This time last year I wrote a post called ‘How I sold ten thousand books in a year and why I’m going to quit now I’ve done it’. Of course I wasn’t really going to quit, but at the time I couldn’t think of a better title. Having said that though, given a year to think about it, maybe there was a subconscious force entering the thought process around that title.
Let me explain: writing isn’t easy. It might seem like it, especially given my output over the last couple of years; however, that is a mirage. It’s actually the hardest work I’ve ever done and it’s self-imposed pressure that makes it so. Please don’t think I’m moaning about it, I’m not. I also love writing and being able to create worlds, albeit very small ones. I really do. However there always seems to be a nagging within that one day I’ll be able to knock it on the head. That the desire or need to write will leave me, purely because it is graft.
Normally I get home from the day job – something I also love – spend time with the baby, then once she’s in bed I either have a bath myself and relax for an hour before writing or I just start writing. Her bedtime will be the marker for what type of evening I get. I’m more than aware that I’m not the only one doing this, I wasn’t the first and I certainly won’t be the last. It’s what it takes. Speak to any writer who’s now able to do it full time and most will have had to work two jobs and spent years trying to get something published. What I’m trying to do is force the issue a bit. If I learnt anything in my old way of life it’s that if you bang on about something enough, you’ll either get the very short answer – in which case you’ll know quickly how the land lies – or you’ll get what you want sooner than if you only asked once. The more books I put out, the more chance there is that one will take off/land on the right person’s desk or annoy a rich person enough to pay me to stop.
Every writer has a journey. Think about being in the desert where there’s a hill; it’ll take you a week to walk around it, it’s hot but there is water and camps on the way and your body is easily able to do it. OR there is the quicker way – you go over, up into a low oxygen zone, it’s physically knackering, the work isn’t pleasant, but the view is great and you’re soon there in the recovery position waiting for the other group. I’m walking up the hill at the moment. I just hope I have the rest of the journey left in me and can remember the recovery position.
I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I’ve spoken about it before elsewhere, maybe even on this blog – I can’t be arsed to check, though. When I was at school there was a book in the library that had my father’s name on it. He’d written it, of course – it wasn’t just him vandalising middle school books in his spare time. Since then I’ve wanted to have my name on a book so people I know could see it and maybe be as proud of me as I was (and am) of my father. However, not having performed in an educational sense at school the chances of me writing something that would warrant being in a school library were slim to nil – still are. My plan was far more to my way of thinking: I’d just make stuff up. I even found out that writerly types have a special name for this and it’s OK to do. You don’t get in trouble or anything. So fiction it was.
Two years ago a couple of things happened. 1) I signed a publishing contract for my first novel, So Low, So High and 2) having done that I felt free to be able to explore the possibility of publishing on Kindle. I had a warped view that I could only do that having received the accolade of someone else agreeing my work was good enough to publish, which is a good accolade to have, but not really that important, I’ve since learned. It’s like these online estate agents that let you pick the price you want to list your house at. They rightly say that it isn’t the estate agents that price the market – it’s the buyers and, having just gone through a house sale, I know where I’m going with this analogy even if you don’t. The market of Kindle buyers will soon let you know if your book is any good, either through sales, reviews, or even free downloads. It isn’t a necessity to have someone tell you your work is good enough to be published these days, the market can do it for you and if you’re thick skinned enough, you can have a pretty steep learning curve. I certainly have. Anyway, I’ve gone off track, but the basic point is I wish I hadn’t wasted the majority of 2012 waiting for someone to agree that they thought I was good.
Putting out my first self-published book, The Village Idiot Reviews, was a shot in the dark. I know that and I also know that most people who buy that book are taking the same shot. It’s written in the form of product reviews, something which hadn’t been done before. It has been done in letters, memos, SMS and even tweets, but not reviews. I’ve still not come across anyone who’s tried it in that exact format since – although there have been a couple of books that made me look twice and wonder if I was being ripped off. What is it they say about the sincerest form of flattery? The book sold well, and, as stated, by last year I’d sold over ten thousand copies of my work.
