Tag Archives: book marketing

Mailing lists: the all embracing panacea or the hamster wheel of doom?

As you know, I’ve been writing books and attempting to sell the results since about 2010. I still think my books are good. I think the books I’m writing at the moment will be good too – or at least as good as I can make them and good by my standards, ie they’ll be more of the kinds of stories I’d like to read but that don’t exist.

However, for all my efforts, I’d be lying if I said I was doing well as an author, but the fact I write the books I want to read, rather than what ‘the market’ is after could be posing a problem there.

Originally, in the absence of a following to ask, my marketing strategy went like this.

‘Hey Sensible M T I’m going to write a book.’
‘Great plan Ditzy M T. What about?’
‘I’m going to write the books that I’ve always wanted to read but no-one has ever written.’
‘Is that a good idea Ditzy M T?’
‘Of course it is Sensible M T.’
‘But, if people wanted to read them, wouldn’t someone else have written them?’
‘No Sensible M T, I believe I have spotted a niche.’
‘Oh yeh?’
‘Yeh. I’m a person, I’m bog standard, so surely whatever I want to read will be something a whole group of other people like me want to read too, right?’
‘You think there are other people like you?’
‘Of course.’

Unfortunately, Sensible M T is correct. People like me are rather rarer than I anticipated so it’s taking me a bit of time to build an audience … and I think a lot of folks are getting mailing list fatigue, which is understandable, but a pity. Although at least, now, there are enough folks following my writing for me to be able to ask them what they’d like: hence the K’Barthan shorts, and there will be some, I promise once I’ve finished the K’Barthan accidentally long I’m working on – that’s hit 50k today, by the way. I have a nice properly short story brewing about how The Pan ended up jumping off the bridge (he mentions it to Ruth in the second book).

We’re on the road to nowhere!

As the Talking Heads said (blimey this is getting a bit Alan Partridge). But I do feel that I am running faster and faster to stay in the same place. Sales are a bit … well

That’s right. Pants.

Looking at my sales spreadsheet over the last umpteen years, I can’t help but notice that I am putting in more and more effort to achieve the same results. This last month, April 2017 if you’re reading this 400 years from now in a post apocalyptic world where electricity and computers have only just been reinvented, was one of the worst on record. It was the first time more than two days passed between book sales, for me, since 2013. Then came this month, gulp. There were several big blocks of four or five days when I didn’t sell a thing. The total earnings are £30. The lowest month for ages. Naturally, I thought I’d see if I could find out why.

First up, I tried a different type of mailing promo last month and it’s too early to tell if it’s worked yet. Second, the month before that, I didn’t do a promo. That’s two very compelling explanations, right there. But is there more.

Looking at onward sales I discovered these lovely factoids:

  • There are 4,247 people on my mailing list.
  • They have bought a maximum of 662 copies of the K’Barthan Series books in a combination of books 3 and 4  at $4.99 a pop (sales are about level pegging which is a good sign) or the box set at $7.99.
  • I’ve sold about 400 copies of book 2 since I started all this free book malarky – even though I give it away free to folks who join my mailing list.
  • That said, about 750 have bought Unlucky Dip, the short story, for 99c.
  • On the day of launch only 14 people bought the K’Barthan Box set.
  • Only 280 have bought Escape From B-Movie Hell.
  • If I take just one group of 1,000 mailing list members, I can see that 280 of them clicked on the links to find out more about the paid books when I emailed them about it. That’s actually not bad.
  • After three quarters of a year, or thereabouts, I survey my mailing list peps. You’d be amazed how many answer the ‘did you enjoy the books’ style question with, ‘I haven’t read them yet.’ Even after eight months or so some of them are clearly a little nettled to be even asked.
  • A couple of folks have joined my mailing list and then emailed me to say they downloaded the book two or three years ago, never got around to reading it and are really glad they have this time – there’s even a review that says that!

What do these pieces of information tell me?

