So far, so bloody brilliant!

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Writer’s Blog: Stardate: 02.06.2013

I’m going on holiday tomorrow. I’m going back to the UK for five weeks. I heard that. Before you say anymore, I’m a teacher. I deserve it. Don’t believe me, try it for yourself, or ask someone you know in the job. Flipping energy-vampires. I’m knackered. And don’t forget I’m an author too. And a dad of a two year old with so much enthusiasm for life he makes Forest Gump look like a couch-potato.

This will be my last blog-post until I return to Istanbul in August. I’m having a break. I’m making that decision now so that I don’t have to suffer the self-imposed pressure to churn out another instalment in my spluttering attempts to be an author of note. (Yeah, I’ve cranked it up. I want to be an author of note now [whatever that means. Some other woolly term to trouble my sleep patterns.] not just an author. One thing that I’ve learned: in this day and age anyone can be an author.)

So this seems like a good and timely opportunity to look back on my first six monthish as a self-publisher. A bit of stock-taking as in taking stock. And please remember: this blog is essentially an on-line diary of my experiences as someone trying to make it as an author (now of note), so a six month review of how things have gone so far doesn’t seem too self-indulgent. If it does to you, you know where the delete button is.

It all started here https://olivertidy.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/stage-1-completeish/?preview=true&preview_id=3&preview_nonce=b4206811ff&post_format=standard

In early-December, 2012. I uploaded Rope Enough to Amazon and Smashwords. At the end of that month Making a Killing went up on both and in mid-January of this year Joint Enterprise joined them.

The following figures are only for Amazon UK. (The books just haven’t taken off at all across the pond. Perhaps British police-procedurals aren’t their thing. Perhaps Amazon was kinder to me in the UK by putting my books on some lists to get them noticed.) I’ve already established that I don’t do much self-promotion. Smashwords, as I have blogged, could not hold a cheap tallow taper to Amazon for me. I’m sure Smashwords works better for others.

So, through Amazon UK, Rope Enough has been downloaded over 56,000 times. (Before anyone gets too excited for me, over 55,900 of those were free downloads – list price for the sold copies netted me @35p an ebook. You can laugh.) Making a Killing has been downloaded over 4000 times. (A good number of those were through Amazon’s KDP free days. Not so funny.) Joint Enterprise has been downloaded over 2000 times. None of those were freebies. (Now who’s laughing?)

It’s really worth repeating that if Amazon had not price-matched Rope Enough – The First Romney and Marsh File to free then in all likelihood I would still be getting download figures each month in the tens. To illustrate that, February was a typical month for me for downloads: Rope Enough 8, Making a Killing 4, Joint Enterprise 2. March was a little more encouraging but the figures were influenced by my KDP free lisiting days for Making a Killing, which I had enrolled in KDP Select. After the price matching in April things really started happening. The vast majority of the downloads have come in the last three months.

The cover art cost me £100 a book. And that’s the only financial outlay that I’ve had to make.

I’ve got into blogging, something that I’ve really enjoyed. I’m as fond of my blog as I am any of my books. I tweet, but I’m less enthusiastic about that – too much noise. It’s like whistling in a summer dawn chorus.

I failed to win a place on the CWA Debut Dagger shortlist, something that I’m not embarrassed to admit I really wanted, had set my heart on and truly believed that I had a chance of.

I haven’t been idle. I have not been resting on my Romney and Marsh Files’ laurels. I have three other full length novels that are in various stages of the editing process. I have a hard-drive of ideas. I’m soon going to start the fourth Romney and Marsh.

WordPress stats tell me that my blog has been accessed by people from seventy five different countries, or places on earth that have their own flag. (See image above with a magnifying glass. I did my best.) That is an amazing stat. A great number of those people, I know, have either read a Romney and Marsh File or been scouring the Internet for information (let’s be honest, probably pictures or videos) on ‘Female Ejaculation and Gay Men’, one of my more popular blog-post titles. Were they disappointed? How I laugh every time I see another hit of that gem on the stats. https://olivertidy.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/female-ejaculation-and-gay-men/?preview=true&preview_id=217&preview_nonce=27aee416c5&post_format=standard

So what’s been the best thing about this good start that is my foray into self-publishing? People actually. Or more precisely readers. Or more specifically readers of the Romney and Marsh Files who have taken the time and trouble to get in touch and let me know what they think of the books. It hasn’t all been good. But it’s all been valuable and gratefully received. Amazon comments, comments on the blog and private emails. I have been truly bowled over by the number of readers who have contacted me to say something about the books. I’ve had some wonderful, meaningful, and useful exchanges. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve made some virtual friends. (Anyone who actually knows me is going to think that I’m either drunk or dying after reading that. I have more in common with DI Romney’s misanthropic side than I might have previously owned up to.)

If I hadn’t taken the decision to self-publish and be damned my three Romney and Marsh books would be still be skulking in the bottom of my wardrobe, under the bag of odd-socks, and I would have denied myself one of the most truly enjoyable episodes of my life.

Regrets? Not a one. I’m looking forward to the next six months.

