Everything Burned

The EU referendum and the absolute carnage it has created in the UK has been on everyone’s minds. It’s impossible to escape.

I’ve wanted to write about the situation, but found it very difficult to articulate how I feel. I’m just so angry, dumbfounded that a group of incompetent politicians, born into wealth and blinded by ego, have waltzed our country into so much economic uncertainty. It’s truly unforgivable.

There are so many blog posts and opinion pieces on what has happened. So instead I’ve written a story.

I published it in the latest issue of Shelflife – my weekly newsletter.

You can read it here too.

You can find out more about Shelflife right here.

Every fortnight, I send a collection of interesting links from around the web, some thoughts of my own and short, original fiction. It’s completely free and you can unsubscribe at any time. 

Shelflife – a newsletter

Newsletters have been all the rage for a couple of years. I’m not saying I’m some sort of pioneer (I am), but I’ve had my own newsletter for quite some time. In the last few months, I’ve been taking it a bit more seriously.

What’s in a name?

Last October, I moved the newsletter to Goodbits, which is great for compiling and annotating links. But I recently switched back to Mailchimp because, frankly, I couldn’t justify the $19 monthly fee.

I took the opportunity to do a little rebranding too. For a long time, I called my newsletter The Broome Cupboard, which was kind of silly, even though it helped remind people who was sending the emails. It was time to call the newsletter something that better reflects what it actually contains.

And that is:

  • original microstories and my own experiences of being an author
  • images of other authors’ writing spaces
  • links to articles about writing, reading and creativity.

My newsletter is for authors and readers and anyone interested in writing, publishing and putting their work out there. And now it is called Shelflife, which sums things up nicely and gives a gentle nod to the practical challenges of being a writer.

Ask the audience

The switch to Shelflife was more than just a name change. I took the chance to invite subscribers to answer a survey that would help me find out exactly what they wanted from the newsletter.

People had signed up over several years and I really wasn’t clear about what people were looking for from me. It turned out I was on the right track in terms of content and very little has changed in that regard.

However, I had been finding it tough to keep up with the weekly schedule, so I also asked my subscribers how often they wanted to receive the emails. Turned out that most people also found it difficult to open, read and explore what I was sending on a weekly basis.

That’s why I now send Shelflife out every two weeks instead. It’s been much better for me and I think the overall quality of the emails has improved. Certainly, I’ve seen no negative impact on the newsletter’s open and click rates.

Subscribe for free

I’ve sent out four issues of Shelflife so far and I’d love you to subscribe for free and give it a shot. If you’ve been following me online for a while, it’s definitely the best place for you to keep up with what I’m doing.

You can sign up and read previous issues on my special Shelflife page.

The end of the Write for Your Life podcast

I have currently recorded 157 episodes of the Write for Your Life podcast, the first in 2009 and the most recent, just before Christmas last year. Me and Donna, my co-host for the last couple of years, have made a difficult and slightly sad decision. We will record two more shows and then, well, that will be that.

Why stop now?

It’s really straightforward and if you’ve listened to any of our shows over the last 18 months, you’ll know exactly why.

We both have young families. We both work full-time. And we both really, really want to write our second books.

We took a break last year and though we still love recording together, it’s proved more and more difficult to get back into the routine. The shows are an hour long, but (believe it or not) there’s a lot of work that goes into pre-show prep and editing too.

When time is limited anyway, several hours every week is a lot to give up.

We’ll no doubt talk about this a lot more on the two final shows that we are yet to record and publish. I’ll post them both here on my site as well as on 5by5 when they’re out.

So is that it? Like, forever ever?

For the Write for Your Life podcast, yes. These shows will absolutely be our last, which means that after eight years, I will no longer be working on anything that has the Write for Your Life name in it. Sniff. Blub.

But it doesn’t mean that I’ll be leaving the airwaves forever or that me and Donna won’t work together again. I’m not sure what shape it will take, but the plan is to start a new, independent podcast at some point later this year.

I love podcasting and I have so many ideas, including recording short, solo show as a behind-the-scenes take on my novel writing process. I don’t think I’m going to do that though. Because what I really need to do is write. Write, write, write.

Whatever happens next for us podcast-wise, the best way to find out about it is to follow me on Twitter or, even better, subscribe to my weekly newsletter.

Some thank yous

It wouldn’t be a farewell without saying thank you to a few people.

First of all, Joanne Mateer, my real-life pal and a fine writer to boot. Joanne was my first regular co-host and recorded some of those early shows that I think still stand up today. She was a guest on later shows too and has always been a great friend and source of support and encouragement.

