Weekly Writing Update Leave a Comment

It’s been an overwhelming week with the launch of Soul Jacker. I’ve sold more books faster than ever before, got influencer testimonials like never before, and heard back from readers like never before.

  • Yesterday I hit 1,000 sales
  • 2 major influencer plus 2 medium influencer testimonials
  • Reports from all readers that they couldn’t put the book down

SALES

I looked back at my track record to get some sense of perspective here – The Saint’s Rise, which was my next most successful launch and itself also a relaunch of an earlier title, sold 800 books in the first 4 weeks. Some 500 of those were at 99c when I was pushing it hard, and the next 300 came at full price of $4.99.

I lost money in the first week’s promo. By 4 weeks, with some 100,000 page reads on top, I’d made my best profit yet. Along the way I got the attention of Amazon and they kept the book selling, I presume with recommendation emails to their hordes of shoppers. I ‘tickled the algorithm’.

Have I achieved that this time? Only time will tell. I have sold 1,050 copies at 99c in the first week, holding bestseller ranks on both the US and UK store in various categories the whole time. Page reads are minimal thus far.

I spent a whopping $1700 to achieve this. $400 on a Bookbub New Release ad which brought in maybe 300 sales over 2/3 days, $1000 on Facebook ads which brought in another 300, $200 on Bookbub ads which brought in none (grrr…), and the rest on promo emails that brought the remainder.

It’s a long way to go into the red – but then this is the launch of a fast-release trilogy, and it needs to be as big as I can make it. I’m actually all out of budget now, so have dialled all ads down and am hopeful Amazon recommendation emails will start firing out today or tomorrow. Either way, I’m confident enough people will read and enjoy this book then go on to buy books 2 and 3 to push me into profit.

And if Amazon does recommend it? The sky is the limit, really.

INFLUENCER TESTIMONIALS

I never thought I’d get anything, when a few months back I sent out requests to fellow authors, some major and some medium, to take a look at my book and offer a blurb. I was amazed as several responded.

  • Pat Mills, creator of legendary British SF comic 2000AD which featured Judge Dredd, called Soul Jacker ‘Superb, a Fantastic Voyage into the Soul.’
  • Michael Marshall Smith, bestselling SF author of ‘Only Forward’ said ‘MJG proves that cyberpunk is alive and kicking.’
  • Leland Lydecker, author of ‘Necrotic City’ called it ‘one of the most unusual and thought-provoking cyberpunk novels out there.’
  • Cameron Coral, author of ‘Altered’, called it ‘Mind-bending cyberpunk. An incredible start to a new series.’

That’s pretty phenomenal, considering I’ve never had a testimonial before. 4 at once! And all for this book which has only ever sputtered like a damp firework in 5 years of attempts to market it.

Why the change? I think it comes down to the changes to the book and marketing package I made, which in turn come down to the ways I’ve learned to see a book from the readers’ perspective.

READER REPORTS

Readers have said they’re loving it. They can’t put it down. Before, people did not say that about this book – praise was qualified by how confusing the book was, how difficult the concepts were to follow, how it dragged in places.

I think I’ve been looking at story and narrative in a cleaner way recently, probably since writing my thrillers. I read my own work with a view to what readers will think as they read it. Will they get this? Will they put up with this much exposition on the route to something exciting?

Many of my early books I wrote with only myself in mind. I can’t get upset about this – it was the only way I knew how to write. I just wrote. I didn’t know what would go over well or not. Now I’ve got a feeling. When I edit, I can feel for the first time where the reader will start to switch off – and I know what to do to fix it.

Usually it’s cut and simplify. Align the words on the page with forward movement along the line of narrative thrust. Make it exciting, not interesting. Concepts get a few lines of explanation and that’s all. They can’t stack on top of each other – they have to come interspersed with movement.

Beyond that – it’s not enough that readers get through the book and feel satisfied. I think all my books do that – there’s plenty to fill up the reader’s brain. Too much. I need them lean and mean and wanting more. They don’t just find the book interesting, they really enjoy it. It’s an experience they want more of.

I think I’m getting better at delivering that. That’s exciting. Craft is what it all comes down to, really, though marketing is essential. I always want to make the best book I can. Fingers crossed not only Amazon will start sending out recommendations soon, but also readers will do the same, letting their friends know about this new book they read called Soul Jacker.

Time will tell. I’ll be here with the report when it does.

Soul Jacker is out!

