Monday, 29 July 2013

Carnival of the Indies: Amazon and Marketing

Have you read this month's edition of Self-Publishing: Carnival of the Indies? Two of my blog posts are included!

Scroll down to the heading Marketing and Selling Your Books and I reveal all about my experiences of playing with Amazon categories to influence my kindle book rankings. 

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Thinking it and Doing it

Having crossed the scary bridge on Sark. (Picture Roger Hyland)

Thinking it and doing it are two very different activities.  Thinking it is fun.  Doing it is graft. Why is there such a big gap between imagination and action and why is that bridge so hard to cross?
I love learning.  Learning new stuff is exciting, a voyage of discovery.  Then there’s putting into practice the things you’ve learned.  That’s harder.  In some cases we never make that transition from learning it to doing it. 

So why is that?  Is it laziness?  Why am I stopping myself from doing the things I tell myself I want to do?

When I was a child I decided to be a writer.  And I just kept writing, so I was a writer. I worked hard.  I kept going. Eventually,  I became a published author.  Why can’t I transfer this determination to other things I want to do? 

I gave up singing because I never practiced enough between lessons, but I still fantasised about singing in concerts and shows, pictured myself standing there and wowing the crowd.  Ha!  Recently I had a lesson after a 20 year gap.  I loved it and got a real buzz, and I’ve started to think about all the songs I want to do but have I practised?  I think you know the answer. 

Today I went for a run.  I’m making exceedingly slow progress considering I took it up over a year ago.  I frustrate myself with my lack of willpower, still picturing a future me with a svelte frame and bags of energy.  The health benefits should be motivation enough.

It’s not that I don’t run, or never practised at all.  I’m inconsistent with my efforts and all too easily make excuses for myself.

So, back to the writing.  Well, now I apply the same lack of consistency to this, too.  Marketing is fun.  Blogging, part of the marketing, is also fun.  Writing a novel is hard work. I compare writing a novel to building a house.  Laying the foundations, stacking the bricks – that’s hard slog.  But decorating the house – that’s the fun part.  Like promoting the novel.  It’s great to play with categories and tinker with search keywords, and experiment with social media.  More fun than laying bricks.

I’m not playing down the importance of marketing – I love marketing and it’s been my job for over 25 years.  I just find it easier than writing a novel.  That’s how I see it. 

Do you prefer building your house or decorating it?

Related post:

Friday, 26 July 2013

Exceptional Horsemanship from Lauren Woodard: Guest Blog Post

Today I'm really thrilled to introduce fellow horse lover, writer, teacher, trainer and owner of Exceptional Horsemanship Lauren Woodard - all the way from Phoenix, Arizona!  That's what I love about the internet - being able to connect with so many wonderful people - and I met Lauren via Linked-in.  I'm always amazed how incredibly busy folk manage to fit everything into their lives - and write too - since I struggle with my writing routine.  So, I asked Lauren a few key questions about this...

What 5 things couldn’t you do without for your writing?
1) The main thing for my writing is both a blessing and a curse. My daily exposure to the plethora of issues, problems, challenges, skills needs, concept understanding (or lack thereof) and growth of horse and human in this horsemanship business.
The list of stuff to write about grows ever longer each day. I write a sentence or two of what happened during lessons and training so the concept can be explored further in my newsletter, training blog, fb post and books. I will never get to the end. There will never be an end.

2) Laptop – I’m learning how to get more comfortable on it as I generally write on legal pads.

3) iPad – jotting down brainstorming ideas everywhere, everyday.

4) Colored gel pens – I love the feel of them gliding along drooling purple, turquoise, orange and green ink.

5) My herd. My physical, mental, emotional and spiritual stability – not to mention their host of stories.

How do you fit it all in?
I don’t. I’ll never be done, I’m constantly re-prioritizing and even though I know this, I add more to do every day. Ah well. Life. I never have been and will NEVER be bored.

What about your new book? Why did you write it?
I was in the middle of writing what I thought was going to be my next book called, Horse Tricks, Like Leading. I wrote two blog posts called Balky, Balky, I Ain’t Goin’ and Into the Burning Building and got a whole bunch of emails filled with stories from folks asking what to do with their balky horse. I realized that this is something that happens to everyone, pretty much every day in some aspect or another and people not only didn’t know what to do, but were actually taught to do something that works out a lot better for the horse than the person.

