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.

A Good Start.

A Dog's Life Final (Medium)

Writer’s diary: stardate: 11.04.2014

A Dog’s Life (R&M#4) was released last week. So far, so good. Sales have gone well. For a few days it hovered around the top twenty for the ‘British Detective’ category. (Nothing to get over-excited about. As Amazon categories go, it’s a very distant, mentally deficient, locked in the attic, bastard cousin twice removed of the ‘Police Procedural’ category.) And there’s been a ripple of benefit for the other three in the series.

Sales of my R&M Files always, every single month, without fail (to stress a point), outsell my other three books by a long way. I don’t think that the R&M Files are better than Acer or B&C. I just think that the ‘Police Procedural’ genre attracts more interest from more readers. It makes me think that if I concentrated on just churning out R&Ms I could make half-a-living. But that’s not me. I’m writing different characters in different series because I enjoy writing different characters in different series. Last night I was looking for something and I came across my ‘False Starts’ folder. I’ve got the first two or three chapters of five books that I’ve started and left to cool. I ended up reading them all (of course) and each one I finished I wanted to put everything else aside and crack on with it. They’re not bad. Really.

Amazon uploaded A Dog’s Life very quickly – it took about two hours instead of the scheduled twelve. That saw the book in the store and available for download on Monday evening. (I wanted to get it out April 1st.) After I’d wrestled the ipad off the screaming-in-protest infant when I woke up Tuesday morning I discovered to my great amazement that there was already a review! I was staggered. Since then I’ve had a few more reviews. These are from readers who have taken an interest in the series and were obviously looking out for the release of the next in it. (Once again, that makes me almost want to pinch myself. This time last year I was an absolute no one on Amazon. Now, readers are anticipating a new release. Not in their trillions, of course. JKR, I’m not, but still…) All reviews received thus far have been favourable, very kind and positive. I would like to express my sincere and heartfelt thanks to all who have downloaded a copy, thereby demonstrating their continuing support for my writing. I mean it. Thanks a lot. Readers are to writers what horse is to carriage; what butter is to bread and what Romney is to Marsh (the place, not the duo. I’m quite sure Tom could function just fine without Joy.)

I had a comment on Amazon.com from a reader who believed I’d made a mistake in R&M#4. In it Romney is moved to discuss his dead mother. In R&M#3, Romney told DS Marsh that his mum and dad were sunning themselves in the Algarve. It was my intention with the Algarve remark that Romney just made it up off the cuff, so to speak, to make Marsh feel a little foolish for her remarks after ‘that’ interview and to deflect further discussion of, and to slam the door shut on, an aspect of his personal life – Tom doesn’t like talking about his personal life with his subordinates (not unless he’s drunk). This is the way I saw it. And it didn’t occur to me that readers might not have taken it that way, or at least questioned the veracity of his remarks. But I can see now how the confusion has arisen. It’s bothered me.

Now that the book is out and it’s been read I think I will indulge myself by saying that there was only one scene in it that I worried slightly over whether to include. I feared readers might think it was too much. And I’ve not heard a peep about it. That surprises me. I won’t spoil my own book for anyone who hasn’t had the ‘pleasure’ yet. Suffice it to say, it’s the last very last scene. Did DI Romney go too far for anyone, I wonder?

I’m still writing – Acer #3. He’s certainly getting about in this one.

I’m also reading. A book I discovered in our school library. I’m having a job putting it down. It’s making me hoot and I’m simply relishing the language therein. It’s called the Oxford Book of Humorous Prose, edited by Frank Muir, who was quite a wit himself, I seem to remember. It’s a weighty tome. Probably why it was being used to keep the fire door open. It’s filled with absolute gems of amusing writing by the great and good of writers in the English language. And it’s made me want to hunt them out in their fullest forms. I think this book will end up in my book rescue centre. They’ll have to find something else to wedge the fire door open. That big useless lump from 2D, perhaps.

 

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?)

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.

Prime Time!