MJG Soul Jacker, Writing Leave a Comment

After a year of rewriting Soul Jacker is finally out, and on sale for just $0.99 in launch week, so pick it up now!

I’m far too excited about this launch. Hard to sleep. Jittery. I should stop drinking coffee as I’m already wired enough! With 2 stellar testimonials from giants in the field, it’s drawing more attention than I’ve ever had before.

REVIEWS

“Superb – a Fantastic Voyage into the soul. Grist has produced a taut, clever cyberthriller that messes with your mind. Blending hard science, metaphysics and high-octane action, SoulJacker had me gripped from the start. If you’re a fan of Stephenson and Gibson, and you love interweaving narratives that keep you guessing, you must read Soul Jacker.”

– Pat Mills, creator of 2000AD featuring Judge Dredd.

“With head-turning ideas and tight prose, MJG proves that cyberpunk is alive and kicking – and going fascinating new places.”

– Michael Marshall Smith, bestselling SF author of ‘Only Forward’ and ‘Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence’.

Pat Mills! Michael Marshall Smith! Go get your copy now ;)!

Soul Jacker review from Michael Marshall Smith!

MJG Marketing, Soul Jacker, Writing Leave a Comment

This is immense news for my author career, as well as being an amazing personal accomplishment that I probably was distantly dreaming of 20-odd years back, when actually writing and publishing novels seemed very far away.

I gulped down Michael Marshall Smith’s novels back then: Only Forward, Spares and One of Us. I loved them. Re-reading them recently, I’ve come to realize how much his work has influenced my own writing. Soul Jacker definitely owes a debt to Only Forward. There are certainly similarities – in tone at times, in world, in the concept of hacking into a mind/dreams.

So I was amazed when Michael Marshall Smith replied with interest after I reached out to him about Soul Jacker. He didn’t usually read and give blurbs, he said, but my book description grabbed his attention so he would give it a go.

I sent the book a month back and waited with bated breath. 2 weeks passed and I reached out – he said he was 20% through and enjoying it. 2 more weeks passed and I reached out again – no response. 3 days went by and I thought I’d blown it – then he came back with a quote!

This is awesome. It’s on my amazon page already. I’m making ads to incorporate it. It’s kind of a dream come true – and all for this book which, as Mr. Ruin, went nowhere, sold no copies and has only lost me money hand over fist in new edits, covers and failed marketing bids.

I think this time is the charm. Here’s what Michael Marshall Smith had to say:

“With head-turning ideas and tight prose, MJG proves that cyberpunk is alive and kicking – and going fascinating new places.”

It’s short and sweet. Alive and kicking! Here’s the Bookbub ad I’m going to run in a few days:

I’m excited to start running the ads. For the first time ever I’ve got some real, authoritative social proof, and it feels great.

Michael Marshall Smith’s ‘Only Forward’

MJG Book / Movie Reviews, Reviews Leave a Comment

I first read Only Forward 20 years ago when I was 18, shortly after it came out. Now I’m 38 and just reread it, and it blew me away just as much as it did back then. For a debut it is phenomenal. For any book it is phenomenal – there is just SO MUCH STUFF in it, all of it cool, fascinating, prescient – I highlighted a section and got my wife to read it too and it made us both smile – about a tablet screen that shows where you are on a map and gives you directions and flashes up relevant information with little beacons. Published in 1994. Come on!

It’s about a badass detective type of noir sci-fi guy Stark, whose snark is worse than his bite, who we get to see in 3 sort of incarnations. First up is the City, superb sci-fi following the puzzle of a kidnapped ‘Actioneer’. Michael Marshall Smith (MMS) whizzes us around various Neighborhoods, like Colour and Cat and Turn and Idyll and others, all of which contain people who live for certain things and certain things only. Colour is fashion. Turn is, uh, violence? Idyll is peace and calm. Cat is cats. Etc..

It’s a great premise and great fun to whomp around in. Then at the midpoint things shift dramatically. We leave the City and enter Stark’s area of true expertise, the mind. There’s a whole bucket load of cool, dreamy stuff in here. It goes fantasy, kind of, and spiritual dream wandery, and what we might call litRPG these days. The pace may slow a little, the horror grows pretty nauseating and we do spend a lot of time questing, but it’s all inventive and it holds me through.

Finally, we get the third story – I won’t lay it out as that would be a major spoiler – it’s more a short story than a novel-sized section, but it serves as the spine of everything that came before, gives us Stark’s backstory, and connects both the previous story-halves to the real world in a way that kind of presaged everything MMS (and Michael Smith and Michael Rutger – the author’s latter incarnations) would go on to write: fantasy, sci-fi, and how these things underlie ‘real’ reality like dreams beneath a frozen wave.

