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The Numbers Game…

I’m not sure why, but there’s a seemingly endless fascination with rankings and chart numbers.  In certain circumstances, sports for instance, this all makes sense: it’s about competition and determining victory and there are a whole host of governing bodies to ensure fair play.  Charts are also considered helpful to indicate relative popularity but this kind of benchmarking is much less reliable and is liable to manipulation or abuse.  Of course, you might have guessed that the charts that I seem to be most fixated with are Amazon Sales Rankings.  I confess: I try not to look at them  but for some reason I can’t help it!  Anyway, I thought I’d share a little of what I’ve experienced about them over the last few years.

When I first published Firebird, back in 2011, the concept of ebooks was still very new.  Back then, Firebird would oscillate between the top 10,000 and top 100,000 books in both the UK and US Amazon charts.  At that time, the general author consensus was that if you were in the top 10,000 then that was a very good sign.

Nowadays, however, things have changed.  All of the major publishing houses have, to some extent, conceded to the ebook format and published their back catalogues.  Indie writers, good and bad, are pouring their wares into the e-marketplace and the trend of publishing shorter stories as “novellas” is not doing anything to reduce this literal tsunami.

So, two years on, Firebird is selling more strongly than ever – albeit that this means approximately two copies per week – but is now generally ranked as being between 100,000th and 200,000th.  A good day might see it spring up to a circa 30,000th slot but, within a day, it’ll drift back into its more normal resting place.

Thunder, despite having a lower overall circulation, is not too dissimilar.  It ranges between 200,000 and 500,000th.

Initially I was concerned about this.  Now I’m not.

I celebrate days when either book breaks the top 100,000 as this tells me that someone new has been kind – or perhaps crazy – enough to try out my efforts and I have settled into being satisfied that if my books are anywhere in the top million then that’s still pretty impressive considering the wealth of global competition they’re up against.

And who knows?  I may have to add even more zero’s to my benchmark in another couple of years!

How Do You Judge Success…?

So you’ve toiled long and hard to pull together your first manuscript – or second – or whatever.  You’ve fought the good fight and, by some miracle, formatted it so it looks at least half-decent on an eReader.  You’ve swallowed back your fears, assembled your ego around you, grimaced, and pressed the publish button…

Then what?

How do you judge success?

It seems to me that this is just as variable a concept as the diverse subject matter of stories themselves…

For me, my views have varied over the last couple of years and I guess I’m now coming to terms with the following phrase: whatever defines success for one of my stories, it will likely take a long time to reveal itself.

I suppose a lucky – very lucky – few will see success immediately.  For some reason their books will spark a wildfire of enthusiasm amongst readers and their stories will fly off the shelves; personally I think this is an extremely remote possibility if you don’t have the weight and power of a publishing house’s promotional machinery behind you.

The rest of us will need to be much more patient.

I started writing with a simple ambition: to test myself at a personal level.  Pretty much just to see if I could do it…  It’s not an easy task, as I’m sure most of you will agree…  In the end, I produced a book and faced a new question: what next?  This was what led me to publish… no dreams of grandeur, or huge reward, or whatever…  Basically, if I’d done nothing, Firebird would have sat rotting on a disk-drive somewhere.  It would have had absolutely zero possibility of being enjoyed by anyone else.

Now Firebird has been out there for almost two years.  It has been downloaded several thousand times but, generally, I feel pleased if it moves even a tiny handful of copies in a month.  Is this the benchmark?  Well – given the amount of books on offer, the amount of books I personally get through in an average year and the very limited exposure my books get – maybe the answer is yes?  For sure, I feel very honoured and humbled that my story is still occasionally being picked up and read by people.

What publishing also did though, was give me new insights.  The simple, brutal, reality of having your writing in general circulation, the often critical nature of feedback, and the occasional positive encouragement have enabled me to step forwards and hone my writing skills.  I am, despite the occasional pains, eternally grateful for this.

