Tag Archives: reading

The Promotion Experiment

Like most hybrid or indie writers, the most difficult things for me is making sales. Writing is the easy part. They say you have to spend money to make money, so for the past three or four months I’ve been doing an experiment; instead of spending all my spare dosh on booze and kebabs (can’t go out in the midst of a global pandemic anyway) I decided to put all the money I make from writing during that period back into writing. Or more specifically, into marketing and promotion.

As you may be aware, there hundreds of promo sites and services out there and most of them cost money. Bookbub is the undisputed king, which I wrote about before, but as far as the multitude of others are concerned, it’s hard to know which ones are truly worth the money they charge and which aren’t. Hence this little experiment. There is little scientific basis behind it. I didn’t do a ton of research, I just looked around to see how much various promo sites cost and what people were saying about them, and tried a few. I’m going to be completely honest and transparent with my figures, so don’t laugh. Believe me, I’m well aware that some people out there sell more books me.

It’s a sad fact that one way to grab new readers is to get on your knees and beg them to read your work for free. Though it’s not really free for them, they’re still giving up their time and energy. Giving away free books is a controversial marketing technique in itself. Some writers feel it devalues the product, and makes things worse for everybody in the long run. If readers get used to being given free books, why would they ever bother buying another book again?

I can see their point, but in my experience giving away freebies has been hugely beneficial. To clarify, I’m talking about free Kindle promos here which run for a limited time, one to five days, rather than permafrees or books given away on newsletter sign-up. For starters, people who would never normally read my books are given the opportunity to check them out, and if they like my stuff it might encourage them to pick up another one and pay for it. They might even leave a review somewhere. Plus, an increase in downloads, free or otherwise, improves your author ranking and skews various algorithms in your favour, all of which adds to your visibility. For obvious reasons, if you’re going to run a free promo on one of your books you’re better off making it one of a series, or at least having a healthy back catalogue.

CONFESSION: I also write rip-roaringly, thigh-slappingly funny travel books under a super secret pseudonym. It’s difficult to promote something when you can’t even put your own name to it, so because THAT GUY had a new release a while back (book 3 in a series), I thought I’d invest the lion’s share of my budget into giving him a little boost. The Fussy Librarian is one of the better-known services but they aren’t cheap, and some strategizing is required to make it worthwhile. The series is about China, so to capitalize on the Western media coverage I scheduled the promotion to run during Chinese New Year. I made the first book in the main series free, left book two up at normal price (1.99) and put book three up for pre-order at a reduced 0.99. Then I paid a whopping $48 for a spot on the FL site and in their ‘non-fiction’ newsletter blast, and waited to see what would happen.

By the way, spots in different FL newsletters have different prices, related to the amount of subscribers each one has. But if you’re a first-time user, you can input the code 10OFF at check-out to get $10 off the regular price, which for me knocked the fee down to $38. Not to put too fine a point on it, the results were incredible. On the day of the promotion, my book was downloaded 1016 times, and a further 258 times over the next few days. Okay, the pessimists might say that all I succeeded in doing was give away over £2500 worth of books. But if only 1% of those who downloaded it leaves a review or even just a rating (optimistic, I know) I’ll be more than happy. In addition, during the same time period the second book in the series sold a dozen copies and I picked up six pre-orders for the third which off-set the cost somewhat.

Verdict: Hit

EreaderIQ have a list of requirements almost as long as your arm. Novellas and collections are ‘unlikely’ to be accepted, your books should have at least five reviews and should be free or deeply discounted. A place in their email blasting in the ‘horror’ category which, according to the site, reaches 9,500 subscribers, costs $10 (other categories have different rates). I put my recently reissued and revamped novel Sker House forward for this, which was duly accepted. The day of the listing it sold 9 copies, and the day after it sold another 3. Not bad. But because I had to discount the book so much, I made a slight loss on my investment.