I remember posting the blog on Facebook and telling people I needed a new secret ‘out there’ number for my next target. Someone suggested 100k – which I thought was too high even for a ridiculous figure I’d keep to myself. So I picked half that; fifty thousand copies of my books. Madness, I thought. It has now happened, though. I’m now in the position where I can sit and tell people I have sold over fifty thousand books. How mental is that? If you remember, I started out hoping that TVIR would sell just enough to pay for itself before I died. Now, you might be thinking the title is misleading as I’m not telling you how I’ve done it. read on*
Everything that has happened in the last year has felt just as good as the things that happened in the first year. At Christmas I had two books in the top one hundred overall chart on Amazon UK. A few weeks later I reached the top twenty. I’ve been in the Movers and Shakers chart a few times and I have been at number one in the Humour chart, a position that Nick Spalding had sewn up when I started and one I just didn’t think I had the minimals to reach. One of the best things about being in the top 100 was that I was there with my mate, Luca Veste. At one point I think we were either next to each other or close enough to screenshot. Both of us started out at the same time; we took different routes, but our paths have now crossed in a place neither would have expected a few years ago when getting a short story published in the mighty Radgepacket series was what we were aiming for.
It’s staggering to think that I’ve gone from the original hopes of two years’ past to sitting telling you about this now. And you know what? If you asked me how I did it, I would look at you and squirm. I don’t really know, there aren’t any real tricks out there. There isn’t some secret (which I’m asked for sometimes). It’s a case of writing the books I like to write, getting a good cover and good blurb, and using the tools there are to try and promote them. It’s tough and while sometimes something I try works well, more often than not it costs me a lot of money and doesn’t work. I’m asked lots for ideas on promotion which sometimes, if they’re free, I share, but more often than not I don’t. I don’t feel comfortable with suggesting things that can cost a lot of money with no experience – or only my own – as to whether it works or not. Learning how to promo without link dropping and pissing people off is part of the curve I’ve been on and an experience others should try – there isn’t any set way of making sure a promotion works. It either does or it doesn’t. It’s nothing to get upset about – unless you’ve spent your month’s wages on it – which I wouldn’t recommend. I said last year that if I wasn’t prepared to put any money into any of my books then I couldn’t expect anyone else to, either. I think the same goes for time. If I just put it out there and expect it to take off, it probably won’t. It’s like anything in life, the more you put in the more you get out. I hope I’m not coming across as a complete arsehole here, I’m just trying to be honest about my experience and that is that it takes up TIME.
People have warned me for a while about burn out and I did take it on board at the beginning of the year. I’ve had two releases in 2014. I’m not even sure if there will be another. Reason being I’ve spent the last six months editing one thing or another and writing another couple of things. I’ve got about halfway through the re-write of Die Happy, Die Smiling, the follow up to So Low, So High. Although there are issues with the first one that I’d like to see resolved before I make a decision on what to do with that. I’ve re-written the Father Diaries; not completely, but I’ve made it tighter, added a few bits and made it a bit longer. Again, there is stuff happening there which is uncertain. Then I’ve started a couple more projects. So all in all, I’ve been busy, but not in the same way as I was in 2013. I’ve tried to make a little more time for the family this year and although I’m not as successful in that as I’d like to be, we’re all aware that if I can just get over the top of the hill, I’ll be able to pop myself into the recovery position sooner rather than later.
I’m now in the position where I’m talking to my agent and bigger publishers about where I go from here. As much as I’ve enjoyed the last couple of years and have achieved everything I wanted to and more, there is a big part of me that would like to leave the promo to someone who actually knows what works. I’m only one person and as life moves on, families grow, babies grow and sleep is needed more. We’re looking at the next stages of this career and where I can actually take it. I suppose the bottom line is that I’ve bust a gut getting to the position I’m in and I’m tired. I’m aware there will be a final push to get where I need to be and I’m prepared to do that. I’m too far in not to.
I suppose one question would be: now I know how much work it takes, would I do it again?
You’re damn right I would, in a heartbeat.