Wednesday, 27 April 2016

On the Campaign Trail

I recently branched out as a freelancer and worked on a B2B marketing campaign, engaging businesses to join an innovative web-based platform. At first, it seemed a world away from copywriting, editing or proofreading, but it soon became clear there are both transferrable skills involved and valuable crossover lessons.


1. Have a plan
It sounds so obvious, but many freelancers and authors approach a campaign piecemeal, which can lead to confusion (on all sides!) as well as dissipated energy for the tasks.

A spreadsheet really is your best friend here, as you can work out contact dates, organise propsects (which could also be agents or publishers) based on locality, size of business or genre. One of the great things about spreadsheets is that you can sort data to segment your target audience in different ways.


2. Break down your tasks
Understand the sequence and the depednencies (what needs to happen first) so that each activity flows into the next. If you plan on sending out a pitch letter in month two, you need to have it written, edited and signed off in month one. One solution is to work backwards and ask the question 'what needs to have happened in order to...'. A word of advice though - make sure you fully appreciate the time required for each stage / task.


3. Work to the objectives
Yay, you have a campaign planned. But what is it intended to achieve? Contact, conversions, sign-ups, brand awareness - they are all very different goals and in each case the plan and tasks need to be tailored to that individual outcome.


4. Be adaptable
Sometimes circumstances change and priorities have to change with them. Time, cost, quality or scope can all alter at short notice, each one of those corners that representation the foundation of your plan will impact on the other three.


5. Know what's yours
You may be able to influence customers and clients, but you cannot control them. Predicting their choices is a tricky one too. What you can do is present your plan and its benefits (you are selling the benefits, right?) in a way that's professional, unambiguous and appealing. If you've done your research well enough, that should give you a fighting chance.


6. Measure progress and success
You need to know when to change tack, or, even better, if things are going well. What does success look like to you? Is it callbacks, or requests for a full manuscript, or sign-ups for a trial offer?

Conversely, rejections and refusals can be useful. Is your message clear enough? Have you targeted the right audience? Have you sold the benefits?


7. Play to your strengths
Getting in specialists (marketing, copywriters, web designers, tech teams, etc.) is not a sign of weakness or failure. It's a sign of intelligence. Do what you're best at and bring others on board if you need to.

Derek Thompson @DerekWriteLines
Columnist, copywriter, and blogger, and more besides.



Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Series Four. Coming Soon.

Some say the best television shows end at series three. It's not that further series are necessarily bad, they just need to be different. The first two series of Red Dwarf, for example, felt like cult viewing; you either got it or you didn't. It was made - or appeared to be - without a greater awareness of a wider audience. Niche viewing, you might say.

However, if a show is lucky enough to endure it will also need to progress. The writers inevitably take account of audience feedback, and the actors' strengths, and potentially the available budget and any deadline constraints. It's still art but there's a more prominent commercial aspect to it.

The more series there are, the more development there has to be; whether that's the completion of a quest (and possibly the start of another one), or characters learning something and changing as a result. Basically, some plot lines need to resolve because you can't tease and torment viewers (or readers) indefinitely. In original Battlestar Galactica saga, for example, the storyline about the search for the Earth had to end up somewhere. 

Most fans of Standpoint, Line of Sight, and Cause & Effect will probably know that I'm working on the next book: Shadow State. It's my series four and comes with certain challenges and opportunities.

The opportunities are around character progress and subplot resolution (or complication!). I get to fill in more blanks this time, especially about Karl McNeill's family. There's also more chances to illustrate how Thomas Bladen has been affected by his experiences in the previous three novels. And, perhaps, a space to shine a spotlight on his relationship with Miranda Wright. (I say perhaps because that might be held over until Book Five.) By now, all of my main characters have a defined backstory and a history of interactions with one another. In a sense, I feel as though I've brought 'the gang' together now. Of course, in writing, you sometimes bring people or things together so that you can tear them apart...

As I said, there are challenges too, especially with such a large cast. Different characters demand centre stage and sometimes - in my head, you understand - refuse to play third fiddle or spear carrier no. 2. I am wondering whether the occasional spin-off short story may be a way of placating them. Another problem-ette is my own awareness of the audience now. I've been fortunate with some of the book reviews, both the bouquets and the brickbats (for some reason I love that word!). I know now, to some extent, what readers enjoy and what those who left at an earlier series didn't like. I recognise that there is a trade-off to be had between what the audience wants and what I and my characters want to give them.

Here's a hint of progressions to come, plus a red herring:
-    Jack Langton is coming out of prison.
-    Thomas has come to someone else's attention.
-    Thomas and Karl have unfinished business from the previous books.
-    Miranda won't wait forever for Thomas to commit.
-    Is it time for Thomas to take the lead without Karl as a safety net?
-    Patterns change, loyalties wane, and debts must be paid.
-    Maybe it's time for Thomas to finally choose a side?

For those of you who have stayed the course, Shadow State is coming...Book Four

Monday, 4 April 2016

One Year On - a Q&A with a difference

A little ago, buoyant on completing my first year as a thriller writer, I thought it would be fun to do a Q&A with a difference. I promised to answer any questions you cared to send in. Here they are, woven into an interview.

