Had I but world enough, and time …

Blimey, it’s already time for another blog post. The days and weeks seem to be flying past at the moment but at the same time, nothing much seems to be happening. Life, time, existence seems to be stretching like a piece of grey plasticine, infinite yet very finite, lightning fast the moment you attempt to achieve anything, and yet, when you’re at a loose end, soooo slooooow.

That being the case, this week, I’ve been trying to analyse my book sales. Yeh, I know there probably aren’t enough to make it viable. I’m struggling a bit. In theory, for every ten people who visit a books sales page, one will buy. That’s the ‘rule of thumb’ most marketers apply. In theory, this means that all I need to do is get 100 people to click on any one of my books sales pages (be they mine or with a retailer) and ten folks will buy a book.

Nice idea, so I wanted to try and crunch my sales and download figures to see if it works. Few Are Chosen was permanently free for a while and according to my stats I’ve given away 20,154 copies from retailers – I haven’t counted the ones I’ve given to mailing list people or it’s going to get too complicated.

Of those people, it looks as if 841 people have gone on to read The Wrong Stuff, 793 read One Man: No Plan and 742 Looking for Trouble, except 273 people also downloaded the box set as well. I’m going to assume all 273 of those people read the entire thing, so add those and my revised figures come out as 1,114 people have read Few, 1066 people have read One Man: No Plan and 1,015 have read Looking For Trouble. That’s publication to now figures for the three follow on books but most of the free books were given away before 2016. I think I’ve given away about a thousand since then.

What these figures tell me is that out of all the thousands of people who’ve downloaded Few Are Chosen for free, only 5.5% of them have read it. On the up side if I do the percentages for the rest of the series, 95.6% go on to read book three and 95.2 go on to read book four. That means I need to get 200 people looking at my sales page to get 10 people to buy my books. That was a bit of an eye opener. I’m also not certain how current that intel is. The uptake on the free books may actually be a lot lower, more like 2% because I’ve been giving away Few in a first in series box set for two years and I don’t know how many of those have been downloaded. I have experienced a big uptick in sales of the rest of the series since that went live. Two per cent is probably nearer the true figure. The percentage usually expected to act on any advertising then. Considering my books sell in numbers that keep them firmly at the invisible end of the spectrum and are written in a genre that is a really hard sell, that’s probably not bad.

Aside from the box set of free firsts and the odd promo, I have stopped giving Few Are Chosen away for free. Instead I now give away a mailing list exclusive short story which I advertise on Facebook – Facebook only so far because I’m looking to grow my sales at Apple, Kobo, Google Play, Barnes & Noble et al; Amazon is doing fine without help.

When people have had a little time to read that free book, I point them to a second short story that’s free on all the retailers, and when they’ve read that I point them to the free box set of first in series which contains Few Are Chosen. I didn’t produce the box set so I don’t know how many of those are being downloaded but I’d guess the take up rate is higher with that and, possibly, skewing my read through percentages. Or to put it another way, I suspect the percentage of people who read the other books after downloading the first one free before 2016 is probably more like 1% or 1.5%. Yikes.

That said, I am thinking of reducing the price of Few Are Chosen. At the moment it’s £1.99/$2.99 in most places but I’m thinking of making it cheaper: 0.99 of whatever unit people are working in as I suspect that might encourage a few more of the handful of folks who stumble upon it independently to give it a go. I may need to look at the metadata too. My perma free which, I suspect, is on about page five million of the freebook listings on most retailers probably has more downloads, especially on Google Play. The likelihood of it languishing way down the rankings is why I no longer have the first book permanently free outside the box set – because at the level where I operate, I couldn’t give away enough to achieve any organic visibility with my own publicity and since that’s the whole point, I don’t bother unless I get a promo.

The difficulty with a closed system like this is that it’s really difficult to work out what I’d need to do to get more people buying my books. I have a first in series box set planned with seven comedic sci fi and fantasy authors but that’s down the road a bit. Right now, say I wanted to earn $500 a month. In theory if I had one book at $4.99 I’d only need to sell five copies every day. If you go on the standard marketing thing that it would take 10 target readers to see the book for each one who made a purchase you’d be looking at 50 people needing to see the book’s page each day for one to buy. In advertising terms, that’s not a huge amount.

