It’s your last call for nine incredible 5-star rated sci-fi books for only 99c/p each.Read More
I’m beyond excited to say that if you check out today’s episode of The Other Stories, you’ll hear The Wolf Is Loose, by yours truly! It’s featured in their Déjà vu theme for the month, and it’s the tale of a young man who hears a story that tugs at the edge of his memory, but he can’t remember why.Read More
A few months back, I set up a Patreon, on the off-chance people might like to just, I dunno, give me money. I just let it site there for a while with some vague promises of exclusive content and Q&A’s and that, and figured if anyone bothered to show up I’d do all those things.
But the more I thought about it, the more I really like the idea, so i’m revamping the damn thing, and realised it might not the the worst damn idea in the world to actually let people know about it.
So, I have a Patreon!
That’s all well and good, you might be saying, but why the hell would you want to give me money every month? Well, for the not-exactly-princely sum of $2 a month, you will get access to the following:
A new short story, every single Thursday. So far there are already six stories available for members, so you’ll already be getting great value for money. So far there’s a tale of a mysteriously missing gas tanker, a gluten-intolerant vampire, a psychic kid, and a zombie story with a real kick in the tail.
You'll also get exclusive access to WIP, character and world profiles, member-only blog posts, exclusive content, discounts on merchandise, and a monthly Q&A with me. That’s all for roughly £1.54 a month in British Pounds, or £3756.59 in post-Brexit money.
If you want to really support me, you can opt for the higher tiers. $5 a month will get you all the above, plus every single book I release a week before it comes out, and $10 will get you signed print copies, as well as everything else.
So, if you want to show your support, or you just want some cool short stories that you won’t read anywhere else, check out the button below!
Something happened to me back in November that I can’t seem to shake. A simple interaction over on my weekly mailing list (sent every Tuesday to an elite group of my readers). It was back on the day of the American Midterm elections.
Those of you who know me will know just how obsessive I can get about American politics. It’s a compulsion. It’s like watching sports, except there are no clear winners and somehow we all lose. But I’m very invested in it. I blame Martin Sheen.
Anyway, as America went to the polls, I couldn’t help but reach out to my predominantly American mailing list with a small request. As I wrote in my mail:
“I love the States. The culture of your land runs through me like candy corn. You know how so many Americans consider themselves Anglophiles? Well, consider me the opposite. My favourite bands are American. My favourite authors. Most of my favourite films and tv shows. Hell, I even studied American Politics at University. I consider Aaron Sorkin to be almost at deity level.
So, and please do take this with the greatest of respect (and with the full knowledge this might earn me a few angry responses), as someone who loves your country so much, please can I implore all of you who are Stateside to go and do your best to go out today and vote to save it? It feels increasingly like you guys are standing at some kind of last chance saloon, and I’ll be staying up most of the night tonight to see if you make it through. Hell, if you mail me back to tell me you’ve done so, I’ll even send you a free ebook.”
I sent it. My initial fears that I had opened up a can of American brand gammon on my own arse were swiftly quashed. I had a number of quite lovely responses from readers excited to get out to the polls, some even taking me up on that free book. As the results came in and were not too shabby, there were even a few elated and relieved readers mailing me their stories. And my unsubscribe rate from that particular mail remained fairly low. All told, a good thing.
But, of course, I did get one.
“Guess I’m on the other side and now you've brought this to the fiction I read. You have literally lost me.”
I sent a cordial response, but the tone of that reply, it’s something that’s gotten under my skin in the weeks since. In particular, it’s that one line – “now you've brought this to the fiction I read” – that grabbed me. It brought to mind a lyric from an old Skunk Anansie song I perhaps didn’t understand fully at the time, but which I do now – ‘Yes, it’s fucking political. Everything’s political.’
I consider myself to be a pretty political person, even if I’ve long ago given up on the notion of online debate as a means to resolve the stark differences in our society. But I’m a writer. A writer of genre fiction about killer storms, space monsters and telepaths, yes, but a writer nonetheless. It might not be right out there, front and centre, but politics is key to the stories that I write, and to the characters who live them.
Then yesterday, I had a quick check of my books to see if there were any new reviews, and WOWSERS. This is from the UK Amazon listing for Sleepwalk City.
Apparently I need to brush up on my concept of Western European Identity. I love this review, more than I can say. It's hard to choose a favourite part, but I'm going to go for the errant comma in the third sentence. I’m going to go ahead and assume that for the most part, it’s not going to cost me any sales, and those it might would probably not end up as part of ‘my tribe.’
