Category Archives: Writing

The Resolution to the “New Years Resolution”

New Year's Resolutions

I have to say that I was incredibly organised last Christmas. While most people were still no doubt franticly googling “Christmas gifts for her” and “What the hell do I buy an eighty year old that doesn’t involve lavender or slippers?” I was amazed to discover that Christmas in the Leeks household was done and dusted by early December. The gifts had been bought, the turkey had been ordered and I even found time to lie to our distant relatives as to why we wouldn’t be able to host them this year.

In fact, I was so organised last Christmas, that by the middle of December, I had already started to think about my new years resolutions. For me, a new years resolution should be something that is truly going to change your life. It’s the one time of the year where you can make a decision and stick to it.

Joining Gyms, losing weight, saving money, being nice; these are all lovely ideas in principle, but we all know that within a few weeks you’ll be reading the small print of that gym contract, you’ll be stuffing your face with half price selection boxes, you’ll have spent any meagre savings on that perfect dress in the January sales and you’ll be back to being your same old grumpy self again in no time. In fact, that time has already come for most of us.

Why not instead, make a resolution this year to fulfil your full potential? Instead of trying and failing to lose that half a stone and feeling more miserable than you did in the first place, why not take those art lessons you’d never found the time to have? How about that time you tried out archery on holiday and realised that you not only enjoyed it, but you were pretty good at it too; why don’t you go ahead and join an archery club? Instead of doing things this year that you think you should be doing, why not have a go at something you know you’d LIKE to be doing?

A little over a year ago I found that writing came incredibly naturally to me. I started to write an autobiographical tale of my daily commute to London and while I only initially started doing it in order to prove a point, I soon found that I had indeed stumbled across a hidden talent. That “hidden talent” has gone on to provide me with hours of joy, a bestselling book and amazingly, a credible second income.

So instead of signing up to a gym you won’t use or a diet where you find it impossible to lose, why don’t you, just for this year, do something for you?

Why travelling is like peeling an Orange!

orange-peel-man-body

Travelling for me has always been just an annoying necessity. It’s the bit in the middle between having to go somewhere and actually being somewhere.

I liken it to an orange. (bear with me) Eating a fresh orange is one of life’s little pleasures, but in order to eat an orange, you first have to peel one. That annoying bit in the middle between wanting an orange and eating an orange. Don’t even get me started on the people who peel an orange while travelling….. why are they putting themselves through it?

I hear people uttering the phrase “I love travelling” all of the time and it frustrates me. I am absolutely certain that these people do not “Love travelling” at all, they simply enjoy being well travelled. It’s a very different thing. It’s like saying “I love peeling oranges” when what they actually mean is “I like eating oranges”

I appreciate that this blog post is a little orange heavy, so let’s move on. So while travelling has always been an annoying necessity for me, it has provided me with a chance to be more creative. Had I not for example, been stuck on a train with a bunch of strangers for over five hundred hours in the last year, I would not have been able to find the time (or more importantly been provided with the content) to write a bestselling book.

So my advice is simple. Don’t ever waste an opportunity to do something more creative, not even when peeling an orange.

As They Slept – A Year in the Life of a London Commuter is OUT NOW. All four parts of the bestselling series in one book (Part 1 of the bestselling series has sold over 40,000 copies and has been ranked #1 on Amazon Humour and Biographies)

As They Slept 1-4 cover design (ebook)

Click Here to view book on Amazon

So which one are you?

ATS Part 4

It was way back in September 2012, when, infuriated by the snoozing passengers surrounding me, I decided to post a status on Facebook declaring that sleeping on trains is a complete waste of time.

My so called “friends” disagreed.

In a bid to prove them wrong, I set out to write a book from start to finish on the daily commute.

The chapter below was written while I commuted from Headcorn to London on Wednesday 28th August 2013 and sums up just about everyone that you will ever encounter on a morning commute.

So which one are you?

As I look around the carriage this morning, I can see a real mix of people. It’s a nice reminder that commuters come in many forms and very rarely fit the typical stereotype of smart suits and broadsheet newspapers. I would say that only around half of the people in my carriage this morning are wearing typical business attire, while the other half are adorned with a colourful array of casual clothes.

