This week, I have been mostly thinking about #marketing #bookmarketing #indiereads

Oh yes I have.

Several things got me started, Tricia Drameh’s post:
https://authortriciadrammeh.wordpress.com/2017/05/28/become-a-millionaire-selling-books-on-amazon-or-not/,
Then something similar on Chuck Wendig’s blog about giving books time to ferment:
http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2017/05/30/dear-writers-a-book-needs-time-to-cook/
And following on from that, a post doing the round on kindleboards:
http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,252168.0.html about what makes a 6 figure author.

Chuck Wendig’s words about letting books cook particularly rang true with me since I temporarily abandoned a new series I was working on recently, in order to try writing simpler shorter stories that are easier to handle with all the other shit that’s going down. The second of these; Jump, is a story about The Pan of Hamgee and it’s with the smashing editor now. The first has turned into a novel; 40k and rising, so it’s unfinished as yet.

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with what I’m saying but it adds colour and makes the Facebook post more interesting.

However, while I was working on all these other projects, the new series cooked away quietly in the background and has really begun to crystallise. My hero is now a one-legged, muscle-bound ex gigolo with scar down one side of his face. He was working on Terra, the capital planet of the system, serving a niche market: rich trophy wives who wanted to pretend they were being ravished by an orc, only in the safety of their own homes by an orc who is keen to ensure they enjoy the experience. Naturally, he is very careful about who his clients are and insists any ladies who are attached tell their other halves – this is a different planet remember so most of them regard it as a nice thing for the wife to do, a bit of recreation that saves them a job.

Unfortunately, despite his precautions, he is stitched up by an angry husband. It’s not relevant to the plot really, it’s just his background but it’s how he ends up in the Salvage Zone, trawling the asteroid belt for space garbage to pay off his debts, and living on stinky P-Deck next to the Sewage Processing Plant in the Orion Space Station. Meanwhile my heroine has been in stasis for four million years and is currently floating around deep space in a box but she’s heading for the asteroid belt and guess who’s going to find her. It’s all stuff that wasn’t there, and has only arrived since I’ve left the story stewing. And it made me think that maybe, for the most part, I’m not letting my books cook for long enough – don’t laugh I know they take 2 years each but sod it, I’m working faster these days, the first one took 13. And my point is, there are bits of the new series that I could write down straight away, and I can see the characters so clearly in my head. It wasn’t like that before I gave up on it temporarily.

To get back on topic, I suppose what I’m saying is that it takes a while to tease my stuff out from being random fragments of ideas to something coherent with a point – not to mention a plot. Unfortunately, the marketing strategy that appears to work best: high volume, low price – mass production if you will – is untenable for authors such as myself, whose books, for whatever reason, take time. But does that mean we will never succeed? Well, thinking about it, the ebook thing probably hasn’t been going on long enough to know with any certainty. However, through my own mistakes and total unsuitability to the author career thing I have learned some stuff the hard way which I will share with you now.

To write to market or not to write to market? That is the question.

I spent too much time trying to be this guy. Yep, there’s me wanting to make my own way home when I should have hailed a taxi like all the others.

Actually, it’s probably not. Somewhat naively, I set out to write the kind of book I always wanted to read that didn’t exist yet. The reasoning was simple, I believed that if I liked my books other people would. While this might make sound creative sense, I’m beginning to suspect it’s commercial anathema.

The thing is, by very din’t of being an author I’m probably already several bricks short of a hod, all authors are. Therefore, we have to accept that what floats our boat is likely to have about as much appeal to the rest of the reading public as taking a lava shower! So over my five books and eight year writing career, I’ve learned that there’s a very good reason why the books I always wanted to read don’t exist. And that reason is that nobody else actually wants to read them. It doesn’t matter if they’re good, or even if people like them once they’ve read them. The point is, they don’t appeal initially so it takes a long time (if at all) for anyone to pick them up and start reading.

Sure, I still want to believe I’m an outlier but I have to accept that it looks unlikely. So my advice is that anyone who wants to write for financial gain should avoid genre mashing and make at least a cursory nod to market tropes when they start writing. Because I’m beginning to think that what people actually want to read is lots of versions of the same book, but slightly different, again and again.

Maybe what an author should ask herself, starting out, is this: are you going to write what you want to write or to make money? Maybe the folks who succeed in this game are the ones who manage to combine the two.

Ebooks have an eternal shelf life.

What!!!!? You are shitting me!!!

Bollocks they do!

Why do so many of the writers who are more like robots, or able to stop time, or who’ve made a pact with the devil or have supersonic typing hands (or something) absolutely insist that for success you must spew out a book every three months, like a Canada Goose crapping every 90 seconds on the grass of a London park?* I’ll tell you why, ‘the 90 day cliff’. After 90 days, there are various lists and initiatives on book retailers that your book will be removed from, lists and initiatives that get a LOT of traffic. Ebook or not, your work has a 90 day shelf life the same as a book in the shops because that’s what the algorithms on the book sites give it. Yep, just like the old days.

However, where there is a difference is that once someone reads your new book, the others are all there for them to find via the other books by links if they want to read the rest of your back catalogue. So they won’t be going out of print.

Know yourself, and understand your product. If your books were cars what would yours be?

This is not a quality issue, it’s more a case of are your books abundant or are they … rare.

Are your books one of these?

So most of the really big indie authors have a big backlist, or they are releasing books at the rate of knots. I have no idea how they do this, c.f. Mr Wendig’s remarks about books cooking. I need more books in the pot, I suspect. However, the point is, what they’re doing is the same thing as a company like Ford. Good product, high volume of production, low price and low profit per item but the millions sold make up for that. The high volume, low profit model is the best and easiest way to make cash doing anything. However it usually requires a big outlay up front; you have to make a lot of product before you start to earn your profits or spend a lot on advertising. Basically, you’ll have to bankroll your overheads with something for the three or four months it takes for the profits to a) turn up and b) actually reach you. Most arenas of consumer goods selling are similar. Why do you think there are so many huge companies that own everything? Yep. That’s right.

THIS is what the Kickstarter campaign will be about for my eyebombing book. Buying enough copies up front to get a low, low unit price and paying for production and design costs.

Or maybe your books are more like one of these …

Or you can do it another way. Because if you write one 200k, meticulously researched historical novel every three years, it is very difficult for you to be Ford. Sure you can do some shorts but it’s still tricky, even those take time. So you have to pitch yourself as Aston Martin, a premium product, hand crafted and painstakingly produced over a period of years, by craftspeople. And you have to make your unit price higher because, theoretically, there’s more ‘work’ in each one and there are less units produced.

Low volume, high profit margin.

This is the way I should go and have not gone. This also means that on sites like Kobo, you will be more likely to be accepted for a promotion or sale since a reduction from £6.99 to £1.99 is much more attractive than a reduction of £3.99 down to £1.99. If you try this with me though, you want to make sure you don’t get into a DFS situation, where you have so many sales that anyone who buys your books for  standard price is a mug. It’s also tricky to make the switch if you’ve been selling your books for reasonably low volume prices. Especially if your books are neither bespoke niche nor mass produced but something more like this …

Yes … we all think it looks cool but does anyone actually want one?

If you’re a natural Aston or er hem, grass covered ute, can you turn yourself into a successful Ford?

Sighs … I wish I knew.

Over time I’ve been writing books, it’s become painfully clear to me that if a person enjoys – if that’s the right word – the levels of demand upon their time and emotional energy that I do, trying to write stuff at anything approaching a sensible rate of output for a high volume low profit production model is extremely difficult. The more I see of this, the more I realise it is about four things:

  1. You need to be a reasonably prolific author in the first place – I actually am, I write a lot in the time I have there just isn’t much time available.
  2. You must be time-rich, or exceptionally good at making time, sleep like Margaret Thatcher (4 hours a night) and be extremely emotionally stable and/or emotionally robust so the difficult times don’t throw you off your game.
  3. Another thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of the folks doing well are extremely well organised; either with their marketing or their writing or both. So I think if you’re the kind of person who spends three quarters of each day looking for your keys, glasses, phone, trying to remember your own name etc, you’re probably stuffed, or at least, you’re going to have to work harder. So yeh, six figure authors appear to be ruthlessly efficient with their time.
  4. They are flexible. They seem to react swiftly to new developments in the market.

