Everybody’s free (to feel good)


, , , , , , , , , , ,

Now that I have completed the Sam Plank series, and now that I have stopped the day job and am reconfiguring how I spend my time, I decided that I needed to do something significant to mark these events and to signal my intent to be a more professional author.  I considered a tattoo (no, not really) and commissioning my likeness in dark chocolate (yes, really), but in the end I have plumped for this: a permafree series opener.

For those of you (I hope all of you – it’s a horrid word) shuddering at the term “permafree”, I should explain that it means free forever.  In other words, I am making the e-book of “Fatal Forgery” free forever on all the sales platforms I can find.  My reasons are these:

  • Several successful indie authors of series have already done it and highly recommend it
  • A free book entices readers to take a punt on an unknown author – and once they’ve had a taste of Sam and Martha and the gang, I’m sure they won’t be able to resist buying the next six books in the series, for themselves and all their friends and every member of their extended family
  • It’s scary and exciting – and at my stage in life, something scary and exciting is good.

Of course, it’s not that simple to make something permafree, unless you do it right from the start.  All of the Sam e-books were enrolled (there, you see: I’m putting it in the passive to deny responsibility, but it’s entirely my fault) in the KDP Select programme.  This means that they can only be sold on Amazon, and in exchange for this exclusivity I get a higher royalty rate (70% as opposed to 35% for e-books that are published “wide” – i.e. other places as well as Amazon).  And Amazon does not – for obvious reasons – allow you to price a book at free.  So I needed to get the books off KDP Select, and there is a three-month notice period.  That expired last week, and I had a giddy couple of days publishing the e-books to other platforms such as Google Play, Kobo and Barnes & Noble (formerly Nook).  They do allow you to price books at free, which I did for “Fatal Forgery”.  And once you have a book priced at free on a couple of reputable competitor sites, you can request Amazon to price match to zero on their site – which they have done (it’s not a given, and there’s no guarantee they’ll keep the price at zero, but we can try).  It’s as simple as that…

I have plans for world domination with permafree Forgery, and – again on the recommendation of much more successful indie authors – I have booked a series promo on Freebooksy.  This site promotes free books to its “over 150,000 voracious readers”, and with a series promo they highlight the free opener and show the rest of the series.  That’s booked in for 30 June, at a cost of US$95 – about £78.  Given that I get about £1.40 royalty per e-book sold (nothing for “Fatal Forgery”, of course – I mean the other six), I have to hope that the promo will result in at least fifty-six additional sales.  The true value of a series promo, I am told, is its “long tail” of sales, which will be hard to monitor, but I feel excited that I am trying something new.

And here’s something interesting…  Since “Fatal Forgery” went permafree a couple of days ago, I have told my friends on Facebook, and Sam’s audience of 23 on Facebook, and his 17 followers on Twitter.  (I know, I know: I really need to get a grip on his social media presence – or, more truthfully, his absence).  So not many people have been told.  And yet the word is out somehow: since yesterday, there have been 322 downloads of “Fatal Forgery”, pushing it to sales rank 54 in the historical fiction e-books category on Amazon.  And sales rank really matters on Amazon: if you rank high, they jump in with their own promotion and then, well, watch out Tanya Anne Crosby (current holder of position one in the historical fiction e-books category)!

A plea for PLR


, , , ,

Twice a year, my Twitter feed is inundated with cheery messages from other authors, along the lines of “Just received my PLR cheque – £129 for my loans this year!” and “I love PLR – cheers for my cheque!”.  For the uninitiated, PLR stands for Public Lending Right, and it is a small payment made to authors (and illustrators, editors, translators and audiobook narrators) whenever a book is borrowed from a UK library.  At the moment, if their book is borrowed the author is given 11.26p.  The money is handy, of course (an annual cap of £6,600 is set so that the most popular authors don’t run off with millions) but what is really exciting is seeing your books being borrowed.  Or I imagine it is really exciting.  For I have yet to benefit.  Let me explain.

Despite the availability these days of extremely accurate borrowing data, PLR is still calculated on a old-fashioned method, using loans data from a sample of thirty regional library authorities (there are 151 in total) which is then multiplied to provide a national estimate.  I have donated the Sam books liberally to my various local libraries – but they are all in the Cambridgeshire library authority.  Which was last part of the PLR sample in 2010.  This means that the PLR scheme, by not looking at Cambridgeshire, knows nothing about my books and so does not include them in its calculations.  Sadly, the sample proposed for the year ending June 2022 does not include Cambridgeshire, and nor does the one ending June 2023.  I have written to the PLR people a few times, asking why – given that all libraries these days keep digital records of loans – they can’t simply use complete data rather than a sample, but they’re not keen.  I’ve blogged about this before, way back in 2015, but nothing has changed since then.

