1. Writing the Bloody Thing

1. Writing the Bloody Thing

Before we authors can embark upon the unenviable task of marketing a book, we have to write it. So for this first post-proper, we’ll return to the dim and distant past, aka autumn 2019.

I had the idea of writing a fictional music oral history after finishing reading Dylan Jones’s Bowie oral history, David Bowie: A Life. I love oral histories – and diaries. They get to the nub, none of your flowery overmatter or showing off. An oral history is rather like a screenplay, just dialogue. I enjoy writing dialogue, consider it to be one of my strengths, and prefer to avoid penning descriptive passages, plus I’ve read a ton of music books and know my punk and post-punk pretty much inside-out. A punk/post-punk oral history it would be.

Write what you know.

(Incidentally, this was my first decent – felt workable – book idea in almost a decade. I was excited.)

I’ve written four long-form books before, two fiction, two non-fiction. Two things changed in my modus operandi this time, both of which really helped the process.

  1. I used Scrivener (see image), which I found a bind to get into – the instructions aren’t great – but once I had, a major boon. As you can see, there’s a section for character studies, as well as research notes, basically all your background material, as well as your individual chapters, on the left-hand side. On the right-hand side, space for a Synopsis (I rarely bothered) and Notes, which I used plenty. Previously, I’d have had notebooks, bits of paper, fag-packet ends scrawled on, all over my desk. Suddenly all that crap was in one place: on-screen. If you forget how old a character’s supposed to be, just click into their character study then back to the writing window. The other great feature of Scrivener is its Compile function: you can turn your MS into ePub, Mobi, pdf, Word, etc etc. Pretty much anything, at the touch of a button. Scrivener ain’t cheap but I can’t recommend it highly enough. Never again Word for me.
  2. I bombed through it. On earlier books, I’d pain over each word and revisit a paragraph on umpteen occasions, tweaking, tweaking. It made for slow progress, and often I’d find myself reading the same three paragraphs over and over again. Dumb. This time, I whacked through, revisiting only sparely. I’m currently studying for an MA in Comedy Writing and the same is advised for scripts: bang it out (called a spit draft). If you can’t think of a line of dialogue, leave it blank, move on. Not sure I’d apply the same to book-writing, but definitely writing fast worked for me. I also set myself word-count targets, allowing myself weekends off (so if I was behind with my targets I’d work weekends). I started at 500 words a day; once I was into my characters and could hear them talk, I upped that to 750 words. If your book’s 75,000 words long, that’s 100 days. My first draft was less than 60,000, so I was finished in three months. Except, of course, that first draft was very first-drafty and required oh-so-many revisions. Happily, selling the thing to agents and publishers – next post – took so long that I was able to rewrite in the background. But that’s the caveat: if you write fast, expect months and months of rewriting. Worked for me.

Finally, of course, get other people to read the thing. You cannot edit yourself. My near-neighbour, Dave, quite some way into the process, suggested more depth to my Roy and Gary characters. He was so right, it really lifted them and the book as a whole. My final MS came in at 78,000, so I’d added roughly 20K words since the first draft. That’s the kind of work required.

Next, it gets harder.

So You’ve Written a Book?

So You’ve Written a Book?

Good for you! No, really. It’s bloody hard work!

Whenever anyone asks me how long it took me to write a book, I ask them to imagine how long it would take merely to type 80,000 random words – and that’s without even paining yourself over each one.

I started writing DeadStar back in autumn 2019 and finished the first draft on David Bowie’s birthday in 2020 (that’s January 8, for any heathens out there who don’t know). I wrote it fast! Admittedly the first draft came in at… so long ago now, I forget! Around 60,000 words, possibly a little less. Humour books, I told myself, are better off short. Get in, make ’em laugh, get out quick. Leave them with watered eyes.

It’s now February 2022 and DeadStar (now 78,000 words) launched on 25 January. So what happened in between?

That’s what this new blog is all about – and more!

I actually had no intention of writing a blog, when I built this website. It’s tough enough and tedious enough trying to find content for social media, in the lead-up to a launch, when you’re desperately trying to draw in strangers (book-buyers… no, that’s not right… people who want to read and buy your very specific book).

I’m not expert book marketer, and lord knows, there are already enough of them out there. But I realised, I’ve done all this myself – from writing the thing, to designing the cover, writing the blurb (oh, the fun that is!), setting up Amazon Ads… I even wrote and sang the bloody theme tune! Really. I literally did. I did it my way. And I made loads of mistakes, even following (and ignoring) expert advice. So I have experience. Author experience.

Ands that’s a valuable thing to impart.

So follow me on this journey as we work out – or rather fashion a haphazard route towards discovering – what to do and what not to do. In return for these pearls of wisdom, I ask, please, that you join my mailing list (right). I do have another book in the pipeline. It’s at the very start of the pipe, admittedly, but it’s there.

If you think you’ve got it all sussed, consider this:

Launching DeadStar, all by myself, no publisher doing everything this time, was incredibly exciting. I was in charge, I was in control. If I wanted it done, I could do it. I knew precisely what marketing activity was going on. I went out all guns blazing.

On launch day, I sold ten copies. Ten. That’s to friends, obviously, since no one else – or precious few – realise this book exists. (I know the numbers because it’s all there on Amazon, my only outlet as a self-published author.)

The next day? None.

The day after that? None.

And the day after that? None.

I was advertising on Amazon, bear in mind. I’d honestly foreseen a gradual but noticeable uptake. I knew it’d be tough. But I was selling: none.

A week later, I’m appearing as the #1 Hot New Releases in Punk Musician Biographies, #2 in Punk Musician Biographies Best Sellers and #1 in Hot New Releases in Pop Musician Biographies. So what changed? (Let’s not get carried away. While fab, in terms of copies sold it’s a wee in the ocean. But it’s that rare commodity in self-publishing: hope.)

I’m going to tell you. I’ll also share all my numbers with you, which is indiscreet but you can’t tell this story properly without grim honesty.

But I’m going to start at the beginning. Watch this Blog space…