Here’s wishing all the Romney and Marsh Files’ readers a great summer. Thank you one and all. (Even you Suzi.)

Calling all Romney & Marsh fans!

Hello all,

This is me trying a bit more self-promotion. It’s bound to come across as desperate because I am.

Here is a link to a regular feature that The Guardian is running about self-published authors.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jun/20/self-published-author-series?CMP=twt_gu

If anyone who has read and enjoyed the R&M Files and has five minutes on their hands would care to give me a shot at a potential boost, I would be extremely grateful.

Thanks in advance. And if you’re going to do it, please do it quickly before approximately ten million other self-pubbers see this and get the same idea 🙂

Also, in my last blog-post titled ‘No Comment?’ I regret not including that I wanted to hear from readers about how they feel regarding authors like me commenting on their comments on Amazon. Please, feel free to chip in. All contributions valued. But not till you’ve filled out that on-line form. Please!

No Comment?

Writer’s blog: Stardate: 21.06.2013

­Part 1:

It is my policy to comment on all the Amazon comments that my Romney and Marsh Files encourage – the warm, the tepid and the frosty. It wasn’t something that I determined to do from the outset, from the moment I went off the rails (self-published). It just sort of happened. I got a couple of good comments and I thought that it would be polite to say thanks (I was feeling a bit euphoric, naturally).

Of course, when one starts something like that one can start to feel obliged to continue the practice in case one hurts someone’s feelings. Like buying flowers for a spouse, or giving pocket money to offspring it can become a rod for one’s own back. That’s one reason why I do neither.

But to my mind, it has to be done for all the comments – the good, the bad and the fugly. If you ignore a comment that isn’t very complimentary, people would soon probably start thinking of you as some variety of chicken-shit – all right all the time things are going well, sucking up to the five star reviewers, but as soon as someone has a pop you retreat behind the curtain of invisibility that is your ISP number and sulk.

After I’d been commenting on comments for a few weeks, I started to see it as quite a good thing to do. Mostly, they don’t take longer than a text message or a tweet. It’s not a chore. Clearly, hardly anyone reads them – I’ve only had a handful of replies to my comments on comments – but those that noticed them seem to have been pleased at my engagement. And I’ve had some very interesting discussions with a couple of readers that I know led to a revision of the reader’s thinking of me as an author and more importantly of my writing – in a good way.

I still think that it makes sense and I cannot understand why more authors, especially the self-published desperados like me, don’t use the opportunity to engage with readers and, in so doing, demonstrate to other prospective downloaders who might be thinking about taking a chance on one’s books that one is a seriously nice bloke who, although one is obviously a really busy creative type can still find time in one’s cramped schedule to ‘reach out’ to one’s readers. Also, prospective downloaders might be persuaded to take a punt on a book if they see the author as prepared to engage with readers and show some gratitude for their time and trouble and purchase (if relevant).

So this week, I would really like to hear from self-publishers who do or don’t reply to comments and their reasons for their policy. Go on, share. Or are you a chicken-shit?

Part 2:

For those who are interested, I am still working on my two Acer Sansom novels. They are shaping up very nicely and I’m sure that they will be worth the wait.

Just Another Conspiracy Theory?

 

Writer’s blog: Stardate: 14.06.2013

I am yet to try Dan Brown. I have not given over time in my life to wonder about who was really behind the assassination of JFK. I’ve not felt the need to dwell on how come I look nothing like my father but a lot like our old milkman. I have no personal history of wanting to uncover ‘truth’. So, why am I thinking like I am? Where has the idea come from? I’m not a trouble-maker by nature.

I’ve not seen anything even suggested about it on the Internet and I’ve looked. Not a hint or a whiff regarding my wonderings. No mention in a blog-post, a tweet, a forum or an online article. I think that I could be alone, potentially joining the ranks of Felt, Tripp, Manning, Snowden. But more famous. (Is this just a cheap attempt to raise my sagging author profile and fuel downloads of my books?)

Should my worst fears be confirmed then I can only imagine that the publishing/self-publishing world will not be the same place again for a lot of people. And I don’t just mean authors. Such is my unease at the possible repercussions both personal and for Mankind of my theory turning out to having an element of ‘truth’ that I don’t even want to be associated with it. I want nothing to do with it. I don’t want to be the one remembered as bringing down ‘mother’. In…fact…I…am…using…all…my…willpower…to…stop…typing…but…I…can’t…help…myself.

I have written before about being my own worst enema.

In the film ‘The Matrix’ there is a scene where the code of the ‘fake’ world is broken and the screen of the monitor displays columns of numbers and symbols like falling green rain as ‘their’ lies are exposed and the ‘real’ world is unlocked. Sort of.

(Someone just tweeted me to, ‘Get on with it!’)

It’s about Amazon and download figures. I’m not talking about the algorithms that they employ to shuffle the runners and riders in the various charts. Although, if I’m half-right it would go some way to explaining why Amazon are so secretive about these algorithms and so reluctant to provide information surrounding sales numbers generally.