As a tribute to commuters everywhere and in the hope that you will all recognise a few of the people mentioned, I have decided to write a poem.

There’s not one person that makes a commuter
Some sit quietly and work on their computer
Others use the time to apply their make up
While others look depressed over their latest break-up
Then there are those that talk on their phone
And others that can’t leave their willy alone
Of course there is always a noisy eater
And you will always sit next to the broken heater
There is always a train guard that looks like yoda
And a guy in the corner with questionable odour
There is always someone tapping their feet
Now here comes fatty with his huge broadsheet
There is always an old guy that should have retired
And a person who’s ticket has just expired
The guy with the braces, whose starting to snore
And the one with the glasses, the office bore
The hungover guy, collapsed in a heap
And five or six others are fast asleep
But always be careful and make sure you look
For the guy by the toilets, who’s writing a book

As They Slept – Part 4 half price and available to download for ONLY £0.99p 8am November 15th to 10am November 18th

http://www.amazon.co.uk/As-They-Slept-comical-commuter-ebook/dp/B00FRY2A3Y

As They Slept Astheyslept As They Slept – Part 2 As They Slept Part 2 (2)As They Slept – Part 3 As They Slept Part 3

Words cannot “Express”

Express

I’ve seen a rapid increase in the number of establishments using the word ‘Express’ in their business or product names recently. For the most part it makes perfect sense, and I can see exactly why the proprietors would want to convey the message of speed.

The word express conjures up images of people dashing around looking as if someone has pressed the fast-forward button. It conjures up images of people standing aside and waving you through, but unfortunately, thanks to fatherhood, it also conjures up images of my wife using an elaborate machine to extract milk from her breast.

‘Cafe Nero Express’ is a perfect example of where the word express works well. ‘Cafe Nero Express’ perfectly explains what you’re going to get as a paying customer. You’re going to get coffee and, so long as they have their business model right, you’re going to get it quickly. Pizza Express works much in the same way, and once again I wholeheartedly agree with their willingness to provide the ‘Express’ in their title and their service. As I see it, people need food and drink in order to survive, and whenever there’s a chance that someone might die, I think it’s reasonable to demand an express service.

There are a couple of examples, however, where the word express doesn’t exactly fit with the product or service. Take the Gatwick Express, for example. It’s a fantastic concept: a high-speed train service which will get you to Gatwick in a flash. Except the flash is usually followed by smoke and flames, all as a result of another signal-box failure.

All of this brings me to a company that was brought to my attention yesterday, as one of its branded vans sped around the City of London. The company?

Picture Frames Express!

I’ve nothing against Picture Frames Express, per se. I’m sure they offer an extremely good range of picture frames and are able to deliver them quickly, but who has ever thought to themselves “I need a picture frame, and I need it now”?

Surely a picture frame is a purchase only ever carried out while casually browsing? I can’t imagine someone ever running into a shop and demanding to know where the frames are. “They’re over there, sir, right by the door, next to the toilet paper and the morning-after pills!”

If you enjoyed my blog, you may enjoy the books I have written. As They Slept – Part 4 (The comical tales of a London commuter) is out on Friday 11th October 2013.

As They Slept – Part 4
ATS Part 4

A Birthday First

It’s my birthday today and it is the first time I have ever worked on my birthday! Even as a child I was excused from having to go to school due to the date that it fell on and as I crept into adulthood, I always managed to find an excuse to take the day off.
 
“My wife has booked a surprise for me” I would say as I hand in the holiday request form, knowing full well I have nothing more planned than sitting in my pants all day eating chocolate cake.
 
I always felt sorry for the kids at school who had to come in on their birthday. Birthdays are the one day a year when you are allowed to be spoilt; twenty four hours of pure unadulterated selfishness. By going to school or work, you are shortening that already extremely small window considerably.
 
I said to my boss this morning that as this is the first time I have ever worked on my birthday, was there any chance that I could treat it a little differently.
 
“How do you mean” he asked, puzzled
 
“Put my feet up and take it easy” I said
 
“I thought you wanted to treat it differently!” he replied
 
Charming!
 
