Facebook ads promising…

MJG Marketing, Writing Leave a Comment

The two Facebook ads I posted a couple of days ago have been selling books like gangbusters! And making a profit? Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

It’s the best pay-per-click ad response I’ve ever had. My targeting is nothing different from what I’ve done before, just the ads are different. I’m targeting US and UK, to similar authors mostly. Yesterday I sold 18 books, including one reader who bought the whole Last Mayor series in one go – 9 books. Normally I sell 1 or 2 a day.

From Feb 1-5 I’ve spent 65 pounds on ads and am getting clicks between 11-20p, which is great. I’ve sold 36 books over that period with 2,000 page reads, for a sum of $78, which is 60 pounds.

So, technically I am 5 pounds in the hole.  That is pretty record-breaking in my FB ad history – I always lose more than that. Is this a few day fluke, or will these kind of sales hold out? Because if they do, then readthrough of the zombie series should take me into profit.

Even Mark Dawson, it seems, doesn’t make profit on the direct sale of whatever single book he advertises. It’s the readthrough where he makes his money. The zombie series gets maybe a 30% readthrough to book 9, so each sale of book one is worth around $5. I sold 6 in this period, so add that up and it looks like $30 on top, putting me 20 pounds in profit.

Not a lot, true, but more than I was getting per day before these ads. Each additional sale is a person who maybe joins my newsletter list, maybe leaves a review, and bumps the book’s ranking a little to increase overall visibility. I’m shoving money in Zuckerburg’s hoodie, but maybe he’s shoving a little back my way. Gotta pay the tithe…

If sales keep up.

  • Just realized I didn’t include Smashwords sales – sold 3 books in the period, which will cover the 5 pounds I was down. Therefore – I am in pennies of profit!

Media Review 2019 week 5

MJG Reviews, Weekly Media Update Leave a Comment

It’s been a great week of media intake!! Well, except for Roma :(.

TV

  • Sex Education – I watched Netflix’s new show Sex Education within the week, and think it is really fantastic. So good-hearted, so upbeat, but also not shying away from darker moments – a coming of age tale for the millennial generation, where sex, masturbation and even nascent stalking, bullying and shaming behaviours are not considered nasty or even evil, but rather accidents of fragile minds on unfortunate detours.

Essentially, nobody is beyond saving – at least at this stage. I love its bright palette, its redemptive tone, and its joyous plunge into moments normally considered taboo, icky or shameful. I swear, I’ve never seen so much masturbating – actually its a bit uncomfortable that we’re watching 16-year-old kids wank – but I’m reassured that surely the actors are older than their faces and makeup let on, so it’s not all that bad. Still, that is a lot of ‘O’ faces.

But that is the point. In this tale of 16-year-old neophyte ‘sex therapist’ Otis (Asa Butterfield) and his pals at a UK-based private school (how’s that for being UK-based!! – though with a clear American aesthetic), gender roles blur, helicopter parents pry, and a lot of people are having sex and wanking – all of which they need sex therapizing about.

What I love most is how it airs all this dirty, shameful laundry and says – what are you all freaking out about people? Let’s stop repressing this stuff. Repressing it and not talking about it is where all the bad shit comes from. Get it out. If everyone gets it out, where’s the down side?

Can’t wait for season 2.

  • Danny Dyer’s Royal Family, part 2 – We watched part 1 last week and found it unexpectedly charming and funny. Danny remains hilarious. Halfway through this one I found myself uncertain if I was enjoying it, even though I was laughing a lot as Danny capered. What’s that about? I don’t know. Maybe the surface-level at which al the gags land? Danny constantly automatically translating himself from Cockney rhyming slang? Danny uncomfortably hugging and kissing everyone (male or female) he meets? Danny calling everyone ‘young man/woman’, especially if they are older than him? Either way, I laughed a lot, and probably learned something too. Good on him. I’ll watch more.

Movies

  • Roma – I despised this movie. Not just disliked it. After watching – and bear in mind I watched 20 mins, then passively watched the next 40 while reading my phone, then fast-forwarded through the last hour just to see if anything happened – I reflected on some of the director’s choices.

