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.

Taking it personally

 

Writer’s Diary: Stardate: 08.11.2013

An unfunny thing happened on the way to the…classroom yesterday. I was a few minutes early for the first lesson in my ‘day of death’ and as I passed by the computer lab I noticed that there was no one using the computer that works. (The ‘day of death’ is eight straight hours and a lunch duty. When I say lunch duty I mean I have to sit with the last class that I teach before lunch and break bread with them. I shouldn’t name them. Individually they are mostly edible. But the class ‘dines’ in the geographical centre of the dinning hall. (Yes, I know how to spell dining.) Because of the central location I usually end up leaving the experience with blood trickling out of both ears and children’s dinners spattering my shirt. Nice it isn’t.) But I digress.

I thought I’d take a quick peek at my emails before going into battle. I poked the hamster with my biro and after a bit of hamster grumbling it began to trot in its wheel. Power. I logged on. Really great and friendly and email from a gentleman who has been making his way through the Romney and Marsh Files. He’d finished the third and seemed to have enjoyed it. Fantastic.

Take a quick peek at Amazon while I’m there. Oh, a new comment on Joint Enterprise. I wonder if that was him, too. No. It was a one star comment from a reader who was clearly unimpressed with the reading experience. It’s the first one star comment on that particular title I’ve received. And it goes like this:

‘Having read ‘Making A Killing’ I was really looking forward to this, but it quickly descended into a blank featureless read. The plot was feeble, and there was no sense of suspense at all. I kept reading expecting it to pick up pace, but it faded into oblivion. I’ll not be buying any more of this author, unless I need a cure for insomnia.’

That set the tone for the day. Joint Enterprise is many things but it is not a one star book. Yes, the direction that I took this book in has disappointed a couple of readers who had enjoyed the previous books. I accept that. But this? No.

I’ve had three one star comments for one of my other books, Rope Enough, and of course as the author they are not nice to receive. (Unless  you are a creative type you cannot truly empathise with how it feels to have your work rubbished. I really don’t mean to come across as condescending.) But so far I have always managed to understand them. I try to understand them. I want to understand them. If I can understand them the dismay at receiving them is dissipated. One way of doing this is to see what comments the readers have left on other book purchases on Amazon.

Of the three I had already received for Rope Enough one didn’t like the sex. (OK I can deal with that. Still a bit harsh. There wasn’t much of it.) One has never left another comment on anything (still) so it’s probably someone I was married to or a member of my family. And one reader took exception to the rape theme. She was quite scathing. It was clear that she found the subject matter entirely distasteful and by her own admission wouldn’t have downloaded the book if she had known that rape featured as a theme. I understand. Understanding helps. It doesn’t make it all right but it helps.

So, to this new comment. I looked over other comments the reader in question has left. He has left a few of the negative two and one star variety. He expresses himself well. He writes well. Clearly, he is not an idiot and IMHO you’d have to be an idiot or vindictive to give Joint Enterprise one star and leave the remarks that he did. So he must have taken exception to something in the book. A part of the story upset him, perhaps. (I’m just looking for ways to try to understand this shredding of my book without actually asking him. He doesn’t appear to respond to comments, so I’m left to work it out.) And walking to school today I think I did. It hit me why he responded in the way he did. I think that he took exception to something that I made light of. It’s related to a purchase that he made. It’s the only thing that makes sense. I have made sense of it and that’s good enough for me. What was it? I’m not saying. It’s very personal. I could be wrong. But right now that doesn’t matter. I’ve found a way to deal with it. I’ve moved on.

So far, so bloody brilliant!

Wordpress stats

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.

Tweets and Twits.

(Warning: This post contains some fucking bad language at the end.)

Writer’s blog: stardate: 17.05.2013

Part 1:

Self-publishing has dragged me, if not kicking and screaming exactly then somewhat reluctantly into the modern technological age. As well as the computer skills that I have had to master – things like formatting the text of a novel, constructing a table of contents, uploading files and the like I have had to get into social-networking. (As an anti-social misery-guts, just the term social-networking makes me want to punch someone. I feel like such a shameless, hypocritical fraud sometimes, even though I have to admit that I’m enjoying myself immensely. But how it eats up the time. Take this blog-post, for example. I wrote it last night and I’ve proof-read and edited it at least five times. Why? Because it’s important. [I bet that there are still mistakes that I will find after I press publish.])

I’ve had a Facebook profile for a few years but it’s not something that I’ve wasted much time with. It was only created so that my two grown-up children and I could keep abreast of each others’ lives and in touch as we moved apart geographically. Quite ironic really then that almost as soon as I upped sticks and moved abroad they both blocked me from having access to their profiles.

