The knock-on.

Writer’s blog: Stardate: 29.03.2013

Friday morning is turning out to be a good time of the week for me to write a blog-post. It’s usually quiet here in the Istanbul City Zoo monkey enclosure: all the week’s cleaning gets done by Thursday, the resident vet has paid her weekly visit, fresh straw has been laid for the weekend and the manager sees his mistress on Thursday nights and doesn’t often pitch up to work until just before lunch.

The sun is shining and it’s quite warm here already. It has been suggested that the temperature might get up to seventeen degrees tomorrow. If that were not indicative enough of spring approaching the males are eyeing up the females with a primate’s hint of a leer.

On Monday I blogged of my weekend’s free listing experience regarding one of my titles with Amazon’s KDP Select programme (see two posts previously for details. I’m not doing it all again.)

One of the things that I was interested to learn from this exercise was whether the two days of giving my book away for free would have any discernable impact on subsequent sales of the other two titles that I have listed with Amazon that are in the same series.

At the end of the promotion my figures were as below:

Amazon.co.uk

Rope Enough – 36

Making a Killing – 5 sold (351 free downloads)

Joint Enterprise – 7

Amazon.com

Rope Enough – 8

Making a Killing – 3 sold (219 free downloads)

Joint Enterprise – 5

Currently, Friday morning 10.20 (GMT + 2), my sales figures are as below:

Amazon.co.uk

Rope Enough – 63

Making a Killing – 13 (2 units borrowed through KDP select programme).

Joint Enterprise – 8

Amazon.com

Rope Enough – 11

Making a Killing – 3 (0 units borrowed through KDP select programme)

Joint Enterprise – 7

I like these figures – the UK ones. I don’t have the statistics for previous months’ sales (of course I could look then up but it isn’t really necessary) however, I can say that the number of copies of Rope Enough that have been sold since Monday morning – essentially only four days ago – is probably more than I have sold in total in the three months or so that it has been available. And there is the curious figure of eight copies sold of Making A Killing in the same time frame – a very healthy number when compared to previous month’s sales. As well as that book having been free last weekend I did increase the price of it from £0.77 to £1.53 last week.

No noticeable effect on sales in the US market. Again, this is a little odd as over the months my US sales have always topped the UK sales. But then again, as far as I’m aware, Rope Enough did not stray into any charts this week on the Amazon.com site (see below).

Since the promotion I have slipped in and out of Amazon.co.uk’s top hundred rankings with Rope Enough in the crime, police procedural category. And when one hovers on the periphery of this, two or three quick sales can see a book move several places (up to seventy-nine for a short while). I only mention this because it seems reasonable to venture that at this end of the top hundred rankings it really is only a matter of a few odd sales that can make a difference, not dozens or hundreds. Something that I didn’t know.

On a personal note, yesterday I finished my second edit of Bad Sons, my latest crime/thriller novel. In two read-throughs I have changed very little – nothing of the structure or the plot; really, just vocabulary, punctuation and fleshing out some details. I’m not sure what to make of that. I have the same positive feelings about the overall story, its telling and unfolding as I did with each of the R&M books and I take encouragement from that. They didn’t turn out to be so bad in my opinion and the opinions of a good many people who generously left feedback.

I have a bit of a dilemma with this book now. Do I ignore it for a couple of months then come back to it and see how it reads, as per general perceived wisdom, or do I just go ahead and add it to my self-publishing portfolio? My heart says publish, my head says wait.

Great minds think alike.

 

I like to pay occasional visits to blogs that I have on my blogroll. It seems the polite thing to do. Tonight, after being reminded of him, I dropped in on Jeremy Duns. He’s a published author and journalist type. I’ve only read one of his books and I liked it quite a lot. Respect between us is one way traffic because he’s famous and I’m not.

He has recently written a blog the focus of which is the influence of a very well-known fictional character of the twentieth century. Mr Duns included some quotes from one of the books in the series. I read the one below that I have pinched, copied and pasted – thank you Mr Duns. You saved me a lot of typing – because it reminded me of something that I wrote in Joint Enterprise (The Third Romney and Marsh File). I have included that for reference underneath. Any clever clogs recognise which rather famous and highly collectable book this is from? Answers on a postcard.

