Author Archives: MJM-Ink

Guest post: Ian Skewis – Crowdfunding Your Novel

So, you’ve finished your masterpiece and now you want to get it published? These days, there are a huge amount of avenues for writers to take that can be completely bewildering to the novice. For many people self-publishing is what writers who can’t get published through the more traditional routes do because their work is not quite up to scratch. This is true in some cases but certainly not in others. As with crowd-funding some of the most successful books of recent years have been published this way.

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I was lucky enough to have my debut novel accepted by Unbound. They are unusual in that they are a professional publishing house who also have a crowd-funding platform. On the surface, this appears to be a cutting edge development in the book world, but in actual fact its origins lie back in the 1800s when Charles Dickens and his like did pretty much the same thing. He wrote his books by pitching them to prospective readers and then their funding enabled his books to be published. In an internet age this idea has now been resurrected – and to great effect. Not only does it mean that the readers have a say in what they want to see published, but it enables the writers to have a ready-made audience for their work.

It has other uses too. In an increasingly conservative age where publishers produce less fiction per year and are looking for safe bets such as the next celebrity biography or the all too familiar title that begins with Fifty Shades Of… or The Girl Who… alternative methods are required. By using this particular method Unbound also deftly manage to avoid the pitfalls of arts council funding, which as history has shown, can be very precarious, and has led to the downfall of many independent booksellers. Crowd-funding is increasingly the only option for some writers.

I have to admit, even I was sceptical at first, and I actually turned their offer down initially, thinking them to be a self-publishing house or even a vanity publishing company. As far as I’m concerned there’s a place for all these things – but it just wasn’t the place I wanted my novel to end up. But when I did some research I realised that not only had JK Rowling helped fund one of their authors, Nikesh Shukla, who wrote The Good Immigrant, but another of their books, The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth, was longlisted for a Man Booker prize. This gave the entire venture the credibility that I craved, and once accepted, I felt I was in safe hands. And I still do.

It wasn’t easy raising the money to fund my book. I had three months in which to raise over three and a half thousand pounds. I am not wealthy and neither are my family or friends, but through sheer hard work and determination, and yes, a lot of courage and commitment, I achieved my goal two days ahead of the deadline!

And so my debut novel, A Murder Of Crows, will be published later this year. I have been supported throughout the process by not only those closest to me, but from people I previously did not know, from as far afield as the States and Australia. I have been touched time and again by people’s kindness and their generosity in helping me on my journey.

And now other writers are coming to me for advice on how I did it – which is an amazing position to find myself in. There were many times when I never thought I’d get to this stage but it goes to show that writers are never really alone, though it can sometimes feel like that.

My story is only a beginning, and a humble one at that, but no less humble than a pencil being dragged hesitantly across paper. And anyway, all big things come from small beginnings. So take courage and commitment and make your own dream come true – and write.

Good luck.

To find out more about A Murder Of Crows and become a patron please click on the following link:

Guest post: Mason Cross

Mason Cross was born in Glasgow in 1979. He studied English at the University of Stirling and has worked variously as a tax officer, events coordinator, project manager and pizza delivery boy. He lives in Glasgow with his wife and three children.

THE KILLING SEASON, his first novel is an action thriller starting Carter Blake, a mystery man who specialises in finding people who don’t want to be found. It was longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Book of the Year 2015. The follow-up, THE SAMARITAN is one of the spring titles for the Richard & Judy Book Club.

Mason Cross – Top 5 Tips on Being a Writer

1. There’s no secret formula

The best preparation for being a writer is to read a lot and write a lot. Everyone says this, but that’s because it’s true. Like all writers, I started out as a reader. I always enjoyed creative writing at school, but reading widely helps you to work out what sort of stories you want to tell.  The other biggie is to take it seriously. If you want to write for a living, you have to treat it like a real job and show up for work, even on the days you don’t particularly feel like it.

2. You need a system, but everyone has a different one

I used to work in fits and burst, writing loads one day and then not doing anything for weeks at a time while I pondered all of the wonderful books I wasn’t writing. I had been told that a serious writer needs to write 1,000 or 2,000 words a day, and that seemed like an impossible task to fit in amongst all of the other responsibilities and distractions of everyday life.

My breakthrough came when one of my friends suggested just writing 500 words a day. That let me focus on a manageable goal, but at the same time, the words started to build up fast: 500 words a day, six days a week is 3,000 words. In four weeks you have 12,000 words. In six months, you have a first draft of a novel.