Why did he make this movie? To subject us to the dreamy bullshit of his childhood, which wasn’t special or interesting in any way, as told through the perspective of his maid and cleaner – which is obviously not a perspective he shared. Already I’m angry. It’s like some white-washing bullshit. Don’t try to claim your maid’s story as your own. What the hell kind of appropriation is that? Tell it from your perspective, you sniveling shit, Alfonso Cuaron.

I read some reviews afterward that talk about how accurately and wonderfully it reproduces the period – 70s Mexico. What? It looks so similar to today it’s hardly worth doing. Make a documentary of a screen just looking at postcards from the period, if that’s your selling point. It’ll be over faster.

The story is non-existent, and the cinematograpy is preoccupied with dog shit and airplanes. What the hell, right? How is that Oscar-worthy? It’s bunkum BS. Most angering of all though is the opening few minutes as the credits pre-roll with agonizing slowness. We’re watching floor tiles as soapy water rolls toward us. Someone’s cleaning. We have nothing else to watch for minutes, so watch these suds looking for meaning. Oh, a plane whizzes by overhead in the water’s reflection. And what are those soapy blobs, do they mean something?

Only later on do we find out that this dirty water is from the maid, who is cleaning up dog shit. So Cuaron is pushing shit water at us for minutes, and we’re staring at it rapt, wondering what the ‘genius’ is trying to show us in the tea leaves. I’m angry about this. How is this anything but him shitting on us for minutes – at our hunger for something pretentiously arty we can pretend to enjoy? I feel like that woman in the movie The Help felt when she had to eat shit baked into a cake – except I didn’t do anything to deserve it.

Fuck Cuaron. The man who made Gravity made this? I don’t get it. What a waste of 1 hour 10 minutes. Should have fast-forwarded from the opening credits, or better yet, not watched it at all.

  • Polar – Watched 10 minutes of this crappy assassin story, then bailed to Roma. At least it had Mads Mikkelsen in it, of The Hunt. Should have stayed with this.
  • Animal World – A bizarre Chinese movie about the mathematics of a large-scale, life-and-death Rock-Scissors-Paper tournament mixed in with game theory, the prisoner’s dilemma, a bit of Deadpool in the slaughtering antics of a live-action anime clown (irrelevant to the main story), and some Antman-esque tiny-flying. Pretty fun, actually, as the protagonist somehow gets a huge debt, is forced into this gambling tournament on a ship in international waters, then has to outhink like a hundred other players to come out alive at the end.

I didn’t like the basic message that if you’re just smart enough, you can win at gambling. I realize this is not only a problem of Chinese culture, though they do love gambling. We have plenty of movies lionizing gamblers. Still, the way we’re walked through all our players gambits made me somewhat uncomfortable.

Gambling is not good, and you can’t win if you’re smart. It’s not a good message to put out there. Also, at the end our ‘hero’ pours blood into the sink while his ever-suffering girlfriend is washing her hair. WTF? She freaks out. That’s beyond a prank- it’s disgusting! A kind of domestic abuse. If I was her, I’d kick him to the curb immediately. Unless this is some aspect of acceptable Chinese culture I’m missing, it makes no sense whatsoever.

Interesting, for sure.

Books

  • Becoming – I finished Michelle Obama’s autobiography, and enjoyed it immensely. What a great lady. I love how honest she is about her interest in politics – ie, she will never run for office in her life, no matter how may times she’s asked. Just a great woman who cares about people and wants to make things better for everyone. A tonic for these divided times.
  • Dead Snow – Started reading this Sweden-set thriller because the author will be at First Monday Crime tomorrow, and maybe it’ll give me something to talk to him about, if the moment arises. It seems OK, about a deaf reporter who’s early on the scene to a murder in the wintry woods.

Podcasts/News

Nothing so specific, but generally I am loving AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) and others who are boldly saying – “There should not be billionnaires.” I completely agree with this. Why should there be billionnaires? In what world does their hard work so enormously eclipse the hard work of almost everyone in the world? They worked hard, they had good ideas, I accept that – I’d never advocate for communism. Capitalism harnesses important human desires to acquire and succeed. But billions is a joke. Take it off them through tax.