With most women his manner was a mixture of taciturnity and passion. The lengthy approaches to a seduction bored him almost as much as the subsequent mess of disentanglement. He found something grisly in the inevitability of the pattern of each affair. The conventional parabola – sentiment, the touch of the hand, the kiss, the passionate kiss, the feel of the body, the climax in the bed, then more bed, then less bed, then the boredom, the tears and the final bitterness – was to him shameful and hypocritical. Even more he shunned the mise en scène for each of these acts in the play – the meeting at a party, the restaurant, the taxi, his flat, her flat, then the week-end by the sea, then the flats again, then the furtive alibis and the final angry farewell on some doorstep in the rain.

And now mine.

As he washed his hands, he remembered something that had stuck with him from one of Dibdin’s Zen novels and that he had had cause to reflect on more than once as a gauge of how times and attitudes had changed in only a few short years. “Three weeks flirting, three months loving, three years squabbling and thirty years making do,” was the suggested chronology for a relationship. It seemed a dated and out-of-date perspective to Romney. It was his overwhelming experience of women these days that the whole process had been significantly speeded up and altered beyond recognition. Three hours flirting could often see him get three weeks of his leg over; which could be followed by three months of muddling along and then three days of cooling off and from then total avoidance. Years, let alone decades just no longer came into it. Everyone, it seemed, himself included, was in such a rush to disappoint each other.

Probably, you’re thinking that the first passage is better writing than mine. Of course it is. I’m not seeking to compare the writing, I’m just amused by the innocently common view. Anyone else had a similar experience?

This all now becomes a little revealing. I had finished writing this post with the last paragraph but something niggled – another recollection. I looked at Making A Killing (The Second Romney and Marsh File) and found what I was looking for. It is another similar passage. (Cue my analyst.)

When he had first returned to the dating scene in his late thirties in search of female company it had been with a mixture of outward scepticism and naive private hope in equal measure. However, the more he experienced of available women his age the more his hope dwindled to gutter like a cheap candle. His doubt grew to be replaced with the darkness of bitter disappointment, as the certainty of each anti-climax was played out. Eventually, he had become more honest with himself over his prospects and intentions. With little hope of bumping into the ‘one’, his encounters with the opposite sex became predictable shallow repeat performances of a sad matinee in four acts: the chase, the sex, the boredom and finally the dissolution. It was a cycle that he endured because he didn’t want to pay for it, and, therefore, he had no choice. His resignation to the inevitability of it all became something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, but, as the saying went, couldn’t live with them; couldn’t do without them. No man can fight his basic instincts indefinitely, while he still has basic instincts to fight. Romney shared the view that Wilde was reputed to have once famously remarked: the only way to deal with temptation was to yield to it. And so he had come to accept the likelihood that each dalliance would probably become just another temporary liaison to scratch an itch and remind himself how much better off he was on his own. 

Understanding for the first time that I have been moved to write on relationships in this cynical vein not once but twice has given me a bit of an insight into my subconscious. Funny really where things can lead.

PS That image wasn’t nearly cryptic enough, was it?

An instance of KDP Select versus Smashwords

Two Sundays ago I enrolled Making a Killing (The Second Romney and Marsh File) in the Amazon KDP Select scheme. The weekend just gone I took advantage of two of the allotted five promotional days where Amazon allows one to list one’s book for free within the 90 day period of said scheme. It was an interesting and thought provoking experience.

I am happy to provide some figures and observations here for those who are looking for information and numbers to crunch regarding the whole KDP Select initiative. Regardless of some dubious aspects of validity and reliability involved in this little sales episode I still think that some patterns are suggested.

I have three ebooks available with Amazon. They are all in a series of British police procedurals. Not exactly mainstream fiction. Making a Killing is the second book in the series.

My Reasons for trying KDP Select

I was interested to discover four things.

1) How many consumers would a free download promotion attract for the book in question?

2) Whether I might experience a knock-on effect with sales of the other two books in the series (these are priced a £0.77 (the 1st) and £2.05 (the 3rd).

3) How the numbers would compare to my download history through the Smashwords outlet and their partner sites where the three books have all been free to download for a few months.

4) Will there be any discernable long-term effects on sales from this free promotion.