Everyone’s different when it comes to laying the groundwork. You don’t necessarily need to painstakingly craft your 3 act structure or write detailed biographies of every major and minor character. Stephen King doesn’t plot at all. James Ellroy constructs elaborate 300-page plot outlines. They both write great books. Me? I try to plot in advance as far as possible, knowing that I’ll improvise a lot on the journey.

3. You need to put yourself out there

If you want to maximise your chances of somebody publishing your work, you need to let people know about it. Submit stories to magazines and competitions. Blog and tweet. Go to literary festivals and chat to authors and publishers in the bar. Do everything you can, because you never know what’s going to help.

The breakthrough for me was one of the things that took the least effort: I posted a few of my short stories on the HarperCollins Authonomy website (now sadly departed), and against the odds, it resulted in a contact from the agent who now represents me.

Even now I’m published, I think it’s important to make sure I’m as visible as possible, which means doing festivals, library events, guest blogs, interviews and basically never saying no to anything that gives me an opportunity to reach new readers.

4. You can learn from every writer

I’ve been inspired and motivated by so many writers. Not just crime writers, either: SF, historical, graphic novels, literary, horror, non-fiction. Listen to established writers and work out how their suggestions chime with your own methods and experience.

And you don’t just learn from the nuggets of actual writing advice like…

Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” (Elmore Leonard)

“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.” (Neil Gaiman)

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” (Stephen King)

…but you learn just as much by reading authors in the genre you aspire to work in and beyond. If you read enough, you’ll start to notice things you can learn from, like a clever plot twist, or the way dialogue can do the heavy-lifting on character development, or a really amazing opening line.

And you can also learn from not-so-good books, from the flat-out terrible, to the ones that almost work but don’t quite. You start to see the pitfalls to avoid. And even if you think a book just plain sucks, you can still learn from it by working out what made it suck, and then not doing that.

THE SAMARITAN mmp2 (2)One of the best pieces of advice I got came from comic book writer Mark Millar. At one of his events he spoke about knowing a lot of people who said they were writing a novel or a screenplay, but what they were actually doing was sitting around in coffee shops with a laptop talking about writing a novel or a screenplay. It reminded me of the sign Harry Bosch keeps on his desk: Get off your ass and knock on doors. The writer’s memo should be the opposite: Sit your ass down and write some words, something like that.

  1. It’s the best job in the world
    The most pleasant surprise is that my dream job really doesn’t disappoint. You have to love writing, of course, because there’s a lot of that to do. But all of the other stuff is so much fun too: events, signings, working with publishers on making the book better than you thought it could be, seeing early proofs of the cover, walking into an bookshop or library and seeing a real-live book with actual words you made up inside it.

    I’ve done a lot of different jobs: some which I’ve enjoyed, some I’ve hated. All in all, I would have to say being a writer is substantially more fun than real life.

If you want to get in touch with Mason, or keep up to date with what’s happening with him, here are the best links to him and his stuff …

Guest Post: Daniel Pembrey


The story telling journey has, for me, been a circular one – involving reading what I love to write, and writing what I want to read.

I’ve always enjoyed crime fiction, but I equally appreciate good travel writing. When I visit a place, I yearn to read strong stories set there. I started visiting Amsterdam eight years ago when my sister moved there with her husband, and was struck by the dearth of crime fiction set in the Dutch capital (in English translation). This surprised me, given that it’s one of northern Europe’s great port cities, lending itself superbly to the genre.

I’ve also enjoyed the maverick cop stories of Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin and the Scandinavian masters such as the late Henning Mankell … So I set about creating a stoical Dutch police detective, Henk van der Pol, whose beat is in the atmospheric docklands area of Amsterdam. Indeed, I ended up moving there in 2013, in order to deepen my understanding of the story world (and consume Dubbelbock beer and jenever gin in De Druif /The Grape, Henk’s local!).

I began writing the Harbour Master series in novella-length installments – again, a story type I love to read – and was fortunate to have the first two books accepted as Kindle Singles (Amazon’s curated, short e-book programme). They sold well, the first one becoming the number one short story on Amazon UK, and this in turn got me picked up by a good agent – Kirsty McLachlan at David Godwin Associates.

However the very ingredients that had brought me initial success – the novella-length e-books, the high-selling Kindle Singles – turned into a conundrum as my agent began submitting to publishers. While the publishers were complimentary about the stories, they questioned how they could publish collections of novellas as novel-length print books (especially novellas that had already sold in significant numbers as e-books).

In July of this year, I took part in the online crime writing festival BritCrime (@BritCrime), founded by the wonderful Helen Smith. As well as being tremendous fun, the event generated a new focus on my Harbour Master series among bloggers and readers. One couple in Scotland – a husband looking after a wife with a long-term illness – left a particularly nice review after they won a copy of The Harbour Master Collected Edition; these are the things you don’t forget.

Not long after the BritCrime festival, my agent received offers from two publishers, one of which was the crime and noir specialist No Exit Press, who looked past the format of the books to see one continuous story.

The novella length of the initial installments has in fact turned into a positive once more as my agent seeks to sell the TV rights. (Another of my books – a standalone novella set in Luxembourg – was separately optioned for film adaptation, and one of the things I’ve learned from this experience is that it is actually more straightforward to ‘un-pack’ a novella into a screenplay than to adapt a full-length novel … although nothing is easy in film land!).


In parallel, I’m continuing with the Kindle Singles programme. In fact I’ve just released a new, pre-Xmas short story called The Lion Hunter, which was inspired by a combination of Cecil the lion and a recent trip to Tanzania. It’s about a newly married British couple who meet a Texan trophy hunter at a remote game lodge. The lion hunting turns out to be less morally straightforward than the husband bargains for. It really is short at approximately 50 pages. I loved writing it, and I love the creature it’s based around.

What my experience has shown me is that it’s crucial to pay close attention to what truly enthuses us. For me, that was novella-length tales with a strong sense of location – a hybrid of travel and crime writing. These are the stories I love to read, and write.

What enthuses you?


Daniel is on Twitter and Facebook His website is


You can buy The Lion Hunter: A Short Adventure Story here if you live in the UK and here if you’re in the US …

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Amazon US product page:




Guest Post: Caroline Mitchell on The Magic Formula of Success

Originally from Ireland, Caroline lives with her husband, four children and two dogs in a pretty village on the coast of Essex. Five years ago Caroline and her family encountered real life paranormal activity in their home. Paranormal Intruder is her best selling true story.

Caroline’s new novel, Don’t Turn Around has recently been published by Bookouture in a three book deal as part of her DC Jennifer Knight series. These edge of your seat crime thrillers are infused by Caroline’s experience in both the police and the paranormal.

An aspiring author once asked me what was the one thing that I could attribute my writing success to. I said it was luck. The harder I worked, the luckier I got. A well worn line, but very true. So far, all of my books have been Amazon best sellers in several categories, have gathered a reasonable amount of positive reviews and have earned their way into the Amazon top 100. I’ve got a long way to go before I join the ranks of top crime writers, but I’m happy that everything is going in the right direction.

Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a magic formula, but if I was trying to make one, I’d throw some perseverance, consistency, timing, resilience, hard work and a good dollop of optimism into the mix. I’m pleased I self published my first book, because it taught me a lot about the industry and the value of marketing. If you don’t market when you self publish, then your books won’t sell. It’s as simple as that. Thanks to the Internet, there’s never been a better time to reach out to avid readers. Social media has expanded our scope like never before. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that a new author is the wearer of many hats. Gone are the days when you could just get on with writing and leave the promotion to someone else. Even if you’re fortunate enough to be signed with big named publishers, you’ve still got to take some responsibility when it comes to getting your name out there. Note I said name, and not book. If you’re looking at this as a long-term career then you’ve got to treat yourself as a brand. That’s why it’s very important to find your writing voice early on and decide what sort of genre you fall into. Supporter of indie authors, the fantastic Joanna Penn once spoke of a conversation she had with an aspiring author who told her they didn’t want to bother with marketing, they just wanted to write. She said that was fine, as long as they didn’t want to sell any books. I couldn’t agree more.

You need to decide if you want to self-publish or try for a traditional deal. I compare the latter akin to winning the X-Factor. People sometimes ask me why I signed with digital publisher Bookouture instead of self-publishing, as I was so familiar with the process. For me, it’s a brilliant compromise. I don’t have the financial outlay that comes with self-publishing, such as content editing, proofreading, formatting and cover design (yes you should be hiring people to do all of these things if you self -publish). I work with a fantastic team of professionals and my books are published quickly. Starting off as a self-published author can be a lonely journey at times. To me, being a hybrid author is the way forward and really does offer the best of both worlds. The publishing industry is in constant flux, and as a new author, you will do well to keep your ear to the ground.

Never stop learning. We are very fortunate to live in an age when information is at our fingertips. Yes, I’m well aware of the sheer volume of books being self-published on a daily basis, but you can’t use that as an excuse to stop you reaching your goals. But you have to be hungry for success. It takes time, there are no shortcuts, and don’t expect anyone else to explain it all to you either. Get online, and get learning. There are countless free blogs on self-publishing and writing, and some cracking books and podcasts out there. Sacrifice your free time and study the craft.

Finally, make your dream real. When you’ve written something of value, get rid of the ‘aspiring’ title and envisage yourself as a writer. Go to writer’s conferences and rub shoulders with your favourite authors. They are the loveliest and most sociable bunch of people you could meet (especially if you’re buying the drinks – mine’s a white wine). Above all, good luck – you do remember what I said about luck don’t you?

You can find Caroline here …

Find my book on Amazon-
Member of the Crime Writers’ Association.

Guest Post – Paul Hardisty

What Matters:  Writing and Life

By Paul E. Hardisty

Paul’s debut novel, The Abrupt Physics of Dying, published by Orenda Books in the UK, has just been shortlisted for the CWA Creasy New Dagger award for best thriller/crime novel written in English in 2015.   The sequel, The Evolution of Fear, will be published by Orenda later this year.


I’ve always reckoned that if you’re going to write, then you should have something important to say.  The message can be simple, but it should matter.  And defining what matters, I figure, is the writer’s essential job.   That’s what literature is for.  To help us learn, in the very short time we have on this planet, of the things that are truly important.  Without literature, we’d certainly never have enough time to even come close to figuring it out on our own.

So when I started writing, a couple of decades ago, it was for no one but me.  It wasn’t to try to get published.  It was a personal exploration, an attempt to try to figure out what the hell this life was all about, and what was my place in this maelstrom. Scattered thoughts and wanderings stacked up in dozens of handwritten journals, leading to a realisation in my early twenties that I hadn’t lived nearly enough to even begin to write anything sensible about life.  So I decided to go out there and live. I worked outside, took jobs in faraway places.  I slept with a notebook and a glass of water beside my bed, waking from what has always felt like another life, so real are my dreams, writing down everything I could remember in that short sunset of clarity you sometimes get.  So the journals kept stacking up, and I travelled the world, tried to do work that I felt mattered, thought hard about what it all meant, wondered at the turnings of the universe and my own insignificance.

Everyone is different.  It was one of the earliest realisations.  So different you can never hope to understand the nature and extent of all the divergences.  Like the universe itself.   Seriously.  The impulsion to write, for me, came from there, from a realisation that I had as much right as anyone to define importance, to search for it, and to attempt to record it in prose.  If I care about it, then it matters.  To allow yourself such a permission. And there it was.

My first novel started with a single vision, a picture in my head, born of experiences I’d had working over several years in the wilds of Yemen, one of the most isolated, violent, and heart achingly beautiful places I’ve ever seen.  A picture of a soul, alone, in a foreign place, faced with a choice between action and inaction, between walking away from something he knows is wrong, or standing to face it and expose it for the wrong it is. Knowing there will be consequences if he stays.  And then it started coming like a photon storm, and I had to work hard to keep up.

A draft emerged, longer and more formed than anything I’d done before, something raw.  And I was so close to it that I couldn’t see all the flaws.  I needed help.  Lots of it.  I had no idea at first how to get that help.  I’m an engineer.  I’d never taken a creative writing course in my life.  I searched.  Paid a couple of experienced authors to review my manuscript, lived some of the hardest days of my life reading their reports, going back and smashing what I’d done into bits so I could start again, throwing a lot of it away.

At this stage, upon reflection, I started to realise that perhaps writing is a metaphor for life, or at least a damn good approximation of it.  If you don’t work at it, if you give up, you’re dead, or on the way to dead.  And of course, there are always the temptations: to quit and do something else, something easier, more comfortable, more within your self-defined capabilities; to then rationalise your choice; to go the easy route, self-publish whatever you’ve got, even if you know truly that it’s not as good as you can make it.  And I found that the very point of writing was the discipline of creating something that mattered, and, if I worked hard enough, and had some luck, maybe something good, something that had some sliver of originality to it.  Not just a copy of what others have done.  That’s so hard.  Just like it’s hard to live your life truly, not giving up on yourself, not taking the short cuts, backing yourself to find that thing inside you that is unique, that contribution, that spark that only you can light.  It’s a hell of a hard thing.   But it could be the only thing that actually defines what it means to be alive, to be human.