  1. That I should be writing more short stories. Hmm.
  2. That information pages I send them to about each book on my website need an overhaul.
  3. That the books might be too expensive.
  4. Or that people are feeling a bit, what’s the point? about brexit and our impending ecological and nuclear doom and don’t want to shell out for a book any more.
  5. It reinforces the argument that a higher rate of output comprising shorter books at a lower cost is probably the way to go – I’m thinking 50k for $2.99 and 10/20k for 99c/p maybe. At least I have to have something between 99c and $4.99 – currently there’s only the stand alone.
  6. That if I’m smart, some or all of the future books I write should be about K’Barth.
  7. That anyone on my mailing list who is interested in reading the K’Barthan Series had already done so, with knobs on, when the box set came out and that any who might be weren’t ready.
  8. That folks who are interested in reading the second K’Barthan book often buy it straight after reading the first one, they don’t wait four days to get it free. That’s great because clearly they’re into it.
  9. That, in turn, could tell me that people who are less worried about money purchase my books and perhaps this is more evidence for shorter books that I could sell at a more accessible price for folks with less disposable income.
  10. That I need to make it clearer to people that they can borrow my books from libraries – but they have to ask because the librarian won’t have bought them (I’m not famous and not a sure bet). In short, I need to make sure that they realise that they can get access to my books, even if they are cash strapped.
  11. That the average reader has a to-read list that is well over 8 months long and reads the books in order.
  12. That while I have always assumed that a fair few of the people on my mailing list won’t have read my books 7/8ths is quite a lot higher than I expected.
  13. That the read through rate is only as high as 7/8ths if every single person who has bought K’Barthan book 3 and 4 in whatever format is on my mailing list, which I doubt.
  14. That the percentage of people who are actually reading the book I give away is gob smackingly low. Nowhere near the 20% I thought it was (going on Amazon downloads of the free book and totting up subsequent copies of the next books sold in 2015.
  15. That, possibly, the people who do read the book I give away in return for their email address are the ones who read it straight after downloading it. This could explain why they zip through the first book in a couple of days and then get stuck right into the rest of them rather than waiting for the free second book.
  16. That until a couple of years have passed, I won’t really know the results of my efforts to upsell since it will be a very long time before many folks get to the first book.
  17. For the long haul tbr people, at least regular mailings from me will keep them in touch and help them not to forget about my books.

What about the risible rate of earnings?

Hmm… what about it? More factoids.

  • It was 70% down on my £100 monthly average.
  • The worst since February 2015 when I had 70 friends and family on my mailing list and hadn’t worked out about permafrees with optimised listings – which worked then.
  • It is in keeping with the time of year. The worst month for sales always seems to happen in spring: Feb, March, April or May.
  • As I mentioned, it may be down to the choice of giveaway book in April.
  • I didn’t do much in the way of promo in March.
  • There has been no uptick in sales at the beginning of May, usually at the start of a month there is.

What does this tell me?

  1. That net worth of my efforts to upsell my other books from information I give on my mailing list is currently worth £30, or thereabouts, from an average £100. Possibly. But I’ll never really know for sure.
  2. That it’s very important to have a promo planned every month.
  3. That you need to be lot more savvy these days, and do a lot more to get your books in front of people, to achieve the same results you could have done with less effort a year ago. Mwah hahaharhgh so nothing new there!
  4. That promos do drive sales.
  5. That the merit of giving folks a second book as well as the original freebie they downloaded might be debatable. Is it getting read by many folks? Difficult to tell but it looks unlikely. Then again, I won’t really know until the long haul people kick in (if they do).
  6. That if I give the short away as a second book, instead, it might get more people reading because it’s accessible, but it might people off because it’s crap.

It could be that I am gaining a lot of new mailing list followers, but very few readers. But just as easily, it could be that I will need to wait at least a year before a big proportion of the folks on my mailing list get round to reading any of my books. Only time will tell.

So? Patience young paduan?

Yeh, looks like it. It takes a lot of time and effort to sort out my mailings, find interesting things to include or fun stories to tell. But, clearly when I join the right kinds of promos folks are downloading and enjoying the first book in the K’Barthan Series, it’s just catching them while they’re still enthused in a way that doesn’t annoy the ones who don’t want to be reminded for a year or so. It’s also juggling not earning much with the cash. I’m moving my mailing list to another provider but currently it costs me £40 per month to entertain 4,250 folks. If my £30 per month earning streak continues I will need to uncover a way to monetise my list slightly or I’m going to be in certain doo-doo.

Yep. Doo doo. Scary huh?

Mailing list factoids.

  • Open rates have dropped but only a little.
  • Open rates are slower. I would have a decent idea how a mailing had gone down in two or three days a year ago, these days it’s two weeks before the percentage of opens stops creeping up.
  • Click rates are down. A lot. From a fairly reliable 20% – 40% to about 6% -13%.

What do these factoids tell us Noddy?

  1. Perhaps there is a mailing slow down. It’s clear that folks are still reading my emails but taking longer. Also, a couple of unsubscribe comments along the lines of ‘I love your emails but I am on so many authors’ lists and I just don’t have time to read them’ might bear that out.
  2. Many authors are doing giveaways now, or promos, or things where groups of similar books are offered for free to readers in return for them singing up to the authors’ mailing lists. It may simply be that a lot of readers have already heard about the promos I’m taking part in from other authors involved before I tell them.

So what can I do?

Sit tight and keep doing what I do.

Once again, on this one, I am, dangerously, doing what works for me. This does not mean it’s what works, generally or even that it’s what other people like. After all, if I wanted to sell books to the normals I’d have a really attractive thin woman on the covers and they’d be that shade of green, taupe, blue, brown or red.

For the record, what I want to discover, from mailing lists I join is whether I find the author interesting, as well as the stuff they offer. I like to hear about their books, their progress on new work and about any books they’ve read and enjoyed. I also like it if the emails, themselves, are amusing, or chatty, like a letter to a friend rather than a ‘professional’ offering. Furthermore, as my readers will undoubtedly be getting loads of emails from other authors as well as me, I want to make mine stand out, in a good way. I want them to get enough enjoyment and value from the things I send them to make time for them.

