Amazon: love me, love me not.

 

Writer’s diary: 29.05.2015

I tried something a couple of weeks ago to boost flagging download figures for my free book, Rope Enough. It didn’t work and it added further weight to my already strong feeling that the only way for an author like me to increase download figures is if Amazon loves me. And there’s not really a lot I can do about that. (Other than continue to send them flowers, chocolates and pictures of me in the shower…maybe that’s where I’m going wrong.) So unless you’re with Amazon’s own publishing company, Thomas & Mercer – where you are guaranteed an unfair advantage in the publicity stakes (allegedly) or you’re already a household name as opposed to something to be whispered in the garden shed – it’s all down to luck regarding whether you get on the kinds of lists that can lead to an increase in numbers of downloads. Or maybe it’s not. I’m open to argument/enlightenment on that.

After not bothering too much with Twitter other than to tweet announcements of my weekly blog-posts and retweet the odd thing, I thought I’d try tweeting loads of Twitter outlets that exist to promote free-giveaways with news of my…er… free-giveaway. Several of them were decent enough to retweet to their, literally, tens of thousands of followers my message and the .com or .co.uk link to the book, and I didn’t see any difference in download figures. I know that the reliability and validity of this ‘experiment’ is questionable. I was after a snap-shot indication. I think I got one, but I’m open to argument/enlightenment on that.

Probably you’ve got to do that sort of thing over and over again, week after week. But who really reads all those tweets and retweets for authors’ books? I don’t. Do you? And even if I do, I don’t go and download them. It’s verging on policy to ignore them out of spite for the brazen self-promotion. Does anyone other than Katie Price enjoy having things rammed down their throat?

OK, sure you have to let readers know. I’m talking about overkill. Perhaps, I’m missing the point. Perhaps, my download figures are the embodiment of my lack of engagement with that sort of thing. (Hey! maybe that’s why no one downloaded my book after my twitter ‘storm’ – too many people think like I do.) Does that make me a self-fulfilling prophecy, or simply a moaning old git? I’m open to argument/enlightenment on that. (But not from my children or ex-spouses. It gets boring after a while, guys.)

I don’t know. I’m just guessing. I think the list you really want to be on is Amazon’s recommendation list. The one where Amazon recommends your book/s to prospective readers who’ve enjoyed others in the genre you write in. It strikes me as a Catch-22 situation: you can’t get really decent download figures if you’re not on that list and you can’t get on that list if you’re not getting really great download figures. Or unless Amazon wants a fling with you. I’m open to argument/enlightenment on that.

Amazon had the self-publisher’s equivalent of a brief encounter with me, I think. (Of course, I don’t know, but it felt like that – a bit superficial, a bit meaningless. Like I’d been chatted up at the bar, been used, abused and cast aside like a soiled conquest.) Why am I even talking like that? I had a great time, too. But Amazon seems to have lost interest in me these days. Amazon won’t make eye contact with me anymore at work. Amazon avoids me in the dinner hall. Amazon turns around and walks the other way when it sees me in the corridors.

Since being reborn as a self-publisher, I’ve been weaned on the idea that social networking is the way to promote yourself and to turn yourself into an C-list author in terms of download figures. There must be something in it. But I haven’t got the time or energy to divert to it and, as I said up there, I honestly believe that the whim of Amazon, like the grace and favour of a powerful monarch, is what counts. The age old story of who you know. I’m open to argument/enlightenment on that.

After all that navel-gazing, I’d like to sign off this week with a funny story, to share one thing on my own writing front. It gave me, and probably my friend, a good laugh. I sent Acer #3 to my ‘gentleman friend’ for a perusal before I get too busy with it. Just looking for some feedback from a trusted, objective source. One thing he highlighted for attention was this sentence: Then he went back to his seat at the window and watched the dessert go by as the sun went down. That was two days ago and I’m still chuckling.

Fantastic Fiction?

Rubbish? Or how exploitation of Amazon category choice made me a best seller.

Rubbish? Or how exploitation of Amazon category choice made me a best seller.

Writer’s diary: 16.05.2014

The tag line for my wordpress site has always been ‘on trying to make it as an author of note.’ I have often wondered what the hell I meant by that, and how I would know if it ever happened. I sometimes wish I had chosen something more clearly definable, more transparently achievable.

I’ve had two things happen since last week’s blog-post that make me feel I might be a bit closer to whatever it is I’m after that I don’t understand and wouldn’t know if I fell over it.