What about marketing?
Well, that’s a subject vast in scope. Like horsemanship. And it’s taken me quite a while and a lot of studying to begin learning how it fits with me, my time and my idea of what I want. It doesn’t matter how good your book is if no one reads it. Just because it’s available on Amazon doesn’t mean it will sell. I’m a bit quirky. I love what I consider “good titles”. But they won’t fall into SEO keywords. I have, however, come to grips with the fact that I won’t have a best seller. Not only that, I believe I’m creating a new niche in the small niche of horse books. A niche within a niche—yeah that’s popular! That probably reduces my sales even further until folks read my books and realize just how valuable this special info is and that no one else is putting it out there. I’m here for the people that really want to explore and grasp the concepts of exceptional horsemanship that not only aren’t in books but also, generally aren’t even taught by trainers and instructors.

I am finding out that facebook is a huge tribe builder asset. People don’t like to be sold to, but they like to find out about you and then be able to check you out, get the free training newsletter and frequently end up with friends who find you. I realized a few weeks ago that I hadn’t posted anything about my book Curbside Service on fb in a year, so I put in a short blurb and sales perked up. It’s nice to be able to track clicks, too.

My goal is to keep building my email list through newsletter sign-ups and eventually figure out some sort of membership site to advance people’s horsemanship for those who want to be exceptional.
I also have books available at demo’s and clinics that I do and it’s just a blast to have people write to me or post on fb how much my book has helped them and their horse.

When it comes to fiction, who do you like to read?
I’m a murder mystery kind of girl. I also like the espionage/action adventure stuff of Daniel Silva, Dan Brown, Lee Child and I’m a serious Harry Potter fan. I’m usually reading about 4 books at a time including horse books, psychology, marketing, cookbooks (I LOVE baking and cooking) and something in Spanish (I’ve been studying that for 15 years).

About Lauren:
Lauren tackles the concepts of horsemanship that are ignored both in print and in lessons and training. She says: I'm extremely resolute on two aspects of everything: only the best quality skills and I adhere to exacting standards of precision. Attention to both is what makes the difference between good and exceptional in horsemanship.” Yet a necessary component for Lauren includes fun as in funny and witty repartee.

If you want to be “…mostly like no one else” check out the site at:

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Get Matty and the Moonlight Horse free - for a limited period only!

Calling all horse lovers! Matty and the Moonlight Horse is free to download from now until Thursday.
So why is it free?  Because I hope you will read it, love it and want to buy the next two books in the trilogy.  And since all the royalties go to Redwings Horse Sanctuary, you will also be helping horses in need.

Click the link below if you want to try it.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Now you DO see it....making your book visible on Amazon

Right, after fiddling with the Amazon categories for my e-books on Monday I decided to check if sales (or my ranking) had improved. So did it work?  Well, here are the results.

Follow-up review of Amazon ranking undertaken on Wednesday

Coming Home is now 108,192 Paid in the UK Kindle Store; on Monday it was 76,745.  So that’s worse! But it is now 76 in a top 100 category, which increases visibility and hopefully sales.  Although I had selected (or so I thought) the category for Books/Pets/Cats, to my surprise I saw that Amazon had put it in the non-fiction category as follows:
·         Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #108,192 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
o    #76 in Kindle Store > Books > Nonfiction > Home & Garden > Animal Care & Pets > Cats

I clicked on this and found that the sub category Amazon used was Cat Care.  Okay. Not what I expected. But I was by no means the only cat fiction book in there – I was in good company, with the wonderful Mog, by Judith Kerr, for example.  So I didn’t feel that I was being somehow (albeit unintentionally) dishonest.  And the book had moved from obscurity to visibility!  Hurrah!

Panicking a bit, I decided to check Matty and the Problem Ponies, which I had listed under the Pets/Horses category and discovered that although it had gone from 48,935 paid in Kindle Stores on Monday to 113,002 (a lot worse!) it was now in the top 100 for the new category.

Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #113,002 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
o    #73 in Kindle Store > Books > Nonfiction > Home & Garden > Animal Care & Pets > Horses

Again, I was in good company with lots of other fictional pony books. 
So let’s take a little stroll over to the USA to and see what gives there….

On the page for Beware of the Horse I saw this banner under my book info:

Best Books of the Year So Far
Best Books of the Year So Far
Looking for something good to read? Browse our editors' picks for the Best Books of the Year So Far in fiction, nonfiction, mysteries, romance, and much more.

Cheers, Amazon!  At first glance it looks like my book is in the Best Book List (it isn’t!) but great association for my title. One of those random things that Amazon does that can be really helpful for writers.

·         Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #13,358 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
o    #45 in Kindle Store > Books > Fiction > Children's Fiction > Animals
o    #46 in Kindle Store > Books > Children's eBooks > Animals

On Monday, it was 30,867 in paid Amazon kindle store, so it has dramatically improved ranking overall, but slipped a bit in the sub-category, down from 32 on Monday.  I just changed one of the search engine words for this title and left the categories as they were, but I may have to review this again soon.

