Another milestone reached. I’ve commemorated the event by splashing out on a professionally produced banner for my social media sites.
Fancy some musical accompaniment to this blog-post? The fittingly titled: Milestones from the unbeatable Miles Davis. (See what he did there?)
Three years ago today – December 5th, 2012 – I released my first book: Rope Enough (The First Romney and Marsh File) as a self-published ebook. Three years seems like a long time that’s gone really quickly. Naturally, I wrote a blog-post to commemorate the event. (Any excuse for a blog-post.) I’m going to include a few excerpts from it in this blog-post. (Any excuse for a bit of padding.) Anyone who would like to see the original here’s the link:
I’ve done it. I’m climbing the ladder to success. I have self-published my first novel. How does it feel? Anti-climactic, actually, if I’m honest. It wasn’t exactly a publisher’s launch party in a major Waterstones with the national press kicking each other for an interview with me. It was more of a, right-the-baby-has-finally-gone-to-sleep-I-might-as-well-make-a-cup-of-tea-and-upload-that-book-tonight-instead-of-waiting-for-the-weekend type thing. Still, it’s done. Done and dusted. That’s the main thing. One down, four to go. I feel a bit relieved because I can move on. It’s a bit like a divorce.
Climbing the ladder to success? If success is viewed as a ladder, which rung am I clinging to now? Am I going up or down? And how long is my ladder? (Very Tao.)
In the blog-post I wrote a paragraph to remind myself of why I self-published. It’s as relevant today as it was three years ago:
Let me just remind myself of why I did it? Why I self-published? I did it because I had no realistic hope, or expectation of being able to get a literary agent interested in my books (see blog posts). I did it because I wanted people to read my books in order that I might get some feedback on them. I did it in the vain hope that I might get downloaded enough and favourably reviewed enough to maybe garner some attention – not me, the books (I have absolute faith in my writing). I also did it because otherwise I was just writing books to go in the drawer of my desk. No one else reads them. And if I got knocked down and killed by a bus tomorrow they would end up in a rubbish sack, then the dustbin and then the landfill site and all of my creative output would have been wasted and lost. (I’m not even going to try to make some crummy self-deprecating joke about that.)
Last week, rather aptly, Rope Enough received its 500th 5* review/comment on Amazon.co.uk. At the time of writing it has 894 reviews/comments in total. Rope Enough’s Amazon.co.uk average rating is 4.4*. That is quite healthy. Reader feedback has been overwhelmingly (both statistically and emotionally as far as I’m concerned) positive.
I’ve had some stinkers, of course. You can’t please all the people all the time. That will be the title of one of the modules in my home study course: Self-publishing for Dummies when I get around to writing it.
Goodreads stats are not bad either when one considers that Goodreads’ readers are tougher judges (allegedly) than Amazon readers. Currently Rope Enough has a rating of 3.69 out of 5. I’m happy with that.
Rope Enough has been free to download since its release. Because I had three books written in the series I thought that if I gave the first one away for free – and let’s face it who is going to fork out a couple of pounds for the debut of a vanity self-publisher? – and readers found something to like in it they might be encouraged to pay for the next in the series and then the next. I’m sure this loss leader strategy has helped with downloads. For the time being Rope Enough is still free. (Pricing is something that I’ll be considering in my action plan.)
So swept up in the euphoria of receiving my first positive feedback on the book was I that I replied to it. And then that became a habit. And then habit became policy. And then with ten books out there and new comments turning up fairly regularly the policy became a rod for my own back. So I stopped it. I wanted to try to make the comments bespoke to each reader depending on whether it was their first Amazon comment or, in some cases, their tenth. It all just became too difficult and I could never be sure that the readers they were aimed at ever saw them. I still value every comment and I read every single one I receive.
(These days my social-media sites: blog, Facebook and Twitter are the best places to contact me and I am always happy to communicate with readers. If anyone ever wants to communicate privately with me I’m on firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy to hear from you.)
How many books now?
Three years on: I now have ten books available to download from Amazon: five R&M Files, three Acer Sansoms and two Booker & Cash stories. I have two more R&M’s written and in post-production, one Acer written and in post-production, a R&M short story that I don’t know what to do with and I’ve just started B&C#3.
The books that are out there haven’t all been written in the three years since publication of Rope Enough. The first three R&M Files were written before I released the first one into the wild. And so was the first Acer Dirty Business. (Lots of information about all that in my blog-post archives.)
Why no hardcopies?
Because this is a diary I must be completely honest with myself. The main reason that I have not done anything about organising print on demand copies of my books is because when I pressed the upload button that started my self-publishing venture (three years ago) I had a vain hope that I might get picked up by an agent or a publisher who just happened to be trawling through Amazon and who took a look at my books and thought I was worth a punt. And then they would take on the responsibility for all that. (That notion seems so naive and utterly ridiculous to me now that I’m a much more informed self-publisher.) It does happen, but books and writers must prove themselves first with sales figures and then the smell of potential profits to be made attracts the agents and the publishers in the same way that blood in the water attracts sharks.
It didn’t happen for me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t cry in my beer about it. I’ve come to realise and accept that while my books are not crap my writing is not good enough in a genre that is bursting at the seams with top quality writing, plotting and characterisation. I’m happy with what I write – I have thoroughly enjoyed writing the books in all my series – and I think that there will always be a place for fairly short, light, unchallenging reads, especially now that the self-publishing marketplace has presented those opportunities.