1) Amazon chart positions: Last Saturday books two, three and four in the R&M Files were all in the Amazon top 20 for the paid chart British Detectives. It was only for about half a day but it was special enough for me to give myself the afternoon off and buy the family an ice-cream at the park. (It wasn’t my fault that they weren’t there and I had to eat three.) Little successes must be celebrated, I think, as much as the big successes.

No one outside of Amazon knows how chart rankings are calculated (I wonder if Amazon do) but I’m pretty sure that while one could get one book in the top 20 of a chart by some random algorithm there is a bit more than luck and randomness involved to get three books in it. People must be downloading them and they wouldn’t be downloading them if they weren’t enjoying the series after and including book one which is my free try-before-you-by initiative. (For the record it should be noted that the British Detective category is an Amazon category and not one of those obscure ones I made up in order to get Amazon to list me in it so that I could manipulate chart positions and look like a best seller. See below.)

(As I was writing this post on Monday morning Dirty Business made it to #1 spot in Amazon.co.uk Best Seller list: Kindle Store > Books > Crime, Thriller & Mystery > Suspense > Political (see above) and Loose Ends was there in silver medal position. By Monday evening they’d swapped places (see below). OK, so that’s a bit of a remote category but it’s a chart with a top 100 and you have to pay for them. So I think I can rightly refer to myself as a double best seller. (Three more ice-creams later.)

Acerrrrr2

[Acer’s rubbish is he? Grrrrr…..]

Before we all get carried away with my roaring success and start ordering Rolex watches let’s give that some perspective. Up until lunch time 12.05.2014 the books had had the following numbers of downloads on Amazon.co.uk. Dirty Business: 68 sales and 3 borrows. Loose Ends: 58 sales and 3 borrows.(That’s twelve days remember. Best seller in name only, I’d say.)

2) Recognition: I now have an entry on the Fantastic Fiction database, which I consider to be the fiction reference equivalent of ‘Who’s Who’. I did not pay for it. I did not write begging for it. It just happened and I couldn’t have been made happier if all my books were in the Amazon top 10 Kindle books best sellers list.

http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/t/oliver-tidy/

I have used Fantastic Fiction as a reference point for years as a reader. When I started my self-publishing journey I dreamed about getting on it. And now I am. I have no idea how one gets on there and I don’t care. I’m just thrilled to be there. But I do wish I’d used a better profile picture for all my social media outlets. Me in a bow tie just looks so… For anyone who ever wonders, it’s from my last wedding. (When I say last I mean the one before the next.) To be honest I think I look more like one of the waiters than a groom.

This week it really feels like I have edged towards becoming an author of note as opposed to an author of ‘rubbish’. (Is he still banging on about that? Get over it, will you?) There, I said it so my daughter doesn’t have to.

The Moyes Effect. (Think butterflies without wings.)

 

Writer’s diary: stardate: 25.04.2014

Perhaps, a bit like voting Labour in the last couple of elections expecting change – scratch away the thin veneer of sun-blistered, faded red, they’re just a lighter shade of blue – my hope is false, but I like to think of the Kindle Top 100 Free chart as the promised land for an author, like me, to wake up in.

I like to think that everyone who owns an ereader, whether it’s new or they’ve had it for years, still trawls the Kindle Top 100 Free chart from time to time for something for nothing. I like to think that it’s basic human nature. (It should be noted, for the record, that I also like to think that there are fairies at the bottom of my garden, that Elvis runs a simit stall in Istanbul and that one day Ronnie Corbett will call to enquire after the film rights to my Acer Sansom novels – think TC & JR.)

I have prayed and promoted and blogged and tweeted and accosted people on public transport and sacrificed chickens and been nice to children (probably the hardest of the lot) in my quest to see the first R&M File, Rope Enough, make Amazon’s Top 100 Free chart. This week after months of yo-yoing around the cusp the book made it. And all I had to do was follow some good advice, click a few buttons on my laptop and send Amazon a message.

My message was only slightly more complicated than: ‘Dear Amazon, please put my book in the Top 100 Free chart.’ But only just. The good advice came from a gentleman called: David Gaughran. See it regurgitated on another website here:

http://www.selfpublishingadvice.org/self-publishers-use-amazon-categories-to-drive-more-sales-50-ways-to-reach-your-reader-10/

So I followed that good advice. Amazon responded quickly, sending me a message that they would implement my category change request and it would be live within seventy-two hours. Sit back and wait. As is my usual experience with Amazon the reality of the changes was a lot sooner. On Amazon.co.uk all was well and overnight Rope Enough found itself at #2 in the chart Kindle Store > Books > Crime, Thriller & Mystery > Crime Fiction > British & Irish > English This leap-frogged it up the slush pile (surely, ranks of overlooked, talented authors in waiting? Ed.) to #49 in the Top 100 Free chart. I managed half a cartwheel in the lounge before colliding with the dining table, knocking my future-ex-wife’s floral display over and smashing that ‘collectors’ vase she bought from Disneyland. (When I say cartwheel I must confess to catching a glimpse of myself in the floor-to-ceiling living room mirror as I got halfway through my impromptu acrobatics. Granted, I was upside down but I could have been looking at a crippled, midget hunchback falling out of a low tree in a dressing gown. Poetry in motion it wasn’t.)