Oh but they’ll leave the country. They’ll take all their precious capital with them. So hunt them down and take it! Don’t let them ever make money from this country, or any civilized country, again. Let them live in tax exile in a dwindling few countries well outside the global mainstream. This is also why we need global laws, and a global police force and government to enforce them. Let’s start with something easy – like murder. A global law against murder. And then move onto tax fraud. Hunt these billionnaires down and drag them out of their ivory towers and guillotine them in the street, if they won’t cough up some reasonable portion of their immense wealth.

But what if I’m a billionnaire? Won’t I resist being hunted down and guillotined in the street too? Ha – who cares what I resist? Chop my damn head off, if I can’t see the suffering my billions of fellow humans are in. It’s a goddamned crime that they’re hoarding that wealth for themselves, passing it down to their children to have better opportunities.

But they’re billionnaires because they’re smart. They know how to better spend this money through charitable donations. Ha! Charity! Take it off them and give it to the people through taxation, who get to vote how it’s spent. Re-align the priorities so that when they say – oh, sorry, we can’t give you a wage increase because we need to increase corporate profits (happened to me recently), we’ll shove it in their faces. No. You decrease your profits. That’s just how it’s gonna be. Bend the curve. Yes, you get profits. Yes, your expertise is rewarded. But not extortionately.

Oh. I forgot to mention I’m reading a book about this – Can Democracy Survive Capitaism? I’ve ranted enough now though. More about that book later.

Writing Update 2019 weeks 4&5

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

I skipped a week! Let’s consider the post about why I’m not a millionnaire yet the week 4 update (even though it’s not titled as such).

Buoyed by the self-revelations that post brought on, I’ve gone ahead and taken another stab at Facebook ads. Almost certainly this will be an ill-fated effort ending with me stuffing more dollar bills down Zuckerburg’s hoodie-front, for paltry returns, but what they hey. It’s a laugh, amirite?

Facebook Ads

Here are my new ads. The copy for these kind of wrote itself. It’s calm, but clear. It gives potential readers everything they need, and throws some of that delicious narrative urgency their way, rather than trying to wow with world-building ‘interest’ factors.

Actually you can’t see the book description in this, so here it is:

Amo’s a horror comic book artist recovering from a near-lethal aneurysm – taking his first steps back into the world, asking the beautiful barista in his coffee shop for a date – then the whole world dies. Zombies throng the streets, and now Amo’s got a job to do – save the girl, and hope that she will save him too…

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, and bring his enemies down…

I haven’t pushed The Last series for ages. It’s worth it every now and then, to see if I can generate a little traction. With 9 books in the series, every reader in at book 1 has a great chance to make fat stacks (of cash) if they read all the way through.

Editing

I’m over halfway through editing God of Ruin. I expect comments from my beta read/developmental editor on Mr. Ruin in a week – excited for that. Comments from the thriller book 1 editor come Feb 22. Hope these prove to be a good use of money.

Networking

Monday coming is First Monday Crime, and Tuesday is my marketing group – they’re going to rip into the Mr. Ruin new blurb and cover – should be fun 😉 How many SF/cyberpunk readers in that group? I hope at least one!! Feedback from non-genre readers is a bit empty, maybe…

Why am I not a millionnaire author yet?

MJG Marketing, Story Craft, Writing 2 Comments

This question popped in my head the other day, and hasn’t been far from my thoughts since – begging to be turned into a full-bore navel-gazing blogalysis (blog analysis) of all my past books in summary and why they didn’t go large.

I’ve done this before, in bits. For instance, I’ve blogalyzed in detail all the book covers I’ve ever had – and come up with the unsurprising conclusion that they were always bad. So chalk that one up:

  • Bad book covers

The Saint Ignifer covers were illustrated and weird for the epic fantasy genre. The Ruin books were just weird and ugly and illustrated, then dull and confusing and illustrated, then too Gothic and illustrated, then just blah – and never even close to the cyberpunk genre. The Last Mayor books were illustrated, which was also pretty weird for the zombie genre. Despite this, they did pretty well, but I can’t help but think that if they’d started with the covers they have now (photo-manipulated) I’d have sold a lot more in their moment of greatest visibility (right after release).

