Tag Archives: I fucked this up so you don’t have to

How not to live number 12: Drains, mailings and finance #IFuckedThisUpSoYouDontHaveTo

Yep there’s a match made in heaven and here’s another how-not-to post from the queen of fuck ups at Spigot Towers.

Today’s topics are Drain Rodding, financial prudence and how to alienate just under five thousand potential new members of your mailing list in one fell swoop.

Mmmm… bet you can’t wait. OK on we go.

I think this captures the mood …

Tuesday morning and if you’re local to Bury St Edmunds (if you’re not you’ll just have to use your imagination) you may remember it was a bit of a crap day; the wind howled and the rain fell. Worse nature had plainly forgotten to switch the lights on because despite being officially ‘daylight’ the world outside was submerged in a kind of sub aqueous gloom. Obviously, my reactorlights went black the minute we went outside (fucking things) but their behaviour has no obvious baring on the amount of bright light in the environment requiring blocking which is why I look like one of those twats who wears sunglasses at all times because, basically, the fucking things turn black the minute I go outside. Yes, even in twilight.

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes. Tuesday. The clock is ticking, it’s time to get ready for the rainy walk to school and after two cups of coffee it’s also motility time for Mummy. Yes. I know. A liiiitle too much personal information there but it is relevant to the story. When I rose from the lavatory, refreshed, happy and several kilogrammes lighter, I flushed and the water level in the bowl rose alarmingly and stopped. Then there was a glubbing sound, a bubble rose to the surface and slowly, it disappeared down to normal levels. I almost expected it to burp but it didn’t.

‘Hmmm,’ I thought.

I flushed a second time and the same thing happened.

‘Hmmm,’ I thought a little more slowly and emphatically this time.

I ran upstairs to the third floor and flushed the loo up there. No problem, everything disappeared the way it should. Middle floor ditto. Last time this happened, that hadn’t; the upstairs loos had filled and glurped too.

‘Okaaaaay,’ I thought. ‘The downstairs loo is blocked, but clearly somewhere between the bowl and the drain because this upstairs loo is working perfectly. If it’s just a lump twixt cistern and drain I can probably unblock it myself, thus saving my bank account a £70 spanking if I can find some cheap drain rods. Joy.’ This was especially pertinent as I’d paid another £100 into my bike fund so there wasn’t £70 spare for said account spanking!

There wasn’t much more I could do then, so while McMini was getting his shoes and coats on I surfed the internet with my phone by googling, ‘drain rods for sale in Bury St Edmunds’. I found a set of at Argos for £13.99 and decided that even if I didn’t use them on the drain, they would come in handy for use when our drain pipes and guttering get blocked – which they do with monotonous regularity. So, I purchased them using the handy ‘collect from store’ option. To my delight they were ready for collection at once. Brilliant. I could pick them up after I’d dropped McMini at school. Woot!

Needless to say, unbeknown to me, the bottom of bag the rods came in was split. Yes. That’s right. The first thing I did as I came out of the store was drop them all over the pavement.

Thanking heavens that I don’t give a shit about my street cred (because if I did I’d have died of shame many years ago) I put them back, strapped them on my bike and went home.

So there I am at home, I get the rods and … they’re not bendy enough to go down the loo.

Arse.

I take them out, dry them, put them outside to really dry and go back inside. I look at the loo, half full of wee water.

‘Hmmm,’ I say.

I have an idea. I rush down to the cellar and get some bendy plastic that looks as if it’s part of some kind of contraption to hang half window net curtains, then I get some rubber gloves. I stuff the bendy plastic down the loo, it isn’t really bendy enough to go down so I put my gloved hands right in to coerce it round the U-bend. It finally goes and as it does, I push my hand in just a little bit too far and my right glove fills with wee water. I retract my hand, fast, because, wee aside, my not waterproof Fitbit is on that wrist, in that glove. I take the glove off, and the Fitbit which I then wash with antibac soap – very quickly because it’s not waterproof – and then dry it using some of the copious sheets of paper towel with which I have equipped myself, ‘just in case.’

Obviously, I throw the glove in the bin but keep the other because it’s not full of wee water, is still protecting my hand and I need it. I’ll just have to clean out the cat litter box one-handed until I remember to buy another pair.

Then I put my bare hand down the bog and rod it with the piece of plastic. I get too enthusiastic and wee water splashes onto my favourite jumper.

Joy.

Nothing happens to the water level.

‘Ah,’ I think.

Maybe I will have to go and open the drain outside and rod it with the rods from there. Yeh. Good plan. Then I will put my wee water spattered jumper in a boil wash which will probably kill it.