That, there, is not everyone’s personality or life. But then, not every car is mass produced. Aston Martin are successful, right?

Oh blimey! I only write one book every three years, what can I do? I’m stuffed!

Is your book a lemon?

Well, perhaps not. So don’t panic! Not yet, anyway.

Even though I know my life circumstances render a career pretty much dead in the water it seems that hope springs eternal. If you, like me, still keep trying and keep on writing because you have to, I sympathise. I’m an authorholic, completely addicted, and I really can’t stop so if that’s you, too (and I suspect there are plenty of you out there, c.f. my earlier statement that most authors are a bit nuts) welcome to authorholics anonymous.

Slow authors can up their rate of production a bit by writing shorter books, and folks like me, who’ve been selling at the wrong price point for years can then put the shorter books at a lower price point so at least people with less cash to flash still have something to read.

But I have stuffed the marketing up a bit. Quite a lot, actually. It’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing. I was a marketing manager with a household name here in the UK. But I’ve still managed to build a base of readers who are almost certainly expecting something very different to what I’m offering, and a stable of four books that, are a really hard sell and one that is a complete and utter dud. I’m not talking about whether people love them, they do, but getting them to read the darned things is properly difficult!

Yep.

Frankly, if I was still a marketing manager, I’d sack me.

What have I learned from my many mistakes?

Lots, so here are some of the many things that I’ve learned the hard way so that you don’t have to:

  1. Despite being as ancient as the hills the best and most reliable way to keep direct contact with your audience still appears to be a mailing list. You just have to make damned sure it’s worthwhile and interesting.
  2. After a certain point, mailing lists cost money. That means you need to make sure you know how many books you will have to sell each month to cover your costs. You should also aim to pick your mailing service provider very carefully and keep an eye on the market so you can jump ship if another cheaper provider pops up who provides as high a level of service for less. I started with Mailchimp because the deal breaker was automation. However, MailerLite do automation now so I’ve just bought a year with them for the price of two months with MailChimp. I will keep a free MailChimp account but I am moving pretty much everything.
  3. This is a crowded market so it’s worth factoring that in. Things may take longer to happen than you expect: So if you are giving away your books with a view to people signing up to your mailing list, reading your free books and buying the others it’s worth noting that lead times have extended. I am now allowing four years, from sign up, to them actually reading the book and buying another one. That is how crowded the market is. When I started my list, odds are that 10,000 readers would be enough to get a newly launched book doing well enough to get some traction on the book sites. I’d say it may be more like 20,000 now, unless I’m launching in a couple of years when more of my lovely peps will have had time to read the free books I gave them. But I may just be really bad at this. Phnark!
  4. Plan for the long haul. On the whole, I think the only part of the multi-million sellers stuff I do well is reacting to new developments. The trouble is, my time constraints being what they are, I will always be behind the curve by the time I implement anything, even if I am one of the first to start.
  5. Write. Keep writing. Because the deal breakers seem to be volume of books as well as speed of output. If you can’t do speed go for eventual volume. Even if you only write two words today, they’re two words that weren’t there yesterday. It all adds up.
  6. Mix things up! If you write long expensive books try writing some shorter, less expensive books. If you write books that you love which are a hard sell, maybe try writing some that adhere strictly to one genre. If you’re writing the book equivalent of an Aston Martin remember that just like the real thing, not everyone can afford one. Shorts are good here. I’m currently trying to lob some 1970s Fiat 500s into the M T McGuire literary mix.
  7. Be realistic about what you want. Sure I’d love to make it big, but my real ambition for my writing is simply to earn enough from the books I have on sale to be able to produce the next one. I haven’t. But it seems to me that the trick is to just keep on keeping on and quietly dropping books out there into the void.
  8. Accept that sometimes, your principles may hold you back. I loathe the current fashion for having thin attractive women on book covers and I’m not overly keen on ripped man torsos either. I believe it is damaging to people who are not stick thin or ripped. I have banged on about this before so I won’t do it again, but I suspect the fact I refuse to feature idealised humans on my covers or keep the colour scheme to black plus one other may well explain why my sales in fantasy – which used to be good – are now even more piss poor than my risible showing in sci-fi.

Do us folks who write a little bit slower than the speed of continental drift stand a chance?

You know what, I sincerely hope so. The nearest successful author to me I can find – or at least the nearest in outlook – writes 4 or 5 books a year. She has been a midlister for sometime but I’d say her career has really taken off this year. She’s practical and no-nonsense and her advice to those like us would be to get the mailing list going, a website, a blog (possibly) and write. Because she says, again and again, that her income rises with the number of books in her back catalogue. She says you don’t have to be writing best sellers all the time if you have enough decent books in your backlist because each person who reads one will read them all. As the number of books grows, your sales grow and your author ‘score’ on the retail sites grows. There may yet be a chance for us molluscs to creep into profitability through the back door.

So that’s what I’m going to do. Keep writing books and see. Because it takes as long as it takes; and that applies to both success, on whatever level I judge it, and writing the books.

Relax and enjoy the journey.

The most important thing is to relax and enjoy the journey.

All we slow writers can do is put the framework in place and hope that after ten or twenty years, when we have twelve plus books in the ether, the chance to earn a decent living from our work will still be there for us.

*Factoid Alert: I’m afraid this is actually true.

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And now for something completely different … #eyebombing #eyebombthereforeiam

Eyebombing: the art of spreading googly joy

Saddled as we are with a thoroughly grim world landscape right now I thought everyone could do with a bit of cheering up. So it occurred to me that it would be fun to start a group about one of my favourite hobbies, eyebombing, possibly with a view to doing a book later on … if it goes well.

Eyebombing is the art, if that’s the right word, of adding googly eyes to inanimate objects to give them a personality. When I write, I love putting obscure jokes in my books; things that only a handful of people will get. Eyebombing has that exact same appeal. If I stick googly eyes on something, odds are only about one in ten people will see it. It’s a secret joke between a tiny and exclusive club of eagle-eyed, uber-noticing folks.

And it’s a little bit naughty …

and I’m not meant to …

and yet, it’s mostly harmless.

And it’s a lot more interesting than running through wheat fields! (Sorry, bit of British political humour there, although, to give her her due, running through wheat is a lot more outrageous than it sounds, she’d have got a proper bollocking from the farmer if he’d caught her.)

Eyebombing is something I’ve been doing since before McMini was born. Over the years I have built up a sizeable library of photographs. Looking at them with a couple of friends, the other day, they said, ‘why on earth don’t you do a book about this?’

So the long term project will, indeed, be to produce a book on eyebombing. But it will be a long ride because this is something that only, really, works in print, and as a result, it means that not only will it be a more expensive sell but I’ll also have to try and flog it to book shops and funny only sells there at Christmas which means I’ll have to work on the book all this year, get it ready to promote next spring – because book stores choose their Christmas funny in about March. Then I will launch it, officially, in October 2018.

To fund stock, editing and design I am toying with the idea of a crowdfunding campaign. If I do that, I can give backers their copy this year, a whole year before release, and sell any left over pre release copies at the Bury Christmas Fayre – if I get a stall this year – or keep them until next year.

Royal Mail being what it is, the postage outside the UK will probably cost slightly more than the book and the crowdfunding thing may not work. So I may have to get a ‘proper’ publisher. However, for now I’m setting up a group to share pictures, both mine and I’m hoping other folks will post their eyebombs too. It’s just something I thought I’d do and if it adds ‘social proof’ to applications to publishers, or my efforts to sell the book to bookshops, jolly dee. Going forward, if I do have to mount a crowdfunding campaign, am hoping folks in the group will share the link as much as possible.