I thought that surely the floodgates would be thrown open and a flock of free downloads would explode out of my portal (?) like last night’s chicken vindaloo comes out of my…curiosity to experiment with spicy food. Maybe one out of ten of those who grabbed a copy would actually read the book. Maybe one out of that ten would actually enjoy it. Maybe one out of that ten would be persuaded to download the second in the series. Maths never was my strong point, but the possibilities of that equation made me want cake and quickly. I was having a blood sugar episode.

Within two days the book had slipped into the late eighties, a bit like how my haircut invariably ends up looking when I go to that cheap barber next to the vets in Kadikoy.

TIME OUT:

Istanbul anecdote alert. (I’ll try to tell it quickly.)

Two weeks ago I went to the cut-rate barbers next to the vets in Kadikoy. It costs 9TL (@£2.50) for a SB&S. (I love a bargain. Mind you, what I save there I usually end up spending on cream, antiseptic and plasters afterwards at the pharmacy next door. That haircut could be a false economy.) There I was in the reclaimed dentist’s chair, smock draped round my top half, smelling faintly of mildew and cat piss (the smock not me, although after only five minutes in that converted parachute the stink tends to stay with one.) The senior partner of the franchise, the one with the chronic shakes and the incredible spectacles (I thought it was a practical joke first time I saw him in them. I reckon a normal-sighted person could probably make out craters on the moon on a clear night through them – was lining up for another run through my barnet with the grade four trimmer. (I do wish they’d change the blades once in a while. It feels like he drags out more hair by the roots than he cuts. If there’s any pain like that anywhere else, I don’t want to find it. I wouldn’t mind inflicting it on a few people but that’s for another blog-post.) And the door was flung open making everyone jump. (I still have the plaster on my ear to prove it wasn’t just me.)

In rushes a rather hirsute gentleman dressed in the uniform of the professional veterinarian and cradling a mangy, aged looking Alsatian. His enormous tongue was lolling out of the corner of his mouth like a yard of red flannel and his eyes were rolling around like marbles on a saucer. (This is the vet not the dog. The dog looked dead to me.) There was a frantic exchange in guttural Turkish of which I caught only three words: quick, arsehole and shit. (It occurs to me now that it is not so odd these are the only words I managed to decipher from the vet’s outburst as these are words I hear on almost a daily basis in my adopted country.)

Without apparent thought for what we in the UK take for standard hygiene practices the dog was positioned upside down in the chair next to mine. The vet lifted the tail. The barber took one pace right and to my horror began to run the electronic trimmer around the dog’s rather swollen, weeping and infected looking backside. Great tufts of matted and soiled hair ended up on the floor releasing a rather noxious scent that had me thinking about…well…dog-shit, if I’m perfectly honest. (It must have been potent to overwhelm the smell of that smock and I had a bit of a cold.)

When it was done the vet gathered up the inert beast and rushed out, presumably back to his practice to perform what looked like a life saving operation. The barber and I exchanged a look in the big mirror. He raised his eyebrows and through his plate-glass spectacles the effect on his magnified eyes was something quite startling. He mumbled something, which I took to be his apologies for the interruption. I etched an understanding smile, although in truth I was greatly disturbed by what I had witnessed.

The barber then turned his attention left and raised his free hand to someone passing his shop window. I automatically followed his gaze and before I realised what was happening he had run that electric trimmer right across the top of my head. He managed another three strokes before I could even think about finding my voice let alone forming a suitable Turkish phrase to express my outrage. But by then it seemed pointless to make a fuss. The damage was done. Better to get it over with as quickly as possible and get home – he doesn’t wash your hair for 9TL.

About the only good thing to come out of this sorry episode of life in Istanbul is that I had two seats to myself on the bus home. Come to think of it, it was more like four. And there were lots of people standing.

Where was I? Oh yes. Amazon.co.uk and one foot in the ‘promised land’. Within three days Rope Enough had disappeared without trace after a disappointing performance. I call it The Moyes Effect.

