The price of free publicity.


Writer’s blog: Stardate: 26.09.2013


Last Friday I decided, pretty much off the cuff, to enrol my books in the Amazon KDP Select lending programme. Sales of the R&M books have looked stale for a while and I couldn’t see why I shouldn’t try something to inject a bit of interest into the books and maybe provide a boost to sales and, of course, it gives one a few days in the ninety day enrolment period to give one’s books away for free (if one can). I also thought that the initiative would be an opportunity to give the Acer Sansom novels a boot up the backside. I keep abreast of a few of the big selling ebook authors and I’ve noticed that several have all their books enrolled. They must know what they’re doing, right?

I didn’t sign up in the expectation of earning trillions from Amazon’s monthly fund, but rather in the fumbling-around-in-the-dark sort of hope that, like a generous omniscient deity, Amazon, the all seeing and all powerful one true god of ebooks – peace be upon it – would see my act of giving – not to mention the benefit to them (like me joining in with a give-away programme) – and then there might be algorithm benefits – crumbs from the table, looking after their own, a bit of mutual back scratching. What’s the worst that can happen? I thought.

I scheduled Sunday for a day of give-aways. Strike while the iron is relatively warm, I thought, and before I had a chance to think the whole thing through and wonder what the hell I was doing. I harboured fantasies that these give-aways might also have some relevance vis-a-vis those algorithms – you know, Amazon gives some credit to the author in the form of a positive influence on the book’s ranking. (I have noticed that everything I seem to do lately has an ulterior motive, which ultimately has my selfish interest at heart. Like there’s no ‘i’ in team, there’s no ‘I’m-gonna-get-double-rich-and-double-famous-in-double-quick-time’ in altruistic.)

Well, it certainly had an influence on my rankings. But it wasn’t the one I’d hoped for. When Sunday’s promotion came to an end my title, Making a Killing (The Second Romney and Marsh File), had dropped out of the top 100 chart of the sub-category: fiction – crime/mystery/thrillers – police procedurals – British – set in Kent – without pictures – occasional swear words – between 230 and 240 pages long, where it had been languishing in the late nineties for a couple of weeks. On top of this Dirty Business (The First Acer Sansom Novel), which had been clawing its way up to the low thousands in the sales rank had, like the unfortunate climber whose grip fails him, fallen off the face of the rankings cliff to disappear without trace into the ebook abyss below. This must have been because I had been busy giving away my books instead of selling them. Why does that seem unfair to me?

On the free day I gave away over 900 copies of Making a Killing. I’ve spent much of this week trying to convince myself that I wouldn’t have sold them, would I?; that I haven’t just done myself out of £900, have I?. Oh Amazon, I haven’t have I? What was I thinking?

I made two (other) mistakes regarding the promotional day that I am regretful of: 1) I neglected to mention it on any of my social networking sites – doh! 2) I forgot to download copies for myself – double doh! I really wanted to see my covers on my Kindle fire, but I’m not buying my books for the privilege.  I’ve got better things to spend my hard-earned on.

One other awkward mistake I made in the whole initiative was to register Rope Enough (The First Romney and Marsh File) with KDP Select when it was still available through Smashwords. In doing this I have fallen foul of Amazon. They don’t miss anything. The warning email wasn’t long in coming. Sort it out or we’ll send the boys round. So then I had another decision to make: leave it on Smashwords where it had been listed on Barnes and Noble and ibooks, for two examples, in the hope of reaching a wider audience, or unpublish it from there and throw my lot in completely with Amazon by providing them with the exclusivity they demand.

Since December, 2012, when I first made Rope Enough available for free on Smashwords it has been downloaded through all the available outlet’s stores a total of 839 times. On Sunday as part of the free promotion (yes, it has also been free on Amazon since they price-matched it to zero, but registering it in the KDP Select programme came with free days so I thought I’d use a free listing day for my already free book and see what happened) it was downloaded nearly 1500 times. [Go figure.] Another no-brainer. I cut my ties with Smashwords. (And I have just this instant, while typing this post, realised that in doing that the book will no longer be listed as free on Amazon’s competition sites and so Amazon will no longer feel obliged to price-match to zero and Rope Enough will no doubt very shortly revert back to £0.77 on Amazon.) Swings and roundabouts.