If you want to follow the fun …

If any of these kinds of japes appeal to you, and you think eyebombing would amuse you, I’d be delighted if you joined me.

To follow the development of the book, not to mention any eyebombing activities undertaken, there are three ways you can keep up with it all online.

If you want to join in …

If you already have a packet of googly eyes burning a hole in your pocket are welcome to join in; posting your own photos, chatting about eyebombing and generally shooting the breeze on the very nascent – I formed it just a couple of weeks ago – EyebombThereforeIam facebook group. You can find that here:

Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/369964093397829

Here are those links again:

Follow on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/eyebombtheschoolrun/
Follow on facebook: https://fb.me/eyebombthereforeiam
Join the Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/369964093397829
Join the Eyebombthereforeiam e-mail Newsgroup here http://www.subscribepage.com/eyebomb

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The Daesh: it’s not because they’re Muslims, it’s because they’re tossers. #WeStandTogether #LondonBridge #wearenotafraid #thingsthatgetbritainreeling

Cynicism/Satire Warning.

This is a very cynical article which generalises a tad, here and there, and I swear and get political in places. And I call ISIS the Daesh all the way through because I gather they don’t like that.

I am also rude about President Trump and anyone else who is stupid enough to think that just because this was done in the name of Islam, all Muslims are bad. Because that’s bollocks. Most of them are pissed off and/or embarrassed.


After last night’s attack I looked at the internet: lots of tweets from very right wing people against Muslims which, barring different words to describe the targets, read like the kinds of tweets the Daesh put out, because whatever they think they believe, extremists tend to be carbon copies of one another, and too fucking stupid, to a man, to realise that, of course.

Go Beer Man!

To that end, I had had an attack of What Would Jesus Do? And I sat down today at my computer thinking that it was important that someone normal spoke out and said something to stop all the over-reactive wanky shit being spewed about Muslims. But there wasn’t anyone normal available so I realised I’d have do it instead.

Luckily, after an American newspaper described us as reeling and panicking because that’s what they would have done, other faster, quicker-witted British people woke up, while I was still phaffing around, and did this: #thingsthatgetbritainreeling

Ah yes, nobody does gallows humour like us Brits.

Seriously though, why does anyone bother to do terrorism here? Barring a brief hiatus where the IRA/UDA and the Daesh did a high five and swapped, we’ve pretty much all grown up with it. And the few of us who haven’t grew up with the war. Keep calm and carry on, etc. It’s just same old same old to us.

More tea vicar?

In the 1970, 80s and early 90s there was a lot of sectarian violence. Basically what happened with that was that two groups of Christians spent a lot of time and effort kicking the living shit out of one another in Northern Ireland and also in a lot of the main ship building cities in mainland Britain when many Northern Irish who’d come from the mainland a generation before, transferred their skills back again. And when nobody took enough notice, they started kicking the living shit out of everyone else. I come from a little village just outside Brighton. One of the groups of Christians blew up the Grand Hotel, one of the biggest in the Borough, along with half the cabinet at the time.

Trust me on this, I saw the hole that left. No photograph does it justice. If you go there today, you can still see how massive it was because the balconies they replaced are slightly different. You could put several houses and a Zeppelin into that hole. It was fucking enormous. But did anyone say, ‘These Christians are all bastards! They should be sent away.’

Nope. Don’t recall it. But then, I suppose they were white and Christians (about as un Christian in attitude as they could get but hey) and a lot of Americans were funding them anyway. Maybe there’s a crossover there.

Later, I lived in London during the bombing campaign in the 1990s. Apparently they sent coded messages beforehand sometimes. But I don’t recall that ever stopping the carnage. I heard two bombs go off, but didn’t see them. Conversely, two of my flat mates were standing outside the Sussex pub in Covent Garden when it blew up. That was pretty grim.

But you know what the people of London did when these charmers bombed the shit out of us? That’s right, we extended the middle finger, just the way Manchester has done recently and London is doing again now, and we carried on. And yes, I’d say we may even have kept calm. Like this guy.

How many pints this morning Mrs Spigot?

It’s weird, but bombing Britain is pointless, because you should know by now, all we’re going to do is make tasteless jokes about it and ignore you. And what have the recent attacks done? Really? They’ve had Mancuinans and Londoners helping one another, offering strangers, food, tea, blankets and beds for the night. People of different cultures, backgrounds and ethnicity reaching out the hand of friendship to one another. Paying for taxis home for people, putting them up in hotels. For all the sadness and anger, what these acts of hate have also done is cause an outpouring of kindness, love and understanding.

Likewise, I may be a bit out of step with the zeitgeist here, but from what I recall, as I was growing up, most people realised that the people who committed these acts of terrorism back then were not doing it because they were Protestant, or because they were Catholic, not even because they were Irish. Indeed, maybe, by that time, they weren’t even that bothered about acting in the name of their cause. No. The reason they bombed people was actually because they were wankers.

Likewise, the Daesh are not committing atrocities because they are Muslims. They’re doing it because they’re cunts.

What a total bell end.

I think it’s important that people hoist that in – I’m looking at you Trump with your stupid tweet about how much safer it would have been if it had happened in Amurka where everyone is armed. Because yes, three blokes intending to kill can do so much more damage with a knife each and a van (yes it’s a van not a truck you orange, nylon-haired retard) than with the uzis or sub machine guns or whatever they’d have bought over the counter for the purpose in the States. So much safer over there Mr Trump, especially with you in charge.

OK, but on a more serious note now. If you were in last night’s attack, or if you know anyone who was, or even if you end up seeing something similar in future, I think it’s important that I point this out.

One of my flat mates got PTSD. So if you were there, even if you were Beer Man strolling away from the carnage with your pint, you might find it affects you. If you get flashbacks, have trouble sleeping, if you’re afraid of every little noise outside, if you’re afraid you’re being followed when you walk down the street at night … well, you know there might be a reason.

Back in the 1990s my flatmates and I, we didn’t know about PTSD. Looking back on it now, I realise that is what my flatmate suffered. She’s fine now but for a while she had a really hard time. She saw some pretty horrible shizz. People covered in blood, screaming, someone lying on the pavement covered in blood who wasn’t moving. Stuff that haunted her. She also had a disability, so she knew that when it struck, she would lose consciousness and be dependent on others to help her and I think seeing that from the other side, albeit in a totally different way, made it worse.

So, if you or someone you love was there in London, or in Manchester, and survived, it’s absolutely OK to seek help. In fact it’s probably sensible, because even if you don’t realise it, you may need it.

We are going to London in a couple of weeks for a birthday treat. I admit I am nervous but we are still going to go. Indeed, I almost feel it’s my moral duty to do so now – a bit like my parents going on an art tour of Iran three months after 9.11 (‘It was wonderful darling, there was hardly anyone there!’ but that’s another story). And especially after the Manchester kids who were affected exorcising their fears – and demons – by going to the benefit concert, a couple are singing in the choir. That said, I freely admit that I will be having The Conversation about what we would do if horror struck, because I can’t run. Whether, with the adrenaline pumping, it would be possible I don’t know, but I can’t normally because of the pain. So I have to sit McOther down and explain that if the shit hits the fan, he must take McMini to safety and leave me to hide. I will have a phone, after all, and as soon as it is safe, I will call him.

Lastly, if you are worried about relatives or friends who may have been in the London attacks, here are two numbers you can call:  0800 0961233 or 0207 1580197

And Manchester too.

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A Charming Child: guest post by the inestimable Tallis Steelyard #newbooks

What can I say? We have a guest, my writer friend Jim, Webster, along with the inimitable, the one and only Tallis Steelyard who is here to tell us a little tale. Thank you Tallis and Jim, for stepping in and giving me something to share with everyone at the end of a week when gastroenteritis has left me short. On you go, Tallis.

—o0o—

A Charming Child.

Having your illusions shattered can be hard at times. One clings to them with the tenacity of a shipwrecked sailor who grasps the spar with a death grip. They are all you have to help you navigate the storms of life. But one has to be brave and when the evidence is presented, one has to admit the new reality into your life.

