Self-promotion: like most things, it’s who you know that counts.

A week ago I listed Particular Stupidities (R&M File #5) as available for pre-order from Amazon. For the first time in my self-publishing career (better late than never) I then went on to make a bit of a nuisance of myself on social-media. My aim was to raise awareness in the hope that readers would pre-order the book and in turn get it up the Amazon charts and noticed, maybe even attract the interest of Amazon’s recommended reading list that it emails out to readers. When one is releasing a new book, it’s definitely a list you want to get on.

As well as putting out a blog-post and linking it to my Facebook and Twitter accounts I sent a lot of tweets to a lot of Twitter accounts that I’d chosen because I hoped they might be suggestible. (For fun, I even tweeted a couple of best-selling authors whose names popped up on the screen as I was networking away.) I learned something from the exercise that is worth sharing with others who might be seeking self-promotion ideas.

The response from readers who follow the blog and are Facebook and Twitter friends of mine was very encouraging. Once again, a massive and heartfelt thank you to everyone who not only pre-ordered a copy of the book but who then went on to share my links with their own lists of friends on social media sites. As I’ve already blogged since listing the book it briefly broke into Amazon’s top 1000 list (I’m pretty sure that was a first for one of my books.) It’s drifted out now, currently @ #1825, which is still good. I’m certainly not complaining.

The dozens and dozens of hopeful tweets to unknowns (ebook promoters, readers I don’t know, the famous authors and just about every news media outlet involved in the south-east where the R&M Files are set) only achieved one retweet (thanks to Whitstable Live), which makes the effort seem generally wasted. I tweeted all the newspapers local to the R&M Files and didn’t get one retweet or reply. Total waste of time #justsaying. 

I admit to having been a poor self-promoter. I still am – it’s an energy thing. Going on the evidence, such as it is, I would have done well to have taken a leaf out of the books of other successful self-promoting authors and organised a mailing list that readers could subscribe to. I could then have emailed directly all those readers who would have signed up to being notified of my forthcoming releases. I’m sure it would have been a smart move for me the self-publishing author. Will I do it now?

All that said, it’s my understanding that there is no greater boost for an author’s chance of downloads than to get onto Amazon’s radar. If a title comes to Amazon’s notice as something people are downloading in significant numbers then Amazon get behind you and make you more visible – the more you sell the more they make. Why am I now thinking about Joseph Heller?

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.

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

A Dog’s Life (part 3)

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the bathroom...

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the bathroom…

Writer’s diary: stardate: 21.03.2014

I thought I’d kick off this week by sharing a true story.

As part of my job, teaching English as a foreign language to young learners, I do a phonics lesson each week. This week it was the ‘ch’ sound.

When I teach a phoneme I like to complement my lesson with a Power Point presentation using appropriate and useful vocabulary and pictures to inform and consolidate understanding. In my experience, using PPT also acts as something of a technological sedative for the little blighters. Great when they come in from killing each other for fifteen minutes at break-time.

As part of this week’s vocabulary bank I chose the word ‘rich’. I accompanied the word on the PPT slide with a Google image of piles of cash. I explained as best I could that having lots of money is one way of being ‘rich’. (No good talking to this lot about how having great friends and cultural interests makes one ‘rich’. Just appeal to their basic interests.) I joked with them about how rich I am thanks to the money their parents give me each week for teaching them. Just a little harmless banter I thought. Until this seven year old girl, who is normally so sweet and respectful, sprang up out of her chair, pointed at me and shouted ‘Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!’

I was quite taken aback by this outburst. I was also quite disappointed to note that several of her colleagues started laughing and took up the chanting and pointing. ‘Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!’

What was I to do? I couldn’t ignore it. I mean, where would we all be? This is the kind of thing I left my kindergarten job in the UK over.

Sensing that my authority was being challenged and that to let it go would see my reputation as ‘school tough guy’ irrecoverably damaged, I acted. I was also a bit cross. I had her out of the chair by her pigtails and on the tips of her toes down to the Vice-Principal’s office quick enough to make her cry. Good. One to me. I thumped on the VP’s door. Two minutes later she opened it wiping the sleep from her eyes with one hand and smoothing down her bed-hair with the other. (A quick scan of the interior showed the tell-tale signs of recent horizontal occupation of her ‘meeting sofa’.)

I propelled the girl into the office and proceeded to explain events that had led us to this point.

A flurry of gabbled Turkish followed, of which I understood nothing. Par for the course. (It’s only been five years. These things take time.) A few more tears. And the girl was dismissed. The VP shut the door and turned to me. She then patiently explained to me that ‘fakir’ in Turkish, which sounds very much like ‘fuck you’ when pronounced by a native, means ‘poor’ as in the opposite to ‘rich’. The little girl had been calling me ‘poor’ for a joke, not inviting me to go and fuck myself, she said.