Next, Myke Hurley. It was when Myke asked me to join his fledgling 70Decibels network that Write for Your Life really found its feet.

We recorded around 30 shows together. That period happened to track my progress from unpublished author to getting a deal and seeing my book hit the shelves. Myke went on to co-found the marvellous Relay.fm, but without his expertise and input, the Write for Your Life podcast wouldn’t have reached 50 shows, never mind 150.

Finally, my trusty co-host for the last couple of years, Donna Sørensen.

Donna’s wit, wisdom and penchant for nonsense has made this final phase of the show’s life by far the best. We’ve recorded roughly 70 episodes together and she is unarguably the greatest amateur xylophone player to ever grace the podcasting airwaves.

I should also point out that, when you blow away the fog of self-deprecation that we both shroud ourselves in on the show, you see that Donna is a fine poet with a long literary career ahead of her. If you haven’t already, buy Dream Country. You’ll get what I mean.

Aren’t you missing someone?

Ah, yes. Of course. You there. Our wonderful listeners.

Once the final two episodes are out in the world, the show will have had around 300,000 total downloads. Far more important than the numbers though are all of the emails, tweets and conversations that you have sent us over the years.

I have and continue to appreciate every single one and hope that the writing chit-chat continues in the future. I’m always on (or near) Twitter if you need me.

Thank you so much for listening.

Speak to you soon.

A new job at Yoomee

 Image:  Yoomee on Flickr
Image: Yoomee on Flickr

I’m very pleased to write that next month, I will start a new job at Sheffield digital agency, Yoomee. I’ll be a Senior Producer with a focus on creating, organising and managing content.

It’s a big deal for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve heard great things about Yoomee and I’m excited about working with the team. They seem like such a great bunch and I feel like the role is going to be both challenging and rewarding in equal measure. I’m really, really looking forward to it.

Second, Yoomee is based in my home city, Sheffield, which means I’ll be able to play a much fuller part in childcare duties. I’ve been driving 12+ hours to work a week for the last 18 months, so doing the school run on a regular basis is going to be ace! We’re expecting another baby in the Summer too. That’s another announcement.

I’d like to say a quick thank you to the lovely people at Cornerstones, the company I’ll be leaving. We’ve achieved a great deal together and they’ve played a huge part in my life. I’ve learnt so much in my time there. I’ve also eaten a lot of cake.

So, it’s all go in 2016. I have more news to come, but I’ll save that for another post. In the meantime, you can learn more about Yoomee via their website or even follow them/us on Twitter.

Microstories

Earlier this year, I relaunched my newsletter for writers and other creative folks, The Broome Cupboard. Every week, I send an email to 400-odd people, sharing interesting links and goodies that I’ve found on my internet travels. I also include an original microstory.

Unflashy fiction

Almost every good idea I’ve ever had has started as a few words in a notebook or text file. Maybe a silly phrase. An overheard conversation. Whatever.

Rather than keep these tiny fragments of fiction to myself, I’ve decided to share them.

I have just three rules.

  • Don’t overthink.
  • Don’t overedit.
  • Use one page only.

Those rules are in place because I want to focus on a) writing and publishing quickly, and b) holding on to whatever germ of an idea first entered my head.

Inspiration

This sort of thing is nothing new, of course. There are three artists/authors whose (very) short fiction I’m rather partial to.

They are:

I highly recommend you explore their work and even more so, if you’re a maker-person of any kind, have a go at creating microstores of your own. The constraints make it challenging, but they also force you to focus on the power of saying very little.

As always, it’s all about what you leave out.

Share your stuff

If you write or make (microstories can take many forms) your own short fiction, let me know on Twitter. I’d love to take a look.

And if you’d like to see more of my work, follow me on Instagram or even better, subscribe to the newsletter.

Talking about my favourite album on Inquisitive

I appeared on episode 56 of Inquisitive on Relay.fm to talk about my favourite album, Damien Rice’s O.

Relay.fm is a great podcast network set up last year by my internet pal and former co-host of the Write for Your Life podcast, Myke Hurley. Doing this show was like stepping back in time and we both had a lot of fun. It was great to catch up.

As for O being my favourite album, that’s kind of true. It was certainly my favourite album for a time and it reminds me of a special period of my life.

That’s what this episode is about really. Memories and moments. Go listen to it now on Relay.fm or find it on iTunes.

A is for Angelica the audiobook available now

One month earlier than expected, I’m pleased to say that the audiobook version of A is for Angelica is now on sale. Read with a Yorkshire lilt by Tim Bruce, it is complete, unabridged and I think it sounds great. I hope you like it.