Below, I’m going to share my download figures for my book Rope Enough for the period since it became free to download. When I noticed that the book had been price-matched by Amazon to zero and downloads started mounting each other (?), I thought that it might be amusing to check and record them every day when I get up. Bloody sad too. I’ve been doing this since April 12th, which is only a day or so after things changed and approximately two months ago.

My first question that goes along with these figures is something like this: Do I find it an acceptable coincidence that the numbers of downloads per day are so similar for so long when there are literally millions of ebook readers out there regularly downloading books onto reading devices? That’s quite a long question.

My second question based on me giving the short answer ‘no’ to question one goes like this: If it is not an acceptable coincidence, is Amazon controlling and manipulating the download numbers? More on what I don’t know what I’m talking about after the figures.

(My ‘argument’ becomes slightly more valid late May onwards.)

April 12th – 784

April 13th – 971

April 14th – 1271

April 15th – 1041

April 16th – 1244

April 17th – 1522

April 18th – 1741

April 19th – 1452

April 20th – 1392

April 21st – 1952

April 22nd – 1311

April 23rd – 1093

April 24th – 966

April 25th – 1037

April 26th – 879

April 27th – 1046

April 28th – 1060

April 29th – 793

April 30th – 761

May 1st – 705

May 2nd – 705 (really)

May 3rd – 562

May 4th – 672

May 5th – 720

May 6th – 683

May 7th – 581

May 8th – 718

May 9th – 685

May 10th – 592

May 11th – 673

May 12th – 741

May 13th – 520

May 14th – 618

May 15th – 548

May 16th – 491

May 17th – 523

May 18th – 569

May 19th – 610

May 20th – 538

May 21st – 467

May 22nd – 421

May 23rd – 470

May 24th – 482

May 25th – 387

May 26th – 466

May 27th – 503

May 28th – 471

May 29th – 487

May 30th – 460

May 31st – 401

June 1st – 445

June 2nd – 538

June 3rd – 478

June 4th – 468

June 5th – 554

June 6th – 467

June 7th – 410

June 8th – 411

June 9th – 587

June 10th – 487

June 11th – 470

June 12th – 501

June 13th – 418

Okay, initially there isn’t much to get excited about, but from May 20th to now generally speaking there just doesn’t seem to be the fluctuation in daily download figures that I would expect when I consider the number of people out there with ebook reading devices. Am I wrong?

If Amazon were to be controlling and manipulating download figures, why?

Does my experience resemble the experiences of others?

Am I reading too much into these figures?

Have I become unhealthily paranoid as opposed to healthily paranoid?

Is there enough reliability and validity in the figures to make them worthy of consideration?

It’s not simply these similar figures of mine that cause me to wonder about things. As a self-publisher I look at the charts about as often as an alcoholic thinks about a quick snifter. The Amazon chart that I look at most often is the Crime, Thrillers & Mystery > Police Procedurals, which is where my books are featured. There are authors that have been lingering around the top ten of this chart like flies around a turd on a hot day for months.

Now, I am not saying that they don’t deserve to be there and I do. This is not that kind of blog-post. My point is that some of these authors have been there a long time and they are not household names and they don’t have huge numbers of positive reviews for their writing, or necessarily huge numbers of reviews. Some of them are self-publishers and some of them I’ve never heard of. All of which means nothing, of course, but I can’t help wondering why any of us are where we are.

Maybe the answer is simple. Perhaps they just get enough downloads on a daily basis to keep them there whereas I get enough downloads on a daily basis to keep me where I am.

Just two more questions:

Why is my monitor screen displaying incomprehensible code that looks like falling green rain?

Who is that banging on my front door?

The following is a transcript of the conversation overhead by the missing author’s mother and not to be bothered with by anyone with a life.

Agent Smith: We meet at last.

Mr Tidy: And you are?

Agent Smith: A Smith. Agent Smith.

Mr Tidy: Bit weird.

Agent Smith: Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this: the peak of your civilization.

Mr Tidy: I think that you must be looking for Neo. He lives at number fourteen. This is number twelve.

Agent Smith: I hate this place. This zoo. This prison. This reality, whatever you want to call it, I can’t stand it any longer. It’s the smell, if there is such a thing. I feel saturated by it. I can taste your stink and every time I do, I fear that I’ve somehow been infected by it.

Mr Tidy: Hang on a minute. That’s a bit strong. You can hardly hold me responsible for the bin-men being late.

Agent Smith: I’m going to enjoy watching you die.

Mr Tidy: I really think that you should leave now. MUM!

Don’t Panic!

Writers blog: Stardate: 07.06.2013

Part 1:

Because of the timing of the competition that shall not be named run by the organisation that shall remain nameless that I failed to make an impression upon, last week’s blog-post was given over to clearing the ground for my subsequent face-planting.

But I had other news. Shocking news. What I really wanted to write about last week was my discovery and consequent reaction to learning that one of my books had been pirated and was available for download on the Internet. Really. Don’t believe me? http://pehahupa.jimdo.com/2013/05/30/rope-enough-the-romney-and-marsh-files-download/

I remember that when I stopped screaming, got my reptilian brain under control and my mind rationally processing the information and the consequences of my work being pirated (I would potentially never earn another penny out of the Romney and Marsh Files. Why would anyone buy them if they could download them for free?!) I almost had a stroke (apologies to anyone who was just offended. Please don’t lecture me on how truly horrible and debilitating a stroke really is. I know. It’s just a figure of speech.)