Now I suppose I just have to wait patiently to see if there are actually any benefits from free give-aways and enrolling in KDP Select. Early days.


Thought I’d update the bigger picture now that some of the dust has settled. Rope Enough jumped twenty places up the free chart for a couple of days and has now gone back to roughly where it was before the promotion. (This represents an obvious increase in downloads that might see readers look to download another in the series.) At the time of writing, Making a Killing is up to number twenty-four in the police procedural sub-category (it hasn’t been that high for a long time) which obviously represents an increase in downloads. Joint Enterprise (The third Romney and Marsh File) has not seen any significant knock-on (more early days). Both the Sansoms are higher in the ranking than at any time since their release, which is encouraging. Loose Ends (The Second Acer Sansom Novel) even broke into the Action Adventure chart for a short while.

It’s all pretty inconclusive really. I’m just relating for posterity what I’ve been up to. But I seek comfort in my belief that my give-aways will turn up on ‘Customers who bought this item also bought…’ types of list and so that’s a bit of publicity. And you know what they say about publicity.



Writer’s blog: Stardate: 19.09.2013

I don’t make up many jokes so when I do it’s a bit of a personal event. I thought I’d begin this post with one that came to me while walking to work this week.

Did you hear the one about the Turkish driver who knocked down and killed two pedestrians on a crossing? When the police asked him what happened, he shrugged and said, ‘They’d only just gone red.’

When I opened last week’s blog post with that rather glib song quote (Back to life. Back to reality.) I had no idea just how utterly depressing returning to real life, aka reality, after a lengthy lay-off was going to prove. Having been on holiday for about two months (did I just lose you?) I had got in the way of feeling out of the rat race. I had become a smug observer on the side lines. And I liked it. After only a week back doing what they pay me for I’m finding things more than a little…trying. I feel like I don’t belong to this life anymore (I’m not dying [touch wood]). I’m the proverbial square peg. I feel more like an author than I ever have (I have five books self-published another one awaiting proofreading and another one started). I’ve done my time with the struggle as tradition demands – the balancing of day-job and family and screaming teething baby and writing into the small hours because those were the only hours I had. (I often remember my dad telling me about the author Henry Williamson. He said that Williamson would sometimes have to write with a baby on his shoulder. Now that is what I call suffering for one’s art. That’s commitment. That’s belief and dedication and passion. I like to think of that kind of trial as a rite of passage I have trodden in my own way. And Williamson didn’t have to social network. Mind you he didn’t have a laptop either. If I had to smash out a book on a typewriter or – the thought makes me want to lie down with a damp flannel on my forehead – with a pencil and paper [or quill and ink]..well, let’s just say that the Romney and Marsh Files and the Acer Sansom books would have remained the fantastical meanderings of a frustrated mind.) I can’t help feeling that if ever there was going to be a time in my life when an email came out of the blue offering rather a lot of money for the rights to my back catalogue, now would be as good as any. The way I’m feeling I’d probably contemplate selling the rights to my back passage if I honestly thought it would get me out of working for a living. Sigh

A couple of lumps of good advice to impart to myself for posterity this week.

1) When returning to a series to write another instalment – the last one of which was written a year ago – one should probably make time to read the rest of the series again first. This could be particularly tiresome if your pseudonym is, for example, Lee Child. That would make quite a number of books to wade through – I only read the first one of his and you’d have to pay me to read it again. A lot. Alternatively, if one thinks that there is the remotest possibility that one’s little book idea might lead to three, four or five involving the same characters it might be a good idea to keep some notes on the personal lives of the main players for future reference. A couple of sheets of A4 in a drawer would probably suffice. The read-em-again-athon could then be avoided. Why am I talking about this? Because I have started the fourth Romney and Marsh File and my memory is proving a little sketchy regarding aspects of Romney’s, Marsh’s and Grimes’ personal lives. Maybe I should have left Romney to die on the cold tiled kitchen floor of the Greek restaurant. Maybe I should have killed off all three and introduced new people. But then how could I continue to call it the Romney and Marsh Files? Problems, problems.

