Monday, December 19, 2005
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
My two pals and I were sitting outside in the porch chatting and laughing. Gordon said the Stones were better than the Beatles. David snorted derisively. "The Hollies are the best, I'm telling you."
Suddenly my Uncle George rushed out, wide-eyed. "Kennedy's been shot," he gasped, "They think he's dead." He scuttled back into the house to watch the news bulletins.
I went to bed that night thinking that the Russians had killed him and that the ballistic missiles were already cruising through the night skies. I was terrified, certain that I wouldn't wake up again.
The concept came to me during that fascinating post I put up about marginal pricing. Remember the airline industry? Ryanair selling seats for nothing and still making a profit?
I said I would reveal the idea on this blog. Well, I've had second thoughts. About revealing the idea that is. Remember, I am a businessman as well as a would-be writer. The thing is, I think the idea has legs. And is therefore worth something.
What I'm going to do instead is set up a little business to test the concept and see if it has legs. My youngest son. who is something of an internet whizz has agreed to help. Become a partner in fact.
So, when we make our first million, remember you heard it here first. You just didn't hear what it was, that's all.
Last week I talked about the challenge I faced when a couple of the six companies I control unexpectedly posted losses. We analysed what had happened and (hopefully) took some steps to get them back into profit.
This was done against the backdrop of the oil industry where activity worldwide is exploding on the back of the high oil price and the growing need to replace diminishing oil reserves. And all my companies are in the oil game.
To cope with this increased activity, during the past week I've authorised expenditure of about £800K for new machines and tools and raised a futher £200K for working capital to pay for all the new guys we're hiring.
The Government calls this "investment" and proudly takes the credit for encouraging industry to grow.
But it isn't. It's borrowing. Believe me, I'm at the sharp end and I know.
And that's the funny thing about business. The more successful I am the deeper I get into debt.
Can't wait for the next slump.
Since I started this blog I've learnt just how difficult it is to come up with new, interesting and amusing things to say every day. That isn't entirely a bad thing of course. The challenge stimulates the brain and definitely aids creativity. It's certainly helped my writing and freed up my writer's block.
I've also appreciated the feedback I've had. A number of people have made some very perceptive remarks about A Half Life Of One's shortcomings. If I ever re-write the book again I'll definitely incorporate these suggestions. It's also good to hear from other people out there and to discover you are not alone.
A major drawbackfor me is listening to the sound of my own voice pontificating every day. It's funny but a blog almost by definition forces you to take a particular view or attitude on things. But in reality I don't see the world in black and white. That's one of my strengths as a businessman incidentally.
The biggest downside for me though is definitely time. To do this properly I reckon I would need to spend two or three hours a day blogging. And I just can't afford the time. A professional writer, on the other hand, might consider this a good investment.
What about the future? Well, I've published around about two thirds of A Half Life Of One. So I'll keep going as best I can until that's finished. After that? A party maybe? Or a wake?
There are two main strands to my thoughts which I'll address in the next few posts.
Firstly, what is this blog for?
The answer has to be that it's a platform to attract readers, some of whom at least will go on to read my book A Half Life Of One.
So how effective is the blog as a promotional tool? That depends. If you're prepared to put a lot of work in and post every day you can definitely build up a readership. Maybe thirty or forty visitors a day. Of whom about half will take a look across at my sister site wherein resides A Half Life Of One.
I guess as time goes by it might be possible to build up the blog readership to, say, a hundred or so visitors. Which means perhaps fifty people might read the book.
And, of course, there will be a steady trickle of curious visitors in the years to come. So, being optimistic, maybe 100 people will read the book in the next few years.
Is that a success or failure? I dunno. But it's better than the alternative.
Monday, November 21, 2005
Friday, November 18, 2005
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Well, I went into work this morning and called together the key people in the management team. Everyone's in a state of shock. I asked them all to please keep our new strategy under review because if we've got that wrong we're in trouble. In addition, everyone agreed we still haven't got our implementation right. We discussed ways of improving efficiency and getting more jobs through the shop.
I told everyone not panic. One month's accounts don't mean too much. Stay positive. I'm convinced your doing the right thing.
Even though inside I was churning, fear's icy fingers grabbing at my intestines.
Sometimes you just have to tough it out. If the next two months are bad tho', that's when it will really get interesting. Like I said, time doesn't work the same way for small companies. Three bad months in a row and we'll have to take some really tough decisions.
Feeling stupid in turn gives rise to feelings of inadequacy. Feelings of inadequacy that are exacerbated when I read blogs written by people a whole lot cleverer than me.
When its blogs about books I read in my stupid state I wonder if these clever people are actually superior sentient beings to me. I can't express this very well because I'm stupid. But maybe you can see what I mean. Do clever people get more out of Shakespeare than I do? Or even my beloved Fitzgerald? That sort of thing. Does that make me a lesser person as a result.
It reminds me of that debate: Is an African life worth more than a European one? Or is that an invalid analogy?
Somebody clever out there explain this to me, would you?
On July 18th after maybe a dozen re-writes I submitted the book to Curtis Brown in London. A month later they sent me back a form postcard of rejection - unsigned.
On July 27th I e-mailed three chapters to Wade & Doherty. Two days later they turned it down by e-mail saying the following:
Many thanks for sending us this material, which I read with interest. Although it’s certainly inventive, I’m afraid it just doesn’t quite grab my imagination in the way that it must for me to offer to represent it. So I must follow my gut instinct and pass on this occasion. I’m sorry to be so disappointing, but thanks for thinking of us. Of course this is a totally subjective judgement, so do try other agents and I wish you every success. "
I don't know if this is a form rejection or not but at least it was extremely prompt (and courteous), and for that at least Wade & Doherty deserve thanks.
Finally, on August 4th I sent the first three chapters out to Greene & Heaton. They said no thanks on the 25th via an unsigned form letter.
In total I sent the book out to 13 agents. 3 didn't read it. At least 2 read the first three chapters for certain. No one really liked it.
Incidentally, to put things in perspective, the Ampersand Agency, who did read the book and took the trouble to make detailed suggestions, currently receive over 100 submissions a week and sound a little overwhelmed right now.
I'm not sure whether I should have given up at this point or not. How many agents do you need to turn your book down before you know it's no good? Should I have tried sending it directly to a few small publishers? Maybe I should have paid to have it professionally edited or reviewed?
Or maybe I should simply have cracked on with writing my next book.
This morning I read a little of Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course. All about blind baking.
It wasn't what I thought it was.
Once a month we produce our management accounts. Usually around the fifteenth to allow all the suppliers' invoices to come in.
Last night when I looked at the draft figures it became apparent that two of our main companies had run up losses. If you want to know what stress is, it's when you see red ink in your management accounts. The room swam and I nearly passed out. Seriously.
Our most profitable business had a bad month because of a glitch in orders from its two main customers. Hopefully, this is a one-off. The other company is more problematic. It's going through a period of restructuring but the results are still to show through and we don't really understand why. And if you don't understand what's going wrong in your business it's hard to put it right.
Of course, these being small companies the problems are exacerbated. Time works differently when you're small a small company. It accelerates. When things go wrong you have a lot less time to put things right compared to a big company.
Big companies make mistakes all the time and lose millions and carry on regardless. You don't have that luxury in a small company. Your balance sheet is so tiny there is no margin for error. One mistake can wipe you out.
Don't let me put you off starting your own business though. When it goes well it's better than sex.
When it goes badly, it's still better than sex. Well, virtually anything is at my age.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
For me the weekend starts on a Friday at 5.00pm and ends around 10.30pm Sunday night. With short breaks in between.