Anyway, I promised myself three years of doing what I was doing and if no one came knocking then I’d put things in train to get physical copies of my books published. Perhaps this attitude, this conceit, of mine hurt my sales and in turn my Amazon sales rankings. Who knows? I can’t regret it though. What would be the point?
Now those three years are up, the organising of physical copies of my books is on my action plan.
What have I got out of it all?
1) Writing, self-publishing and all that has come with it has given me more pleasure than I could have imagined. Probably the greatest pleasure I have found in life after having children. And I’ve tried a lot of things.
2) I’m not working anymore. I honestly wouldn’t have imagined that three years ago. I’m writing full-time. That’s not because of the wheelbarrow loads of royalty payments I’m receiving every month but because I decided, and could afford from my teaching earnings, to take a year out, just, to follow my passion. One thing this writing/self-publishing venture hasn’t made me is rich. Not even moderately well off. In fact if things don’t pick up and soon I’ll be looking for a proper job next year. G..u..t..t..e..d. But let’s focus on the here and now.
3) Writing and self-publishing has provided me with things in life to get excited about. And I am excited about the future of my self-publishing venture. I strongly believe that if I buck my ideas up with self-promotion when I return to the UK I can get physical copies of the books into people’s homes and onto their bookshelves. As a bibliophile, book-lover, book-collector and lover of the written word generally, that would make me very, very happy.
4) In May of 2014 I learned that I had been listed on the Fantastic Fiction website, which was pretty thrilling. I just wish I’d been able to provide a better photograph (something like me hunched over an old typewriter, cigarette hanging from the corner of my mouth, squinting through the haze at what I’ve just typed. Maybe a half-empty bottle of good scotch to the side and a tumbler tinted with the residue of my last snifter. Instead I had to crop something from my last wedding shoot: me in a monkey suit being attacked by a moth.) Maybe a proper, professionally taken author photo should figure on my action plan. (More on the action plan next week.)
5) And let’s not forget the blog. I’m attached to it – my writer’s diary. Through the blog I’ve communicated with readers of my books from all over the world who’ve taken the time and trouble to get in touch over the reads. I’m so happy that they have. I never tire of learning that someone has enjoyed something in one of my stories. Like most things in life positive feedback on what you’re doing is worth its weight in the encouragement stakes.
6) I’ve graduated from writing at the dining room table, the kitchen table, my lap in the locked bathroom and bed to my own writer’s desk in my own writer’s room. That’s nice.
I have a few, but then again… well, actually I will mention them.
1) I regret not having the first three R&M Files at least proofread before I released them. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Title of module two in my home study course: You must at least have your work professionally proofread before self-publishing.
A quote from the blog of three years ago:
The hardest part of it all has been the proof reading. I must have read the book five times in the last two weeks and every time I’ve found typos, or words to change. In the end I’ve had to stop. One has to say enough is enough and move on to the next project (why does everything remind me of divorce tonight?) which I have. I’ve already started on the second proof-reading of the third draft of the fourth edition of Making a Killing (the second Romney and Marsh File). I must be improving technically as a writer because there is a lot less red ink in the margins of this book, so far.
And I still missed a lot. But generally readers have been fantastic: supportive and helpful with their comments. I asked for corrections to be pointed out to me and lots of readers did in the nicest possible ways. It’s testament to the feedback of readers who helped me with spelling, grammar and punctuation errors that I corrected in further edits that I haven’t had a comment on Amazon mentioning any of the above for a very long time. It’s a bloody relief as well.
2) I regret not hunting readers down for their email addresses from the beginning so that I could pester them with new releases. I reckon I’d have a good few by now and I’ve learned from other more self-promotional savvy authors than me that a big email list of readers potentially interested in downloading your latest books is an essential for success in statistical and monetary terms.
3) I regret not being more social-media savvy, or rather I regret not being bothered to be more social-media savvy. These days I am a firm believer that you don’t even need to write a great book to be a successful, in financial terms, self-published author. You just need to work the systems well. I’ve seen it and I continue to see it. It’s that that gives me hope that if I can shake my self-promotion game up a bit I can maybe get another year’s sabbatical out of this.
I have an action plan of sorts. That might surprise a few people. Above my writer’s desk I have some sticky notes with ideas stuck to the wall. I’m adding to them, too. (Yeah, I know – an action plan on sticky notes… on a wall. Next week I’ll be sharing my ideas for the action plan.)
How do I feel about it all?
So, another milestone reached. But aren’t milestones markers on the way to somewhere? I have no idea where I’m going with my writing – it’s a bit of a magical ‘mystery-writers’ tour. (See what I did there?) But as the famous literary figure, Robert Louis Stevenson, at least once remarked: “Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.”
I’m going to leave the final word of this celebratory blog-post to another famous literary figure, ahem, Detective Constable Peter Grimes. He doesn’t often say much worth remembering, but in Joint Enterprise he had this to say about immortality:
‘We’re all going to die, gov. Most of us will leave no mark of our existence behind what-so-ever. Not a stain or a smudge or a smear on the face of history. I think that’s sad. If I can be part of something that survives long after I’m dead then I’ll have achieved a form of immortality. I’d like that.’
I feel that I’m on my way to achieving that. (Oh look, I got the last word after all.)