Verdict: Partial Hit

Readfreely are less particular. $6 (gold level, again there are different options) buys your book a spot in their newsletter and promotion across their social media platforms. It’s difficult to quantify how big their reach is, but as they have less than 4,000 Twitter followers, which is a great indicator, I’m guessing it isn’t great. I put X4, my latest collection, forward for this one at it’s regular price of £1.99 (though I said it was being discounted from 3.99. Shoot me). X4 sold one solitary copy on the designated date, which sucks, but over the next few days sales of my other X books increased and I sold several of each, which may or may not be related. I’m not convinced either way.

Verdict: Miss

Because this is one of the most cost-effective options, I repeated the process with one of my pseudonym’s rip-roaringly, thigh-slappingly funny travel books. The results were similar.

Verdict: Miss

There are two connected sites, Freebooksy and Bargain Booksy. One is for free books, and the other, surprise surprise, is for bargain (reduced) books. I opted for the latter, and paid $25 to have X4 included in an email blast to 77,000 subscribers. On the day of promotion, X4 sold a dozen copies and, mirroring the pattern in the last promo, my other x books also benefitted from a sales bump and sold another dozen or so between them.

Verdict: Hit

The last, and most recent thing I tried was Amazon ads. I’m a complete novice at this. You need an effing degree in economics and marketing just to work out which key words to use. Like most things it’s a case of trial and error. Basically, you set a daily budget, choose your settings, and are then billed per click. I set a budget of $5 per day for 5 consecutive days on my psuedonym’s latest release, which resulted in just five clicks at a total cost of about $3.40 and no sales. Then I ran a similar promo on X4 with a higher budget over a longer period of time and got similar results but for a bigger outlay (around $18). It was at this pint I realized I must either be doing something wrong or Amazon ads, like Facebook ads, were a complete waste of time. I hear stories about people making a killing from Amazon ads. I might try it again at some point in the future after I learn more about it but for the time being, I think I’ll lay off them.

Verdict: Miss

So, all things considered, it was a mixed bag of results. I must admit that in the back of my mind I’d hoped all this effort would at least give my Amazon ranking a lasting boost. But the moment I stopped actively promoting, my sales virtually flatlined. Turns out worthwhile promotion of any kind is expensive, but if you don’t promote you don’t get any sales and you throw money down the drain anyway. There are, of course, reasonably effective ways of marketing your work for free using social media and cross-promotion, if you have the time and the energy. Maybe I’ll write another post about that at some point. In the meantime, I hope other indie writers, who may be as confused and bewildered as me, can get a few pointers from this post. It all boils down to doing your research, knowing your target market, and choosing the right places to invest based on your budget and readership.

I think.


The Bookshelf 2020

As is customary, below is a complete list of all the books I read, from cover to cover (or from 0 to 100%, as is increasingly the case) in 2020. This list is a bit longer than other recent reading lists, we can blame being in self-isolation half the year for that. I won’t bother counting the books I gave up on. There’s been a few. I’m disappointed with myself for not finishing Infinite Jest, though proud of the fact that I made it to about 30%. From what I gather, it’s one of those books you either love or hate. I fell into the latter camp. Too wordy, dense, and pretentious. I deserve some credit for persevering as long as I did with it.

To compensate, this list also a couple of shorter books. The Craft Beer Textbook is only 38 pages long. But it’s still a book, and I still read it so it counts. I finally got around to reading the second Secret Footballer book, which I remember buying at Heathrow airport a few years ago. It was great until he started talking about literature and quantum mechanics in an obvious attempt to show us he’s more than just a footballer. I made a conscious effort to branch out a bit and sample some work by authors I haven’t read before, and generally speaking I made some good choices. Pick of the bunch was probably Nick Cutter’s The Troop which, fittingly, is about a rogue virus. Kind of. I don’t know why it took me so long to read it, but it’s epic. Stephen King, Amy Cross and Jason Arnopp were as reliable as ever, and Adam Nevill’s mini-anthology Before You Wake is well worth a look.