Not that I drink that much. I mean, it's not on an industrial scale. The thing is tho', alcohol is a depressant and I am that way inclined.
I'm usually all right by Tuesday. Which is why you're getting all these posts today.
He's the guy that invented Desert Island Discs, the British radio programme that been going for ever.
Thanks to one simple idea he managed to live an lifestyle that involved about six hours work a week, leaving him with enough time and money to do all the things he really wanted to do. After he died his wife lived off the royalties. And I dare say their children will too for as far ahead as most of us care to peer into the future.
Just one good idea. Why can't I think of something like that?
To my surprise TNH rather took exception to my stance.
TNH said in a comment, "Do you really think we don't know our own numbers? Economists may have "won Nobel prizes for their work on costing, breakeven analysis and profit maximisation," but as an industry we live and die by our grasp of those issues".
I hadn't twigged at the time that TNH works in the publishing industry and obviously knows the business inside out. So in answer to the question "Do you really think we don't know our own numbers?" my answer now would be, No, the publishing industry doesn't know its own numbers and hasn't grasped the same issues that brought the airline industry to its knees.
There, I've said it. I can already hear the howls of outrage echoing across the ether. Pause a second tho', TNH, before you push the nuclear button and wipe my blog off the face of the ionosphere.
I am second to no-one in my admiration of your knowledge of the publishing industry. Ah. Finger hesitating, huh?
Becauseyou know the publishing game so well I am sure you'll agree that your industry is definitely not one where profit maximising is practised. Take the analogy of the airline industry. All those empty seats left unoccupied because of a flawed ticket pricing model.
Is it possible that the publishing industry doesn't sell every last book that it could because it too has the same outdated pricing model? It isn't just price here either. Do you think the industry really has adopted the kind of low-cost model that Ryanair employs so successfully? I'm sure it constantly trims costs like every other industry, but we're talking about revolutionising the business model here. I don't think so. I'm sure you don't either (see, I can make assumptions about what you're thinking too).
While we're at it, having a flawed business model is only part of your industry's problem.
Take a look at the macro environment in which the publishing industry operates. Media and Entertainment. Where the internet is changing everything. In ways which we are only beginning to understand. And that change is about to accelerate. The known unknowns and the unknown unknowns as Donald Rumsfeld said (and I never in a million years foresaw that I would ever quote him.) The fact is, nobody in any industry today (or in the past come to that) knows what's going to happen next. Sure, we all construct our marketing plans and profit projections but these are just comfort blankets. You cannot, in the end, impose order on chaos.
Rememeber it's all about share of mind and pocket. And there are huge swathes of the market that traditional publishing doesn't serve: men, young men, young people for a start. These folks attention has gone elsewhere. And that's just the start of its shortcomings.
Sure, you're going to tell me that more books are published now than ever before and that more people are reading today than ever did in the past. Maybe. How about that as a share of the expanding world population? Is it growing faster or slower? What about the share of disposable income people spend on books as a proportion of the total spend on leisure? Is it growing? If the answer to either of these questions is negative then your industry is falling behind and will ultimately die.
Okay, that's enough for now. Gee' I wish I could resist a good argument.
Right, I'll just slip on my steel helmet and hunker down in this dugout before the shells start whizzing back over.
Let me repeat that. This is not a blog about publishing. If you really want to know about that benighted industry go take a look at The Grumpy Old Bookman's blog.
This is a blog about writing. Something very different.
However, because I'm an idiot and because I think I know a little about business, I've allowed myself to get sucked into a discussion regarding the viability of the traditional publishing industry.
To make matters worse, I've got into a fight with people who are a lot cleverer than me. As a contest it's a bit like me stepping into the ring with Mike Tyson in his prime. Not even in his prime, in fact.
However, I have my pride, and even tho' I'm going to get pummelled, I'm going to defend to the death the wild assertions I've been making. If you're at all squeamish, go visit another blog for a couple of days.
Any writers out there, bear with me for a couple of posts while I address some of the hares I've set running then we'll get back to the real business of writing and marketing our masterpiece.
Monday, November 14, 2005
In all that time whenever I've consulted the professionals - lawyers, accountants, bankers - they've always given me a load of reasons why my ideas will never work. This negativity seems to be endemic in Scotland.
So when I reveal my big idea for Read On Demand, do me one favour, will you? Pause for a moment before you shoot the idea down in flames.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Often described as the dismal science Economics it is anything but. Indeed, for those prepared to study the research carefully it can be the path to riches beyond the dreams of avarice.
To illustrate what I mean let's take a look at the airline industry, which is a particularly good example of the way innovative thinking can completely transform the way business is transacted.
Warren Buffett, the billionaire US investor, famously observed that between 1947 and 2003 the airline industry has managed to loose a cumulative 5 billion dollars. That's right. 5 billion dollars. And that's despite the fact that it has been run by the brightest and best business brains that money can buy. Or, to put it another way, your granny who in the same period put her money in a biscuit tin under the bed, managed significantly to outperform all those Harvard-educated whizz-kids who've been running the world's airlines.
The reason these guys managed to loose so much money is that they had the wrong business model in the first place. And the reason they had the wrong model is because accountants don't talk to economists. Economists know all about marginal costing and pricing and profit maximisation and accountants don't. What accountants think they know all about is breakeven analysis. But actually that in itself is a pretty contentious and poorly understood discipline.
Anyway, as a result of the accountants' ignorance here's what's been happening in the airline industry for years.
First off the airline goes out and buys a new fleet of planes and the CEO asks the accountants to work out what the breakeven figure (the load factor) is per plane. Let's say the plane seats two hundred people and the accountants work out that to break even the company needs to sell 100 tickets at £300 a pop. Unfortunately, that's the wrong answer to the wrong question but nevertheless our airline CEO gets his marketing guys (who are also very highly paid of course) together and asks them if they can sell that many tickets on average per flight. It's a stretch but the marketeers say they can if they increase the marketing budget and indeed, with a bit of luck they might sell 120 seats at that price on certain popular flights.
Indeed, that's exactly what happens and the following year at the company's AGM the CEO announces record profits, the first the company's made for years. Unfortunately, the champagne goes a little flat when he also warns of tougher times ahead due to competition from the new breed of low-cost airlines that have sprung up all over the place. Reassurringly, he explains that though these new compeitors will prove troublesome for a while there is no way they can make a profit at the prices they are charging and he's sure that they will soon go out of business. One shareholder stands up and asks if the company is really maximising its profits with the current fare structure. Of course, is the answer, the company is sweating its assets hard and squeezing every last penny of profit out of its planes.
Except of course it isn't.
With a load factor of 60% the plane is flying 40% empty - that's 80 seats adding absolutely nothing to the bottom line. The marginal (ie extra) cost of filling those seats is next to zero. So if the airline sold them at, say £10 each that's another £800 profit per flight. A profit it would not otherwise have made. A not inconsiderable sum, especially when multiplied by the number of flights the airline runs every year. In other words, the airline is failing to maximise its potential profit. But the airline didn't sell those seats because it had a rigid pricing structure and a lot of people stayed on the ground because they couldn't afford to travel at that price.
The first airline in the USA to realise how crazy all this was was Pacific Southwest Airlines . Later on, in Europe, Michael O'Leary saw what Southwest was doing and decided to apply the same principles to Ryanair. From here on I'll concentrate on Ryanair as that's the airline I'm most familiar with.
