Soul Jacker review from Michael Marshall Smith!

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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’

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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

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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!

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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!

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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!


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

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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:

New newsletter giveaways

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Since I started out writing I’ve been giving away a free book as a gift to get people to sign up to my newsletter list. Has it worked well? I have no idea – I have no stats on this, but I’m not sure it was ever all that likely to work. Why?

  • I always gave away a book in a different genre. When people finish my fantasy books, they get offered The Last, a zombie apocalypse. Same for when they finished Mr. Ruin. It’s a different thing.
  • I always gave the same book! So even if they are finishing book 1 of The Last series, the free book I’m offering was probably book 1 The Last! Not a lot of takers for that, I expect.

So, maybe something more directly related to the book in question is better. I’ve heard other people give out-takes from their books – in the case of romance, the steamier scenes. Mark Dawson gives a confidential character assessment of his thriller hero.

So why not that? I’m thinking about both The Saint’s Rise and Soul Jacker here, both of which are going to get major traffic as their Bookbubs happen. How great to hook the folks who read them with something that’ll pull them into each respective world more deeply?

I already have loads of art. For Soul Jacker I can:

  • Strip the titles from old book covers and offer them as art – including a map of the brain/maze, the godships, Mr. Ruin himself.
  • I’m also looking to get some schematics drawn up by an artist, of the Molten and Solid Cores, and of the Bathyscaphe sublavic. I think these would be awesome fun – and really hook readers in to sign up.

As for The Saint’s Rise:

  • I already have art made years ago of all the main characters – I just included it at the end of the book as bonus content, but why not make them sign up to see it?
  • I could get a map made of Sen’s city – something I’ve been thinking about for ages.

This is all extra work. If there way any time to do it, though, it’s right before twin Bookbubs. Maybe I can collect a few thousand email addresses of engaged fans – definitely worth fostering that relationship. Maybe worth the effort. Also – fun.

Here are my rough sketches of the art I want turned into sweet schematics:

Writing Update 2019 week 9 & 10

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Another two weeks gone by, and it’s looking like that’s my natural rhythm for these updates. Lots of things going on as ever these days:

In overview, I’m still buzzing with the Bookbub promotions. I haven’t done any pre-promo for The Saint’s Rise yet, which is in 2 weeks, so I will get on that tomorrow.

Rather, I’ve been busy setting up the Soul Jacker promo – and putting final touches to the text of book 1. It now stands at around 70,000 words in length – I trimmed a lot in response to editorial feedback. It now blazes along.

I also came to conclusions about my month-long Facebook ad experiment, the reported on that to my Indie Author group last Tuesday. It was received well – I wish I’d had better news to share, with a big success of ROI, but there’s no shortcut to success. I’ve since turned off most of the ads, leaving only the Saint’s Rise one to run at $5 a day.

I turned a few AMS ads on again to see if I could make that work.


One passive marketing thing I’ve done with the Soul Jacker launch is to add keywords using KDP Rocket. I knew ages ago that you could add lots of keywords to a book, but mostly couldn’t be bothered.

With a big launch coming though, it makes sense to try and get visibility on more searches – so I added lots more, as well as requesting KDP add me to 5 additional categories. I should be able to rank #1 in at least one of them, which always looks good. Hopefully Hot New Releases, great pre-orders for book 2, and the whole thing keeps rolling nicely. Spillover to past books would be good too, but I don’t especially expect that.


All this Soul Jacker stuff should be done by the end of March. I want to focus on writing thriller 3, for a launch around June/July, though it’s likely I’ll get bogged down in April with monitoring and fine-tuning ads for Soul Jacker, what with books 2 & 3 following on soon after.

It’s exciting. It gets in the way of writing fresh stuff, of course. Here’s my To Do list before launch:

  • Finish final readthrough and polish of books 2 & 3
  • Make paperbacks of books 2 & 3 (takes ages!!)
  • Set up pre-promos for The Saint’s Rise
  • Maybe put out Last Mayor books 7-9 as a boxset. It really won’t take long.

London Book Fair

This week is London Book Fair! I’m not going though, really. I’ve never been to the daytime Book Fair – I’m not convinced it’ll be a profitable use of my time. 2 years back I went to the drinks at the Alli/SPF party, and that was great – loads of fun networking to be done, meeting loads of interesting people.

Last year I went to the SPF separate party, and it was pretty meh. I met all the same people I’d met previously, doing the same things, and was left wondering what I was doing there. It’s a bit like the First Monday Crime thing – when we go to the pub afterward, the obvious target is to try and get some facetime with the more successful authors, though I’m never really sure to what end.

They’re not going to help me. I’m not going to help them. They don’t know about marketing. I don’t know about their books. Everyone’s looking out for the next more interesting person to talk to.

I don’t feel this way at all about our Indie Author meetups, or the Society of Authors Novelists meetup. Maybe those are just a bit better balanced, with everyone looking to both share what they’re doing and hear about what other people are up to.

Well, I’m going to the ALLI drinks on Thursday. We shall see! Jerome and I will chat about what we can do to further develop the Indie Author group. I’m not sure what there is we can do (ALLI already exists), but I like the idea. Hopefully can also meet some interesting new people and have good chats.

The Anomaly by Michael Rutger – book review

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For 20 years I’ve been reading books by the author variously known as Michael Marshall Smith and Michael Marshall, beginning with his sci-fi triumvirate of Only Forward, Spares and One of Us – three mind-slappingly entertaining thrillers – and moving through his Straw Men series as well as various creepy standalones.