Thus one evening, as I dined with Shena, my lady wife, and Mutt, I learned something new. Now Mutt is aged about ten and has accepted some element of domestication to become Shena’s employee. That being said, he has his own extensive business interests within the city, and appears to maintain a group of street children who look to him as their master and provider. As we ate I commented that Avia Hassenbut was a charming child. Mutt just looked at me as if I were a total idiot and said, in terms of obvious admiration, “She’s devious is that one.”

This surprised me as Avia and Mutt hardly move in the same social circles, but there again I have learned never to disregard Mutt’s comments. So I asked him to elucidate. The story he told struck me as so far fetched that I felt the need to check the facts. Alas it is largely true, and it is this largely true version I shall now recount.

It seems Avia had taken against her nurse. Whether she felt that at the advanced age of eight or nine she ought to have a governess I don’t know. Perhaps nurse had in some way crossed her, but Avia decided that nurse must go.

Now a lesser daughter would undoubtedly have approached her father, wheedled and pleaded, and achieved little. But Avia was cut from different cloth. She was prepared to plan. The first thing she did was look at her potential assets and allies. She turned her attention to Dame Ballot’s School for young persons of breeding. This was an exclusive academy, by which I mean expensive. Perhaps a score of children attended and were given a solid grounding in the basics, (reading, writing, rhetoric, accountancy, character assassination and social climbing.) Now one of her little playmates was Tonks Valin. He was the son and possible heir of ‘Barbarity’ Valin, extortioner, racketeer and thug. Old ‘Barbarity’s current wife, known universally as Mistress Valin, had decided that it wouldn’t hurt if the family moved up in society and had enrolled Tonks with Dame Ballot. Society in Port Naain can be fluid at times; it’s barely two generations since they last hanged an Oeltang for brigandry. So Avia had Tonks invited to her house to play, and whilst there she introduced him to the litter of puppies that had just been born to one of her father’s hunting dogs. With parental permission, Tonks was promised a puppy and from that point onwards he was Avia’s most devoted servant.

At this point it appears that I enter the picture. Madam Hassenbut was a patron of mine, and one afternoon I was asked if I could keep Avia amused for an hour because her parents had to spend time with lawyers, attorneys and similar such individuals. I realise that this doesn’t really fall within the duties one should expect of your poet, but one does try to help a patron so I agreed. It was a wet afternoon and I kept Avia amused by playing a storytelling game. One of us would start, the other would continue the story, and we’d take turns trying to bring it to a suitable conclusion. Time flew by so fast that frankly I was surprised when Madam Hassenbut came into the room and apologised for being away for two hours. She was generous with both her praise and her silver and I hadn’t got it in my heart to complain.

Obviously I must have given Avia ideas, because a fortnight later I was asked by Mistress Valin if I would organise a children’s entertainment for her. Now let me state, categorically, that I am not a children’s entertainer, I am a poet. But to be honest I have always felt that it was wise to oblige free-spending patrons, especially if they might take refusal badly.

Now I confess to being both surprised and relieved when I discovered that there were only a handful of children, which included Tonks and Avia. I’d dreaded there being a horde of the screaming little beggars. Four or five is manageable. So I sat down and asked what they would like. Avia piped up immediately and asked me to tell them a story.

“Which story?”

She smiled a little slyly and said, “The dark tale of Bethom baby eater and her gang.”

I smiled back. This was one of the stories we’d built up together when we’d played the game, and I’d promised that one day I would show her how to tell it properly. Indeed I quoted one of the ancients to her, “I’ll add plenty of corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.”

So I told the story. I wove it into Port Naain, mentioning places, hinting a people, tying it to dates and places and generally doing the job properly. The children loved it. So, apparently did the adults.

What I haven’t mentioned is that each child (with the exception of Avia) was accompanied by a couple of heavies who acted as bodyguards. They were there purely to ensure nobody got any silly ideas about kidnapping expensive children. They sat around the room, drinking fruit juice and eating cake and trying to look fierce in a restrained and domesticated manner. Of course they listened to the story, and seemed to enjoy it at least as much as the children. Indeed so much were they enjoying it that I brought them into it, tying in details such as the disappearance of Bouncer Queel and the unexplained death of Blabs Joggan.

I finished the story in the usual way. “And so children, even today nobody knows who Bethom baby eater is or who is in her dark gang. But luckily you’ve got such good men to protect you.” This remark had assorted heavies sitting up a little straighter and surreptitiously checking the placement of concealed weapons. Then I concluded with, “Which is lucky really because more than babies, Bethom especially loves to eat rich children because they’re so tender and nicely fed and taste delightfully sweet.”

Personally I thought no more about it, but apparently one of the little horrors had nightmares about Bethom the baby eater. Mother summed a thug to ask what on earth had been going on, and the thug recounted my story. He didn’t do it word for word, or mother would have recognised it as the elegantly constructed tale that it was. No he told it in his own words which made it more real. Mother, not entirely convinced talked to other mothers. Of course they’d all got a similar version from their own hired bruisers and so Bethom became real.

Once Avia knew that the story had spread, she too had nightmares. Hers were more specific. She woke up screaming that Nurse was a cousin of Bethom baby eater. Madam Hassenbut have never heard of this person but thought it wise to check with Mistress Valin. The tale she was told was enough to chill the heart of any mother. When a few simple checks showed that nurse did indeed have a cousin called Bethom, (a ladies’ hairdresser in Avitas), nurse was dismissed with a month’s salary in lieu of notice.

It has to be said that I take a degree of comfort from the thought that by the time young Avia comes into her full powers, I will almost certainly be safely dead. It’ll be up to Mutt and his generation to cope with her. I wish him joy in it.

—o0o—

Thank you Tallis, that was awesome! Jim, do you have anything to add?

I do. You might not realise that Tallis Steelyard has just produced his second book of stories and anecdotes. This is book, ‘Tallis Steelyard, a harsh winter, and other stories,’ is available from the first of June.

The book is available to all discerning readers at £0.99 from
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B071LH1THB

or $1.28 from
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071LH1THB

Were Tallis less busy he’d doubtless remember to thank me, Jim Webster, for the efforts I make on his behalf. But you know what it is with someone like Tallis who is constantly in demand. So I just get on with writing his stuff down for him and from time to time making collections of his wit, wisdom and jumbled musings available for a grateful public.

Tallis does have a blog, it is apparently de rigueur now for all writers. It is available at

https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/

Riding in on his coattails I’ll merely mention that my own books can be seen at Jim Webster’s Amazon page:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jim-Webster/e/B009UT450I

or here: https://www.amazon.com/Jim-Webster/e/B009UT450I

Thank you, Tallis and Jim.

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Welcome to my GORGEOUS Life! On humorous giveaways and being embarrassed by your kids.

Jeez, well, this week’s been interesting. Welcome to what the lovely Dame Edna Everage would call, ‘my gorgeous life’ in all it’s technicolour glory! (Phnark.)

So, this week McMini had pukka actual gastroenteritis. He started feeling ill, was sick a lot, and then he was sick a bit more and then, just for a change he was sick again.

Then he was hungry so I gave him some toast.

Which he sicked up.

Rinse.

Repeat.

On Tuesday he was so lethargic and ill that I left him to sleep, sat in the next room and wrote 3,000 words! Yeh, a week and a half’s quota in 3 hours. That’s a seriously ill small fry. I thought it would pass though and he hadn’t thrown up … until 3pm.

Tuesday afternoon, he started being sick again.

‘Hmmm,’ I thought.

McMini is lively, and alert, and … well let’s just say there are a lot of donkeys around here with no hind legs and it wasn’t me who talked all of them off. He is full of beans and a chatterbox even when he’s ill. But he wasn’t, which was a bit of a worry.

Early on Wednesday, finally, we got the lovely green sick.

‘Ah.’ I thought.