Ryanair is the world's most profitable airline and it's growing exponentially. Its genius was the way it took marginal costing and inverted it. In other words, it sold the cheaper, marginally profitable and previously unsold seats first. This simple inversion of logic revolutionised the way the industry worked. In particular, it gave Ryanair an unbeatable marketing edge. It could sell you a seat for a pound if you bought one far enough in advance. Even its competitors in the industry couldn't understand how Ryanair could do it. Everyone predicted Ryanair and the other low cost operators that followed would soon go bust. They were wrong because they simply didn't understand the economics the way you and I do now.
In fact, if you think what Ryanair did was clever, you ain't heard nothing yet. Ryanair has even worked out a way to make money from the seats they give away for virtually nothing. Sounds incredible, but it's true.
The point I'm trying to make here is that looking at the way a business operates in a totally different way can have a profound effect on the business model.
Of course, the traditional airlines are all now desperately trying to fight back by adopting the Ryanair pricing model in a more or less half-hearted way. But for them it's too little too late. Soon they will be as extinct as the dodo, which also couldn't fly.
In my next post I'll explain how the traditional publishing industry is about to go the same way as the airlines when I introduce my new Read On Demand business model.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
I sent the mss to their Edinburgh office since I thought the book's Scottish setting might interest them. Three weeks later Giles Gordon - who has since died - wrote back to say that his list was full and that he wasn't reading any new submissions. This was something of an anti-climax.
On 4th October I submitted the book to Caroline Davidson. She returned it unread. At the same time I sent it out to Capel & Land. They replied seven days later with a polite form letter saying thanks but no thanks.
On 16th October I sent it to Author Management. Mr James Rouche, the owner, wrote back to me on the 23rd. He'd obviously read the three chapters I'd sent and made the following observations: "Clearly you have put a lot of thought, and I suspect a lot of personal experience into the book but the story just failed to enthuse me sufficiently.....I do know that, unaltered, I believe the book could be submitted to another agent with a good chance of success."
This response was obviously quite encouraging but I have had "rave rejection slips" in the past for other books which remain unpublished. All the same, unless he was just being polite maybe the book did have a slim chance of being published.
I decided to re-write the whole thing once more, this time trying to make the hero a little more sympathetic or, to put it another way, less like me.
On June 14th 2003 I parcelled up the first three chapters and sent them off to McLean & Slora, another Edinburgh agency. They returned them unread about a year later saying they had closed down.
In the meantime, on June 20th I sent the book to Gregory & Co in London. A form letter promptly declined my submission.
On July 22 I sent the book off to David Higham. They replied on August 10 with a form letter rejecting the book.
On July 29th I sent a copy to Sheil Land. They turned it down on the 15th Sept.
On August 12th I sent it out to the Ampersand Agency. Mr Peter Buckman wrote back asking to see the complete manuscript. Boy, was my heart pounding when I sent that parcel off. This was the first time anyone had ever asked to see a book of mine. A few weeks later Mr Buckman wrote back with a list of suggestions to improve the book, all of which I agreed were valid. I re-wrote the book incorporating his suggestions and sent it back to him. On the 29th March he wrote back with a very detailed critique of the revised manuscript stating the reasons why he wouldn't take it on. You can imagine my disappointment. To be honest I was devastated. I shoved his letter - and the book - into the back of a desk drawer and left them to gather dust.
A couple of weeka ago I re-read the letter and actually it's not as negative as I thought at the time. And the criticisms Mr Buckman makes are perfectly valid. Actually, his main concern revolves around who the book is aimed at. I'll publish the full letter (I've obtained Mr Buckman's permission to do this) once I've rolled out the whole of A Half Life. You can then see how your view matches up with that of a professional.
It was the last paragraph of his letter, though, that really left me in a quandary. He wrote:
"I think you have talent and could write a saleable book once you've decided what sort of book you want to write. Maybe you should put A Half Life.. aside and concentrate on something new. If you want to try an idea on me - in abbreviated form - you know where I am."
The trouble was, I wasn't ready to give up on A Half Life just yet.
I first read about the novelish "Ginny Good" by Gerard Jones when I started using his writers' website "Everyone Who's Anyone in Adult Trade Publishing". At the time I was searching for an agent for my own novel A Half Life Of One.
Gerard has a very distinctive voice and eventually I decided to order his book from Amazon. I placed the order on the 3rd November and the book arrived today (12th) by air freight from America.
The book cost £5.13 and shipping costs were an amazing £2.75.
So there you have it. Advertised on the net, sourced on the net, ordered on the net and delivered to my door at the click of a button.
A few years ago that would have been pure science fiction.
I only hope the book is worth reading.
Friday, November 11, 2005
This is not a religious belief, although I believe the soul is where we might undergo that sensation we often describe as a religious experience.
It's more the place within us where all our thoughts and feelings exist that shape our thoughts and deeds. Not our brain exactly, something more.
This belief is why there's a lot of references to our soul in A Half Life Of One.
I don't know what happens to the soul after we die. I'll just have to wait and see.
Steady on. Calm down. I'm not saying there isn't one. Or several for that matter. I'm just saying I don't believe in Him/Her.
It's that old thing about self-determination and free will that gets me. Why go to all the bother of creating the Universe and everything just to put a few billion humans on it and see how they turn out? I mean, come on. If you're God you know the answer in advance, right. Besides, it isn't fair. We're on trial for a hundred years max and then we spend the rest of eternity in Hell? That length of punishment is entirely disproportionate to the crime. For most of us, at least.
So save yourself the bother, God. Stop faffing around and send us straight to heaven or hell in advance, would you. No-one will complain. And a few hundred million people won't have to go through the appalling suffering your little game has created.
Of course if there is a God, just by saying this I've condemned myself out of my own mouth. Oh, well. Sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe.
Or, in my case, what you don't believe.
So here they are:
1 Make seven people laugh out loud while they're at work
2 Make three people so angry they choke on their cornflakes
3 Make twenty-five litterati-types turn up their noses
4 Save one person's life (probably mine)
5 Give hope to two people
6 Offend eleven self-righteous people
7 Finally, encourage six people to read A Half Life Of One to the end
First off, The Grumpy Old Bookman (who seems to be mellowing alarmingly by the day incidentally) pointed out that it doesn't matter what platform you use your book still has to possess the "wow" factor if it is going to sell in commercial quantities. I'll accept that fundamental qualification as a given, and later maybe take a look at how to achieve it.
Secondly, Teresa Neilsen Hayden of the blog Making Light kindly informed me that 15-20,000 copies in paperback was the minimum commissioning requirement for the traditional mainstream publisher. I've taken a peek over at Making Light and there is some serious brainpower at work over there so I'm certainly not going to challenge her figures. However, as an aside I would be willing to bet that the figure is derived from some sort of breakeven analysis whereby the graph of the projected sales figure crosses the cost of production (a function of fixed and variable overheads, including marketing and delivery). As a matter of interest, I believe that the economic assumptions the publishing trade use to justify these numbers are seriously flawed. Economists have won Nobel prizes for their work on costing, breakeven analysis and profit maximisation. Unfortunately, accountants, particularly cost accountants, remain largely ignorant of, or choose to ignore, this fascinating body of work. Ask me about value destruction in the airline industry for an eye-popping example. From the aspiring writer's perspective, however, the economics of traditional publishing is also a debate for another day.
Let's just state here that the economics of online publishing (esp Read On Demand) differ by an order of magnitude from traditional publishing. The cost of producing one book is next to zero. The marginal cost to the same publisher of producing further books is even closer to zero.
Instead, let us focus on the best place to publish from the writer's point of view. And, pace GOB, let's assume that the basic product is at least readable.
First off, the aspiring novelist needs to compare the merits of publising his/her masterpiece in the traditional marketplace against the new medium of online publishing.
