SPS-238: Winning the Kindle Storyteller Award by Writing to Market – with Ian W. Sainsbury
Ian Sainsbury has found success in both sales and accolades. He’s the winner of the 2019 Kindle Storyteller award and he’s had made great strides marketing and selling his books, moving from being a full-time freelance musician to a full-time freelance writer (who is also a musician). Now he’s moving into a new area, writing short, bingeable fiction in the vein of Dean Koontz’s Nameless series. Will this idea float or sink?
- Working as a musician and a stand-up comic before starting to write
- Figuring out story structure
- Structural inspiration from Beatles songs
- Moving from sci-fi to superheros to thrillers
- Finding a character you can write about again and again
- The comfort for readers in familiarity
- Writing episodic stories designed for bingeing
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
JAMES BURKE: During the show, James mentions this iconic to-camera shot from BBC presenter, James Burke
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
SPS-238: Winning the Kindle Storyteller Award by Writing to Market - with Ian W. Sainsbury
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self Publishing Show.
Ian Sainsbury: I'm 51 now. 10% of the books I read, I don't finish these days. Because I get three or four chapters in and I think that that structure isn't there, or it's being self-indulgent or whatever. And I think, I'm not going to read all the books I want to read before I die, so I put it down and I'll start something else.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers. No more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?
Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is The Self Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello and welcome. It's The Self Publishing Show with James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: Resplendent in your BookBub t-shirt, and your ... I don't know if people can see your bare legs because I can't see the shot that people can see.
Mark Dawson: You can see my bare legs but no one else can. This is kind of the newsreader shot.
James Blatch: I love talking about the weather. I don't care if people criticise me. I'm British and I will talk about the bloody weather. It is 33 degrees, which in American money is 90 something, today.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, it's pretty hot here as well.
James Blatch: I'm wearing my Nashville t-shirt. I'm assuming it's a t-shirt that keeps you cool. I certainly look cool in it, that's for sure.
Mark Dawson: Debatable. Yes.
James Blatch: Long pause. In honour of our friend Dave Chesson and everybody else who lives in Nashville. Who else lives in Nashville? I probably shouldn't say, because I think somebody's daughter lives in Nashville and a few other people and it's a fun place to be. A little book crowd there.
We are ploughing on through the summer months, and ploughing on still through COVID, which is refusing to go away. In Europe, there's talk about a second wave. In America, they still seem to be cresting the first wave.
So all the things we've talked about over previous weeks about market changes are all still relevant. And we would say to people, I guess, Mark, "Stay vigilant. Keep an eye on the figures and react."
Mark Dawson: I think so, yeah. I'm actually looking at buying stock in Amazon at the moment, because they put their figures out. All the tech companies put their figures out yesterday, didn't they, and they were all very strong figures. I think Amazon had a 40% bigger revenue for this quarter just gone, as the comparative quarter last year.
Obviously I'm not an advisor. I'm certainly not qualified to tell anyone about anything about buying stock, but it's certainly one that I think might be quite interesting.
James Blatch: I do tiny bits of dabbling in stock and I'm terrible at it. I think the only way to buy stock if you're someone like me is to invest a couple of hundred quid and then forget about it for five years. And over five years you should ... unless the company goes bust.
I bought Tesla, Slack, which we use, a productivity tool, and I thought that would go up because home working and so on. Something called Workhorse that a mate told me to buy. And IAG, who own British Airways, which sounds like an unusual one, but they really bottomed out and I thought, "In the long run, they are going to be one of the survivors." And so I think it's a long-term thing. But I've lost money on all of them, even Slack and Tesla.
Mark Dawson: Tesla's a funny one, isn't it?
James Blatch: But Apple were at an all-time high yesterday, weren't they? As you say, the stocks, the digital stocks coming out.
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: And I suppose the pure indie companies. You're wearing your BookBub t-shirt. There's a few other pure indie companies that are, at this stage, I don't think any of them are publicly listed. They're all privately owned organisations. But in the long-run will be bought by PLCs or will become PLCs.
It'll be interesting in a few years time that we can properly invest. Because at the moment it's a select band of people get invited to either start a company themselves or invest in somebody else's.
But it would be nice to be able to buy some shares in BookBub or one of the big indie organisations. Maybe even SPF PLC.
Mark Dawson: Yes. Yeah, we'll see about that. Well, BookBub do listen to the podcast. We know that, don't we? So you never know. We might get an email next week with some options.
James Blatch: Inviting us to invest.
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: I tell you what, if I invest, it might be the kiss of death. You should invest.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Send it to me, not to you.
James Blatch: Not to me. Okay. Let us welcome some Patreon supporters. The shout-outs for this week go to Monique Elton and Travis Senzaki and Dad FC. Dad FC.
Mark Dawson: I think that's the book. I don't remember the author's name, but I've seen in the SPF community today or yesterday a cover with Dad FC, and I think that may be it. And I thought the cover was quite good. So yes. Good luck with that one.
James Blatch: So in the UK, that would be football club, Dad Football Club, as in AFL or whatever. What are the letters after the name of a Miami Dolphins? AFL, is it?
Mark Dawson: No. Well, NFL.
James Blatch: NFL.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Well, that's the league. It doesn't mean the club. They don't have an FC equivalent.
James Blatch: They don't have an equivalent.
Mark Dawson: No.
James Blatch: Association football club. Some clubs are still AFC, aren't they? AFC Wimbledon. Association Football Club Wimbledon.
Mark Dawson: Bournemouth AFC, yeah.
James Blatch: Bournemouth AFC. Poor Bournemouth. They went down, didn't they?
Mark Dawson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
James Blatch: Poor old Bournemouth. Right. Enough chitter chatter.
We have Ian Sainsbury on this week. I have to be careful because I have called him Ian Salisbury almost his whole life. And it's funny, he said to me everyone calls him Ian Salisbury. He's not really sure why.
Mark Dawson: Do you know, that's in my head as well. It's weird, isn't it?
James Blatch: It is weird.
Mark Dawson: A weird one.
James Blatch: But he is Ian Sainsbury, as in the supermarket chain here in the UK. But as far as he can tell, and he's done some digging, he's not related because they're a minted family. But Ian Sainsbury, we first came across Ian ... Well, you first came across him when you were the judge on the Kindle Storyteller Awards here in the UK three years ago, I want to say? Two or three years ago.
Mark Dawson: No, last year.
James Blatch: Last year? Oh, Ian was last year?
Mark Dawson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
James Blatch: I thought our friend from Sydney was last year. Anyway. She may have been the year before. Okay. So Ian was last year. And lo and behold, he only went and won, Ian, didn't he? With a good book.
Mark Dawson: He did. A very good book. Yes, he did. Yeah. I think there was four or five books came to us as the judges to read and there were some really good books, actually. A good selection. And Ian's, I felt, was a particularly good one. And very pleased to see him on the awards night, or the night that the prize was awarded.