If some of those five readers go on to buy the other books, clearly you don’t need to sell five copies a day either. In theory, if you have six books available for $4.99 the way I do then, some of those initial readers will read all of them. Although, in my experience, probably not that month or year, but if you’re lucky maybe this decade. Even so, if each person who bought Few Are Chosen was good for the other four then, in theory, I’d only have to have a quarter of the eyes on the Few Are Chosen download page to get the same result … in theory.

There is a whole strategy based along these lines, the gist being if you have 20 books out and can sell a handful each day you can make $50k a year, which is a reasonable living. Believe it or not, this approach, coined by two giants of the indie writing world, is called 20booksto50k.

My books are comedic science fiction fantasy with a dash of romance (but no squelchy bits) and they’re British in a way that is completely un-tempered to the tastes of foreign markets. My publishing and story model are shows like Dr Who, Red Dwarf and writers like Irving Welsh, entities and people speaking in a voice which reflects their origin. I think it helps, in that respect, that most people coming into my ‘ecosystem’ get to read a novella/chapter book, a short and a first in series for nothing before they start on the other books. So on the whole, the people buying are already converts. I’d say most of the people who buy my books come from my mailing list, although there are other authors feeding into the first in series collection, so some must come from there too. I’ve no idea how many people are actually reading Few compared to those reading the others. Also it means that there’s a good 40% churn on my mailing list as people read the free stuff, decide it isn’t their bag and leave.

Please do not feed the animals

I suspect my books are probably marketed to within an inch of their lives, in fact, I suspect what we’re looking at with my sales figures, is one of the most finely polished turds in history. That said, there will always be new things to try and new ways to reach readers. I’ll give most things a go with an open mind.

As I mentioned, despite being about a completely different universe (well, apart from one) all my books remain unapologetically British. This does not give them universal appeal. It’s probably going to be more like 50 books to 20k for my stuff. But at the same time, it does act as a filter. The kinds of people who are going to get angry because my book isn’t set in their country and doesn’t reflect their national ethos aren’t really the kinds of readers I’m after. I need someone with a bit more imagination than that. People’s minds need to be open and they need to be prepared to let them wander if they’re going to get anything from the shite I churn out.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that those filling-in the reader questionnaire I send often cite reading and books as a form of travel; a holiday. Certainly, that’s definitely one of the ways I see books. I enjoy reading stories set in other countries if they are true to culture because it’s always interesting to have a glimpse of how those people might think and their societies might work. Hence my love of sci fi, fantasy and yes, historical novels because it doesn’t really matter when or where, they are all new and interesting alien civilisations to me.

Where I’m going with all this stuff is, I suppose, that these last few months I’ve had a kind of epiphany. Originally, my aim, what I wanted from my writing was that the action figures on the desks of geeks should be characters from my books. That was the target. To be successful enough for that. The reason I wanted to earn stacks was because I wanted to get to the point where I could liberate McOther from his job. If he wanted me to of course. I wanted to take the slack, be the bread winner doing something I loved so he didn’t have to do something which, while he quite likes it, does regularly piss him off.

McOther is retiring soon though. My cunning plan to rescue him from his workload has failed. Turns out he’s rescued himself. So it started me wondering if my priorities have changed. I know I can’t stop writing but I also have a life that makes writing difficult. What do I want from it?

  • Some cash. These days, it doesn’t have to be that much. Understanding that was a huge revelation, right there.
  • To get lost in my imaginary world because Real Life can be a bit grim.
  • The pleasure of doing something reasonably well.
  • The enjoyment of creating and marketing my books.
  • To be content with the amount of writing I am able to produce but at the same time, produce the maximum amount I’m able without pissing off friends and loved ones.
  • Accepting that I might not be writing much, sometimes, so I can concentrate on people.
  • I, personally, would rather not be famous but I would love it if my work and my characters were … preferably while I was still alive.