Let's take the traditional marketplace first:
Primarily, you need to ask yourself, are 20,000 people likely to put their hands in their pockets and actually buy your masterpiece? You think so? Why? What is it about your book that differentiates it in the consumer's eye from all the other distractions competing for share of mind and wallet?
Secondly, how are you going to convince an agent or publisher that your book will sell in these quantities?
Supposing you're a new writer called, say, James Joyce and you've just spent years labouring over a novel titled Finnegan's Wake. Be honest, now, James, is the answer to both the questions posed above really yes? 20,000 people? Hand on heart? No? Okay, Jim, what are you going to do instead?
One answer might be to send your precious mss off to a small publisher whose approach to bookselling is based less on raw economics. Maybe this publisher has lower overheads, values literary merit higher and is less wedded to the profit motive. The tradeoff, tho', is that your sales are likely to be a lot lower. What's Nora going to say about that, she's always banging on about the amount you give her for housekeeping as it is? To make matters worse, at some point in the near future your publisher is probably going to go bust thanks to cash flow problems caused by the fact that most of the books he's commissioned simply haven't found an audience.
So Jim, your publisher's gone bust, you still haven't received that first royalty cheque, and Nora wants a new dress. What now?
How about trying Online Publishing. With a name like yours that must be worth a few hits from Technorati in itself. Then there's the expat Irish community. Not to mention all those Eng Lit types looking for a topic for their next PhD. I'm sure they'd all buy a copy of your book. In fact, I think we can develop a profitable little niche market here without too much trouble.
But what if your name's not James Joyce? What if it's Bob Joyce for example? Bob, I think you have a problem.
No-one one has queried the metrics I proposed in an earlier post of the sales we could expect to derive from visitors to our blog. So, Bob, if you want to make 20,000 sales of your difficult-to-read masterpiece "Vinegar's Awake" how many regular visitors will you need to attract to your slightly-easier-to-read blog. The answer, as we know, is 40,000 visitors. A day. Every day.
Bob, I don't care if your name is James Joyce. You're never going to attract that many readers to your website, no matter how good a writer you are. If you get fifty you'll be doing well. Which means you might sell 25 copies of your book.
There has to be a better way.
In the meantime, Bob, my advice to you is to change your name to Dan Brown and send Nora out to work. Oh, and you might make your next book a little more readable while you're at it.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
You can see from this that's there's been quite a turnaround from those dark days I wrote about earlier. That's the oil game tho' - boom and bust. When the price of oil is high, boy do we make money.
Just gotta ride that horse, cowboy!
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
1 I didn't believe my opinions made a blind bit of difference.
2 I didn't believe politicians made a blind bit of difference.
But guess what? I'm wrong on the second count. Badly wrong. These guys are fucking up the world.
Which leads me back to my first point. For the first time in my life I know I need to do something. We can't go on like this. Iraq. Climate change. Poverty. Disease. The list is endless. How has this happened?
I wouldn't have believed it. These guys are so bad that they have politicized even me. I'm out of my depth here but I know I need to do something. I'm frustrated by my impotence.
I believed the dip in the oil price was temporary. To take advantage of the upturn when it came I decided to expand the business. I bought over a competitor and started building new premises to house the expanded business. To do this I borrowed about one and a half million pounds sterling on top of my existing business debts of about half a million. Most of the money was secured on my house and through personal guarantees. If anything went wrong I knew I'd be made bankrupt.
Almost the very next day after I'd fixed up the new loans work in the North Sea dried up. It was as if the oil companies had turned off a tap.
When you're highly-borrowed and trapped in a niche market, believe me, when things go wrong there is nowhere to hide, nowhere to run. Above all, you're very much on your own. Exactly like when you're dying.
I didn't know it at the time but I was to spend the next three years fighting to save the company.
In less than six months I lost a stone and a half in weight, my hair turned white and I never had more than two or three hours fitful sleep a night. Very soon I lost the ability to think straight. Over and over in my mind I rehearsed a million scenarios that would drag me out of the hole I was in. None of them worked.
After a few months during which my brain was working overdrive I reached the point where I couldn't concentrate for more than a couple of minutes at a time. There were other physical changes. I suffered palpitations. I had a persistent headache. My mouth was pemanently dry. My blood pressure was through the roof.
Stress is often a trigger for depression. I lost all pleasure in life. The phrase "this sterile promontory" repeated itself endlessly in my brain. I stopped loving my wife and my children. I hated myself for the mistakes I had made. The world turned monochrome. I really wished I was dead.
I started writing again as an escape from the dread reality of life. It wasn't writing as therapy, rather an attempt to capture and understand what was happening to me. Because I could no longer think straight words came slowly and reluctantly. I couldn't work for longer than half an hour at a time. Some days I only managed to produce a single sentence.
To make matters worse, while I was writing I felt I should be working. Yet when I was working I longed to be writing. Whatever I was doing I felt guilty.
Hemingway said once that you should write about big experiences like that but that you should leave a little time so that you gain enough objectively to write properly. I was writing about these things as they happened to me and I know that has had a detrimental effect on the book.
Gradually I turned the business round.
I cut overheads, slashed costs and trimmed prices. Cash flow stabilised and one day I knew we would survive.
That day I stopped writing even though the book wasn't finished. I had to. I was emotionally exhausted. I needed time to recuperate.
After about a year I picked up the book again. I found it almost impossible to re-read what I had gone through. I guess I was suffering some kind of post traumatic stress. However, I wanted to finish the book, I wanted to draw a line under what I'd been through. To try and make the book publishable I superimposed a plot that involved....well, you can read about it for yourself.
The trauma with the business meant that I was still depressed. That's a real problem for me as a writer because in other books I have written there is a certain poetry that, I believe, makes the books sing. I had no poetry left in me. My soul was destroyed, a wasteland.
The experience had also sensitised me, making it painful to re-read what I had gone through. I still find it difficult to revise parts of the book.
Eventually I finished the book and in September 2002 I reluctantly sent it off to Curtis Brown, the literary agents. Reluctantly because I was still an emotional wreck and I really didn't want to face the pain of rejection again. In a subsequent post I'll describe what happened next.
My favourite story about Jagger concerns the time in the sixties when he was having a little truoble with the law over his supposed use of various illegal narcotic substances. Part of his defence strategy was to claim the moral high ground from the authorities. He protested self-righteously that his mind and his body were his to do with as he wished. Indeed, he implied that he had a moral duty to expand his mind with various drugs in order that the world would benefit from the flowering of the musical genius that would result. The ongoing court case contained a number of lurid revelations about his sex life, one of which included Marianne Faithfull and a Mars bar.
A cartoon at the time neatly punctured his pretentious stance.
Jagger was pictured leering with those pneumatic lips of his at a somewhat startled young lady in a miniskirt.
The caption read: "Get your knickers off baby, I wish to follow the dictates of my conscience."
The memory of it makes me laugh to this day.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
In the brave new world of online read on demand however that readership sounds a trifle modest. Let's say we need 10,000 readers to be considered a success. We are, after all, giving our book away for nothing.
How are we going to hit that sales figure?
Coca Cola talk about "share of throat" in relation to the proportion of the total drinks market capture by their brown fizzy concoction. What we're after is share of mind.
Let's assume right away that our book is indeed a work of genius. I'm sure you'll agree that is a fair assumption having read the first few chapters of A Half Life Of One. Would that every unpublished writer could be so lucky with his/her product.