2) Keywords – the importance of. Last week I uploaded my two Acer Sansom novels to Amazon. As per the drill, for each I selected the maximum number of categories that one can list a new title in: two (2). I ignored the box underneath this part of the process – or just didn’t see it – titled Keywords. In this box one can write up to seven (7) keywords that will help one’s book find its way into, amongst other things, sub-categories in Amazon’s list of main categories – providing the book meets certain criteria, of course. The significance and importance of entering keywords never really occurred to me. I don’t think that Amazon make it particularly obvious how important these can be to a self-publisher (maybe they do). I must have sold a quick half-dozen or so of Dirty Business and for an hour the book enjoyed a sales rank of 3489 (or there abouts). From experience I know that this ranking can see a book into the top one hundred of an obscure sub-category (remember Maureen Lipman and that BT ad? You got an ‘ology? Well obscure sub-categories are the publishing equivalent of an ‘ology) and then the book becomes particularly visible to potential readers. So why was my book not showing in any categories, main or obscure sub? What was wrong? After a scour around I ‘understood’ that because I hadn’t submitted any keywords my book wouldn’t get into any of the sub-categories I was hoping for and that the sub-categories are associated with. Shitty death! Idiot! What could I do to rectify the situation? Sign in to Amazon, go to Bookshelf, choose title, access listing info, insert keywords (I’ve since discovered Amazon do have a useful page that provides suggestions of vocabulary that, if used as keywords, will help get books with the right ‘qualifications’ [more on that in a moment] into the sub-categories and visible) submit changes, press save-and-publish…and get a message saying the changes will take effect in about twelve hours if you’re lucky. NOOOOOO! The book probably will have slipped away by then. My chance to sit at the big table rubbing shoulders with household names would be lost.

As it happened, Amazon sorted it quite quickly and it still didn’t make the charts of the sub-categories despite having a higher sales rank listing than a few other titles that did get in the charts. Back to those pesky Amazon algorithms me thinks. There’s obviously more to getting into the charts than just selling books. It’s never going to be that simple is it? Qualifications and criteria.

Back to life. Back to reality. (ad nauseum). I’m laying down my pen and preparing myself mentally for reading the three R&M Files in quick succession. I’m not looking forward to this for two reasons. 1) I’m afraid that all those errors readers have told me about are going to leap off the pages at me and I’ll have to cringe it up because the books are still out there and there isn’t a damn thing I can do about all those downloads that have gone to good homes. 2) I’ve just finished two really good books – the second Travis McGee, Nightmare in Pink, and Zoo Station by David Downing. The R&M Files are going to be hard going after those two gems. (Maybe I should find some time to squeeze in some reading of real crap to make myself feel better about my own books – where did I put that copy of Killing Floor?)

Finally, my sincere thanks to those who splashed out on one or both of the Sansoms. As always, your support is much appreciated. Sales for the first week are encouraging. It’s a start.

There. That’s twelve hundred disposable words and two hours of precious time I could have invested in the fourth R&M. Now I’ve got to social network: ‘post’ ‘tweet’ ‘FB link’. Babies on shoulders? Pah! Williamson didn’t know he was born.

Some things are worth waiting for.

Dirty Business Final (Large) Loose Ends Final (Large)

Back to life. Back to reality. Back to the here and now. (Name that tune.) Back to the city of concrete, cars and kebabs. (That’s not the next line.)

What a truly wonderful holiday we had in Dymchurch on Romney Marsh (not to be confused with Romney and Marsh the fictitious police duo operating out of Dover, not to be confused with Inspector Dover the fictitious police officer creation of Joyce Porter operating out of Scotland Yard). All clear? Good. Let’s move on.

I wondered how to return to the blogging scene after my lengthy but incredibly well-deserved break. I thought that I’d try to generate some interest in my resurrection by including a photograph of myself on Dymchurch’s famous ‘La Plage de Costume D’anniversaire’. I decided against it.