Another good reason for not going to work on my birthday is that I miss out on having to buy the cakes! Call me a grump, but why in the hell should I buy cakes for everybody when it is MY bloody birthday. Surely birthday’s are the one day a year when you can sit back and let other people buy things for you. Not once have I woken up on my birthday and thought “Never mind me everyone, here’s a couple of hundred quid, why don’t you go out and treat yourselves”
 
It must have all started somewhere. I imagine it started with the office junior one year. Fed up of sending them to fetch tartan paint and left handed screw drivers, someone somewhere told the office junior that when it’s their birthday they have to buy the cakes and this whole stupid birthday cake buying nonsense was born.
 
I’m on the evening train home now, looking forward to seeing my wife and child, but I can’t help feeling that I’ve been cheated. By insisting on sleeping for the first seven hours of my Birthday and then stupidly spending the next twelve hours at work, I have reduced my twenty four hour’s of unadulterated selfishness to just five; and that’s if I make it to midnight before falling asleep!
 
So, seven months pregnant or not, my wife’s got her work cut out this evening as she has only five hours to squeeze in a three course meal cooked from scratch, a luxurious massage followed by a perfectly run bath while providing some insightful and interesting chat about Watford’s chances of lifting the title this year.
 
I’m guessing she’ll be booking me a surprise next year!

How do I get my book into the Amazon top 100

How I cracked the Amazon Top 100

A lot of people have asked me this question over the past few months and in this blog post I will do my very best to provide some tips and tricks that worked for me. I am an Indie author with no previous experience in writing, publishing or marketing and I managed to get into the Amazon Top 100 (Kindle UK) within two weeks of my book being released. I then managed to stay there for three months, selling over 30,000 books in the process.

Amazon Top 100

I’d like to point out however that there is no exact science and what works for one book is almost certainly not going to work for another.

1) Firstly and most importantly, your book needs to stand out

By this I mean both visually AND literally. In order to stand out, your book needs to be different; it needs to be offering the reader something that other books don’t. Whether that is a completely fresh take on an existing genre or subject or something different entirely, you need to find something that will hook the reader in. Once you have found your hook, make it clear to the reader, either in the title or the description. Don’t bury it down in line 7 or 8 in the description, PUT IT IN BOLD ON THE FIRST LINE, or better still, change the name of your book to encorporate the hook.

My book was initially titled, rather innocently “As They Slept”, but my editor pointed out that unless people actually clicked on the book itself, they would have no idea what it was. As They Slept sounds like a spooky murder mystery, not the humerous observations of the life of a commuter, so it was essential that the book title explained what it was. As They Slept was dropped in favour of As They Slept – The comical tales of a London commuter.

This could easily work for other books. You could have a thriller titled “When Morning Comes”, which sounds like a perfectly reasonable title, but why not change it to “When Morning Comes – The tale of a Soldier’s fight for survival”

Another really important tip is to ensure that your book cover looks professional. A lot of people will say that it is essential that you use bold colours to make it physically stand out, but if it is not professional looking first and foremost, then this can often result in it looking cheap and tacky and it will stand out for all the wrong reasons. The perfect solution is to go for something that is both bold AND professional looking, and while it may seem like I am stating the obvious, it is amazing to see how many book covers arrive on Amazon that fail at least one of these rules.

2) Hire an Editor

I can’t emphasise how important this is. If you are serious about writing and serious about making a career out of writing, then you need to hire an editor. In fact, scrap the word “hire”, just find someone to proof read your work; preferably someone that you are not related to or had sex with, as their opinions will be biased. I am aware that this might be difficult for people who live in small villages and in fact in some villages, it is likely that there may well be people falling into both categories, but never the less, it is vitally important that someone who is impartial looks at your work.

TOP TIP – Do you fancy paying peanuts for editing and book design, while also getting free marketing? – Read on…..

If you haven’t got a lot of money, do what I did and offer a small fee, with a promise of a percentage of royalties. I paid a small fee to my editor and agreed a set percentage of royalties which increased depending on the volume of sales. I did exactly the same with my book designer too.

THE ADVANTAGE OF DOING THIS IS THAT YOU PAY OUT VERY LITTLE AT THE START, BUT HAVE THE ADDED BONUS OF TWO ADDITIONAL PEOPLE HELPING TO MARKET YOUR BOOK!