It was really a worrying fifteen minutes. A bit like reading about the cause of Michael Douglas’ throat cancer. I shudder to think some of the places that man has had his tongue.

I first learned of the situation when I noticed that Amazon.com had started giving away Making a Killing for free again in their price-matching way of doing things. I don’t want Making a Killing or Joint Enterprise being given away for free. I’m giving away Rope Enough as it is.

Amazon would only price-match to zero if they’d been advised by a customer that the book was available for download elsewhere for free. So I searched the Internet. And found ALL my books available for download on sites that I had no knowledge of. It was about this time that my stomach felt the way it did an hour after I consumed 3kg of cherries in thirty minutes.

Everyone knows that you’ve got two hopes of getting stuff taken down from the Internet that was put up in a country that was once part of the USSR – Bob Hope and No Hope. I was a worried man.

I emailed the service provider and asked them to take it down. I emailed Amazon begging them to ignore it – it’s piracy, I said. Amazon wrote back quickly and said it’s not; it’s Sony. What? Sony? Punch in Sony ebooks author name Oliver Tidy and sure enough all three Romney and Marsh Files available for free download. I was incandescent. How the fuck? Who the fuck? When the fuck? Why the fuck? Smashwords. It must be. Smashwords didn’t tell Sony to remove MAK and JE from their catalogue when I ‘unpublished’ them from Smashwords all those weeks ago and a reader has only just noticed and notified Amazon. And then, oh shit, if someone does the same with Joint Enterprise then suddenly all my books are being given away for free by Amazon and on top of that Amazon will rap me over the knuckles because MAK is in the KDP programme and it’s not supposed to be available for download anywhere else. It would be a violation of T&C. I could go to prison. I could be colour-listed. Or I could email Smashwords.

Good news – everyone was really quick, helpful and efficient about it. Amazon acted quickly and replied promptly with friendly, helpful emails. Smashwords sorted it quickly and were friendly. Sony removed the books without much delay. Even that service provider took down that website within forty-eight hours. I was pretty impressed all round.

My Amazon.com prices reverted back to what they were. I’d given away over two-hundred copies of MAK, but funnily enough it gave a bit of a boost to downloads of the other two titles.

What about the other pirated copies being offered on the web? I hear you ask. Well, when it all kicked off I smartly checked out the Amazon forums. Another useful resource. The consensus of opinion there was, don’t worry about it. Generally this kind of pirating is just a scam to get people to part with their credit card details. And when I went back to where the books were still available, sure enough one had to sign up, log in, provide this and that information. I don’t think that I have anything to worry about. And like they say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. You know what I mean.

Part 2:

Still working hard on the two Acer Sansom novels. I have some help for these and it’s all taking a little longer because of it. Good job too. If I’d sent them out when I thought that they were ready I would inevitably have had to suffer the similar valid criticisms that I have for the R&M Files regarding punkchuation, gramer and speelling errorz. I know that the books will be worth the extra wait. I haven’t had anyone asking after them, but should there be any readers keeping an eye out for publication my apologies for the delay. Other than that I can only crave your understanding.

Failure is just an option.

 

I have big news of a personal nature to share this morning with all other writers out there who seek recognition and validation for their efforts.

Yesterday, I blogged about the clock ticking down to the official announcement of the CWA Debut Daggers Crime Writing Award Shortlist at the Crimefest International Crime Fiction Convention in Bristol. This was something that I had entered my three Romney and Marsh Files into. And because of my core belief in my writing and these books I confess to having harboured genuine hope of getting on that list.

I didn’t. I’m now officially part of the chaff.

Naturally, I’m disappointed, but there is nothing ever to be gained by wallowing in self-pity. And I’m not into self-doubt where my writing is concerned.

Anyway a good friend of mine advised me to check out the comments on Amazon of the books I have published if I needed a boost. No need. I have them all memorised. Well, only the good ones.

While I was on the computer, I went to my blog to see if anyone has visited recently and found the following comment posted this morning in my ‘About Me’ page:

Hi. Just finished the second Romney book and downloading the next. I have thoroughly enjoyed your writing. The two main characters are believable and the story lines are not bogged down in minute detail like many other detective books tend to be. Well done and thank you!

Carole, thank you for your most timely, welcome and encouraging comment.

I’m not known for dishing out good advice, let alone taking it (you should see the train wreck that my life is) but today I will make an exception. Here’s something that all writers slaving away at their art could do worse than to take note of: If you’re looking for recognition and validation of your work, as I am, you need only look as far as what your readers take the time and trouble to let you know what they think. No one’s opinions matter more than theirs.