Matty and the Moonlight Horse and Matty and the Problem Ponies has a similar banner, although I’m not in the Best Books list. (I checked!)

Best Books of the Year So Far
Best Books of the Year So Far: Children's Books
Looking for the best books for kids? Browse our editors' picks for the Best Books of 2013 So Far and the best new releases for kids of all ages.
Matty and the Racehorse Rescue and Coming Home both have this banner beneath the title details:
Summer Reading
Summer Reading
Browse the best books for every age and adventure including popular series, classics, and editors' picks in our Kids Summer Reading Store.

But the other 2 Matty titles (which I didn’t change to this category) don’t rank in any of the top 100 categories, so I will have to see if listing them under Sports/Equestrian has any effect. 
Coming Home, however, has made a dramatic shift.  On Monday it was 423,201 in the Paid kindle store.  Virtually invisible.  It now ranks as follows:
·         Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,754 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
o    #36 in Books > Crafts, Hobbies & Home > Pets & Animal Care > Cats
o    #52 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Children's eBooks > Animals > Cats

I have been doing a bit of social media promotion for Coming Home which I know resulted in a few sales so this may have contributed – but the “new” category of Pets and Animal Care puts me on Page 2 of Cat Care.  

So did it work?  Judging by the results so far I'd say Yes! 

Thank you David Gaughran!   

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Writing the Characters We Like (to Read About?)

Writer E. A. Durden, in an article for Glimmer Train, says, “A gulf yawns between the stories I love to read and the stories I write. I see it every time I work on a draft. My fundamental problem: I want my fictional characters to be liked. I make them too nice. Decency is the scourge I must arm myself against.

I think many writers would identify with this. I enjoy reading about characters who are complex, conflicted, flawed, and, sometimes, not especially nice!  We are fascinated about gaining insights about the human experience.  Life, loss, hope, dreams.  We all experience these.  Some of the writers I most admire explore dark subjects and amoral characters, tackling aspects of the human psyche that can be difficult to confront.  Yet I have an innate anxiety about writing in this way.  It scares me.   

I have done it a few times in several short stories for adults – but when I read back over them, sometimes I’m left feeling uncomfortable that such characters and plots came from my imagination. Like I am responsible for their actions. Which, since I created them, I am.  All very baffling.  Maybe I’m worried that the people I know will judge me negatively if I create monsters? If you can offer any insights I would be interested to hear them.

Anyway, thanks to the wonderful I recently read and enjoyed 2 excellent pieces that explored issues such as these. 

Is what you like to read different from what you write about?  Does this mean anything?  Can our understanding of this inform our work as writers?


 Related posts: 

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

What’s in a Name?

In April this year, J.K.Rowling had published a crime novel called The Cuckoo's Calling under the pen name Robert Galbraith.

The author was quoted as saying Being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience. It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.”

The novel was apparently submitted to editors under the new pen name, and was turned down by at least one editor.  After publication, the book received great reviews but less commercial success, with, apparently, only 1500 copies sold.  

Then, the author’s identity was “leaked” via Twitter and, unsurprisingly, within hours the book had shot to No. 1 on the Amazon best-seller lists in both Britain and the United States.


Monday, 15 July 2013

Now you see it……book visibility, categories and Amazon ranking

Yesterday I spent 2 hours checking that the categories for my kindle books were the most appropriate and this resulted in changes in most cases.  I did the same for my search words. There was a reason for this.  One of my titles is selling much better than the others.  MUCH better.  And I still don’t know why. It is certainly more visible than the others – is this because it is selling better or is that why it is selling better?  Chicken or egg?

Beware of the Horse is ranked 12,476 of all paid books in the Amazon UK kindle store, which is fantastic. This means that it ranks 32 in the top 100 kindle store/books/fiction/children’s fiction/animals, which is turn means that it shows up on Page 2 of the top kindle books page in that category. For a while it was in the top 20, so was on Page 1. 

In the US, it ranks 40 in a similar list, so still appears on Page 2 (just) and its overall ranking in the kindle paid store is 30,867.  I pretended I was a reader searching for the book and clicked on some of the search options. For Children’s Horse Books, which yields 7234 results, it appears on Page 1. For kindle store/horses it is on Page 1 in the centre of the 2nd row. Very noticeable! And in kindle store/ebooks/teen & YA/literature/fiction/horses it is the first book on Page 1 of 266 pages. Before War Horse, which is the second book!  Before you get too excited (I did!) this ranking is in terms of search relevance (not popularity or sales!!). Even so, in terms of visibility, this is a great result.