Nearly every single book you read will say something along the lines of, ‘if you’re prepared to put in the hours you can make a success of your author career.’ I’m in my fifties now and once you reach this age, you realise that hours to put into anything are hard to come by. Hit my age, and a lot of your life is going to be about looking after other people in the generation ahead of you. Whatever else you do, there are going to be people who need you. And if you want to like yourself as a person you’re going to have to help them. That takes time, so the lesson I’ve learned about time is this:

My time is finite. The trick is not how many hours I put in, but making the time I can devote to this effective.

Woah. That’s a bit of an eye-opener. I dunno why because it’s blindingly obvious but it was still a bit of a scales-from-the-eyes moment for me, that one.

I lack the time in my life to wrangle the kind of author career that will set the world on fire. Amazingly, now that McOther has rescued himself from his own job, I’m OK with that idea. But despite my time constraints, I might do alright if I keep writing books and make the time I do spend effective.

And life, that’s pretty much the same isn’t it? I could die tomorrow. I hope I don’t because it’d be fucking inconvenient but the point is, our time is finite. I am learning to walk the line between the things I want to do and the things I have or need to do. I am learning to ditch the other stuff. I only have bandwidth for a certain amount of stuff. The rest has been removed, my activities pared down to the things I love and the people I love because there isn’t the time or energy for anything else.

Holy fuck. No shit, Sherlock. Mwahahahrgh!

Seriously though, I care. I want my stuff to do well and to gain recognition. Yet, at the same time, I’d be happy just to earn enough to buy nice things, a decent car and enjoy life. $20k would do me. Oh. Only $18k to go then. Oh dear, that looks like 60 books to $20k. Lorks! I’d better get my finger out.

For example, if all the cash I earned was coming through my own web store it would be grand. I’d be earning, folks would be reading and enjoying my books, but I’d not be making a blip on the best seller charts so no-one would have a chuffing clue who I was in the wider world. That’s no bother, ranking is just vanity metrics, it’s gathering the tribe that would count. The only new readers I scored would be friends of current readers, it would all be word of mouth, and possibly the odd advert on Facebook or its replacement. I’d have the things that were important, books out, writing to do and people who loved the books to lark about with. Without the scary stalker risk of actual fame.

It makes me wonder, though. Does time spent marketing work like writing hours? If I have to put X hours in to be a success, can I put them in over a period of 20 years instead of the three or four months my writing compatriots seem to take to go from earning about five quid a month on their first book to publishing their five hundredth 120k novel and earning six figures. OK I’m joking here, maybe I should hang out with fewer romance authors.

Other people do seem to be alarmingly prolific though. Then again, as the lovely Erin Wright, the lady behind the wide for the win group says,

‘Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.’

Great advice that and, after this year, I seem to care a bit less about that though. Something has shifted. I’m not going places, I still earn diddly squat, I still dream of breaking the $300 a month earnings barrier. Somehow it doesn’t seem to matter so much anymore. Have I just given up? Is that it? Or is it that I finally feel that things might be moving? Is the rock, if not rolling then, maybe … wobbling a little bit? I dunno.

On the lighter side … Merchandise! Mwah hahaharhgh!

I have been thinking about making some mugs, books etc with the Hamgee University Press logo on them. At the moment, I’m thinking black on white and white on black. The logo one side and some pearl of wisdom from Humbert on the other, possibly cup-icised to reference tea, coffee or just drink. HUPLogoWonBSo the image above on the cup and stuff like.

  • ‘Windy trussocks!’
    Never mind, a nice hot drink will warm you up – or possibly, never mind, just open the window.
  • Wipe my conkers!
  • Jiggle my tumpkin!
    But DON’T touch my drink.
  • Polish my melons.
  • Polly want a cracker.
  • Arnold’s air biscuits.
    Not something you should think about dunking. Biscuits, something you should think about dunking – this will only work for Australasian and Brits.
  • Bombs away.

What do you think? If you’ve read the books what are your favourite Humbertisms? Are there any purlers I’ve missed?


In case you missed it …

I had a book out this month, the paperback landed this week, not that anyone’s bought any yet but y’know, they’re there. But even better than that, the presence of a new book allows me to run another of my famous competitions. Yes! Woot.

It’s competition time! In case you didn’t clock this last week.

Bling your morning cuppa or amaze your colleagues with this K’Barthan Hamgeean Misfit Mug!