So I kept going, five years, seven, ten, twenty.  Working whenever I could.  Learning.  Searching.  And then one day, it happened.  I got an agent, Broo Doherty of DHH Literary Agency.  Someone who was willing to help me, who believed in what I was trying to do, and wanted to help me get there.  And then, multiple rejections later, a first real book deal.  I’d published a couple of technical books before (non-fiction), but it’s not the same.   Fiction is much harder to write (for me anyway).  Months later, that amazing feeling of my first novel in my hand, with a cover and jacket quotes and everything. Realizing you don’t do anything worthwhile without help from others, but still the most amazing validation.  And the whole time I was thinking that there is so much in the book that I could’ve done better.  Things I would have changed, subtracted, integrated, differentiated.

And in the end, I guess that’s point.  The things that really are important, that truly matter, in writing and in life, are not things that can be compromised, faked.   Nor, in truth, are they ever likely to be perfectly attained.  Maybe that’s the essential timeless attraction.  It’s not something you ever reach, no matter how hard you try.   Because the trying is everything.  That’s what matters.

So go try.


Guest post: Col Bury – Keep Dreaming


After playing with writing since my late teens, penning amateurish short stories and swapping them with fellow Manc’ David Barber, we both realised we had a helluva long way to go. “Eccles Writers’ line” was formed, since we didn’t have enough members to form a “circle”.

Shift work, marriage, kids (and naysayers! Ignore those ‘half empty’ buggers at all costs) made the dream more distant, but I kept stubbornly chipping away at novel attempts, reading ‘How to’ books, submitting anything and everything, and getting rejected en masse. Looking back, I reckon that’s exactly what’s required to hone the craft and build the necessary character to edge toward your goals with a solid foundation and realistic expectation.

I hit brick walls at 41,000 words (oddly twice) with crime novel attempts, though this is all part of the steep learning curve. The partial breakthrough came after building up my knowledge of the writing business by lurking – then eventually joining in – on an online writers’ forum called Writers’ News Talkback. This later inspired a short story FORUM OF FURY which, along with many other short stories, featured on ezines then later in one of my ebook collections MANCHESTER 6. Confidence grew and my short stories began being accepted, most notably in the last three MAMMOTH BOOKS OF BEST BRITISH CRIME alongside some of my heroes, like Simon Kernick and Lee Child.

A fateful meeting with thriller writer Matt Hilton ended with us co-editing the award-winning ezine THRILLERS, KILLERS ‘N’ CHILLERS. This provided a huge boost to the ‘platform’ that agents and publishers seek for prospective writers and I’ll be ever thankful to Matt.

Consequently, New York agent Nat Sobel read and enjoyed one of my short stories (you never know who’s reading) and emailed me. The next eighteen months were taken up with late night rewrites and Nat ripping my manuscript to shreds! At one point (around 50,000 words) he said, “This ain’t working. Start again”! Exasperated, I really could’ve thrown the towel in, but didn’t. Eventually the manuscript was submitted both sides of the Atlantic and I received a string of ‘glorious rejections’, including enough positive feedback from top editors to spur me on further.

I’m still friends with Nat, but he didn’t sell my ‘novel’. I considered self-publishing, though deep down receiving that validation of a “Yes” from the right publisher was massively important to me. Back at the proverbial drawing board, I wrote another ebook collection THE COPS OF MANCHESTER to keep my name bubbling ‘out there’ while revaluating things. I finally rewrote the crime novel based on the feedback and decided to try some smaller publishers myself. I carefully selected two from contacts I’d made at Harrogate Crime Writing Festival (can’t stress how crucial attending these events is). After a painful wait, one rejected it and the other, Caffeine Nights Publishing, accepted!

As I write, MY KIND OF JUSTICE sits above Lee Child’s latest, at number 21 in the ‘Crime Bestsellers’ chart on Amazon UK. The sales are surpassing all my expectations and it feels good, and was worth waiting a quarter of a century for!  Tenacity and talent (some at least!) is a formidable cocktail.

My Kind of Justice - Cover

And so, now I finally have the belief that some readers out there actually like my writing enough to buy it… I write another… and another… and will finally live that dream!