The Horror Collection: White Edition by Various Authors (2019)

Resurrection: A Zombie Novel (Book One) by Michael J. Totten (2014)

Ghoster by Jason Arnopp (2019)

Can I Say: Living Large, Cheating death, and Drums, Drums, Drums, by Travis Barker (2015)

Bloody London: A Shocking Guide to London’s Gruesome Past and Present by Declan McHugh (2012)

After: Undead Wars by Various Authors (2018)

The Institute by Stephen King (2019)

I Was Jack the Ripper by Michael Bray (2017)

Wales of the Unexpected by Richard Holland (2005)

Sex, Marry, Kill by Todd Travis (2014)

Mountain of the Dead: The Dyatlov Pass incident by Keith McCloskey (2013)

Test Patterns: Creature Features by Various Authors (2018)

Billy Joel: The Definitive Biography by Fred Schruers (2014 ed)

Logging off by Nick Spalding (2020)

The Craft Beer Textbook by Jonny Garrett (2020)

Sunbather by Frank Floyd (2020)

The Lighthouse by Keith McCloskey (2014)

If It Bleeds by Stephen King (2020)

Ten Chimes to Midnight: A Collection of Ghost stories by Amy Cross (2019)

Haunted World War II by Matthew L. Swayne (2018)

Stranger Than Fiction by Chuck Palahniuk (2004)

The Troop by Nick Cutter (2014)

Vampires, Zombies and Ghosts: Volume 2 by Various Authors (2019)

American Hoarder by Jason Arnopp (2016)

If Flies Could Fart by Justin Boote (2020)

Tales from the Secret Footballer by The secret Footballer (2014)

Walkers by Graham Masterton (1991)

The Haunting of the Lost Traveller Tavern by Cat Knight (2019)

Brewtality by Various Authors (2020)

Before You Wake: Three Horrors by Adam Nevill (2017)

The Ghost of Old Coal House by Amy Cross (2020)

My Christmas Story by Rayne Havok (2016)

You can read my 2019 reading list here.


Demon Tree @ Haunted MTL

My short story Demon Tree is now free to read on the new horror website Haunted MTL, which features a steady stream of news, reviews, and horror fiction definitely not for the squeamish. I also did an interview with them recently, which you can read here if you’re interested.

There’s a little pine forest near my childhood home in south Wales, and on summer days I enjoy walking through it to get to the country pub on the other side. It’s a beautiful area, with rolling mountains, a sea of green, and wild horses roaming the fields. But there’s something weird and ominous about that forest. Maybe its the way the shadows move, or the way the canopy steals the sunlight. It just makes you uneasy, and you can’t help but hurry along the narrow path that takes you through. When I get to the other side, I always wonder why I didn’t take my time. I wanted to try to express the way it makes me feel in a story, and hence Demon Tree was born.

demon tree pic

Something else that often goes through my mind when I go to that forest is the role trees and the natural world played in Celtic Britain. The druids worshipped trees, with each one said to have a different significance, and some were considered sacred. I thought it might be fun to play around with that concept a little and reverse it. Throw in some graphic and (I hope) unsettling imagery, and you have a story.

I hope you like it.

And do check out Haunted MTL for all your horror news. 

Suitably moody pic stolen from Google images.


The Bookshelf 2019

As is now customary, below is a complete list of all the books I read, from cover to cover (or from 0 to 100%, as is increasingly the case) last year. I gave up on more than a few, which I won’t bother to name. Life’s too short to read a shitty book.

I didn’t read as much as I would have liked in the first half of the year, but in my defence a couple of entries in this list are absolute monsters. I actually started the longest, Sleeping Beauties, weighing in at 702 pages, about eighteen months ago. I kept drifting in and out of it. All things considered, let’s just say that it was far too long and meandering. A good editor could cut at least 30% off the word count and not lose anything from the plot. I had high hopes for the Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, but I rolled my eyes so much reading it that by the end it was like a physical affliction. Amy Cross hit another couple of home runs, but probably the best book I read last year was Lost at Sea by British journalist Jon Ronson. A selection of essays and investigative reports, it’s not my usual thing but I found it both insightful and refreshing.