I don’t think he feels very well …

He was getting incredibly lethargic now and with the green sick and him beginning to hurl more often again I was wondering about appendicitis, or dehydration – except the … er hem … wee colour was fine – or low blood sugar levels – snortle I nearly typed blud sugar there … you’re sugar’s low blud! Thanks dude – sorry, where was I yeh, with a sick McMini.

Clearly the time had come to take my little boy to the Docs. I checked his wee colour again and it was ‘silver’ as he called it – to the rest of the world that’s normal green. So I convinced myself that something worse was definitely going wrong. Because I am not a helicopter mum or anything. Mwah hahahrgh! But I was thinking blood sugar. So I took him down to the Doctor’s for their not quite emergency oops-you-haven’t-got-an-appointment-but-we-appreciate-it’s-serious-so-if-you-come-and-wait-at-11.30-a-doctor-will-see-you clinic. Snappy title huh?

Long and short, we ended up on Rainbow Ward at the West Suffolk with suspected appendicitis for evaluation, hello LOVELY people on Rainbow Ward. Yes, they genuinely rock.

The first thing they gave him was anti-sickness drugs.

McMini didn’t like the flavour. He made a face.

‘This is disgusting!’ he whispered, because he still felt to sick to talk. ‘Persevere, you need this,’ I told him. ‘Take it in tiny bits.’
‘OK,’ he whispered .

I don’t like it.

The nurse went off to get a glass of black current with the kinds of salts and sugars in it that people who haven’t eaten anything for four days are likely to need. When she came back he’d eaten all but a tiny bit of the dose of anti sickness. He had a 20ml dose of the fluid with the sugars in and took the last of the anti sickness with it. Suddenly, he was talking. Loudly.

‘How can you give me this stuff?’ he asked her. ‘You do know it’s disgusting don’t you? Seriously, it’s completely vile.’
‘Well it’s clearly made you feel better.’ I told him.
‘Yes but seriously Mummy. It’s revolting! It’s like that stuff you give me when I have a cough’ [medised] he turned to the nurse. ‘You’ve probably traumatised me for life! You know that don’t you?’
‘That’s not the way to go on mate,’ I told him. ‘Sorry,’ I added, to the nurse, as I cringed with embarrassment, ‘my son is a fussy little bleeder and he’s a bit of a thespian, to boot.’
‘It is vile though!’ he said clearly to get a laugh but I was extremely worried she wouldn’t realise and might take it the wrong way. Luckily she didn’t. She just said,
‘You feel better, though, don’t you?’
‘Yes,’ he said and then, beaming, added, ‘I can talk now, I felt so sick before, I could only whisper.’

We saw a student doctor first and while he examined us and asked questions, I had to feed McMini 20ml of salts and fluids every 10 minutes.  Two doses and McMini was firing on all cylinders again with added exuberance at feeling if not well then, a sod of a lot better than before. The Doctor was a lovely chap who laughed at McMini’s jokes and waited patiently while he answered yes or no questions with lengthy anecdotes and stories (can’t think where he gets that from). Then he got the non student doc he’d been shadowing in to see us. She was also lovely, telling us she was in hulk mode today (her top was green). We were probably quite lucky they had senses of humour as he did the whole ‘I’m traumatised for life’ routine again with them.

McMini has now served his 48hour purdah and I have unleashed him on the world again. Joyously, while I thought I was going down with it too, it may be that I just had an IBS attack. I love you Buscopan. Althogh McOther, ringing from Lisbon, had to hang up for a few minutes to hurl. Although he came back a lot perkier and thinks he might have sunstroke.

While I was telling to one of the lovely ladies who cleans our house about what McMini had said told me her daughter gave the nurse the bird when she had her polio injection. She was very good, didn’t cry but then as they got the door, her daughter upped her middle finger at the nurse and said venomously, ‘I hate you!’ She said she’d never been so mortified in her life and was wondering where the hell she picked it up. I told her about the time McMini got done for saying ‘Bollocks!’ at school and when they asked where he got it from McMini said, ‘Mummy.’ Jeez. Kids!

On the upside, on Wednesday morning, just before we went to the Doctors, ill feeble McMini said,

‘Sorry Mummy, I don’t mean to treat you like staff. I just feel so sick and ill it’s really hard to move.’ Which seemed surprisingly emotionally mature.

Then Friday morning, probably about the time McOther’s plane was taking off to fly him to Lisbon for the weekend, the phone rang. Mum’s carer. Mum had a ripping headache and thought she might be having a stroke. We had a chat about it. I did the whole fact thing with the carer and then I spoke to Mum. Mum does have ministrokes, and according to scans the bleeds are where her head was hurting, but her speech centre has always been the bit that goes first, so far.

So the carer and I discussed it a bit and decided that since we both know Mum hates hospital, rather than ring 999 and have her whisked in where she’d sit in a ward all weekend waiting to be evaluated when the non emergency staff came back to work on Monday, we would start by seeing if a local GP would come out to her.

Up side of that is that it’s probably not a stroke, Mum won’t have to go to hospital. But she might be sickening for something. On the down side, Dad has really sore feet and when the Doctor looked at those the news was not so good. She reckoned this was down to blood flow and that he probably has a blocked artery somewhere in his upper leg. She said they’d operate in a younger person but the risk would be too high to Dad. They treat this with blood thinners in the elderly and as he’s on those, anyway, there’s not much more to be done. So a bit of a worry about Dad but no mercy dash required which is, frankly, a bit of a … well … mercy.

So, after a week like that – spot the really unsubtle segue – I could do with some funny books to read, as you can imagine. So it’s just as well because there is a funny book giveaway going on. Mine is included, of course, along with a whole heap of others – 24 – from all sorts of different genres. These are all Instafreebie books so you are asked to sign up to the author’s mailing list so they can send it to you, but you can always unsubscribe and if you feel like a bit of levity in your life, this one is worth a go! It’s running until Midnight on Sunday 21st May which is probably midnight somewhere in America. And apologies for only posting this now. I meant to do it this morning but at least you have a day to fill your boots and some may still be available for a day or two afterwards.

Anyway, I hope you find some interesting books to read and I hope next week will be quieter or at least, a little less action packed. If you’d like to check out the books the link for the giveaway is here:

 

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This week, I am mostly ranting about … everything

STOP! There is swearing.

Aroogah! Aroogah!

Let’s kick off with a profanity warning: there will be some.

There.

So if you don’t like the F word, do not read this. Especially do NOT read this all the way though and then complain it’s full of swearing or I will flipping well lamp you. And if you’re a bit iffy about swearing, but can cope, you’re probably alright for most of this post but you will want to avoid the song at the end.

_________________________________

OK, if we’re all sitting comfortably, I’ll begin.

Right now, I feel a bit like this. Not crap exactly, just a bit … blergh … or possibly meh.

The fact is, while I think I might be quite loving, I doubt I’m a very nurturing person. I seem to be bad at caring for people. I need too much space and time alone to get my head together and that is not conducive to surrendering any sizeable amounts of your life to the needs of others, however many times the head says go, the heart sometimes says … well, not no exactly because it’s willing … more like, can’t.

But obviously, I have to. Can’t isn’t one of the options. I have a commitment and it’s nothing close to what most people have to put up with, but the mental and emotional energy it takes to do the negligible amount I do for my parents seems to be disproportionately huge when I add it to the other commitment of being a mum.

This week there was a small blip. Mum and Dad have some living aids in their house that they pay for on lease. It started last week, when they had a call asking if they still wanted all of it, and thinking it was cold callers Mum told the company to take everything way.

Yesterday, I get a panicked call saying, ‘They’re taking the red alarm button, and the alarm that goes off when your Dad gets out of his seat, stop them!’

Except I was at kid’s church, with McMini, so my brother got the call, and mistaking the carer’s phone number for a friend’s, and being in the middle of ‘Comedy Club’ – he’s a teacher and yes, it’s an extra curricular activity at his school – he proceeded to show the boys and girls a thing or two about the art of mimicry. In this case, by answering the call in his impression of David Bellamy (it’s absolutely tip top, I have to hand it to him; imagine a version of Lenny Henry in white, that’s my brother). He then suddenly had to transform to serious, which probably taught the kids far more about comic timing than anything he could have actually planned. I’m still getting giggleback about it though. Mwah hahahargh! I swear I couldn’t make this shit up! And if I did, I’d be panned for making it unrealistic.

