Thursday 29 March 2012

Sales Riding High!

For some reason, my UK sales of Hamelin's Child are going through the roof this month. I've now trebled my February sales and there are still a few days left in March. US sales are still just ticking slowly along, which is perhaps just as well as I still haven't got my tax ID sorted out - need to ring the embassy in London and check if it's OK for Andy to go on my behalf, since he's often in London for work and I've been once in the last 10 years!

Why are sales so good? What am I doing that I wasn't doing before? I suspect it's one or both of two things. The first is simply that success breeds success. Once sales reach a certain level or a specific number/day or whatever, certain algorithms kick on in amazon and the book starts appearing in "people who bought x also looked at y" type of lists - the ones you see on the screen whenever you browse amazon. The secret of these lists is to get associated with someone who sells hundreds of thousands of books in your genre and tap into their market - I don't think I'm there yet, but fingers crossed!

And then there is Authors Electric: a daily blog by professional UK authors independently publishing ebooks. Now people might quibble over the word professional, but the fact is the majority of the 28 writers involved have been and/or still are published by the traditional print publishers (generally "the big 6" or imprints thereof). Most of these writers are either publishing new work straight to ebook themselves or have the electronic rights to their other books. Remember that it's only recently that electronic rights were even thought about in standard book contracts.

I was lucky enough to be invited to join AE at its inception by fantasy writer Katherine Roberts. Over the past few months, some of the authors have been giving talks at events (I believe some of them will be at the London Book Fair in April) and involving their media contacts - with the result that the site is getting over 7,000 hits per month. It's something I'm proud to be a part of, even though I can never think of anything remotely interesting to blog about on my nominated day of 6th of each month.

Via AE, there is also indie e-book review, run by author Cally Phillips. This is one of a number of new sites aimed at showcasing and reviewing quality indie ebooks. To make it on here, a book must meet a high standard of editing and writing, as well as be a good story and not all books received are accepted for review. Hamelin was reviewed last week and I also review books for the site.

So are these the reasons for the books success? I don't suppose I'll ever know for sure. I know that I get some recommendations - old school friend Jane Spence says she promotes me to people we knew at school and for that I am grateful. School was long, long ago and very far away (and probably in a different galaxy), and I'm surprised anyone even remembers me as I don't think I made much of an impression and I didn't keep in touch with more than a handful of people!

Meanwhile I'm just enjoying the ride while it lasts and trying to get some work done on other stuff.

Monday 26 March 2012

Small Publisher or Pure Indie? Choose Carefully

More and more I'm seeing these small press/publishers springing up. On facebook, I see people announcing the publication of their book by X and Y Publishers and I take a look out of curiosity. I want to be happy for them, really I do, but I read the first few pages on amazon and they are often riddled with errors - missing words, grammar issues and spelling mistakes.

If you self-publish as an indie, you really should hire an editor, or just a proof-reader, or even just a beta reader with a good grasp of the written language. Everything helps. It's not always about money. There are often students who will do this work for free in exchange for a reference, or you do a reciprocal read of another author's manuscript.

If you sign with a small publisher, you can be forgiven for thinking that as they are presumably taking a percentage of your earnings, you are entitled to at least a basic level of editing and proof-reading. Apparently not always. Maybe the publisher doesn't care? Maybe the publisher hasn't bothered to check, or worse still - doesn't spot errors. Or doesn't think their readers will care or notice? But by putting books out there, they are inviting criticism and sooner or later it will come. So why not make the work the best it can be before it is published in the first place?

Don't get me wrong - I have read some amazingly good books from indie authors and small publishers. Books where it's clear that both author and/or editor/publisher/whoever have taken an immense amount of care with every chapter. Check out some of the many blogs and websites that are springing up in an attempt to identify and market these books.

Indie authors - before you sign with a small publisher, please check out their website and other books they have published. The website should be immaculate - it's their shop front - and there is no excuse whatsoever for sloppy writing here. And if you find mistakes in other books, why do you think they will take any more care with yours?

Thursday 22 March 2012

Who Reviews the Reviewers?

I've got a lovely review up today at indie e-book review. It's by crime writer Chris Longmuir and I was impressed by the quality and depth of the review. But it made me think about reviews in general and how they work both for and against the writer and the reviewer.

I've been a "professional" reviewer - in that many years ago I used to get paid for book reviews by national media magazine Starburst. I've reviewed an awful lot of books for the British Fantasy Society and am still on several publishers' review lists, despite the cutbacks. I've even got into the habit now of writing brief reviews on most things I read and posting on Amazon and/or Goodreads - not least because it gives me a more balanced set of reviews, so that when I really have something to say, it gets taken more seriously. I mean do you trust an Amazon reviewer who gives everything 5* and says it's all wonderful? You need a certain amount of credibility as a reviewer before you attain any level of respect.

And that's the problem with Amazon, isn't it? Anyone can post a review (much like anyone can upload a book). And I think that's a good thing - everyone is entitled to their own opinion and really there is nothing wrong with a 5* It's awesome and a plot summary. So long as a) the reviewer doesn't do that with every book he/she reads, and b) the reviewer isn't your uncle/best friend/dad or worse still - another author who is expecting a review on their own book in return.

Reciprocal reviews are all too common amongst indie authors. I'm not sure they work and they are certainly viewed with suspicion from outside. What do you do if the book you are reading is truly awful? I'd like to think I have sufficient writing and editing experience now to be able to read and appraise/review something that may not be my choice of reading material. I've reviewed books I wouldn't have chosen to read - and have discovered some great new authors this way. But I've also tried to review books where the author really needed to engage the services of an editor before publication. And it's hard to know what to do in this case. I once even reviewed a print book by a small press by reading the first ten pages and the last ten pages ...