The Blood on the Motorway trilogy is, at its heart, a story about the battle between good and evil. Not based on any mythological gods or great powers, but on people. It’s about the decisions we make, and the way we approach things. We choose, every day. A thousand small choices, and each of those speaks to who we are as people. Do you approach the world with empathy, or with concern only for yourself? For characters like Tom, Leon, Mira, Burnett, Jen, and the others, it’s these choices that inform who they are, and which rebuild or destroy the fragile world around them. It’s that, personal choice, which decides the balance between good and evil in those stories.
As I’m editing Sunrise, my next novel, I’m seeing the same question play out, albeit on a bigger canvas. But at its heart, I’m still trying to work out that chasm between empathy and its hollow opposite. It’s a story about where we might be heading, about the consequences of the terrible mistakes we seem to be making right now, and how it’ll be choices that get us out of it, in the end. But with space monsters. And telepaths.
I’m not saying that you can’t sit at the opposite end of the spectrum to me and enjoy my books. I welcome everyone. You might disagree with me on, well, everything, and still like my books. That’s great, because my books are not me, and I’m not my books. But I’m not going to entertain for one second the notion of ‘not bringing politics into it’. Because politics is there, in every choice we make. It all goes back to empathy. It’s not ‘keep your politics out of it’, it’s ‘don’t challenge my politics because I’m not comfortable with that.’ And that’s a whole other thing. It’s a choice.
Incidentally, if you’d like to join the mailing list and get weekly updates, a free copy of my first novel, Blood on the Motorway, a free short story, and much more, you can sign up below. Go on, you know you want to.
Blood on the Motorway: An apocalyptic trilogy of murder and stale sandwiches is out now in ebook and print from Amazon and all other good bookstores. You can get the first book free by joining my mailing list or read along at Wattpad. Oh, and I’ve got a Patreon. Sign up for free books, a free weekly short story, and much more
I’m having a social media wobble. That’s not a Fortnite dance, by the way. in case you were wondering. No, I’m doing that thing where I waver briefly over the big red button I had installed in my house that says ‘ERASE ALL SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS’. It doesn’t actually do anything, but I’m still scared to hit it.
I seem to have them with increasing frequency. It’s all born of a dilemma, and I guess it’s one that we all have to live with, one way or the other.
I love the internet.
I hate the internet.
Still, F. Scott Fitzgerald did say that the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function, so… score?
Anyway, my dilemma, the love side first. I have so many friends who live in my phone, or in my computer. I mean, I’m sure that they live in some kind of physical plane, also, one where they run around like the bags of meat they are, having lives and drinking beer and everything that goes along with it. But in a very real sense they exist for me only in my phone.
There’s all kinds of friends in there – friends who talk to me all about obscure German drugs rock bands and music where people stand on sweaty stages and scream at you until it sounds like they’re going to hock up a lung.
Friends who write all kinds of stories and try to make that something they do for a living, who support each other, give each other tips about story craft and book marketing, and hold each other as they weep into the general abyss that lives just under the keyboard of every writer.
There’s the formerly IRL friends, the ones who you only see a few times a year but can remain entwined in each other’s lives through judicious use of cats, memes, and getting jealous of the cool tattoos they all seem to be suddenly getting.
These relationships are key parts of my life, things which I’m not sure I can reasonably do without, and which I don’t want to do without, either.
But then there’s the other side. The hate side. That’s much easier to define. *dons tin foil*
The internet, it’s becoming increasingly clear, is all four horsemen of the apocalypse, all riding one horse. Or four horses stacked on top of each other. It’s the downfall of civilisation. It’s the festering pustule in which the seeds of our ruination are sowed.
Now, that might strike you as hyperbole. But I’m not entirely sure it is. Let’s check up on this thing. Privacy is an illusion, we all carry microphones in our pockets and station them all over our houses, and broadcast everything to the world. Look, I’m doing it right now! We are all on endless social media where we’re not the customers, even though that’s what they try to tell us. We’re the product. We’re what’s being sold, because that’s the entire business model.
Oh, and the planet is getting hotter and we keep voting for people who don’t seem to care all that much. The freedoms and rights that most of us enjoy are ridiculously fragile things, and right now they’re under a full throated assault by forces which would undo all the progress made by this crazy thing we call civilisation over the last centuries. Yoda was right all along, it seems – anger, fear, hatred, these are the tools of the dark side. They’re as potent now as they were in the 1930’s, as potent as they were in 1914, as potent as they have ever been. And they have weaponised the internet. They looked at the tool which we all say with hippie eyes and optimism and said ‘we’re going to use that to Fuck. Things. Up.’
Okay, shall I take the tin foil off my head again?