The Numbers

Coming into the promotional forty-eight hours my download figures for this sales period stood like this for the three ebooks:

Amazon.co.uk

Rope Enough (1st in series) – 11 (1 copy sold in the week leading up to the promotion)

Making a Killing (2nd in series) – 5 (0 copies sold in the week leading up to the promotion)

Joint Enterprise (3rd in series) – 4 (0 copies sold in the week leading up to the promotion)

Amazon.com

Rope Enough – 3 (0 copies sold in the week leading up to the promotion)

Making a Killing – 3 (1 copy sold in the week leading up to the promotion)

Joint Enterprise – 2 (0 copies sold in the week leading up to the promotion)

After the promotion had ended the figures looked like this:

Amazon.co.uk

Rope Enough – 36

Making a Killing – 351 free downloads

Joint Enterprise – 7

Amazon.com

Rope Enough – 8

Making a Killing – 219 free downloads

Joint Enterprise – 5

An unexpected result of the promotion was that I also got downloads from other Amazon sites, but only for the free book.

Amazon.de – 12

Amazon.fr – 5

Amazon.es – 2

Amazon.ca – 4

Total downloads across all Amazon sites for Making A Killing – 593

I did no self-promotion prior to this give-away period. I understand that people do and I wonder if creating some awareness through the limited outlets available might have increased downloads. Perhaps next time I do this I will experiment with that option and opportunity.

Amazon V Smashwords

Making A Killing was available for free through Smashwords and its partner sites between 23.12.2012 – 12.03.2013 (thirteen weeks). It achieved a total of 367 downloads. One weekend on Amazon and it had a total of 593.

If my experience is typical, the figures show that, despite Smashwords valiant efforts (and I do admire Mr Coker and what he is doing), Amazon is still far and away the leading outlet for authors looking for downloads and exposure.

Bestsellers Rankings

This was something that I hadn’t thought about prior to the weekend but when things were active it became something to take some amusement from. Before I went to bed, Making A Killing reached the dizzy heights of:

The knock-on that Rope Enough sales got saw this title break into the top 100 paid for Police Procedurals… for about one hour. It got to number 97 when an Ian Rankin title was at 99. I thought that I was about to hit the big time. Next hour, Rankin was at number 14 and I had disappeared without a trace. Pfffttt. (I bet DI Romney could have Rebus in a fist fight.)

When I was keeping my eye on how the books were doing in the charts (see above) I noticed that the other titles around mine predominantly had dozens of reviews. This made me think that perhaps these books had been trotted out before on promotional days, had hundreds of downloads from readers who took advantage of a freebie, a number of whom then went on to feedback on the reading experience. I could be wrong about this, of course. But if I am right then it suggests that when one enrols in the 90 day KDP select programme it is wise to space one’s promotions well apart – probably at the beginning, like I have, to give people a chance to actually read the books and then leave a review – and then towards the end of the promotional period for a final push when there are a good number of reviews in place to attract the confidence of the bargain ebook hunter.

I could be alone in this but I think that even when books are free people are more attracted to books with a good number of reviews already in the bank (providing they aren’t all one and two star of course) rather than taking a chance on a book with a handful of reviews obviously written by friends and family. I have seen many reviews from people who have taken a chance on a free book and wished that they hadn’t wasted their time on it. Free books of self-publishers seem to have something of a tainted reputation – certainly the work has got to be top drawer in all respects to avoid the tar-brush. If readers can see that many others have gone before them to try out a new and unknown author and not hated the experience, even rated the offering favourably, then to my mind it is more likely that the casual and increasingly discerning downloader will stand a better chance of being tempted. Let’s face it there are hundreds of books being offered for free at any one time and that number is only likely to increase.

I will be very interested to see whether Amazon readers are more inclined to leave a review than downloaders of Smashwords and their partners. I will obviously have to leave that a while before I can pass judgement.

The big and pleasant surprise here is the number of Rope Enough downloads. Perhaps that will, in good time, lead to some more Joint Enterprise downloads and/or some reviews and attention.

Like I said, all in all it’s all been an interesting and thought provoking experience. I hope that you might get something out of this.

Just the beginning.

 

Writer’s blog: stardate: 20.03.2013

Further to my post of last weekend detailing my change of tack regarding what can be done to offload (surely, strategically increase the sales dynamic of) as many ebook copies of the Romney and Marsh Files in the quickest time possible, I have selected Saturday and Sunday of the forthcoming weekend as free promotional days for Making a Killing (The Second Romney and Marsh File), which some of you may remember I have enrolled in the KDP Select programme. It is hoped that this gentle shove will see a marked increase in sales of the other two books that I am still asking some recompense for writing (The First and Third Romney and Marsh Files).