A major trip. I love it. As another reviewer on Amazon said – I’ll leave it another 20 years and reread. There’s so much here I probably didn’t fully grasp the first time round – like Stark’s world-weary comments on his own life choices, displaying some real understanding of ‘the human condition’. I look forward to it – and in the meantime, I’ll be picking up One of Us for sure to reread, then moving on to Hannah Green, and pretty much the rest of MMS/MS/MR’s ouevre.

Read it now, and then 20 years later too!

Writing Update 2019 week 11 & 12

MJG Ignifer Cycle, Marketing, Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

Another 2 weeks gone, and I’ve been hard at work setting up my:

I was also lucky enough to get that awesome blurb from Lisa and Pat Mills.

So what else has been going on? I’m in the run up to tomorrow’s US 99c Bookbub on The Saint’s Rise. Today it’s a BargainBooksy promotion. For the past few days I’ve been ramping up my Facebook ads- $70 today. I also set up AMS and Bookbub ads, but they don’t spend…

I hope today it sells 100 copies. Well below 10k rank, maybe sub-5k? That might be too ambitious. Then tomorrow I want the Bookbub to blast it into the top 100. I don’t know how likely that is. Have I ever achieved that before? I’m not sure, but probably not… I’ve been in top 100 free for sure. I had the Bookbub 2 years back on my zombie series box set.

But paid? Sub-100 would be amazing. The goal will be the same for Soul Jacker in a week. I have way more promos lined up, plus I’ll run the rest of my budget on ads.

How much have I got in the tank? Two months ago the writing account had 3,000 GBP in it. I spent about 700 on my big FB ad experiment, at least 1,000 setting up these Bookbubs and other promos, and also some 600 on editing, with another hundred or so on covers and art.

Maybe 500 left now. That’ll go into FB ads for Soul Jacker, to juice it before the Bookbub New Release. I’ll keep you apprised!

Finished new goodie bags for subscribers!

MJG Marketing, Story Art, Writing Leave a Comment

I mentioned earlier I was going to add new bonus art for subscirbers to my email newsletter list, at the end of both Soul Jacker and The Saint’s Rise.

I did it! It took ages. I made them with the benefit of some templates, some photoshop work by yours truly, and by sticking in some of the artwork I’ve had made for both series over the years.

PLUS – I have an artist now working on a map of The Saint’s Rise, which will go into that goodie bag, then some schematics for Soul Jacker, which will go into that bag.

It’s quite exhausting mentally to come up with maps and schematics. I had to redraw the Saint’s Rise map a few times, and refer back to the book, to get it pretty much right. I suspect my geography might be out of kilter with some parts of the book, but that’s fine – mapmaking was hardly a perfect art back in fantasy medieval times!

If you’re already on my mailing list I’ll send these out as bonuses around the time each book gets its Bookbub push :).

Soul Jacker review from Pat Mills!

MJG Marketing, Soul Jacker, Writing Leave a Comment

I am over the moon – having just secured a blurb review of Soul Jacker from my first established author in the SF space – Pat Mills (and his wife Lisa)! Pat is considered the godfather of British comics, and created 2000AD which was where Judge Dredd got started!

Awesome.

I am tickled pink. Here’s the full blurb:

“Superb – a Fantastic Voyage into the soul. Grist has produced a taut, clever cyberthriller that messes with your mind. Blending hard science, metaphysics and high-octane action, Soul Jacker had me gripped from the start. If you’re a fan of Stephenson and Gibson, and you love interweaving narratives that keep you guessing, you must read Soul Jacker.”

Wowzers. I have splashed it on the Amazon page liberally. A real milestone for me, and what a vote of confidence! Thank you Lisa and Pat!

Sweet new book pages

MJG Marketing, Soul Jacker, Writing Leave a Comment

Phew, spent a good few hours today micro-managing the Soul Jacker trilogy book pages into existence. They look about 10x cooler than previous book pages I’ve made. At some point I’ll get around to doing this for all my books.

New style:

It looks cool and it works really nicely on mobile as well – which is how most people will see it, if they click through from their ereader.

Old style:

There’s not really any ‘style’ here, it’s just straightforward. Not cool in the slightest, and not intuitive on mobile.

Having the book on a black background makes it really pop. Check them here: