In this post, I want to take a realistic view of everything that’s happened this year. I tend to be pessimistic, so I might downplay some things or undervalue them. However, at the same time I want to be honest about what’s worked and what hasn’t.
2015 has been a hectic year, writing wise. At the start of the year, my goal was to see how many books I could write in the Bytarend series. At the same time, Dave and I were planning to write two more seasons of Greenstar.
The Bite of Forest Dark
In January, I took a week off from my day job and wrote The Bite of Forest Dark. A very dark book in the Bytarend series, it wasn’t as well reviewed or regarded as the previous three books. The reason for that was down to the way I wrote it.
When I sat down to write The Bite of Forest Dark, I didn’t have an overriding idea I wanted to express, other than wanting to continue the series. I had a gap I needed to bridge between the first three books and the sixth one (the fifth happens elsewhere).
I wrote a book that did what it was meant to, and isn’t terrible by any means. From most of the reviews, thought, it’s a 3-4 star book, where the others are 4-5 stars.
Greenstar Season 2
Next up to write was Greenstar Season 2, which was following on from a first season that stumbled a little. Dave and I were finding our feet, in writing collaboratively, so the season started a little hit-or-miss. By the end, though, we’d fallen into a solid rhythm that made season 2 the best in the series (in my opinion). It had a solid storyline, a great baddie, and lots of fun action and humour.
The people that read season two, loved it. The season got five star reviews across the board. The problem was that not too many people had made it through season one. It was a reward for the people that had reached season two, but there weren’t too many of them.
Greenstar is also far more humour-oriented than my other books, so relies on people enjoying Dave and my combined senses of humour. And comedy is always individual.
The Bite of Rust
After that, I went back to Bytarend and wrote The Bite of Rust. It’s a book I’ve wanted to write since The Bite of Death: a school for assassins where they practice on one another. Since I was so keyed up to write it, the book flew out of my keyboard and onto the screen. It’s also a book people really like.
The Bite of a King
I then wrote The Bite of a King straight away, finishing the Bytarend series. For that book, since it was ending the series, I felt the pressure a bit. Bytarend has dozens of devoted fans, probably well over a hundred. It’s not at the same level as Harry Potter or Game of Thrones, but I also wanted to give them a satisfying end to the story. Which, from the feedback I got, I did.
Greenstar Season 3
Then I turned my attention back to Greenstar. In writing season two, I’d gotten a little bored of writing space battles. The end of season two gave us the opportunity to take it elsewhere, and we wrote an entire season in the Land of Nod, a place where wishes come true. It was my second mistake of the year, and one that’s totally my fault. Season three has mixed reviews because it’s not the same as seasons one and two. It has the same characters, but it’s not in the same vein as Star Trek or Buck Rogers. Instead, it has cyberpunk, Greek myths, and a lot more besides.
I’m still proud of it, just as I’m proud of The Bite of Forest Dark, but it didn’t meet audience expectations. Which is perhaps the lesson for 2015: give people what they’re expecting to get. I’m not talking about plot twists, of course, but tone and subject are too important to play with. If people went to a superhero movie and got a trial movie, they’d been furious. Even if the trial movie was excellent, it would suffer.
Since the Bytarend series was finished, I decided to create a collection of all six books and to run a celebratory competition. The collection was technically challenging, but went well. The competition was less of a success. While plenty of people entered, it attracted people to my email list who are just expecting more competitions. Which isn’t what my list is for. It’s meant to be for me to interact with fans of my books.
At the same time, I now have over 800 subscribers to the list, twenty times more than before. So even if some of them aren’t interested in my books, perhaps some of them are.
Next up, I wrote Violent Science, the third book in the Kyra Sarin series. That’s a series I’ve stumbled into. I wrote Hard Vacuum intending it to be part of a collaborative collection called 80s Movies. When the other authors in the collaboration all bailed, I published it as a novelette and it took off.
Kyra Sarin is twice as successful as Bytarend, which led me to write Planet Zero last year. That book closed off an open loop I’d left in the first one. But it also highlighted how much people wanted more. So I decided to write Violent Science next.
Already the preorders are coming in for the book, which doesn’t come out until 1st January. I’ve been very careful this time, learning from this year. Violent Science is more of the same. It varies the baddies, the challenges, and even the theme, while still being very much the same genre and tone as the first two. So far it has one review, which is five stars.