Live and learn.

I always thought build-ups to a book’s publication day were supposed to create a buzz of positive excitement and feverish anticipation. Churn out a couple of titillating blog-posts, engage in a Facebook frenzy, tweet like a summer dawn chorus and readers will be queuing round the virtual block with all their mates to snap up a copy. All I’ve got this week is grief – messages telling me to stop idling, pull my finger out, bloody well get on with it and release the thing.

I came across an interesting gimmick this week for increasing revenue via a new book release. Chap called Andrew Gross released his thriller in three parts on to Amazon. He might have even pulled this stroke more than once. Readers had to pay for each instalment. At first I thought that was a bit too cheeky of him. Then I realised it’s nothing new – Dickens and Conan Doyle, to mention but two, sold stories in instalments in weekly newspapers. And more recently, Stephen King did something virtually similar (or should that be similarly virtual?) with his story The Plant. I began to toy with the idea of releasing A Dog’s Life chapter by chapter to be made available weekly on Amazon as a download. There are twenty-one chapters in the book. I thought I could release them one a week at a mere £0.77 per chapter. That would net me an incredible £5.25 in Amazon royalties per whole book sold. I distinctly remember licking my lips at this realisation. I remember thinking that if I could shift ten copies that way it would pay for me to go out on the lash for the evening. Then I realised I’d have to wait twenty-one weeks to see the full profit from such a scam (surely business initiative? Ed) actually make that eighty weeks – Amazon don’t see monthly royalty payments as something to fall over themselves about.

Then I thought to have a look at Mr Gross’s feedback on Amazon, see how things went for him. And I quickly abandoned the idea. Readers were not impressed with his jolly japes. I almost felt sorry for him. He’s probably changed his name and has had cosmetic surgery by now. A Dog’s Life will be released in its entirety at the ridiculously low price of £1.99.

Every now and again, I manage to claw my way up the Amazon free charts with Rope Enough and just when I feel on the cusp of a whiff of an inkling of breaking into the Amazon top one hundred free books chart  (the promised land for self-published authors) Amazon go and make the book £1.99. I think they do it deliberately. No rhyme or reason for it. It’s like playing snakes and ladders and getting to ninety-nine and finding myself on a snake’s head whose tail is on two. Two days later they put it back to free and there I am teetering around the ten thousand mark in the  free charts once again.

I’m writing Acer #3. It’s not easy. When I write, I like to sit and let the bilge flow through my fingertips, but I’m spending more time on Google maps, Google satellite, Google images and Google normal than I am writing. It’s killing my creativity. I haven’t sworn on this blog for a while but fucking hell…Iran…what was I fucking thinking? If it wasn’t Iran, I’d go there and try to soak up some of the ambience of the place. Maybe take a week to go where Acer has to go so that I get it right. Actually, no I wouldn’t because it’s not like I’d ever even make the bus fare back in sales. I’ve got half a mind to make it a short story and have Acer stoned to death by an angry mob. The End. Move on. Get back to a location that I have a vague idea about.

Acer#3 – Page 2:

The UN inspectors’ convoy came to an abrupt halt on the outskirts of Tehran. They were still lost. ‘Fuck this shit,’ said Acer. He adjusted his Raybans, stepped out of the vehicle and hailed a gaggle of old men taking their ease in the shade of a cafe awning. ‘Oi, where do you hide your WMDs?’

‘Didn’t you lot learn anything from Iraq?’ answered one of them who, judging from his accent, had been educated at an English private school. His cronies laughed. Maybe they were all old Etonians.

A nearby group of young men in traditional Iranian dress turned their attention to the exchange. Sensing a rare opportunity to strike a blow for his country, one of them bent down to pick up a pebble. He weighed it in his hand, never taking his eyes off the white man who had come as part of an international delegation to discredit the country that he would give his life for…I’d better stop now. I’m beginning to like the idea too much.

Oh yeah, I’m aiming for a release date of April 1st for A Dog’s Life. Is that symbolic? Time will tell.

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?)

A brief encounter with my annus mirabilis.

Writer’s diary: stardate: 03.01.2014

It seems like only last week was last year.

It appears to be something of a custom in the blogosphere at this time of year for bloggers to look back on their previous annus (sorry to disappoint my legions of mucky-thoughted followers – no more bum jokes): reflect, sum things up and make lists. I have decided not to subject anyone to that other than to say…

What an amazing year it’s been for me as an author-publisher! I’ve had a positively annus mirabilis. (Sounds uncomfortable, I know, but I’m assured it means something good.) It was December 2012 – just twelve short months ago – that I uploaded my first book to Amazon. I now have five on there and two finished and in the editing pipeline.

