Thursday, 29 August 2013

Carry On Up The Amazon

I just had one of those days writers dream about. It started with an e-mail from my publisher that morning, telling me my second book ‘The Damage’ had been selected as a Kindle Daily Deal.

Obviously this was good news. I regularly get promotional e-mails telling me a certain book is available for a lower than normal price and I figured a number of people might see an advert like that for ‘The Damage’ and be tempted to give it a try. Hopefully I’d sell a few more than average but I didn’t have very many expectations beyond that.

I’m not arrogant about my writing, far from it in fact. Most writers I know are riddled with insecurities about their own work. It tends to come with the territory and the divas that think they are God’s gift to the writing world are, thankfully, pretty few and far between. However I have had enough positive feedback in reviews, Twitter messages and Facebook postings from readers to know that most people really like my David Blake books once they’ve read them. I reasoned that by the end of the Kindle Daily deal, I might have gone up a few notches on the much vaunted Amazon listings and perhaps picked up a few more readers along the way, who might enjoy ‘The Damage’ and maybe even tell their mates about. If I was fortunate, some of them might even buy the other books, ‘The Drop’ and ‘The Dead’ as well

I then got on with some work. Around noon I received the first bit of positive news. My agent had checked the Amazon rankings and discovered ‘The Damage’ was number 482 in the Kindle charts. That might not sound too great to anybody but an author but there are many thousands of books in the world and I had started that day with my second David Blake book residing at 33,889 (I know that because we eventually found out how many places up the charts it had soared in just one day). Agent, publisher and I were all very happy with 482.

I carried on with some editing for a while and genuinely forgot about it, figuring it might have peaked already. An hour later, my diligent Literary Agent checked again and told me we were at 138. Things were starting to look quite exciting all of a sudden. I was up there rubbing shoulders with the big boys; writers who’ve written a stack of best-selling novels and become household names in the process, with major publishers and huge advertising budgets to promote their latest work.

More writing followed but, by this stage, I was a bit distracted and beginning to wonder just how far I could climb this pesky Amazon chart and, subsequently, how visible my books might become to the wider world. I can put it into perspective by saying that they have done pretty well already; having been optioned for TV by Harry Potter producer, David Barron, who is adapting them with Layer Cake writer, JJ Connolly. My first book ‘The Drop’ was voted one of the top five Thrillers of the Year by The Times and ‘The Damage’ was nominated as one of the ‘Top 12 Best Summer Reads’, again by The Times but none of that helped me mount a major assault on the monolith that is the Amazon charts. It’s amazing the difference a bit of advertising and the power of social media can make.

By 2.00pm The Damage was at number 24 and we still had ten hours of the promotion to go. Figuring we’d make the most of it, the agent, publisher and I all tweeted about it and posted on FB. Then a lovely thing happened; people started to spread the word for me; lots of people. Twitter re-tweets were so numerous I couldn’t thank everybody for them individually and there were lots of shares on Facebook, saying that my book was on offer and worth a read. Many took the trouble to inform their friends and Twitter followers that the book was storming the kindle charts. It was lovely, life affirming stuff and I was touched by the level of kindness shown.

By 4.00pm we were, unbelievably, in the top ten of the Amazon chart. ‘The Damage’ was seventh in the Kindle book list, ahead of massive names like John Grisham and Dan Brown’s latest.  It was even higher than ‘Gone Girl’. That was a champagne moment, or it would have been if I’d had time to pause for a second to open a bottle, as messages were coming into me now at an amazing rate. Other authors I knew were cheering from the wings on Twitter, which was lovely but not wholly surprising, as the crime writing fraternity is, on the whole, an incredibly warm and supportive place. We’ve all struggled at one point or another, so we all genuinely like to see one of our own having a good day. This time it was my turn.

There were more tweets and more shares, more good wishes, congratulations and ‘wow’s from publisher and agent. The next time we checked, I half expected ‘The Damage’ to have peaked or gone back down again, authors are like that, by the time we’ve even been published we’ve had so many disappointments and knockbacks we basically prepare ourselves for them in advance, but it hadn’t peaked. When the chart was updated, I was at number three and somebody called JK Rowling was at number four. I instantly took a screen grab of that one for posterity. I figured it would be nice to show the grandchildren one day.

At half past eight, the book eventually peaked at number 2 in the Amazon Kindle chart having gone up a staggering 33,887 places in a day, and was only kept off the top spot by a book that had been in the top 100 for 75 days; ‘The Detective’s Daughter’ by Lesley Thomson. My other two David Blake books, ‘The Dead’ and ‘The Drop’, hung onto the coat tails of ‘The Damage’ and were dragged up with it until they were residing at numbers 40 and 149 respectively. I can only assume a number of people bought two of the books or all three together, once they’d had the chance to read the synopses and reviews.

