Devlog #3

NPCs: Your Floppy Friends and You

A superhero isn’t a superhero without bystanders to rescue and/or terrorise. I’ve already decided that for the game to work it needs a city that reacts to the player’s presence. That means people, and people means ragdolls.

(more…)

Devlog #2

Flopping at Speed

Speed is critical on solo game projects – you don’t want to be grinding away for too long on a doomed project or you’ll wake up realising you’ve wasted nine months on a game nobody will ever play – so prototype quickly, iterate in small chunks and playtest often.

Step 1) create a city environment
Step 2) make the player fly around
Step 3) make the player turn into a ragdoll if they hit a wall

I’m using Unity as a game engine, so there’s a few ways we can save time here.

(more…)

Devlog #1

Making a superhero game

I’m a big fan of blogs about the experience of making a video game – Tom Francis wrote a great series about the development of Gunpoint – but I can never find enough to read, so I thought I’d write one myself to do my part in the effort to clog up the internet until it finally stops working for good.

(more…)

100-Word Reviews: ANNIHILATION

Annihilation is two things: it’s a close and personal character study of a biologist with a spider-silk connection to the rest of humanity that is slowly being severed, and it’s a deeply strange but structurally perfect story about a wilderness that infects and changes the people who enter it. Annihilation is weird and tense and pacy, and I’ve never before been made to feel as close to a story’s setting as I am to its characters. Reading VanderMeer’s prose is like wading into a bog. You sink and sink until you realise you’ve gone too deep and may never resurface.

On the Banks of the River Lex – Mini Review

There was much activity in town when Death arrived.

“The twins have opened a Starbucks at Union Square!” said a stranger, when Death stepped off the bridge on Delancey. He nodded in pleasant response to this, though he was not certain what a Starbucks was or why the twins would have bothered with it. Read more

N.K. Jemisin does Gaiman better than Neil in this warm, weird story about gods and what they do when there aren’t any people around. (more…)

13 Honest Tips for Crowdfunding a Book

My first novel, The Second Death of Daedalus Mole, came out with Unbound this year (2018 is the year now, if you’re lucky enough to be reading this in the future). It took me about a year and a half to reach 100% funding from 0%, which is slower than most people, but when it comes to my hopes and dreams I’m a very lazy man, so lots of that time was wasted on videogames and drinking.

You don’t want to crowdfund. Nobody wants to crowdfund. Writers especially don’t want to crowdfund, because it involves schedules and calendars and tweeting and rejection and it’s impossible to focus on the next book while you’re doing it – but a lot of us do it anyway, because for some books it’s a very good idea.

What follows are some of the actually-useful things I learned while doing it. If you’re thinking about it (even if you’re only thinking about it because you arrived on this page), it might help clear a few things up.

 

1. CHOOSE A GOOD PUBLISHER

If you’ve already signed something then skip this bit and work with what you’ve got. If you’re still mulling it over, mull on this: you’re going to be putting a lot of work in and raising a lot of money, so there better be a very good reason to do this instead of self-publishing. If you’re doing a graphic novel or otherwise have very solid designers, illustrators and editors onboard, then Kickstarter is an option. Otherwise you want a proper publisher that uses a crowdfunding model. I went with Unbound because of their strong reputation and good connections with freelancers who’ve been working in publishing for years.

Look at books the publisher has brought out. Are the covers good? Can you find their books in shops? Have their books won any awards? The advantages of having a publisher are easy routes into bookshops, an air of legitimacy and high production value. If you’re not getting those, in my opinion, it’s not worth it.

2. DON’T ASK FOR PLEDGES, ASK FOR HELP

The generally-accepted advice is to email everyone you know asking them to pledge to your book, then chase them up if they don’t. Then chase them again. And again. It works, but it’s an unpleasant job, demoralising and can backfire dramatically. Anyway, I was far too socially-awkward to do that. Instead, I sent about 10 emails asking people to tweet or post on facebook about my project, and opened them with the kind of apologetic tone that makes people suspect they’re about to be asked for money.

Recipients were so relieved when the email turned out not to ask for money that they were more than happy to help (and often ended up pledging anyway). I tracked the URLs provided and they led directly to pledges. Choose people to email based on their online followings – you want large followings if possible, but more importantly you want followers who read books like yours, or followers who love supporting crowdfunders. (That’s a real thing. Look for people with Patreon accounts or prominent Kickstarter projects – their followers will more readily pledge to a crowdfunder.)

3. FORGET YOUR FRIENDS

Friends and family make up a big chunk of most projects. There’s nothing wrong with that – every penny helps – but you need to reach outside that circle. If none of your pledgers actually read the book, then you’ve crowdfunded a paperweight. Make a few posts on Facebook, let your mum email everyone at work, but then leave it. You need strangers to pick up your book, otherwise you won’t ever build an audience.