With the decision to self-publish came the pressure from all good sources to create and maintain an online presence: a poor-man’s website, aka a WordPress blog. I really wasn’t keen. What on earth would I write about? Who the hell would be interested? How does it work? What does that button do? (Oh, crap. I just deleted my account.) But I have come to love my blog as much as any of my books. I am in the habit of writing once a week on my self-publishing adventure and when I look back on it, it really does remind me of things that I might otherwise forget. And that would be a shame. I’ve written over fifty posts. Each is a good few hundred words and I feel like I have a lot more to say.

I believed and hoped that that would be it – that a blog would be enough. But it isn’t. I’m already feeling that blogs are becoming somewhat passé. These days anyone who is serious about getting noticed for anything must have a Twitter account. I swore I’d never have one. I couldn’t see the point of ‘tweeting’ and being restricted to a hundred and forty characters. What could anyone say that was worthwhile in such a limited number of taps of the keypad?

A very kind and helpful reader of my books suggested that I should get a Twitter account and then get using it. So I have. And I think that, like most things in the right hands, it has the potential to be a brilliant tool. Essentially, I’m still ‘tweeting’ to myself, like in the beginning I was blogging to myself, but these days I get regular daily traffic on my blog from all over the world (incidentally, I find that quite fantastic). I can see the potential that Twitter offers if one should want to get heavily proactive (I haven’t yet) or followed by a few influential ‘tweeters’.

I see Twitter as a reflection of the short-attention-span-generation: little gobbets of information being pinged about (tweeted and retweeted), everyone in a hurry, quick remark and on to the next. I write a blog-post and it’s there for a week in pole position. I ‘tweet’ something and in an hour its old-news, superseded and buried in an avalanche of ‘tweets’. But the instant reach of the ‘tweet’ is not to be underestimated as a tool to garner attention and links and contacts and to generate interest. I just need to break into some of the cliquey (?) circles. (Will that be a chicken and egg thing? What comes first, success as an author and then a Twitter following, or success as a Twitterer and then an author following? [There’s something wrong with that sentence, but I can’t work it out. Still, I’m sure that you know what I mean.])

The biggest challenge that I’m finding with all this extra interest is where to find the time it takes, or rather the time I’m spending on it all. Every day there are things to check. As well as emails, I now have my blog comments and stats, my Twitter account, my Amazon download figures and comments on the books on Amazon and my Smashwords account. If someone’s got in touch then I respond (strangely not because I feel that I have to, but because I want to [see previous post]). I’m getting up half-an-hour earlier just to see to it all and sometimes that’s not enough. I ‘tweeted’ this this week and it’s true: Q: How do I split my free-time between self-promotion of self-published #RomneyandMarshFiles and new writing? A: Work twice as hard.

I need to become more disciplined. At the moment, every time I find myself near a computer it’s all of Lombard Street to a China orange that I won’t be able to resist logging on to all of the above – getting a quick fix and then getting cross with myself for my vanity, my weakness and my lack of self-discipline. I might as well be smoking again.

I hope that next week there isn’t something new to get my head around.

Part 2:

I had my first 2* comment this week. It was for Rope Enough – my free download. It didn’t make me happy. I really could accept a 2* comment with good grace if the person who left it provided an intelligent and valid reason for it – something to do with my writing. It still wouldn’t make me happy, but I could deal with it like a man. The reader in question downloaded the book, read it (?) and discovered it wasn’t what she expected.

‘Thought I would like this coming from Romney Marsh, but it’s not really what I was hoping for. I don’t recommend it.’

I wonder if you can hear my teeth grinding at that. I wonder if Christopher Fowler has to suffer comments like that for his Bryant and May series.

‘Thought I would like this having worked in a match factory….’

Maybe Colin Dexter has had to deal with his fair share of misguided comments for his Morse books.

‘Thought I would like this seeing as I used to work in the Signal Corps…’

Doubtless, Tom Selleck has had to deal with communications from angry viewers who tuned in to watch a programme about fucking ice-creams to be confronted with a fucking Private Investigator masquerading as a fucking seventies porn-star.

Just to be clear for anyone who might have sensed a bit of a tone here: Romney Marsh is the name of a little corner of Kent in England (see map above). It is a place and not to be confused with Romney AND Marsh who are fictional characters working out of Dover as quite fucking clearly stated in the fucking blurb of the fucking book.

Serves me right for trying to be clever, I suppose.

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.