Quick peek at Amazon.com by way of procrastination before hammering on with Acer #3. Rope Enough’s second category now listed as NON-FICTION. Fucking hell! FUCKING HELL! This was potentially far worse than sharing the hairdresser’s clippers with a dog’s arsehole. To their credit, again, Amazon sorted it out quite quickly. And then the really good news. Rope Enough leapt the charts Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > British Detectives and Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > Police Procedurals to the number one spot in each which also put me in the Amazon.com Free Top 100 charts (for about twelve hours).

Screen shot rope enough number 1 amazon us pp

Cue The Moyes Effect. Sigh.

My future-ex-wife is still treating me to her ‘north’ face. I call it her ‘Eiger Sanction’…to her ‘north’ face…she doesn’t get it…hahahaha

The Price is Slight!

Writer’s diary: stardate: 28.02.2014

In January of this year I aligned the prices of my books to £1.99 each. A brave step? An arrogant leap? A hopeful bound? A foolish jump (to be quickly followed by a plunge into oblivion)?

When I first introduced my brood to the world I went into the market place like 633 Squadron (look what happened to them: crashed and burned, shot to bits, disappeared without trace, forgotten, bright young lives cut short. Ok, perhaps, the implied comparison is a little…dramatic? But I had to wonder: would that be me? Anyone craving a shot of classic British war film, nostalgic, iconic, movie soundtrack, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRVu18h2mfA – give it twenty seconds). Where was I? Oh yeah, low and fast all guns blazing, and screaming manically (one of the neighbours called the police). In equal measure, I was brimming with confidence at my invincibility, mumbling to a god I can’t believe in, shitting in my flying pants in case I’d got my approach all wrong, it went tits up, and I was spread all over the ebook battlefield like the contents of a jar of Robertson’s finest conserve.

I am a keen observer of the charts (every morning I spring out of my basket beside the bed [the bed I have been displaced from; the bed I used to get half a good night’s sleep in before the Halfling decided he’d outgrown his crib and wanted to move up the wooden hill and Bedfordshire’s property ladder to something a little ‘roomier’] skip to the computer while the house slumbers on, and with heart thumping like a hopeful Lotto ticket holder checking last week’s numbers after having been shit on by a bird in the street [that’s supposed to be good luck. The world is full of loonies.] I check my position in the only chart that really matters – Books>Kindle Books>Fiction>Crime, Mystery, Thrillers>British>England>Kent>Romney Marsh>Police Procedural>Contemporary>Silly Detectives’ Names. In short, I like to see how the books are doing.

When my books first went onto Amazon I priced them as cheaply as I could, as cheaply as Amazon would allow. For those of you who don’t know, the cheapest that Amazon will allow one to list a book is the British pound equivalent of $0.99, which back then was £0.77. The only way I know of that one can get one’s book’s price lower than that is to have one’s books listed as cheaper to purchase through other recognised ebook outlets and then for Amazon to be informed of such and then for Amazon to feel like matching that price.

In my initial desperation to get my books read, I gave them away for free through Smashwords. All three of the R&M Files could be had for nothing. Like I said, and I do think it’s worth repeating, I was desperate just to be read, to get some reaction.

In time Amazon price matched Rope Enough to £0.00 and that was my wake-up call to form a marketing strategy. I’d had some positive feedback, some helpful criticism and some encouraging comments. I dropped the second and third books from Smashwords (living outside the UK and the US and without a credit card I was unable to set up a payment system) and as I was giving away my first I then took a leaf out of other self-publishers books (sorry) and introduced an incremental purchase price scheme – first book free, second book, £1.50, third book £2.

Next out were my two Acer Sansom novels. Again I thought that the best chance I had of getting these read, getting some feedback and getting them into those all important charts was to make them available to download for the cheapest price I could: £0.77 again. That worked. I had a good number of downloads and the books were visible in a couple of obscure charts.

Then I brought out Bad Sons and I felt it was time for change.

I’ve been self-publishing for a little over a year and my opinion on pricing has changed (I want to say matured but I’m not sure that’s quite right). When I was new and unknown, I felt I had to do something special to attract readers to my books. And it’s my belief that the best way to do that is good covers and cheap prices. If I had to choose between the two, I’d say cheap price is the single most important factor in encouraging a prospective reader to click download.

A year on and I don’t feel quite so unknown (I’m still not remotely well-known but I do have a foot [OK maybe a pointed-winkle-picker-toe-cap] in the door that opens out onto the promised land of ebook  world. I don’t feel so desperate. I no longer feel the need to (yes, it’s time for something rude) offer myself to the customer like some backstreet harlot, spread on her filthy, stained mattress under a plastic awning while people line up round the block to exploit my talent. To continue the analogy, I’ve not decided to install myself in a suite of rooms in The Ritz either: there are some ebooks being touted for over a tenner (for a computer file hahahaha) and they’re in the charts. That’s high class hooking.