I think most of us, or at least those of us on the side that keeps getting its arse handed to it on a regular electoral basis recently, are constantly trying to reconcile these two things. And I’m not entirely sure they can be.
Hence the wobble.
So, I’m going to do the only sensible thing – I’m going to vent about it in a blog post, feel slightly smug about that for a bit, and then carry on exactly as I have been. I’m going to have cull of people on Twitter who I follow for reasons unknown, and I’m going to mute people on Facebook. I’m going to leave a load of groups where people yell at each other in shrill voices about things. Because what the hell else am I going to do?
So there’s my cheery thought for the day. Enjoy the rest of your week!
Blood on the Motorway: An apocalyptic trilogy of murder and stale sandwiches is out now in ebook and print from Amazon and all other good bookstores. You can get the first book free by joining my mailing list or read along at Wattpad. Oh, and I’ve got a Patreon.
I saw something on Twitter the other day – one of those lovely little affirmation-type posts that work quite well on that particular platform, as opposed to on Facebook where they seem to make my piss boil for no particular reason. Maybe it’s something to do with the fact that on Twitter they’re nestled between apocalyptic heralds and dire warnings, maybe it’s because they’re just a lot smaller, but if I see a glimmer of joy on Twitter I bathe in its glory for a moment. If I see it on Facebook I roll my eyes and tut at its cloying grandiosity.
On this particular occasion it was a writer posting the wisdom that aspiring writers should not label themselves as such, because that connotes that they are a person aspiring to write, not aspiring to write successfully. That if you are a writer, you write, and success has nothing to do with that. Success is a false mirror that has little to do with merit, a lot to do with luck, and a chunk to do with hard graft.
It struck a chord with me, obviously. If it hadn’t I probably wouldn’t be writing this, right now. But I’ve often struggled with the question of when to call myself a writer – something doubly raw for the indie/self-pubbed author. I’ve got three novels out, read by thousands of people at this point, and yet I still hesitate to call myself a writer. Am I going to need a certificate or something before I can call myself what I am?
If there’s one thing (beside cloying Facebook posts) that I hate, it’s this notion that there has to be a certain level of achievement in creativity before you can call yourself a creative. Perhaps it’s to do with the way we are taught to play with creativity as children, then told to stop as we get older. That play is no longer something worthy of our time. Some people break out of that in music, art, writing, craft, woodwork. Some people only briefly indulge it when asked to create a PowerPoint presentation at work or a best-man’s speech at a wedding.
So be loud and proud, creatives. You write? You’re a writer. You paint? You’re a painter. You whittle? You’re a whittler. We should all stop dancing around the fact that we’re creatives. Unless you’re a dancer, of course. Then, you know, as you were.
Blood on the Motorway: An apocalyptic trilogy of murder and stale sandwiches is out now in ebook and print from Amazon and all other good bookstores. You can get the first book free by joining my mailing list or read along at Wattpad. Oh, and I’ve got a Patreon.
Remember when the internet was all full of hope, sunshine, and promise? When little ole’ Facebook was a place to hang out with friends? When Google proudly said ‘do no evil’? When the future looked bright for creatives? All of a sudden, no matter which creative industry you wanted to be in, the gatekeepers were being removed, and nobody was in between you and your audience. You just had to find them.
Want to be an author? No problem, self-publish and build up your audience. In a band? Put your albums up on Bandcamp, go on Spotify and start building an audience. Illustrator? There are a million places you can build up an audience online without having to be ‘discovered’ by someone who’s really only interested in the commerciality of your ‘content.’ Have an idea for scarves that you can print a book onto for some reason? There’s actually an audience for you. Hell, if you want to make custom Twilight-themed sex toys in your basement, you’ll probably be able to sell them.
The problem, then, is to stand out. Stand above the hundreds, nay, thousands of other creatives who are trying to find their audience. Not the easiest of tasks, but one made possible by the equality and egalitarian nature of the internet. It’s a long, hard slog, but you find your platform, and you build it. It’s not quite Field of Dreams, but it’s possible.
This year, however, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Big Internet, those companies that less than a decade ago were trying desperately to find their own audience, are losing patience with the little guy, the struggling artist, the haberdasher, the local band. It’s hard work, monetising this crowd, especially when there are all these big brands who’ve finally woken up to the internet being a thing, and have the marketing muscle to bring to bear.
Here are some things that have all happened in the last few weeks, all of which speak to a wider trend.
