The fastest sale in the west

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Last week I told you about the fabulous window display in David’s bookshop in Cambridge.  But if you peer closely, you will see that something is missing: the first book of the series, “Fatal Forgery”.  Of this particular blue volume, the shop was – shock! horror! – out of stock.  So I emailed them to point out this dire state of affairs and they asked me to drop off two more copies.

When I was next in town, I did just that.  The nice chap with whom I deal – a motorcycle enthusiast called Brian – was in the antiquarian department of his shop chatting to two American ladies.  He broke off his conversation to say hello and I handed over the two books.  “What’s that?” asked one of the ladies, holding out her hand.  “Historical fiction?  London?  Regency?”  She read the first page.  “I’ll have it!”

In short, I watched a bookseller make a 100% profit on my book before my very eyes, and was delighted to do so.  If I could immediately sell half of the books I deliver, I’d be laughing all the way to the bank.

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Sam takes centre stage, or rather page

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One of the very hardest things about being a self-published author is the marketing – which is a fancy name for thinking of ways to sell more books.  Traditional publishing houses have whole departments devoted to this, albeit rather less lavishly staffed and resourced than in times gone by, whereas it’s just little old me at Grossey Mansions Publishing.  (Not a real name, but I quite like the sound of it.)  I try to think of one thing a week to promote Sam in all his five flavours, but it’s not easy.  Occasionally, however, something comes along to give me – and him – a real boost.

Many moons ago, I wrote a weekly article for my local newspaper, all about the joys (or otherwise) of living in Cambridge.  “Susan in the City” appeared every Monday for a decade, and indeed I have gathered my favourite eighty of those columns into a little book.  During my time at the paper I met an editor called Alice Ryan, and when “Faith, Hope and Trickery” was coming over the horizon, my marketing task for one week was to contact Alice – now editing the Cambridge edition of a glossy lifestyle publication called “Velvet Magazine” – and ask/beg her to feature me.  And she did!  And here it is, in all its full-colour, double-page, April splendour:

Velvet Magazine article April 2018

(If that’s tricky to read, you can go to the online magazine instead and head straight for page 64.)

“Velvet” is a giveaway magazine – a rather superior one, in my opinion – and so my lunchtime outing today is to the local hairdresser to scoop up a few copies, which should please Sam as a former barber.  As always, I’ll let you know if the publicity leads to extra sales.

Flying(ish) off the shelves

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I’ve been a bad blogger, I know, but I have an excuse: I’ve been away on holiday.  I spent a week in Galle, in southern Sri Lanka, and I can report that – lovely though it is – Sam will not be visiting it in future books.  Although Ceylon was a British “possession” in the 1820s, I can’t imagine Martha being keen on her husband sailing off for distant tropical lands – and Galle was a pretty rackety place back then, with more formal policing confined to Colombo, nearly seventy miles to the north.

Now that I am back in Blighty, I can update you on the launch of “Faith, Hope and Trickery”.  After a tense time when my original order from CreateSpace nearly failed to show up before my departure on hols, the box of books finally arrived an hour before I left and my husband was roped in as delivery boy to take the reserved copies to my two local bookshops, Heffers and David’s.  Here they are in prime position in the window of David’s – note their wonderful promotion of me as an “local (award-winning) author”, referring to my Discovered Diamonds award for “Portraits of Pretence”!

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A couple of lovely reviews – both stating that they think “FHT” is the best of the Sam series – have appeared on Amazon (you can get a taster on the Reviews page).

And I have just worked out my sales figures for the Kindle edition, and in March 2018 (the month of launch) I sold eleven e-copies.  Paperback sales are harder to calculate, as the CreateSpace website is not updated instantly, but I think we’re looking at ten copies sold via Amazon in March, plus the ten delivered to Heffers and the three to David’s.

Meanwhile, the withdrawal symptoms have started already, and I am turning my mind to “Plank 6” – I’m researching the history of the Cayman Islands, and of plant-based poisons…

All by myself

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You know that saying, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”?  Well, I am really struggling today with that first part – accepting things I cannot change.  One of my reasons for publishing “Faith, Hope and Trickery” on the date I did was to have my own big box of books from CreateSpace in my grubby paws by today, because tomorrow I am off on holiday for a week (hurrah!).  In order to do that, I paid handsomely for super-duper-über-speedy delivery.  And I waited.  Last Thursday I had a little email from CreateSpace to say that my parcel had been dispatched, and giving me the UPS tracking numbers.  Of which UPS had never heard.  And – skipping over the boring bits – yesterday I heard from CreateSpace: “I researched your account and found an unexpected delay in the shipping process.  We’re working to resolve the technical issue and will ship your order as soon as possible.”  With the best will in the world, that parcel is not going to arrive today.  And breathe….

On the positive side, two bookshops have already said that they want to stock the book – one is taking three copies, and the other is taking ten.  I have three reviewers lined up, champing at the bit to get their books, and of course I want to stroke my vanity by submitting a copy to the hallowed archives of the University Library.  All of this, however, will now have to wait until CreateSpace remembers that its role in life is to print books and send them out.  I bet this doesn’t happen to John Grisham.