Here is a free sample, the first three chapters:

You can buy A is for Angelica the audiobook from Audible in both the UK and US stores. It comes as a digital download and you can get it as a one-off thing or as part of your Audible subscription.

Here are the links:

The first edition of A is for Angelica was published almost exactly three years ago. I’ve always wanted it to become an audiobook too. Today feels like completing a set.

The Broome Cupboard, my newsletter for writers

Today I send out the first issue of a new-look version of my email newsletter, The Broome Cupboard. Mailchimp has been my go-to email service for years and it’s great in almost every way. However, I wanted to find a better, quicker way to share the links and goodies I find on my daily trawl of the internet. That’s why I’m switching to Goodbits.

Curating the web

My newsletter has always been a little bit about me, but it’s also been a place to share interesting stuff with my fellow writers and creative folks. There will be lots more of that from now on. Goodbits has a handy Chrome extension that allows me to select, comment on and add a link to my newsletter straight from the browser. It’s an amazing feature that means each issue will have more links and more commentary. Yet the whole thing takes no more time for me to assemble.

Landing page

Goodbits also comes with a very handy landing page that makes The Broome Cupboard feel much more like a thing. Yes, issues will go out by email, as normal. But they will also appear as part of a full archive and include public links that people can directly share with others. It’s basically a newsletter and a website.

Regular publishing schedule

Honestly, for creating emails that feature curated links and uploaded images, Mailchimp can be a little fiddly. There is a lot of copying and pasting. When life’s got busy, I’ve simply not kept to what is supposed to be a weekly schedule. I expect that to change. If you subscribe to The Broome Cupboard, your emails will arrive on Wednesdays.

Sponsored links and reader support

All of these new features come with a price. Literally. To get all these features and really improve the newsletter, I’ve had to sign up to a paid plan with Goodbits. That’s absolutely fine for the 300+ subscribers I have right now, but will get more expensive as the list grows. In the future, I may look to include a sponsored link per issue or even provide a way for readers to offer direct support.

Subscribe now!

Enough of this waffling. If you are already signed up to The Broome Cupboard, you can expect to see Issue 1 in your inbox very shortly. If you’re not subscribed but you are a writer or creative type who likes it when someone shows you all the good stuff on the internet, head to the landing page and subscribe now. Immediately. Go. Go!

Small Product Lab days 8–10: Losing track and light launching

I start by telling you that the Writing Style Guide Starter Kit is now available to buy. I didn’t follow the exact Small Product Lab (SPL) guidelines in the last couple of days, but I did launch my product bang on time.

Day 8: Launch plan?

This was the day that everyone taking part in the SPL was supposed to sit down and plan how they would tell the world about their creation. I got home from work, put the kids to bed and ate dinner with my wife. Then I sat down to make my plan and immediately thought, when am I actually going to create the product?

Almost every day of the SPL is taken up with tasks that mostly involve packaging and marketing your product. I’d been sticking to the instructions pretty rigidly. But with launch day just around the corner, I knew that I would have to think about turning my style guide template into something that a) makes sense to other people, and b) I could sell.

But what about the launch plan? Well, if I’m honest, I’m still wondering about that now and it’s the day after the ‘official launch’. Essentially, I decided to make and start selling the style guides in the 10-day timeframe. Having a detailed, planned launch was not something I was going to be able to do. But that was all right. I could call it a soft launch. A light launch? Something like that.

The good news from day eight was that I did indeed manage to complete my Starter Kit template. I created sample content and made sure all its internal links and functionality worked as it should.

Day 9: Partner up

I pretty much skipped this step too. The idea was to find someone else taking part in the SPL, partner up and review each other’s work. Instead of doing that, I spent all evening on day nine writing the documentation to go with the Starter Kit.

I could have just launched a version one without the instructions, as it is pretty self-explanatory. But I felt it really needed that extra level of support to make it a product worth paying for (which it is!). It took me a few hours in Clarify to create a series of screenshots and accompanying explanations. Never used a writing style guide before? Not a problem. I’m glad I did it.

While I was pleased to have a complete product ready for launch, I was aware that I’d started to drift away from both the SPL guidelines and community. On the Facebook group, lots of people were partnering up and a few people really helping others out. I’ve not been able to help in the same way. I’ve dipped in and out of the group and contributed to plenty of threads, but I’ve not made the most of the group element of the project.

If you decide to do the SPL yourself when Gumroad announce the next round, I’d say throw yourself into that Facebook group. If like me, your full-time job makes that tricky, then fine. But if you can really engage with others and get stuck into the community spirit, you’ll get far more out of the process.