Yay! You’d think I would be a millionaire by now (ha ha!) if you knew nothing about the publishing process and the mysterious Amazon algorithms. Clearly, I’m not – you only have to look at the overall ranking of the book in the US, ie 30,867 to realise that.  

However, it does make you understand how important the categories are.  I wondered if the fact that the book appears in the Teen and Young Adult category for horses, which only lists 263 books in this group, as opposed to 798 for children’s horse books, is significant. 

To put this into context with my other books, which I promote more actively, the rankings as of yesterday (they change hourly) in the Paid in Kindle store are as follows:

Title                                                                                     Amazon UK
Coming Home                                                                        423,201                 76,745
Matty & the Moonlight Horse                                          338,972                 85,325
Matty & the Problem Ponies                                             659,019                 48,935
Matty and the Racehorse Rescue                                    727,973                 57,135

You will understand why I am so pleased about the ranking of Beware of the Horse by comparison – and the enormous challenge of selling any books at all when the competition is immense – especially on, which is a much bigger pool.  Since I donate my royalties from the Matty Books and Coming Home to animal charities, I have a powerful incentive to drive sales.  The Matty series was the first I published, when I still had even more to learn than I do now, and sales were steady for the first few months but are now dropping off. When I checked the categories I had selected it was fiction/general and juvenile fiction/general, which is not exactly making the best use of my available choices.  There are only 2 categories for authors to select, but there are sub categories within some of these, so I have changed to Juvenile Fiction/Animals/Horses (which I chose for Beware of the Horse) and the second is now Pets/Horses for one title and Sports/Equestrian for the others.  Phew! I will monitor sales and see if this makes a difference. 

Visibility of the titles when you put horses or ponies into the search bar isn’t too bad for the Matty series.  However, I am really struggling with Coming Home, my cat story, which simply doesn’t appear for pages when you put cat or cats in the search bar.  I’ve tweaked my search words and changed one of the categories.  But I think the main problem is the fact I don’t have the word “Cat” in the title of the book.  Realising this after publication, I added a sub-title (The Journey of Two Special Cats) which helped a bit, but I will have to change the title of the book if visibility doesn’t improve.  (It did have a sales spike, after some frenetic promotion, but unfortunately this did not last long, despite the book having great reviews).

I have more marketing ideas and plans for all the books, and it is still very early days, (I’ve not had a complete sales year yet with any of the titles so far) and I’m determined to raise lots for the charities. 

What I love about indie publishing is the fact that you can monitor your sales and if you aren’t satisfied, you can take action. It is this element of control that I enjoy, and finding ways to get round obstacles. 

Recommended readingLet’s Get Visible: How to get noticed and sell more books by David Gaughran.  More than recommended – this book is a must for indie authors and anyone interested in marketing for writers. I refer to it constantly. 

Related posts:

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Marketing for Writers and Being an Authorpreneur

This week I've been thinking about marketing in relation to books and indie publishing, probably because I'm giving a talk in Canterbury next week on Wednesday 17th July which is called  Being a Writer Entrepreneur
If you want to find out more click on the link below. 

I've also read a couple of excellent articles for writers.  The first, from the wonderful Joanna Penn, is all about marketing and the other is how to fund your work through Crowdfunding.  Great reads!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Write what haunts you

       Photo of rocks in ocean mist by Roger Hyland

I just read an interesting post by Melissa R. Sipin called Write What Haunts You on Glimmer Train which really resonated with me. We are often told that passion for our subjects should shine through the writing, which I agree with, although this can often be hard to sustain.  Everyone has ups and downs with writing, days when you feel like giving up, or that you have no more to say, or are simply burnt out.  

But writing what haunts you - that is wonderful advice. I'm not talking about the supernatural here (although it can encompass this) but thoughts and ideas that compel us, that revisit us time and again; issues that preoccupy us; problems to solve, that won't leave us until we have worked through them.  Whether this finds release and voice in a diary or fiction doesn't matter.  We have pictures and images in our head that remain fixed - happy or sad - or precious moments and memories that we hold and will never forget. These "ghosts" can transform our work and lend it authenticity.

Most writers discover, sometimes over a period of time, that there are themes that they continue to revisit, characters they want to return to; or simply obsessions that embed themselves into the work, unbidden but persistent threads, that are so much a part of us that they will not be silent. 

What haunts us can be deeply personal, not to be discussed with another living soul, but which can find a safe haven through the words we write.

In my own work, journeys continue to haunt me and find expression. What haunts you, and can you use it to enrich your writing?