If you do end up reading and enjoying Too Good To Be True, you can use your incredible knowledge of the plot to enter a prize draw for this smashing K’Barthan mug worth a small fortune.

Oh alright then, it’s worth £15 which would be very small as fortunes go, although it was probably a decent amount of cash back in the 1600s. Er hem, yeh. Moving on.

The rules are simple. All you have to do is read the book and answer a question about the story. If your answer is correct – don’t worry, if you’ve read the book it’ll be easy – you will be entered into the draw … unless it’s illegal to enter raffles in your country, in which case, please don’t enter.

The draw will be open until the end of March. Panic not if you’ve blown your book budget already this month, Too Good To Be True should be available in many libraries across the UK, US and Oceana. You might have to ask your librarian for it though.

Click here to enter.


Filed under About My Writing, General Wittering

18 responses to “Had I but world enough, and time …

  1. Several writing friends and I have been discussing take up of second and third books after the free first book.
    All I can say is that we’d all be delighted to have even a tenth of the follow-up that you’ve had. Whatever you’re doing, you’re probably doing it better than most of us.
    It’s why I’ve given up having my first book permafree.

    • I wish I checked for typos before I clicked send….

    • Bless you, thanks. I’m pretty sure it’s simply that I was lucky to get into a box set with some seriously good, going-places authors and am merely riding on their coat tails. I need more series really so I can have several box sets with free stories in that people can download. The other place I seem to be getting sign ups from, startlingly, is my Facebook page. I have NO clue what’s going on there, it might be advertising take up reported skew whiff because I can’t understand what I’m supposed to do to my Facebook pixel! Mwahahahrgh! Not sure.

      To be honest, what with the cliffhanger ending and all, on the whole, if people read book 1 of the K’Barthan Series, they read the lot. They just have to be forced to read it in the first place at gunpoint. That’s why luring them in with short stories and novellas seems to work better than giving them a whole novel as a permafree! And people seem much more amenable to a mailing list sign up advert than a sales advert. Weird but true.

  2. Diana

    I am so glad I don’t have to deal with all that marketing stuff. My brain is apparently not geared for all that. You appear to be giving a whole lot of your books away free. Why multiples of free to the same buyers? Puzzled here…. Although I am probably one of those buyers — and probably skewed your numbers somewhat, since I’m pretty sure I downloaded the same book twice (or was it three times?). I stopped after that. I like my hard copies — they are beautiful.

    Your paragraph about people who don’t read books that are not set in their country and based in their culture stunned me. I guess they are out there in droves, but I am happy to report that most of the people whose reading habits I am aware of actually like reading outside the familiar. I love autobiographies in particular, and other books that include context and content that take me outside my experience — partly because the experiences of many writers make me very happy with my own less-than-perfect life. AND I get some insight into the minds and cultures of others. Many of my favourite books are ones that do that. (I really like Studs Terkel’s books, for instance — he doesn’t write the books, so much as collate comments from others.)

    I love your books because I am often caught off-guard and you create wonderful characters and plot lines.

    (I also really enjoy Red Dwarf, and appreciate your reference to it — although some British Humour — such as Monty Python — I have no appreciation for.)

    Facebook seems to be a good place to become known. A few pages I follow have either preceeded or followed the originator’s writing success. For instance, Tim Cotton, of the Bangor Maine Police Department Facebook page, has become a published author — and he built his following by telling short quirky and sometimes heartbreaking stories on FB. His second book is in the printing and preselling stage, and seems to be based on what he refers to as “Got Warrants” — funny (creatively fleshed out) retellings of police interactions with people. He also tells stories about the DOJ (a stuffed duck that has taken on real personality and fame).

    The Humans of New York FB page began with a photographer (I think unemployed at the time) simply taking photos of people in New York and sharing something the person said. No interpretation. And people followed in droves, and commented in droves, and shared in droves. He has now published several books, travelled the world interviewing people, and raised millions of dollars through his page for different groups and individuals.

    Facebook can be powerful. especially if readers are engaged and entertained. What’s your page called? I would be happy to follow and share.

    • The multiples of free … it’s the same way crack dealers give Their customers really good progress until they’re hooked then they start charging more because they know the addict is hooked and will pay. Except it’s a bit more benign than that. But the idea is you give enough away free for the person to become a fan.