1. It's been a year since your debut thriller, Standpoint, was published. Did you expect two of the follow-on books to be published so quickly?

Not for a second! I had a vague idea that it might be one every nine months, but the rate has been fantastic. It has also taught me not to obsess so much about the novels, to write them as well as I can and then move on to the next one.

2. Does that mean you see the thrillers as more of a 'job' than a creative project?

I think you could say that, and I am pleased about that transition. Jasper Joffe signed me on the basis of a five-book pitch, so I have no qualms about making good on my side of the bargain. Plus, I'm happy to confirm, the royalty payments have been good news.

3. What are the numbers?

Funny you should ask that! Chloe Banks covered this theme brilliantly in a blog post of her own and writing (probably all the Arts) seems to be an occupation where the abiding curiosity is about what you earn.

You've asked for numbers and I promised to be honest so here goes, with the caveat that Q4's royalties won't be available for another couple of months so I'm guesstimating:

Total sales: approx. 16,000.
Total free downloads: approx. 50,000.
Total income: approx. £9000.

The thing is, bar the numbers themselves, it tells us very little. There is no 'typical' author experience. As a friend of mine, Jem, likes to say: your mileage may vary.

4.  Highlights and lowlights?

Seeing a press release in the local paper, and on the Literature Works website. Having a spot on BBC Radio Cornwall (where I managed to mispronounce one of the book titles!). Fellow writers and readers being amazingly generous with their time.

Even the bad reviews are fine if they make sense. Some would-be supporters decided not to join the Bladen bus, which is absolutely their right but disappointing nonetheless. I get that people are busy! A shame too about the highly successful author's post for me and the newspaper book review that never came to pass. 

One thing that really surprised me was how few reviews we received for the 50,000 downloads. You can check out Amazon (links handily provided below) to see for yourself.

5. Do you feel shackled to Thomas Bladen now?

Not at all - he's just part of the family. My publisher has floated the idea of a crime thriller with new characters, which I'm still mulling over. I'm working on the fourth Bladen novel at the moment and I have an outline for the fifth / final (?) book.

6. What's changed for you since Standpoint came out in March 2015?

I have more experience of the publishing industry - particularly where ebooks are concerned - and consequently my expectations have changed. My books have each had a steep trajectory, peaking in weeks and fading in months. That's both exciting and humbling. 

I've also learned not to fixate on Amazon's rankings, important though they are, simply because my ability to publicise my novels is limited. A year on, I have slightly more traction and a wider community to interact with (and some people - take a bow again, Mrs Campbell! - went above and beyond to support the books), but most promotional activity is down to the publisher. Fortunately for me, Jasper Joffe knows what he's doing and delivered on his promises!

If I pitch another book anywhere, I now have a track record. I did self-publish Covenant before, but that was really niche fantasy fiction and failed to set the literary or esoteric worlds ablaze. Now, I can cite my thriller figures as evidence of a readership and commercial viability.

The past year has also made me more confident about my own work. I know my books aren't for everyone and that, as one person put it: "Let's face it you're basically writing 21st century pulp novels to read on the train." It's a fair point and I'm happy to take the stage and say 'this is what I do'.

My horizons have widened considerably. I am currently waiting for feedback from a TV producer (no pressure, take your time!) who responded to my query and agreed to read Standpoint. It's not that I have any sense of entitlement or expectation about future projects. No, it's simply that I was writing novels in the attic until a year ago so I know that statistically improbable opportunities can and do arise. Why not think big!

As I write other things as well, I would really like to build on the past year and see my tragi-comedy novel, Scars & Stripes, land on a welcoming desk. I've thought about pitching it as as Great Expectations meets Catcher in the Wry (sic) in the 1980s. 

7. Do you see the writing world as more competitive or less, since you've been published?

Both.

It's more competitive in that I can better appreciate other factors that can have a bearing on your success. Things I've never considered, like who other writers from the same publishing house have books coming out and when, where your launch date or free download period sits in relation to UK or US public holidays, the importance of finding an audience on both sides of the Atlantic.

I also see it as less competitive in that I've encountered so much goodwill (plus a few crapbags!) out there. It's one of the reasons I wanted to try and pay it forward by allocating a free hour each week for other writers. I also think - and I'm indebted to Stephen King's On Writing for reminding me of this - that my 'job' is to develop as a writer and to write as authentically and as well as I can. That's it really. The rest is secondary - has to be secondary - or I'd be too busy looking out the window to concentrate on the page.

8. Do you wish you had three novels under your belt when you were younger?

That's hard to say. It would have been different, certainly. I wouldn't have been as honest on the page because that didn't really happen until I wrote about the impact of my brother's death. If you're pushing me on this, I wish I had been a more honest and more committed writer when I was younger. I might have written more books and very different ones, which is an intriguing idea for me now.

9. What would you do if your next book doesn't sell?

Get despondent. Eat chocolate. Get writing.

Reflect. Write something else. Write better.




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