A reblog from Tin Larrick’s blog

DEVIL'S CHIMNEY COVER[C]
This is my first reblog of a fellow self-publishing author’s post. I’ve had some communication with Tin after I noticed that he was also writing police-procedurals set in the south-east of England. Eastbourne to be precise – next county along from Kent where the Romney and Marsh books are set. I think that Peter James is his closest geographical competition. Yikes!
Anyway, Tin sent me a link to this post of his during conversation and I felt that it would make interesting reading for anyone in the same position i.e. trying to make it as an author. (Incidentally, that’s been my tag-line on this blog since day one and the longer things go on the less I understand what I continue to mean by that phrase. Could be a blog-post in that one day when I can work it out.)
Of course, my first reblog wasn’t going got be easy was it? We blog on different sites and after a little research I understand that the only way that I can reblog his blog is to copy and paste it to mine. How amateurish of me. The original post can be found here: http://tinlarrick.blogspot.com/2012/02/devils-chimney-ebook-launch-or-why-jaws.html The rest of his blog is worth reading too in my humble opinion.
Finally, for anyone who is interested in these things, I have sought Tin’s permission before copying his words and the image above. He might also like me to let you know that his books are going to be free to download at Amazon this coming weekend. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tin-Larrick/e/B007S9VWW6/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1 The reviews are very encouraging. I shall be downloading them myself.
The post: With trembling hand and churning gut flora I click SAVE AND PUBLISH, and DEVIL’S CHIMNEY the eBook becomes a cold hard (well, virtual) reality available for purchase on Amazon’s Kindle store. Almost, anyway. It has to be approved by Amazon’s Kindle Operations Team to make sure it isn’t breaching the Obscene Publications Act, the Public Order Act or the Official Secrets Act (or something). 2 out of 3 ain’t bad, I suppose.
I was hoping for a curiously existential experience as I clicked the button, and it was – sort of. From all the highly illogical variables, high hopes and dashed dreams of the print publishing world to becoming master of my own destiny made me feel like all the little bits of me that have been propping up slush piles throughout London have come home to roost.
So, why the eBook route? To some the answer is probably patently obvious, but, let’s be honest, we’ve all read those rags-to-riches vignettes in the Writers’ Yearbook and similar, and have all dreamed of the letter from the publisher or the phone call from the agent that signifies that we might be one step closer to the dream.
I got halfway down that road. In 2010 three agents made some very enthusiastic noises about DEVIL’S CHIMNEY. Two of them offered to represent me, and I really believed my ship had come in. I signed with one of said agents (and Gawd bless her she still has faith in me – I think). In most of the aforementioned vignettes, signing with an agent was followed some weeks later by a multi-book contract and stick-in-your-throat advance from a major publisher. It was, I used to think, the natural progression of things.
However, 18 months and a LOT of rewrites later, the feelings about DEVIL’S CHIMNEY were rather more tepid. It won’t sell, they said. The market for police procedurals has cooled off, they said. The print world is changing, they said. The global economy has crushed all the little and not-so-little bookshops (Borders, Barnes & Noble) under the weight of its collapse, and if you can’t get stocked by a supermarket (who only stock big, minimum sales-return-guaranteed authors) then forget it. Ten years ago, a publisher would have picked up and run with DEVIL’S CHIMNEY, nurtured my career or something, but not today. Chalk DEVIL’S CHIMNEY up to experience, they said.
I was crushed, the words of one commissioning editor reverberating around my brain. (I couldn’t focus on the GOOD things that were said, naturally, only the BAD). This bit is wooden, this character doesn’t work, this bit is far-fetched. Also, THIS, THIS and THIS would not happen in real life. (I had hoped that my 15 years as a cop would lend some realism to the procedural aspects of the novel, but it seemed to pale into insignificance where this particular commissioning editor was concerned – there’s procedure, and then there’s procedure that sells. Ah well, being an ex-cop is still kudos for the CV, I guess, and maybe something to wax poncy about at [publishing] parties – maybe one day).
Why not publish it as an eBook, my agent said. Ebooks are 20% of the market and climbing. I didn’t want to, really. Like many, I wanted that magical phone call, that won-the-jackpot feeling of elation. And I wanted the tangible, real THING of a book in my hand with my name on it.
So I had to be scientific about it:
CONS:
  • It’s not a ‘real’ book.
  • As a consequence I don’t feel QUITE the same feeling of arrival I would have were I holding a book in my hand with my name on it. To frame this slightly nebulous notion, let me say that I WOULD rush to show friends and family a ‘real’ book; with an eBook, I might just drop it into conversation.
  • Similarly, I don’t feel like a professional. I wouldn’t put ‘author’ in the ‘occupation’ field of an application form just because I’ve published an eBook. I might if it had been a ‘real’ book, just to try it out.
  • It is, after all, self-publishing, which doesn’t have quite the same kudos as being offered a real deal.
  • I won’t be giving up work any time soon.
  • I don’t get to use my real name (Tin Larrick, in case you hadn’t guessed, is a pseudonym). This was on the strong advice of my agent – I’m still not sure why.

