2017: A reflection.

I often have my most profound thoughts and reflections at the oddest of times. There’s the cliched ‘eureka’ moment in the bath of shower of course, but for me, nothing beats the good old commute. Whether on a train, in a car, or on the bus, you can be surrounded by other people yet lost in thought. And as this year trundles to its final stop, it seems a perfect opportunity to reflect on the journey I’ve taken as a writer this year.

My second novel, The Daughters of the Darkness, came out in June. It continues the adventures of Thomas Walker, the wildlife biologist turned monster hunter, whom we met in Shadow Beast. The book is getting some lovely reviews from readers, and is slowly making itself known among the Amazon charts.

A few readers were surprised to find Thomas facing his past rather than picking up exactly where the first story ended. However, there is method in my madness. Firstly, given that Thomas is a hunter of man-eaters, I couldn’t resist pitting him against what are arguably the most famous duo to have ever developed a palette for people: the Tsavo lions. The legend and historic record of the man-eaters features strongly in the narrative, and as we learn in the first book, Thomas has unfinished business with a pride possibly made up of their descendants. There is of course something a little more cryptic (or perhaps cryptid), to their nature too. But, secondly, I also needed some time for things to…shall we say grow? Without giving any spoilers away, Phantom Beast, the third instalment, will see a return to the animals we met in Shadow Beast, and things have certainly…developed!

So, obviously Phantom Beast will be a major project for 2018, but getting stuck into my third novel was also a major part of this year.

But, there are a few other things on the go too. I’ve made progress with a science fiction story, and some headway with a rampaging bigfoot as well. And a recent achievement to my 2017 was mapping out what I see as my “novel universe”. Connecting characters, books, and storylines proved a really interesting exercise and gave me considerable clarity on where to take the stories. It also gave me a considerable to-do-list, so 2018 will be a busy year! Like many writers, I collect notebooks and journals, jotting down everything from vague thoughts to one-liners I’m yet to fit to a character, plot, or storyline!

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One of the funnest experiences in 2017 was joining Shannon Legro of Into the Fray Radio for an episode of her excellent podcast. If you’re interested in the paranormal, strange goings-on, cryptids, serial killers, UFOs, and other worldly things, you should definitely check it out. You can find my episode here, and you can find Into the Fray on all good pod catchers.

Another lovely aspect of 2017 was receiving reader mail from all over the world. From a gentleman in Florida, to a horror fan in Germany, I have been amazed and touched to find my books have spread so far, and pleased so many. If you’d like to get in touch, you can drop me a line via luke@blackbeastbooks.co.uk.

So, 2018 beckons, and of course, there’s plenty of things I didn’t get round to doing. I still haven’t set up a website, or started a mailing list. I don’t promote my books enough. Writing and a full-time job do take their toll, but I’m going into the next twelve months a little more prepared and determined. Christmas has seen aids, such as a social media planner from the brilliant Lucy Hall added to my resources, so I’ll hopefully be a little more proactive and less reactionary on my channels.

And along with everything else, I’ll keep writing too. Here’s to 2018!

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Junking the junk.

Junk mail. Meh.

Sometimes, it feels like the stuff being stuffed (see what I did there?) through your letter box, has already been given up on. They’ve already accepted that its headed to the recycling box, but for some reason, they felt it deserved a visit to your doormat beforehand. Like it should see more of the world, because damn it, they spent whole minutes putting it together.

So, they spent their valuable marketing budget letting some intern at a print shop get their big break writing and designing their flyer for them. After all, what could possibly go wrong?

Everything.

Let’s take this amazing piece of work that hit the mat just this morning.

I first wanted to pull this thing apart on the simple fact that, despite 2018 being nearly upon us, there are businesses out there till thinking that marketing yourself as ‘female friendly’ by making material pink and incredibly patronising is going to work. Or should that be patriarch-onising?

Are you a woman? Have you forgotten your MOT date is on the certificate? Do you have no idea that an MOT centre that had a commission based service on MOTs, a dedicated sales team, or middlemen would be really weird, or at the very least overkill? Then come to us! We’ll even tell you to put this reminder on your board or fridge in the kitchen (as that’s where you spend all your time right?). And best write the appointment down – after all, all the space in that pretty little head of yours is taken up by shoes.

Come on guys (I’m presuming they’re guys), let’s raise the game a little here. I mean, some of this is actually quite useful and helpful – but surely regardless of gender?  I forget stuff all the time. Ironically, I wish I could forget this flyer, but that doesn’t seem likely now.

It doesn’t matter that there are four stars in front of the words ‘five star rating’ (I know, there is another star on the flyer, but really?), or that there are so many sales messages here, the only thing standing out is the misogyny. Or that there is a completely superfluous dotted green line (am I cutting something out?), or that it looks like they’ve given each individual word its own typeface.

What matters, is that they’ve paid for this junk. Presumably, this met their standards of excellence. It nailed their brief. They were happy to pony up the dough.

Which surely means, under no circumstances, should you ever take your car to them? Honestly, it’d be like going to a doctor who lets their house plants die.

If you’re thinking of putting together marketing material, less is always more. Fewer words. Fewer images. Fewer messages. White space does not have to be filled. You do not have to write war and peace. And you do not have to convey your entire manifesto. Choose one key message and stick to it.

Below is probably the most perfect advert Porsche have ever created.

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No images. No need to fill space. And a perfect headline that’s also a punchline. This shows that Porsche not only know their audience, but also how they are perceived as a brand beyond it. And that lets them communicate effectively to both.

So, next time you’re headed to the lowest bidder for all your marketing needs, I ask you to consider one thing. Should you cut out the middle-person and head straight for the recycling centre?

Okay, two things then. Could you spend your money more wisely and make your budget deliver a better ROI by going somewhere else?

The final point? Junk mail is only junk mail if you make it so.