It seems to me we're going to derive our readership from 3 main sources:
1 The most important category from our pooint of view is readers who are already pre-disposed to buy books. Let's say they have a high degree of attention stickieness. These are the kind of folks that regularly visit The Grumpy Old Man and Maud Newton for example. Just the kind of people, in other words, who in the real world pop into Borders in search of a certain kind of literary novel.
The questions that concern us here are: what is the size of this readership and what percentage can we attract?
I've no idea how many visitors GOB and Ms Newton get but let's say it's 500 a day. Let's also assume I can lure 50 (10%) of these good folk over to this site using my now-notorious guerilla marketing techniques. Remember, these hijacked readers are by definition well-disposed towards my book. So let's assume I can convert 50% of them into readers of A Half Life Of One. I've now "sold" 25 free copies.
2 The second category of potential readers that we need to target is anyone with an interest in books generally who happens to be surfing the internet in search of a good read. The only way I can reach this potential audience is by getting myself a high ranking on the search engines. This takes time. It also explains why I've been inserting some relevant names into the titles of my posts (ie Me and Oscar Wilde, Me and Hemingway, Me and Dan Brown etc). Anyone looking for these authors might, with any luck, end up on this site if they Google "Oscar Wilde" for example. Try it and see what happens.
Okay I'll save you the effort. If you Google "Oscar Wilde" you'll get 4,880,000 references. I worked my way through the first 240 and there's no mention of The Pundy House in any of them. Narrowing this request down to a blog search gives 27,104 references but still no mention of The Pundy House.
You see the problem. Let's be optimistic though. The number of referrals I get from the search engines will increase exponentially as I hone my marketing skills. In addition, with increased longevity, and by building up my links to this site, I'll automatically increase my visitors from this source.
Let's take a guess and say I get 100 people with a general literary interest coming this way in the next month. These are internet equivalents of people who wander into Borders in search of a good read. Let's assume they recognise a masterpiece when they see one and half of them subscribe to the book. That's another 50 readers.
3 My third category of potential readers is the great mass of casual surfers with a diverse range of interests who populate cyberspace in their millions. These are the online equivalents to the crowds of shoppers that stream down the high street every day. Not particularly literate they usually walk past Borders and wouldn't dream of going in unless it was to buy a present. In which case they would usually stick to the best sellers. Dan Brown readers in other words.
I order to see where these people are going on the web we can visit Technorati and check out today's top searches. I've already done it for you and here they are:
"West Wing Debate"
"Steve York" (who he?)
"Ajax" (the Greek guy?)
"Panthers Cheerle...." (search me)
"France" (isn't that where Paris is?)
To attract these people's attention we could construct a post about, say, what a riot of colour Paris is in the Springtime and how it was Hemingway's favourite city and did he ever meet Steve York while he was drinking Grokster and debating the best bookshops in the West Wing (or should that be the West Bank?) while he was on a bender with a guy called Ajax.
Or any other nonsense that pressed the right search buttons.
As it happens a guy called Gav at Gav's Studio did something similar when he wrote about Live8 at the time it was the top search item on Google. As a result he got 2192 visitors in place of his normal half dozen. Let's say we get 2000 additional visitors following our supercharged post. Very few of these people are going to be interested in serious fiction so lets say we attract 5% of them as readers of A Half Life Of One. That's another 100 readers.
So. After all out efforts we have attracted a grand total of 175 new readers. despite its brilliance, probably less than half of them will read the book to the end. So we might end up with 100 readers. Dan Brown - you can rest easy for the time being.
Now you can quarrel with some of the numbers here -either up or down depending on how much you know about the dynamics of the marketplace - but I'm pretty sure the business model is valid. In fact, I'm certain that with a little research I could construct a robust econometric equation that would allow me to predict pretty accurately exactly how many readers I'm likely to attract in my first year of publishing. In fact, I've already done the calculation.
The answer is six.
Oh dear. Not quite the bestseller I'd hoped for when I embarked on this experiment.
On the other hand, if someone had promised me half a dozen readers for my book when it was languishing forgotten and unloved at the bottom of my desk drawer I'd have kneeled down at their feet and kissed them.
And I'd have been weeping tears of gratitude as I did so.
Monday, November 07, 2005
When I was a kid of about five or six back in the fifties I saw a piece of black and white newsreel footage which has haunted me all my life.
The grainy documentary revealed what the Allies found when they entered the Nazi concentration camps at the end of the war. I felt my insides turning to ice as I watched the footage of the bulldozers pushing the piles of bodies into great pits in the earth. I gazed on with horror as the tangled arms and legs waved in the air as they tumbled into darkness.
Almost as shocking was the ensuing footage of German citizens being forced to confront the horrors perpetrated in their name. The Allied soldiers looked on in contempt as they trooped around the perimeters of the pits, many of them holding handkerchiefs to their noses. Most of these citizens were well-dressed and respectable-looking. Many appeared appalled by the horrors they were witnessing, but even at that age I wondered if it was for the right reasons. From the looks on many of their faces it seemed that what they felt was indignation at the way the corpses offended their sensibilities.
As I've mentioned before in this blog I became obsessed with the thought of what I would have done if I had been an ordinary citizen at that time, in that place. Would I have had the courage to take a stand against those atrocities? Or would I have kept quiet for the sake of my family. Might I even have played an enthusiastic part in perpetrating the genocide as many hitherto ordinary Germans must have done.
Many years later I too would come under extreme pressure. Nothing to compare with what went on in those nightmare days of genocide, but bad enough to make me contemplate taking my own life as a solution to what seemed like the utterly insoluble problems that confronted me.
In the end, instead of taking my own life I wrote a book based on what I was going through. Writing that book kept me alive. It wasn't the first time that a book has saved my life.
Sunday, November 06, 2005
Let me make this clear right now. By guys I mean men and women. Anyone who reads this blog in fact. This is a sex-free zone. Sadly.
Just a thought before I crawl off into bed. I have a lot of male friends and acquaintances. Many of them from my university days. Intelligent guys. Quite a few of them captains of industry. A number of movers and shakers in this town. A lot of guys at the sharp end of business too.
None of them read novels. In fact, I don't know a single man who reads books.
On the other hand I know quite a few women who do.
So. If there are any writers out there - what does this tell us about our potential market?
"Everyone has a book in them.......and generally that is where it should stay."
Hm. That's a killer, Oscar.
That may be true. I am sure that 95% of the mss rejected by conventional publishers don't deserve an audience. It's that remaining 5% that matter though.
A conventional - or maybe we should say old-fashioned - publisher will reject a book for many reasons not based on merit but rather economics. If an author is too old, ugly or unknown he/she is already handicapped. If the book doesn't have an obvious niche or genre there's a problem. If the book is in any way difficult why should they bother? I don't have a problem with this. Agents and publishers need to make a living. They are obliged to champion books and authors that, at least eventually, will sell. The economics of traditional publishing dictate as much.
Independent publishers (a nice phrase coined by the Grumpy Old Bookman) don't suffer from the same economic constraints. This blog costs me nothing apart from my time and effort.
And if a few books get published that attract a few readers that otherwise would be denied the pleasure, where's the problem? Who knows, one of those otherwise unheralded books might even turn out to be a masterpiece that will last forever. And if it's a clunker it will suffer the fate it deserves.
This is a major challenge for any writer, almost as difficult as writing your novel in the first place. But it's the first hurdle you're going to have to overcome if you're going to succeed in promoting your book. There are millions of blogs out there competing for share of brain. It's essential to find some way of differentiating your blog.
I obviously chose humour to set me apart. You didn't realise that? You thought I was being serious with all those strangely-titled posts? Oh, dear.
