Thursday, 28 February 2013

Lessons in Indie Publishing: Free books and the mystery of Amazon rankings

Six months ago I indie published my first backlist series (Matty Horse and Pony Adventures) and worked very hard indeed to promote the titles, especially since I donate all the royalties from this series to Redwings Horse Sanctuary.  I took part in the Amazon free promotions to gain attention for the books and encourage reviews.  I'm not sure how successful this was, but after months of work the books are selling steadily in the UK,with few sales in the US and other territories.  When the books were on free promo I contacted the various sites that will highlight this and listed the books.

Very recently, I published another backlist title called Beware of the Horse and offered it free for 2 days. I did no promotion whatsoever for this on Day 1, other than tell my partner.  To my utter astonishment, the free offer resulted in downloads in all Amazon territories (a first!).  On Day 1 the book was listed as No 22 in teen literature fiction e-books in Top 100 bestseller category

and already has one review (4 star)  and in the UK, it made No 9 on the Kindle children's ebook (animals) category for Top 100 free bestsellers.  These categories are updated HOURLY.

I'm utterly baffled.  I should hasten to add that although listed in the best seller category the books have been downloaded a total of 255 in all territories, so not even in the 1000s.  But obviously I am thrilled that it made those lists because it brings the books to more people's attention when they are in those Amazon  categories.  Is it the cover design?  Chapter titles?

So what is the lesson I have learnt?  Well, when I started to write this post it was about the value of free promos - what is the point?  There is a thought-provoking blog post about this topic by Russell Blake over at which discusses how useful the KDP Select free program is for authors, and whether or not Amazon has changed the algorithm so free downloads count as even less towards ranking on the popularity lists.

"From what I can tell, free now has 5% or less of the impact on ranking than it originally did, meaning that if you don’t land in the Top 40, you won’t see any bump in sales. I believe this is because Amazon dislikes free as much as many authors do. It served its purpose, but now it’s hurting sales and has created an environment where a certain segment of readers no longer buy books they might have, preferring to download free books instead........On December 27, there were 43K books free. You’re reading that correctly. 40 might see a post-free bump in sales. The other 42,960 titles won’t, and the authors either wasted their time or saturated their own market and diminished their likelihood of selling anything."

This got me thinking.  Can you saturate your own market?  I believe you can.  Can offering free books harm rather than help actual sales?  I will be monitoring actual paid sales of my latest title with great interest.  So far, it's still in the top 40 for paid ebooks in its own category and the US sales to date are more than any of my 6 other ebooks combined.  I'm puzzled, but not complaining.  And I'd really like to know what has happened that has achieved this result so I can duplicate it!

Related post:

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The Writing Platform Bursary

Writers might be interested in a new funding opportunity, details below.

The Writing Platform Bursary is designed to support inter-disciplinary learning and collaboration between writers and technologists. The fund will support two one-off bursaries of £3000 and is intended to encourage experimentation and innovation in digital publishing and the judges will be looking for projects that explore an issue that is relevant to the wider writing community and ideas that make creative use of existing, readily available, digital tools and platforms to achieve their aims. 

Each bursary will be allocated to a project team, consisting of one writer and one technologist, who will work on a jointly conceived digital literature project for a period of three months (from 1st April – 30th June 2013).
Applications to the Writing Platform Bursary will be judged by Kate Pullinger, Professor of Creative Writing and Digital Media at Bath Spa University; Joanna Ellis, Associate Director of The Literary Platform and Leila Johnston, creative technologist and Managing Editor of The Literary Platform. The deadline for applications is midday on Tuesday 12th March 2013.
For more info go to:

Monday, 25 February 2013

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Business of Writing: Part 1

Apparently, the majority of new businesses fail in the first year – something like 85%.  This can be a trifle discouraging if you have an entrepreneurial tendency.  
If, like so many writers,  you are going to self-publish, you are creating a commercial enterprise and you have to become a retail sales specialist and take all the steps needed to make it work.  For example:
·         product quality control
·         packaging
·         distribution
·         marketing
·         sales
·         customer support

You have to write a good book (product), make sure it has a great cover (packaging) and then make it visible so people know how to buy it. (marketing and promotion).
This all sounds surprisingly simple.  Which it is. But simple isn’t the same as easy.  Which it isn’t.
It helps if you enjoy every aspect of the process, because it is a lot of hard work.  But it can be fun and you will learn loads on the way.  I did.  And I’m still learning.