But even that seemed not enough of a re-entry strategy into the blogoshpere. I needed something…suitably…fittingly…special. Then it hit me: why not get the new blogging season off to an explosive, high-octane start by announcing the self-publication of my two Acer Sansom thrillers, Dirty Business and Loose Ends?

How to go about it? A couple of months ago I was contacted by that enormously famous and well-respected online crime and mystery publication, ‘Thriller Ink’. They invited me to take part in a Q&A with them, which, as a desperate and struggling self-publisher, I was naturally keen to participate in. I didn’t have to pay them and they even let me write my own questions – my favourite kind of Q&A. They advised me that the article would be published in August and here is the link for anyone interested.

This gave me a great and timely idea. Why not interview myself on my blog for the self-publication of the Acer Sansoms? Let’s face it, no one else wants to do a feature on me, so I might as well grab any opportunity that I can manufacture to talk about me and my writing.

So, I shunned my medication for a day, locked myself away with a tape recorder and this is what we came up with.

Transcript of interview between Oliver Tidy and his alter ego.

Great cover art. Who does it for you?

I thought this was supposed to be about the launch of my new books – my writing. Kit Foster does all my cover art. I can’t imagine asking anyone else.  Next.

Are these books like the Romney and Marsh Files?

What? Do we have to talk about the Romney and Marsh books already? This is supposed to be about my new books. This must be how Rowling feels.


Never mind.

Readers will probably want to know.

OK, OK, don’t go on about it. No, the Sansoms are not like the Romney and Marsh Files. The Romney and Marsh Files are police procedurals and the Sansoms are (I hope) more like thrillers.

What do you mean, ‘I hope’? Are they thrillers or aren’t they?

Is it all going to be like this?

Like what?

Like that Jeremy Kyle off the idiot’s lantern – confrontational.

You want to do this or not?


Thrillers or not thrillers?

(Sigh)That is always going to be a matter for the reader to decide. If I were to stake my reputation on it, I would say that in places both books are thrilling. But I don’t consider either to be white-knuckle, edge of the seat stuff, page after page after page. That would be exhausting not to mention difficult to write.

Where are the books set?

Dirty Business begins in the UK but fairly quickly the action switches to Istanbul in Turkey and then Bodrum, also in Turkey. Loose Ends starts off in Bodrum and fairly quickly the action switches to the UK. Weird that.

Why Turkey? How are you qualified to write about Turkey?

I moved to Istanbul about four years ago. I had wanted to try writing seriously for a while before then, but living in the UK with all its distractions I just never found the time. In Turkey and responsibility free, I found I had time. It seemed natural to utilise some of my knowledge of the city in which I was living. Then I got married…

Sorry, is there something wrong? You’ve gone a funny colour.

I’m OK. Can I have some water? For a couple of minutes there I forgot. Where was I? Oh yeah, so I got married and spent a couple of weeks in Bodrum in Akyrlar, a small settlement that features in the first book. And again it just seemed natural for me to include the geography. Write about what you know they say.

Oh, so you know about guns?


Piloting power boats while under enemy fire?


Have you ever killed anyone?


Have you ever had a fight?

When I was a little boy my sister used to hit me with her dolls.

Right. So, Dirty Business was your first book. I thought that Rope Enough was your first book.

No. They go Acer Sansom, Romney and Marsh, Acer Sansom, Romney and Marsh then Romney and Marsh again. Because I had three in the R&M (Romney and Marsh) series written first I decided to launch my self-publishing career with those.

Did you try to get a traditional publishing deal?

Yes, but no one was interested and I got fed up of wasting money on P&P of manuscripts from Turkey to UK and then waiting six weeks for a ‘no’. With the advent of the ebook, I don’t know why anyone bothers trying to get traditionally published any more.

Don’t you want a traditional publishing deal?

Of course. I’d trade my two year old son for a small hardback print run and a complementary paperback edition. Actually, just paperbacks and you can have him. (He’s had all his jabs.) But I’ve stopped begging for it and I find that life is no longer quite so disappointing.