So, as McMini and I left the service and I turned my phone on I got a call from my brother. Cue frantic ringing round and I got a company name and a number to ring. After a night stewing, I spent the next day ringing round to get to the bottom of it. Turns out that what we’re paying only covers a fraction of what is in the house. None of us know how we’ve had all this stuff for a year for free but they seem OK with that so long as we pay the full whack from now on or just keep the things we’re actually paying for. Mum remembers their call but didn’t understand what they were talking about.

As the cost of leasing the other stuff is a fair bit, 6 month’s rental is about the same cost of new equipment, I bought replacements for the bits that we hadn’t been paying for which arrived the following day, during my visit, so I was able to install those. The engineer came out to put the other stuff back the following day, too, so all is now peachy. In addition, I explained to them that Mum has dementia too and they will now ring me with any enquiries. I found out some useful stuff, too, like where the heck we got the seat and bed alarm from and whether we are leasing it or own it outright! I had no clue and if Mum ever had, she doesn’t now. So that was a bit of a bonus, even if the method of delivery was less than fun.

Anyway, on the Tuesday, after I’d organised this, I turned to the clock and, joy unbounded, I had a hour left before school run time in which to write. I’d had to send a form declaring my parents have dementia to get the VAT back on the stuff I’d ordered so I’d  photographed it and emailed it off. Needless to say, the moment I sat down at my computer, the company contacted me to say I’d done it wrong so I had to quickly do another one. Then at last, with 20 minutes in hand, which is 400-800 words if I concentrate, I sat down to write.

And I couldn’t.

I was just mentally dead. My mojo had flown and, indeed, it’s been AWOL all week. I like to think it’s pissed off on a drunken bender and will crawl back to me in the equivalent of the wee hours (next week sometime, probably) slurring,

‘I’m sho sorry. I really am. Are you angry with me? Schay you’re not angry with me. I love you Mary, I really really love you, hurrgh bleargh [splat]. etc.’

My mojo is the one on the right. Don’t look at the stain on the carpet or you’ll know I’m a slattern – as well as foul mouthed.

However, I also fear it may be sobbing in a corner somewhere so I have made the odd effort to find it. I managed about 400 words where I knew what was going to happen and just needed to describe it, in my time after sorting the crisis, no creativity required. You know, when you have to get a character from one part of the house to another kind of thing and they walk through a hall which you need to describe, briefly, for later. That kind of thing but there was still no sign of the mojo. Whatever it’s doing, I hope it comes back refreshed.

After that I threw in the towel and heated up some filter coffee, wrote a shopping list of the things I needed to get for supper on the way home with McMini and set off to pick him up from school. We walked home, past the supermarket.

Did I remember to go in and get the shopping?

Did I bollocks?

Did I remember before we’d walked all the way home? Of course not.

The distance I am away from the thing I’ve forgotten is directly proportional to the amount of knee pain I am experiencing at the time. Needless to say, I remembered as we walked into the house, so we had to turn around and go back up the hill. The only positive I can take away from this is that despite my temptation to turn the air blue with invective, the worst word that escaped me was, ‘sperm.’

Snortle.

Yes I said, ‘Oh … sperm!’

Mwahahahaharaargh!

But hey, at least I didn’t say, ‘shit! or fu-beep! or cu-aroooogah.’

Back we trudged, got the stuff, came home. I had to make biscuits with McMini, because I’d promised, even though we didn’t really have time and I was shattered and just wanted to sit down. Then I prepared the veg and the bits of supper I was cooking. According to my fitbit I did two miles back and forth around the house. I just finished in time to squeeze in a quick shower before we ate.

The following day, I did the Sussex run. It wasn’t quite such a good visit, they were both tired, indeed Mum fell asleep over her dinner prompting Dad to shout for me because he was afraid she’d died (bless), and they were less on form, but I did, at least, cheer them up and the carer was around when Dad filled his Tena boots this week, not me. Result!

And this is why I find the care thing difficult. Not because I don’t want to do it. It’s not like it would cross my mind to do anything else. Lord knows they’ve looked after me and now it’s my turn to look after them. I love going to see them because they are hilarious and they are still great fun. Even with the short term memories of a pair of goldfish they are like pied pipers of people – and it’s not as if the memory loss is very noticeable because neither of them has ever been able to find their keys, well … OK the lack of memory is showing with Dad now but he’s got away with it for 12 years.

They are wonderfully, gloriously eccentric and everyone who crosses their path is drawn in, grows to love them, grows to care for them. It is really extraordinary to watch, and kind of cool. Everyone always has, but then, they have always been dynamos in the community, caring for people, visiting them, looking after the elderly the sick and the lonely – even people who are alone for a jolly good reason – and generally just being epic. They’ve had a tramp to stay for the night and Mum has saved two people’s lives that I know of, while Dad, as a teacher, has shaped countless others. They are still working their magic and I want to make the most of it. Likewise, McMini is a gem so I’m not giving up on any of my mum time either.

In short, I wouldn’t do this any differently, I just get frustrated, sometimes, that I seem unable to do anything else as well.

FFS …

The events of those 36 hours sorting the alarms etc pretty much lobotomised the rest of my brain until I sorted it out, and then left it shagged well beyond functionality for some days afterwards. Perhaps that what pre menopausal dementedness comes to when added to the dementedness of the pre menopausal dementia sufferer’s actually, properly, demented parents, and everyone has a little bit of a go, and nobody remembers what in the name of Pete they did.

See how smart he looks? Yeh, that’s a lot smarter than I feel.

Who knows. But I have more and more admiration for people who have no cash to pay for care, who have to look after sick family members 24 hours a day, with no breaks, no let ups. How do they cope? How do they catch a bus or pay a bill or organise a fart in bed with that going on full time? Blimey, I have trouble stringing two sentences together and I don’t have it like them. They must be fucking saints. I have been trying to channel my inner saint. However, he is clearly not like theirs. It is quite clear to me that my saint is like those early hermits; you know, the kind of guy who sat on top of a pillar for 40 years in the desert without speaking – except to shout angry obscenities at anyone who came near so they’d fuck off again – probably while throwing handfuls of his own faeces at them.

And I also have a huge admiration for people who earn a living as carers. They don’t earn that much, and they take a serious amount of flack. My dad gets properly shouty sometimes, usually when he’s feeling undignified. He was heaping invective on the carer on Wednesday, as she changed his tena pants and she was just calm and kind and sweet with him. We all knew he was only shouting because he felt humiliated and wanted it to be over, but there’s a difference between knowing that and not letting it get to you. In her place, I’d have told him to get knotted.

Sometimes, I get how Dad might feel though, why he might be shouty! Jeez I feel like that a lot of the time. There is so much administriviatative shite to do and there are days I want to tell life to just piss off and leave me alone! It wasn’t helped by the fact I had multiple trouser failure this weekend and with one pair left – in the wash – I had to go buy more. All my trousers are through at the arse because I’ve been waiting until the effing shops came up with a choice that was wider than black, black, denim, denim or denim, dark blue or white. Although I do usually like to have one pair of dark blue canvas jeans, but I don’t wear them as much as the others. Indeed they’re not through at the arse, but the zip’s bust. Even so, finding anything else … it’s like the Monty Python Spam sketch.

‘Don’t complain darling, I love black, I’m buying black, black, black, black and black.’

‘Well bully for you but you can sod off! I’m not. I don’t wear black if I can avoid it and certainly not every day.’