So here is my plea.  If you are a library user, please ask your library to stock books by your favourite authors – which may even include me.  The more widely our books are stocked, the more likely we are to be lucky enough to get into that PLR sample and therefore become eligible for a share of the pot.  You can check here to see whether your local library authority is part of next year’s sample group – yes, that’s you, Suffolk, Camden, Oxfordshire and Cornwall, for instance.  And it’s not just about the money: I dream of the day when I receive a PLR statement showing that people are borrowing my books because I know how much I love libraries, and what a thrill it can be to find a favourite author’s back catalogue just waiting for you to borrow, or to discover a previously-unknown author whom you grow to love.

A month of Notes


, , , , , , , , , , ,

And here I am, a whole month later.  That was a deliberate gap, in case you’re wondering: I decided to take a break after publication, have a holiday, and come back refreshed and full of fab ideas for book promotion.  Well, two out of three ain’t bad!  When I was working full-time, I could carve out space to do the actual writing (which I love) but not for any marketing (not so much love here…).  Now that I have stopped work, I am hoping to take a more professional approach: my ideal routine would be to spend two days a week writing, one day researching and one day on marketing.  And so I have not beaten myself up about abandoning “Notes of Change” to its fate after publication, as I know that before too long I will be revisiting the whole series with a proper marketing/promo plan.  (I’m going on a long train journey next week – four hours each way – and my goal is to spend most of it on preparing that plan.)

Meanwhile, I thought you might like to hear how “Notes of Change” has done in its first month.  It’s the first book for a while that I have published “wide” – i.e. on platforms other than Amazon, as well as on Amazon itself.  And here are the latest stats:

  • Sold to bookshops: 10 copies
  • Sold via Amazon: 25 copies
  • Draft2Digital: zero
  • Google Play: zero
  • Gumroad: 1 copy
  • Kobo Rakuten: zero
  • Barnes & Noble: zero
  • Smashwords: zero

So that’s a total of 36 copies.  On the plus side, I’m getting excellent reviews – five five-star ratings on Amazon already.  So onwards and upwards, as I promise my poor little books that I will give them the promo help they deserve.

Publication Day!

Goodness, I almost forgot to blog about it, so absorbed have I been in revelling in the arrival of Publication Day! It’s not quite the same as for traditionally-published authors, whose agents arrange for them to be serenaded at dawn before being pulled through the streets on a golden carriage, crowds cheering their triumph, on their way to sign thousands of hardback copies for almost unmanageable queues of adoring readers who have been waiting since midnight for their arrival. My day started with cat and husband demanding breakfast, then me putting a dark wash on and dashing to the shops for milk and a bag of mixed salad. You see, thanks to the unpredictability of Amazon’s publishing process, you can never be sure exactly when your book will appear. And as a result, you can never be sure whether you will actually have your own book in your hands on Publication Day. Which I do not – my big box of author copies is apparently arriving tomorrow.

But these are small quibbles [now there’s a good title for a book]. The fact remains that “Notes of Change” – the seventh and final Sam Plank novel – is now available. If Amazon’s your thing, click on the book cover to be taken to your local site:

If, on the other hand, you’d prefer a different e-format, click here to buy it from Barnes & Noble/Nook, or from Draft2Digital, or from Google Books, or from Kobo, or from Smashwords. You can even get it in PDF form from Gumroad.

So that’s it for now: I shall take a month off writing, and then in June it’s onwards with the Gregory Hardiman series – can’t wait!

The league table


, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tomorrow is the big day – the publication of “Notes of Change”! Today, therefore, is a day of preparation and reflection. And I haven’t updated you recently on the sales of the Sam series. So here goes – the number I have sold in paperback (print-on-demand through Amazon, and through physical bookshops to which I supply stock) and in various e-formats (mostly Kindle, but occasional other formats):

Paperback via
E-bookPaperback via
physical bookshop
Fatal Forgery290954145
The Man in the Canary Waistcoat9012275
Worm in the Blossom627856
Portraits of Pretence637843
Faith, Hope and Trickery494626
Heir Apparent323627

As you can see, it’s almost three-to-one in favour of e-books – which is good in some ways as the royalty for e-books is more generous than that for paperbacks. And “Fatal Forgery” is far and away the most popular title. Yes, it’s been out for longest, but I think what the figures really suggest is that not enough people like “Fatal Forgery” enough to stick with the series. That’s something I need to address – another task for the book marketing to do list (how to make sure that people know there is a whole series of lovely Sam books). To be fair to Amazon, they are very good at highlighting series: when you buy one book in a series, the others appear in a tempting carousel display. Perhaps I need to make the pricing more appealing – or investigate the possibility of a seven-title omnibus edition… (Apparently you can’t call e-books a box set, as that implies a physical box – you can, however, call it an omnibus. Like the number 27 to Clapham.)