So, bad book covers, badly targeted to genre, hamstrung me. But that’s definitely not all. Next most important to cover is a ripping good story, and I think I have always struggled with this area.

I’m not a natural born raconteur. I remember when I was a counselor in summer camp in Boston, USA, telling scary stories to the kids around the campfire.

I would luxuriate in slow, horrific, descriptive tableaux. I would describe the hell out of horror scenes, laying down some sick adjectives. I’m talking great vocabulary, amazing visuals – I always had that. Great detail and inventive gross-out material have never been a problem.

But there was no movement.

Another counselor told a story around the campfire one night, apparently totally winging it, and we were all hooked. Some drip drip bang bang stuff. A ghost, maybe, a serial killer. Some scares and a satisfying denouement. Even then, at 19, I could see I didn’t have that particular gift naturally. I was kind of in awe of the story, which he made up on the spot. It seemed like a magic trick. How did he do that?

People have always said I should be a writer, going off the strength of my vocabulary and world-building creativity. I’m great at those things. Strengths, for sure. But they don’t make for a book. Well – for some people they do. China Mieville has done very well off a similar skillset (though he outshines me in both wild words and world-building). But not for most. For most people they need a story with narrative urgency.

  • Not enough narrative urgency

Chalk up another.

When I started writing seriously I also started writing blogs about the craft of writing. The very first blog I wrote on the topic 9 years ago was about The Dungeon Master’s Screen. In D&D adventuring, the Dungeon Master has a book (and a screen) crammed full of world-building details. Characters, creatures, locations – which they then weave a plot around.

I wanted to write like that. Build the world and have the reader bounce around inside it, figuring out the story from hints in the backstory.

I knew I was great at making up weird stuff. My ‘Dawn’ books, what are now The Saint’s Rise and The Rot’s War, were very fragmented when I first laid them down. There was loads of information and backstory on one character, say a boy made of rock, then I just moved onto the next character and did the same thing. They were barely strung together. There was no real narrative urgency at all.

Somehow, I liked writing that way. It came naturally. Forcing myself to add on a plot, aiming for this mysterious ‘narrative urgency’, has been a 9-year journey to understand the ‘magic’ of how to make a story move. Another way to express it is interest vs. excitement. When you read world-building and fancy vocabulary, you’re interested. When the killer is closing in on the hero, you’re excited. Guess which is more compelling?

I knew it 9 years ago, but not as deeply as I know it now. For all the past 9 years, my books have moved inch by inch toward greater narrative urgency. The Ruin books had some fantastic action scenes. Really exciting stuff – but buried within an inaccessible world, hidden behind a screen of narrative complexity and technical jargon.

With both of these series, Ignifer and Ruin, what I’ve mostly been doing in the edits I’ve done in the last year is find the narrative spine of each book and bring it out more. Cut back the ‘interest’ and vamp up the ‘excitement’.

Zombie books

Then we come to my zombie books. My first taste of success – making money for the first time. It was intoxicating. And with zombies, how could I not lead with excitement? It’s baked in. The bad guy is so simple – it’s the zombies – there’s your story. Fight off the zombies. Escape. Run away.

Except I didn’t open my first book that way. Following old school rules about the opening Act of a story needing to set the world, set the character and all such before you introduce the inciting incident – I had nothing much happen for maybe 4 chapters.

Well, things happened. My main guy, Amo, asked a girl on a date. There’s some narrative urgency there. Even more after I raised the stakes by saying Amo was in a coma a year back related to getting excited, and so going on this date with this girl could literally kill him.

Yeah? I liked it. But in order to set those stakes, I had to go back in time. In like chapters 2 and 3, I went backward. Amo’s coma. Amo’s recovery from the coma. How he came to be where he is now. The guy he befriended en route. Maybe 3 chapters of backstory, and those are chapters 2-4! After leading with a date, in what people thought was a zombie book!

It’s not ideal. So much backstory up front just kills the flow. It’s interesting. Fascinating, I thought. But not exciting. Excitement doesn’t come until maybe chapter 5, when he first sees the zombies. That’s a long commitment for a new reader who picked up the book for free expecting zombies, and can put it down and pick up another right away, also for free.