Now he’s writing under a third pen-name, Michael Rutger, and the first book is The Anomaly. As soon as I saw it, I picked it up. I still have those early MMS SF books on my shelf, despite having lived in Japan for 10 years – I took them with me both going and coming back. So I came to The Anomaly with plenty of baggage.

It opens kind of slow and steady. We’re introduced to Nolan, a conspiracy/occult theorist with a youtube channel show, who at first blush appears kind of a loser/drip. He failed in his Hollywood job, his wife dumped him, everybody (even his film crew) think he’s kind of a laughing stock. He’s all washed-up, constantly going out to these sites where supernatural phenomena allegedly occured and looking for them, only to find nothing.

Yet pretty soon we get to see Nolan is none of these things. Yes, he has a ribald mocking relationship with his crew, and yes he is aware there’s some exploitation going on in all his failed searches for some evidence that the truth is out there – but he’s also kind of a bad-ass. He is incredibly knowledgeable, and speaks engagingly both on and off-camera about the deep research and flaws in scientific thinking surrounding the places he goes to visit. When an accompanying reporter digs in and insults him, he digs right back.

He is not a wimp. He has a backbone, and beneath the surface-level kookiness and veneer he exploits for his show, he really is asking interesting, informed questions about the things we do not know. I got to really like him quite quickly – he’s unapologetic about his out-there views. He can back up everything he says with facts. He’s not afraid to go toe-to-toe with anyone.

The story of The Anomaly is about Nolan’s latest planned adventure with his crew – he’s discovered this 100-year-old record of a secret cave embedded in the wall of the Grand Canyon, which nobody has ever since been able to find since, apparently crammed with evidence that subverts our current understanding of human origins.

Now I’m interested. It takes quite some time for the team to get to the Grand Canyon, then get down into it, then go hunting for the cave – but I was really engaged throughout. Interpersonal dynamics offer plenty of conflict – all of the above character work letting Nolan show he’s not really a washed-up loser, he’s just wearing the clothes of one. Really, he’s just a smart, competent, hard-working guy who’s fallen on a patch of bad luck.

The way MMS (Michael Rutger) feeds in real-world info through Nolan, about bizarre cave paintings and great flood records and other occult-adjacent theories, is entrancing. I would definitely watch this youtube show if it existed – kind of a wannabe Indiana Jones, putting himself out there for the sake of deeper understanding.

Then we get to the cave.

We go into the cave. I won’t say much more because that would be venturing into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that I don’t think I’ve ever felt scared like this when reading a book. I don’t know that a book has ever really scared me. Grossed me out, sure, but actually scared?

It was delightful. As the crew press deeper into the cave, and long before anything at all happens, I was feeling tingles down the spine. It was late at night. I stopped reading.

I don’t know what magic trick the narrative worked to make me feel this way. I’ve been in dark, creepy, off-limits caves plenty of times and never felt like this. Like this is a really dangerous place where we shouldn’t go, and I almost want them to turn back. I suppose this is an effect of the characteristation Rutger has built up by that point – I cared about Nolan and his banter-filled crew. I wanted them to do well.

Then it all goes crazy. Weird things happen – MMS kind of sci-fi, puzzlebox, inexplicable things. I loved it. I raced through the puzzles, gamely trying to figure out what was going on just like the characters were. It feels a bit like an Escape Room situation, like Saw even, at times. The stakes are high. The puzzles keep stacking up. The truth gets bigger. The reversals compound…

I loved it. I want more like this from MMS. Nolan is a guy I want to root for through multiple adventures like this on the fringe of science and belief. Michael Marshall Smith has been tapping this well in fresh ways since One of Us, and I think he’s hit an incredibly rich seam here. Like Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon, with his expert knowledge of symbols, Nolan is an expert in esoterica and knowledge at the fringes. He’s an X-Files kind of guy, rootling around at the edges and sometimes stumbling upon real, creepy stuff. What will he do when he finds it?

Yes. More please. 5 stars.

Soul Jacker art + promo plan

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I thought I’d be done with all this Soul Jacker editing by the end of January, freeing me up to get on with my thrillers, but the vicissitudes of merciful fate have conspired to make the Soul Jacker launch a #prettybigdeal.

It launches March 31 at 99c. All of April will be promo time:

  • I have the Bookbub after 3 days,
  • multiple other promo sites already booked in (including Robin Reads, Fussy Librarian, Bargain Booksy, Booksends and others).
  • I’ve got potential blurbs from famous folks coming.
  • I’ve got NL swaps underway.
  • I’ve got art and targeting for FB and AMS ads.
  • I’ve got the paperback launching.

The one thing I’m not doing is a simultaneous audiobook launch. The cost is prohibitive. If it does well, maybe Podium or another audiobook publisher will pick it up and take the risk.

Today I made the paperback, and it took pretty much 4 hours to typeset and make the cover. 4 hours! Hopefully books 2 and 3 will be a bit faster, but it’s just a pain-in-the-ass process. I don’t expect to sell many in print at all – the only reason to do this is to make the Amazon page look more legitimate!

The cover is cool though:


I also made the banner ad to go on Facebook ads:


This is shaping up to be my biggest launch ever. That’s pretty darn exciting. I’ll keep you posted as I make covers for the sequels!

Oh, another new thing I’m doing is a bit more keyword research and optimisation, to improve organic reach. Hopefully once the book starts to climb these extra keywords will boost visibility across Amazon.