And that's the point. Trying to be consistently funny and original is a major challenge. It's hard to control too. You'll soon find yourself going down roads that in hindsight you might find a little embarrassing. And sure as eggs is eggs you're going to offend a lot of people. Not to mention exposing your intellectual inadequacies to those cruel readers out there who have heard it all before.
So give yourself a break. Pick something easy to be consistently interesting and entertaining about. Just as long as it isn't the trials and tribulations of being an unpublished author. There's too many of those out there already.
And anyway, I've beaten you to it.
++++++++++Press Release+++++++++Press Release++++++++++Press Release+++++++++
"Reading from a pre-prepared text Mr Bill Liversidge, President & CEO of READ ON DEMAND INC announced today that subscribers to the company's revolutionary new publishing service have doubled in the past week.
The online publisher launched late last week with the publication of the brilliant new novel "A Half Life Of One".
Extemporising, Mr Liversidge continued, "I read once that if a grain of rice was placed on a chess board and doubled with every square by the time you reached the last square you would have enough rice to cover the whole of India to a depth of six inches."
Asked what implications this had for the company Mr Liversidge initially looked startled. Thinking on his feet the CEO quickly shot back, "Well, there are sixty-four squares on a chess board so I guess it means that in sixty-four weeks time everyone in India will have read "A Half Life Of One" six times."
For the full text of the company's announcement visit the company's blog View From The Pundy House . "
Guys, you can help me here either by sending me suggestions as to where I can send this (yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking) or by copying it and sending it on yourself.
The idea behand the Press Release as opposed to the viral marketing campaign I conducted earlier is that I can send it to anybody and not just the somewhat incestuous coterie of litblogs that I've been pestering up to now. Remember, we're simply trying to attract an audience of any kind at this stage. Converting visitors into readers of A Half Life of One will be a different challenge entirely.
When that happens this blog too will come to an end.
In the time left to me I'll try and take an in-depth look at the processes involved in writing the book; I'll look at the history of the book before it appeared on the net; I'll let you see just how successful or otherwise my efforts to attract readers in cyberspace have been.
In other words I'll examine as objectively as I can the mistakes I've made and the lessons I've learned.
I hope this blog will become my legacy to my fellow aspiring writers as it drifts forever around the blogosphere, a lump of uninhabited space debris, rarely visited.
You can help to make the legacy worthwhile by leaving comments whenever you visit.
Without giving it too much thought I came up with the idea of Read On Demand whereby I would print the next chapter of the book when enough readers asked for it. I figured that mechanism would in itself give me some feedback as to how popular or otherwise the book might be.
I'm no longer comfortable with this arrangement.
My small band of readers are plainly really decent people to the extent where I believe they will ask for the next chapter just to avoid hurting my feelings. I also think it's pretty arrogant on my part to expect my readers to exert themselves in this way. You wouldn't have to go to that bother will a conventional printed book.
In future I'll roll out a new chapter over on my other blog every two days or so.
Saturday, November 05, 2005
Jim straightened up, wiped the sweat from his brow, and leaned wearily on his spade. "Same old shit," he muttered, "Different day."
That made me laugh.
I'm sitting here at the computer putting off going to bed so that I won't have to fight those same old demons in the dark yet again.
I don't know where you are Scott, but I hope you've found peace at last.
Shortly after I flunked out of university I saw a busker in the street playing a violin. I remember thinking to myself, "The only difference between him and me is that I can't play the violin."
Fear made me desparate. When I started my first business a few years later I would have killed anyone who got in my way.
Not all books. The ones that for whatever reason mean something special to you. For me, as you know, the supreme example is "The Great Gatsby", but there are plenty of others. Books have saved my life many times over the years.
Books are sacred. I mean it.
As I moved up in the world I really enjoyed shocking people with my coarse language at dinner parties.
Now everybody swears.
I've tried substituting the C-word but somehow it doesn't have the same effect. As the permanently bruised shins my wife has given me testify.
So come on guys. The English language is part of our heritage. Don't devalue it. Next time you're in polite company, for Christ's sakes watch your fucking language.
We both like marlin fishing; we have both written great novels (A Farewell to Arms (him), A Half Life Of One (me)); and we both like to drink.
Where we sort of diverge is that Ernest liked to dress up in women's clothing when he made love to his wife.
In our house my wife wears the knickers.
Friday, November 04, 2005
Pope is best remembered these days for the quotation "A little learning is a dangerous thing." His most famous poem is The Rape Of The Lock. This is a mock heroic tale in which trival events are inflated out of all proportion to their true significance. The poem itself, about a young lady having a lock of her hair cut off, is a five canto epic.
In his many critical essays Pope employed the mock heroic form to belittle and insult his contemporaries. He was a towering figure in English literature, as much feared as he was admired.
Oh, and the lecture notes I memorised at the time. Here they are complete and verbatim:
"Alexander Pope was four foot six inches tall."
Read On Demand has doubled its subscriber numbers in the past week.
Let me say that again. Read On Demand has doubled its subscriber numbers in the past week.
It's true. Compared to us Google's growth rate is pedestrian. Microsoft is almost moribund. Even the mighty Transworld is shaking in its boots.
Look out for A Half Life Of One topping Amazon's Sales Rankings in the coming days.
Why? Because next week we expect to double our numbers again. I know, I know. It's hard to believe. But it's true.
Which means we'll have four readers.
Give yourselves a pat on the back, guys, you've silenced the doubters.
Slam Fucking Dunk.
But why should I have all the fun? If there's anything you would like to know about what it's like to be a soon-to-be-famous author feel free to ask.
(Er, run that last bit past me again. Ed.)
Thursday, November 03, 2005
The thing is, it's just the clunkiest book I've ever not read. The way Dan Brown drops bits of explication into the narrative is shameless. You can hear them hitting the pages with a dull thud.
Believe me, I know all about bad writing. I mean, I'm the guy who wrote A Half Life Of One ("lifeless, plodding, unremittingly gloomy") for Christ's sake.
So how come he outsold me? I blame the readers. How could you? Don't you guys have any self-respect?
Then I had an aw....fuck moment.
I've got a sinking feeling that the blog is better than the book it's supposed to be promoting.
I mean, you wouldn't let just anyone into your house would you? And a book is much more important than a home.
Up to now, fortunately, I've been lucky. A Half Life Of One has one reader called a.nonny-mouse (you know who you are) and he or she sounds like a thoroughly decent cove. (I don't mean one reader among many here, I mean one reader. Period.)
I guess there should be some sort of vetting procedure.
Now, I've become aware that people are starting to read this junk - and even want to enter into intercourse (no, we're not back to sex here - go look it up) with me. Suddenly there is pressure on me to conform to certain norms of acceptable behaviour.
I REFUSE TO DO THAT.
Instead I am invoking the First Amendment on the freedom of speech and all that good stuff and hereby assert my right to:
1 Ignore, abuse, humiliate, contradict and generally ignore my readers.
2 Say anything I want without due consideration for the sensibilities of the aforesaid readers
3 Say rude words whenever I feel like it. You better fucking believe this bit.
4 Lie in bed and think naughty thoughts when I should be publishing my blog
5 Say the first thing that comes into my head without thinking about it
6 Create as many bad puns and cheap jokes as my feeble brain will allow
8 Scratch my dangly bits while I'm sitting in front of the screen
9 Roll my eyes in disbelief at some of the comments you folk post on my blog
In return I solemly swear to adhere to the binding compact between you, my readers, and me, your fair-weather friend, as delineated above.
All right? Fair enough? Happy now?
Oh, and none of this abrogates my right to invoke the Fifth Amendment whenever there's a good film on the telly.