In edits a year or so ago, I flipped all these scenes around. I opened on zombies, parsed out the backstory over more chapters, with more narrative urgency woven amongst them. When I did that though – suddenly the book just didn’t seem all that unique.

  • Unique Selling Point

Thus a third weakness. Stripped of Amo’s interesting background, how is his zombie survival story unique? Well, he’s a guy alone in New York, but we’ve seen that. He runs around killing zombies, but we’ve seen plenty of that. He goes off to hunt for survivors, OK, seen it. Now we’re a third into a book, and where’s anything unique?

Yeah, he starts to do art to appeal to other survivors, and that’s pretty new. He drops into despair, which is cool, and not a common note.

The real unique plot twist though, that makes the book so special and sets up the whole 9-book series, doesn’t come until two thirds in! So I can’t put that twist in the blurb – and if I did, it’s the kind of thing that would actually make it seem like the book had no narrative urgency at all.

In a blurb it might seem that way, but SPOILER – I think what’s most unique about the book is how it only gets more gripping once the zombies are taken out of the equation as a threat. There are other threats that I find far more exciting. But I can’t put those front and center.

So what’s the USP? I can’t express it. You have to read the book to find out. In my marketing I have to lead with the initial USP that my guy is an artist. He’s not cut out for killing zombies. But hardcore zombie readers probably want a soldier or special forces guy for a reason. They want to see zombie ass get competently kicked. My guy didn’t exactly do that, at least not for quite a while.

Who then am I serving? What is the point of a USP if it doesn’t appeal enough to the target audience? You can’t go too niche. You need to serve the audience, while at the same time offering enough differentiation to stand out. But not too much.

Finally, one more weakness sprang to mind after I finished this post:

  • Genre hopping

Broadly speaking, the biggest bestseller authors stay in their lane. They pick a genre, often quite specifically to a sub-genre, and they don’t mix it up. There are plenty of big zombie novelists, for example, who write only within that genre. Mark Tufo makes serious money, and he has 10+ books in his Zombie Fallout series, then others about werewolves coming after that same zombie apocalypse, then about a dog in the same apocalypse, and so on. I think they all feature the same lead character!

I started with epic fantasy for 2, then switched to cyberpunk SF for 3, then zombie apocalypse for 9, and now thrillers for 2 to date. I thought there would be great cross-over between these audiences, but mostly I think there isn’t.

If I was only focused on making money, I probably should have stuck with zombies; start a new series to serve my existing fans, rather than swing off to a totally different genre. It would have been the prudent business decision. But – I only got into zombies on a kind of whim. 9 books looks calculated, but that’s just how it went. After 9, I was totally satisfied.

Going forward, I don’t know that I can remedy this – because I don’t want to. I like going to stories and worlds that take my fancy. It’s all speculative fiction to me. I read across those genres freely. Broadly, I envisage continuing to do that under the name Michael John Grist. Genre-hop in speculative fiction with abandon. At the same time, though, I will write my thrillers under a pen name – and no other genres. Just thrillers in one contiguous world. That’ll give me some focus. I can write alternately, one speculative book, one thriller.

It’ll be fun. Even, if I go full-time, write the spec stuff in the morning and the thrillers in the afternoon. Or alternate days.

So these are my findings. My weaknesses:

  • Bad book covers
  • Lacking narrative urgency
  • Unclear USP
  • Genre hopping

And, to be fair, my strengths:

  • Very creative worldbuilding and vocab

I am very good at this. The worlds, creatures, jobs and backstories in books like The Saint’s Rise and the Ruin series are out of this world. I can make this stuff up like a champ, producing lyrical, lush, lived-in settings and backstories. I am learning more and more however that this is not enough on its own. It is window dressing. It can’t sustain 80,000 words. It can’t serve as a USP.

  • Strong on character psychology, emotion and dialogue

I think I’m great at this. I understand people well – why they do what they do. I studied Psychology at Uni and the subject has always fascinated me. As a very introspective person, I’ve puzzled a lot of things out for myself. I write convincing arcs. I aim for emotions like awe and wonder – I want to make people cry and be inspired. I think I can make people laugh.