Col Bury is the former Crime Editor of webzine Thrillers, Killers ‘n’ Chillers, for which he was voted ‘Online Fiction Editor of the Year’ in a 2010 readers’ poll. His fiction has featured in many anthologies, most notably, THE MAMMOTH BOOKS OF BEST BRITISH CRIME 9, 10 & 11.

He is the author of two popular short stories collections, MANCHESTER 6 and THE COPS OF MANCHESTER, and his debut novel MY KIND OF JUSTICE has just been released via Caffeine Nights Publishing.

Col lives with his wife and two children in Manchester, UK, where he reads a lot, enjoys action movies, shoots pool and watches his beloved Manchester City FC.

Find him on Twitter

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Guest post: Douglas Skelton – Getting it Done

Skelton pic

Douglas Skelton specialises in non-fiction and fiction from the darker side of our world. His non-fiction charts the true life exploits of murderers, criminals and cause celebres. HIs fiction focuses on the underbelly of Glasgow – Scotland’s biggest, industrial and working-class city; with a history of tobacco barons, Victorian elegance, manufacturing, gangs, culture and the Commonwealth Games. It’s a hard but sentimental city. It’s a city with a fierce and abiding heart.  

Okay, so 14 published books in, what have I learned?

Well, first if you don’t write it, the book won’t happen.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But you’d be amazed how many times I’ve thought of something, started it then abandoned it. The poor things lie there, half-formed, never seeing the light of day.

Perhaps they were never worthy in the first place. Perhaps they were too ambitious. Perhaps they just weren’t good enough and I knew it.

I speak to so many people who have begun one book, got so far, then been side-tracked by another idea which they felt they just had to get down.

And they didn’t finish that one either.

Here’s my tip number one – finish what you start. If it’s working, if you’re stimulated by the original notion, if the words are flowing, keep at it. Yes, you’ve had another great idea but don’t let it lure you away with its seductive wiles. Write the idea down but keep on with the job in hand. That other idea isn’t going anywhere, you’ll get to it.

The best bit of advice I’ve ever been given was from the late Jack Gerson, who’d had a successful career in TV scriptwriting and was also a prolific author. All he said was, simply, ‘Get it done.’ That’s it. He said that there were so many distractions to writers – and back then social media was watching the telly with pals in the pub – that it sometimes seems as if there are mines and mantraps around your desk. We don’t need to complicate our lives by trying to spin too many plates because it’s certain they’ll all crash.

He told me to get a draft done, no matter what. Hemingway said all first drafts are crap and he was right. Don’t believe those writers who say their first attempt is what ended up on the shelves.

A first draft is a little more than a blueprint. Yes, there can be passages that you wrote in the blistering heat of inspiration that you may not need to touch. Well, maybe not much. But overall, a first draft is little more than getting the spine of your story straight. There may be gaps. There may be whole sections that won’t make it to the final draft. There may be trouble ahead. But keep going until you have that first draft complete.

Because then the work really starts.

Tip Number two? Never be afraid to cut.

Newsflash – you’re not perfect. Not everything you do is wonderful, no matter what your mother/wife/husband/budgie says. Some things, things you love, might not work. William Faulkner called it killing your darlings and we all have to do it. You might not have the stomach to do it yourself but it if really isn’t working then a good editor will do it for you.

Tip number three is try to stay positive.

Those who know me are smiling now because I am prone to periods of self-doubt, if not self-loathing. Being a writer is, by necessity, a solitary occupation and that’s when the black dog can come padding in and tell you that you’re useless, your work is rubbish, you’ll never amount to anything.

You may pat that dog on the head, embrace him and tell him he’s right.  But eventually you have to throw a stick far into the bushes and let him look for it.

If you don’t have self-belief you ain’t got nothin’. Yes, you’ll be knocked down, knocked back and just plain knocked. And you may lie down for a while, you may even vow that you’ll never write again but sooner or later you’ve got to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start all over again. Because the urge – the need – to tell stories is something that never dies.

In the end there is one truth.

Everyone will talk about how they have a book in them.

Writers write theirs.

Devils Knock cover-1 case files

Get in touch with Douglas …







Lessons Learned …


bad English sign


Don’t take yourself too seriously. Or else you end up looking like a dick. Nobody cares. Really. Unless you sell 50 gazillion books. Then its all about the herd. And the herd really cares. They want to know who you’re shagging and what you eat for breakfast and all that blah, blah, blah stuff.