- Facebook’s algorithm change: If you run a Facebook page for your ‘small-level interest’ you already know that reaching people who have liked your page is nigh on impossible and has been for a while. Well, unless you hit that ‘boost post’ option and pay Zuck the mighty dollar. Well, the Zuckster recently announced another major change, in which he really wants to focus on letting people see what their family and friends are posting about. That’s all well and good, but one suspects what he really means is that pages are dead. No matter whether people actually might want to see content from the bands, authors and haberdashers whose pages they went out of the way to click like on. Pretty soon the only way to promote yourself on what is arguably the best ad platform in the world will be to pay a LOT of money to do so. Fewer ads mean more ads by the brands who can pay the big money, fewer by small creators trying to find their audience.
- YouTube’s new rules for ‘content partners’: We’ve all heard tales of the YouTube gazillionaires with a quadrillion pre-pubescent followers, who, as it turns out, invariably tend to be sociopaths of some kind. In the wake of scandals with Logan ‘I monetize dead people’ Paul, something called a Pew De Pie, and others, YouTube has implemented a radical overhaul of their ‘Partner Programme.’ The only problem is, it won’t hit any of these big accounts, but it will make it harder to join their ranks. Worse still, it punishes video creators that tend to be more niche, or who are using their channels to supplement their other enterprises (authors with book trailers, for instance, who want to be able to embed a link to their book on the video and then share that to other social media).
- Amazon’s rank stripping of authors: The world’s longest river has a problem with scammers exploiting their Kindle Unlimited program. This subscription model rewards authors based on page reads, rather than sales, and is only available to authors who go directly to them. A bunch of enterprising scammers realised a good way to game the system is to put a single book in the program, which is actually stuffed with dozens of books, then linking from the end of the first book to ‘bonus content’ at the very end, bypassing hundreds of pages and making it look to Amazon’s system like the reader has read 1000+ pages, instead of a few hundred. Now, this might seem like harmless gaming of a system, until you realise that this inflates the rank of the scammer’s book, bringing in more readers, pushing legitimate books down the chart. Also, authors are paid based on a single pot of money each month that Amazon deigns to pay its authors, so these scammers are actually stealing from other authors. Clearly, this is an issue. So, does Amazon try and fix the algorithm that has this huge loophole, or do they just randomly hack away at a few suspects? You guessed it, it’s the latter, meaning a bunch of very innocent authors have the added indignity of having their legitimate page reads and rank stripped away from them whenever they run a promotion, costing a lot of authors an absolute fortune. At the same time, go look at the charts on Amazon and you’ll see, the scammers haven’t even been dented. Quite frankly, Amazon doesn’t give a shit.
- Patreon trying to kill off its small payment patrons: This was one of the most egregious examples of the art. Patreon, a place where creators can build support slowly, with monetisation, randomly imposes a rule change with zero consultation, screwing over both patrons and creatives (an impressive feat). It scaled back the changes and stated that it wasn't about trying to jack up the fees they received, but this was a pretty clear attempt to change from a sub $5 donation model, the model which most benefits the smallest creators. They want fewer patrons paying more money.
As I say, this is all in the last few weeks. Individually each of these stories has caused panic in certain quarters of the internet (every author group I am in has at least one VERY CONCERNED discussion about Facebook ads going on right now), but taken together, these stories all point to a wider trend: Big Internet doesn’t care about your book. Or your album. Or your sex toys. So, what do we, as a creative community, do about it?
Well, I have one suggestion: Not to give a shit.
Being a creative in 2018 is tough work, but it’s still probably the best time in history to do it. Sure, it’s going to get harder to find an audience, but it doesn’t change the fact that your audience is out there, waiting for you. Seriously, there are nearly eight billion people out there, so the chances that you can find enough of an audience out there willing to pay enough money for you to keep doing what you’re doing. Hell, you might even be able to make a living at it. There’s even an outside chance that you’ll make good money.
They’re out there, and if you can’t use Facebook Ads to find them, find another way. It’s going to be tough, and it might cost money to get there. You know, in that way that starting a business usually requires investment. Use Big Internet. Use small internet. Finding that Twitter’s full of Nazis and trolls and authors tweeting book links a gazillion times a day? Try Mastodon. Sure, there’s not many people there, but there might just be a few of your people there. But you can find them. Facebook ads too expensive? Amazon's ad platform is pretty decent, too.
If this is where you start to fret about being 100% reliant on one source of income, then fret you should. What the above tales show is that putting all your eggs in one basket is a pretty good way to make sure that you're going to end up with your career as some kind of avant-garde floor omelette. Diversify. It's the only way to be sure.
Build your platform, as robustly as you can. Make the best art you can. If you're lucky, they might come.
When it came time to sit down and hammer out some resolutions for the New Year (or revolutions, as my daughter insists on calling them, or remevonooshuns, as my son calls them), there was one promise that I made to myself above all others: Be more productive.