Writing sci-fi? Fantasy? Seek out online communities that don’t mind self-promo and insinuate yourself, then self-promo your little heart out. Historical fiction? Biography? Find clubs and societies with an interest in that stuff and set up a group discount. Create ties with communities – say they’ve helped you with your research or imply they’ve already been supporting you. Post on Reddit saying “thanks for supporting my book, reddit!” It’s not a lie if saying it makes it true. Also, if you do fiction, you’re a liar anyway and need to come to terms with it.

4. ADVERTISING DOES NOT WORK BUT NOT-ADVERTISING KIND OF WORKS

Don’t spend money on Facebook ads, or print ads, or sticking flyers around town. The conversion rate is next to nothing for professionals with budgets, and you’re a writer with nothing. Forget it. All that effort should instead be spent on stuff that’s sort-of-advertising-but-not. Write short articles for blogs that are read by people who like your kind of stuff. Post articles with names like ’13 Honest Tips for Crowdfunding a Book’. Expose your name and the name of your book to as many interested people as possible, and always make sure there’s a link. Like, for example, THIS ONE:

 


The Second Death of Daedalus Mole

A space opera about running away from your problems

‘Clever, quirky, original, hilarious.’
Joanne Harris

Daedalus Mole wants to make the best of a bad situation. The plan: fly his unwanted passenger, Erin, to her destination, squeeze her for every last penny, then immediately find refuge in the nearest pub. Unfortunately, when the galaxy is on the verge of economic collapse and your passenger has a bounty the size of a planet on her head, there’s only so much another drink can do to help.

In search of Erin’s past, and in flight from his own, Daedalus will soon learn what happens when you let wounds fester unchecked. Read the free sample.


See, wasn’t that compelling?

5. PERSONALISED PLEDGE REWARDS IN-THE-TEXT

I sold out, and I’d do it again in an instant. Add bits to your story that are easily customisable – for me it was spaceships that passed by the story in the background. It didn’t really matter what they were called, so I let people name them in exchange for an increased pledge.

That worked really well, so then I did a similar thing with story-non-essential planets. Customised levels between £30-50 sold out almost immediately. An £80 level for renaming a whole setting was a bit of a stretch and didn’t make it, though someone got in touch with me to say they very nearly pledged. If I was less socially awkward and chased them up, then they might’ve taken the plunge.

These levels don’t take much work and they’re highly appealing as gifts or big romantic gestures. Feeling like you’ve had a hand in a book is very cool, so if you can offer something more than just putting someone’s name in the supporter list then people will snap it up.

6. DON’T IGNORE THE LONG TAIL / MAKE FRIENDS ONLINE

This is vital if you’re lazy. The ‘long tail’ is basically the leftover 50-odd-% of people who’ll pledge for your book who aren’t in groups that you’ve targeted. Friends you incidentally make on Twitter who have nothing to do with you or your interests, but they thought your book looked cool; lone wanderers on the internet who stumble on your video and think it’s funny; people who ask you about your book when you’re at the pub and then actually go look it up afterwards.

How do you reach the long tail? Basically… by being nice. If someone tweets something about your interests, say hi! If someone shows an interest in your book, talk to them about it! I know we’re all socially stunted embarrassments but if you can suppress the desire to crawl into a hole and rewatch old Bojack episodes every evening then it’ll pay off. You’re not Neil Gaiman yet. People won’t notice your book unless it’s by someone they know, and THAT SOMEONE COULD BE YOU.

7. MAKE A VIDEO

I can’t stress this enough. Videos from independent creators go a long way towards humanising you, and charming your audience. Try to make it stand out, with comedy (no matter how bad – in fact, the more amateurish and endearingly awful the better), cool visuals and settings, props – anything you can think of. Push the personal angle as much as you’re comfortable with. It’s kind of like writing – you’re the protagonist, and if you’re honest and open to the audience then they’ll want to root for you.

This video took me all day and taught me that I am VERY uncomfortable on camera.

A project page with a video is way more likely to get funded than one without. I’m 99% sure that if I’d committed to making regular video diaries like it said in my half-finished crowdfunding plan at the start then I would’ve got funded much faster.

8. ADMIT THAT YOU HATE IT, BUT DON’T BUM PEOPLE OUT

Crowdfunding sucks! It’s hard and it goes on too long and it’s depressing when you don’t get any pledges. You can say that, you’re allowed to, and it humanises you to people who might consider pledging to help out. That said, don’t be a sad sack all day on Twitter about it. I know you’re sad and you think your book is worthless, etc. etc. etc., but being sad online is off-putting unless you’re doing it in a cool Gothic way, which you probably aren’t.

8a. BE PROFESSIONAL WITH YOUR PUBLISHER

This is a good general tip I’ve picked up. I worked for five years at an authors’ union and saw a lot of repetitive, self-destructing patterns. Authors often work alone, doing emotionally-draining tasks, and are no more resistant to stress than anyone else, and it’s important to have people you can vent to – in private.

When you contact your publisher, or when you post publicly somewhere your publisher can see, it’s vital to be professional. That doesn’t just mean not slagging them off (though that’s important), it’s the simple stuff: have reasonable expectations; take time to process news before reacting; give people space and time to respond to your questions. If there’s a problem, try your best to contact someone privately about it before resorting to a public call for assistance.