When I think of myself as a prostitute (not something I often do, I hasten to add, but I seem to have caught my stiletto in the fishnet stocking of this extended metaphor) I prefer to think of myself as having my own room in a quiet and respectable part of the neighbourhood. I think I’m charging a fair price for a fair service/product. I like to think I’ve gone up in the world. Gone are the days of £0.77 knee-tremblers in darkened recesses at kicking out time. I’ve made myself a little more dignified. Perhaps, I’ve also given myself a few airs and graces.

All this brings me nicely onto that time worn topic of conversation: what is a fair price for an ebook? Think of everything that goes into an ebook, the promise behind that thumbnail image stuck on the screen in front of readers like some obscure stamp in a philately catalogue. Hard work: months of time, effort, consternation, desperation, late nights, early mornings, sacrifices (I’ve gone through a number white chickens), intellectual property sharing, blood, sweat and tears. Money: the price of a good cover, editorial services, maybe the services of a publicist, a website and a website designer.

What does an ebook offer a reader? Escapism, entertainment, an opportunity to get in touch with their emotions, a laugh, a cry, some learning, some diversion, something to do.

What else will £1.99 buy you? Half a pint of lager in a pub; a cheap coffee in Starbucks, a BLT sandwich from a high street name; a pack of three own brand condoms; half a dozen free range eggs; a King of the Day Burger (T&C apply); 6 pints of semi-skimmed milk or a 200g tin of corned beef, for examples.

And then there’s the lasting effect dynamic of whatever one is spending one’s hard-earned two quid on to factor in to the equation. The memory of a good book will stay with a reader long after he or she has pissed out the beverage, pooped out the sarny, beaten the eggs or choked on the bully beef. Granted a pack of three can also provide escapism, entertainment, an opportunity to get in touch with one’s emotions, a laugh, a cry, some learning, some diversion, something to do, but you’ve got to put some effort in, you can’t just lie back and enjoy it like you can an ebook…actually…anyway, where was I? And in my experience it costs a lot more than the price of a condom to get to the position in a relationship where it can fulfil its intended purpose and then there’s often a hell of a price to pay afterwards: hidden costs. Those cut price condoms have cost me two houses already! I should have just bought a couple of ebooks. (Sorry. It is a bit funny.)

An ebook that sells for £0.77 on Amazon nets the author @ £0.27 – four downloads to make a pound. That no longer seems right to me. I think we’re all entitled to look for something a bit ‘fairer’ than that for what we do, for what we’ve put in. Time will tell whether that decision has been the right one for my books. Initial evidence shows that what shoving the price up has done is push me to the arse end of those all important download charts. Still at least I only have to sell one book to make a pound these days instead of four. Swings and roundabouts.

So, what do you think? Will you come on down(load) ‘cos the price is right! (Did anyone groan at that?)

Delusions of author.

Writer’s diary: stardate: 14.02.2014ish.

I meant to say in my last blog-post that I’d be missing in inaction for the following two Fridays – my usual day of the week for flogging the blog. We’ve just had the fortnight’s holiday that falls between the two semesters which make up the Turkish school year. I went home. To England. On my own. For ten days. My dear Turkish wife didn’t fancy the kind of weather that Blighty was drowning in and she wasn’t going to entrust the care of the Halfling to me for the duration. But I wasn’t going home for the weather. I had things to do and family to see.

I must confess to feeling a little like David Booker as TK1965 accelerated up the pitted and rutted concrete strip that passes for a runway at Sebiha Gocken, (Istanbul’s second airport) dodging discarded wheelbarrows and stray dogs in pursuit of airborne status. (If you haven’t read Bad Sons, I’ve just lost you.) But it wasn’t all doom and gloom that I had to look forward to on my return to Turkey. Unlike DB, life’s pretty good for me out here. Didn’t stop me hailing the complementary drinks trolley to a stop as soon as it started rattling up the aisle, though. I love Turkish Airlines.

It wasn’t a busy flight and I had three seats to myself. I pretended I was flying business class. You can do that when you’ve got three seats to yourself and unlimited drinks. After the first couple of large ones have hit your empty stomach you can pretty much pretend anything you want so long as it doesn’t involve the words ‘hijacker’ or ‘terrorist’.

For company I’d taken along my first hardcopy draft of the fourth Romney and Marsh File and a red pen. I’d been itching to get stuck into the first ‘proper’ edit. With hindsight it probably wasn’t too professional of me to start the very important task of editing with a free drinks trolley doing shuttle runs on a half-empty four hour flight. With hindsight it’s also a good job I didn’t rent a car from the airport. That couldn’t have gone well.