Out I go. I remove the big stump that is sitting on the drain lid – by the way, it’s not there for any sinister reason, just because it looks cool and hides the drain lid. There are little holes each side of the lid so you can insert a special tool and lift it up but even I can see that the drain is rusted shut. I try with a rake but it’s not budging. Then, looking through the hole, I notice a little white dot of light, the reflection of the sky, through the hole, on standing water. There shouldn’t be standing water in there, which means the loo to drain bit is fine, it’s the whole chuffing thing is blocked.

Nob ends.

There’s nothing for it, I will have to call the nice man I always call when this happens. The drains blocked the week we moved in. McOther was away on business (one of the few times) and me and 3 month old McMini were in the house alone. I called Drain Repair Man then and since he was a lovely chap and clearly knowledgeable, I kept his card. He has since had to unblock the drains the other side as well. We have two drains which does, at least, mean that if the loo in the en-suite blocks you can still have a poo in the others and vice versa. Drain Repair Man is a lovely chap with something close to a photographic memory. He makes the problem go away very quickly but making the problem go away is going to be expensive, especially now VAT is 20%.

But … I can’t get the lid off and there’s water in there.

Further along the pipe to the road there’s another drain. I go and haul the plant pot that sits on top of that onto the patio. It’s pretty overgrown round the edges. There will be smelly gunk and slugs, there’s only one glove and I don’t have time to go back into town and buy another pair before school pick up time. Can I be arsed to open it and utilise my rods? I think about trying to rod drains with McMini’s help, and about the alternative; more attrition to my jumper and the joy of passing brown goo covered rods through one not-gloved hand.

No.

Luckily Drain Repair Man is with me in minutes. Except there’s a dodgy moment when we think he might not get in because the bolt on our gate has rusted in position. However, luckily he is able to lend me a 2lb twatting hammer to hammer the bolt open and it works. Finally we are in. I make him and his sidekick (Drain Repair Robin?) a cup of tea and he makes the drains work again. It costs me £72 including VAT, plus £13.99 for the rods I didn’t use. Not bad for a good job’s jobby shifting but at a bad time for my bank account.

Sure enough. All is good until later on in the week when I get out some cash and see that I only have £88 in my account.

Shit. That’s not going to cover the £72 cheque I’ve given Saved My Butt Drain Repair Man and the £100 I’d paid to the bike shop, the day before, towards my new bike.

So I rush round transferring cash, I pay myself the petrol money for next week’s visit to my parents early, remove the last spare pennies from my business account and I am ready for the onslaught. Then I look at my bank account to check it’s all gone in. It has but of course, that’s when I discover that the £172 has also already gone out. I held onto the cash from my parents, it’s only 5 days early after all, but I put the pennies from my business account back.

It occurs to me that I could have saved myself a lot of phaffage and worry if I’d checked the actual drain, before I took any action and also if I’d checked my bank account before farting about transferring cash in from here there and everywhere.

I decide to chalk it up to experience.

The third instance of idiocy this week was with a mailing. I’ve just taken part in a prize draw and I have just shy of 5,000 people to write to. In theory, they should know they are signing up to the mailing lists of all the authors taking part when they enter the giveaway but no matter how often they are warned about that by the organisers there will nearly always be some who fail to take it in. Because of this I’m always very careful when I email them and in addition, since my work is pretty niche, I usually offer them Few Are Chosen free in return for signing up to my mailing list. I offer the book three times and then anyone who downloads it is transferred automatically to the list. Anyone who clicks unsubscribe is deleted from my files and at the end of it, anyone who’s not opened the emails or done nothing gets deleted as well.

This was a big giveaway so we were all allocated days upon which we were to contact the folks on the list. My day was yesterday. It involved moving to a higher price band on my mailing programme and to make it simpler, I did the three emails as a set-and-forget automatic series. Except that yesterday dawned, the send time came and went and they didn’t go. I spent the day, on and off, talking to my mailing provider’s customer service. They were great and eventually I made a new automation and a new list and copied the folks over to the new list. Half of them went and then it stopped. Half an hour later and the mailing had still only gone to half of them. It was getting on for six pm. Soon my access to the computer would be over for the day and if the automation didn’t go I’d have missed my slot. I panicked. Switched the automation off, set the three emails up as one ready to go draft and two separate emails on timed release, so to speak, made a list of people who hadn’t yet received the first letter in the automation series and sent them the first email manually.

Upshot of this? Yes, that’s right. Everyone got two.

Who replied first? Well obviously the first email I received was a massive bollocking from some irate woman who hadn’t read the giveaway blurb (it was there in BIG letters) and didn’t understand why all these authors were suddenly emailing her.

Bollocks. Way to win them round M T.

Then, this morning, I realised I’d had twenty 404 hits on my website because I’d managed to post a dud link. Which one? Why, the unsubscribe link of course. Let’s make the pissed off people really annoyed.