In an earlier post I explained how I persuaded the Grumpy Old Bookman to give me a mention on his blog which led to a steady dribble of visitors wandering over from his site to take a peek here.
If I'm ever going to attract more readers to A Half Life Of One I need to build on my modest success and increase my readership. Here’s how I propose to do it:
1 Write interesting and amusing posts that will encourage people to return here regularly. I hope these regular returnees will subsequently promote interest in this site by word of mouth. So tell a friend – if you have one.
2 Widen the scope of my viral marketing to encompass more literary bloggers (you have been warned).
2 Devise a new viral campaign that will attract the interest of bloggers with broader (but allied) interests (ie librarians, philosophers, footballers). In other words, people who already have a predisposition towards reading. (All right, I lied about the footballers).
4 Launch a guerrilla marketing campaign aimed at sites populated by visitors with little interest in reading but which attract wide audiences. I will then attempt to turn a proportion of the subsequent (probably illiterate) visitors into readers.
Since this whole blog is by way of an experiment I’ll publish the stats regarding site visitors on a regular basis and you can see for yourself if the strategy is working or not. You can also suggest improvements, and if you wish, adopt the methodology for your own use.
If I was doing this with my own business I would also take a long hard look at the product I was promoting. For a start I would want to ensure that it was a commodity that people actually wanted to buy. Since the product in this case is A Half Life Of One, and it probably is a pile of crap, you can see I have a problem here. At some point or other I’ll probably have to junk the book and put something more saleable into the shop window. I’ll postpone that difficult decision for a couple of weeks if you don’t mind.
It’s interesting tho’, isn’t it. I’ve hardly started and already I’m confronting the same problem faced by any conventional publisher stuck with a book that won’t sell.
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
If I was going to raise the wounded bird Phoenix-like from the ashes I knew I had to launch a viral marketing campaign as a matter of urgency.
I set to work. First of all had to clarify what kind of people I was looking for and where I would find them. Surprisingly I hadn't given this much thought during the excitement of launching the blog. Obviously I wanted readers for "A Half Life Of One" but where would I find them? The primary source had to be Amazon. That's where most people buy books online. Then maybe some of the online book retailers.
But there's a big problem here. The chances of direct markeing to these retailing platforms using a newly-created blog are nil. Later maybe, when I had developed the blog, but not now.
Instead I decided to target literary blogs where I might come across people with similar interests. To ensure I targetted the right blogs I first had to screen them. They had to meet the following criteria:
1 They had to be successful with a wide readership of their own. There was little point selling to a blog that got fewer visitors than I did.
2 These blogs had to be run by people with a sense of humour. I'm a great believer in the overriding importance of differentiation in marketing. I was trying to make my blog stand out by employing a slightly off-the-wall brand of humour. Not everyone finds this amusing.
3 They had to be blogs I respected. My book might be a pile of crap but to me it's a minor masterpiece. I didn't want to devalue it by handing it over to people I didn't trust.
The next task was to find something decent to sell.
I took another look at my product. What I had was a book that had been turned down by some of the best agents and publishers in the country. Not exactly inspiring. What was my sales pitch going to be with a product like that? How about: "Hi there, Mr/Mrs Blogger, I realise that you run a highly regarded weblog and that you value your hard-won reputation but could you give a plug to my book. I know it is probably a pile of crap, is dark, difficult and aimed mainly at male readers but please, I'm desperate. And lonely too all on my own out here in cyberspace."
I don't think so.
I needed to repackage the product. At first I thought of my book was part of the Print On Demand phenomenon. Then I realised it was really quite different. There was no exchange of money and nothing got printed. The idea of Read On Demand popped into my head. Eureka! I had a wacky, almost-credible concept to sell. Forget about the book - I would sell the concept of Read On Demand as a simulacrum for the novel.
The next challenge was how to deliver the message. A common way to promote your blog is to leave comments on posts in the targetted blogs. I wasn't comfortable with this strategem. Barely one step removed from spamming, it was also duplicitous. I needed to retain my integrity too. In the end I decided to e-mail the blog owner directly. That way I wouldn't contaminate their blog and they had a sporting chance of seeing through my marketing wheeze.
Here's the 9 bloggers I targetted and why:
1 Robot Wisdom. Because it has a huge readership.
2 Grumpy Old Bookman. Because he's the first blog I read every day and I have huge respect for his views.
3 Bookangst 101. Great sense of humour but I think it's now defunct (poor market research on my part).
4 Agent 007. She knows her stuff and is hard-boiled. I like tough women.
5 Honest Critique. Might read my book into the bargain.
6 Miss Snark. Another tough cookie but I think she has a softer side. She might want to mother me.
7 Gaping Void. Huge readership but this guy is formidably intelligent and doesn't suffer fools gladly. I'm taking a risk here.
8 Blog of a Bookslut. A longshot. A big readership but I suspect the less-than-stellar nature of my blog won't even register on her radar. Still, you don't know if you don't try.
9 Maud Newton. The queen of bloggers. Huge readership but probably a bit too cerebral to take me on. All depends on whether she has a sense of humour or not and I manage to tickle it.
I sent them all an e-mail announcing the invention of Read On Demand and waited with baited breath. Here's the text of the e-mail:
"Hi there Ms X
I've just visited your blog "*************" again and I feel kind of guilty. Honest I do.
The thing is I've just created a whole new way of publishing. This will probably destroy the industry upon which you depend for your livelihood. It's called Read On Demand. Sorry.
To find out how long you've got why don't you visit:
Is this really the death knell for traditional publishing? Has Print On Demand had its day?
Actually, I dunno either. You decide.
Amazingly most people bothered to reply. No-one took exception. No one told me to fuck off. Disappointingly, my hero "Grumpy Old Bookman", ignored me completely.
Unfortunately, no-one subsequently mentioned my publishing revolution on their blog, and I got no more visitors as a result. A Half Life Of One remained unread. It was time to roll out the next phase of my marketing campaign. I sent the following e-mail to my targetted bloggers:
"Hi there Ms X
Today's View From The Pundy House has a fascinating statistical analysis* of the effectiveness of using a blog to promote an online novel.
*See one of my earlier posts "My Blog Marketing Demographics", a spoof but true analysis of my visitors up to that time.
I waited. And waited. The suddenly, miraculously, Bingo!!! Grumpy Old Bookman himself e-mailed to say he was publicising my "statistical analysis" on his blog. I think his intention was to show how impossible it was to break into online publishing. I didn't care. I could have kissed him.
The rest, as they say, is history. Visits to my site have rocketed. Someone has started to read A Half Life Of One. I think I might be on my way. My fledgling weblog is fluttering its baby wings.
Now, if only I could get someone to link their blog to mine...
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
My wife doesn't help either. I've explained a million times that I need to be a tortured soul to find something to write about. She just shakes her head, the ghost of a wry smile on her face, and tells me to stop being silly.
I tell you, it's driving me nuts. I don't think I can take much more.
Gerard is unremittingly upbeat (although he's a tad angry right at this moment), he turns every negative into a positive and he's also hugely entertaining. The thousands of hours work he's put into a site whose sole aim is to help struggling writers means that everyone who loves books owes him a huge debt. Now's your chance to repay that debt.
The Grumpy Old Bookman and Maud Newton have also taken up his case. Gerard has written a materpiece (his modest assessment) called "Ginny Good" and I'm off to Amazon right now to buy a copy.
Monday, October 31, 2005
I wouldn't find it easy to choose my eight desert island disks. I'd have to exclude classical music (I'd want to mainline the stuff that goes straight into the emotional jugular). Then there's the problem that my favourites regularly change. But here's eight that would make it most of the time (I could simply have chosen eight by Dylan but this list is a little more eclectic).
