Keywords!?!

keywords

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.

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