It has also helped me to move on and produce a second book.

These things would have been denied me, if I’d not taken the plunge.

Like so much in life, the different facets of success are often hidden in the corners of the obvious, tucked away behind so-called measures of popularity, masked by charts, star-ratings, and sales figures…  In my opinion, being successful is not, on its own, a viable motivation for writing.  Better, surely, to write simply to find out if you can, to stretch your imagination, to see if you can find personal pleasure and enjoyment from the process and, in the end, to discover whether your tales can entertain others?

Perhaps the bottom line becomes:  does it matter; tell your stories anyway?

Because an untold story has no chance at all.

Happy Birthday…

Twelve months ago, Firebird sat gathering the magnetic equivalent of dust on my hard-disk.  I thought that was a shame – stories haven’t got a chance of being enjoyed if they’re not being shared – so today marks the anniversary of me doing something to change that.

One year in, I’ve also just realised that the whole publishing furore almost made me lose sight of one of the important things I’d set out to try to do with my writing.  Almost two decades ago, when I first put pen to paper, I was partly motivated by frustration.  Frustration at being force-fed rigid, formulaic, safe writing.  Every book I was picking up seemed to be based on one or more prescribed element.  You know the score: good guy meets bad girl…, good girl meets bad guy…, every character in a story has to have an obvious and often distasteful flaw…, an “idiot’s guide” will pop up, by some miracle, just in time to help the hero(ine) solve even the most ancient riddle…, there are hoards of vampires, werewoves and magicians walking amongst us….

With Firebird I wanted to play with the mix.  To see if I could get a storyline to drift off to one side of the seemingly well trodden fictional highways.  Risky – yes.  But fun all the same. Firebird’s central character is not human. The human characters are fairly ordinary people. Humanity is powerful but not almighty.  Perceptions are dangerous.  There is no “idiot’s guide”.  The plot is dictated by a strange nature and then by this strange nature alone.

This is all my fault and now I’ve finally remembered that this is actually what I set out to do. I don’t need to chase around forums and pull on sackcloth every time someone says something harsh or hostile.  My whole point was to see if I could dare to be different and I think the book does that.  A fact proven by the positive reviews it’s received and I’m delighted that there are other people who, for whatever reason, find an affinity with my work. This makes the hundreds of hours of effort, and the decision to publish, feel like they were worthwhile and the right choice.

I see writing and books as an art-form and, like most arts, there’s very little money in it. That’s what forces the traditional publishing houses, very sensibly, to back the safe bets and it means that the majority of writers, myself included, do what we do for love – not return. Our work may be flawed, might cut against the established norms, might be relevant only to niche-markets but perhaps there’s also a faint chance that it will influence future style and stimulate new innovations.  I hope so.

I want my writing to stay “off the beaten track”.

I want to stimulate thoughts and questions.

I want to try to challenge the norm.

For me, that’s the whole point…

Happy Birthday Firebird!

Ever Wonder…?

New Year’s Eve approaches and, for me, it’ll likely be a quiet evening at home, with a few glasses of bubbly and the television for company.  I’m not too bothered about this, I like New Year for a different reason.

The parties, merrymaking and singsongs are echoes of ancient celebrations of renewal.  A fresh starting point.  A chance to say, “Out with the old and in with the new.”  Many people will make personal resolutions as a means to stimulate change – but not me, I don’t like resolutions.  Don’t get me wrong: setting demanding but achievable personal targets is a fantastic way of driving self-improvement but why limit their use to once per annum?  Why run the risk of starting the year with failure?  Nope, I’ll set myself resolutions whenever I need them.  New Year might be a good place to start but I’ll not be constrained to it.