So far, the feedback is good. I think it is weeding out the kinds of people who are going to like and enjoy my books from those who’ve downloaded them free but will probably never read them. Hopefully it will. I’d much rather have an engaged list of 500 people, than a list of 4,500 who aren’t interested.

These days, twenty or thirty folks unsubscribe from my list in a month. That would have come as a big surprise a year ago. But people still write back and interact so I must be doing something right.

I have come up with some practical answers for improving the usefulness of my emails and, therefore, open and click rates but when it comes to onward sales, or library borrows, I’m kind of scratching my head. Maybe my books are shite, except if they were, why are the reviews mostly good? And the bad reviews, with a few exceptions, tend to say things that suggest the reader was the complete antithesis of the book’s target market anyway.

Any other cunning plans?

Well … I need to ask folks questions, find out a bit more about what they are after and then give them what they are interested in. If I set this up right, I can send free books to the people who want free, paid books to the people who want paid and can avoid sending amazon offers to readers who use only Kobo or vice versa.

But while that might help me make the information more pertinent and useful, I’m not sure what I can do about the ten thousand free books they need to read before it’s the ‘turn’ of mine. I also wonder about the 19,000 folks who downloaded Few Are Chosen while it was permafree. Six hundred onward sales from those isn’t a very good track record.

But for what it’s worth, here’s my plan.

I have two weapons and two weapons only. I’m weird and sometimes I’m funny. This pertains to everything: my books, who I am and what I do. In all, the weird and the funny are key. Some people find that hard work, others really like it. So hopefully, if I can carry on being the way I am, I will, eventually, build up a group of follows who appreciate the weird and funny of me, at least, even if they haven’t read the damn books. And maybe, eventually, they will find one of my newsletters leaves them wanting more … enough to dig out the K’Barthan Series, Book 1 and start reading.

It’s my only answer. So I’ll just have to cross my fingers and hope. I’ll let you know how I get on.

On a final note …

If you’re one of the 3,500 out of 4,247 on my mailing list who hasn’t read my book, I am absolutely agog to know two thing:

  1. What on earth you’re doing there?
  2. What on earth you’re getting from it?
  3. Your reasons for not reading the book yet – i.e. your to read list is too long, the book is too long, you’re a book blogger/reviewer and haven’t got round to it, you’re never going to read the book in a month of Sundays but you love the reviews and special offers on other people’s books etc.

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Filed under General Wittering, Good Advice, Marketing Ideas, self publishing

My Permafree Experience … #bookmarketing #nicholasrossis

This week, I have mostly been doing a guest appearance on Nicholas Rossis’ excellent blog. He invited me to write about why I made Few Are Chosen free and why, for me, that has been a good move. If you’re into that sort of thing and want to know more, you can find the post here:

http://nicholasrossis.me/2016/05/17/my-permafree-experience-guest-post-by-m-t-mcguire/

 

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A question of perception

It’s another ‘I’m an idiot, learn from me’ post today. It’s also long. Apologies for that but there’s rather a lot to say.

Recently I’ve been trying to get the initial ideas and machinery in place to launch a new book. There are several places where I’m stuck, mostly the same, old same old: you know, stuff like actually managing to write a blurb that makes it sound appealing or coming up with a viable title. There is also the aspect of things I might unknowingly stuff up.

OK, so I try to act with professional integrity. This is the internet. Whatever I do I will offend someone but I try avoid any dishonourable, shabby, dishonest or generally reprehensible behaviour if at all possible. I try to love my internetty neighbour the way I’d like to be loved myself.

However, I’m a writer and a flawed human being. I frequently offend people without even realising. Indeed, if life was a game I suspect unwitting offence would be my Special Attribute. A couple of things have happened, recently, that have made me very aware of this and concentrated my attention on the matter of how hard it is to achieve a good reputation on the internet, how difficult it is not to cause offence, however well meaning your actions may actually be. And how difficult it can be to gauge how others will react to your actions when the only guide you have is to imagine how it would feel to be on the receiving end.

It’s not just about trying to act with decency and integrity at all times. It’s about whether people think think you are. A lot of that is about what folks believe your intentions are. I think that no matter how genuine you wish to be, how honest you think you are being, or how principled you aim to make your approach, if you are selling anything, however obliquely, there are certain quarters of the internet where any attempt to connect on your part will be considered a hypocritical attempt to befriend people in order to sell them something. So far with me, it’s kind of been the other way round. But a couple of things have really surprised me, recently. Stupid things I’ve done without realising they were stupid.

On the up side, since I’ve made these monumental fuck ups, it means that by describing them to you at length I can ensure that you don’t have to. Here’s what I’ve learned from this series of unfortunate events…

The dreadful truth about titles.