Take yourself seriously. I don’t mean, you should wear cravats and grow a huge forehead. I’m talking – know your business – hone your craft – put the work in.

William Goldman the director of Princess Bride, famously said, nobody knows nothing. He was of course talking about the movie industry – but he could have been talking about publishing. Nobody really knows what is going to work. It’s all a best guess scenario. You just need to write the best book you can.

Don’t react to bad reviews – or you will end up looking like a dick. Wearing sour grapes all over your face is not a good look. Everybody gets them. To Kill A Mocking Bird has over 22,000 1 star reviews on Goodreads. That put my one or two into perspective. Be the duck’s back and let the review be the water. IF there’s something you can learn from the review, assimilate that. Otherwise, accept it and move on.

Make your local bookseller your new best friend – don’t go in and demand they stock your book. (And the times that happens is legion.) You’re just going to piss them off. Can you make yourself an asset to their business? Offer to sign stock – chat about the weather – talk about  books you’ve read and enjoyed – buy some books – promote them on social media.

You are in a partnership with your publisher. Gone are the days when you can sign the deal, sign a few books for readers and then sit back and wait for the sales to come in. You need to put yourself out and about.

Whoever coined the phrase – never judge a book by its cover – gets ignored on a daily basis. Covers REALLY matter. The End. So, if your intended route to readers is self-publishing DO NOT stint on the cover. You get one chance to attract the reader’s eye. Don’t mess it up.

Here’s a link with some hilariously bad examples – Kindle Cover Disasters . You’re welcome.

Just because you can – doesn’t mean you should. I’m talking about social networking – and talking about yourself all the time. Would you go to a party and do that? Would you walk into the middle of the room and shout BUY MY BOOK? No, didn’t think so. Yet, that’s what people do on social networking all the time. Engage with people. It’s all about relationships. Follow the 80/20 rule. That’s 80% chat and blethers – 20% promotional. (And some commentators think that should be nearer to 90/10.) And most important of all, remember you are a business, you are your own brand. Don’t be a dick.

What do you think? Have you learned an important lesson you’d like to share?


Life’s a Pitch – Alexandra Sokoloff


I’m often asked to speak to groups and classes of aspiring writers, and recently I was speaking to a college writing class, and I realized something that I’ve known for a long time, but I’ve never actually put into words.

Life is a constant pitch meeting.

There were a few dozen kids in this advanced class. Okay, not all kids! I talked for about forty-five minutes, my whole story of breaking into the film business as a screenwriter and then moving on to write novels, all the usual, and for the rest of the two-hour class I was just taking questions.

Out of the whole class, only five of the students asked questions, although more did answer when I asked them questions to draw them out. And out of those, only two people voluntarily told me what they were working on, in detail. And those were two out of the three who continued to ask questions throughout the class.

Guess which students I remember from the class?

Not only that, but these two guys caught my attention from the very first moment they walked into the class. They are attention whores. One walked in with a Nerf — Uzi, it looked like, in violent neon colors. At the slightest prompting he pulled that puppy out of his backpack, loaded a clip of Nerf bullets with awesome efficiency, and fired several lethal rounds into the whiteboard at the front of the class. It was a thing of beauty.

The other shuffled in, collapsed into his seat in a posture of abject and total martyrdom, made sure everyone could see the bruise under his eye, and proceeded (again with the most minimal prompting) to tell a woeful tale of being assaulted by his girlfriend over the weekend. She subsequently harassed his roommates, who called the cops and had her arrested.

Now those are entrances. Those are characters.

I don’t know if either of those guys can write worth a damn; I don’t know if they’ve got the drive and dedication to do what the job is, but I would give them a chance to show me more, just because they’re standouts — and because in two hours I learned so much more about them and their writing than I did about anyone else in the class. They moved themselves to the top of the theoretical list just by being forthcoming. They put the spotlight on themselves.

Furthermore, the guy with the Nerf Uzi draws and writes comic books, and the guy with the out-of-control love life is writing a wacky romantic comedy.

Do we see the pattern here?

They were illustrating the kinds of writers they are, in clothing, props, actions, and their entire personal presentations. They were pitching their writing with everything that they did that night. And oh, do film executives love visual aids. Who doesn’t?

At twenty-two or whatever, these kids already have it down.