Royalties

3) Tell everyone about your book – I mean everyone – Yes, even him!

Every time you speak to someone, you have an opportunity to tell them about your book, whether that be in person, on the phone or in cyber land. Don’t ever miss an opportunity to tell someone about your new book. If the person knows you, they will likely be proud of you and keen to help, often promoting your work without you even asking them to. It’s a natural thing for someone to want to tell somebody else that they know an author. You’ve all heard of someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, who used to play bass guitar for some random band from the sixties, so you need to harness the amazing power of these chinese whispers.

woman whispering in man's ear

Tell strangers too. What’s the harm? In the words of Dr Pepper, what is the worst that can happen? In the lead up to my book release, I got 1,000 flyers printed and gave them to everyone on my train who owned a Kindle. I then went around as many of the coffee shops in London as I could get to. I targeted a specific chain (which I will do my best not to name) that had notice boards in each of their branches. I found that the staff in their green aprons were always happy to help, just as soon as they had taken my order and written my name on my cup.

Once you have exhausted all of your personal contacts, get onto the laptop and start networking. Create a Facebook Fan page and invite all of your friends (and ask them to invite their friends), set up a Twitter Page, a blog and send out a bunch of emails to anyone and everyone you can. An hour or so on Google will provide you with more than enough email addresses to be getting on with. Email anyone who you think may be interested and make sure you email (at the very least) your local press. You will be surprised just how many extra sales you can make from people who are local and who feel like they have a special “local” connection. Here is a link to an article written about my book.

4) Be flexible about pricing

When my book was released, I released it at £1.99. I considered that to be a very reasonable price. Within a week I had sold around 35 copies and I was sure I had exhausted all of my immediate contacts. I then set about marketing the book heavily (Using the tips above) and I decided that in order to try and convince new readers to give it a go, I should drop the price. Some authors would wince at this advice and think that this suggestion is pure madness, but wouldn’t you rather sell 50 copies at £0.77p than 0 copies at £1.99?

I found that by lowering the price after the first week, I was able to take advantage of the healthy rankings I had acheived from the 35 sales and then combined with the marketing push, helped drive more sales.

A week after I reduced my price, I had sold 600 copies. What happens then is a snowball effect. Suddenly, you start to enter the Amazon Movers and Shakers lists and if you are really lucky, you will get featured by Amazon. I was lucky enough to get featured on Amazon’s home page, right next to Bradley Wiggins on the day that he won Sports Personality of the year!

Me and Brad

As soon as I had been featured by Amazon, my book shot to #1 in my two main categories (Humour and Biographies) and it carried on from there. I managed to stay in the top 100 for 3 months, outselling major authors and more importantly for me, established comics, over a busy Christmas period)

Top of category

5) My book is in the Top 100 – What now?

Firstly well done. It is now vitally important that you engage with your fans. If you have got your marketing right, then your readers should be able to find you and contact you through your Facebook Page, your Twitter account or blog. It is vital that you engage with everyone that is kind enough to contact you, whether it be good or bad feedback. Readers who receive a personal response are far more likely to tell their friends and those who chose to leave you negative feedback will be far less likely to tell theirs!

As They Slept – (The comical tales of a London commuter) is FREE on August 17th and 18th

astheyslept4.jpeg

As They Slept – The comical tales of a London commuter

An example to us all…apparently!

untitled

I was recently contacted by Commuting Expert, a website dedicated to providing everything a commuter needs in order to make their commute cheaper, more productive, more enjoyable and more worthwhile.

The website ties in very neatly with my original aim, to make use of the time that we commute instead of wasting it, sleeping.

I have published the article below and for the original article click here

For those taking public transport, and particularly trains, the temptation to just sleep during the daily journey is a very real one.

Yet one commuter decided that getting a few extra winks was no way to spend his valuable time in transit.

Looking around his carriage to see all his fellow passengers comatose, Account Executive Andy Leeks posted an angry message on Facebook to say how lazy he thought they were.

After all – surely they could use the time for things like paying bills, researching recipes, emailing an old friend, doing some creative writing – anything?!

