Rampant by Numbers


96 ebooks sold so far.  I’m really pleased.  I don’t want to keep harping on about the traditional publishing model (here he goes again) but the contrast is startling.  When you are locked in to that system, it’s a long haul to reach readers, with various stages to be negotiated – find an agent, who then tries to find an editor/marketer/intern/cleaner at a publishing house who likes your work, then they need to find others within that publishing house who like your work, and so on.  It’s a marathon wearing a heavy backpack in icy rain over a barbed-wire assault course, which most likely ends with a poke in the eye with a shitty stick.   But now it’s just me and the reader.  96 readers.  Although, it was actually 99 because…

3 ebooks were returned by outraged punters!  Almost a 3% return rate.  I expected it, because let’s face it, the subject matter is not everybody’s cup of tea.  Maybe I should make an addendum to the Amazon product description… WARNING!  THIS BOOK CONTAINS SCENES OF A SEXUALLY EXPLICIT NATURE AND HAS QUITE A LOT OF SWEARY BITS.  OH, AND THE CHARACTER ENSEMBLE IS PRETTY MUCH DRUNK FOR THE WHOLE NOVEL.  AND THERE’S A BIT WITH A STAPLER WHERE… etc.

13 reviews on Amazon.  I’ve really enjoyed this aspect.  As far as I can tell the 13 reviewers are people I know, so they are a little biased, but at the same time there is a refreshing honesty in there.  I’m glad that one thing keeps on popping up – pace.  When I edited the novel down to its fighting weight I lost a lot of stuff I loved, but I could feel the story moving into warp-speed.  One thing people seem to agree on – they keep turning the pages.  I had an amusing face-to-face review in a similar vein when I bumped into an old friend in a cafe in Luxembourg.  “You’re a bit sordid!  But I can’t stop reading it.”  Booooom!  High fives followed by victory hip-hop dance.

67 hours.  I work on average 55 hours per week in my day job, and also spend around 12 hours per week on my MBA (more hours recently, including a 4-day residential school).  It’s a killer.  This is my first blog in three weeks, which is not great for my epublishing project, but I often find myself unable to sit down in front of a laptop when I’ve already spent 14 hours with one, and would rather spend those precious free moments with my wonderful wife, or hooked up to my latest high octane TV boxset (Dublin gangster epic LOVE/HATE, since you ask).

Big fat zero.  The number of hours I’ve spent writing fiction in 2014.  This hurts, because writing has been part of who I am for the last 20 years, but I knew that by signing up to the MBA I would need to sacrifice my writing.  However, it’s also a much needed opportunity to recharge my creative batteries, and ideas for the next novel are already distilling in the shadowy corners of my mind (subject of a future blog).

2.29 sales per day on average.  This projects to 834 sales in 1 year, below my target of 1,000.  The MBA student in me is muttering darkly… something needs to be done…

1,427 pounds sterling.  This is what remains of the war chest I gave myself at the beginning of the project (based on the 2,070 GBP I’ve made in my twenty years of writing fiction).  I lack time but I have money.  I’m already planning to apply to BookBub, but does anyone else have any ideas on how I could invest my fund to drive up sales of Amsterdam Rampant?  All ideas welcome!



Fife’s Boulevard of Dreams


What a strange new world we live in.


On Friday night there I was, sitting at a table in a Luxembourgish village with a bunch of people – my wife, two old friends from Scotland, and a gaggle of Luxembourgers (I’m not sure what the collective noun is for Luxembourgers, but after a few bottles of the local wine ‘gaggle’ seems appropriate).  My fantastic wife / marketing manager was doing one of her usual excellent pitches for Amsterdam Rampant, while I mumbled embarrassedly with the pathological self-deprecation that comes as second nature to most Scots.  One of the Luxembourgers, a rather cool fifty-something professor (let’s preserve his anonymity and call him Mr G) decided to buy the novel on the spot.  He whipped out his iPhone, logged on to Amazon, and seconds later, Amsterdam Rampant was downloading.


I sat at the table and stared at his phone.  The dinner party continued – chatter, the clink of glasses, cheese bubbling under the raclette grill – and still I stared at the iPhone, where underneath a tiny thumbnail of Amsterdam Rampant’s cover art, a blue bar crept stealthily rightwards as the novel materialised out of the ether.  And then – ping! – Rampant had loaded (my 70th sale) and Mr G tapped on his phone and read aloud the Joseph Brodsky quote at the start of the novel.  And for the umpteenth time since starting my epublishing adventure, I marvelled at the revolution we are living through.


When I think back to my late teens, living in a small village in Fife on Scotland’s east coast, I would sit in my bedroom on dark rain-lashed nights fantasising about (steady now reader, you have a filthy mind) writing fiction.  And not just fiction – literature.  I always remember taking a particular book off my shelf and turning it over in my hands, flicking through the pages, feeling its weight and shape, and imagining having my name on the cover.  The book was New Writing Scotland 6, an annual anthology of new writing.  Getting a short story published in this slim volume, would, I imagined, be the equivalent of joining the canon.  The literary equivalent of having my name blazing in lights on Scottish literature’s rainy and windblown boulevard of dreams, a gilt-edged membership card in my pocket to the same exclusive club as Robert Louis Stevenson, Muriel Spark, William McIlvanney, Iain Banks.


And when I did finally fulfil that dream – New Writing Scotland 21, with my story as the title piece no less – I did imagine that I was within touching distance of that sort of recognition.  Years and years of writing away, firstly scrawling in biro in A4 pads, then finger-typing on an old Mac with a juddery dot matrix printer, onwards with a PC, and onwards again with two laptops, the technology evolving along with my writing.  And all that time throwing myself again and again against the fortified gates of the Scottish literary canon, awaiting approval before my work could find readers.


Imagine if I could transport myself back to visit teenage Neil in 1989, appearing in the corner of the room and terrifying him as he fantasised about (calm yourself reader, steady now) a printed novel.  And my ghostly apparition would, after a brief pang of grief upon seeing Young Neil with a full head of hair, say in a spooky voice:


“Woooooooo!  [Ghosty noise]  Fear not, Young Neil!  You shall become a novelist in your distant future.  It won’t be a physical book however.  People will be able to read it on their phones.  Yes, their phones.  What else?  Well, a Scottish tennis player will win Wimbledon.  And there will be a bit of a problem with pirates.  No, listen, I’m telling the truth.  And you shall work in the field of shipping whisky to Chinese people, and marry a Polish hottie… yes, I’m telling the truth… honest… wooooooooooo!”


So just to recap…


Print book – two-year process to get to readers, numerous hurdles and cronyism and nepotism to negotiate, fate in the hands of others.


Ebook – two-week process to get to readers, cool Luxembourgish professor Mr G downloads it on iPhone and starts to read it instantly.


I rest my case.