I’ll fess up. I got in a bit of a muddle publishing my last two books. The main problem was that when I finished the third book in the K’Barthan Trilogy (as it was then called) I discovered it was a snadge over 300,000 words long. What to do? If I produced a paperback then, by the time I’d factored in the kind of discount that would pay the middle men (60%) I would have a book that cost about £25. So there’s book 1 at £9.99, book 2 at £11.99 and book 3 at £24.99. With books 1 and 2 ending on cliff hangers it does rather look as if I’m holding readers to ransom to find out what happens. Luckily there was a point where I could split it. So I did. But that cost more. Another £800 or so to be precise and another £90 plus 20% sales tax to upload it to the print on demand distributor I use.

With money tight, the question raised it’s head of spending a further £90 plus tax per book to change the word ‘Trilogy’ on the cover and front pages of the first two, to ‘Series’ in print. Also, what little traction the series had was as the K’Barthan Trilogy. I asked folks, took advice and tried to imagine how I would feel if a trilogy I was following had four books. The folks I asked reckoned a 4 book trilogy was not unusual and that no-one would mind. Since I’ve read the Hitch Hiker’s ‘trilogy’ and was delighted when it kept growing, rather than upset, I saved the £180 and went for the 4 book trilogy.

How wrong I was.

A couple of months ago the third book got a blistering one star review, slamming me for writing a fourth instalment. I paraphrase but the gist was like this:

“I know your game,” it basically said. “You’re just going to write book after book and never end the story, because you’re just a bastard writer! And all you bastard writers ever want to do is rip readers off and make us pay and pay so you can buy another set of gold plated wheels for your Mercedes Benz. Well I’m not reading any more of your crap you… charlatan!”

Fair enough, this case, someone has clearly watched too many episodes of ‘Lost’, and that £50 a month I earn from my writing may well look like the gold-plated-alloy-purchasing big time to some folks, but I was completely thrown. First that they were upset, second by the enormous gap between their perception of my personality and the real one.

OK, we all know the golden rule is DO NOT ENGAGE. NEVER reply to things like that.

I broke it.

I commented on the review apologising for causing offence, explaining that it wasn’t intended, that the story ends at the conclusion of the fourth book (in case anyone else reading that review wondered) and then I offered to send it to them for free so they could find out what happened. They never replied. I went and changed the title from ‘trilogy’ to ‘series’ in all the ebook files and on all the listings on every retail site I sell through – it already said it in the product desription. Naturally the retailers all accepted my chages except for Amazon who asserted that if it said ‘trilogy’ on the book cover (even if it’s too small to read) it will be called ‘trilogy’ until I pay the designers to change the j-peg and upload the new one.

I chalked it up as something to watch and a change to do when I brief the designers about my next book.

During last year, I entered both books for the excellent Wishing Shelf Book Awards. When the feedback came through I was very surprised to discover that readers there, too, had commented negatively about my writing a ‘trilogy’ of four books.

Clearly, something that hadn’t registered with me was really pissing other people off. So what have I learned from this litany of amateurism?

  1. Give yourself options.
    My four book ‘trilogy’ has royally ticked off a whole bunch of people. Folks I will never get back. Folks who will consider me a wanker forever and spread their opinions near and far. But the problem would never have existed if I’d had the wit to call it the K’Barthan Series from the get go. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, so learn from mine: if you’re writing a trilogy then, in the name of the almighty don’t call it that. Call it a series unless it’s actually finished, has three books the same length, and you are about to publish the first one.
  2. Give yourself some slack.
    Accept there are some things you can cover with research and some things that only experience will show you but.
  3. When experience does kick you in the teeth, learn from it.
  4. If you can repair the damage, do it as soon as you can but think it through, don’t hurry it or you may just make things worse.
    OK, so I can’t afford to get rid of the bloody ‘trilogy’ moniker until the entire series is edited at the end of November. The covers, I can, and will, change sooner. For now I just have to accept that I’ve fucked up, chalk it up to experience and learn from what I have done.

The grim truth about interacting on the internet.

The second smack in the face from reality came this week.

Recently, I’ve had a facebook ad running which offers the first two books in the K’Barthan Series to anyone who joins my mailing list. I’d heard that a good way to identify a market of people to show your ad to is to choose an audience who like books by an author similar to you. It then suggests you make reference to the author you, and they, know and love and suggest that if they like that stuff they might like yours. I’m always a bit leery about this, I mean, all those reviews saying I write like Adams are just setting folks up for disappointment because I don’t. But I thought it might work with a humorous bent if I aimed it at Pratchett readers.

After a bit of tweaking and watching and tweaking I ended up with an audience who liked Terry Pratchett books and an ad which referenced CMOT Dibbler.

OK, in my defence here, I wrote the copy while Sir Terry was still around but this is what it said:

“If you like funny British science fiction and fantasy why not check out this freebie: The K’Barthan Series stands complete at four books and I’d like to give you two of them. Yes, this all sounds a bit CMOT Dibbler school of marketing but I’m hoping you’ll find a lot more quality literary meat in these books than there is REAL meat in CMOT Dibbler’s sausages.