In screenwriting, because so much of the job is pitching, you have to stand out for simple job survival. Film executives will take six or seven or ten pitch meetings in a day. Of course you have to have a great story to tell, but you equally have to make sure they’re actually awake enough to pay attention.

And it’s a lot the same if you’re an author. The more interesting character is going to get more attention from the media (essential for an author’s job survival). You will get more attention from your publisher if they sense you will get extra attention from the media. That’s just reality.

Take a look at successful authors you admire. There’s something beyond their amazing writing, isn’t there? They’re also fascinating people. They have star power in person. You can always find them in a room, and once you spot them, you can’t take your eyes off them. Watch Lee Child smoke a cigarette, for example, and tell me that’s not a living advertisement for the Reacher novels.

Now, that is not at all to say that you can’t make a bestselling career as a recluse. It’s happened throughout the ages. Great writing finds a spotlight, even when the author can’t. But I suspect it’s a lot harder to make a career that way, especially these days.

Even though I wasn’t handing out jobs in that class that night, I am a highly connected industry professional who was right in front of those students, at their disposal, for two hours. That’s an opportunity that doesn’t get handed to most people every day. There is no reward for being shy in that situation. You need to milk an opportunity like that for all it’s worth.

But the fact is, the Universe is always handing us chances to get exactly what we want. It’s a matter of whether or not we’re prepared enough, professionally and emotionally, to take the chances we’re given.

Sometimes we’re just not ready.

Those two guys I’m talking about didn’t know who I was or that I was going to be in class that night. They didn’t put on those little performances for me. They are clearly people who are always performing. But the point is, you never know when someone who can help you is going to be watching, or who might take an interest in you and your career simply because you’re interesting.

If you are ready… and that’s a big if — you need to put yourself out there so that people can see who you are. You need to talk passionately and specifically about your work. My friend and literary idol Margaret Maron calls it “sparkling,” and Margaret truly does. You have to sparkle.

This really goes double and triple if you attend writing conferences. Conferences are expensive investments in your career, and you need to make the most of the hundreds of opportunities that will present themselves to you over a conference weekend.

You aren’t ever going to be on all the time, let’s just be realistic about that! But you can talk passionately and specifically about your newest projects (without dominating the conversation to the point of being obnoxious and a turn-off) so that editor or agent on the sidelines of the group will make a mental note (“Read that author” or “Keep track of that person”).

You have to sparkle, whatever that means to you.

And if you find yourself resisting this idea, perhaps you might consider this question: Do you not present yourself at full power because somewhere inside you don’t feel ready?

I think that’s an important question for all of us to consider, and regularly. Because when it feels like we’re being held back, it’s usually something inside ourselves that is putting the brakes on.

So think about the last time you were in a group of authors or aspiring authors. Who stands out? Who stood out? Who presents an intriguing sense of the kind of writing that they do? Who sparkles? Who makes you want to know more

Let’s hear it, so we can all learn something!

    —- Alexandra Sokoloff


Alexandra Sokoloff is the bestselling, Thriller Award-winning and Bram Stoker and Anthony Award-nominated author of eleven supernatural, paranormal and crime thrillers. The New York Times has called her “a daughter of Mary Shelley” and her books “Some of the most original and freshly unnerving work in the genre.”

As a screenwriter she has sold original scripts and written novel adaptations for numerous Hollywood studios. She also teaches the internationally acclaimed Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshops, based on her Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks and blog.

Her Thriller Award-nominated Huntress Moon series, following a haunted FBI agent on his hunt for a female serial killer, is out now. Huntress_Moon_TM_CVR-FT


Welcome to MJM Ink

Nav button 3A warm welcome to MJM Ink and thanks for tuning in!

Over the years I’ve delivered milk, sold shoes and suits, worked in a bar and in a bank, been employed in a coffee shop, was (briefly) the poet-in-residence for an adult gift shop (don’t ask) and latterly I was a regional sales manager for Faber and Faber.

The one constant in all of that has been my love of books and my need to write.

I am delighted to be opening up this service through MJM Ink and I look forward to collaborating with you to help you achieve your writing goals.

I have been published in fiction, non-fiction and poetry (don’t mention the gift shop) and, although my publishing credits are mainly in the crime/ psychological thriller area, the tenets of good writing and storytelling hold true for all genres.

So whether you are writing commercial or literary fiction, romance, crime, fantasy or horror, let me help you move a huge step closer to your literary dreams.

Have a look through the website and if you need any clarification – or to begin the process, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.