I was watching ... Because obviously I knew he was about to get his name called and I was watching him and his wife as Mariella Frostrup, who was the celebrity judge that year, called his name out and it was really lovely. Really lovely. He was bowled over, I think, and his wife burst into tears. It was just a lovely moment. And he's a really nice guy. So I was very happy for him. It's completely deserving. A really good book called The Picture on the Fridge.
James Blatch: Yes. A very good book. Now, what's worth talking about, and the reason we've had Ian on, not just because of that success, the fact he's a good writer, is understanding how to make money, how to commercialise your writing if that's what you want to do.
Because simply writing a lovely book might not be enough. We know that there are some strategies in terms of series and also the type of genre fiction that sells in large numbers might be higher selling than literary fiction and so on. So all these things factor in.
Ian is somebody who's been very thoughtful about this and wants to write what he wants to write, wants to write what he loves reading. But at the same time, wants a better commercial career out of it.
So he's put some thought into this. And without preempting the interview too much, he came up with a very interesting strategy, didn't he, of going for genre fiction and then breaking it down, almost designing it around, I think, the Kindle Unlimited model.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Shorter fiction. So he followed the Dean Koontz Nameless series model. So this was Dean Koontz published with Thomas & Mercer maybe six short, 20,000 word novellas, all with the same character, very nicely stylized, the covers looked great. They're all very colourful. They look the same. Obviously it had the Amazon marketing machine behind it, but those books appeared to clean up. They were very highly ranked for a long time, and they're still highly ranked today.
I think Ian looked at that and to be honest, I've looked at that too. They're more serialised, shorter reads. There is no reason why that shouldn't be effective. But apart from, in the early days, that did work a little bit, and I'm thinking about people like Sean Platt and Dave Wright with their Yesterday's Gone series, although that wasn't quite the same. But in a similar kind of fashion. It hasn't really taken off since then and I don't know why that is. I find that quite a curious one.
But anyway, Ian is having a crack at that himself with his Bedlam Boy series, which I've read and enjoyed, and I hope that it works for him.
James Blatch: Yeah, okay. Let's hear from Ian.
Your background is the background of an artist.
Ian Sainsbury: Well, that's true. You can't see the piano. That's on that side.
James Blatch: I can see the piano.
Ian Sainsbury: No, that's the keyboard.
James Blatch: That's the keyboard. Sorry.
Ian Sainsbury: That's a Arturia Master keyboard for linking up to iPad stuff and the iMac for Logic, and then the acoustic piano's over here.
James Blatch: Okay. Right. Wow.
Ian Sainsbury: Instruments everywhere. It's a cajon.
James Blatch: A what?
Ian Sainsbury: Cajon. A sort of Spanish drum you sit on. That's not a box there. That's a cajon.
James Blatch: Yes, yes. I've seen someone playing that. I remember there was a Dido video of someone sitting on, playing that, and I wondered if it was just a box he was sitting on playing, but now I know it's a cajon. There you go.
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah. They're a lovely little instrument those.
James Blatch: Sounds almost like the instrument I could probably play, one you just sit on and tap.
Ian Sainsbury: This is the great thing about it. If you can't play it, what you've got is a slightly expensive stool.
James Blatch: Yes. Well, look, here we are. I think we can start the interview with us waffling at the beginning.
It's an intriguing beginning to Ian Sainsbury, who I keep wanting to call Salisbury. You've just explained that I'm not the only one who does that because Sainsbury is a very famous supermarket brand in the UK, and for whatever reason, it confuses our minds. But you are Ian Sainsbury, not related to the supermarket?
Ian Sainsbury: No, not at all, unfortunately.
James Blatch: But you are an author, and you're an author who was recognised and picked up ... Last year, was it, that you won the Kindle ... Remind me of the name of the competition? It's the Kindle ...
Ian Sainsbury: Kindle Storyteller Award.
James Blatch: Kindle Storyteller Award. And I think they are open for submissions as we speak. I think up until August. I should probably have looked all this up before we got going, but if you-
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah, me too.
James Blatch: Yeah. If you Google Kindle Storyteller Award. Now this is an award that the likes of LJ Ross, Mark Dawson, and I think Claudia Winkleman, is that right, this year, are ... I think Mariella Frostrup in the past has been a judge. So they're quite famous people in the UK.
It's a literary award. It's an award we love because it's geared around people who upload their books to Amazon, generally independent publishers, and there's a gala night. And you went along.
Did you have any idea that you might win?
Ian Sainsbury: Well, I know everyone says no, but it genuinely was no. And I can almost prove it, because on the train on the way down, I was with my wife, Ruth, and I was so convinced that I wouldn't win that I said, "Look, if I do, there's this ridiculous piece of musical equipment that I've always fancied owning." It's a little keyboard called the OP-1. It's massively overpriced. A beautiful piece of equipment and I always fancied having one.
I said, "I tell you what, if I win, I'll get one of those." And she went, "Yeah, yeah. Good idea." And I thought, "Right, okay, now ..."
James Blatch: Because she was safe in the knowledge. She obviously thought you wouldn't win either.
Ian Sainsbury: She knew it wasn't happening, because I'd already explaining that it wasn't going to happen but we were going to have a nice night out and a few drinks, swish hotel. There's a great photo from the night, if you think I'm kidding, where it's got my wife just after she'd burst into tears, and my face, which ... it's an unfakeable expression where the jaw has dropped open.
James Blatch: Well, that's delightful that you got through. So this is a competition that you do have to enter. So you have to submit for it.
You obviously thought you were in the ring and at some point, you get a notification that you've been shortlisted, which must've been your first shock?
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah. I mean, it's such an easy competition to enter. They make it easy for you because you just replace one of your keywords on the upload page with "Kindle Storyteller 2019" or 2020 this year. But it's one of those things. It's even less effort than buying a lottery ticket, which I don't do. But you just think, "Well, I might as well. It's just using one of my keywords, and someone's got to win it, right?"
And then you forget all about it because it's months later. It must have been early September, I think, when I got an email from Darren Hardy who heads up Kindle ... You know Darren well.
James Blatch: We know Darren.
Ian Sainsbury: He's been on the show. Lovely guy. And I thought, "It must be the shortlist, because there's no other reason why he would want to talk to me. Why on earth would he want to talk to me?" So I did think that must be it. And he called me when I was driving and I pulled over and yeah, he said, "You're on the shortlist. You can't talk about it for a week until we get the press release out." And I didn't know who else was on it.
That's at the point when I looked for the first time at the Storyteller page and saw how many pages it was of entries, how many thousands, and thought, "Oh, this is ridiculous."
But it also had some featured entries and I looked at all of them and I thought, "Well, they all look great." And one of them, I'd read three of his books already. Caimh McDonnell, great comic thrillers. So that was when I relaxed, at that point, because I thought, "Well, I love his stuff. He's great. So I suspect he'll win." And I just started practising my game face.
James Blatch: Yeah. Your brave, "Well done."