(On the matter I raised the other day – about whether to keep “Fatal Forgery” as a bargain Kindle book – one friend has said this: “My instincts around your 99p question is that if you price something too low, then people may cease to value it.  I find myself not buying really cheap books in the supermarket because I imagine they must somehow be ‘bad’ books if they are that cheap.  I am probably wrong in that assumption but it stops me buying.”  Any other thoughts?)

Pricing and promo problem

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It’s an odd time, post-publication.  For authors with traditional publishing houses behind them, I daresay this is a period of frenzied promotional activity, with champagne-lubricated launches across the world and endless media interviews.  But for little old me, it means sitting here checking the UPS website every ten minutes to track the delivery of my books from CreateSpace in South Carolina, while occasionally looking at Amazon to see whether anyone has left a review.  I know that people are receiving their copies – thank you, Carol in West Row, for your wonderful photos of the grand unwrapping! – and here on my desk I have pre-prepared addressed envelopes ready to send out the review copies as soon as they arrive.

In the meantime, I wanted your opinion on the special price reduction I have done on the Kindle edition of “Fatal Forgery”.  I did it as a way to draw people into the series, just before the appearance of “Faith, Hope and Trickery”, and the initial uptake was encouraging.  I reduced the price to 99p (99¢ in the US; 0.99 euros in the EU) on 7 March.  Between 7 March and 9 March – when I suspect you were all kindly passing on the good news, and I had links on Facebook and Twitter – I sold twelve copies, but nothing since then (I suppose the promo links have fallen from view).  Should I return “FF” to its normal Kindle price, to fit in with the others – that’s about £3.62?  Or should I keep it at 99p permanently, as a sort of entry-level drug to get people to sample the series, and do more puffs about it?  Amazon does occasionally promote its 99p Kindle catalogue and there’s a chance “FF” could appear in such a promotion – but I suspect that’s for books with higher sales figures already.  (What I do know is that it definitely won’t appear in a 99p promo if it’s priced at £3.62!)  Complicating the issue is the fact that Amazon – of its own volition – has created a Kindle bundle of the first four Sam books, and that includes “FF” at 99p.  I don’t think anyone has bought the bundle – my current sales info shows no sales in recent weeks of any of the middle books in the series, which it would if the bundle had sold.

So, dear readers, what do you think?  Leave it at 99p, or put it back to the higher price?  (I suppose you need this info: if it sells at 99p I get 35p royalty, and if it sells at £3.62 I get £2.09.  But that’s only if it sells!  So lots of 35p is better than no £2.09…)

Amazed by Amazon

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As I recover from self-publishing my twenty-seventh book (you know about the five Sam Plank novels, but in my day job I have self-published twenty-two “piggy” books about anti-money laundering – so-called because of the piggy who features on the covers), I thought that I had pretty much come to terms with how Amazon does it all.  Compare and contrast, if you will:

  • First self-published book: Upload to Amazon and then refresh their website every four seconds or so for the next three days (and occasionally at night, so great was the excitement), before collapsing with nervous exhaustion when “the book” finally appears in the Amazon catalogue.
  • Twenty-seventh self-published book: Upload to Amazon and then go about my daily life, until husband comments in passing, “Did you know that the purple one is on there now?”

Because I started self-publishing some years ago, I find myself following a system that a new, self-publishing author might not choose – in short, I publish paperbacks through CreateSpace and Kindle books through Amazon.  Now that Amazon offers paperback publishing as well, if I were starting out today, I might combine the two.  But as mine are uploaded separately, I always get two Amazon listings: one for the paperback and one for the Kindle book.  This used to concern me…

  • First self-published Sam book: Upload paperback files to CreateSpace and Kindle files to Amazon (via KDP) and then refresh, etc., as above.  Spot that there are two separate listings and spend hours on user forums to understand what is going on.  Email a very detailed request to Amazon asking them to link the two listings.  After 72 hours the two listings are linked.
  • Fifth self-published Sam book: Upload paperback files to CreateSpace and Kindle files to Amazon, and then forget about it all for 72 hours until the two listings are linked automatically.

So I consider myself something of an old hand at Amazon.  But no: they have surprised me.  I logged in this morning to check that the two editions of “Faith, Hope and Trickery” have been linked – they have – and what should I spot but a special offer.  Of its own volition, Amazon is offering the Kindle editions of the first four Sam books as a bundle, for (on the UK website) £12.96.  I wonder whether this was prompted by my special 99p offer on “Fatal Forgery”?  (I know I said that I would run that only until “FHT” was published, but I’m going to let it ride until Sunday.  Since the start of the 99p deal, I have sold twelve Kindle copies of “Fatal Forgery”.)  So there it is: an Amazon-generated offer on my books, complete with a fabulous “group portrait” of the covers.