Tell us something about the books? Must they be read in order?

Each works very well as a stand-alone novel, but like the R&M’s, to get the most out of them one should read them in order.

Can I lift a couple of bits from the Amazon blurb for this bit? Yes? Good. It should give the reader a good idea of what to expect.

Dirty Business – The First Acer Sansom Novel

When a British soldier the world thought was dead resurfaces, shot in the guts, in the home of a still-warm dead man an unsavoury story of dirty business and murder begins to emerge.

A politician and a shadowy government security official make contact with him and reveal evidence of where he should be looking for answers to his questions. With their assistance, the soldier becomes embroiled in a mission for retribution and justice. And for some crimes only biblical justice will do.

Dirty Business tells how Acer Sansom returns from the ‘dead’, where he’s been for his missing year and why he is possessed with a single-minded need for vengeance. It follows his journey from the south of England to Turkey on the trail of the men responsible for the fate of his murdered family and his search for the truth.

Acer’s desire for revenge is clear. Less clear are the motives of those helping him and whose hands are soiled with their Dirty Business.

Loose Ends – The Second Acer Sansom Novel

Acer Sansom has had a narrow escape and a taste of revenge, now he’s back for the main course – British justice.

Covertly returning to the UK after a dramatic series of events in Turkey, the carefully woven fabric of the soldier’s welcome soon starts to unravel.  The protection he was promised is compromised by his powerful and shadowy enemies who didn’t get where there are by leaving loose ends untied.

Now he must once again rely on his wits, his mettle, his training and his luck to get him out of trouble and to help him honour the debt he feels to a policeman friend, and his dead loved ones.

Loose Ends details Acer’s fight for survival, for justice and for vindication. A twisting journey of action and intrigue leads to a thrilling end and a possible new beginning. 

They sound exciting.

Are you being funny?

No. Which is the best of the two?

I like them both. Despite Dirty Business being the first book I ever wrote, I don’t think of it of a typical first book i.e. it’s not shit. Really. Even after four years and many read-throughs and edits there are still points in the story that make my eyes sting. Not with embarrassment but with emotion. Now, I’m not promising that readers will be moved to tears with passages or events in the book, but as the author, even though I know what’s coming I can’t help myself. It’s the same with the video of my son being born. Sometimes I wonder if there is something wrong with me. I asked my mum if any of it made her cry and she said only when she opened the parcel and realised what I’d sent her.

As for which is the best – Loose Ends. I honestly think that Loose Ends is the best book I have written to date. Loose Ends is effing brilliant (in places).

Did you prefer writing Romney and Marsh or these?

I like writing. I don’t care what it is. When I’m into a project I don’t want to do anything else.

Writing the Romney and Marsh books makes me laugh out loud sometimes, since I realised – about halfway through Making a Killing (the second book) – where I wanted to go with the series. I don’t laugh at anything in the Sansom books. Just cry as I’ve already explained.

The Romney and Marsh Files have some black humour in them. Is there anything funny in the Sansom books?

No. There is nothing funny in these books. The only funny thing was when I misused a homophone. But that has now been corrected.

What was it?

Can we get on?

Why did you write them?

The first one seemed a good idea at the time. The second seemed like a better idea at a different time.

Where did you get the name of your central protagonist from?

Orignally, Acer Sansom was Patrick Sansom. He was Patrick for a long time until I came across the name Acer somewhere and I really liked it for this part better than Patrick. Obviously. Patrick was taken from Patrick O’Brian my favourite novelist of all time and Sansom was taken from CJ Sansom, author of the Shardlake series of books that I simply adore and have three sets of first editions of – one for each of my children. There. And I bet that CJ Sansom never drops me a line to thank me for immortalising him in eprint. Why should he? He’s a trad-pubbed star and I’m still a self-pubbed nobody. Come to think of it he’s probably made a pretty good job of immortalising himself seeing as he’s traditionally published and ebook published and audio book published.

Moving on, tell your readers about your methods for writing a novel. Do you make extensive plans, draw pictures, mind-map, have walls plastered with little yellow post-its, or anything like that when you write a book? What’s your process?