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I’ve been making a conscious effort to read more widely, which is why I gave some new writers a shot. At least, writers new to me. And I fell back in love with the short story and read a bunch of anthologies, the pick of which being Body Horror: Trigger Warning. And I’m not just saying that because one of my stories is in it. Ultimately, however, I returned to Dean Koontz after a long break. I actually forgot how good the guy is. At first, anyway. But then a dog and a demented serial killer turned up like they do in all his books and I had to suffer yet more preachy, religious overtones. Sigh.

 

Signal Failure by David Wailing (2016)

Private Number/claws by Derek Muk (2018)

Stranded by Renee Miller (2018)

The Lighthouse by Amy Cross (2015)

The Last Days of by Jack Sparks Jason Arnopp (2017)

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (2017)

Filthy Beast: Diary of an English Teacher in China by White Buffalo (2018)

Bad News by Amy Cross (2019)

Body Horror: Trigger Warning by Various Authors (2019)

Living After Midnight: Hard & Heavy Stories by Various Authors (2010)

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King (2017)

The Nowhere Men – The Unknown Story of Football’s True Talent Spotters by Michael Calvin (2014)

Room 9 & Other Stories by Amy Cross (2018)

Lost at Sea by Jon Ronson (2012)

The Neighbour by Dean Koontz (2014)

Take the Corvus: Short Stories & Essays by Luke Kondor (2018)

Strange Weather: Four Short Novels by Joe Hill (2017)

The Corona Book of Ghost Stories by Various Authors (2019)

The Taking by Dean Koontz (2007)

Zombie Punks Fuck Off by Various Authors (2018)

You can check out last year’s bookshelf HERE.

 

 


The Bookshelf 2018

Below is the now-customary list of every book I managed to read cover-to-cover in 2018. I know I am cheating a little by including a couple of novellas, and even the odd short story. My rule is, if they stand-alone, they are eligible. Besides, to even things up I also devoured a couple of absolute monsters. Reviews are linked.

And this isn’t my actual bookcase. I stole this image from Pinterest. But it’s still cool, right?

coffin

Extreme Survivors: 60 Epic Stories of Extreme Survival forward by Bear Grylls (2012)

100 Word Horrors by Various Authors (2018)

Craven Manor by Darcy Coates (2017)

Just a Bit of Banter, Like by Chris Westlake (2017)

Wales and its Boxers: The Fighting Tradition by Peter Stead & Gareth Williams (2008)

The Ritual by Adam Neville (2011)

Last Man Off: A True Story of Disaster, Survival, and One Man’s Ultimate Test by Matt Lewis (2014)

Friend from the Internet by Amy Cross (2018)

Craigslist Horror by Max Hess (2017)

The World’s Most Haunted Places by Jeff Balanger (2004)

Call Drop by John. F. Leonard (2017)

Bird Box by Josh Malerman (2014)

Eat the Rich by Renee Miller (2018)

The Outsider by Stephen King (2018)

The Chase by J.L. Rose (2018)

Lost Highways by Various Authors (2018)

Fearful Fathoms (Volume 1) by Various Authors (2017)

Black Shadows Under a Blood Moon by Roma Gray (short story) (2018)

Haunted Cardiff and the Valleys by the South Wales Paranormal Research Group (2007)

Spree Killers: The World’s Most Notorious Gunmen and their Deadly Rampages by Al Cimino (2010)

Everyone Loves You When You Are Dead (And Other Things I learned from famous People) by Neil Strauss (2011)

Tales from the Murenger by Michael Keaton (2017)

Classic Rock Unseen by Various Authors (2013)

Quad by Toneye Eyenot (2018)

Tales from the Lake 5 by Various Authors (2018)

Readers’s Digest: Great Mysteries of the Past by Various Authors (1991)

Please see HERE for last year’s expansive list!