Six months ago I brought out my first backlist title: Matty and the Moonlight Horse.  I was so stunned that I had actually achieved this, I then became terrified to promote it in case everyone hated it.  Very silly indeed.  I didn’t tell anyone it was on Amazon for the first week, and therefore it never sold a single copy.  Then I started promoting actively, and gradually, over the next few months, sales began to build and continue to be steady.  Important, since I donate the royalties to Redwings Horse Sanctuary. 

By contrast, I recently brought out my 5th backlist title for the kindle.  It’s called Beware of the Horse.  Within a few hours of it being on Amazon, I already sold one copy, which astonished me.  This was before I had even told my partner it was there, let alone anyone else!  So I feel I have made some progress and that the continued work is paying off. 

Note to self when motivation is flagging: was founded in 1994 but did not show a profit (a tiny one) until late in 2001.

There are lots of brilliant blogs out there that provide invaluable information for anyone considering taking the indie route. I have listed a few below and will explore this topic further in a future post.

Related posts to check out:

Blog Taking Stock reposted on Carnival of the Indies

Monday, 18 February 2013

Interview at Female First: Matty Books

Today I'm being interviewed over at e-zine Female First.

If you want to check it out the link is here:

This ezine offers great opportunities for writers to promote themselves and their work - go to their Get Published page for info.

Tomorrow I have another story featured on the site.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Every picture tells a story

Today I'm over at Creatabot with a post called, "Every picture tells a story and every story paints a picture."  It's about the importance and psychology of design, especially for book covers.

Click here to read the post:

Friday, 15 February 2013

Beware of the Horse

I have just published my latest title, a horse story for older teens with dark undertones.  It's a novella called Beware of the Horse. Here's the blurb:

A lonely girl with a guilty secret
A troubled boy given a second chance
A dangerous horse everyone is scared of.
Well, almost everyone….

Fifteen year old Jan Bryant is haunted by memories of a tragic riding accident.  Consumed by guilt, she struggles to cope and becomes increasingly withdrawn, much to the concern of her Mum, Irene, a single parent trying to make a new life for both of them.   

Eighteen year old Richard has been in trouble with the police, but is given a second chance by his older brother, Chris.  Together, they run a livery stable and give riding lessons to pay the bills.  
When their paths cross, Richard becomes intrigued by the shy, enigmatic Jan, who has a rare gift with horses but seems determined to keep her distance. 

Both teenagers are trapped by a past that make it difficult to move on.   Like Cassius, the beautiful, damaged and dangerous bay horse that brings them together. 

On the terrible day when Jan’s world falls apart once more, Richard is injured after an impulsive act results in disaster.  Boy, girl and horse become lost.  With their futures inextricably linked, will they see each other again – and find their way out of an increasingly treacherous situation?

Once more, I love what the designer, Klaus Hartleben has produced for the cover.

If you want to check out Beware of the Horse, which is available as an e-book,  the Amazon buy links are here:

If anyone would like a free pdf review copy, do get in touch.

Emotional Entrepreneurs

"Emotional entrepreneurship: why passion + professionalism = success."

This quote come from a fascinating article about what drives fringe theatre producers and after I read it I thought this absolutely applies to writers (especially when they go down the indie publishing route) and other creative producers.  

Read the article here: 

Monday, 11 February 2013

Do digital books make you read faster?

When I was a child, I devoured books at the rate of one or two a day but as I’ve got older (much older!), my reading rate, along with everything else, it seems, has slowed down considerably.  Reading a standard novel can take weeks to finish.  Sometimes longer.
So I was rather surprised the other day to realise that in the space of a few hours I had read Nora Ephron’s I feel Bad About My Neck, was on Chapter 8 of Life of Pi by Yann Martel and almost finished How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months by John Locke.  Frankly, I was astonished. 