Reviews have different functions. Amazon reviews are meant to be almost ad copy - to sell more books, whereas Goodreads reviews are often far more discussion-orientated and the reviewer more likely to go into detail and nit-pick over everything. Reviews where you've been sent an advance review copy (ARC) by a traditional publisher are expected to be generally positive, although you can get away with the shit-sandwich style review if you're clever. But many reviews on Amazon are by trolls, disgruntled authors whose books are selling worse than yours, friends of said authors - look on these as a blessing! No, they may not be nice but potential buyers of your book will see them for what they are  and it gives you a far more balanced set of reviews. And anybody who genuinely doesn't like your book is not your intended audience anyway - this simply shows your book is reaching a wider market.

There are discussions around the net (such as here) as to whether review sites will become the new gatekeepers of quality fiction. With more and more books being uploaded onto amazon and other ebook sites, there will have to be ways of finding what you want to read. And I think reviews will become a part of this. Maybe one day, the national press might review indie books too? And then we will know we have arrived!

Thursday 15 March 2012

The Power of Words

Isn't it funny how words can elicit such emotion? Whether they're written, spoken or sung, they have the power - often literally - of life and death. "Will you marry me?", "Guilty.", "I'm leaving you." In a crown court, you swear on the bible and that makes your spoken testimony admissible. In church, you say "I do" and you are supposedly bound for the rest of your life to the person next to you.

Songs are the same. Even just a snatch - a line or a few bars can instantly transport you to a certain event, place or time, with often no discernible reason for the association. A particular hymn, for example, always reminds me of swimming lessons in my local pool when I was about 7 or 8. I have no idea why my brain makes this connection or what set that neural path way back. Some songs are much easier to make sense of - certain songs will remind me of teenage slow dances, or the New Year party  when I was 16 and first met a 21 year-old, who I was hopelessly and - I suspect - unrequitedly in love with for a long time (yes, we've all been there, haven't we?).

Is it the same with books? There are passages in novels I can read over and over, without reading the whole book. It's just the combination of words that sets something off in my mind. Or scenes that are so powerful you remember them for a long time afterwards. Yes, I'm thinking here of people like you: M McRae and Laura Jarrett, writers I've read very recently who can make scenes and characters so believable and alive that I'm sure they actually are. If enough people believe in something, does that make it true?

As a writer you have to think this way. To make a character come alive on the page, he or she has to be real to you first. And when a character shows up in your story - often unannounced - and demands to be listened to is when the story takes on a life of its own. This can often be difficult - right now I feel like I am living two lives. One where I go to work and build pretty twiddly bits on computers, then come home, look after family etc. And one where I'm a part of something else entirely and my job is to faithfully record events as they unwind. Sometimes it's not even the writing - it's the listening and talking to the characters, finding out what makes them tick that's all a part of the process. Take today - I haven't written a word of the current novel, but I've had some fascinating discussions with the voices in my head and I know where they've been, where they are going and why.

Either than or I'm completely mad.

Monday 5 March 2012

One Year Indie

I sent my first indie ebook out into the world at the end of February 2011. I'd been thinking about it since the previous Christmas, but getting a kindle as a birthday present in January gave me the final push I needed. Firstly it was a collection of short stories, Maniac, with a cover by the amazingly-talented Pete Gorrell. This was my test-ebook, to get a feel for the amazon upload process and how it all worked. And then, after a last-minute edit, panic and crisis of confidence, my two wonderful beta-reader friends Lallie & Jake gave me the final push I needed to launch my novel onto the unsuspecting public.

So what happened next? I flirted with the amazon forums for a few weeks before they got anti-author. In lurking there, I met a some interesting people and was lucky enough to connect with writer, agent and editor Al Guthrie, who politely told me that he'd love to feature my book on his blog, but I needed to redo my cover. With his help and that of his recommended designer JT Lindroos, we came up with the awesome current cover for Hamelin's Child.

In June, I was invited by award-winning fantasy writer Katherine Roberts to  join her at the start of a new writing initiative AuthorsElectric, a blog by traditionally-published writers self-publishing their backlists and/or new works. As someone who has never been traditionally published (though I've had a couple of near-misses), I was chuffed to be asked and have been contributing a regular monthly post ever since.

In September I published a YA fantasy Edge of Dreams with another Lindroos cover and uploaded all 3 to smashwords.

In October, a paid-advert with E-Reader News Today generated more than 500 sales of Hamelin over a few days. Apart from that peak, sales have been steady, with mostly great reviews. In fact the only negative review I had on Goodreads was more to do with subject matter than writing and that's fair enough. I know it's a marmite novel and that's why it has a warning in the book description. Sales of the other two books are nowhere near as high but then I don't promote them much - I haven't quite worked out how to be both an adult thriller writer and a YA fantasy writer and I'm still paranoid that a YA reader might come across my thriller (despite the fact that one of my readers said he'd be happy letting his teenage daughter read it).

Over the first few days of this month, sales have rocketed - I have no idea why - but I'm currently selling more than 3 times my normal numbers each day. There've been rumours of issues with amazon's KDP process, so maybe I have somebody else's sales figures! Either that or I'm on an also-bought list somewhere, but long may it last!

And what's on the horizon? I'm mid-way through Paying the Piper - a follow-on to Hamelin's Child, plus there's another YA title Flashpoint in the pipeline. Then I have a traditional high fantasy that I spent several months working on with an editor from Orion many, many years back. Real life got in the way and said editor departed publishing for a life in the country. But given that I've built some kind of platform now, I might try the traditional route for that one - just to test the water. I'm also writing the occasional short story for anthologies and competitions.

So one year on. I'm a published author. I've made some money - not enough to give up the day job, but better than nothing. And was it worth it? Hell, yes!