Head. Desk.

So what can we learn from this catalogue of stupidity? Is there a moral?

Yes: Look before you leap.

… Oh, and don’t rod drains in your favourite jumper.

On the up side, while I do still only have one cat litter tray cleaning glove, Favourite Jumper did survive the boil wash.

Ho hum. You can’t win ’em all.

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When it feels right but is … wrong. #writing #indiebooks

This week: you have another opportunity to benefit from the vast store of wisdom I have earned by royally fucking things up so that you don’t have to.  

It started like this.

Wednesday; visit the parents day, and this week I arrived in extremely dire need of a wee. It is fairly usual that the pint of water and two cups of coffee I need to kick start my day turn into about five pints by the time I’ve driven fifty miles or thereabouts and I drive the next ninety in some agitation. This Wednesday was no exception.

At Mum and Dad’s the downstairs loo is just off the lobby before you go into the house proper and I usually use it before I announce my presence, otherwise the ten minutes of hellos can be a bit excruciating for my poor bladder. Into the loo I rushed, and breathed a huge sigh of relief as what felt like about a gallon of wee went into the pan. Except that each of the lavs at Mum and Dad’s has a riser for people with dodgy hips, and if you sit on the riser in the downstairs loo wrong, the wee runs down the inside of it and despite being positioned over the bowl, the gravitational wonders of surface tension bend the wee round and under the edge of the riser and it then falls over the side of the pan onto the floor. Well, it came from a skip, still in its wrapping, you can’t look a gift horse in the mouth. But yes, you guessed it. A significant portion of my wee deluge had missed the pan entirely and puddled on the floor.

Joy.

The original dribbly-wee loo riser of doom (centre) among other skip scored offerings.

There I was. I’d done the right thing, sat on loo, weed into hole but somehow, despite following the instructions it had all gone somewhat awry. I spent the next five minutes wiping it up with loo roll and anti bacterial floor spray. It’s not just me, the foibles of this particular loo riser are a known problem and I soon had it all ship shape again with no harm done. The point was, sometimes, even when you do things the right way it all goes horribly wrong.

So how does this tale of substandard urinary aim have any connection with writing?

Well, it’s like this.

There’s a quote that appears on something I use – my Kobo Writing Life dashboard, I think – that goes like this:

‘If you want to read a book that has not been written yet, you must write it.’

Way back in 2008 when I finally finished my first decent novel that is, exactly what I had done. But to be honest, while this is great advice, it only works if you are in touch with the popular Zeitgeist on some level. I sell my books on the internet which, to all intents and purposes, is American. It is devilishly hard to reach non Americans but back then it was even harder (except on Amazon at that point).

Therefore, I shot myself in the foot instantly by writing a very British book set, mostly, in a fantasy world but when it came here, it came to London. Yes Dr Who is like that but it was put on by the BBC and when they first did it, they had a captive audience comprising all of Britain. I wrote British because I was bored of books and films where the main protagonists are American and the setting America. I wanted to see some shizz go down in my own country. What I failed to grasp was that there is a reason the vast majority of books are about Americans in America. It’s to connect with Americans; the biggest and most easily reachable group of readers in the market place.

Yes, I’d done kind of the right thing but … wrong.

The problem wasn’t even that I was writing a book that could well hold more appeal to British or Australasian readers. It was that I hadn’t researched my market – I thought I had but, no. That’s why I didn’t understand how hard to find they would be. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I would be unable to reach British readers without taking special measures. OK so that was 2008 but even now, in 2017, you have to work at finding international readers and even harder at finding readers who buy from sites other than Amazon.

Likewise, I’d read a lot of Victorian and Edwardian fantasy: the Narnia Books, The Five Children and It, The Incredible Mr Blenkinsop (I think that was its name) the Borrowers, the Wind in the Willows, The Lord of The Rings. I’d seen films like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Mary Poppins and Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, I’d read Harry Potter and Terry Pratchett. In most of those books, the writer has invented a completely new world, or a new creature, or a new something. The point is, while they may have broad themes that are similar, good versus evil baddie, etc, each one takes place in its own fantasy world or hidden world within this one, often there are specific and new creatures created for purpose of the story. The notable exception is Terry Pratchett, who took the tropes other people used and poked gentle fun at them.

In the same way that I thought, at my parents, that rushing into the bog, sitting down on the ice cold, thigh freezing riser and letting it all out was enough, and discovered that oh it so wasn’t, I genuinely thought putting my book on sale and supporting my efforts with advertising on the big promo sites was all it would take to find readers. It wasn’t. I wrote weird books, that are funny and I had covers made expressly to say, ‘this book is like nothing you have ever read’ because when people saw my books, I wanted them to think, ‘Pratchett’. When I got reviews that said that, I quoted them. I wrote my book the old way. The E Nesbitt way. And I sold that as an asset … the wrong way.