 

Writer’s diary: stardate: 21.11.2013.

Every now and again I write an entry in my writer’s diary that might interest someone other than me. Even more rarely I write a blog post that might be of interest to other writers hawking their output on Amazon or thinking about it. This could be one of them.

A little while ago I enrolled all of my books in Amazon’s KDP Select Programme. I noticed that other canny self-publishers with several books to their names had all of theirs available in this way. Working on the twin principles of, if-it’s-good-enough-for-him-it’s-good-enough-for-me and there must be something in it, I belly-flopped in.

As part of this initiative paid up, card carrying members of Amazon’s Kindle Owners’ Lending Library have the opportunity to borrow books for free. The monetary benefit to the author is that every recorded download entitles one to a share of the monthly global fund! I’ve seen others complaining that this big Amazon incentive is not as potentially profitable as one might think. (By the time the global fund of maybe a million dollars or thereabouts is split between a few hundred thousand downloads of a few hundred thousand author’s books the dividend per book is not worth much.) But still, as an indie-desperado I’ll try any gimmick that might raise the profile and readership numbers of my books. Even giving away my books for free.

This month I scrutinized my Amazon royalty payment schedule a little closer than normal and I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve had a few downloads of my books through the Prime programme. When I sell one of my 77p books through Amazon in the normal way I receive 25p profit. According to my remittance advice for last month, every time a Kindle Owners’ Lending Library member downloaded one of these same books I received £1.56 – six times what I get for a normal sale. That was a surprise.

It made me think of the people I’ve seen moaning about the money involved. Probably they are the writers who are selling their books for a few quid each in the normal way and therefore making a few quid per download. £1.56 would seem rubbish to them. But to me, every download is another can of Special Brew. Cheers!

To sell out or not to sell out…

Writer’s blog: Stardate: 26.10.2013

I receive communications almost every day from readers who have dipped their toes in my stream. This week I was contacted by a reader who has gone on to try the Acer Sansom books after the Romney and Marsh Files. (See last week’s panic post.) I am happy to report that the switch of genre and characters appeared to please the lady in question. What did concern her was that when the Acer Sansom books get Hollywood sitting up, taking notice and reaching for their cheque books would I remain true to my art and my authorial integrity and insist on Acer, for one, being played by a star who bears some physical resemblance to the hero of my books? And this got me wondering.

Everyone knows about Tom Cruise playing the part of Jack Reacher in the movie One Shot and I wouldn’t mind betting that everyone who has read and enjoyed a Reacher book has an opinion on whether Cruise should have been let anywhere near the script. (For those who are bewildered by all this, Jack Reacher is described by his creator in the same terms, physically, as one would describe a brick-outhouse. Actually, with his lack of toiletries and clean clothing he probably smells like one too. Tom Cruise, physically, resembles something that Jack Reacher might leave behind in a brick-outhouse. Nothing personal, Tom. I know you follow my blog. I’m just making a point. Still on for drinks on Saturday?)

Plenty of people I know and on online forums were appalled ne disgusted and insulted by what they saw as the author’s selling out of one of the most famous characters in contemporary fiction. I don’t even know if it was Jim Grant’s aka Lee Child’s decision to let Cruise have the name the role and therefore destroy the public image of the fictional big guy. But if it was, why? (Don’t tell me Jim needs the money.) Or whoever it was, why? Surely whoever was responbsible had some sort of vested interest in the brand ‘Reacher’. So why corrupt and ridicule it like that? Could it have been worse if they’d portrayed Reacher as a closet transvestite? I think we should be told.

Anyway, when the time comes, will I be so easily bought? Will I allow an onscreen Acer to disappoint his dozens of fans? Will I allow my author’s integrity to stand in the way of early retirement by refusing to sell Acer short (snigger)…for something as disgusting as money?

I don’t even know if this is my decision to make. I want to ask those same dozens of readers who now know Acer like I know Acer: would it really be such a big deal if Ronnie Corbett played Acer Sansom in Dirty Business the movie?