Like the famous Mrs Pig of traditional story fame I sent my three little pigs (my three R&M Files) out into the big wide world to fend for themselves. They have managed to support themselves, garner some appreciation and even send a little cash back home to papa like all dutiful absent children should. (The fruit of my loins could do with reading that. In my opinion they have completely the wrong idea about which way money should be travelling in the parent/offspring relationship.)

Generally, the five books (three R&Ms and two Acer Sansoms) have been well received. Comments are overwhelmingly (in both senses of the word) positive and encouraging. I’ve had a few duffers, of course, but you can’t please all the people all the time.  (That’s one of the top five things I’ve learned to accept this year.)

In the books, on the blog and on my Amazon author page I asked readers, who wouldn’t mind doing so, to point out any errors that they came across. (Another thing in my top five of things learned the hard way: the services of a proofreader are essential to any aspiring author.) Readers have been wonderfully helpful and constructive. A huge thank you to all of you who participated and helped me. For the record I am now ‘fixing’ all the errors highlighted. Rope Enough is done. Making a Killing is halfway there. I want to put all the new versions on together before I submit another book.

I’ve been an active social networker. I’ve blogged once a week. I find Twitter and the rest of it a bit dull in comparison. One thing I do have to work on is some proper and effective self-promotion. (Another of this year’s critical lessons. See below.)

I’ve worked bloody hard. I’m always working at something to do with the books. It’s like a second job in nature, only more enjoyable. You’ve got to love it or you’re screwed as an author-publisher.

I started out craving a traditional publishing deal, like a fat person craves cake. I wanted to be ‘discovered’, coaxed, fed from the palm of a kindly literary agent and tamed as a raw talent. Nurtured, pandered to and cultivated. It would still be nice but I’m more realistic about things these days. I’m also more appreciative of the whole self-publishing deal. Self-publishing is not the sad and desperate last throw of the dice by sad and desperate writers. It’s liberating and empowering and it’s also quite groovy.

I’m looking forward to 2014.

So, because I’m in danger of boring myself, on to the top five things learned this year in no particular order:

1) The services of a decent proofreader are essential.

2) You can’t please all the people all the time, so stop worrying about duff reviews. (unless you are getting loads, of course, and then there is probably something wrong with your work).

3) Writing something half-decent is only half of it. In order to maximise success an author-publisher must wear many hats and often. One has to get stuck into self-promotion in a big way if one wants to be big. You don’t even have to be a great writer, it appears. If you are the type of person who can sell snow to Eskimos, write a turd of a book, sprinkle some glitter on it (ie splash out on a great cover) and get promoting.

4) It’s all about commitment. One must have a driving passion for being an author-publisher. Being an author-publisher is like having a second full-time job. Because one must write, correspond, write, promote, write, network often – daily ideally. I know I’m cut out for this life because I enjoy all aspects of the ‘job’.

5) Don’t stop dreaming about success and believing in your ability to experience it. But keep a lid on it. I am reminded of a line in an oft misquoted poem…If you can dream – and not make dreams your master…

Oh, look, I had a summing up and made a list after all.

Finally, two really good blog-posts I would like to share. If you are in involved in writing and self-publishing in any way, shape or form they are worth looking at. One from the legendary Joe Konrath is the practical one and one from a guy who I envy, admire and hate in equal measure, James Oswald, is there to feed the dreams. He is living the dream – my dream. I shouldn’t resent him for it and I don’t, really. Much. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: bloody good luck to the man.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/konraths-publishing-predictions-2014.html

http://jamesoswald.co.uk/?tag=2013

This time last year I was a self-publishing nobody. And now I’m a couple of rungs up the ladder. It looks like a big ladder. I can’t see the top. There are people climbing over me in a frantic rush. There are people above me losing their grip to plummet to Earth. My knuckles are white and my knees are strong. I’m pacing myself. Upward and onward. I’d like to lead everyone in a couple of verses of that traditional yuletide ditty, What the Fuck by the seasonally appropriately named Sak Noel.  (Does anyone know if that translates to Santa’s scotum?) The title, at least, totally sums up my surprise at the way things went for me in 2013.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBlY53fgN-k

­Talking of poetry, here is a less well known verse than last week’s but no less meaningful for all that. It’s certainly appropriate.

Annus Mirabilis not by Philip Larkin

Self-publishing began
In twenty, nine plus three
(which was rather late for me) –
Between the end of middle age
And my impending RIP.

Up to then there’d only been
A sort of wistful scribbling,
A writing for the fun of it,
A shame that started at fifty
And not before.