All you have to do is tell me where to send them – the books, obviously, real sausages will not be involved.”

Then there was this picture and the title and caption below.

FACTWSfacebookAd

“I’M LITERALLY cutting my own throat here.

If you love a bargain, help yourself to two award winning funny sci-fi fantasy books, Few Are Chosen and The Wrong stuff, parts 1 and 2 of the best selling K’Barthan Series are usually £4 but they’re free for a limited time. To grab yours click here.”

To start with, I got sign ups, shares and a couple of joky quotes about the quality of the meat – is it named? Yes it’s called Bob. In other words, exactly what I expected. Then a few days ago, from New Zealand, this:

Pep A: Ripping off a Terry Pratchett character to sell your book? Poor form?
Pep B: Poor form? Fucking shameful.

And I looked at it and I thought… what happened there? And then the ad got this comment:

Pep C: Well. He’s dead now.

And the penny dropped.

Yes M T you daft, fucking moron! He died. And so suddenly this ad is not joking about characters we know and love from a favourite author. It’s trampling over people’s memories of a great man and maligning the dead. Events can cause changes in perception. And I completely missed that. So I’ve removed the ad. Because although it was working really well I didn’t think of that, and while, personally, I think it’s a bit weird to be offended, I do absolutely get why someone might be.

Have I replied or apologised? Well… no, because of another particularly important thing that I’ve learned about the internet, so that you don’t have to is that it’s bat shit crazy, and also:

  1. The international nature of the internet is a two edged sword…
    Yes, you can talk to the entire globe. Unfortunately, not all of it thinks the way you do. That means you can and will offend thousands of people effortlessly and unwittingly at the touch of a button: not just people in Britain but folks all over the world.Seriously though, I’m not American, from the RSA, Kenya or Zimbabwe. I’m not Australian, or a Kiwi, or Tasmanian or from India, Pakistan or South East Asia. I’m not from Holland, Germany, France, Russia or any of the myriad other places where people speak English and read my books, in English. I lack the instinctive grasp of other cultures that will enable me to see the point when funny becomes offensive to them if it doesn’t to someone British. But because I’m speaking English and they speak English too, THEY EXPECT ME TO.
  2. The internet contains a huge gap in perception.
    The aforementioned gulf between the spirit in which I act and interact on line, who I think I am, and what others perceive me to be. Frankly, it’s enormous. 90% of communication is non verbal and boy does it show on t’interweb – mainly through the medium of folks becoming very suspicious of one another. And what that equates to, if you’re selling anything, anywhere on line, is an assumption that nothing you do is genuine. That everything is crafted, honed and perfected with your eye on the next sale.So while you’re trying to just be, write a blog, do stuff, keep people informed, have a presence that’s just yourself: a benign and friendly presence, there are folks out there who will dismiss it as the work of a rapacious scammer who sees everyone as a potential victim (including them, unless they’re ‘careful’ a.k.a. prickly, aggressive and ready to take offence at the drop of a hat).
  3. 3. People are going to drop their weird shit onto you.
    There’s a saying, ‘you can please some of the people some of the time but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.’ I understand this but it seems that in today’s world, if you do anything that might put your name into the public domain, like paint, write, make music, act etc you are expected to please everyone, all of the time. Worse, if you don’t, no quarter will be given.Genuine mistakes, or simple errors of of judgement, far from being forgiven, are seen as an act of cynical aggression towards your innocent audience. A lot of people out there don’t really like themselves. They think they’re cynical, cold hearted conniving little shits, and guess what? Because they believe that about themselves they’re going to believe it about you too.
  4. Give them some slack. Try to stay positive and accept that sometimes you will offend others and it can’t always be helped.
    Long ago, I decided not to worry about the nature of the net. I am who I am and it’s hard to be anyone else. I know I will make mistakes and all I can do is try not to. It’s worth making peace with yourself and accepting that sometimes, no matter how benign you want to be and how hard you try to avoid hurting people, you will cause offence. Sometimes all you can do is apologise, chalk it up to experience, learn from it and move on. Sometimes our attempts to interact with people we don’t actually know personally, can be interpreted, by some as evidence that we’re out to get them in some way. It doesn’t matter how much cobblers that is, they’ve been burned by others and but there’s no way we will ever convince folks like that of our good intentions. There’s no point even trying. Indeed, the only thing you can do about them is hope to heaven that they never, ever find you.

So what can we do? How can writers or artists or anyone creative who interacts regularly on the internet behave ‘well’ without becoming too slick, too spun and anodyne?

Perhaps we can’t. Or perhaps all we can do is our level, genuine best to avoid saying anything that would offend us if you were on the receiving end. Do unto others and all that.