Oddly, I really felt like an author on the flight. I made believe I was paying a quick visit to the UK to see my ‘agent’ about something to do with the bidding war that wasn’t going on for my back catalogue or maybe it was something to do with the option to Acer’s film rights that Ronnie Corbett hadn’t got in touch over. (I blame that particularly good French red they were serving rather liberally.) I read and scribbled and laughed a lot. (Again, possibly the wine and my sense of temporary liberation and freedom – think demob sponsored by Merlot.) I imagined another passenger maybe looking over and asking me what was so funny and I’d have had to tell them something like, ‘Oh, nothing. It’s just my latest book. Maybe you’ve heard of me? Oliver Tidy? No? The Romney and Marsh Files? No? Acer Sansom? No? Booker and Cash, perhaps? No? Do you own an ereader? An E…READER. Never mind. (Presses red button to attract attention of cabin crew.) All that happened was that a man who looked suspiciously like the Turkish equivalent of a US sky marshal came to occupy a seat in the empty three adjacent to me. He kept talking into his sleeve (another nut-case) and he looked in my direction a lot. I don’t think he was interested in what I was reading.

As soon as I touched down in UK I felt like somebody. Really, I did. I’ve never felt it before. Normally I just feel completely anonymous. And it was all to do with my books. I know that quite a good number of people have downloaded at least one of my books. I seriously wondered whether I was sharing space with any of them as I fought to retrieve my clothes from my broken suitcase as they made their way around the baggage carrousel in the airport; as I was shoved and elbowed on the escalator; as I stood squashed in with all the other tinned commuters on the overcrowded train (one on which I believed I’d paid for a seat). I felt something and it felt good.

James Oswald has recently recalled how he felt seeing one of his books being read opposite him on a train journey (seeing one in the wild as he so humorously put it). Sensibly, he says he was cautiously optimistic – no point revealing yourself if there is a chance the reader is hating every page. But he must have felt effing brilliant about himself. I was looking around expecting at least every other passenger on the slow train from Gatwick to Ashford International to be reading on a Kindle. Maybe I could have struck up a conversation, although remembering my one and only other attempt at such shameless self-promotion maybe it’s just as well absolutely no one was. Where are they all? I was under the impression that everyone in the UK owned an ereader and read voraciously on them.

I so wanted to be stopped in customs (I’ve never been stopped in customs in my life) and I wanted the pompous, bespectacled, tubby official to ask me if I had anything to declare. Thanks to Oscar Wilde I had my line ready. (Probably a good job there was absolutely no one official-looking in the customs hall. Doubtless all on a tea break while the world’s smugglers were hard at it. I imagine they hear Oscar’s line all the time from drunk twats suffering with delusions of grandeur and they probably have a good time exercising their body-search rights as some form of mocking retribution. Maybe that’s where they all were – some other pretentious self-publisher high on self-delusion and free spirits got in there just before me.)

For the record, it was four days later that anyone mentioned any of my books. That includes family. My eldest son was after a loan for a car. It occurred to him that if I was selling books he might be able to touch me for a few quid. I have the measure of him. I told him that if he’d care to read one, just one, and let me know what he thought, we could discuss the matter further. He pulled a face, got up off his knees and told me how bad things would have to be in his life for something like that to be likely before wheeling away and muttering under his breath. I can read him like the back of my strong hand.

In one of those short intervals where it stopped raining I took myself out for a walk around the village to which I am no stranger. We’re talking Booker and Cash country. I allowed myself to be seen. I waited for some kind of recognition, just a pointed finger, a bit of whispering or a quizzical look would have been nice. An autograph hunter could have made my holiday. Bugger all. Still, it’s only been out a couple of weeks and my trip home did happen to coincide (unwittingly, I can assure all) with the Romney Marsh Sheep Winter Olympics (a festival in which specially trained ewes and rams of the locality are encouraged to ape (!) the sporting endeavours of their more famous human Olympian counterparts currently disgracing themselves through their participation in and thereby support of the shenanigans of an oppressive, homophobic, intolerant and bigoted regime somewhere very cold and dangerous) so locals were understandably distracted. (Talking of cold and dangerous, I stayed out of Dungeness. I came home seeking accolade, admiration, appreciation, not to get my head kicked in. Think The Hills Have Eyes with shingle.)

On the one fine and dry day of my stay, I visited Dover cliffs with some immediate family (I was ever vigilant that son-number-one was between me and the cliff edge at all times.) We walked from Dover to St Margarets Bay in the brilliant sunshine and a gusting wind. We had a good dinner and a good couple of pints in the pub on the front there.