Shiny Young Adult
I finished Violent Science about two weeks ago and then stared at the hole in my calendar between now and January, when I’ll start writing Adventure. I decided to fill that hole with a prequel to Shiny New Swindle, called Shiny Young Adult. Shiny New Swindle is a book I wrote in 2013 that I still think is one of my best. It’s about hackers that find a way to hack into people’s neural implants. Which gives them the power to change people’s perceptions of reality.
Chris, the main character, can make himself invisible, by drawing the background over where he would have been. It’s a premise I really like and I want to go back to that series. It was originally planned to be a trilogy, but the sales are very low.
On a good month, Shiny New Swindle might sell two copies. Which makes it difficult to justify taking four months and writing the two sequels. Shiny Young Adult is an attempt to drum up interest in the series. It shows how Chris developed his hack and joined the crew he’s in at the start of Shiny New Swindle to rob a bank.
It’s a novelette again, just like Hard Vacuum. It’s difficult to tell a complete, compelling story in such a short book, but I like what I have. Hopefully readers will like it too. It’s also short enough that I can give it away for free. It’ll be going out to my mailing list in January, assuming I’m finished by then.
Writing seven books, for a total of more than 450K words has taken its toll a little. I have a full-time day job, so I write before work, during lunch, and after work, along with a few hours on Sundays when I can.
Which has meant I haven’t been as healthy as I need to be. I’ve been sitting still and writing for a minimum of ten hours a day. The training I used to do three times a week has dropped by the way-side and I’ve lost the little muscle I had. That needs to change, of course, but it’s difficult to prioritise exercise when I see how much I have to write.
One thing I’m happy with, however, is the time I spend with my family. I’ve adjusted my sleep patterns, so I go to bed at 9pm and wake up at 5:30am. Which means I can be home with my family at a normal hour, instead of staying at work to write until early evening.
It’s all a little exhausting, though. I wish I could reduce my day-job hours just a little, so I could fit more into my day. Or sleep less.
Lessons from 2015
As I mentioned above, the biggest lesson is about audience expectations. I need to give people what they’re looking for and looking forward to. Swapping genres or tone hurts the readers’ experiences.
The other major lesson is to do with Amazon and keywords. I took a course in August called “Your First 10K Readers”, which had a few useful tips. One of which was to optimise the keywords a book uses. Taking the advice, I changed my keywords and saw my downloads and sales rocket up. However, Amazon changed their policy in late October and I had to take out those keywords again.
The main issue is from the word “free”. When people search on Amazon for new authors, they often want a free book as an introduction. Having the keyword “free” meant readers could find the books I have free and get an introduction to my writing. That keyword became verbotten and my downloads for my free series starters plummeted. Which then dropped the number of sales. After all, if people aren’t finding the free one, then they can’t move on to the paid books later in the series.
Amazon now has no easy way to find free books other than the top 100 lists, which are also hidden away. This makes it difficult to get discovered.
So the other lesson from 2015 is twofold: make the most of opportunities while they exist; concentrate on optimising things that are unlikely to change. Amazon’s keyword policy is an obvious place that can change at a moment’s notice.
Amazon’s business is about being the world’s second biggest search engine. So they want to give the best results possible to customers. They’re not in the business of creating shortcuts and loopholes.
Plans for 2016
First up in the new year, Dave and I are going to be writing the Adventure series. It’s inspired by The Princess Bride, and will be light-hearted fantasy. My hope is to give Bytarend fans something new to read.
After that, I want to follow up Shiny Young Adult with Shiny Iron Curtain, the sequel to Shiny New Swindle. I’m pretty sure I’m going to write this one, no matter how things go with the prequel. I want to finish that series.
It’s something that’s important to me: closing off series for readers. It might be a little counter-productive, money-wise, but I hope to gain long-term readers who appreciate me finishing things off.
Once all those are done, I’m going to write Killer President, the next in the Kyra Sarin series. I’ve no idea what that’s going to be about yet, but I’m considering doing an interactive planning process with my mailing list.
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For a limited time, I'm giving away the first two books in the Bytarend Fantasy series and the Hard Vacuum science fiction series for free.
Bytarend is fast, fun fantasy that'll have you on the edge of your seat. Hard Vacuum is hard-talking, violent science fiction and my tribute to 80s action movies.
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