So what is it that I love about New Year?  Well, I like to use this holiday to stop for a second or two and look backwards.  To reflect on what’s changed or been done in the last twelve months…

We spend so much of our lives gazing, often worriedly, into a future full of undiscovered fears, concerns, ambitions and desires that we rarely pause and acknowledge what we’ve actually achieved.  Big or small, our successes provide us with a platform for the next twelve months of endeavour.  Can feed us with new energy and motivation.  Will undoubtably, when we take a moment to consider them, be a positive and pleasant surprise for us.

For me, a look back at 2011 includes some amazing highlights:

  • Leading hundreds of guys to deliver their best ever winter delivery performance, during the worst winter for a hundred years, to some of the UK’s biggest companies.
  • Then, less than six months later, getting made redundant from that same role and finding myself having to push off in a new direction – an experience which always really tests self-esteem and courage.
  • Yet, amongst this, I was also lucky enough to get to visit (and escape from) several countries including the USA (Aspen), Finland (for Midsummer), Greece (Lesbos) and Yorkshire (twice)…
  • My revised work schedules meant I was suddenly gifted with more time at home that I have enjoyed for over a decade.  I’ve therefore been able to play host to my daughters on several occasions and have singularly failed to poison them with my cooking (so far).  This is a small, yet priceless, luxury for a live-away dad.
  • This was, of course, also the year during which I completed the final edit (of many final edits) of Firebird and then learned the ultimate patience-stretching art of e-book formatting and publication.
  • It was the year in which I met many new, interesting and exciting friends amongst the Indie writer community.
  • It was the year in which I started a blog site – this site – which has incredibly had over 1,500 visits.
  • Was the year that Firebird managed to creep into, and then keep itself in, both the UK and US Amazon Technothriller Top 100’s.

What a year…

My imagination is insanely active but I’d never have dreamed of setting resolutions that looked like any of the above.

So, goodness only knows what 2012 might look like…

I wonder what fantastic things it will bring for you, too?

My Top 100…

After my last very serious post I thought I needed to write something a little less emotional this week…

Then there was the accident in Bournemouth…

Anyone who has ever seen the Red Arrows display team will know how wonderful this pinacle of British airmanship is to behold.  Will have been enthralled and entranced by them.  Will be sharing our national shock and sadness at the accident on Saturday…  Being a fan of the Red Arrows since my childhood, I couldn’t not mention it here…  My sincere condolences to the friends and loved ones of Flt Lt Jon Egging.  Your man has lived every little boy’s dream.

Sudden and unexpected death has (for me at least) one very positive side-effect.  It reminds me to make the very best of life…

Bourton on the Water

Bourton on the Water

Yesterday I visited the Cotswolds with my daughters. Bourton-on-the-Water to be precise (not far away from the air base where I, as a naive and therefore fearless teenager, had my first flying experiences in air force gliders).  A beautiful village, bathing under lovely blue skies, with its river ambling gently amongst laughing children and sleepy picnickers…  The perfect British summer’s day in our “green and pleasant land”.  I’m experimenting to see if I can add some pics to this blog so hopefully you can see what I mean to the left of this paragraph…!

Dragon

Anyway, whilst wandering amongst the shops the strange creature to the right caught my eye.  I liked the beastie’s attitude (and price!) and decided to treat myself.  Why not, eh?  There’s a nice little corner of my garden that he’s going to populate (and from which he will probably scare my resident gang of sparrows) and every time I look at him he’s going to remind me of the 100th copy of Firebird being sold.

Naturally, I’d really hoped the book would prove interesting to people but never dared to hope to sell 100 copies.  In truth, it’s a handful of copies away from this milestone but I’m going to be away for a few weeks (writing and relaxing) so I don’t feel it’s too OTT to do something I usually never do… celebrate a little bit.

Thanks so much to all of you.  I really mean it.  I really appreciate you giving it a go and then afterwards helping me to spread the word.  In the end, your recommendations make a huge difference in helping other people to find and share the story.

Therefore – and to come back finally to the title of this post – you guys are… whoever you are… my Top 100: the first 100 people on the planet to have read this particular novel… and I am so very grateful to you all.

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