PROS:

  • I have complete control, I say when, I say where, I say how. I decide the price, the layout, everything. No longer do I have to await the rejection letters with dread, the ones that may (or may not) be sent out on a whim. I’ve even made up a publishing company for the purpose of e-publishing – The Obscure Cranny Press. Annual turnover – about 37p.
  • It seems strange, but people are more likely to take a chance on a book that costs one pound rather than seven (provided you can get it out there).
  • Similarly, people are more likely to take a punt on a book they can access instantly, without having to wait for mail order or drive to the shops.
  • I’m rolling with the times. I don’t subscribe to the school of thought that says print books will one day become extinct, but the eBook industry can only grow.
  • The thing is out there. It’s not languishing with what’s left of my optimism in a bottom drawer. (I could be wrong, but I do honestly believe DEVIL’S CHIMNEY is now as good as it can be – one of the cardinal rules.) It’s out there, and the readers can decide for themselves. You never know, you just never know.
But the thing that swung it for me? JAWS: THE REVENGE. It was on telly a few weeks ago. It’s a few years since I’ve had the misfortune of watching it, and it hasn’t got any better since then (even Lance Guest can’t save it). The plot is non-existent, the characters two-dimensional, and the effects cringeworthy. (The shark roars like a T-Rex, for Gawd’s sake – even my titchy son knows sharks don’t have vocal cords.)
So why make it at all? Because it was wringing the last drop of out of the cash cow that was the original JAWS. Because the box office receipts superseded the need for quality control (or the ‘art’ side of it, if you will). Despite all its flaws, someone in the biz thought it was ok to release it, because it might make them some money.
Which made me think again – who, in the entertainment business, really knows 100% what will work and what won’t? Who has the integrity to put something back on the shelf that needs further work, even though as it stands it will make a few quid?
It brought me back to the words of the commissioning editor – 10% of what the CE said was right, 10% was wrong (but I could never articulate it, however reasonable, because it would only ever sound like sour grapes), and 80% was entirely subjective.
So I took the plunge. I sorted out a cover, I uploaded it to KDP and I clicked SAVE AND PUBLISH. Easy – if you’ve done the graft. But I shouldn’t have worried so long about whether or not it was a good thing – ten years ago such a thing could not have happened.
Now just got to get out and market the damn thing.
That’s it. If anyone wants to take issue with anything in that please contact Tin directly. I have enough trouble in my life.

The Penitent Writer

Writer’s blog: Stardate: 10.05.2013

 

If one is serious about being taken seriously as a serious writer, one must be seriously meticulous about one’s work – even more so as a self-publisher because a) one is starting at the back of the grid and b) when one is finally ready to press upload, presumably satisfied with the quality of what one has produced, there are no further regulators, filters or quality-control systems to correct any errors.

When my finger hovers over the Amazon submit-your-manuscript button, I feel a little like I would imagine the guy with his finger on the red button that will start the end of the world must feel – wondering if I’m about to make a big mistake; perhaps I should just check the situation one more time before launching a nuclear strike, or in this case my book on humanity. Actually, maybe I should experience a greater sense of anxiety – when I press upload my book can reach every continent on Earth. My reach is greater than the bloke in the bunker. I can only hope that my writing is not as damaging.

Despite rigorous proof-readings, scrupulous read-throughs, ruthless edits and regular prayer, however, mistakes are inevitably going to occur – be doing impressions of sore-thumbs, risking ruining the flow of the writing, exposing one for the amateur that one is and turning people off. It’s like getting all your new clobber on to go to the party and walking to the bus-stop thinking that everyone’s looking at you because you are obviously so cool when really they’re staring and sniggering at the big red 50% discount price tag that you left on that shirt you bought in the sale and it’s flapping in the breeze of your swagger behind you. Fail.

As a self-publisher, attention to detail is imperative. One very kind reviewer did mention in her comment that she hoped that I will be picked up by an editor soon. At the time it was my hope that the lady in question had made a simple slip and had meant agent/publisher. Now, I have to wonder if she meant what she wrote.

I’ve had enough feedback of my three books to understand that I have made mistakes. The misuse of homophones has begun to deprive me of sleep (style/stile, draw/drawer, banded/bandied, peace/piece; role-call, roll-call are examples that revolve and flash around behind my eye-lids in the darkness. Several readers have pointed out my mistaken use of ‘should of’, ‘would of’ and ‘could of’ instead of ‘should have’, ‘would have’, and ‘could have’. Bad mistakes from someone whose dad was Head of English. Father must be kicking up a veritable dust-cloud in that box on my mum’s mantel-piece every time that particular one is mentioned. I made two attempts at French in three books and got one wrong. Cretin. (And I even looked it up on the internet to be sure because I wasn’t. I spelt the French swear-word correctly, naturally, and then cocked up déjà-vous – a school-boy error.

But I have made one mistake in Making a Killing that two reviewers have kindly brought to my attention. And it is unforgivable. It is to do with measures to be taken to counter a diabetic-hypo. I wrote that the character in question should have taken insulin to bring them out of it when in fact that would not have helped at all – what the man in question needed was a quick and concentrated sugar intake. I didn’t check this. And I didn’t check this because I ‘knew’ that I didn’t have to. I ‘knew’ that I didn’t have to check because my dad lived with type-one-diabetes most of his life, so, naturally, I ‘knew’ all about it. Check. Check. Check. And to think that I toyed with the idea of having something terrifically important hang on the character’s diabetic turn. It makes me go cold. Lesson learned. When DI Romney contracts a nasty STD in the next Romney and Marsh File I will not rely on my memory for his treatment; I will head straight to the font of a knowledge and that most invaluable of writers’ resources – Wikipedia. They never get anything wrong.