Dover cliffs are the setting for the denouement of the first of the Romney and Marsh Files, Rope Enough. I haven’t been up there in years. It was wonderful to visit and relive some fond real memories as well as some virtual ones. It was something of a relief to discover that I’d got the geography and features of the area about right. The old war time anti-aircraft installation is a bit further on than I remembered and now fenced off because it is teetering precariously on the crumbling cliff edge – didn’t stop me getting in though. I had to. It was that important to me. The whole day was and it was all because of that book. I felt proprietorial. I felt I had rights. I’d have looked pretty stupid if the relic from the last war had decided to plunge into the English Channel on that particular day. (At least I would have been remembered for something and perhaps books sales might have seen a spike.)

Thanks to family I had a good time in the UK. I missed my writing and I missed my two year old son with a weighty longing that cast a pall over my time away. (It would have greatly helped alleviate my anguished mental state had my dear Turkish wife remembered to inform me before I left Istanbul that she was moving flats while I was away and would have no Internet or phone for a while. I’m sure she didn’t do it on purpose. It must have just slipped her mind in all the confusion and feverish activity involved in moving lock, stock and barrel at short notice. It’s a good job the new people in our old flat could tell me where she’d moved too when they caught me fumbling with a key that no longer fitted the lock to my old front door at two o’clock in the morning. That was after we’d cleared up the understandable confusion that arose. Thanks to the Pidgin English speaker in the building’s armed security response team for that. No hard feelings. Those jeans were due to be thrown out anyway.)

I couldn’t write while I was away; I didn’t take my laptop. But I was mentally productive. From nowhere I came up with storylines for both the third and the fourth Acer Sansom. I’m glad of it. I’m pretty keen to get back in touch with Acer but I just hadn’t worked out a way in. I feel that if someone paid me to stay home for six months I could finish the next two in his life. (Offers by email.) And they’d be worth it. I also had a good idea for something to incorporate into a future Booker and Cash – thanks to the Dymchurch Art Appreciation Society for that. (I went along to the village hall with mum on a very wet Wednesday afternoon and really enjoyed the talk on Vermeer. He could paint. One wonders where he found the time what with all that work providing pretty shiny surfaces for antique furniture.)

I got through the fourth R&M and like it a lot. I think I’ll title it, A Dog’s Life.

I want to say a big thank you to all who have downloaded, read and then commented on Bad Sons here, on Amazon, by email and on Goodreads. It wasn’t a condition of downloading it for free that you had to say something nice about it, but many of you have and I’m very grateful. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

So, I’m back in Istanbul. Back in the bosom of my Turkish family (the wife’s unaccountably frosty, like someone who sees a great plan unaccountably fall apart [think anyone who has tried to invade Russia in winter] but the Halfling seems pleased to see me). Back to my laptop (think The Simpsons and their television set). Back to R&M 4 (where did all those red wine stains come from?). Back to my day job (brave face). Back to job hunting for next year’s day job (hopeful/pleading face). Back, as they say, to (crushing) reality.

Time Files.

Rope Enough Final JPEG 1205

Writer’s diary: Stardate: 13.12 2013

It’s now been a year since the self-publication of Rope Enough (The First Romney and Marsh File). How time flies. Rope Enough is the first book I self-published and as such was the start of something rather important to me. I feel I should really mark the occasion with a blog-post. So guess what?

When I wrote the book I had no plans to write a series of police procedural novels. I actually got the basic idea from Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. I find it quite incredible that in over four hundred and fifty comments on Amazon for this title only one reader has mentioned that they saw a connection to the film.

Until I figured out how to get Amazon to list the book for free I had it priced at 75p. This was the lowest price I could list it at. (Something to do with the dollar. Isn’t it always?) In the first month of publication I shifted six copies and felt chuffed. In January I sold eleven copies and felt disappointed. In February, eight and felt miserable. In March, eighty four and felt encouraged. In April, over twenty four thousand and felt several contending emotions: gutted that they were all free downloads, awfully excited that so many people might end up reading me, staggered at the figures.

It was at the beginning of April that Amazon price matched the book to zero because someone had told them it was free with B&N and Sony and ibooks. Better late than never. Ever since then it’s been mostly free and it’s been downloaded over eighty thousand times. As a freebie it got into the top twenty of the Amazon free books chart. That was amazing. Since it went back to having a price (77p) it’s always been in the police procedural for sale chart. At the time of writing it’s number fifty-seven. I don’t feel that I really cracked Amazon with it yet. But one day when I get my self-promotion into gear I hope for better things. There must still be millions of Kindles with room on them for Romney and Marsh.

