The Algorithm

As a writer your life is controlled by a Single Deity.

It dictates your mood, your income, your happiness.

It’s a benevolent God that smiles on you.

Or a vengeful God that flicks you casually into the outer darkness.

It’s the Amazon Algorithm.

It’s all knowing. All powerful. Remorselessly accurate.

‘Don’t sell your book to your friends and family,’ the gurus yell. ‘The only thing they have in common is you. All you’ll do is confuse the Algorithm.’

No, you must sell your book to a carefully targeted niche audience. Better 50 people who enjoy long country walks in bondage gear than a hundred random friends.

(As if any writer has a hundred friends. Only two to go and I’ve got three…)

‘Amazon know everything you’ve ever bought. Everything you’ve ever looked at. They know what people like you have bought. How can the Great God Algorithm not be right?’

It’s difficult to argue with such cold, calculating logic.

Until you see what the algorithm recommended for me on Thursday morning.

A cordless power drill – as regular readers know, I run a mile from any hint of DIY

Elemis skin care – sadly, around 20 years too late

A mini exercise bike – which looks exactly like the tiny little bikes clowns ride in circuses

A Hawaiian shirt – obviously, as the last shirt I bought was a bottle green rugby shirt

And a men’s ‘get healthy’ skipping rope – a.k.a ‘the marriage wrecker…’

You’ve woken me up. What’s that awful thumping noise? And why are you gasping for breath?”

Sorry. I was skipping. In the hall. In my Hawaiian shirt.”

My apologies. I appreciate that the mental image of a grey-haired, slightly overweight, middle-aged writer in a Hawaiian shirt maybe too much. Especially one twirling a skipping rope round his head…

All this followed hot on the heels of last month’s laser-precision recommendation for me: an Abrams M1 battle tank.

I’d been planning a quiet afternoon’s editing. Clearly Amazon thought I might fancy invading Afghanistan…

But so much for rugged, manly things like power drills and battle tanks.

The algorithm is about to see me in a new light.

Every Wednesday I do half an hour of Facebook Live. In theory I talk about writing: in reality I talk about my wife’s taste in gin.

I do this from a state of the art broadcasting studio – or the dining room, as we sometimes call it. My phone’s propped up on a stand, which sits comfortably on eight paperbacks. I smile cheerfully, and start chattering away at 7:00 every Wednesday night.

So far, it’s worked perfectly. The set-up’s fine and – thanks to the evening sun shining in through the window – the lighting’s even finer.

But as you may have noticed, summer is drawing to a close. It’s getting darker and it’s raining every day. Wednesday’s broadcast was cloaked in shadows…

And so I’ve pressed ‘buy now.’ What have I bought? A Selfie Light Ring.

An hour ago I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Then someone told me her teenage daughter needed one. ‘For her YouTube videos.’

And there it was on Amazon. ‘Easy to assemble’ and ‘good value’ – two boxes a clumsy miser always likes to tick.

It comes with three light modes (I’ll have ‘most flattering’ please), ten brightness levels, an adjustable phone holder and a tripod stand. So much for resting on old paperbacks: eat your heart out, Hollywood…

Sadly, I told my wife about it. “Oh, look,” she said, “It says it’s ideal for make-up videos. You’ll be the envy of teenage girls on TikTok. And if the writing doesn’t work out you’ll have another career to fall back on…”

This one was written on Friday August 28th: I’m now into my final edits on Salt in the Wounds and the aim is for it to go off for formatting – the Kindle version and the paperback – by September 11th. Publication is tentatively set for Monday September 28th.