Apart from the unforgivable medical error, I’m not going to be too hard on myself for the above. There’s no point and things can be corrected in new editions – which, incidentally, I will have to submit as a matter of urgency because one reader complained to Amazon that ‘Rope Enough’ has no table of contents – none of the books does – and Amazon sent me an email. Crap. I’ll have to make time for that now in case Amazon remove all my books for it.

Still, I suppose that over approximately 250,000 words I’ve not done too badly. And while I haven’t actually hurt anyone – except myself – I do think that some form of atonement is in order – crime and punishment (No, I’m not going to read it. My errors are not that bad.) So, for today and the weekend, I have rooted out my last birthday present from my current-future-ex-wife (that’s a picture of it at the top) and I am going to wear it as a penance. Just my luck that a warm-front is moving in from the south – that’s not another reference to my spouse by the way. (Warm! Ha!)

A Matter of Opinion

 

Writer’s blog: stardate: 03.05.2013

It’s been a big month for my self-publishing – the biggest in terms of downloads. Rope Enough (The First Romney and Marsh File) was price-matched by Amazon to £0.00 on the 9th April. In the month of April it was downloaded just under 25,000 times. As I’ve highlighted before, there’s no money in that for me, just plenty of free publicity, which to my mind has been well worth it. Things have started to tail off a bit now – Rope Enough was in the top ten free downloads for most of the month, but has since slipped to fifteen.  Of course, it’s to be expected. All good things come to an end and I am essentially still a nobody in publishing terms – a yesterday’s-news-is-today’s-chip-wrapper type of author. It’s not like I have a big fan-base to rely upon.

One very welcome upshot of these downloads has been that those who have gone on to read the book and then taken the time and trouble to comment on Amazon have generally left very encouraging comments. (One gentleman did say that he found the read tedious and would not be recommending it, but at least he didn’t torpedo me completely – he still gave the book a charitable three stars.)

All writers want their work to be well-received. I would venture to say that critical acclaim is more important to an aspiring writer than money (most of us have got jobs anyway). I’m finally getting the kind of feedback that I’ve been after – objective, critical, helpful, insightful and honest. And if I’d seriously considered the possibility of that I might have been a little more anxious. Amazon readers know what they like and they are nobody’s fools.

Something that I have noticed with some bafflement on Amazon is that authors rarely respond to readers reviews and comments – one or two do, but generally these responses are made to take issue with something in what, to my way of thinking, can only end up being a counter-productive exercise.

In another life I worked at a builders’ merchants. This was thirty years ago and still I remember a poster that we had on the office wall – No-One Ever Won An Argument With A Customer. And again, I’m reminded of another similar slogan – Customers Might Not Always Be Right, But They are Always the Customer.

As nobodies, we self-published authors must seek to take every opportunity to engage with our readers positively, politely and constructively, mustn’t we? Doesn’t that just make good sense? If someone is going to take the time and trouble to read our books, more often than not pay for the privilege, and then go on to leave constructive feedback, is it not at least good manners as well as good customer relations to acknowledge what a reader has done for us? I could be wrong, but I get the idea – don’t ask me where from – that authors, even the self-published variety, have this idea that because we are providing free or cheap books for people to read, it is the readers who should be grateful to us. That’s not the way I see it.

I understand that some ‘real’ authors don’t indulge in responding to reviews. Maybe they think that with their traditional publishing deals and their huge loyal fan-bases they don’t need to. Maybe they’re right. Maybe they don’t even look at their reviews – perhaps the arrogance exists that ordinary readers’ opinions of their work, as opposed to the opinions of industry critics, don’t really count for much. Then again, maybe I’ve got that wrong. What I do know is that it counts for me. It matters to me. It matters enough for me to at least say thank you. I even found something nice to say to the guy who didn’t like my book  (I offered to include some pictures, although the artwork would have to be my own and if my humour might come across sometimes as childish you should see my drawings – think stick men).

Fortunately, in addition to seeing this opportunity for interaction as simple common-sense I am also enjoying the experience. I have already had some thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening exchanges with readers – and by no means have all these exchanges been based upon gushingly positive critiques. I’ve learned things about how readers view aspects of my writing – mostly what they don’t like, what grates – and I can take that knowledge and understanding and use it to improve my writing – be a better writer.

Something else that I’ve learned lately – if you’re going to self-publish and you can’t afford a proof-reader, you’d better be bloody thorough about it yourself.

Hope or train?

