Plodding along

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Goodness, I had forgotten quite how slow it is writing the first book in a series.  To be fair, I didn’t realise at the time that “Fatal Forgery” was the first in that series – I thought it was a standalone book until Sam caught hold of me and wouldn’t let go – but I certainly noticed that I speeded up the writing through the series.  I thought maybe it was just me becoming a really good writer (hah!) but it turns out that the magic ingredient was familiarity: familiarity with my characters, and familiarity with the location.  And as I embark on “Gregory 1”, both of those are missing.

Yes, I have been canny enough to stick with a familiar timeframe: “Gregory 1” is set in 1825, which is the same year as for “The Man in the Canary Waistcoat”.  But I’m already finding that 1825 in modern, exciting, capital city London is not the same as 1825 in staid, academic, market town Cambridge.

And as for the other things that are slowing me down, it’s the usual stumbling blocks for the writer of historical fiction.  You start out with a simple sentence: He turned left into Sidney Street and headed for the market to buy fish for his meal.  Now, was it “Sidney Street”, or should I go with the nineteenth-century alternative of “Sidney-street”?  And I’m writing about a Tuesday – was the market in Cambridge on Tuesdays?  And were the fish sellers there every market day?  And were they actually in the main market, or near the “beast market” around the corner?  Perhaps he can do without a meal today!  I’m not complaining – well, not much – but it’s been a bit of a shock to go from days when I could quite happily pour out two or three thousand words, to feeling exhausted after only five hundred.  But at least this time, as I know already that it’s a series, I can comfort myself that time spent now on learning the details will be a good investment for future books.  Now, back to that fish: will Gregory choose Colchester oysters, salmon or herrings? Or even a tasty eel…

The fault is not in our stars

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It’s been a while since I made the e-book of “Fatal Forgery” permafree on all sales platforms, and I have run a couple of promos to highlight it to people.  It’s too early to tell whether it is the right decision – i.e. whether it introduces more people to the Sam series and they then turn into buyers of the subsequent books – but I have got over my horror of giving away my work!  It’s a tricky one, because it’s certainly true that people often don’t value what costs nothing, but with the series stagnating I felt I had to do something drastic.  After all, we all know that one definition of madness (sometimes, but perhaps wrongly, attributed to Einstein) is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

So how’s it going?  Since it was made permafree, there have been 2,356 downloads of “Fatal Forgery”.  On Amazon (the only place I can track this with any certainty), the number of reviews has risen by one (to 48), and the number of ratings by 21 (to 70).  (A rating is a simple 1-5-star score, while a review is anything written.  Readers can leave just a rating, or a rating and accompanying review.)  And according to the Amazon sales rankings in the UK, “Fatal Forgery” now sits at position 88 in the Historical Fiction category in the Kindle store, and at position 138 in the broader Crime Fiction category.  I’m delighted with both of those positions – apparently the fact that a book is free does not count against it when Amazon tots up which books are “selling” most frequently.

There are people who make a living from teaching us how the Amazon algorithms work, but the nub of it is that if a book (a) “sells” well, and (b) gets lots of generally favourable reviews, it will rise up the rankings.  This means that it appears higher up when people are searching, and (I think) has a better chance of being shown to them in the “Products related to this item” carousel that is displayed on each product page.  And the net result of all that is that more people see and are then tempted to download the book.

So if you have read “Fatal Forgery” – no matter where you bought it or in what format – and have not left a rating or review on Amazon, please could I ask you to do that?  Amazon does occasionally move the goalposts, but at the moment the situation is very clear: “Provided the buyer has made at least one purchase using their Amazon account they can review any product on Amazon, regardless of where they purchased that product.  However, if a reviewer did not buy the product on Amazon, their review will not be marked as an Amazon Verified Purchase.”  (The same applies to all my books, of course – please feel free to rate them all!)  And now I must immerse myself in the Cambridge University audit books from 1825 – this sorry tale of bursarial corruption won’t write itself, you know.

Don’t mute the messenger

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I appreciate that this may have passed you by – mainly because it’s all still in my head rather than actually happening – but now that I am giving being a professional author a go, I am revamping my communications with readers.  I have a very minimal Facebook and Twitter presence for Sam Plank (nothing yet for Gregory Hardiman), and then I have this blog and my monthly research updates.  And there’s my website for me as an author, which covers my fiction and non-fiction writing.  My husband has kindly volunteered (that’s not a euphemism – he genuinely did) to update my website, which is looking a bit tired; like everything, websites have their fashions, and my rather static, page-driven one is now the website equivalent of the Ford Granada.  So I’ll leave that to him, and weigh in with praise/complaints/biscuits as required.  But my job now is to think about my more proactive engagement with readers.

This blog has always been ad hoc – in other words, I make a post when I feel I have something to say.  But again, this seems to be a bit passé: looking at the output of other, much more successful authors, the trend these days is for regular newsletters sent to subscribers.  Some of you will already receive my monthly research updates, and I am wondering whether to unite the two – in other words, to send out a monthly newsletter that contains some background research information as well as other updates on (for instance) how my current book is going and who has agreed to play Sam in the Sunday evening drama commissioned by the BBC (well, an author can dream…).  So the blog would cease, and only newsletter subscribers would hear actively from me.  (Signing up to the newsletter would of course be free.)