It is timely, then, I think – nay possibly a sign – to be pleasantly surprised with an email from my literary agent (Amazon) this evening providing forward notification of royalties to be paid to me later this month. £1014 for sales so far accrued. It really is most encouraging and the blood, sweat and tears are starting to look like they might have all been worth it.

I would like to take this opportunity to say a massive RomneyandMarshFiles thank you to all those wonderful people who took a chance on an unknown and parted with their hard-earned cash to further my ambitions of one day becoming a full-time writer.

Amendment: Sorry, I missed out the decimal point in the figure above. It should read £10.14. Another seven years, three months like that and I will have recouped the cover art investment. (Cue malfunctioning firework.)

Time for a change.

 

Writer’s blog: Stardate: 17.03.2013

I’ve been a bit impulsive this week. Twice to be precise.

First impulse: Tuesday, I decided to pull the 2nd and 3rd Romney and Marsh books from Smashwords and the outlets that they supply. All three books have been available at no charge through Smashwords since I published them. I have explained why in previous posts but for the sake of clarity here it boiled down to one reason: encouraging people to read them and let me know what they thought of them.

It worked to a degree that I must be satisfied with. Rope Enough was published 05.12.2012 and has encouraged 538 downloads to date. (That’s still available for free through Smashwords and related outlets.). Making a Killing was published 23.12.2012 and has had 367 downloads. Joint Enterprise was published 13.01.2013 and has managed 234 downloads. How those stats relate to other people’s experiences I have no idea. They are what they are. I have received enough reviews and comments through the channels of communication that I made available to understand that the books have been generally well received and are without horrible errors and plot holes. (See Romney and Marsh Comments page here.) Job done, I suppose.

In the same period on Amazon, where I have had all three books selling for £0.77 and the $ equivalent, I have had significantly less than a tenth of the total number of downloads that I have through Smashwords. The reasons are obvious and not worth going into here.

On Tuesday, after pulling the 2nd and 3rd books I bumped their prices up on Amazon and changed from 35% royalty scheme to 70% royalty scheme. Regardless of what I typed into the price boxes, Making a Killing is now £1.53 and Joint Enterprise is now £2.05. Rope Enough stays at £0.77.

Second impulse: Today, Sunday, I have grasped the nettle and, now that the 2nd and 3rd books have had a chance to be removed from the Smashwords’ outlets, I have enrolled Making a Killing, The Second Romney and Marsh File, into the Amazon KDP Select programme. I’m waiting for that to go live.

I am interested to see how enrolment in that scheme might affect downloads of that title and influence downloads of the other two titles. For reference, so far in this sales period my current download stats for Amazon are as below. Since I bumped the prices of the 2nd and 3rd titles I have received a total of one download of those two books between the two sites.

I will now have to give some thought to using my free download days to my best advantage.

Amazon.com

Rope Enough – 3

Making a Killing – 2

Joint Enterprise – 2

Amazon.co.uk

Rope Enough – 10

Making a Killing – 5

Joint Enterprise – 4

 

Ding dong! Avon Calling!

 

Writer’s Blog: Stardate: 14.03.2013

I have astounded myself. On the 22.01.2013 I mentioned in a blog that I had been inspired to start writing a new book by reading a Raymond Chandler novel. (Just to be clear, it was his writing style that inspired me not theft of his plot or anything like that.) I have just finished the first draft. It is eighty-two-thousand words in length. Checking back on my computer, I created the first file for the first chapter of this novel on 16.01.2013. By my calculations that means that I have written the book in less than two calendar months (and one of those was February). I repeat: I have astounded myself.

I’m not bed-ridden, retired or unemployed. It’s not like I don’t have a life outside of my mind and away from my computer. Like every other aspiring author, I have to go to work. I have a family to support. I have a one-year-old son who insists on having my full attention during his waking hours if I’m at home. I go out. I read books too. In those two months I have written seven blog posts (not including this one), which any blogger will know needs time and attention. I have to perform all those mundane but necessary tasks like eating and washing. So where have I found the time and energy to write a book in two months?