Ian Sainsbury: Slightly disappointed but yeah, you've got to acknowledge, a terrific book.
James Blatch: But then you sat there and on the night ... It was a memorable night, actually, for us, because I think we saw Jamie Lee Curtis in the bar when I went down to interview Louise before she and Mark hobnobbed it off to the awards. I went then home dressed in my jeans and t-shirt. But in the bar of the hotel was Jamie Lee Curtis and Christopher Guest. Actually, I'm not sure if Christopher Guest was there.
But anyway. That's my memory from the night.
Your memory from the night is sitting there and hearing your name read out and then being shocked.
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah, Jamie Lee Curtis and Christopher Guest would've done ... That would've been the icing on the cake. I'm a huge Spinal Tap fan.
James Blatch: There you go. Okay, well, look, let's talk a little bit about your writing, Ian. And this is obviously a fantastic achievement for you to be recognised like this. And as you say, lots and lots of ... I have no idea how they even begin the process of whittling it down, but I know it's taken very seriously and I know that the judges have a lot of discussion and deliberation about this and a lot of thought goes into this.
This was not a lottery. There was not a drawing of a name out of a hat. This was a meritorious award for you, so well done on that.
When did writing start for you, and at what point has it become your main focus?
Ian Sainsbury: I think probably like most writers, when I was young, it was always an option in my head somewhere because I loved reading so much. And when you're an obsessive reader, like I was, I think there's always part of you that thinks, "I wonder if I could do this." Because what a way to earn a living, you know?
But music was always my biggest strength, or in my mind anyway. My dad's a musician. My grandfather was a drummer, ran a band in Bristol. So I ended up going into music. Which is what I always wanted to do. And the writing, I suppose it became part of that, really. I wrote music and I wrote songs and then worked as a musician for decades and ended up doing stand-up comedy for a few years as well.
James Blatch: Wow.
Ian Sainsbury: So that's when the writing came back, I suppose, because I had to sit down and write a set. I wrote jokes and short comedy songs. I used to walk on stage with a keyboard round my neck, which wasn't one of those keyboards that's like a keytar that's a light one. This was a proper heavy keyboard that had holes drilled into. So it killed my shoulder. It's a good job comedy sets are only 20 minutes long.
But I suppose that's when the writing came back again, and I think that gave me confidence because that went pretty well. And I also wrote material for other people. I suppose the most famous of which is Paul Zerdin, who won America's Got Talent season 10. So an old friend of mine. I co-wrote his show and all the music for it.
And it's actually, when he was out in Vegas, that was his prize was a Vegas show the following year. So he was out doing that and I was there for the first six weeks, and that was when I'd finally written my first novel, the year before, and put it out just, I think, about three or four weeks before we went to Vegas.
So it was just then, when I was out there, that I started to see the dashboard for the first time and started to see sales coming in. The first book did pretty well quite quickly, so while I was out there I thought, "Well, I'd better write another one."
I'd written the first as a standalone but I'd left it a bit open. So I started writing a second one. And yeah, just everything went really well quickly enough for me to think, "Well, I'll give the music a break for a while." I'm still on the break.
James Blatch: And a stand-up break as well?
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah. Well, the stand-up I did for about three and a half years. That was back in 2003-ish, I think, and I really enjoyed it but I was doing about 40,000 miles a year.
James Blatch: Wow.
Ian Sainsbury: And young ... Well, at that time, just one kid but pretty young. I didn't enjoy that side of it so much. So I decided I'd carry on writing bits and pieces but I wouldn't go out and gig anymore. I did the occasional thing. The last one was about three or four years ago. But no, the keyboard's been sold.
James Blatch: With the holes in it?
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah, that one's gone. There's still another five in the house, so it could still happen.
James Blatch: And of course, another one since you won the Kindle Storyteller Award.
Ian Sainsbury: Yes, yeah.
James Blatch: So the first novel, what was it, and how did you decide what it was you were going to write?
Ian Sainsbury: The first one's called The World Walker and that was a sci-fi novel, and I think I decided on that because ... Probably my absolute love for reading was in my teens, like most people, that was when I was really reading loads. And at that point, I was reading loads of Ray Bradbury and Ursula Le Guin and Robert Heinlein and Asimov. So it was a lot of science fiction, which I've always kept reading science fiction, but not as avidly as I did then.
But I think it was just, when I sat down to write, the ideas I'd start to jot down, a lot of them were very on the speculative side and on the sci-fi side. And it just gave me a real ... I suppose the broadest possible canvas at that point. I had so many ideas, James, it's ridiculous. So many ideas.
I've always said my ideal job would be if someone paid me just to sit down and have ideas, which kind of is what writing is. So I think I probably had 25, 30 ideas written down, just basic ones that I could've expanded into a novel. And then I heard an interview with James Burke, if you remember him from the-
James Blatch: Yes, the TV presenter scientist guy.
Ian Sainsbury: That's it, yeah. He did an interview in the early '80s, I think, on Radio 4 where they asked him to predict things over the next 30 years, and he got a lot of it right, including social media. He said people would be wiling to give up their privacy and give information willingly, which must've sounded pretty weird at the time, but he was right.
James Blatch: But now we do it every day of the week, yeah.
Ian Sainsbury: Exactly, yeah. And they asked him back on and I heard that interview, so that must've been 2015, I should imagine, and said, "What about the next 30 years?" And his big thing was nanotechnology. And he said, because we could end up in a society of abundance rather than shortage, where everybody's got more than enough, which is a lovely idea. Because you could make anything you need out of these easily available elements, and with nanotechnology, anybody could live anywhere, they could eat anything.
So my cynical side said, "That sounds amazing, but what if that technology was already here and some people knew about it, they wouldn't be sharing it." And that was the spark that started the book.
James Blatch: Is that also the ... that led to Theories of the grey glue ... grey ... What was it? Grey goo. That was it. Have you ever heard that?
Ian Sainsbury: Grey goo?
James Blatch: The grey goo. So I think, I'm surprised you don't know. I think, if I've got this right, that when people first started talking about nanotechnology and these tiny little machines that were ... Initially, I think we're not that far away from them being able to clean windows and things. But if they got a reproductive element to them, which they'd probably need to sustain themselves, there would be an inevitable point where they would take over the planet and just cover us in a yard, a metre of grey goo because we wouldn't be able to stop them reproducing and we'd all die. That was one of the theories. But anyway. I think Prince Charles once latched onto that.
We should also say about James Burke, if people want to know who James Burke is, they need to look on the internet and Google "James Burke rocket piece to camera" because ... I don't know if you've seen this, Ian. It is the greatest television piece to camera in the history of television. It's an absolutely incredible ... He was an amazing TV presenter, but if you look up ... We'll get Alexandra to put it in the show notes because it's always worth a watch if you want to see how television was done properly back in the '70s.
Okay. So James Burke. Very inspirational guy, actually to me as well, the more I think about him. And you had these ideas going around. So you wrote your sci-fi book. It looks great, actually. Cover looks intriguing. A fantastic blurb.