Dead of Night

My latest release, an updated version of my 2010 novella Dead of Night, is available now!

dead-of-night-reissue

Young lovers, Nick and Maggie, decide to escape the city for a romantic weekend deep in the idyllic countryside. The excursion soon degenerates into a maelstrom of terror when one of them comes face to face with a centuries-old civil war soldier. Together, the couple flee into the wilderness, but soon find themselves engaged in a mortal battle with a group of long-dead Confederate bushwackers.

PLEASE NOTE: This is a story of extreme horror and is not suitable for children.

Dead of Night is available now on ebook and paperback.


The Bookbub Experience

People have reported mixed experiences with the book marketing company Bookbub. There are both success stories and horror stories. For what it’s worth, I’m going to share mine.

First, a bit of background. Bookbub is a service which provides readers with free or heavily discounted books. Writers pay to have their books included in ‘Featured Deal’ email blastings which can reach hundreds of thousands of potential customers. The details vary, depending on the genre and package you select (which again varies according to your selected territories and size of discount you are offering).

Lots of other book promotion companies use a similar model, but with Bookbub being the biggest, it represents the best results. It’s also the most expensive. But most writers look at the fees as a necessary expense. You have to spend money to make money, right?|

To even qualify for a Featured Deal, your book also has to fulfill certain criteria like have a set number of reviews and a professionally-produced cover. It also has to undergo a quality check. It isn’t easy to be accepted. My book Sker House was rejected several times before finally being selected a few months ago. Upon acceptance, I chose my package, paid the exorbitant fee, and waited anxiously to see what would happen.

At first, things didn’t go to plan. It was entirely my fault. Long story short, when I dropped the price of Sker House to qualify for the Featured Deal I misjudged the currency conversion rates in the US, Canada and Australia, which resulted in the book not being the price I said it would be on the dates I said it would. Bookbub rightly pulled my promotion for not adhering to the rules. To their credit, they were great about it, and after I emailed them to explain my mistake and did a bit of begging, they reluctantly agreed to reschedule my promotion at no extra cost.

Phew.

As an indie writer with a dozen or so books out there, unless I do some kind of promotional activity, I consider myself lucky to sell a handful of books a day. I am under no illusions. I know a lot of writers sell more than me. Some sell less. You can imagine my surprise when I got up the morning my Featured Deal went out to Bookbub’s subscribers, checked my KDP account, and found Sker House had sold close to a hundred copies in just a few hours. Every time I hit ‘refresh’ it showed more sales. At its peak, I was probably selling around a book a minute. Sker House has done reasonably well since it came out. I did a successful blog tour to help it along, and it picked up some decent reviews. But nothing I’d done previously came close to this.

I logged into Author Central and checked my author ranking to find I was suddenly sitting pretty at number 71 in the ‘Most Popular Horror Writers’ category. By some strange twist of fate, I was also number 72, because Amazon evidently thought C.M. Saunders and Christian Saunders were two different people.

Screenshot_20180526-203808

The sales kept coming, and my alter-ego and I kept climbing the charts. Later that evening, a couple of hundred sales later, I peaked at numbers 37 and 38. I might have gone even higher. I like to think I took the Number one slot from some befuddled old bloke called Stephen King at some point whilst I slept.

Of course, it couldn’t last.

After the initial sales flurry subsided, Sker House continued selling in double digits for a few days afterwards. By then, it had gone back up to full price, so I received a higher royalty percentage. By my calculations, taking into account the reduced promotion price and the associated royalty percentage in each territory, I needed to shift around 800 downloads to cover my costs.

That’s a lot of books.

I didn’t really expect to sell that many, and I didn’t. At the final reckoning I got close, maxing out at just over 600, but there were other benefits. On average, my daily sales remain higher than they were before. Over the promotion period I also sold more copies of my other books than I usually do, which I didn’t factor in, and my KU ‘pages read’ went through the roof. I usually get several hundred a day, but since the promotion that has increased to several thousand and has remained consistent ever since. One day, I had over 7,000, probably my highest ever. Over a month later, and those numbers are still holding. I’m optimistic that all these sales and reads will translate into a couple of new reviews in the not too distant future. Also, my blog hits increased exponentially, more people have followed me on Twitter and my Facebook author page, and then there was the small matter of cracking Amazon’s Most Popular Horror Writer list for the first time. I feel like I’ve finally reached then next level.

