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.

Small Product Lab (Days 3–4): Landing page and showing my work

It is day four of my foray into creating and launching a product in 10 days. In my case, the product is a package of three writing style guide templates – the above image is the first glimpse of what they look like. I’m finding the process rather fun. Yesterday I added more content to my landing page. Today my main job is to tell you all about it.

Day 3: Creating a landing page

Many people taking part in the Small Product Lab (SPL) are using Gumroad’s built-in landing page and mailing list tools. This makes perfect sense. They combine well to do the job of collecting pre-launch sign-ups. But I wanted something a little different. I wanted to create a landing page on my own domain – www.writingstyleguides.com – that I could develop and add to over time.

I’m no web developer, but I know enough to set up and use one of the many squillion HTML templates out there. I settled on Launch Kit, which I bought on Themeforest for just $17. It has its own page builder, which means apart from adding analytics and a few SEO-related bits and pieces, I’ve barely touched the code.

The copy on the page is no more than fine. Accepting that was a big challenge for me. I’m a copywriter and I like to spend a lot of time really thinking about a product or service before I come up with something just right. I don’t have time for that on this project. I want to hit my 12-day launch deadline and can’t afford to mess about. I can improve it later. For now, it will have to do.

There is just one call to action on the page at the moment – to join the mailing list and be ‘the first to know’ when the templates are ready. I’ve had around 20 sign-ups, which is okay considering I’ve not had chance to do a lot of promotion. That will come later too.

One thing I’m learning from this process is that it’s okay to not be in a position to do everything at once. And that I shouldn’t let that stifle me. I should get on and do what I can. One step at a time.

I might make the templates available for pre-order later in the week. For now, if you think they might be up your alley, head over to the landing page and add your email address. I’ll let you know when they launch.

Day 4: Show your work

Being part of the SPL means receiving an email each morning that provides guidance and key tasks to complete over the course of the day. Today is all about sharing. For those who listen to the Write for Your Life podcast, you can imagine my delight at finding a huge quote from one of my online faves, Austin Kleon.

It’s a great quote from his book, Show Your Work:

“Almost all of the people I look up to and try to steal from today, regardless of their profession, have built sharing into their routine. These people aren’t schmoozing at cocktail parties; they’re too busy for that. They’re cranking away in their studios, their laboratories, or their cubicles, but instead of maintaining absolute secrecy and hoarding their work, they’re open about what they’re working on, and they’re consistently posting bits and pieces of their work, their ideas, and what they’re learning online. Instead of wasting their time “networking,” they’re taking advantage of the network. By generously sharing their ideas and their knowledge, they often gain an audience that they can then leverage when they need it—for fellowship, feedback, or patronage.”

At the start of this year, I said I was going to follow this advice, but for one reason or another, it just hasn’t happened. This is what I wrote in January:

I don’t find it useful to write in isolation. I used to write and share more. I’d like to do that again.

Hopefully, people will buy and enjoy using my style guide templates. But if nothing else comes from taking part in the SPL, quickly knocking out these updates, even though this is only my second, has been a revelation. It’s made me realise how much I enjoy writing about my work. I used to do it all the time, then my novel got published and for some reason, I retreated. At least on this blog.

Next month, my podcasting partner in crime, Donna Sørensen, is coming to stay with us in the UK. We have lots to talk about. One of those things will be how our little podcast takes shape in the future, and how we can make sharing and community a fundamental part of it.

I’ve spent too long trying to write and work in isolation when my personal history tells me I work best when I share and show my work. I never thought making and selling style guides in 10 days would be the thing that helped me remember that. Funny old place, the internet.

More sharing soon. Pinky promise.

Small Product Lab (Days 1–2): Deciding and planning

I’m taking part in Gumroad’s Small Product Lab, which gives me 10 days to take an idea from just that to an actual thing that people can buy. I’ll be writing about the process here on my blog and this is my first update. Forgive any awkward sentences. This is agile writing. A minimum viable blog post. Or whatever.

Day 1: Decide on your product

This was the easy bit. Earlier this year, I talked on the Write for Your Life podcast about my writing style guides. They are simple but very useful templates I’ve used for years in my day job as a copywriter and communications bod. I’ve long thought about turning them into something sellable and this seems like the perfect opportunity.

It’s hard selling stuff though. Even promoting my actual published book sometimes feels an intrusion on folks’ online space. Listeners to the podcast will have heard me and Donna talk at length about the challenges of trying to flog our wares. It takes a lot of confidence and very little fear. You have to remember that people might, you know, actually want what you’re peddling.

The fear part of selling online is interesting. There’s a private Facebook group for people taking part in the Small Product Lab. On there I’ve seen plenty of people saying that ‘fear’ is why they’ve not tried to sell before. What if no one buys it? Won’t I look like a right nit? The answer is almost always no and the whole point of creating a small product in 11 days is to go through the process. To actually make and launch.

That’s why I’ve decided to package and sell my writing style guide templates. I use them every day and I know that they are a handy tool for copywriters, agencies and companies. I’m even putting a new template together for authors, though I’m not sure if that should be separate just yet. I think that there is a niche market for this kind of thing, but that doesn’t matter right now. I just want to say, ‘Look, I made this. And you can buy it.’

Day 3 (tomorrow) is about creating a landing page. I’m slightly ahead and have already bagged www.writingstyleguides.com to start taking sign-ups from people interested in the templates. If that’s you too, go ahead and check it out. I’ll add to the page and talk about how I made it my next update here.