I’m a terrible procrastinator. I think we all are really, endlessly finding things to do to avoid doing the thing that we should be doing, knowing full well that if the roles were reversed, and we needed to do Thing Two instead, that we’d be procrastinating by doing Thing One instead. Some peculiar trick of evolution, some fight-or-flight malfunction in our brainstems, is messing us all up, getting us to clean windows when we should be writing, or endlessly check Twitter when we have a report due by the end of the day. It’s a nonsense, really, the way our stupid squishy brains work.
This year, I decided that I would work really hard on cutting that procrastination out of my life. The reason? Well, on the one hand I work from home, have done for almost two years now. It was only meant to last a few months, but here we are. As anyone else who sits alone at a laptop all day will tell you, it’s bloody hard work staying motivated, focused, and engaged. So I need to make sure that I can keep up the same level of productivity I would in an office. Hell, there’s no reason I can’t be better than that since I don't have to actually talk to people.
The second reason is that I have another job, too. You know, the one that leads to all those books that you can buy if you follow the links at the top of the page. Being an indie publisher takes a ridiculous amount of work, admin, promotion, and other busywork, and that’s before you take into account that I need to do writing every single day. Oh, and the aforementioned kids and the rest of real life.
Hence the need for organisation. Being this busy doesn’t really work if you’re spending a quarter of your day staring into space thinking about old Babylon 5 plots, or scrolling endlessly through Twitter trying to find something to be angry about.
So, now that I’ve been on this kick for all of *checks calendar* ELEVEN DAYS, here’s my top five tools that can help you be a more productive you. And just so you know I'm on the level, none of the below is even affiliate-linked. Man, I really should have sorted some affiliate links.
- Pomadoro: I’ve been using this method of sprint working, where you use a timer to break down work into chunks separated by short breaks, on my writing for a while now. This year I’ve started applying it to my regular work, and found it’s really increased my productivity. I take one hour each day and split it into three 15 minute sprints, separated by five minute’s rest each time, and at the end of the hour I’ve usually managed to clear a huge chunk of what I need to do. Then I do another hour’s worth writing in the evening, which usually gives me around 1000 words. I use Be Focused for the Mac.
- Self-Control: Another Mac app, this blocks off your access to any website you shouldn’t be looking at while you’re working. You can add websites onto the blacklist, set the time for as long as you need, and hey presto, even if your mind wanders and that tiny deadened part of your soul reaches out for a Twitter hit, it can’t reach it. Not only that, but it’s impossible to turn it off for the duration. Sure does focus the mind.
- Todoist: There’s a hundred different to-do organisers out there, but this is my weapon of choice. You can set up different ‘project’s or subject matters (such as writing admin, work, errands, blog posts etc) and never lose track of what you’re supposed to be doing from day to day. You can assign due dates, then just track what you need to do on a day-by-day basis. I also use it to capture random thoughts or story bits that pop into my head, then assign them to a time when I’ll be at my desk so I can put them into my Scrivener file.
- Scrivener: Speaking of which… I’ve been using Scrivener for a good few years now to write in, and whenever I have to go back to Word or anything else it’s a bit like being Nic Cage in The Wicker Man remake, what with all the bees and whatnot. If you’re a writer, I cannot recommend it enough. It’s a steep learning curve, but get past that and you’ll find the best damn writing software on the plant. Especially with the new update, which is glorious.
- Feedly: This is a recent one. Well, not really, I used to have a Feedly account, years ago, when RSS was what all the cool kids were doing behind the bike sheds. I gave it up once the hardcore drugs of Twitter and Facebook showed up, because who can be bothered to read actual articles anymore when everything is GIFs and 140 characters? But I’ve become increasingly aware that my addiction to social media is both unhealthy, and unproductive. At the start of the year I deleted my blue apps from my phone, but that lasted about three days, when I realised that logging on through my phone’s web browser wasn’t exactly better than what I was doing before. Truth is, there are lots of times when I will have idle time and want to look at something on my phone. The problem is that I also spend too much time doing that when I should be doing other things. So, the thought occurred to me that I just needed something better, more productive, to look at. So, I set up a new Feedly account and followed a metric crap-tonne of writing blogs, science and technology sites, other things that might spark ideas and writing ideas. So now if I have time to kill, I can still be more productive, and I don’t have to be so addicted to the all-seeing social media eye.
So, there we go. Five tips for a more productive you. And I’m definitely the person to listen to, even if this blog post was supposed to be done three days ago, but wasn’t because I haven’t been as productive as I should have been. There’s always room for improvement.
So, what tips and tools are keeping you productive in 2018?