So the all-important question everyone wants to know, did I make a shit load of money?

No. All things considered, I’ll probably just break even. But I certainly don’t regret doing it. Between the hundreds of sales, the extra exposure, and the thrill of it all, it was a worthy investment.

Long live Bookbub.

sker house cm saunders cover 1

 


The Bookshelf 2017

As per tradition, behold!

Here’s a list of every book I managed to read cover-to-cover in 2017:

The Cabin by Amy Cross (2015)

Wrong Attitude: A Brief Guide to Living In & Visiting Thailand by Steve Price (2015)

An Introduction to Thailand: The Ultimate Travel Guide by Robert Halstead (2014)

The Beach by Alex Garland (1996)

To Travel Hopelessly by English Teacher X (2012)

Cold Call by Jon Hillman (2016)

Appetite for Destruction: Legendary Encounters by Mick Wall (2010)

The Kennedy Conspiracy File by David Southwell (2012)

Meat by Michael Bray (2012)

Lost Signals by various authors (2016)

We Are Always Watching by Hunter Shea (2017)

The Printer from Hell by Amy Cross (2016)

I Am Haunted by Zac Bagans (2012)

Accidental Agent: Behind Enemy Lines with the French Resistance by John Goldsmith (new edition, 2017)

Unit 731 by Craig Saunders (2016)

Sinister Scribblings by Matt Hickman (2017)

DOA 3 by various authors (2017)

Battlefield by Amy Cross (2016)

Scavengers by Rich Hawkins (2016)

Preppers: Survival Basics by John Adams (2014)

Part Reptile: UFC, MMA and Me by Dan Hardy (2017)

Abandoned by Blake Crouch (2009)

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (2016)

The Housemates by Iain Robb Wright (2011)

Church by Renee Miller (2017)

dr_whoo_bookcase

For previous year’s lists, check out these links:

2016

2015

2014


Inside Apartment 14F

My latest novella, Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story (Uncut), just came out. As the title suggests, it’s a partially re-written and expanded version of an earlier release. The original came out on Damnation Books eight years ago, and truth be told I was never really happy with it. By the time the publisher was absorbed by another company and consequently vanished off the face of the earth a few years later, our contract had expired and all rights reverted back to me. That meant, the story was free for me to do what I wanted with, and I felt a remix was in order.

So here we are.

I wrote the original version of Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story in January/February 2009, when I was living in the industrial city of Tianjin, northern China. Tianjin is like a Chinese Middlesbrough, only with much harsher winters. Yep, it really is that bad. I’d spent the year before in Beijing, where Apartment 14F is set, and had moved to Tianjin to be closer to my then-girlfriend. Obviously, the moment I moved there she dumped me for another dude, leaving me alone and heartbroken doing a job I hated (teaching English at a primary school) in a freezing cold foreign country far too close to Russia with no friends.

Like most teachers, during the Spring Festival period I had a long holiday. It was too cold to go out for any other reason than buying supplies and Chinese TV is a bit shit, so I decided to do something constructive. Though I’d had a few short stories published in the small press when that was a thing years earlier, I’d taken a long sabbatical from writing fiction to focus on feature writing for magazines (the money is better) and was just beginning to get back into the fiction side of things. To me, it’s always been more of a labour of love. I consider any money I make from it a bonus, but it’s so time-consuming and energy-sapping that I feel I have to justify it somehow.

 There’s a different skill-set involved when writing fiction. It’s a bit like opening a door into your mind, and I’m not always entirely sure I want people to see what’s in there. Subconsciously or otherwise, you write about some pretty personal shit. There’s a lot of my early-China experience in Apartment 14F. The sense of isolation, feeling like an imposter, or an alien, feeling strangely detached as lots of weird shit goes on around you. It all added to the loneliness and simmering resentment.

Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story started life as a short story called When Eyes Lie (Did I mention how bitter I was about the girlfriend thing?). I submitted it to Damnation Books, who were then a new start-up and had just put out a submission call. They loved it, but said it was too short and could do with being bulked up. It was good advice. There was a lot more I wanted to say, and I’d rushed through the short story. At over 17,000 words, the second version was almost twice as long as the original.

I’d hate to bite the hand that used to feed (they didn’t feed me much, but a little) but over time Damnation Books developed something of a reputation for being difficult to work with. I heard a lot of horror stories from other writers, and not the good kind. It’s not my place to air other people’s dirty washing. If you are interested, you can Google it. All the negativity came later. At the time, like most writers, I was just happy that someone liked my work enough to publish it.

In the case of Apartment 14F, there were a few things they wanted me to change. It’s not that I’m precious. I’m always open to suggestions from editors. It’s their job. But I don’t like making wholescale changes on the whim of someone who’s probably spent barely a few minutes skimming my manuscript, whereas I’d been working on it for months. I could have argued my case, but if you argue too much you get a reputation for being difficult and the publisher is liable to pull the plug on your book. I learned a long time ago to choose my battles. Some things are worth fighting for, and some things just aren’t.

Two key scenes came from different dreams I had. I had a lot of weird dreams when I was in China. Still do. It’s a fucking trippy place . The first dream I worked into the story is the hair in the bed scene. If you read it, you’ll know the part I mean. The second was the fortune teller with the inventive way of telling your fortune. That was one creepy nocturnal escapade, and luckily for me, the creepiness translated well to the page. I just described it as best as I could remember. The feelings, the sensations, the thoughts that ran through my head. That one scene has probably provoked more discussion than anything else I’ve written. Discounting the time I did an assignment for the sadly departed Nuts magazine and had the pleasure of telling the world what Lucy Pinder’s tits thought of the Southampton FC back four. But that was a different kind of writing in a different world.

Apart from being forced into making changes to the story, the other sticking points I had with Damnation Books were the amount of promotion they did for the book (none) and the price they set. Both the paperback and the ebook were on sale for over $7, that’s a lot for a novella-length work by someone you’ve never heard of.

Despite being overpriced, on it’s initial release Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story did extremely well. When Damnation Books imploded a couple of years later, it was still second in their all-time bestseller list. Okay, I know it’s not like being on the New York Times Bestseller list, but it means something to me. DB released A LOT of books. But like I said, I never really felt comfortable with it. I turned a corner with my writing not long afterwards. Must have been the 10,000-hour rule in effect. I went from being a part time writer to a full-time writer, and started doing a lot more fiction as a kind of release from the day job.

Whenever I went back and read the original version of Apartment 14F, some parts made me cringe. I think I have much more insight now. I lived in china another four years after I wrote the original story. I also like to think I’ve improved a lot as a writer since then, and maybe now I can finally do the idea I had back in ’09 justice. It also has a snazzy new cover…

14f

As an extra little sweetener, I’m also including a bonus short story, Little Dead Girl, which was first published in a short-lived publication called Unspoken Water (2011) and later in X2: Another Collection of Horror (2015). It’s a story written in a similar vein, ironically based on another deeply disturbing dream I had whilst living in the Middle Kingdom, and also featuring a teacher on the verge of a nervous breakdown as the lead character. You could probably say they are set in the same spooky-ass far eastern universe. The two stories kinda compliment each other well, I think.

This is an edited version of an essay which appears in Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story (Uncut). Available now on Amazon:

UK LINK

US LINK


Reading Habits

Like a good little writer, I read a lot. You might say obsessively. All things considered, I guess I read between 2-4 hours a day. I read widely, across a lot of platforms and topics, but mostly in sport, lifestyle, travel, crime, history and the paranormal. These are the areas I usually work in, so being knowledgeable helps me follow trends and keep my finger on the pulse.