Good publishers work hard and tend to be constantly understaffed and overstretched. Keep that in mind while working with them, and you’ll find things tend to go a lot smoother.

That said, if there’s a genuine problem then go to a union like the Society of Authors or the Writers Guild.

Anyway, back to the tips with:

9. USE PICTURES OF YOUR DOGS/CATS

This is a no-brainer. People will click and it makes you seem approachable, because our stupid primate brains can’t tell the difference between a cute animal and the ugly sinful human nearby.

Look at my cat. His name is Squeaky McGhee. His job is making me look good online, and it works.

10. INDIVIDUALLY THANK PEOPLE, BUT DO IT PUBLICLY

It’s nice to email people saying thank-you for pledging, but it’s useless. Tweet or post online for each one (tag them, spread them out, keep it regular) so everyone can see how cool that person is for supporting that project. Then it looks like everyone’s doing it, which makes people feel more like they should maybe do it.

11. DO STUPID TIME-CONSUMING RETWEETABLE THINGS

I got 1,500 retweets and a bunch of pledges and ongoing publicity for a tweet offering cool little randomly-generated spaceships based on people’s Twitter profiles.

It was massively time-consuming but the time-spent-to-pledges-received ratio was the best of almost anything I did. The work involved glancing over people’s profiles, using an open-source model generator site, screenshotting the result, pasting a fancy name on top and tagging them in.

The conversion rate wasn’t great (it resulted in maybe a 2% jump in pledges, total), but I gained a bunch of followers who shared future links, and some of them went on to become supporters much later.

Offer someone something cool and personalised (and free) in exchange for retweets and you’ll get loads, guaranteed. It’s a bit of work but it’ll pay off in unexpected ways.

 

12. YOU DON’T NEED TO SPEND ANY MONEY

I’ll tell you right now – almost nothing you spend money on to promote your crowdfunding campaign will net you pledges. If you really must then chuck a few quid into the campaign yourself, but anything else (advertising, travel for events, professional video shoot) will make you kick yourself when you’re that amount of money short of your target later.

Reciprocal pledging between authors can be a nice way to support each other, but don’t go nuts. You want as many pledges as possible to be from the outside world, and you don’t want to be a group of people just endlessly sending each other money.

13. GET SOME DISTANCE

There will be ‘fallow periods’, as crowdfunders like to say. Weeks or months without any progress. Don’t keep plugging away at it – take a week off, completely, without checking in or promoting your project, and reset yourself. Then come back with a bunch of new ideas. Your brain will thank you.

That’s about all I know

I didn’t want to give you a load of filler and platitudes – the above is purely what I learned over a year and a half of funding.

Crowdfunding your book isn’t glamourous and it’s not what a lot of people imagined when they were kids, scribbling in their notebooks and dreaming of being a writer someday. We all want that big validating publishing deal, but the industry isn’t what it once was, and if you want to write books that people read then it’s something you need to accept, and overcome.

This route to publication is a good one and it gives debut authors a fighting chance. I won’t pretend it’s fun, but there are plenty worse ways to get your writing off the ground than working with professionals and getting a polished final product you can be proud of.

My last tip is always end a blog post with a useful link or a MASSIVE AD FOR YOUR OWN BOOK LIKE THIS

 


The Second Death of Daedalus Mole

A space opera about running away from your problems

‘Clever, quirky, original, hilarious.’
Joanne Harris

Daedalus Mole wants to make the best of a bad situation. The plan: fly his unwanted passenger, Erin, to her destination, squeeze her for every last penny, then immediately find refuge in the nearest pub. Unfortunately, when the galaxy is on the verge of economic collapse and your passenger has a bounty the size of a planet on her head, there’s only so much another drink can do to help.

In search of Erin’s past, and in flight from his own, Daedalus will soon learn what happens when you let wounds fester unchecked.
Read the free sample.


All the Perverse Angels – Sarah K Marr

A beautiful and sinister novel about memory, loss and emotional decay. I dipped into All the Perverse Angels expecting a quirky artsy story about love and loss, but what I got was a dark, surprising journey downwards into a damaged mind that can only grip the realities it can reach through a picture frame. I sank completely into this book, biding my time, soaking up the cold atmosphere and agonising over the awful things the characters put each other through. There are ‘slow’ books and ‘quiet’ books, but I now suspect they are failed prototypes for this, which is neither.

Buy on Hive | Waterstones | Amazon
Add on Goodreads

LAUNCH DAY

THE BOOK IS OUT! SORT OF! (more…)

Concepts and Characters

Writing a novel takes a while, and writers sometimes struggle to maintain the image of a character in their mind without forgetting important details. I ran into this issue early on with The Second Death of Daedalus Mole. I thought it might help to have some concept art. I was right! In the end. (more…)

The Write Idea

The brilliant Joanna Barnard (Precocious) recently blogged her return to Ben Nevis, likening the experience to writing a novel. The heroic ascent to a complete draft, followed by a humbling and dangerous stumble to the bottom as you struggle to edit it into something worth reading. It struck a chord. (more…)