  • Great action scenes

Weirdly, I think I can be really good at doing this. If I overcome my tendency to slow time down, and avoid inserting backstory at pivotal moments, I write some mean action. Editing back over the Ruin books, there’s some awesome action scenes in there. I just need to do it more – and action doesn’t have to be just fights. It’s any kind of conflict – so a big argument, a fast-paced bit of detection, a string of revelations, etc…

  • Satisying twists and resolutions

I always find a way through a story to an ending that makes sense, if surprising, and rings true. I don’t know that I can claim any credit for this – my brain does the work in the background, tossing up options that I get to select from. I’m very pleased that so far, I haven’t reached the end of a book and found that it just doesn’t make sense and there’s no way to resolve it. Even without in depth planning, stories come together. I think that will keep on happening – probably I’ve studied and practised the baked-in structure of story so well that my brain just gets it.

Summation

And that’s my blogalysis. If you’ve read any of my books, do you agree? Disagree? Am I being overly harsh, or even too generous? I know people do like my writing. The Last has some 250 reviews at 4.5 average on Amazon, and that’s not nothing. Other books have all done pretty well, even Mr. Ruin had a 4.0 average on some 50 reviews.

The question is not about whether I’m a competent writer and storyteller. The question is – why am I not a millionnaire yet? I think the answers are above. I also think I’ve improved on all those weaknesses. My thriller books have narrative urgency from page one. With the edits I’m making to the Ruin series, these books are now going to sing.

I can get better covers. I can bring out USPs even more. I can make people excited more than they’re interested, and with the thrillers I will stay focused on one genre. These are all skills and practises I can learn and am learning. Will it be enough to go big? Either way, I know I’ll keep on striving to get better. This is the life path I picked for myself a long time ago, since I was a kid, really. I passed my first 10,000 hours around 10,000 hours ago.

It’s coming. Bring it on.

Media Review 2019 week 4

MJG Reviews Leave a Comment

Recently I’ve been indulging my fascination with the news more than ever – still limited to reading in the morning once (waking up) and afternoon once (on the train home, as a treat). Su and I have also been aiming to watch more worthy movies and spend our weekday evenings working/studying rather than just vegging on the sofa.

News

I read BBC news, then NBC, then Salon.com, then Washington Post opinions page, then the Guardian, then the Atlantic, then maybe New York Times, then if I’m very hungry I check out how CNN and Fox both depict the day’s events. Probably between 1-2 hours in total, every day!

I also started listening to a new podcast – Pod Save America – by a couple of guys who worked in Obama’s Whitehouse. They offer unique insight and commentary, and are pretty funny to boot. This is on top of my usual political podcast intake of: Bill Maher Real Time, Fareed Zakaria GPS, and Meet the Press Sunday episode.

At lunchtimes I always watch the highlights from Colbert on Youtube.

Movies

Thus far this year we have seen:

  • The Lobster – gruesome, weird tale by the director of the The Favorite, Yorgos Lanthimos. Very Terry Gilliam-esque tale of humans getting munched up by inhuman systems – doesn’t pay off its bizarre premise of singletons getting converted into animals – rather it just pinwheels off into more, different bizarre systems.
  • Journey to Greenland – 2 French guys go to a tiny Greenland village and have no story things happen while they are tourists in what felt like a straight documentary. I’ve seen lots of things like this recently.
  • Ip Man – Chinese filmmaking tells a story of their World War 2 occupation by Japan, with Bruce Lee’s teacher and Wing Chun popularizer Ip Man as the lead. Some great fight scenes. It’s definitely interesting to see the Japanese depicted in the same way we depict Nazis. Often though, on an individual level they were less brutal than I feared – which made Ip Man’s need to humiliate them feel off-kilter.
  • searching – Fun but weird movie told entirely through social media windows on computers and phones. Not the ending they’d set us up for or that I hoped for. Not really any mystery.
  • Holy Hell – Bizarre, fantastic sci-fi reminiscent of LOST, with brothers returning to an apocalypse cult they escaped 10 years ago, and finding they’re not only all still alive, but they haven’t aged at all…
  • Birdbox – Much better than what I’d anticipated based on the trailers – I expected a whole movie of just Sandra Bullock and two kids wandering around in blindfolds. Most of the movie though is backstory, and it’s pretty great and varied in how it deals with monster movie tropes.
  • The Hunt – Mads Mikkelsen plays a teacher who gets accused of child abuse, and we are forced to contemplate the actions of his fellow townsfolk as they turn on him – if he really did it, is all this OK and right? If he didn’t do it, how guilty are we by association for damning anyone who gets accused in the modern media?

