I’ve had cause to think about being Jack Brighton, and his alter ego J.K. A bit of a crisis going on to be honest, questioning my worth, and all that sort of stuff. Questioning if I can be arsed to carry on writing.
It’s good to think about these important issues, rather than continuing regardless – like being in a bad relationship that’s getting worse by the day, but you don’t have the courage to get out of it, and get out there again. Quite a few things have contributed to this introspection, but the main one is dwindling sales.
I’m fortunate not to be totally dependent on royalties. If I was, then I would have given up on being a full time author quite some time ago. Up until the end of 2014, the royalty income I was earning would have been enough to support a reasonable lifestyle. But not now. 2015 was pretty dire, and it looks set to continue unless I do something about it. With over 100 published titles by Jack Brighton and his various other disguises, writing a lot more books isn’t necessarily going to help, although it probably wouldn’t do any harm. But can I be arsed to churn out another hundred books? Definitely not. Not as things stand. I’m not going to slog my guts out on a lost cause. If I write, I want the process to be a pleasure, not a hideous chore.
So what to do?
Well, another couple of things reminded me recently of the man I used to be. He wasn’t called Jack, but for the sake of this diatribe, let’s give him that name… Salesman Jack.
I went back to Salesman Jack very recently when writing ‘In X Change’. That wasn’t really my character – I was a much nicer guy than Max. You have to read ‘Mastered’ to get closer to Salesman Jack (or Sales Manager Jack as he was by then). But it brought me mentally back to The City of London, and International Banking, which I used to sell IT solutions into. It was a stressful environment, and not for the feint-hearted. You needed nerves of steel for those big ticket deals, and the life span of a failed salesman was very short. I survived a long time and left on my own terms, because if I say so myself, I was bloody good at it – never missed target, always made The Club (read ‘The Secret Club’ if you want an insight into that – one of Fergie Boy’s early efforts). I was the Blue Eyed Boy who could always be relied on to make up the numbers when others were struggling. I didn’t fit the stereotype of arrogant bluster and endless hot air - but I told a better story to the bankers that counted, and they rewarded me by giving me the business more times than not. Salesman Jack used to be a shit hot salesman, beating off the competition, even when they had a better solution. I told a better story, and I still tell good stories… So why the fuck can’t I sell a respectable number books?
Here’s part of the reason… Because I hung up my sales boots many years ago and decided to live a different life. And having found a calling telling a different type of story, I’ve balked at the sales part, unwilling to do a pitch. I didn’t want to touch the person I once was, so went to an extreme and did the minimum amount of selling.
A case in example… Until a few weeks ago, after six years as a full time writer with plenty to shout about, I had never posted a positive review of my work. I didn’t want to brag. It felt wrong, arrogant – everything that I hated about all those stereotypical salesmen who could never work me out, and didn’t take me seriously until I’d taken a deal from under their nose, or muscled in on their patch if they worked for the same company. It was only three years ago that I actually joined Facebook, thinking that it might be a useful tool to make my work better known. But I never really used it to plug my stuff until last year. I was doing all right, just putting it out there without any marketing effort. I didn’t need to call on Salesman Jack. At least not until recently when it all went tits up… And now perhaps it’s too late, with the market in general having been taken away from me. ‘What goes around comes around’ and I’m cool with that.
Anyway, where is all this leading?
This morning I put those two favourite words at THE END of my latest effort – ‘When Nabster Nab Met Gangster Gaz’. The last quarter needs a huge amount of polishing, and I suspect the current 40,000 words will move to nearer 50,000 by the time I’m finished. But the hard work is done. So now what?
Time to bring out Salesman Jack!
Not sure how long I’ll give him, but there is a sort of milestone ahead when I return to Gozo for a couple of weeks in April. That will be a holiday, and Jack in all forms will be put to bed. Depending on how successful Salesman Jack has been, I’ll probably decide in Gozo whether Jack comes out of bed or not when I return to Brighton. It will be festival time then, with lots of distractions, and then it will be summer in my seaside city. The beach, the tennis court, endless other things will be calling out, and sounding more attractive than a makeshift office that isn’t giving a decent return for the huge number of hours spent in it… If Jack Brighton isn’t going to be commercially successful, then I really don’t see a point in flogging a dead horse. If I’m writing as a hobby, then it will be as J.K. And even then I might just say ‘fuck it’, as I doubt if I could play at writing a book, doing a few hours here and there. It has to be all or nothing for me. I have to lose myself totally in the work, living and tasting the characters and their story. But without the motivation of at least a small degree of commercial success, I don’t think I could continue doing that. A salesman’s pride wouldn’t allow it. And a good salesman knows when to qualify out of a deal he’s never going to win, and move on to a better prospect.
So fingers crossed for Salesman Jack. He’s going to be a real pain in the arse, and I’ll probably lose a lot of ‘friends’ in the process, but hopefully keep the ones that matter, even if Jack takes a final bow having failed to convert ‘friends’ into readers.