Day 2: Make your plan

As many of you reading will know, I have a full-time job, identical twin toddlers and a second novel I’m working on. Time is not by pal at the best of times. However, I am confident that I can launch the product on schedule.

Like everyone else taking part in the Small Product Lab, I’ve put together a to do list that I need to get through in the time that I have. I use Todoist to manage all of my projects, both at work and at home. It made sense to create a new project for my style guide templates in Todoist and start adding tasks.

 My list of tasks so far in Todoist
My list of tasks so far in Todoist

I took a specific approach to tasks. I listen to the excellent Cortex podcast with CGP Grey and my old mucker Myke Hurley on Relay.fm. Grey has talked numerous times about how he creates tasks for every single thing he has to do – nothing general or wishy-washy. I decided to do the same. Instead of ‘Create landing page’, I’ve added multiple smaller tasks that add up to the larger goal. This is helping me focus and it’s something I’ll try with other projects.

I’m also using the label system built into Todoist. This is a fast-paced, simple project, so I’ve not gone overboard with my labelling. In fact, there are just three labels: research, making, promotion. This gives me some sort of order to my tasks and it’s interesting to see just how much of what I need to do comes under promotion. As with writing a novel, the ‘making’ bit is only the beginning.

Share your thoughts

That’s it for today. I intend to log my progress here, so do feel free to sign up to the RSS feed or my email newsletter if you want to follow along. I’ll also be linking back here from Twitter, if that’s how you like to get your bits and bobs. And comments! Feel free to leave a comment below, if you have any tips, suggestions or outright safety warnings.

Albums to write to

Sometimes I write in silence but most of the time, I listen to music. Songs with vocals and actual words tend to be more difficult to write to, but it depends on how I’m feeling. My list here contains a good mix of albums that I turn to often when I’m writing. Some have been with me for years, others just weeks. Try them out. Pick your favourites.


All Day / Girl Talk

This is a noisy mash up of various songs, samples and sounds. It should be impossible to get anything done while listening to this racket, but somehow it works. The constant upbeat tempo keeps me going. It is musical coffee.

YouTube


Carboot Soul / Nightmares On Wax

A fine friend bought this album for me during my first few weeks at university in 1999. It is very mellow and almost entirely instrumental. I believe they call this sort of thing chill-out music. Or they did in the 90s. I have no idea.

Spotify / Music


Crystal Castles / Crystal Castles

Another noisy, slightly shouty album that I love, whether I’m writing or just going about my business. Its tempo and drama have a hypnotic effect that seems to power me along and help get words on the page.

Spotify / Music


Earth / Hideyuki Hashimoto

I know very little about this album, other than its sparse piano pieces drift by and soothe my brain when I’m trying to concentrate. It is, at its core, plinky-plonky background music. And that’s just fine.

Spotify / Music


If You Wait / London Grammar

A beautiful album that, despite its marvellous vocals, I am able to listen to and still get stuff done. I feel like it’s been on in our house non-stop for about 18 months. Recommended, whether it helps you write or not.

Spotify / Music


Monument Valley Soundtrack / Stafford Bawler, Obfusc & Grigori

Yes, it’s the soundtrack to an iOS game. Yes, it’s weird and if you stop and listen intently, you might feel like you’re about to fall off the edge of the earth. Yes, it’s perfect background music while you’re typing like a loon.

Spotify / Music


The End of History / Fionn Regan

My old pal. Even though this album is full of beautiful lyrics and fantastic, acoustic songsmithery that might seem distracting, I find it quite the opposite. I wrote most of my first novel with it firmly in my earholes.

Spotify / Music


There Is Love In You / Four Tet

Most Four Tet albums are great for writing to. This is fairly new to me and it’s the one I’m listening to a lot at the moment. It is good, old-fashioned, electro-chilly music with good melodies and no major distractions. I really like it.

Spotify / Music


This Is All Yours / alt-J

I loved alt-J’s first album and this follow-up is equally fantastic. It has a sound and rhythm that keeps the mind busy, but doesn’t get in the way. The singer sounds like a frog drinking melted butter, which somehow rather helps me focus.

Spotify / Music


TRON: Legacy Soundtrack / Daft Punk

A film soundtrack this time and more excellent background music, especially if you’re writing a particularly tense or crucial scene, where what you need is to feel like every single word could be your very last. Feel the drama.

Spotify / Music


And that’s my list. What do you think? I’m always on the lookout for more music that’s good for writing to, so feel free to send me recommendations in the comments or on Twitter.

Coming soon: A is for Angelica, the audiobook

I’m tickled pink to tell you that Oakhill Publishing has bought the UK rights to the audiobook version of A is for Angelica, my debut novel. It’s in production now and will be available in libraries from 15 September 2015. You’ll be able to buy and keep a copy from Audible some time in October 2015.

What with me having a podcast and everything, I’ve always felt like A is for Angelica needed an audiobook version to complete the set. As I work away on novel number two, I’m looking forward to novel number one being out in the wild again, hopefully reaching a whole new audience.

I’ve already been asked a couple of times whether I am narrating the audiobook. Despite being a semi-professional voiceover artist, I’m not an actor. Fortunately, Tim Bruce is and he will be the man behind the microphone. I’ve heard a short sample already and I think it’s going to sound great.

Find out more about the novel on my special A is for Angelica page. If you want to make sure you’re one of the first folks to get the full publication date, sign up to my newsletter.