Remind me what year this was you uploaded this?
Ian Sainsbury: That was end of March, 2016.
James Blatch: End of March, 2016. You uploaded it. Did you do anything else?
Did you think about getting an agent or querying a trad pub contract?
Ian Sainsbury: No. I had a friend called Murray McDonald, and he wrote thrillers. He's Scottish. He was living in Norfolk and he wrote American political thrillers, obviously.
James Blatch: As you would.
Ian Sainsbury: And he'd had quite a bit of success. And they were all standalone, and I knew absolutely nothing about this. But he encouraged me when I said I'd always fancied writing a book, which I'm sure ... well, I know pretty much everybody says. He encouraged me, and I imagine he encouraged me the way I encourage people when they say that, which is genuine but you think, "I'll never hear from them again."
But I did do it, and he could see I was ... I was saying, "I've got 40,000 words," or whatever and he started to take more of an interest. He talked to me about his experience, it didn't even cross my mind to go to find an agent or go to a publisher. And I'm not quite sure why.
I didn't think one was better than the other. I just thought, "I can write this and I can put it out there and maybe ..." I mean, I was optimistic and ambitious. I thought a few hundred people might read it. In which case, there might be a few of those who really like it and that would be good.
Yeah, there was a part of me that thought ... Actually, as I was writing it, I thought, "This is better than I'd hoped." I can't bring myself to read it now. And I don't want to put anyone off it. It's not that at all. It's I don't reread anything. I feel like this is a new way of building a career in a way, so that first book is always going to be my first book. It's absolutely bursting with ideas and enthusiasm and excitement and there are some passages in it I'm proud of. But it's just, "Whoa, here's everything I'm thinking."
But it really grabbed people. I think it was that excitement and enthusiasm in the writing that got people to enthuse about it, and word of mouth did its thing somehow.
James Blatch: It's got 739 reviews on Amazon.co.uk at 4.6 out of 5 average, which is outstanding. So obviously it is a loved book.
You obviously had no experience of writing a novel, so how did you approach the structure? You obviously read a lot, so is that basically where this came from?
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah, I think all of us who read an awful lot, which I did. When I was working in piano bars in Norway, before the Kindle came out, I used to take five or six books with me from charity shops. Thrift stores you'd say in America. And they used to go with me on the plane. And I used to leave them. When I finished reading them, I'd tuck them in the back of plane seat in front or in a restaurant in Norway or in a hotel room so that other people could pick them up. But this was an expensive hobby of mine.
I think structure just seeps into you, when it's done well and when it's done badly. And of course, I'm interested in writing and creating, always have been. And if you write songs, structure is extremely important. It's not only knowing why you need structure and how it works, it's knowing when you can safely deviate from it in an interesting way and trust the reader to go with you, or the listener.
And all the greatest songs, or most, have got that element of familiarity and something that's slightly different in there. Which, the first time you listen, you will notice it. But a really good example is Yesterday by The Beatles. That's a seven bar phrase that song. Now 98% of pop songs go in eight bar phrases.
If you've heard the expression middle eight, that's because it's an eight bar phrase in the middle of a song. So the seven bar phrase is quite unusual, but we don't hear it anymore. You don't listen to Yesterday and think that there's anything missing at the end of the phrase because it's gone past that stage where you think, "There's something a bit different about it," and it's become a classic in its own right.
I think in the same way that you listen to lots of music and you adapt the structure, you do the same from a reader to a writer.
James Blatch: Was it innate with you? You'd read so much.
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah, I was going to say, that's the starting point. But then you had to be constantly checking your own structure and knocking it and thinking, "Is that actually working?" And that's the after first draft, going back and reading through and think, "Well, hang on, actually ..." Being able to put the editing head on and think, "I can lose 3000 words here," or, "That chapter, just why is it there?" And being able to do that.
I'm 51 now. Probably 10% of the books I read, I don't finish these days. Because I get three or four chapters in and I think that that structure isn't there, or it's being self-indulgent or whatever, and I think ... I'm not going to read all the books I want to read before I die, so I put it down and I'll start something else.
James Blatch: And your book garnered reviews and readers, and in terms of sales?
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah, it did. Like I say, I knew nothing, so I had nothing to compare it to. I was on no forums. I did everything backwards, I think.
Towards the end of my first series, I started to realise there was a community out there. So I didn't know what was good, what was bad, what was expected, what wasn't, what I should be working on. And sales, I think the second month it was out, I remember it made me 2000 quid.
James Blatch: Wow.
Ian Sainsbury: The first book. And of course, yeah, knowing now what I know, if someone said that to me I'd go, "Whoa, you'd better get writing the next one. Plan a series. Get on with it." But at the time I thought, "Well, that's good, isn't it? That's nice. Blimey." And I just thought, "Well, that'll tail off, but it'll be nice to write another one."
And I remember thinking if I could write three books a year and they could make me six grand a piece, then it wouldn't be a living but it would be worth doing. I'd be able to justify the time I spent writing them financially. I wouldn't feel like I was robbing my children of their inheritance by indulging something that I love doing.
But yeah, they did a lot better than that, and as the second book and the third book came out, I think when the fourth one was on pre-order, that was when it was really doing well and I was having five figure months at that point.
James Blatch: Without doing much marketing?
Ian Sainsbury: I hear the disbelief in your voice, James.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Ian Sainsbury: And again, knowing what I know now, I can only echo that. The first book went up and I did what no one should do which is you tell your friends and family who, of course, are going to buy it but all their also boughts are gardening or whatever else. It's not going to help you.
Somehow, the word spread, and I suppose this is to do with it must've sold a certain amount in the first few hours and maybe Amazon just put it in front of a few sci-fi readers. And I think it had a lot of tropes in there that people were happy to see, but it also completely upended a lot of them, and they were really pleased to have that original take on some old tropes.
So I think it was good old word of mouth and Amazon algorithm catching that somehow. I haven't been able to reproduce it in quite that same way. But now, like I say, it's all backwards.
James Blatch: This is science fiction, which a lot of people do say is a more difficult genre to sell, and they look enviously across at the romance and thriller writers. You obviously hit something with this series. I can see there's four books in the series?
Ian Sainsbury: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.
James Blatch: The World Walker series.
So you finished that in 2017, and by book four, what state were you in terms of the finances? Did this now look like it was a full-time job for you?
Ian Sainsbury: Oh yeah. Yeah, definitely. I think by the time I was writing book three I thought, "Yeah, this could ... I should be putting my energies into this." So I think it was about a year to a year and a half after I released the first one that in my head I'd transferred.
It's a bit different to most people because I hear people on the podcast and people on forums saying the various jobs that they've had that they've kept going while they've been writing or writing on their commute or whatever. But I was a professional musician, or layabout as we're known, so it's a very different lifestyle. I've always been self-employed. I've dabbled with employment but it's not been a good fit for me, really.