      The folks who are a bit inward looking … I was as surprised at you but they are there. The people who enjoy my stuff are people like you which is probably why you’re surprised. You are in the big supporters group and are clearly a fellow traveller through literature. 🙂

      I’m glad you love the books and I must check out the cop guy, he sounds a scream. The humans in New York I have seen. I do have a Facebook page and a K’Barthan Jolly Japery Group which is lots of fun. Feel free to check either is those out.

      The page is https://www.facebook.com/HamgeeUniversityPress/

      The group is https://www.facebook.com/groups/394054571186898/

      Your be most welcome in the group especially. There is a bit of effing and blinding and we basically share crap jokes. 😁



      On Sat, 27 Mar 2021, 21:11 M T McGuire Authorholic, wrote:


  3. I don’t see why you’re not going directly after Sir Terry’s fans somehow – analyzing his sales, etc., as he isn’t producing any more, and all his true fans have already bought and read his backlist. Give it a bit of thought.

    Sorry the extended British humour doesn’t work for me – I managed one or two Bernie Woosters only, and routinely get in too deep on the Japery page. Not enough background, I think. As you said, you have to probably grow up with it, maybe inbibing with the marmite?

    But I think your career – except for some of those fuckups which have been breathtaking (at least when you self-flagellate in the posts you write) – is enviable, and WILL take off, preferably before you get to be my age (remember, I was in my late 60s when Purgatory went out).

    Simply continue as if there had been no bobbles, and all will be well. You only need, they say, a certain number (I can’t recall) of True Fans, especially since you continue to write in your universe. And to get more comfortable and steady-handed at that. Celebrate!

    • It’s funny you should say that, I am going as directly as I can after Sir Terry’s fans but there are so many of us authors that gone are the days when you could just pop into a Terry Pratchett fan group, riff on the wonders of the discworld for a bit and then mention that you just happen to be a writer who writes like Sir Terry. My ads are usually targeted at them, in one form or another, though.

      Thanks you and yes, I’ll keep going. I think it’s 1,000 true fans 🙂

      • Well, good. I can probably eventually manage 1,000 – but was going to have a very difficult time if the number is 10,000.

        As for going directly into someone’s fan group, or marketing directly ‘for fans of … novels,’ it has always turned me off. Readers who have lost an idol are going to be picky about following someone else. But there are plenty of people who like that kind of books in general. And there’s a limited number of good books to fill their void. Plenty of crappy ones, but few of the good.

        Now, if we could just figure out how to reach them and entice them – we’d all be millionaires and beloved writers.

      • Yep. Reaching them, but in a non spammy way, is the really hard bit.

        On Mon, 29 Mar 2021, 17:31 M T McGuire Authorholic, wrote:


      • Exactly – you don’t want to START your relationship with a reader by annoying them!

        I have exactly the same problem in a different genre. I can’t wait to go from the skittish phase to the fawning phase.

      • Absolutely. I wish there was an easy answer. 🙂

      • I think, possibly, all the crazy things you have had to deal with obscure the FACT that you have the backlist, the audiobooks, and THAT can’t be created quickly, ever.

  4. You hoiked me in with a freebie. Loved it. Tried to find any other freebies you offered but also, for the only time in my life so far, chose to pay for follow-on books. K’barth and you, were worth it. And yeah, I think I tried to buy twice so that I could leave a positive review on the big A, after getting the book somewhere else. Serial dude – you are the next Sir P to me, and I know you are already a success in my universe.
    That may be way too stalker-ish so, as a balance, the following is also true – I try to follow your posts etc but life keeps happening at a surprising rate.
    So, I’m a tight-arse, but also a huge fan. I know money is good. We all know money is good. But your legacy already lives. It already breathes 🙂

    • Thank you.


      You’ve made my day. And no worries about life and t’ing, you and me both that’s why each book takes a bloody eternity. I must have one of the most constipated writing muses on earth! Every book’s a copper bolt! I will keep ’em coming, I promise! 🙂 And remember they are all in the library, so you can borrow them without paying – although you might have to ask your librarian to get them in for you first!

    • And you, keep supporting the writers whose work you love. Kudos!

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