Newspapers

Yeah, I know they are going out of style, but I’m keeping the dream alive. For me, The Times is the best newspaper out there. I don’t agree with all their politics. In fact, I usually skip those sections. But they have excellent writers and the articles are usually not only newsworthy but informative and often a bit quirky. It’s not unusual to find articles about dinosaurs or owls occupying column space with scientific breathroughs or the latest poison the Russian are using. There’s something quintessentially British about The Times, and I love how it treads the line between broadsheet and tabloid. My ‘happy place’ is a quiet pub on a rainy afternoon, with a pint of craft ale and a copy of The Times.

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If I can’t get a copy of The Times, the Guardian will do. Or the Observer on a Sunday. I never get The Sunday Times because it’s like a metre-squared fucking Argos catalogue. My tabloid of choice is The Sun. It gets a lot of bad press (ho ho!) but it serves a purpose and the sports pages are outstanding. Wales on Sunday and the Western Mail are my regional newspapers when I’m in Wales but I rarely buy them these days. The quality of local journalism has nosedived. It’s largely due to less people reading newspapers and consequently their resources taking a hit, but you could argue that one reason less people are reading newspapers is because the quality of the product isn’t what it used to be. It’s the chicken or the egg scenario. My most hated newspapers would be the Metro, because it reads like it was written by a bunch of 6-year old’s, and the Daily Mail, because that’s why.

Magazines

Ten years ago, there were eight or more different magazines I bought religiously every week or month, depending on their frequency. Sadly, most of them are gone now. Of the few that remain, the only one I subscribe to (and I have done for twenty years or so) is Fortean Times. I like the crazy. I also buy Classic Rock almost every month, and either GQ or Esquire. Both are slightly pretentious, but they are the closest thing remaining to FHM and Loaded, and they make decent toilet reading. I also like going to large newsagents and impulse buying whatever catches my eye. I grab Kerrang! Empire, Fighters Only, All About History and Mojo semi-regularly, along with the occasional travel title or hobbyist writing magazine. One day I woke up hungover, fully-clothed in my bed, covered in about £35 worth of mags. What a glorious day that was. When in London, I make sure I pick up whichever free mag is being distributed that day, Sport (when it was about), Time Out and Shortlist being pick of the bunch, with Escapism and Red Bulletin not far behind.

Websites

I spend a lot of time surfing the net, but there aren’t many websites I use on a regular basis apart from Facebook and WordPress. Does Wiki count? How about Bet 365? Otherwise, MMA Fighting, Louder Than War and BBC News are probably my most visited. I habitually used Wales Online a lot until recently. But this outlet is suffering in much the same way as the print products Media Wales oversees is. In an effort to maximise profits, the quality of reporting has declined to laughable levels and the site is literally clogged up with advertising. It often takes several minutes to load, and when it finally does you are inundated with pop-ups. Sometimes you have to participate in a survey before you can even read the article you clicked on. I understand they have to (try and) make a profit, but that’s just intrusive. Life’s too short.

Books

I try to read widely, both fiction and non-fiction. I love sports autobiographies, travelogues, and rock memoirs, along with a healthy dose of true crime and the occasional tale of survival-against-the-odds.

The fiction I read is almost exclusively in the horror genre (as broad as that is). If there are no ghosts or zombies, or at least a demented serial killer on the rampage, I get real bored real fast. I’ve never been the kind of person to read one book at a time, but only when I wrote this post did I realize how bad things have got. I really should show some more composure, but there are just so many books and so little time. At the moment, I have no less than seven on the go. For the interested, these are:

Physical copies:

Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen

Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead, Neil Strauss

PDF’s on the PC:

DOA 3, various authors

Wild Talents, Charles Fort

And on the Kindle:

Sinister Scribblings, Matt Hickman

Unit 731, Craig Saunders

Battlefield, Amy Cross


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