So I already had that freelance mentality, I suppose, so it wasn't as massive a shift. It was just something mentally where I thought, "Okay, this is my ..." It still took me probably another year before, when people asked me what I did-
James Blatch: You said writer, yeah.
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah, I said writer rather than musician.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Ian Sainsbury: I still feel like a musician who writes.
James Blatch: Fair enough.
So you got to the end of that series and you decided, I think, was the point at which you decided to change genre?
Ian Sainsbury: Well, there was a slight shift at the end of that series. I wrote a superhero trilogy, but from a science fiction point of view in a way. That was the Halfhero trilogy. So yeah. Superhero but with explanations. So there's some kind of science behind it. I'm not big into three pages of explaining genetic backgrounds to why this is going on or whatever.
I'm much more about the characters and the story and the twists and turns. But there was, yeah, a bit more of a science fiction take on superheroes.
And, also, apart from Alan Moore, who's the great writer of things like Watchmen and V for Vendetta and From Hell, there wasn't much in the way of superheroes in Britain.
James Blatch: This is a British superhero?
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah, yeah, it is. And a kind of alternate timeline idea as well.
James Blatch: Okay. It's time the world was saved by a British superhero, I feel.
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah. Well, we've got Doctor Who, so I'm surprised ... I can think of a few points in the last few years where he could've gone back and just fixed things. I've got a list for him, or her, or they.
James Blatch: I think we all have. Definitely start with we're starting 2020 again.
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah.
James Blatch: So how did the sales go with that? How did that compare with the first series?
Ian Sainsbury: It never sold as well. But part of that, I think, was most people thought I was American with World Walker, because that was another decision I made early on was ... Again, with the friend of mine who was writing these political thrillers. His were all written in American English and no one had guessed he was Scottish living in Norfolk. So I thought, "Yeah, good idea."
I've worked in America and travelled there a little bit, and there's Google, of course. So I set it in America, used American spellings, and that gave me a access to a bigger market straightaway.
I had someone on Facebook ask me if it was a cynical moneymaking ploy to write in American English, and I answered, "Well, I'll take out the word cynical."
James Blatch: Yeah. It's a loaded question, isn't it? "Is that advert just a cynical attempt to sell this lawnmower?"
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah, exactly. I was trying to sell more copies, yes. Yeah. Okay. I'm holding my hand up.
James Blatch: Guilty.
Ian Sainsbury: That was something I was aiming to do, rather than fewer copies and retain my integrity somehow. So yeah. Setting it in Britain and writing in British English, again, I think my writing got better. But then again, the more you write, the better you get, hopefully. But I think it limited sales, certainly to the American audience.
Maybe I was asking a bit much. I don't want to generalise, really, because I've got plenty of American readers who love that series. But maybe they were less willing to take that chance from scratch.
That one did really well on Audible, particularly, actually, strangely enough. They ran a promotion on that and it got to number one for a couple of days in the UK, the first in that series. Yeah, it's a well-loved series. And again, I think it's a really satisfying series. I'm really pleased with the way that one turned out. But I limited my market, I think, by setting a science fiction superhero book in Britain. But there you go. At the time, I was still trying things and just the next 30 ideas, looking in the notebook and go, "Oh, this is going to be fun. I'm going to write this."
And that carried on. After that, I wrote a standalone dark fantasy book, with my career progression carefully mapped out. What's next? Okay, so you've had a massively successful series that you wrote in American English, set in America with aliens and nanotechnology. Then a less successful but I was very happy with it series set in Britain, superhero, which has done really well in this country.
So what you really need to write next, obviously, is a standalone dark fantasy where the only book you could compare it to, I think, is probably Clive Barker's Weaveworld. Which, he didn't write another one like that afterwards, so-
James Blatch: It was clearly the book that-
Ian Sainsbury: ... that should've told me something.
James Blatch: ... your readers were expecting you to write. And that was a standalone?
When did the book that won the Kindle Storyteller award, when did that hove into view?
Ian Sainsbury: That was the next one. And again, if you want to see where my thinking was going then, I think at that point I finally thought, "Well, okay, I've written lots of words now. I've written eight books and I know how to structure a story."
My reading's extremely broad. I've read quite a lot of psychological thrillers and I enjoy the format, and I had one of those 30 ideas was one that just kept coming back to me and nagging at me. And I thought, "Okay, I know this is a stupid idea to write another standalone. What I should be doing is writing a science fiction series now."
And I had one, a nine book series in my head and I started to make notes on that, and I was starting to do things sensibly. But this bloody idea, I just couldn't get it out of my head. And I thought, "Right, okay. Okay. It's a standalone. It'll take me a couple of months to write a draft of it. I'll see how it looks, knock it into shape, try and make it ..." I mean, I always feel like writing, I know I'm not the first to say this, you get this wonderful idea and it looks perfect and then you just systematically destroy it.
But I ended up with something that still looked vaguely like that lovely idea at the end. And then a couple of drafts later, I thought, "Yeah, actually it really works well." But thriller is a massive market compared to sci-fi.
James Blatch: Is this The Picture on the Fridge?
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah. And I liked the title as well. That was the other thing. The title was there from the beginning.
James Blatch: Yes. The title's great, and you've got a tagline on the cover as well. So this was a one-off? Well, I guess it has to be. One of those psychological thrillers that usually end in a ... that have a death or a conclusion tend to be standalone.
Except, of course, you could use the detective or something or a character again.
Ian Sainsbury: This one actually I did send out to a couple of agents and I had some correspondence with a couple as well. And one of them said, "Is there any way you can make this into a series? I really like it. Is there anything you can do? Is there a character you can bring through?"
There is a journalist in The Picture on the Fridge called Patrice Martineau, an Italian American, and he's a fun character. He's definitely got a life of his own. So that was the possibility, but it would've been a very tentative link, really.
Although, he's been in my mind recently with the series I'm writing now, so there's a possibility that he might actually resurface. But no, I felt like it had to be a standalone that one. It's just, I knew how it was going to end and I didn't think there was really any coming back from that.
James Blatch: And it won you the award, which was, I'm sure, an enormous fillip to you in terms of believing that your writing is good, and obviously you had evidence from sales as well. And then after that, I know you have been thinking commercially. I mean, cynically, Ian.
Ian Sainsbury: I know. It's crazy, isn't it?
James Blatch: Yeah. Cynically, you've been thinking about selling books rather than just writing them for your own pleasure and them sitting there.
And your conclusion, I think, was to go down the thriller route?
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah, I'm a massive Lee Child fan. I know Mark is. I believe he may have edited some of his advertising towards the-
James Blatch: Possibly.
Ian Sainsbury: ... Lee Child ... We don't know.
James Blatch: There are some similarities.
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah. And I love those books. I fell in love with those books since becoming a writer. I wasn't reading them before. And I just picked one up and then read all of them, and I thought they were so well done.