But is it bright enough?


, , , , , , , ,

But is it bright enough?

One of the many joys of being a self-published author is the complete control I have over how my books look.  And one of the many curses of being me is that I have no visual artistic talent at all.  Thankfully I am smart enough to find people who have this talent, such as the marvellous Andrew at Design for Writers.  He has done all my covers – fiction and non-fiction – and, to quote the immortal Hot Chocolate, everyone’s a winner, baby, and that’s no lie.  In particular, he has done sterling work in turning what we both thought was a one-off cover for “Fatal Forgery” into a powerful visual brand for the Sam Plank series.  Each Sam Plank cover has a central line-drawn figure against a blurred document, and its own, bespoke font.  And so it is with – drumroll, please – the seventh and final Sam Plank cover, for “Notes of Change”:

Choosing the colour was tricky: earlier books in the series had already nabbed blue, yellow, red, green, purple and grey, and the Regency/Georgian colour palette is all about strong colours, so the pastels are out.  I did some fun research on various decorating websites, particularly for companies specialising in heritage and period properties and restoration, and the strong orange/ochre/cinnamon palette seemed promising.  And look what Andrew has done – who could possibly not spot that cover on a shelf!

As for the image, that was quite a saga, but with a happy ending.  I wanted an image of a Metropolitan Police officer, but right from the beginning of the “new police” rather than later in their life.  There are dozens of drawings and paintings of Met Police officers in the Victorian era, but finding one from the start, with the right facial hair…  And I finally came across this one, drawn by a fellow called Bob Marrion.  A police officer himself, he illustrated dozens of books on military history – uniforms were his thing – and one slim volume on called “‘C’ or St. James’s: A History of Policing in the West End of London 1829 to 1984”.  Sadly Bob has died, but his estate has given permission for the use of his gorgeous drawing – all Andrew had to do was cunningly remove the duty band that the officer was wearing.  (Duty bands weren’t introduced until 1830 while “Notes of Change” takes place in 1829, and you know what a stickler I am for historical detail.)

So now it’s all hands on deck for actual publication (officially Friday 29 April) – let the uploading begin!

Sam’s hit list


, , , , , , , ,

I’m giddy with excitement – the text of “Notes of Change” is finally, well, finalised.  It has been through several drafts with me, corrections/suggestions from two beta readers, some plot clarification (which moved the chapter count from an irritating thirty-nine to a lovely round forty) and a final read-through yesterday.  Final word count is 75,672, which is about average for a Sam Plank book (as readers will know, he’s not a man given to florid description or overlong introspection).

And now that the creative part is done, I move into the phase of lists.  I have a list of the steps to create the paperback edition, one for formatting the e-editions (more on that in a minute), one for “pre-publication tasks”, one of “people to tell about the new book”, several of “book promo and marketing ideas” and other random sets of bullet points and reminders jotted in notebooks, sent in emails to myself and written on my phone.  One day, dear reader, this will all be amalgamated into a slick publishing process – but today is not that day!  Today is the day for formatting the paperback edition.

Ah yes, the e-editions.  For the past few years – can’t quite remember when I first did it – I have published my e-editions through the KDP platform (part of the Amazon mega-corporation) and opted for their KDP Select programme.  This means that the e-books are sold exclusively in Kindle format through Amazon, and not in any other e-format through any other seller (such as Kobo or Apple).  The benefits (this is over-simplifying) are two-fold: you get a better royalty percentage from Amazon than they would offer if your book was published “wide” (i.e. with other sellers as well), and they put your book into their KU and KOLL programmes.  KU (Kindle Unlimited) is where people pay a monthly subscription and then can indefinitely borrow up to ten books – as an author, I get a pro rata share of the “KDP Select Global Fund” according to how many pages of my e-books are read by those borrowers.  KOLL (Kindle Owners’ Lending Library) allows those who are enrolled in Amazon Prime to download one book a month – as an author, I get a share of the KOLL pot according to the number of downloads of my e-books.  And over the years, I’ve rather taken my eye off the ball.  Recent soul-searching (and bean-counting) has revealed that:

  • The amount of money I make from my books being in KU and KOLL is insignificant to the point of invisibility
  • Competitors to Kindle books are growing in number, and many offer good exposure, international coverage, decent royalties and a chance to diversify my risk
  • There is an increasing number of readers who are going off Amazon, for all sorts of reasons, and looking for alternative places to buy their books.