If you’re laid back and you write humour which, by its nature, is subversive you will undoubtedly prick the bubble of the pompous at some stage. But you may also stuff up and the way I have though sheer naivety, lack of foresight or plain ignorance and unwittingly offend many, many folks – good decent people who you don’t want to upset. When you do, I guess the only course is to chalk it up to experience – apologise if appropriate/possible and move on.

Few people do things deliberately to offend, whatever many internet users think. Most of us offend because we’re human, and flawed; and that’s natural. If we never cocked it up we’d be actual God. Because perfect is impossible unless you’re Allah, right?

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Metal detecting, and its relation to my hopes as an #indie #writer

This week, I’m unsure how to go about my blog post. TI have several things to say so bear with me as I try to work out a way to jemmy them all in at once.

Ever in pursuit of the elusive hammered coin or interesting… thing, I went out metal detecting yesterday. I learned three things.

  • First that no matter how many smashing Saxon artifacts other people are digging up you have to walk over one to find it.
  • Second, I learned that my waterproofs are not waterproof any more. This lesson delivered as I was the wrong end of a field, about half a mile from the car, in a deluge. More waterproofs required, I think. The manner of my learning this rather sums up my day.
  • Third, on returning home, after steeping in a hot bath, I learned that basically, I’m doing setting the detector up right, choosing sensible places to detect and doing the right thing. I am finding tiny things as well as big things, I am finding things made out of metals and alloys that mirror the good stuff but unfortunately, they are bits of tractor and modern stuff rather than interesting finds. I’m finding miniscule things the size of a quartered silver coin, but they’re tiny pieces of metal. All are things which, in happier circumstances, could be good stuff. My point is that, for the most part, I’m doing it right, it’s just that the artifact gods are not smiling as benignly upon me as sometimes.

In a sop to my efforts, they (the Small Gods of Lost Things) did throw me this fantastic fossil of half a sea urchin. It holds a level of detail I’ve not seen outside the real thing so my day wasn’t wasted.

IMG_2015IMG_2011

That white discolouration on the flat side means it broke in half several million years ago.

Onwards and upwards. There’s another dig next week.

Which kind of brings me onto the second thing. As you know, I’ve been a bit worried about my book sales recently. This is because I’ve been doing that fatal thing, comparing myself to other people. Really I should know better.

In order to feel some semblance of control, and in pursuit of social media savviness, I bought and read two Rayne Hall books: Twitter for Authors, and Why Does My Book Not Sell? 20 Simple Fixes (Writer’s Craft).

OK, if I can go off at a bit of a tangent here… I cannot recommend these books highly enough. I’ve always wondered how to interact with people on Twitter, Rayne Hall gives the answer. If the worst comes to the worst just go to her feed, eavesdrop on some conversations and have a chat. Her advice has definitely worked really well for me. Even in a week I’m having conversations and enjoying Twitter the way I wanted to but hadn’t. She also has what I consider to be an excellent attitude to social media, ie that it is social and that the more social and less of a book seller you are, the more likely you are to achieve book sales. This advice has been borne out by my own experience.

Likewise, while I’d got more of my book production performance in line with Rayne Hall’s there are still plenty of things in Why Does My Book Not Sell? 20 Simple Fixes (Writer’s Craft) that I can apply to my own books.

However, what I have learned from these two books, above all, is that for the most part, and barring a few tweaks, I’m doing the right thing.

My book sales are not lighting up the sky, though. Perhaps, like my efforts at metal detecting, the small percentage of fairy dust required is just absent from that part of my life at present. Perhaps. But if I’ve learned anything from metal detecting, it’s that perseverance pays off. If you keep believing and keep digging you will find interesting things. The law of averages demands it. You can’t find nothing but crap. Sure a big part of your detector finds may be but they can’t all be. And they aren’t. Not even for me.

Which begs a question.

Am I simply lacking fairy dust. Or are my book sales better than I think?

Comparatively I mean.

You see, it may be that for someone who has written a book that is, as a friend who works in magazine publishing put it, “Absolutely wonderful, but a very hard sell. I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole if it was submitted to me,” I’m actually doing better than I think.

Usually, a handful of people download my free book each day. Since it went free, in February, I’ve seen a sudden increase in sales of the second book after which, in June and July, I definitely saw an increase in sales of books 3 and 4. From selling a couple of books a month if I’m lucky and shifting a couple of my, admittedly, dodgy free shorts a month, there are now only a couple of days each month when nobody downloads anything.

Don’t get too excited. I’m not ready to make one of those gushing, “I can’t believe that my book is number one on Amazon!” posts on Kindleboards. I’m not even ready to make one of those “my sales have plummeted! I’m only selling 500 books a month” posts either. Mwah hahahargh! I dream of selling 500 books a month.

However, it’s all relative. This time last year I’d failed to sell a single book in three months straight. This year, to my eternal delight, even Kobo users are buying them. The Amazon stats are showing international sales. For the first time, people in France, Italy, Canada and Australia are buying them. For the first time since 2010 I am achieving monthly book sales that go into double figures.