And it’s not crap. Whatever you might be forgiven for thinking, it is not crap. You’ll just have to take my word for that. It’s not finished either but it is a first draft.

And I have a title. My last blog was about the trials, tribulations and turmoil involved in finding a title that will do justice to my book. And I have one. For any would be writers out there who struggle to find that elusive title I have some great advice: when in doubt do the following.

1) Wait until you are well advanced with the writing of the story so that you are able to pick out one or more really key themes central to it.

2) Condense that theme or themes into one or two words that sum the themes up precisely. Simple is best.

3)Take those words and type them into the Shakespeare search feature at http://www.rhymezone.com

4) Sit back and revel in the number of quotes that come up for said search term.

5) Find inspiration from the best there has ever been.

No one has ever written so much so well as the ‘Bard of Avon’. And the variety of choice phrases to ‘borrow’ is staggering. Or it was for me. There is also the bonus of using the full quote (and crediting it if you’re feeling inclined) on the title page of your book to make yourself look well-read and intelligent. I intend to.

So, what’s my title? Well, it sounds so simple and uninteresting but when it’s taken in the context of the full quote and measured against the five criteria that I set myself for selecting a title it’s a Cinderella’s slipper of a title. Don’t believe me? It’ll be out on ebook after the metaphorical six weeks in a drawer and obligatory fourteen edits.

Bad Sons – ‘Good wombs have borne bad sons.’  The Tempest, I,iii.

What’s in a name?

 

I am approaching the final chapters of the first draft of the novel that I am currently writing and I have a problem. It’s something that’s been niggling away at me for weeks to develop into an issue. It is not a problem with the writing of the book and how I’m going to end it; all that is chugging along quite nicely – for a first draft. My problem is what to call it. Nothing is really working for me for longer than a few hours, maybe a couple of days. I think that I have something and I get excited and then I either find that someone else has already used that particular combination of words, or my enthusiasm for it simply wanes.

I have given myself five criteria, which must each be satisfied, to my thinking, before I can settle on a title. In no particular order they are:

Uniqueness: I don’t want to use a combination of words that has been used before for a book title. Apart from the inevitable confusion for readers searching on-line self-publishing outlets – that I am confined to – for my book (pause for laughter)  only to be confronted with perhaps three or four different books with the same title, I have more personal reasons. The first book that I self-published I called, ‘Rope Enough’. I was trying to be creative and get original. There are many books out there with the words ‘enough rope’ in the title. I didn’t do my research thoroughly. I have since discovered that typing in, ‘Rope Enough’ as a book search term with Amazon, for example, will first return a book of that title with two young men kissing on the front cover. That’s not my book by the way.

Cleverness: I want something with a hidden double meaning that the reader might reflect on at the end of the book and go…oh, I get it. That’s clever.

Conciseness: it’s still got to be short and punchy. Something like, ‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’ isn’t for me. And there is also the typography issue to consider when the cover art is shrunken to a thumbnail image. It’s going to need to stand out. A sentence of a title can’t do that.

Appropriateness: obviously it’s got to strongly reflect/suggest something of the content.

Eye-catchingness(?): it’s got to be something that readers of the genre it’s aimed at will linger over as they scroll through the hundreds of other titles listed. Downloaders must be immediately hooked and intrigued by it.

When I choose a book to read whether I’m buying it, borrowing it or downloading it for free I find myself increasingly reliant on my initial reaction to the title and the cover-art, unless it’s a book by an author who I know and enjoy. Example: I just finished a thriller by the quite superb Gerald Seymour called, ‘Traitor’s Kiss’ and I eagerly anticipate the next book of his I can lay my hands on, but the title doesn’t really do it for me and the cover art I would ordinarily pass without pausing. If I didn’t worship the paper his pencil scrawled across I wouldn’t have given that book a second glance. More fool me I suppose. But with all the books to choose from there has got to be something that lures one in.

I’ve just had a look at some of the titles on my shelves. How do the authors or their publishers come up with some of them? What made someone think that, ‘Billy Bathgate’, ‘Moby Dick’, ‘The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay’, ‘Waterland’, ‘Ratking’, ‘Birds Without Wings’, ‘The People’s Act of Love’, ‘Great Expectations’, and ‘Debbie Does Dallas’ for examples, would work for those authors?