Rope Enough has not made me rich but it’s got me read. It’s encouraged people to go onto to the others. And the knock on from all those downloads is that I’ve had some fairly healthy sales for the other two books in the series. I’ve also had some great communication with people. Generally the comments I’ve received by email, through Amazon and on the blog have been very encouraging.

I’m involved with doing an edit of the book at the moment. That effort has stuttered because I had an idea for another book and I’d always rather be writing something new than raking over old ground, even if it is important. Reading the book again for the first time in a year I don’t hate it. I actually quite like it. A few things have made me wince. Probably the greatest sin I committed was to have a minor character with two different first names. That was bad. Worse than the homophone mistakes and the ‘could of’ error.

I say the book went back to having a price. That’s because I made a mistake elsewhere and then had to withdraw the book from Smashwords and so it was no longer free around the web and so Amazon no longer felt obliged to price match it to zero. On the eighteenth of this month my KDP Select contract expires and so I will look again at relisting it on Smashwords so that I can once again have it price matched for free by Amazon. Having a free book is the best publicity for an unknown.

All in all a good year for Rope Enough. I’m happy with the way it’s gone. And it certainly has gone quickly.

PS Time Files is deliberate. I just know someone is going to call me on it.

You remembered!

 

Writer’s Blog: Stardate: 03.10.2013

This week I had an unusual icon appear on my blog’s message notification bar. On further investigation I discovered a note from WordPress saying: Happy Anniversary with WordPress.com. Has it really been a year? I asked myself. Yes, it has. Sixty seven blog posts (not including this one) which, for those readers with something of a mental blockage where mathematical equations are concerned, is an average of over one a week. (1.288461538 and lots of other digits that I can’t be bothered to type to be precise). So what? I hear shouted from cyber space. So what? It’s a milestone, that’s what.

My Acer Sansom books have been on Amazon for just over three weeks now – how time flies. It seems like only yesterday I was anxiously fumbling with the keyboard, like some green midwife delivering her first baby, trying to make sure I brought my twins into the world without a hitch. I wonder if any other self-publisher gives themselves a really pulse-racing, heart-thumping time over putting books on Amazon (Is that the right file? Is it the right edition of the right book? Did I choose the right image for the cover? What the hell does DRM mean and is it important to me? Should I click the box to be on the safe side?)

At time of typing, both books are doing reasonably well: Dirty Business is sitting at number twenty-nine in the Kindle Store>Books>Fiction>Action Adventure chart and Loose Ends is at number forty-nine. Encouraging. It really is something special to see one’s book in a chart sandwiched between Patricia Cornwell and Robert Harris, even if they are charging pounds for theirs and mine is virtually being given away. Incidentally, it’s worth mentioning that I started out with Dirty Business in the thriller category but when I saw that Loose Ends had made it into a chart I enrolled Dirty Business in the same chart to get more exposure. It’s all about exposure as Cartier-Bresson used to quip. I’ve had a couple of good comments on both books, too.

One thing I can report to myself this week with the confidence of statistical evidence to back me up is that the Romney and Marsh Files are selling quite well since the promotion day I had a week or so ago. (That’s always going to be a relative thing and I mean relative to recent sales not some blockbuster by Dan Brownstain.) Both books that I’m charging for have lurched back up the police procedural charts with all the elegance and grace of DC Grimes in hot foot-pursuit of a Dover toe-rag. Making a Killing was knocking on the door of the top twenty for a couple of days. However, no one answered and the door remains firmly shut.

I’m nearly fifty-thousand words into the fourth Romney and Marsh title. When I can find the time and the energy to have a good crack at it it moves along well, I think. But work and life are proving particularly demanding at the moment and time is just what I seem to have too little of. That and energy. I think I’m getting old. Crap.

It’s not easy writing a book, you know, when you’ve got a full-time job and other calls on your time. The further you get into it, the more you must keep on top of it. Leave it for a couple of days and you’re going to start forgetting stuff, losing threads. And then you’re going to have to have a big re-read-refresher, which can get quite annoying after a couple. Keeping notes just isn’t the same, I find. Writing is all about the mood. And all I’m in the mood for right now is bed and a good book.

Goodnight.

PS ‘Life is full of mysteries, and whether you’re working with a traditional publisher or you are an artisanal publisher (a.k.a., “self-publisher”), the potency of your marketing platform can determine your success.’ Guy Kawasaki, Advisor at Motorola Mobility. (I prefer self-publisher, thanks, Guy. I don’t find much to commend the term ‘artisanal’ for something I’m making my life’s work.)