The free book, Few Are Chosen, K’Barthan Series: Part 1 is even being downloaded from Google books – although I’m not sure what’s happening there because nobody has bought the others, I’m not even sure if Google is selling them or just pointing people to the vendors links on my website, but it’s a start.

And it brings me back to a piece of advice that has probably kept me sane in periods of recovery from my various knee injuries. Nevertheless, despite the fact I’ve been happily doling it out left right and centre this month it’s one I’d forgotten to apply to myself until now. It’s this:

Forget about how far you have to go, instead see how far you’ve come. Trust me. The answer to that question is always going to be, a lot further than you think. Which is kind of where I am about now.

So, am I earning much? No. The people around me, the authors I chat to from day to day, are earning far more.

Am I successful? No. My literary mates are, for the most part, several orders of magnitude more successful then me.

Am I doing better than last year? You bet your arse I am!

See how it works?

Yes, sure, as flat figures, my book sales are risible. But as a percentage increase on previous efforts they are flying. It’s all a question of how you view it. Sure, in the order of publishing species I’m so low on the scale that I’m aspiring to be a molecule – BUT, and here’s the rub, things might be different next year.

Onwards and upwards.

Coming next week… news of my latest story, out November 1st.

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I am now, officially hybrid… I think.

That’s right I run on oil AND gas. Sorry, no. What I mean is that the good folks at a small publisher have accepted a short story from me for an anthology. In the process of this they have sent me a publishing contract to sign and there is talk of a small remuneration, depending on sales volume. I think that does officially make me, in the proper sense of the word; with publication pending.

Which brings me neatly onto the other thing. I was looking at Chuck Wendig’s excellent blog today and he was talking about keeping your writing true. Writing who you are rather than what you think people will want. It’s a fantastic post, link to come. The gist is that you can only write for yourself, from your heart because if you write to please anyone else or to follow a trend your writing can lose its conviction. I particularly liked his take on that. Writing a book about something because everyone else has achieved success with it is like being a dog chasing a car.

‘Don’t be the dog, be the car.’

But that made me think because the biggest reason I’m self published is because I write stuff that isn’t really mainstream. I believe it has mainstream appeal but only on an incremental basis with lots of time for people to get used to the idea. And I don’t believe any publisher will take a punt on it until it’s already successful.

That’s not to say I don’t experiment with writing different stuff. My accepted story at Awesome Indies Publishing is one such. And this writing what you, yourself, would like thing, I really have no choice.

Any M T attempt at erotica would be the literary equivalent of this. Thank you http://2makeyoulaugh.blogspot.co.uk

Can I just go off on a tangent here for a minute? Do you ever wonder what writing is like for authors in other genres? I mean, say you write erotica. If you write decent erotica, presumably it turns you on – I mean, that’s what erotica is supposed to do, right? So what do you do about being in a permanent state of arousal, I mean, does it cloud your judgement? Do you end up needing a cold shower to view your work objectively. Or, when you’ve finished a scene do you just have a quick wank, while the cat looks on disapprovingly, and then move onto the next one? It’s not a question that’ll be troubling me. I quite like reading good erotica from time to time, so I did try writing it once. It was one of the funniest things I have ever written but, unfortunately, in absolutely the wrong way.

So for the moment, I’ll carry on writing Bond meets Adams (but without the spies) and see what happens.

Right now, I see what I’m doing as positioning12052012068.

It’s as if I’m leaving my stuff, with artful, care on the bank of the mainstream. To start with there’s just one corner in the water. I imagine the paper waving about in the passing current but each papery wave represents a minuscule tug towards the water. Slowly but surely (I hope) the current pulls it down the bank, tiny, tiny nth of an inch at a time. There’ll be more of it floating in the water now, semi submerged, gently slipping further out into the stream as the current draws it in. Then, it’ll be hanging there for a few seconds, with nothing more than a fraction of the corner stuck to the side until… oops yes it’s floating away and everyone’s a bit surprised because although it’s waterlogged and moving a bit slowly, and shouldn’t really be there, it hasn’t sunk.

Er yeh… That’s the way I see my books inveigling themselves into popular culture. But no-one is going to risk picking up my work and chucking it in until at least some of it has been proved to float on its own. So getting the mini-est publishing deal feels as if well… it’s probably not sliding down the bank yet but maybe a couple more pages have gone in.

Sure, one answer to this question might be to write something that has broader appeal. Perhaps one day I’ll manage it. But if I want to write with conviction I have to write what I write. I know there are many multi-genre authors who would regard that as unprofessional of me, so it is a huge relief to find the particular approach I use endorsed by Mr Wendig. You can find his post, which really puts it very well, here.

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Stealth Marketing in the Grand Tradition of the British Navy.