And then with my professional writer's head on I was thinking, "If you've got a character that can go from book to book to book that readers fall in love with, then you're onto a winner, aren't you?" And Lee Child with his one book every year-
James Blatch: September the first he sits down.
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah. Although that would drive me nuts only to do one a year. But there you go. And of course, Mark with John Milton.
So if you can find that character that can go on through books without starting to look like it's wearing thin. And readers always ... if you read, sometimes, books 19, 20 of a series, you look at the reviews of various long-running thrillers and you'll start to see doubts creeping in from readers saying, "I'm just wondering now if we're just retreading old ground." But there are some characters that seem to be able to just sustain that forever.
James Blatch: And there's something to be said for ... I mean, we talk a lot in our house about James Bond for some reason. My boy's really into the films. So we talk a lot about the familiarity. Putting on a pair of socks, basically, a comfortable pair of slippers that are comfortable, which is what a James Bond film has been, even up until now. And even now, with all the time and money, they know it's a big ... It's going to make money. It's very rare you have a film franchise where you're basically guaranteed that it's going to make money.
And even with that, they still tread out basically the same evil baddie who's going to take over the world and Bond gets caught and imprisoned and brought to the point of death and then saves the day. And I'm thinking, "Do something different. Do something different. Have a three film series where it's young Bond before he joined the Secret Service, or he's retired and he's got some daughter who turned up from the ..."
But they know what they're doing, right?
We go on and on about, "We've got to do it differently," but actually, the message we get from readers, and film viewers in this case, is they want the same thing.
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that's a reason why you keep seeing sequels in Hollywood, and critics moan about it and audiences moan about it, but they go.
James Blatch: Yeah. Familiarity is a key factor, I think. It's actually a psychological factor in why we buy certain brands in the supermarket as well, isn't it? It's probably the same psychology, that knowing what you're going to get. And we all get that sometimes.
You could go through Netflix, work out what film you're going to watch, and you often make a safe choice. If you see key indicators of something you've seen before, like Will Ferrell comedy or something like that, that's why people are able to open films and able to make money is all the psychology around it.
So we've talked about this a lot on the podcast about it's a mistake quite often to try to be different. Commercially, it's a mistake.
Ian Sainsbury: You've put your finger on the tension there of doing what we do, I think, because there's the creative side, the artistic temperament ... Not temperament exactly, but the artistic imperative that drives you is saying, "I want to create something. I want to do something exciting. I want to do something that makes me excited." But then you also want to make a living and satisfy readers.
In fact, The Blurred Lands, my dark fantasy, is a great example. Probably some of my best writing is in that book and it's sold fewer than any other book I wrote. But it's the best reviewed. All 12 of the people who read it absolutely loved it, James.
James Blatch: You've got 132 review on .co.uk, so there are at least 132 people read it.
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah. No, it did okay. Okay, I'm exaggerating. But yeah, it did fine. But it's almost like I limited the market before even getting it out there. I think if more people came through the door and gave it a go, then they'd be pleasantly surprised. But it very much is dark fantasy. There are monsters. There are suggestions of the supernatural. More than suggestions. There are gods, there are all sorts of thing in there. The kitchen sink makes a brief appearance in a spooky aside.
But it's also about grief. So it's actually a book I'm proud of, but commercially, my commercial head had taken a little holiday at that point and came back and went, "What have you done?"
James Blatch: "There's a lack of cynicism in writing this."
Ian Sainsbury: Yes, "What are you doing?"
James Blatch: Yeah. But one choice, I guess was open to you. That conversation you had with the agent about finding a recurring character for the psychological thriller. But one option for you is just to write a series of standalone, quite similar psychological thrillers. You don't necessarily need there to be the same character for that to become a ... There's the difference between series and serials, isn't there? But to market them together. That must've been an option for you?
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah, there's a ... If you look at someone like Mark Edwards, I think it's with Thomas & Mercer, and that's what he does. They're all standalone but they're all psychological thrillers and very recognisable in their style. That familiarity is there with his stuff, definitely. You know what you're getting into.
James Blatch: So did you think about that?
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah, I did. And I have a few psychological thriller ideas. I don't think I could sustain writing three or four psychological thrillers a year. I think I would get bored, and that boredom would come through in my writing. The thing with The Picture on the Fridge was it was such a good idea that it wouldn't let go of me. And I do have one other psychological thriller idea that's similar, that keeps coming back, so I imagine at some point-
James Blatch: You'll write that.
Ian Sainsbury: ... there'll be another standalone psychological thriller. But the creative and commercial side to try and satisfy both of them, that's the holy grail. So that idea of having a Jack Reacher or a John Milton, a character that can ... or James Bond, can sustain. But with the Sainsbury twist, which, if you've read any of my books, I do like to play with conventions a little bit. It's doing that but not going too far, I think, is the trick. And when I look at World Walker and how well that did, I can see my instincts were very good there with just taking things so far and not too far.
James Blatch: Yeah, keeping people within the framework. So your decision in the end was this thriller series. Now as we're speaking now, it's not been released, so I can't look at it on Amazon, but I know we've had a conversation a few weeks about this and you're close to the release point.
Tell us about this series and what planning has gone into it?
Ian Sainsbury: I think I've been waiting for the last couple of years for an idea for a character that would be able to do this, and there's no point in even getting started unless you've got ... the character has to come first with this, I think, for me. And I had an idea for a character, it must've been February this year.
I did the thing that you shouldn't do, really. I'd got 39,000 words into a thriller with the working title of How to Train Your Assassin, which could also be a series, a female protagonist, and it's a lot of fun and a really good idea. So I was just expecting to carry on and finish that because I don't abandon things halfway through.
But then I got this idea and I couldn't go back to the other one. It was so insistent and such a strong idea I thought ... It was one of those ones, as soon as I had the idea, I thought, "I want to read this. I want to read this character. I want to see this film. I want to see the TV series." It felt that good.
So I just abandoned, briefly, I thought ... I mean, I will go back to the other one. But I just started making notes and I thought, "Yeah, I've just got to write this." It was such a strong idea. I've got a lovely quote from Mark Dawson to stick on the top of the blurb, actually.
James Blatch: Excellent.
Ian Sainsbury: Because he's read an earlier draft of this, and he says, "Jekyll and Hyde meets Jack Reacher."
James Blatch: So you've got a psychiatric issue with your protagonist?
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah. The protagonist is a very interesting character. Tom Lewis, who's 32 years old, and he's built like Jack Reacher. He's a massive, massive guy, but naturally massive. But he suffered brain damage as a 12 year old when he was shot in the head and left for dead and his parents were murdered.
And in fact, he was, to all intents and purposes, everyone thought he was dead because the people who shot his parents would've liked to have wiped out the whole family, so his death was announced. And we're now 20 years later and he can barely speak. He can't read or write. He works on a building site. But there's another side to Tom, and the people who murdered his family are getting picked off one by one.