Books

I read the Killer Collective by Barry Eisler – him adding the child abuse thread to his stories via Livia Lone has really powered them up, in my view – giving stakes I can care about more, perhaps, than amorphous terror plots and assassinations as per the Detachment – which I’m reading now (published 2011). I found I’d bought this book back then, but stopped reading early on when John Rain killed 2 guys just for trying to contact him.

Killer Collective starts very similarly – with Livia getting stalked while she’s training, just like Rain in the Detachment, but in Livia’s case these really are bad guys who really do want to kill her. It’s good to feel like I can get on-side with my heroes. Without Livia, they’re pretty amoral. With her, the team has a heart.

Also almost done with Michelle Obama’s Becoming. Parsing it out, enjoying it. What an accomplished woman, with such a great message.

TV

Watching way less, generally, though I did watch:

  • Luther season 4 – and didn’t like it. Luther keeps on not taking out bad guys for no known reason – preferring to leave them torturing, killing and generally being awful. It doesn’t make sense and I can’t enjoy it. He’s supposed to be this morality-bending, chaotic good cop, but in truth he’s a coward who won’t kill, even when people absolutely need killing. It seems like he’s just doing what’s required to live an easier life, and I can’t roll with that.
  • I also caught the first half of Danny Dyer’s Right Royal Family – where he goes to experience what all his ancestor kings’ lives were like in the past, dating back to Rollo. I used to instinctively dislike Danny Dyer, but ever since he called David Cameron a twat I’ve been giving him a second look. It seems now he plays his East-end gangster wannabe schtick for laughs these days – rather than the deadly earnest it always seemed to be before. I think that’s great – he’s in on the joke, we all are. He actually seems like a real person, now. I’ll watch the other half. Bonus – actually learned some history.

Writing Update 2019 week 3

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

It seems I have stopped blogging apart from these weekly writing updates! Maybe once a week is enough, really, to say everything. If anything important comes up, I’ll say it. Life mostly ticks over…

Self-Editing

I finished editing King Ruin, book 2 of the Ruin War series! *trumpet fanfare* Boy, this one was a headache. I recently read a new term that sums it up well – narrative urgency. King Ruin had some really great stuff in it – mostly building out world (skyscrapers buried in the desert and stuffed full of the dead) and character (King Ruin’s debate with Ritry about his deep anger at the world) – but it lacked narrative urgency.

What to do about that? I turn those sections over in my head and try and figure a way to shoe-horn them back in, but a way does not appear. I managed to slot in a brief reference to the buried skyscrapers somewhere, but there’s no room for the extended debat with the King. I have to let it slide.

The upside is – the book is now far more urgent. No lacunas of sidetracking exposition. I’ve started editing book 3 God of Ruin, and somehow it looks to be a lot neater already – like the urgency is already baked in. Interesting, that – I’ll try to figure out why. I wrote these books within months of each other.

Professional Editing

I’ve not trusted the idea of editing ever since 2 bad experiences with early versions of The Saint’s Rise – but I’m looking at it again, at least on a manuscript assessment level.

On one hand, I hired that guy on fiverr to beta-read the new Mr. Ruin and offer structural comments. I hired him for the first 3 chapters and he did a good job, so why not go further? Only $100 to read the whole, deadline 10 Feb. I’ll probably ask him to read books 2 and 3 too.

Beyond that, I’m looking at a manuscript assessment for my thriller book 1. The inciting reason for this is – sadly – it got rejected by the agent who asked for the full. She said both she and a colleague had read it (which implies they thought it had something) but they concluded it wasn’t ‘strong enough for the current competitive market’.