I did find a pair of red trousers in H&M but they were three quarter length with faux rips in. I’m too old for faux rips and I’ll knacker them myself soon enough. Then I found some lovely pink ones but only in three quarter length. That said, I have hopes that the pink three quarter lengths may turn up in longs before the year is out. The gentleman in the shop thought they would. Even so, let’s chalk that up as another thing that can piss off! Fashion. I put ‘coloured jeans’ into google and I got a whole load of black, dark blue, denim and white trousers.

‘WHITE AND BLACK ARE NOT FUCKING COLOURS YOU BLIND BASTARDS!’ I shouted, making the cat jump.

Do you mind keeping it down? I’m trying to relax here.

On the upside, despite spending a whole morning looking for trousers, I did manage to replace the three pairs of threadbare-arsed winter trousers I own which haven’t quite gone through. Rock on Mistral’s basement outlet section. And there was me thinking it was a trendy shop for young thin people with no tits! Mwah hahahargh! But I was wrong. I got three pairs of moleskin trousers in light green, wedgewood blue and maroon for £7 a pop. A saving of £105 I think it was. They’re a bit flarey so I’ll have to take them in a little but never mind. Every cloud has a silver lining. I shall return there. Oh yes I will.

Swings and roundabouts, but the mental theme of the entire week in MTM land has definitely been, Fuck Off World!

And when I get like that, I often turn the work of Ian Dury because he was really very good at FOW but in the kind of amusing way that makes it faceable again.

For this particular malaise, a dose of one particular song, ‘Fucking Ada’, does wonders. I suspect it’s not really about a never ending quest for time to think, or the ensuing burn out, or at least not, per se. I should imagine it’s either about the failure of a relationship, or the humiliation of being unable to perform at a one night stand after a culmination of too many one night stands, too many drugs, too much alcohol and altogether too much rock and roll. It could be about depression, too. It could be about all of those things.

Bollocks to that though, because there are sections that perfectly sum up that FOW feeling. And when I’m sad, and angry with myself for not being able to bounce back, and I want the world to just bugger off and leave me alone – not indefinitely, but just for just ten sodding minutes so I can complete a thought – this song is a peach.

There are few things as cathartic as shouting along with Ian for a few minutes. Just make sure the kids are out and you don’t have the windows open. Here it is for your delectation. Words first, vid second.

Fucking Ada, by Ian Dury and the Blockheads

Moments of sadness, moments of guilt
Stains on the memory, stains on the quilt
Chapter of incident, chapter and verse
Sub-heading chronic, paragraph worse

Lost in the limelight, backed in the blaze
Did it for nine pence, those were the days
Give me my acre and give me my plough
Tell me tomorrow, don’t bother me now

Fucking Ada, fucking Ada
Fucking Ada, fucking Ada

Time’s at a distance, time’s without touch
Greed forms the habit of asking to much
Followed at bedtime by builders and bells
Wait til the doldrums which nothing dispels

Idly, mentally, doubtful and dread
Who runs with the beans shall not stale with the bread
Let me lie fallow in dormant dismay
Tell me tomorrow, don’t bother today

Fucking ada, fucking ada
Fucking ada, fucking ada

Tried like a good un, did it all wrong
Thought that the hard way was taking to long
Too late for regret or chemical change
Yesterday’s targets have gone out of range

Failure enfolds me with clammy green arms
Damn the excursions and blast the alarms
For the rest of what’s natural Ill lay on the ground
Tell me tomorrow if I’m still around

Fucking Ada, fucking Ada (ad nauseam)

S0ngwriters: Ian Robins Dury, John George Turnbull

Well, back to running with the beans … It’s Friday and it’s about blummin’ time I wrote something. Well, something other than this gargantuan rant, I mean book something, and hey, I’ve twenty minutes left this week.

In the meantime, here’s the video.

Don’t forget to sing along now.

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Mailing lists: the all embracing panacea or the hamster wheel of doom?

As you know, I’ve been writing books and attempting to sell the results since about 2010. I still think my books are good. I think the books I’m writing at the moment will be good too – or at least as good as I can make them and good by my standards, ie they’ll be more of the kinds of stories I’d like to read but that don’t exist.

However, for all my efforts, I’d be lying if I said I was doing well as an author, but the fact I write the books I want to read, rather than what ‘the market’ is after could be posing a problem there.

Originally, in the absence of a following to ask, my marketing strategy went like this.

‘Hey Sensible M T I’m going to write a book.’
‘Great plan Ditzy M T. What about?’
‘I’m going to write the books that I’ve always wanted to read but no-one has ever written.’
‘Is that a good idea Ditzy M T?’
‘Of course it is Sensible M T.’
‘But, if people wanted to read them, wouldn’t someone else have written them?’
‘No Sensible M T, I believe I have spotted a niche.’
‘Oh yeh?’
‘Yeh. I’m a person, I’m bog standard, so surely whatever I want to read will be something a whole group of other people like me want to read too, right?’
‘You think there are other people like you?’
‘Of course.’

Unfortunately, Sensible M T is correct. People like me are rather rarer than I anticipated so it’s taking me a bit of time to build an audience … and I think a lot of folks are getting mailing list fatigue, which is understandable, but a pity. Although at least, now, there are enough folks following my writing for me to be able to ask them what they’d like: hence the K’Barthan shorts, and there will be some, I promise once I’ve finished the K’Barthan accidentally long I’m working on – that’s hit 50k today, by the way. I have a nice properly short story brewing about how The Pan ended up jumping off the bridge (he mentions it to Ruth in the second book).

We’re on the road to nowhere!

As the Talking Heads said (blimey this is getting a bit Alan Partridge). But I do feel that I am running faster and faster to stay in the same place. Sales are a bit … well

That’s right. Pants.

Looking at my sales spreadsheet over the last umpteen years, I can’t help but notice that I am putting in more and more effort to achieve the same results. This last month, April 2017 if you’re reading this 400 years from now in a post apocalyptic world where electricity and computers have only just been reinvented, was one of the worst on record. It was the first time more than two days passed between book sales, for me, since 2013. Then came this month, gulp. There were several big blocks of four or five days when I didn’t sell a thing. The total earnings are £30. The lowest month for ages. Naturally, I thought I’d see if I could find out why.

First up, I tried a different type of mailing promo last month and it’s too early to tell if it’s worked yet. Second, the month before that, I didn’t do a promo. That’s two very compelling explanations, right there. But is there more.

Looking at onward sales I discovered these lovely factoids:

  • There are 4,247 people on my mailing list.
  • They have bought a maximum of 662 copies of the K’Barthan Series books in a combination of books 3 and 4  at $4.99 a pop (sales are about level pegging which is a good sign) or the box set at $7.99.
  • I’ve sold about 400 copies of book 2 since I started all this free book malarky – even though I give it away free to folks who join my mailing list.
  • That said, about 750 have bought Unlucky Dip, the short story, for 99c.
  • On the day of launch only 14 people bought the K’Barthan Box set.
  • Only 280 have bought Escape From B-Movie Hell.
  • If I take just one group of 1,000 mailing list members, I can see that 280 of them clicked on the links to find out more about the paid books when I emailed them about it. That’s actually not bad.
  • After three quarters of a year, or thereabouts, I survey my mailing list peps. You’d be amazed how many answer the ‘did you enjoy the books’ style question with, ‘I haven’t read them yet.’ Even after eight months or so some of them are clearly a little nettled to be even asked.
  • A couple of folks have joined my mailing list and then emailed me to say they downloaded the book two or three years ago, never got around to reading it and are really glad they have this time – there’s even a review that says that!

What do these pieces of information tell me?