1 Mother by John Lennon. The rawest rock song ever written.
2 Going Back by Dusty Springfield. So beautiful it hurts.
3 The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack. Just as beautiful and nearly as painful.
4 Dancing In The Dark by Bruce Springsteen. Not quite a genius, but would have been if he'd died young.
5 Farewell Angelina by Joan Baez. She's recorded some clunkers but when she sings Dylan...
6 San Francisco by Scott McKenzie. Okay, you had to be there (the sixties, that is).
7 Hamburger To Go by the Rolling Stones. Could have been any one of dozens. These guys are geniuses.
8 Don't Stop by Brazilian Girls. Don't play this when your wife/husband/lover's around. Aural pornography. Sue Lawley would have a heart attack.
As well as being an invaluable reference for writers both established and aspiring the site is well worth visiting for the irreverent, and often hilarious, correspondence conducted between Gerard Jones and the literary establishment.
Now it is under threat because one of the big boys has objected to the way Gerard has collated various contact names and e-mail addresses which are, in any case, freely available on the web.
Freedom of speech is under threat here and it's our duty to Gerard to give him all the support we can.
But there's more to it than that. When you write a novel you hold up a mirror to your soul and the world peers in. Readers are very perceptive, you can't pull the wool over their eyes.
What makes Scott Fitzgerald a better (on any definition) writer than Jeffrey Archer? It's obvious, isn't it. It isn't just the writing. To be a great writer you need a deep soul. You need to love humanity and all its frailties. You need an infinite capacity to forgive the world its manifest cruelty. Above all you need to love and understand your fellow man. Knowing only yourself is not enough, as Fitzgerald discovered.
Learn the tricks of the trade by all means. But if you want to be any good as a writer you better start behaving as a decent human being first.
Sunday, October 30, 2005
When I was about fourteen we studied Charles Lamb at school. One sentence of his leapt out at me and maybe helps to account for my abiding sloth. Sonorously he intoned, "Man is out of his element as long as he is operative." It was, as they say, like a lightbulb going off in my brain. These sentiments were re-inforced shortly afterwards when I read Jerome K Jerome's "Three Men In A Boat" where he too expressed his extreme dislike of work.
What really fucked me up though was when I took to heart Edgar Wallace's dictum that "No one ever avoided temptation by running away from it." Maybe not, but I wish I'd given the alternative a try while I was up at uni. Might even have passed some exams if I had.
1 The William Books. Timeless humour pierced the deepest gloom.
2 Guys And Dolls. Grown up humour for kids.
3 Animal Farm. Hm. It's an allegory isn't it?
4 Hurry On Down. Unreadable now but it hinted at a way out.
5 The Great Gatsby. Peerless. Hopelessly romantic but written by the hand of an angel. I wanted to write like that.
6 Scoop. More grown-up humour and beautifully written.
7 A Farewell To Arms. My only reservation about this book was the fear that maybe Hemingway was better than Fitzgerald. He wasn't.
8 Goodbye To All That. How to survive a war. Which is what you're trying to do at sixteen.
9 Dubliners. Startingly good writing and accessible too.
10 An American Dream. Notable mainly because it was the last book I read before going up to University when the world changed forever.
Most writers earn a pittance. Too much of their time is devoted to activities other than writing. Months spent trying to get an agent or a publisher. When their book is finally published, publicising it. Better to have a decent job and publish for nothing on the web.
To be fair, he also said a man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it.
And that's the best advice anyone can give.
In the same way this site has a literary orientation in that it is about writing - and reading too of course - but without the concomitant lit crit and rarefied thinking that the more cerebral literary sites demonstrate. It's more of a nuts and bolts thing. My list of links illustrates this point pretty well. Any of these sites will take you straight to the sharp end of reading and writing with the minimum of bullshit.
I don't know what the literary equivalent of a hard-core website is but when I find it I'll let you know.
Saturday, October 29, 2005
Here's what's happened since I launched this blog on 11th October 2005:
Comments (ie responses):
Number of posts since launch: 31
Number of comments: 10
Breakdown by interest of commentators: Online loans: 3
Medical (including rashes): 3
Number of favourable comments on my weblog: 9
Number of views (ie clickthroughs) delivered to "A Half Life Of One": 0
Total no of visits to weblog: 64
Of which: Me: 25
Total duration of visits: Me: 80mins 25secs Others: 7min 03secs
Average duration of visits: Me: 3mins 20 secs Others: 11 secs*
*Median duration of external visitors: 0 secs
Number of return visitors: 0
If you exclude my visits then my average visitor is probably male, wealthy, slightly hypochondriac, adventurous, uncritical and with an extremely short attention span.
If you include my visits then my average visitor is 57 years old, runs his own businesses, lives in Aberdeenshire, enjoys reading, fishing, writing, Scott Fitzgerald and was born on April 20.
While undoubtedly encouraging it is clear that the blog is not yet attracting a sufficient share of the desired target market. It is suggested that a viral marketing campaign be implemented immediately and its success monitored.
Friday, October 28, 2005
When I was sixteen I wanted to write. By the time I was twenty-five I had to write.
Now I'm fifty-seven I don't give a fuck about being a writer. But I still have to write. When I lose that desire - and there are times when I can't write, sometimes for months at a time - then I know it's the end.
I've read it many times since, most recently three weeks ago. It still makes me cry. Not the story but the way it's told. Fitzgerald writes like an angel and he's still my favourite writer and Gatsby is still my favourite book. It's what made me want to be a writer. I went to university determined to emulate Fitzgerald but all I succeeded in doing was drinking like him.
Fitzgerald did not believe he was one of the great writers - not up there with Tolstoy, or Dickens or even Joyce for example. But he did believe he was top of the second division. I think he was being too modest. To my mind Gatsby remains a small but almost flawless masterpiece. I would give anything to write a book a fraction as good as that.
Fitzgerald died at the age of forty-four believing he was a failure. I'm fifty-seven and if I don't get some visitors to this site soon I'm going to go the same way.
Thursday, October 27, 2005
The spam botters that are invading my blog certainly seem to think so. I'm not so sure though.
Mainly because I don't know what a meme is.
"They laughed when I said I wanted to be a comedian." Grins wryly. "They're not laughing now."
The truth is my mum can't read. Not that she's illiterate. She's dead.
As far as I can tell at least one person has looked at the first chapter since I started this blog. Probably half a million readers have picked up a Harry Potter in that time.
That's good. Gives me something really meaty to aim at.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
I too have owned (still do in fact) a number of businesses and like every entrepreneur I've often stared bankruptcy in the face. I wrote the first draft of A Half Life Of One whilst fighting to save what was then my main company. During the year it took to write I lost a stone and a half and my hair turned white due to the pressure I was under at the time. Fortunately, the company survived.
There's also a backstory to the backstory. I've often wondered how I would have behaved if I'd lived in Germany or occupied France during the war. Like everyone else I'd like to think I would have taken a stand against the Nazis or joined the Resistance. But the truth is I don't think I would. Especially if my family was threatened. I think I would have buckled under the pressure and committed whatever atrocities they demanded of me. After the war I expect I would have soon forgotten my misdemeanours or perhaps rationalised them away.
That's what the main guy in my book does. It doesn't make it right of course. The question is, what would you have done in these extreme circumstances? Are you sure?
As a result this may be a good time to clarify the aims of the Pundy House Blog, namely
1 To act as a marketing tool designed to attract readers to A Half Life Of One
2 To set out my thoughts on the writing life
3 To set out my thoughts on life
In that order