When people talk about wanting ‘different’ I suspect that what they really mean is that they want the same old ware wolves and sparkly vampires but with … say … slightly different lighting.

That is where Sir Terry cleaned up. He kept to the standard tropes, and spun them differently. If you want to succeed financially, I think, possibly, the trick is to write something bang on genre that has a different angle; a standard, boilerplate, trope made interesting enough to you for you to be able to stand writing in it.

When it comes to making choices, I guess it’s wise to think through the ramifications, but with writing it’s hard to anticipate what they might be sometimes. If you like writing wacky but want to produce a well edited book with a professional cover, it’s worth looking at how much cash you have to throw at it and how long for. When I started this game, the estimate was that once you’d produced six books you’d reach tipping point; momentum would be easier to maintain and sales would rise.

‘Great!’  I thought, ‘I have budget for six novels.’

Now that I’m writing my sixth book, that magic tipping point number is more like twelve! Things change and move. How long can you sustain your business without making a profit? OK now double it. Hell, quadruple it to be safe.

Likewise, when you plan what you’re going to do to reach readers, I’d thoroughly recommend keeping as much of it under your control as you can. This is why so many writers ask readers to sign up to their mailing lists. I had an amazing three months back in 2014 when I optimised my book listings for UK readers and started getting a ton of downloads on Amazon and, even better, a really good read through rate – seriously it was massive, about 20% of the folks downloading the first book bought the others But then Amazon changed the algo – which they do around April or May each year, it seems. Overnight the downloads of the free book ceased. And that was that.

These days, however many author lists readers are signing up to, I still believe that if you can make your emails personal, fun and interesting enough they will stay with you. Just don’t make them too fun or your readers will sign up for the emails rather than your books or if they do, be prepared to monetise your blog posts, newsletter etc – either as non fiction books or paid content. The great thing about mailing lists is that if someone doesn’t get on with your books they can unsubscribe so you should end up with a list of folks who might, eventually, read your books! If you’re really lucky, some will part with cash for them.

Once you have some readers, it’s also worth listening to them. I always sold my books as fantasy and when asked to cite comparable writers I’d suggest Holt, Prachett, Rankin … When people started reviewing them, the bulk of them cited Douglas Adams. I now publish them in sci-fi. They don’t sell as well there as they did in the days when I could put them in fantasy and they’d be actually visible. But now that fantasy is kind of, ware wolves and shifters with a small corner for epic, my books definitely do better in sci-fi! Sci-fi seems a bit less rigid in the genre factors required, too, hence the next series, Space Dustmen, is going to be sci-fi with the odd planetary visit.

To sum up, what I am trying to say, I guess, is that now, more than ever, you need to think long and hard before you even start to write that book and you need to keep pretty nimble afterwards. So, if you’re thinking having a pop at writing or are working on your first book, maybe you should ask yourself these questions:

  1. Who are you are writing for?
  2. Where you you find them?
  3. Can you find them easily and inexpensively?
  4. How often do the authors they read release new books?
  5. Can you keep up with book production rates for your genre? or to put it another way …
  6. How much time do you have? Even if you give up your job.
  7. What kind of writing career will fit with your life?
  8. How and where will you sell your books – it’s no good being wide if everyone in your genre whose books you like and who might like yours too and do mailing swaps or promos with you is in KU.
  9. How long before you need your books to start funding themselves to keep going?
  10. Are there other ways you can monetise your writing to support book production until such stage as your book business is self financing.
  11. How big is your social media following? Are you up to a kickstarter to fund book production?

The way I see it there are two broad choices about what you decide to write.

The first choice is to conform. You, write to market, so if it’s fantasy, you write about ware wolves or witches and yes you light them differently or whatever it takes and you write about six books (minimum) a year. And you thank your lucky stars you’re not in Romance where you have to write one a month!

Alternatively if you really can’t face the prospect of writing about creatures someone else has already invented or making your hero American, or 101 other must haves for the best selling book, accept that you are unlikely to earn diddly squat for a long, long time and just go for it writing the kind of stuff you love, that fulfils you as a reader and writer, stuff you want to read that hasn’t been written yet. But if you choose this route, you have to be extremely pragmatic about your chances of earning anything for many years and extremely lateral and original about what you do to earn from your books in other ways.

It’s quite good if you can avoid combining motherhood to a small child and trying to look after sick, elderly parents, at the same time as trying to have any sort of career, too.

This is where I am right now. But hey, my sixth book will be out next year and who knows, 2027 I may even have written twelve and if I market the hell out of them, well who knows, they might pay for the thirteenth book.

Mwahahahargh! I can dream.

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