I didn’t go daft. There was no Krug or caviar. Instead I had a couple of bottles of beer and tried to reply to as many people as possible to thank them for spreading the word. Then I sat back and enjoyed the nice, warm feeling of being second in a chart that probably boosts an author’s profile like nothing else can.  

I don’t yet know how many of ‘The Damage’ we sold but it was thousands. In one day. Like most authors, I am in it for the long haul though and my books have had their profile raised, which should lead to more people trying them out.

Of course it might make no difference to me at all in the end. I could ultimately be ignored, dismissed or forgotten by an apathetic public; a one day wonder, the guy who could have been a contender. I might live to be an old man, residing in some underfunded nursing home somewhere, surrounded by young people who might understandably doubt my credentials. They will look at me questioningly and ask themselves, ‘Did he really write a book that went above JK Rowling and Dan Brown in the Kindle chart?’ At which point, like some ageing actor from a forgotten era, who carries his creased and fading newspaper reviews around with him in his wallet, I will reach for whatever electronic device has superseded the lap top or tablet and I’ll show them that screen grab, while tunelessly singing ‘They can’t take that away from me, oh they can’t take that away from me,’ as they gently wheel me away for my medication.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

This is an interview that originally appeared on Ruth Jacobs great web site ‘In the Booth with Ruth’, which is here:


What’s your writing background? When did you begin writing and what inspired you?

I started writing years ago for a very popular Newcastle United fanzine ‘The Mag’. That was the first time I saw my name in print and it gave me the confidence to go on and become a journalist working for regional newspapers. I’ve written all sorts of things over the years, for web sites, magazines and newspapers but I was also writing fiction as well. Like most writers, I got plenty of rejection letters but they were nice ones. They usually told me my stuff was good and that was enough to keep me going. Obviously I read books but I think I am even more inspired by films if I’m honest. My first book ‘The Drop’ has been compared to ‘The Long Good Friday’ and ‘Get Carter’, which I am pretty chuffed about, as I love both of those classic Brit ganster flicks.  


How often do you write? And how do you manage to fit in writing among other commitments?

I try to write every day but it doesn’t always work out that way, as life gets in the way. Before jacking in the day job, I could only write in the evenings and at weekends, which put a lot of pressure on me. There were points during the writing of my last two books where I did feel absolutely knackered but I managed to keep going somehow. It wasn’t easy though and I had to be pretty disciplined. I hate wasting time, as I still don’t have much of it. I look after my daughter, which is wonderful but it shortens my working day, as you can’t really write once a seven year old comes home from school. I never watch soap operas or reality TV or much TV at all in fact. I moved house a few weeks ago and still haven’t rigged up the TV but I haven’t missed it. I try and ration myself to an hour a day with a DVD box set. Perhaps unsurprisingly I like something that has a bit of quality writing in it, like ‘The Killing’, ‘Mad Men,’ ‘Borgen’ or ‘Boardwalk Empire’. I’m currently watching ‘Spiral’ the gritty French cop series, which is very good.


In which genre do you most enjoy writing?

I’m not too hung up on genre but I have no problem being described as a crime writer or referred to as an author of thrillers, though it doesn’t worry me to write outside those genres either. I have written a historical story set in World War Two, which I am in the process of editing, so you might see that published at some point in the future hopefully. I grew up reading John Le Carre, Len Deighton, Jack Higgins and Frederick Forsyth so I’ve always enjoyed WW2 and Cold War thrillers. I’m currently reading Peter Guttridge’s ‘The Thing Itself’, which has sections set in WW1, WW2 and the present day and I’m loving it so far.


What draws you to write in that genre?

I’m led by the story not the genre, so I came up with the idea of ‘The Drop’ then realised it was a crime story. I enjoy writing crime because it gives you the opportunity to place your characters in pretty extreme, stressful situations involving death or injury, imprisonment or betrayal and it brings emotion to a story when so much is at risk for the characters.


Can you tell me about your current project(s)? 

Now that my trilogy of Newcastle gangster stories is complete, I’m giving David Blake and his crew some time off.  My new book is a crime story but this one has some different characters. I am tackling a book about a journalist who returns to his home to investigate the disappearance of a missing girl.  As usual with my books, it is more complex than that though, with several different story lines all happening at once, over two time periods. Somehow I never seem to keep it simple but I enjoy writing books that have a lot going on in them.


What are your writing plans for the future?

I don’t look too far ahead but I want to keep on writing books for as long as people are keen to read them. I’ve been lucky so far. ‘The Drop’, ‘The Damage’ and ‘The Dead’ have all been well received. I am published in the UK and Germany and the David Blake books will hit America in the autumn…or should that be ‘the fall’? The books have been optioned for TV too, so I just want to build on all of that and keep going.