Predictably, his post drew a number of counter comments from his friends telling him he was wrong.

Not one to give up easily, Andy decided to prove the point.

From September 2012, he challenged himself to write on every commute for a whole year, and the result is his debut book As They Slept: The comical tales of a London commuter – written solely in the time he spends on the train.

The book is full of humorous observations of his fellow passengers.

Speaking to the Harrow Times about his work, Andy explained his inspiration:

“I’ve got a special seat on the train, which I’ve managed to manipulate since starting the book. I sit right next to the toilets, by all the bikes. The smell’s awful, but it means I’m not being overlooked by anyone. That’s crucial when you’re writing about other people.

“One day you might be moaning about the fat guy opposite who has just thundered through four cans of Stella, another day the beauty of the countryside. It was about me getting ideas down on a page but it’s kind of turned into a grumpy old man’s notebook.“

His is writing the book in four parts: Parts 1-3 are available on Amazon, with Part 4 out in mid October.

Clearly it is striking a chord as Part 1 was released at Christmas and has gone on to sell over 37,000 copies and has previously featured as the #1 book in both Biographies and Humour in Amazon.

A lesson for us all
Here at Commuting Expert we think Andy offers a role model to all of us for how commuting time can be put to good use.

The fact that he has managed to write four volumes also goes to prove just how much productive time can be gained: with the average UK worker commuting for over 200 hours a year (and the average Commuting Expert reader commuting for over 400!) you can achieve an incredible amount – even a second income – by using the time well.

Andy clearly agrees too: “I don’t think there’s any limit to what people can do during their commute,” he says, “As long as you can do it on a train and do it legally.

“I’m writing because that’s what I enjoy. I’d love one day to walk through a carriage and see people juggling, painting, crocheting and knitting. Do something you want to do, anything – there’s no limits.“

How I got into writing

On Tuesday 18th September 2012, I posted a status on Facebook.

I was on the 07:51 train into London and everyone around me was asleep.

The status read:

“Maybe I’m in the minority here, but it really annoys me when commuters sleep on trains, especially so on the morning leg. They have just had a whole night’s sleep! You can get so much done on your commute, it’s criminal to sleep through it”.

Some of my friends totally disagreed. Well, I say friends, but this was Facebook, so it’s probably more accurate to say that some people I barely knew disagreed. Apparently I was wrong to assume people had enjoyed a whole night’s sleep, and there were doubtless many factors contributing to why they were sleeping. Many things could be responsible for their tiredness, such as work stress or restless children.

I honestly didn’t doubt for one second that these people had busy lives and that for them sleep was often at a premium; I was just making the point that using the commute to sleep was a waste of potentially valuable time. I then decided to list all of the things that could be done during their nap time. “You could pay some bills, research a recipe, get in touch with an old friend, catch up on the news, do some online shopping, enter a competition or even do some creative writing”, I asserted.

By the time I’d got to the last two, I had clearly run out of ideas. It is for this reason and this reason only that I then followed it up with the perhaps foolhardy promise: “…..In fact, I’ll prove how much time you are wasting by sleeping – I am going to write something on every commute for a year!”

And just like that, the “As They Slept” series of books was born.

Astheyslept

A challenge laid down to myself – to prove to all of those narcoleptic commuters just what could be done in those lost sleepy hours. At the time, I had no idea what to write about, and the future content of the book was as much a mystery to me as it was to you, but I realised that was what made it truly exciting. I had always enjoyed a challenge, but this was the first time I had ever actually set one for myself. Normally there is a friend involved, and almost always alcohol to blame and/or a woman to impress. This time there was no alcohol, no woman to impress and as Facebook was involved, there were certainly no friends involved.

I then set out a series of rules and guidelines that I would try to adhere to. Firstly, and most importantly, the book would only be written while commuting. Put simply, that means if I’m not commuting, I’m not writing. Every day that I commuted to work, I promised to add a chapter to the book. I was adamant that I wouldn’t be spending my workdays, evenings or weekends writing. I have a day job to do and a family to keep happy.

The whole point of the book was to show what can be done while commuting, and hopefully to prove once and for all that sleeping on trains really is a complete waste of time.

As They Slept – Part 1 was released on 14th December 2012