OK, I’ll admit, it’s a tenuous connection, especially in the extremely likely event I’ve got my facts wrong, but there is this lovely story about Admiral Rodney; that he was concerned that the demand of the British Navy for oak trees to make ships was outstripping British supply. He therefore carried acorns in his pockets and dropped them wherever he went. Actually, it may not even have been Rodney who dropped acorns wherever he went… thinking about it, I have a vague recollection that it was some Elizabethan dude…

Sadly I haven’t been able to get a sniff of conformation on this story in connection  with Admiral Rodney or anyone else. The internet, usually a rich source of substantiation for such bollocks, is disturbingly mute on the topic. Then again, it might have been invented in Britain but it’s definitely American and the demand for trivia pertaining to European history is probably limited over there. I expect I’d be more likely to find it using Google.fr. Possibly… if I was better at French. Or maybe I’ll have to find “Our Island’s Story” a three book set of the most engaging and charmingly written, albeit ideologically unsound and dubiously jingoistic, version of British history ever produced.

But I digress. The reason I mention it is because in a small way I like to think I am upholding this proud naval tradition… except with flyers and bookmarks advertising my books rather than acorns.

GooglyJoy

Eyebombing, harmless naughtiness.

Seldom, do I leave the house without my  pockets weighed down by promotional literature; two business card sized things for books one and two, book marks for three and four, and a packet of googly eyes – because if my target area proves unsuitable for leafleting, there’s always eyebombing.

Wherever I go, I leave promotional bumpf, printed at bargain basement cost. If there’s a rack, I put them in. I was particularly gratified, after leaving some in a hotel when I arrived for the night a couple of weekends ago, to find that the staff had straightened them all out nicely with the other leaflets when I went to breakfast the next morning. As if they were legit.

It helps that as a 45 year old bag, I can pretty much dump these things where they’re not supposed to be in broad daylight, because I look like an upstanding member of the community who is far to old to do anything furtive, subversive or childish. Even if I’m right there, sticking googly eyes on the back of a builder’s lorry, or walking into Starbucks and laying out my  leaflets as if I’m a member of staff, I get the impression that the people who witness it can’t quite believe their eyes or assume my presence there is kosher.

There are other stealthy methods I employ. I leaf through books in the fantasy and science fiction departments in book shops and libraries and slip my cards between the pages for readers to find. I shoved a load into all the Terry Pratchett books in Tesco. I leave them on tables in restaurants and bars, on shelves in stores, slipped behind mirrors in public loos. Naturally I left them on the seat on the tube – on the few occasions I went to London.  I slip them under the windscreen wipers of nice looking cars. Indeed, I have not been above sticking fridge magnets with them on to lamp posts in my locale. Sometimes I even leave whole books. I have even convinced myself that all this works because I have been contacted by a fellow who went home and bought both my books after he and his wife started reading a copy one I left on the shelves in Costa.

Perhaps it sounds a bit strange but all this clandestine activity makes me feel better. As if I am at least pushing the envelope, even if I seem spectacularly unable to push my actual books onto anyone.

It’s easy to get disheartened being an author, even about the things that make you happy, so, for example, a while back, an author friend had a book picked as a read of the month on a forum I visit. I was genuinely over the moon for him because he’d missed out for so long. But it also made me feel a bit disheartened because it occurred to me that of the authors I know well, in the cyber sense, on that forum, I am now the only one who hasn’t ever had a book read in the monthly reads thing. Occasionally stuff like that catches me on the hop and makes me churlishly low – even while I’m being delighted for someone else. I suspect it’s because books are very personal things to write so it’s easy to take that sort of thing the wrong way and feel like the kid in the playground nobody wants to talk to.

Well, we all go through these ups and downs but folks, if you’re going through a down like that I proscribe a bit of stealth marketing, or, if you read books rather than write them, try a bit of cathartic eyebombing. Seriously, it’s a hoot and it’ll pep you up in no time.

So anyway,  it was with much amusement that I read this post on indie hero recently confirming  two things. First, I am not the only one who likes a bit of stealth – he calls it guerilla marketing. Second – tsk – I missed a trick.

I must make myself some stickers.

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Amazon is not your friend – reblogged from Chuck Wendig

Except he doesn’t have a reblog button but readers, writers, anyone, read this because what he says is true. Amazon has been involved in a giant price cutting war to annihilate the competition. Once that’s done. Once it’s the only option, it’ll do what it likes. That means if it decides to give self published authors a 1% royalty and keep the rest, it will. Or if it decides to move to a standard model and set it’s royalty rate at 10%, it will.

The competition needs us but more importantly, we need them because we need a free market and we’re close to a monopoly. If you have an iPad, use iBooks, if you have a kindle, buy your .mobi files from Smashwords and send them to your kindle, yourself. Mr Wendig is bang on the nail with this one free trade has to survive or we’re stuffed. So if anyone out there has any ideas as to how we can attract the customers using these other retailers answers on a post card please!

Here’s the post, warning, if you are upset by that kind of thing, he’s quite a sweary bloke. Think that man I can never remember the name of, Cardinal Richleau, Dr Who… oh yes, Peter Capaldi, doing In The Thick of It. Yeh… like that only less angry and not nasty. You can read the post here.

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