Then I looked at what was on my kindle, over 30 books, most already finished. What the hell was going on?  It got me thinking.  In my job and as a writer, I spend a good deal of my working day at a computer screen.  I’m more used to reading words on a screen than on paper now.  So I did some research (via Google of course!) and apparently the way the brain experiences a book (printed) is different to a digital book. 

In fact, if you use a specific technology often enough (or undertake any highly repetitive action) neurons in your brain fire in a certain way and make strong connections so that the action we undertake becomes second nature; effectively “rewiring” the brain and affecting our evolution.  Quite literally,mind-blowing.  

To quote a phrase from Hebb’s Law:
“Neurons that fire together, wire together.”    

Wow!  So is that what’s happening?  My brain has, over a period of time, simply rewired so that my preferred reading platform is now digital rather than paper? 
Who knows?  What matters to me is that I feel like since getting my humble kindle ink, I have rediscovered the joys that reading brought me as a child and which I lost for a big chunk of my life.  I’m really grateful for that.

Related posts:

Friday, 8 February 2013

Eating my words

Whenever I turn on the radio and TV these days I hear commentators making judgements on ebooks which winds me up.  I think there is a certain snobbery about it at the moment - not sure why.  I admit that before I got my kindle, I was a bit anti, because I love books, but I am eating my words, so to speak!  I love my kindle and I still love books.  It really is all about the words.

Related posts:

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The publishing revolution?

I was recently having a clear out and came across some old issues of ALCS* News.  This feature about the “new” technology, got my attention. Written 20 years ago, it predicted who and how the digital revolution would impact. Interesting that the tone of the article assumes that it will be the publishers who will be at the forefront of the revolution.  There isn’t much mention made of writers taking control by indie publishing their own work and bypassing the publishers.  If i-phones or tablets existed then, we weren’t aware of it.  Did Amazon exist 20 years ago? Who could have imagined what a different direction the technology has taken us.

What we face now is a revolution in the way information is transmitted; a change from the familiar carriers, such as books, records, cassettes and films, to an intangible form of delivery by electronic means.  Despite appearance, creators are in a strong position: their work will remain in demand as the indispensable foundation for this new activity.  It is the producers of the traditional carriers who will have to look to their livelihoods…But it is imperative for writers themselves to believe in, and make use of, their strength; if they do not, it will evaporate.
ALCS NEWS July 1993

*The ALCS is the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society, a membership organisation that campaigns for and collects money due to Members for secondary uses of their work. These include such things as photocopying, cable retransmission in the UK and overseas, digital reproduction and educational recording. This sort of income is typically made up of small transactions that are difficult for individual writers to monitor. 

If you write I recommend you join as it can be a valuable source of additional income.

Related post:

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Creative spirit

Further to my recent post How do you deal with rejection? I wanted to share this quote attributed to David Ackert.

“Artists are some of the most driven and courageous people on the face of the earth. They deal with more day to day rejection in one year than most people do in a lifetime. Every day, artists face the financial challenge of living a freelance lifestyle, the disrespect of people who think they should get ‘real’ jobs, and their own fear that they’ll never work again. Every day they have to ignore the possibility that the vision to which they have dedicated their lives is a pipedream. With every passing year, many of them watch as other people their age; achieve the predictable milestones of normal life - the car, the family, the house, the nest egg. But they stay true to their dream, in spite of the sacrifices. Why? Because artists are willing to give their entire lives to a moment - to that line, that laugh, that gesture, or that interpretation that will stir the audience’s soul. Artists are beings who have tasted life’s nectar in that crystal moment when they poured out their creative spirit and touched another’s heart. In that instant, they were as close to magic, God and perfection as anyone could ever be. And in their own hearts, they know that to dedicate oneself to that moment is worth a thousand lifetimes.”
- David Ackert

Artist coach and musician, Qotaye Nelson, has written a thought provoking response to this quote over at