Then all at once the penny dropped:
Everyone felt the same,
We sold our souls to Amazon
A brilliant breaking of the bank,
A quite unlosable game.

I dream life will be better than
In twenty, ten plus three
(And not too late for me) –
Between the end of middle age
And my impending obituary.

You can see the original here

http://www.wussu.com/poems/plam.htm

Happy New Year and sincere thanks to everyone who has supported me.

To be me or not to be me…

Writer’s blog: Stardate: 19.10.2013

What did Will mean by that? ‘To be or not to be, that is the question.’ A lot of people think he was harping on about living and dying. Maybe he was. I’m asking myself the same thing. Not about living and dying but about my writing, or more precisely my self-publishing. Actually my focus is a little different. It’s more like this: ‘To be me or not to be me, that is the question.’

Not for the first time, I have to ask myself, what the hell am I on about?

I wrote and self-published the Romney and Marsh Files under my own name. No problem. Call it vanity if you like. I like my name and I believe it’s unique. Thanks mum and dad. Then I came to self-publishing my Acer Sansom novels and I did pause to wonder whether I should put them out under my real name. Why? Because they are not like the R&M Files. They are in a different genre. I have written them differently. The R&M Files are studded with my own brand of what I think is funny. There is no humour in the Sansoms. They are different reads regarding content, structure, pace and style. So what? So, naturally, I have been/will be actively encouraging readers who have enjoyed the R&M Files and who follow my blog or Twitter account or Facebook account or my Amazon author page to download the Sansoms. And I have good reason to believe that many have. (Thanks by the way.) But just because someone likes a British police procedural with toilet jokes does not mean that they will enjoy a serious thriller in a different style. And if they don’t enjoy the change it will probably lead to Amazon comments that come across as less than impressed. And we all know how important good Amazon comments and ratings are to sales of self-publishing nobodies, not to mention self-esteem.

And of course, I’m writing this because it’s happened: just yesterday two three star comments that both said the same thing. Liked the R&Ms, but weren’t so keen on the new stuff. Bugger. One even referred to Dirty Business as ‘boring’ in comparison. Ouch!

But what can you do as a struggling self-publisher? A great part of being successful is building a following and a platform. If you go changing your name every time you self-publish a book with a different set of characters in maybe a different genre you’ll be starting over again from scratch as a nobody. The mountain of recognition is steep and high and the climbing is not easy. Ask anyone who’s having a go at it.

So should I have put the Sansoms out under a pseudonym? To be me or not to be me, that was the question. (Was because it’s too late now for anything other than reflection where those books are concerned. The dye is cast.) And in the not too distant future, I will be self-publishing another book with new characters which is different in style again to both the R&Ms and the Sansoms. But its biggest difference is that it’s written in the first person whereas all my other stuff is written in the third. Should I put that out under my own name and risk less than favourable comparisons to previous work?

Once again it seems a case of swings and roundabouts. Because my name is familiar to some readers now through the R&Ms the Sansoms are being downloaded and given a try. Sales go up and the books become more visible in those all important charts, which leads to the possibility of new readers sitting up and taking notice and looking at Amazon comments before they buy. And there have been some very encouraging comments (several by readers who have tried the Sansoms after the R&Ms so it’s not all doom and gloom. Thanks to you. You know who you are.). But no one really takes any notice of those, do they? Everyone believes that these are comments of friends and family and the product of comments factories in Taiwan where reviews can be bought by the tonne. We gravitate to the one, two and three star comments looking for ‘truth’, ‘honesty’ and a dose of schadenfreude.

Of course, it’s not all negative. There are positives. If readers try the Sansoms and like them they might decide to give the R&Ms a try and like those too. More downloads equals more kerching and more visibility. But what if readers who come to the Sansoms first then go on to be underwhelmed by the R&Ms and leave feedback to that damaging effect? Sigh. There we are again.

I suppose what it comes down to is faith. Faith in one’s writing that it is good enough. And I do have faith, more in the Sansoms than the R&Ms, actually. And vanity of course; I like seeing my name on book covers even if I have to pay for it myself.

I have had one question answered through this thoughtful experience. I have often wondered why some traditionally published covers say things like, ‘X writing as Y.’ Clever really, but probably not as useful a ploy with ebooks. Too much writing on the thumbnail images. And it means very little if you are a nobody in publishing terms.

One thing I am now certain of: my trilogy of erotic dinosaur porn during which an Olympic squad of young and busty lady beach volleyball players accidentally fall through the fabric of space and time into a parallel dimension to find themselves in the Cretaceous Period with a bunch of randy reptiles looking for something a little less scaley to have some fun with will not be self-published under my own name. Working title: Fifty Scales of Grey. Just my luck if it turns out to be a massive hit.