In short, I have decided that the e-book of “Notes of Change” will not be going into the KDP Select programme and instead will be published “wide”.  The existing six Sam Plank books are stuck in the programme for a couple more months (auto-renew – a casualty of taking my eye of that ball) and then will be withdrawn and also published “wide”.  You can see why I need all those lists…


Exciting news: I am now a member of the Crime Writers’ Association!  (Look to the left for their stylishly chilling – or chillingly stylish – dagger logo.) I have always felt a bit fraudulent calling myself a crime writer, given the lack of blood and gore in the Sam Plank books (mainly because I don’t like reading that stuff, let alone writing it) but of course crime isn’t just physical.  More than anyone, I should know the damage that financial crime can cause and the impact it can have – and so here I am, a fully-fledged Crime Writer.

I’ll be honest: my primary motivation for joining the CWA was selfish.  I want to rub shoulders with the best practitioners of the trade and learn from them, and I want to take advantage of the guidance and publicity offered to members of the CWA.  But joining up fits neatly with my resolution to become, well, not a professional writer, but certainly more professional in my approach to writing.

And completing their application form was a good indication of what constitutes a professional approach.  I had to tell them my sales figures, explain which professional services I used during publication (yes to cover design, no to editing and proof-reading – both of these are done for me by helpful amateurs), and tell them about my website, social media presence (such as it is…) and awards.  I have now set up my profile on the CWA website, and there I am, grinning away in the same directory as Lindsey Davis and Simon Scarrow (be still, my beating heart – which, when you think about it, is exactly what happens in most crime fiction).

(In completely unrelated news, I see that the CWA Daggers awards now permit self-published works to be considered.  If “Notes of Change” goes down well, I may even be brave enough to enter it in the Historical category…  Ah yes, you will spot that the title of the new book has shortened slightly, from “The Notes of Change” to “Notes of Change” – an excellent suggestion from beta reader Roy!)

Tinkering and blurbing

We’re very much on the home straight now, with “Notes of Change”.  Yes, the eagle-eyed among you will have spotted the slight alteration there, with dropping the The – an excellent suggestion from the chap known as Beta Reader Roy.  He has come up with several more excellent suggestions, so that’s my work organised for next week.

Now, I need your thoughts – it’s back cover blurb time again.  I have already run this past my Facebook friends and long-suffering family, and now it’s your turn.  Here’s where we are so far:

In the autumn of 1829, the body of a wealthy young man is found dumped in a dust-pit behind one of London’s most exciting new venues.  Constable Sam Plank’s enquiries lead him from horse auctions to houses of correction, and from the rarefied atmosphere of the Bank of England to the German-speaking streets of Whitechapel.  And when he comes face to face with an old foe, he finds himself considering shocking compromises…

The new and highly organised Metropolitan Police is taking to the streets, calling into question the future of the magistrates’ constables.  Sam’s junior constable, William Wilson, is keen to sign up, but what is an old campaigner like Sam to do when faced with the new force and its little black book of instructions?

What do you think?  Are you tempted to hand over hard cash to know more?  Any suggestions for improvement most grateful received.

Jam doughnuts all round!


, , , , , , , ,

In life it is important to celebrate achievements, and today I have had a jam doughnut for elevenses because I have completed my draft of “The Notes of Change”.  [As an aside, am I the only person who eats a jam doughnut by spearing it onto a fork and then eating it like a toffee apple?  So much tidier than the doughnut-in-fingers method.]  I realise that there will be more work to do, but for today – I’m happy.  I have sent the file to my lovely beta reader Roy, to check for plot madnesses and general readability and likeability, and at the same time my husband will be close-reading it for spelling mistakes, poor punctuation, extra spaces and all the other typos that return to haunt us.

Meanwhile, I have been contacting the people who have kindly reviewed other Sam Plank novels, to ask whether they would like to take this one on as well.  Other more organised authors would have blog tours and the like lined up, but I’ve just not managed that this time round.  However, I have decided not to chastise myself too much for these promotional shortcomings – after all, I’ve written a whole book!  By myself!  And this “being an author” thing is meant to be fun.

That said, I do have plans.  On the advice of several people, I am planning to get to grips – or at least within gripping distance of – Amazon ads: I have bought a couple of books on the subject (of course I have – when faced with any new endeavour, I will always buy a book) and will read them while I wait for comments on my draft.  My other task in that hiatus is to apply to join the Crime Writers’ Association – it’s quite the application process, and acceptance is far from guaranteed, but as they have just opened their well-respected and much-coveted “Daggers” awards to self-published novels, I now have a real incentive to try.  And just think: if they do accept me, it will be the perfect excuse for another doughnut!