 

Writers blog: stardate: 19.04.2013

Ten days ago Amazon price-matched my book Rope Enough – The First Romney and Marsh File – to zero. It is now a free book and I will keep it that way – forever. Despite this book having cost me a good chunk of time and effort to create – not to mention the blood, sweat , tears and hundred quid for the cover art – I cannot think of a better  means of constant, free and easy self-promotion. I cannot think of any other means of self-promotion that would see me – an unknown, newcomer to self-publishing – get my book in front of the people who I want to get it in front of – the people that matter: ebook readers.

In the ten days that it has been a free ebook it has had over eleven-thousand downloads through Amazon.co.uk. Yesterday, it was at number three in the Kindle free-download chart for all ebooks, and in the last twenty-four hours it was downloaded over one thousand, seven hundred times. That book is now on the reading devices and in the homes of eleven-thousand readers. How else could I possibly have achieved that?

A big chunk of the people who downloaded it won’t read it; I know that. But a good number probably will at some point. Maybe not this week or this month, but it’s on their device. In a year they might give it a go. They might like it and they might look for the second in the series and that’s where I realise I have inadvertently done myself and my self-publishing venture the best turn that I could – I already have the next two in the series available for download.

If I had just one book available and I gave it away for nothing I might get thousands of people download it. But what then? Those that read it and enjoyed it and wanted to find something else by me would soon be disappointed and move onto the next free book. I would. I do. By the time that I got around to writing and publishing the next book, I would have to start all over again. I would have missed my window of opportunity.

If I had one book available and I was asking money for it as an unknown, I doubt strongly that I’d see many downloads. And again, those that enjoyed the read would have nothing to go on to by me. See above.

I’m no expert in self-publishing, but I’ve learned some things about it. And if there is one bit of advice I would give anyone who is looking to make money from self-publishing it is this: my self-publishing formula for a modicum of success – or better.

  1. Write a series in a popular genre.
  2. Get professional cover art that clearly links the books in a series and identifies their places within in it.
  3. Make the first in the series free to download. Just swallow.
  4. Have at least one more title in the series available to download for those who enjoyed the first  – three is better. (Look around – commercially successful series are like buses.)
  5. Make the second in the series attractively cheap to purchase.
  6. Make the third in the series still cheap for a novel but up the price a little.

I can’t claim to have invented this formula and, like I said, it is simply good-fortune that I had already written three in a series before I got around to self-publishing. Others are doing it, have been doing it, or something like it, and doing well out of it, for some time.

Example: Alan McDermott has his Tom Gray trilogy out at the moment. I understand that it’s been out a while. The first in the series is a free download. It has been at number one on Amazon’s free download chart ever since I’ve been looking. If I can crawl up to number three with seventeen-hundred downloads in a day, how many does he shift in a day? and how many has he shifted in the months that he’s been self-published? A conservative estimate would be hundreds of thousands. It could be more. Book two in that series is in the top one hundred Kindle downloads for paid books. Book three is just outside the top one-hundred. Take it from me; he’s selling shed-loads and he is making some serious money. Best of luck to him.

Part 2

I have finished what I feel strongly will be my penultimate edit of Dirty Business – The First Acer Sansom Novel. I shall now email this new version to Amazon and it will be almost immediately pinged back to my Kindle reading device where I shall then give it the final proof-read. I’ve blogged before about how useful I find it to read through my books in a variety of formats: computer screen, hard-copy, Kindle. Each new reading experience brings with it a novelty factor that provides me the opportunity for a fresh perspective to spot errors. It’s what my circumstances have reduced me to. And I think that I’m getting better at it. In fact I’m feeling so confident about my abilities these days that I might even offer a reward for any typos spotted. Then again, maybe I won’t.

Yesterday, Kit Foster, the nice fellow who did the covers for the three R&M’s, sent me some ideas for Dirty Business and Loose Ends. I was very happy with elements of them and he is going to combine these into a couple of covers that I think will be effective, strongly suggestive and representative of the genre and story.

I’m still not sure about where to pitch the price on these two. The three R&M’s are priced on a sliding upwards scale – free, £1.53 and £2.05 (I wanted £1.49 and £1.99 but Amazon did something to the numbers that I still don’t understand.) The three R&M’s are all around the eighty-thousand word mark. The two Sansoms are one-hundred-thousand words each. Should that extra twenty-thousand words justify a higher price?

I’m drawn to list them at £1.99 each and it’s not because of the extra bulk. I still don’t think that that is expensive for a decent read, which I have to hope people will think of them. I do. I also think that I’ve established myself to a very small degree as a half-decent story-teller – reviews, comments and feedback lend weight to this notion – and perhaps, as it could be argued that I have let my first three novels go quite cheaply, even by ebook standards, those who have read them and enjoyed them won’t begrudge me looking to net just over a pound a book. I don’t think that looking to make one pound a book is greedy or likely to price me out of a potential sale. Time will tell on that. Of course, if people start writing to tell me how awful they find them and how robbed they feel, I might have to reduce the price a bit.

With the self-publication of the Sansom’s will come more work. All the information on my various author pages relates only to the R&M books. The images on my Facebook page and blog banner are R&M covers. I’ve also got to write a couple of elevator pitch style summaries for the forthcoming Amazon listings. I’m not complaining – I like all that stuff. It makes a change and I’m doing it for me.