  1. That I should be writing more short stories. Hmm.
  2. That information pages I send them to about each book on my website need an overhaul.
  3. That the books might be too expensive.
  4. Or that people are feeling a bit, what’s the point? about brexit and our impending ecological and nuclear doom and don’t want to shell out for a book any more.
  5. It reinforces the argument that a higher rate of output comprising shorter books at a lower cost is probably the way to go – I’m thinking 50k for $2.99 and 10/20k for 99c/p maybe. At least I have to have something between 99c and $4.99 – currently there’s only the stand alone.
  6. That if I’m smart, some or all of the future books I write should be about K’Barth.
  7. That anyone on my mailing list who is interested in reading the K’Barthan Series had already done so, with knobs on, when the box set came out and that any who might be weren’t ready.
  8. That folks who are interested in reading the second K’Barthan book often buy it straight after reading the first one, they don’t wait four days to get it free. That’s great because clearly they’re into it.
  9. That, in turn, could tell me that people who are less worried about money purchase my books and perhaps this is more evidence for shorter books that I could sell at a more accessible price for folks with less disposable income.
  10. That I need to make it clearer to people that they can borrow my books from libraries – but they have to ask because the librarian won’t have bought them (I’m not famous and not a sure bet). In short, I need to make sure that they realise that they can get access to my books, even if they are cash strapped.
  11. That the average reader has a to-read list that is well over 8 months long and reads the books in order.
  12. That while I have always assumed that a fair few of the people on my mailing list won’t have read my books 7/8ths is quite a lot higher than I expected.
  13. That the read through rate is only as high as 7/8ths if every single person who has bought K’Barthan book 3 and 4 in whatever format is on my mailing list, which I doubt.
  14. That the percentage of people who are actually reading the book I give away is gob smackingly low. Nowhere near the 20% I thought it was (going on Amazon downloads of the free book and totting up subsequent copies of the next books sold in 2015.
  15. That, possibly, the people who do read the book I give away in return for their email address are the ones who read it straight after downloading it. This could explain why they zip through the first book in a couple of days and then get stuck right into the rest of them rather than waiting for the free second book.
  16. That until a couple of years have passed, I won’t really know the results of my efforts to upsell since it will be a very long time before many folks get to the first book.
  17. For the long haul tbr people, at least regular mailings from me will keep them in touch and help them not to forget about my books.

What about the risible rate of earnings?

Hmm… what about it? More factoids.

  • It was 70% down on my £100 monthly average.
  • The worst since February 2015 when I had 70 friends and family on my mailing list and hadn’t worked out about permafrees with optimised listings – which worked then.
  • It is in keeping with the time of year. The worst month for sales always seems to happen in spring: Feb, March, April or May.
  • As I mentioned, it may be down to the choice of giveaway book in April.
  • I didn’t do much in the way of promo in March.
  • There has been no uptick in sales at the beginning of May, usually at the start of a month there is.

What does this tell me?

  1. That net worth of my efforts to upsell my other books from information I give on my mailing list is currently worth £30, or thereabouts, from an average £100. Possibly. But I’ll never really know for sure.
  2. That it’s very important to have a promo planned every month.
  3. That you need to be lot more savvy these days, and do a lot more to get your books in front of people, to achieve the same results you could have done with less effort a year ago. Mwah hahaharhgh so nothing new there!
  4. That promos do drive sales.
  5. That the merit of giving folks a second book as well as the original freebie they downloaded might be debatable. Is it getting read by many folks? Difficult to tell but it looks unlikely. Then again, I won’t really know until the long haul people kick in (if they do).
  6. That if I give the short away as a second book, instead, it might get more people reading because it’s accessible, but it might people off because it’s crap.

It could be that I am gaining a lot of new mailing list followers, but very few readers. But just as easily, it could be that I will need to wait at least a year before a big proportion of the folks on my mailing list get round to reading any of my books. Only time will tell.

So? Patience young paduan?

Yeh, looks like it. It takes a lot of time and effort to sort out my mailings, find interesting things to include or fun stories to tell. But, clearly when I join the right kinds of promos folks are downloading and enjoying the first book in the K’Barthan Series, it’s just catching them while they’re still enthused in a way that doesn’t annoy the ones who don’t want to be reminded for a year or so. It’s also juggling not earning much with the cash. I’m moving my mailing list to another provider but currently it costs me £40 per month to entertain 4,250 folks. If my £30 per month earning streak continues I will need to uncover a way to monetise my list slightly or I’m going to be in certain doo-doo.

Yep. Doo doo. Scary huh?

Mailing list factoids.

  • Open rates have dropped but only a little.
  • Open rates are slower. I would have a decent idea how a mailing had gone down in two or three days a year ago, these days it’s two weeks before the percentage of opens stops creeping up.
  • Click rates are down. A lot. From a fairly reliable 20% – 40% to about 6% -13%.

What do these factoids tell us Noddy?

  1. Perhaps there is a mailing slow down. It’s clear that folks are still reading my emails but taking longer. Also, a couple of unsubscribe comments along the lines of ‘I love your emails but I am on so many authors’ lists and I just don’t have time to read them’ might bear that out.
  2. Many authors are doing giveaways now, or promos, or things where groups of similar books are offered for free to readers in return for them singing up to the authors’ mailing lists. It may simply be that a lot of readers have already heard about the promos I’m taking part in from other authors involved before I tell them.

So what can I do?

Sit tight and keep doing what I do.

Once again, on this one, I am, dangerously, doing what works for me. This does not mean it’s what works, generally or even that it’s what other people like. After all, if I wanted to sell books to the normals I’d have a really attractive thin woman on the covers and they’d be that shade of green, taupe, blue, brown or red.

For the record, what I want to discover, from mailing lists I join is whether I find the author interesting, as well as the stuff they offer. I like to hear about their books, their progress on new work and about any books they’ve read and enjoyed. I also like it if the emails, themselves, are amusing, or chatty, like a letter to a friend rather than a ‘professional’ offering. Furthermore, as my readers will undoubtedly be getting loads of emails from other authors as well as me, I want to make mine stand out, in a good way. I want them to get enough enjoyment and value from the things I send them to make time for them.

So far, the feedback is good. I think it is weeding out the kinds of people who are going to like and enjoy my books from those who’ve downloaded them free but will probably never read them. Hopefully it will. I’d much rather have an engaged list of 500 people, than a list of 4,500 who aren’t interested.

These days, twenty or thirty folks unsubscribe from my list in a month. That would have come as a big surprise a year ago. But people still write back and interact so I must be doing something right.

I have come up with some practical answers for improving the usefulness of my emails and, therefore, open and click rates but when it comes to onward sales, or library borrows, I’m kind of scratching my head. Maybe my books are shite, except if they were, why are the reviews mostly good? And the bad reviews, with a few exceptions, tend to say things that suggest the reader was the complete antithesis of the book’s target market anyway.

Any other cunning plans?

Well … I need to ask folks questions, find out a bit more about what they are after and then give them what they are interested in. If I set this up right, I can send free books to the people who want free, paid books to the people who want paid and can avoid sending amazon offers to readers who use only Kobo or vice versa.

But while that might help me make the information more pertinent and useful, I’m not sure what I can do about the ten thousand free books they need to read before it’s the ‘turn’ of mine. I also wonder about the 19,000 folks who downloaded Few Are Chosen while it was permafree. Six hundred onward sales from those isn’t a very good track record.

But for what it’s worth, here’s my plan.

I have two weapons and two weapons only. I’m weird and sometimes I’m funny. This pertains to everything: my books, who I am and what I do. In all, the weird and the funny are key. Some people find that hard work, others really like it. So hopefully, if I can carry on being the way I am, I will, eventually, build up a group of follows who appreciate the weird and funny of me, at least, even if they haven’t read the damn books. And maybe, eventually, they will find one of my newsletters leaves them wanting more … enough to dig out the K’Barthan Series, Book 1 and start reading.

It’s my only answer. So I’ll just have to cross my fingers and hope. I’ll let you know how I get on.

On a final note …

If you’re one of the 3,500 out of 4,247 on my mailing list who hasn’t read my book, I am absolutely agog to know two thing:

  1. What on earth you’re doing there?
  2. What on earth you’re getting from it?
  3. Your reasons for not reading the book yet – i.e. your to read list is too long, the book is too long, you’re a book blogger/reviewer and haven’t got round to it, you’re never going to read the book in a month of Sundays but you love the reviews and special offers on other people’s books etc.

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Filed under General Wittering, Good Advice, Marketing Ideas, self publishing