Keeping the faith

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I will admit that I don’t remember this happening before…  I have found a flaw in my publishing plan.  Once a book is uploaded to CreateSpace, it is formatted and then sent back to me for final checking.  If all seems well with the digital proof, I can then order a paper proof copy, if I wish, or simply press the Publish button to launch it onto an adoring and waiting public.  (At least, that’s how I choose to see you.)  Once the book is published, I can order my own copies to distribute to bookshops and reviewers.  However, this means that there is no way of making sure that the book appears on Amazon and in bookshops on the same day – Amazon is always going to be first.

Ideally I would prefer to have a halfway publication option: press Publish on CreateSpace but specify a launch date, which I would then try to co-ordinate with delivery of paperbacks to the shops.  But this does not exist: you cannot order copies from CreateSpace, even as the author, until the book is officially published – and once it’s officially published, it’s sent to Amazon for inclusion in their next update, which these days is often within the hour.

All of which is a long-winded way of announcing to you – stand by your beds – that “Faith, Hope and Trickery” is now available on Amazon, in both paperback and Kindle formats.  They seem to be shown separately at the moment, but I know from experience that Amazon will eventually unite them.  In the meantime, you can find both by searching for the title.  I have also uploaded e-versions to Kobo, Gumroad, Smashwords and Draft2Digital, which between them cover most of the e-book formats.  I sell very few books through these channels, but I figure that I won’t sell any at all if they’re not listed…

I realise that it all seems a bit of an anti-climax, but I was lying awake last night trying to figure out how to tie together the various publication strands, and hit the promised publication date exactly, when I realised that the book was ready to go and I might as well just do it!  And my husband has pointed out that Mothering Sunday is perhaps the perfect day to launch this particular story.  I have now ordered my giant box of books, which I am told will arrive in about ten days’ time, and then I’ll be sending them out for review and making deliveries to bookshops.  In the meantime, you can order your very own purple pages from Amazon – hurrah!

Pile ’em high

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I promised to keep you posted about my 99p deal on the Kindle edition of “Fatal Forgery” – and in the two days since I launched the promo (thanks to all of you who distributed the link), I have sold eight copies.  This compares very favourably to the four copies sold in the whole previous month, so the promotion seems to be working.

In other news, I have now uploaded the interior and cover of “Faith, Hope and Trickery” to CreateSpace.  What happens next:

  1. They (CreateSpace) do a review to make sure the book works in layout terms – this generally takes 24 hours
  2. They instruct me to do my own proofread of the formatted version on screen
  3. If I am happy with that, I order a physical proof copy – this is sent from America and usually takes about five days to arrive
  4. If I am happy when I receive that, I press the big Publish button
  5. The book will then appear on Amazon – this can take anything from eight minutes (the record, as far as I am concerned) to three days, a process which is probably not helped by my hitting Refresh on the Amazon website every four seconds or so, day and night
  6. You can then order your own copies, and I can order my author copies for distribution to bookshops and reviewers – I can select one of three delivery speeds, depending on how flush I am feeling, but the speediest still takes a week, which is a killer.

Plank for under a pound

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To amuse myself while I work through the final publication steps for “Faith, Hope and Trickery”, I am trying an experiment.  From now until publication date, I am reducing the price of the Kindle edition of “Fatal Forgery” – that’s “Plank 1” – from the usual £3.62-ish to a mere 99p.

Doing this via Kindle Direct Publishing (where I set my prices) was quite straightforward, although I had to change my royalty plan.  If you want to keep 70% of the cover price, you have to price your book at £1.99 or more.  If you want to sell it more cheaply than that, you have to opt for the other royalty level, which is only 35%.  I guess Amazon need to recoup their costs, and taking only 30% of a cover price of 99p would not work for them, so for cheap books they take 65%.

I’m hoping that people will take a punt on “Fatal Forgery” at 99p (which appears on the US site as 99 cents, and on the European sites as 0.99 euros) and then become irresistibly addicted to the series and buy them all at “full” price.  A bit like drug dealers offering a cheap sample…  I’ll keep you posted and let you know whether it works or not.

Going goggle-eyed with editing

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I know you think I’ve been lounging around in a silk kimono, watching Hollywood movies and eating bonbons, but in reality I have been editing like a demon.  And I can finally report that the finish line is in sight.

I have done my last edits – so if you don’t like the story the way it is now, that’s just tough.  I have uploaded the interior file to CreateSpace, so that it can calculate the number of pages it will need to publish the paperback (328, as you’re asking).  It has now told me how wide the book’s spine needs to be, and I’ve sent this vital statistic to the cover designer, who can then finalise the cover.  Once I upload that to CreateSpace, I can order my proof copy, which takes about a week to get to me.  And if I’m happy with that copy when I see it, I will press the big, red, flashing, honking Publish button – oh, how I wish it was that exciting a button, but it isn’t – and you will be able to rush to Amazon in your thousands to buy your own copies.

In the week’s gap while I wait for my proof paperback, I will return to the hell that is formatting, in order to create the various e-versions of the book – which means taking out all of the beautiful formatting that I have just put in.  Such is life.

But in short: we’re nearly there!