On the one hand, it's a nice straightforward revenge thriller, which, I love a good revenge thriller. It has to be good. It has to grab me. But it's like that thing you're saying, you know where you are. If you think, "Oh great. So people have done very bad things and we're going to see them get their comeuppance during the book." But the other side to this is the main character is ... there are two sides to him, and we feel differently about these two sides, and as we get to know him ...
It's been out with beta readers. The advanced reader copies have come back, the comments are back and they're all saying the things that I hoped they would say, which is that they want him to succeed. They love the Tom side of him and they feel almost maternal towards him, and they're terrified of the other side.
But they're with him all the way. Like you would be with Reacher or John Milton or James Bond. You want them to succeed.
James Blatch: And is there some medical research you've done in terms of ... schizophrenia it's called, isn't it, the split personality? Or have you left this a little bit more fictional?
Ian Sainsbury: I've left it a little bit more open at the moment there. I haven't gone too deeply into it. Yeah, I have done research, and it's not really schizophrenia actually, and it's not multiple personalities. There's a new term for it medically and I should've written that down. It's on one of my 300 tabs that are open on my research. But yes, there is a medical condition, but it's also, if you think in the original Jekyll and Hyde, he drinks a potion and he becomes ... it's all his worst ... It's like the filter goes off. It gets removed completely and he goes back to a savage, almost.
This is a bit different. It's called Bedlam Boy, and that's what this character calls himself. But he's the one who's got all the intelligence as well. Tom is the kind of guy, he's lovely, people take advantage of him. He moves snails off a path before walking up to the front of his house so he won't accidentally step on them. That's the good guy he is.
But Bedlam Boy is ... if you think of someone who is going to take on a criminal organisation and try and pick them off, they're going to need to be extremely intelligent as well as brutal and well-trained.
There's seven missing years in his background that we know nothing about as readers.
James Blatch: Intriguing.
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah, exactly. And there's lots to come.
James Blatch: So you've got book one coming out, I think, on the 17th of July?
Ian Sainsbury: That's the plan at the moment.
James Blatch: Okay. The interview will probably go out after that point, so hopefully people, even if that plan's shifted a bit, will be able to find it.
Ian Sainsbury: Well, it'll be earlier if not, so it'll definitely be out.
James Blatch: And in terms of marketing, so in the little bit of time we've got left, Ian, let me just ask you how your marketing has evolved through that story? You started off doing the classic thing, and well done to you, uploading it and watching money come in, which is fantastic. Doesn't happen to everyone.
And at some point, have you started getting a handle on the ad side of things and mailing lists and so on?
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah, more on the mailing list than the ad side, and my focus is now more on the mailing list, but advertising is happening. This is something I've always struggled with.
I love the writing process. I actually enjoy getting the covers together and writing the blurbs and all of that as well. But the marketing thing, my eyes glaze over, my brain starts to turn to mush and it's not pretty. So I've got someone doing it for me at the moment and we'll see how that goes. So that's the plan at the moment.
But I have done some things differently this time which hopefully will help with the sales, and I definitely want to build up the mailing list. I've written a reader magnet, which is, I thought, I'll write a short story about this character and it'll be about two to three thousand words. It ended up being over 8000 words, and it's a great fun episode called The Las Vegas Driving Lesson. So I'm giving that away to my list this week.
And in the back of each book, of course, there'll be a chance to sign up and get a copy of that. So I've done that right this time. It's all ready to go as the book comes out, instead of being an afterthought.
And I've done something quite ... I mean, this is an experiment, and who knows how it will go? But the other thing that pushed me into writing this was what Dean Koontz did with Amazon Publishing in America at the end of the last year, which was the Nameless series.
Now, I love short stories. I don't write short stories. And I like novellas and I love episodic stories, which is more often on TV now, and we all watch a lot of Netflix and Amazon Prime and HBO these days. So I like that, "We're going to tell this story but we're going to tell it in six episodes." And that's what, with Nameless, Dean Koontz did, and it's been massively successful. They're a quid each, and I think they're about 15,000 words average, each episode.
Now as we know, a quid is no good because you're really giving yourself a mountain to climb by having that 35% royalty rate, but I wrote six episodes. I wanted to write it like a TV series. I write visually anyway. It's like watching camera angles. That's how I write, and inside the character's head. So I wrote the arc of the six ... I want a whole story told, but then I wrote episodically. So we've got the six episodes going through. And so that I can give myself a chance of making some money, I've packaged them into three novella-length books. So it's two episodes in each book.
James Blatch: Right, so you can charge 2.99 at least to get the 70%?
Ian Sainsbury: Well, I was going to do it 1.99 and 2.99 dollars, yeah, and £1.99 in UK, so that I can get the ... that's hit the 70% royalty rate, but still divided into two parts in each book. So you still get your six episodes, but you're reading two at a time before the next one comes out.
It's an experiment. So that's the minimum price I can charge and still get my 70%. And I know I can write many more like this as well.
James Blatch: Quite a lot of planning involved in this in terms of the stories. This is not one where you can just play with and think, "I think I might do this in book three."
If you're going to do this, you've got to know what book three, four, five and six have in them at the beginning.
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah. It's very much, I'm calling it in my head, this is season one. So it's Bedlam Boy one, Bedlam Boy two, Bedlam Boy three. And the covers, instead of having the subtitles on the covers, that's what I've gone for. So it's very simple when you see it, and the colours will show you this is a complete story told across the six episodes.
And so, when four, five and six come out, in my head that's season two, and I might even say, "Season two of Bedlam Boy." Where I think he'll be going to America. I have a few pages of ideas for this already. But again, episodic nature, so it'll be six episodes telling one story.
But, again, like a TV series where each episode has its own pace, has its own arc, but drives you forward into the other episodes. So they're not standalone episodes. You won't read one and think, "I'm done with this now." They are propelling you through the first six episodes.
James Blatch: And there is a small danger there that some people do react badly to getting to the end of a book and realise they've got to buy the next book. I don't really understand that because it's a great thing to ... You wouldn't say that about a TV series, even if you buy the episodes individually on Amazon.
But you will get maybe some disgruntled readers, do you think?
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah. And I'm quite thin-skinned. I always get over it. It's fine. But there will be some pacing up and down and some swearing.
James Blatch: Well, that's okay.
Ian Sainsbury: It's a weird thing because I like reading very long books and I like reading very short books and everything in between. And the only grounds I could think of for anyone being disgruntled would be is if they feel they've been misled in any way, and I'm being very careful to make it clear ... The word "novella" is there. "Short, punchy reads." I'm doing everything I can to let people know what this is.
In terms of the work I've put in, more work has gone into these three books than work that's gone into any of the novels because of that way the stories have been written and the attention to detail.
James Blatch: How many words are they?
Ian Sainsbury: They're between about 25 to 30,000 per novella, but that's two episodes.
James Blatch: So it's about 50,000 plus words for 2.99 each time?
Ian Sainsbury: No. It's around 30,000 for 2.99 dollars.