I make it up as I go along.


Really. That’s it.

Oh. Ever had writer’s block?

There was a moment – a bit of a wobble – when I was signing the wedding register. But I got through it. Mainly thanks to my father-in-law’s shotgun being pointed at my knees. Turns out she wasn’t pregnant after all.

How long are the books?

Each one is 100,000 words minus a couple of hundred. For comparison’s sake each of the R&M books are about 80,000 words.

Why is that? Was it a conscious decision?

With the R&M’s it was. I read somewhere that one has a better chance of getting traditionally published if one’s first book is around 80,000 words. Well that’s three I’ve tried and no one’s beating my door down. Maybe there’s more to it than just word count.

Any news on the publishing front?

Is this going to go on for much longer?

Who would you like to play the parts of your characters in the film versions of the books?

I have a desperate hope that Dame Judy Dench will live long enough to play the part of a certain character in Loose Ends – no names. She’s perfect for it. Just like my mum. But she can’t act. My mum that is. Funny really that, for a drama queen, I mean.

Sean Bean would have been my first choice for Acer Sansom twenty years ago (can you believe he’s fifty-four now?) No one else springs to mind.

Have you had any feedback on the books, yet? Anyone read them and given an opinion?

My mum reads all my books before anyone else. It’s a rule. It’s also a major pain. Self-publishing an ebook is hard enough, but seriously, can you imagine what it’s like trying to self-publish a book in Braille? It’s a mission. And I certainly get through the knitting-needles and paper. She always says that she enjoys them. Mind you I gave her dog biscuits to eat once when I told her I’d baked her some cookies. She said they were great, so I don’t take much notice of what she says any more. I will let the public decide (after they’ve paid for the privilege).

You’ve had quite a bit of reader-feedback regarding errors in your writing haven’t you?

What’s that got to do with this?

I was just wondering whether you have taken any steps to ensure your readers get a smoother read with these books?

Actually, yes. I made some very pleasant virtual acquaintances through the R&M Files and had several readers offer to assist me with proof-reading further work. (Make of that what you will.) Anyway, I have struck up a good online friendship with a gentleman who has been kind enough to work with me in ensuring that the Sansom books are tighter, more polished and professional reads. That said, any errors that do turn up in either of the books are entirely my responsibility, especially as I keep changing things when he’s not looking.

How are you going to price them?

In pounds and pence. Bartering was an interesting experiment, but frankly one can have too many goats, especially living in a city apartment.

Seriously, I have thought long and hard over how to price these. Part of me thinks that I already give one book away for free and the other two together don’t cost a pint of lager. But I want people to read them. Especially, I want people who read this blog and who, therefore, probably have some sort of interest in my writing to have the opportunity to purchase the new books cheaply if they feel they might be something they could enjoy. I think I owe my readers that because I love them and they have been so demonstrably supportive. Don’t believe me? Look around this blog. And, mostly, they’ve made me very happy, if not rich. But it never was about the money.

You’ve received a good deal of hate mail for DI Romney’s apparent misogynistic leanings haven’t you?

Some. So?

How does Acer Sansom feel about women?

I know what you’re trying to do. Acer is a good and decent chap. He respects all women and most of their opinions.

What do you mean, ‘most of their opinions’?

What’s with all the questions?

It’s an interview.

Sorry. Of course.

In Rope Enough you wrote a graphic sex scene involving DI Romney and his girlfriend.


Any regrets?

No. Why?

It wasn’t popular with all readers was it?


Are there any graphic sex scenes in the Acer Sansom books?

No. Sorry if that disappoints you. Acer does have sex in the books but it is implied rather than described. He only has sex with consenting adult females, none of whom he is related to. Satisfied?

I think that we should leave it there?

Good because now I must go and update all my online author biographies and profiles to include these new books. Yawn.

If anyone’s interested here are the links for the two books. Cheapest that Amazon will allow me to list for is 77p each in the UK and a little over a dollar each in the US. Get them while stocks last or before I come to my senses and put the prices up. Ten…nine…eight…seven…six…