Day 10: Reach out

A similar story. Apart from family life, a full-time job and writing my second novel, I also take on occasional freelance work. That’s what I was doing for the best part of day 10, when others were reaching out to their pals and mailing lists to tell people the product was on its way. On the plus side, I’d received six pre-orders and was over halfway to my $100 sales goal.

Not that I did no reaching out at all. I got in touch with a couple of pre-order folks and sent them an early version to look at. They in turn tweeted and shared the link to the Starter Kit on Gumroad. I also sent another email to the people who’d kindly signed up to a special pre-launch mailing list. And I posted as much as possible in the SPL Facebook group.

All the time though, I knew this wasn’t exactly the all-singing, all-dancing product launch that it could have been. But at the end of day 10, I did press publish and the product is now for sale. As the time pressure took its toll, I had to make a few adjustments to the plan, but I did get a previously non-existent product to market in under two weeks. It wasn’t easy, but I did it. And going through the process was very valuable.

What next?

Well, it’s now the weekend. I still need to let people on my main mailing list know that the Starter Kit is on sale. There is so much more I could do to launch the product properly. But I think I’ll give it a few days and go back to day eight, where I was supposed to do a proper launch plan. Then I’ll have a good go at sharing what I’ve done with a wider audience.

For now though, if you are a writer or company owner who works with words every day, chances are you use or need a style guide. May I heartily recommend taking a look at the Writing Style Guide Starter Kit. It will save you time, energy and a whole lot of unnecessary Googling.

Small Product Lab (Days 5–7): Rethink, pre-order, pricing

Time for another update on my progress with Gumroad’s Small Product Lab. We’re at a point now (Day 8) where I’m panicking about whether I’ll get my product out on time, so I’m going to write this quickly.

But before I begin, I should say that you can now pre-order the Writing Style Guide Starter Kit. Use the offer code practice to get $5 off.

Day five: Cover image and sales copy

I’ve been using Canva recently for some work on my father-in-law’s accountancy and business development company, White Bruce. He loves it and I’ve found it very easy to use. It made sense to create my product cover image with Canva to save time and tinkering, which often slows me down.

Then it was on to sales copy. And this is where things took a turn for the worse.

I am a copywriter. I write for a living and have done for 15 years. Heck, it’s what this product is all about! And indeed, that was the problem. Until now, I’d been simply referring to ‘my writing style guides’. I noticed on the SPL Facebook group, everyone else had a fancy name for their product.

Why I had I not thought about this? There was a simple explanation.

Because I was so worried that it wasn’t enough to just sell my original, extremely useful template for copywriters and agencies that I use all the time, I threw the author style guide in there too. The author guide exists and is also very useful, but in writing the sales copy I realised that it should be a separate product for a similar, but mostly separate audience. I decided to cut back. The author template is gone. At least for now.

Note: I know many of you reading this site are creative writer types. If you would like me to make and sell that author style guide, please email me and let me know.

Day six: You can do this!

Feeling more comfortable about my product, I thought long and hard about a fancy name. However, sometimes a product, service or company does not require a fancy name. What it needs instead is to present a clear idea of what the thing actually is. So that’s the route I took.

Writing Style Guide Starter Kit. That’s where I ended up.

Because that’s what the product is. Yes, there are a few bells and whistles – internal document links, macros to track who saved last and when – but essentially, what I’m selling is a tried and tested Word document that saves time and gets you started. (It also works a treat in Google Docs.)

What else happened on day six? I took my twin boys to the park. We had friends over for dinner. I was delightfully distracted.

Day seven: Price your product

In my head, it was always going to cost $15.

And then everyone in the Facebook group started talking about the Pay What You Want approach and I began to waver. Is my simple style guide template really worth people’s actual, real-life money? Would it be less of a risk to say ‘pay what you want’ and collect a load of email addresses?

Well yes, I think it probably is. And yes, but collect emails is not what I set out to do.

Shall I tell you what my goal is? I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before. Basically, I would like to sell enough Writing Style Guide Starter Kits to make $100–200. Not a huge amount, but not tiny either. Achievable, I think. And much more likely if I set a fixed price. So that’s what I have done.

One style guide template. $15. Free updates after that.

Pre-order now

I know I’ve already told you this, but another reason for taking part in the SPL is to go through the process of asking people to pay for something I’ve made. So in that spirit, head over to the Writing Style Guide Starter Kit product page and pre-order your copy now. Again, use the code practice for a $5 discount.