And so I wondered whether you had any views on the subject.  To make life simpler I have put together a few questions – but you are more than welcome to go off piste and ignore them completeley.  Here goes:

  1. Would you be interested in receiving a monthly newsletter from me, which would focus on my historical crime writing (i.e. both the completed Sam series and the new Gregory series, and whatever comes after that)?
  2. Looking at possible content, are you interested in:
    • The research that I do behind the writing – my current monthly update has only 46 people signed up, so perhaps it’s not as popular as I think
    • My progress on my current book
    • The writing process
    • The self-publishing process
    • Me as an individual and not just as an author – some writers share their holiday photos and pet photos, for instance
    • Anything else?
  3. It is likely that I will work out how to sell my own books – in e-formats only – via my new website.  Would you prefer to buy this way (for about the same price as on Amazon, but with a larger percentage of the sale price going to me)?  And would the promise of special subscriber discounts interest you?

I think that will do for now.  As you can see, what I am trying to do is gauge whether this is the right approach, and – if it is – what would tempt you to become a newsletter subscriber.  Thank you so much for any thoughts.

Digesting download data

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I know you’ve all been on tenterhooks to hear the latest about permafree Sam and his progress.  As you may remember, I paid for a 24-hour Freebooksy promo slot, and during that 24-hour period there were 1,232 downloads of “Fatal Forgery”.  I think we can attribute all of those to the Freebooksy promo.

Flushed with success, I also applied for a free promo slot on the Best Book Monkey website, and that’s currently live.  It started on 9 July, and I think it just sits there until they feel that interest has waned.  You can see the Best Book Monkey listing here.

And – going a bit mad now – I also submitted “Fatal Forgery” for a five-day promo slot on the Bookangel website, and that’s now running until 14 July.  You can see the Bookangel listing here (a bit peculiar that all the punctuation in the description has been replaced with question marks, but hey ho – it’s a free promo).

So what’s the result of all this mad promotion?  Let’s ignore the 1,232 that we’ve already attributed to the Freebooksy day.  Since then, there have been 429 downloads.  Some of those will be Freebooksiers late to the party – because although the promo has ended, “Fatal Forgery” is permafree so anyone who finds their way to Amazon or Kobo or Nook or Google Play can still download it for nothing.

What I hope, of course, is that there will be more reviews, and more paid purchases of the next books in the series.  Since I started this frenzy of promotion, I have accrued six more “ratings” on the Amazon listing for “Fatal Forgery” – not full reviews, but 4- and 5-star ratings.  And sales of the other titles have increased – covering the promo periods on Freebooksy, Best Book Monkey and Bookangel, I have sold (mainly e-books, but a few of them paperbacks):

  • The Man in the Canary Waistcoat – 8
  • Worm in the Blossom – 7
  • Portraits of Pretence – 7
  • Faith, Hope and Trickery – 7
  • Heir Apparent – 8
  • Notes of Change – 17

And as for rankings on Amazon, well, “Fatal Forgery” is currently sitting at #83 in the Historical Fiction category on the Kindle store, and #156 in the much larger Crime Fiction category, which is not bad at all.

In short, I think it’s going well.  My focus is on getting more people hearing about and curious about the series, and I think this is happening.  If only 1% of the people who downloaded the free “Fatal Forgery” actually read it, that’s still sixteen new readers – and here’s hoping that it’s much more than 1%.

Downloads and rising rankings

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Right, gang: as promised, here is the immediate feedback from the Freebooksy promo that I ran.  I mentioned it here, and basically I paid to have the (now permafree) e-book of “Fatal Forgery” advertised to the subscribers to book promo website Freebooksy, along with links to the rest of the series.  I paid about £78 for this.  The promo ran yesterday from about 2pm UK time (it’s an American set-up, so that’s 9am Eastern Time) for 24 hours.  And during that period, this is what happened:

  • 1,213 copies of “Fatal Forgery” were downloaded for free
  • 4 copies of each of the other books in the series – all six of them – were downloaded for hard money.

Of course I can’t tell what drove those downloads – the Freebooksy promo or just a coincidence – but I’m guessing the former.  And the 24 paid downloads have netted me about £66 in royalties, so that’s not too far off the £78 I paid for the promo.

What I am hoping, of course, is that a proportion of those who downloaded the free book will read it, like it, buy more from the series, and perhaps even leave a review.  I appreciate that a fair number of them will do none of those – there are people who simply stuff their e-readers with freebies – but I won’t know until I try.  As I always say, I’ll keep you posted.

And a thrilling side-effect of this spike in downloads is that, right now, “Fatal Forgery” is ranking at #16 in the Historical Fiction category on the Kindle store, and at #45 in the Crime Fiction category. It will drop as rapidly as it rose, as other authors run their promos and my download rate slows, but while it’s riding high it will be appearing in front of other potential readers browsing on Amazon, which can only help.

Everybody’s free (to feel good)

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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

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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

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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

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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
Amazon
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
Totals5861314372

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.)