Well. I asked for further feedback but doubt I’ll get it. Now I’m hungry to know why it’s not strong enough. I start firing off queries to editors for a developmental edit. I get various quotes back – $1000, $2000 – some offering a full structural/substantive edit, others just offering a 3-page report on strengths and weaknesses.

$2000 for a 3-page report!?!

Then one lady came in, she’s edited some of my favorite mainstream books, got strong experience generally, and offered to assess for $300. I jumped on it. Yet to receive confirmation from her, but hopefully will go ahead.

UPDATE – just as I was writing this she confirmed she’s game, and will deliver mid Feb. Pretty exciting.

Networking

I went to the Society of Authors ‘Novelists in London’ meet for the second time on Wednesday – chatted to Simon Cann (thrillers), my buddy Jon Jon (Victorian Adventure), Barbara Unkovic (editor and memoir), Deirdre (general fiction), Henry (prison fiction?) and Howard (comic medieval monk detective series!).

I asked them all about editing. It’s always interesting to chat to SoA authors – many of the ones I meet are unagented and went direct to small presses. I do wonder why you’d choose to do this in the current climate of self-publishing – I don’t think these small presses are getting you into many bookshops, they don’t get marketing co-op position on front tables, they don’t spend on marketing. They basically run off a print batch and make it available to order.

No one I spoke to had gone through developmental/structural/substantive editing. They generally said editing was great, but must have meant line/copy-editing and/or proofreading.

As usual I check out my fellow authors on Amazon after we’re done, and who of the above batch would you expect to be most succesful? It appears to be the comedy medieval monk detective! More reviews, better sales rank. In fact he told us in the pub that he’d sold 70,000, which is very impressive. My lifetime sales are around 18,000.

Cats on the new shed

MJG Cats, Life Leave a Comment

Su came home from a business trip, we went out in the garden to admire the waterproofness of the shed, and the cats came with!

Lincoln being curious.
Debut album cover.

Writing Update 2019 week 2

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

On Tuesday we had the London Indie Authors Marketing Meetup – a record number were in attendance, after some 25 expressed interest. We had perhaps 17 total, with our resident French octogenarian coming down from Oxford, our resident film critic coming in late (as ever), and a host of thriller, rom-com, drama and memoir authors all round.

  • Brad told us about his book’s nomination for the Hollywood Voice Arts award.
  • Kaye talked about her amazing success with Amazon UK ads.
  • Leena got a critique on her new book’s blurb.

It was a jam-packed session, which naturally devolved to the pub, where I caught up with co-organizer Jerome and several others. My 2019 of networking is off to a good start. Next up is the Society of Authors Novelists Meetup next Wednesday.

Editing

Yesterday I had a mini-wobble of faith in the Ruin series – the editing of book 2 has been slow and torturous. When I got into the section with the chord inside the sunken mind, it just seemed to draaaag.

I know why. I wrote these sections to a very specific plan – I wanted the symmetry of 15 chapters by 15. That meant some padding was needed, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I do however remember that some of these sections, dealing with great erupting mud bubbles and firing grapnels through a mud tsunami, were incredibly easy to write.

I’ve since learned to take that as a warning sign. Wheels spinning fast doesn’t mean you’re moving forward. I had to cut all these bits judiciously, write new bits to stitch up the parts that still worked, suture them together with lots of little changes, and then press on with more of the same today.

Ugh. Except today flowed quite differently. The story from here on tightens right up and gets on point. I sped up sufficiently to finally hit the halfway point – 40,000 words in an 80,000-word book.

It’s probably going to take me until the end of Feb to get book 3 done too. Then race off the third thriller by May and release – no agent news still. Two trilogies out in fast succession – watch this space…

Shed!

MJG DIY, Life Leave a Comment

I promised to share pictures of my completed shed, which I finished with Su’s help last Sunday (she did all the wood treatment varnish painting!), but even though I took the pictures on my iphone, that bastard icloud didn’t update them to my photostream.

Ugh.

So I brute-forced it old school style and just sent them by email. Here for your delectation:

All cleaned up, filled up, and waterproofed!
Garden gear at left, BBQ central, garden games on right.
I was surprisingly exhausted when it was all done. Imagine actually building a house!

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.