James Blatch: Oh sorry. So about 15 per episode?
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah. Average 15 per episode.
James Blatch: I'm with you. Yeah, yeah. Okay.
Ian Sainsbury: Some are slightly under. I mean, I think the final one is slightly shorter than that just because it's accelerating towards the satisfying end. But of course, you get the 8000 word story for free.
James Blatch: And there you go. Yeah. To get you going.
Ian Sainsbury: On top of that.
James Blatch: The Las Vegas Driving Lesson.
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah. It's hard to know because it's such an opaque company in many ways. But when they do something new, and they do innovate and the Dean Koontz Nameless series is an example of that, but it's not the first time they tried it, and there's a whole short reads section to Amazon which is very busy now, and is definitely getting livelier all the time.
So I think they've seen something. They're trying to get more books into this. They're trying to promote this shorter read idea. And I know as a reader, if I'm reading something, which I can't believe I'm saying this, but I will read on my phone now. I will be somewhere where I haven't got the Kindle or the iPad or whatever and I'll read on my phone.
James Blatch: I do the same, although, like you, I hate it.
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah.
James Blatch: I'm not comfortable with it, but I much prefer having the Kindle. Do you go into KU?
Will you go into KU with these?
Ian Sainsbury: I always have with every book, and I've done well in KU. So yes, I'm certainly planning on it for this, and I'm just going to see how it ... I'm certainly open to the idea of going wide if it's the right thing to do. And this is something new, so I'll see. I'll try and be led by sales and by what people are telling me.
James Blatch: Yeah. I suppose it will be slightly tougher in KU because of the word count over the whole series, if I've got this right, is at 90 to 100,000 words across the whole series?
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah. So I think it's about 85 over the first three books. Yeah, it's like a full length novel over the trilogy.
James Blatch: So you've got basically, you could, in terms of KU reads, it won't really matter how you've done it up. You're being paid by the page.
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah. And that's another thing that I think with the pricing model is that, if you're in KU, it makes no difference to you-
James Blatch: It doesn't matter, yeah.
Ian Sainsbury: ... you just get a couple of extra pretty covers to look at, that's all.
James Blatch: Good. Well, Ian, it's really interesting talking to you. We have to follow this up because I think a lot of people will be intrigued by the approach of the shorter, episodic ... It seems very zeitgeist, as you say. Everyone's consuming TV like this all the time at the moment, and there's been a huge amount of very successful novel adaptations. I'm thinking of the Big Little Lies, turned into these episodic format, and it works brilliantly. I mean, that was a fantastic series.
We're watching Little Fires Everywhere now, which is a very similar thing. So it seems very zeitgeist to me, this approach.
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah. I'm not sure if I like being zeitgeist or not, James. But all I can is it's really good fun to write that way, and it's different and it feels like a mixture between ... I mean, I have written scripts. I've been in BBC meetings before where something's got to a certain level where you get invited in and talk through scripts. I've even had a readthrough of a pilot episode of something. So I've been on that side of the fence.
And I enjoy writing fiction on the page far more than scripts, far more. This way, that side of pacing it that way has been such fun to do and it's really engaging as a ... And I think that comes through in the writing. So well, yeah. Follow it up. Let's see. I'll be here with the beard will be back and there'll be a bottle of vodka next to me.
James Blatch: Looking slightly older.
Ian Sainsbury: Yeah. A lot older.
James Blatch: Or you'll be in an Armani suit saying, "I haven't got time to talk to you, Blatch."
Ian Sainsbury: Well, that's how I started this interview, of course. Yeah, we'll see.
James Blatch: Yeah, brilliant. Okay, Ian, look, really lovely to catch up with you. Congratulations again on the win, and just fingers crossed and best wishes with this series. I have a feeling it's going to do well, but we'll see.
Ian Sainsbury: We'll see. Thanks, James.
James Blatch: So that's Ian Sainsbury. Great to have Ian on the show. We definitely wish him the very best of luck with that. We'll be watching it very carefully. We've had sort of a commercial chat with Ian as well in the background about some of this as well, so we'll be very interested in how that works out for him.
I would say ... I mean, one of the reasons I love reading novels ... And funnily enough we've been throwing out books recently and I came across some books I read in the 1980s when I was a kid, and I did love those big doorstep books. I read those big, very thick books. And you feel like you've lived a bit of a life in a big, long novel where lots happen, and that's what I love. I love feeling a bit bereft after I've finished a big novel.
I worry that in 20 to 30,000 words that you can't get that level of depth. You can't produce that kind of life-changing feel. Or at least the characters in the book whose lives have changed.
Can you do that, do you think, in that time, that word count?
Mark Dawson: They're different experiences, aren't they? A shorter novella is more like a snack, really, I guess, but it doesn't have to be a snack that isn't nutritious. And anyway, it can just be something that you enjoy. You pick up and enjoy, put down again, forget about. There's nothing wrong with that at all.
With the thicker novels, and I know ... I've got a few of those that I remember quite fondly as well. The canvas is much broader and you get to do a lot more in terms of characterization and perhaps chronology and all of that kind of stuff. You have more scope to play around with things that you wouldn't have with the short fiction.
But I don't think they need to be ... neither is necessarily better than the other. They offer different things to different readers at different times, and I think there's enough room in the market for all kinds of fiction. Which, with your 350,000 word magnum opus-
James Blatch: Well, you can see why, I want people's lives to change. Good. Okay. Well, let's not move on to that subject. I've even got a temperature warning on my camera with my air conditioning on. That's what's happening in the UK today. Everything melts.
Mark Dawson: It is hot.
James Blatch: Good. Okay, look. Thank you very much indeed to our guest Ian. Lovely to have you on. I did trail ahead the Marie Force interview. That is going to come, I think probably in September. I'm waiting because she's got a bit of a ... She did tell me after the interview she has a bit of a public milestone coming up in the next few weeks, so I think we'll try and coincide it with that.
Good. That's it. You can go and enjoy the sunshine now, Mark. Got big plans for the weekend?
Mark Dawson: There's a barbecue tonight, so I'm going to be going to Marks & Spencers to buy some salad. That's how exciting my life is this afternoon. And then I'll be burning everything this evening. And the pool might be open. I think there'll be some pool action this evening as it's nice now. And I think the forecast is very nice for the next few days, so we're going to be enjoying our brief English summer before it gets grim again in a week's time.
James Blatch: Yeah, yeah. That is the downside of this. We do love our warm days but they are not guaranteed in this country. You are not just going to have salad on your barbecue? You're going to have copious amounts of meat, I assume?
Mark Dawson: There may be some meat, yes.
James Blatch: Okay.
Mark Dawson: Apologies to the vegans and vegetarians out there. There might be a little bit of meat. It's entirely possibly.
James Blatch: No animals were harmed. Well, apart from all the animals that were harmed for the barbecue. Good. Okay. Thank you very much indeed. All that leaves me to say is that it's a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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