Seven grams

As I gradually start to get orders from bookshops for Fallen Warriors and The Great Scottish Land Grab, I’m learning how important packaging and delivery choices are.

I went to post my latest order from The Orcadian Bookshop in Kirkwall yesterday. Two copies each of Fallen Warriors and Land Grab. I’d placed the four books in a box, put the invoice in along with some flyers for Land Grab and wrapped the whole thing in brown paper. I weighed the parcel before I left home: 1.992 Kilos.

I got to the post office only to find the parcel actually weighed 2.007 Kilos…!

That’s a big deal. Currently in the UK we can post under 2 Kilos for £2.90.

Because of the size of the parcel and those extra seven grams, it was going to cost me £13.75! That would have wiped out all my profit and put me at a loss for the sale.

I asked for the parcel back.

I actually went to a second post office in the mad hope that maybe there was some difference in the scales that would have got me under the limit. Nope. Exactly the same weight. At least UK post offices are consistent in their scales!

Flyers. I’d put flyers in the parcel… I asked if I could borrow a pair of scissors, cut open the parcel, removed half the flyers and then asked for it to be reweighed. 1.940 Kilos.

I had been thinking I needed to buy more tape, so happily bought some, retaped the parcel and was able to post it at the expected rate.

Seven grams… It doesn’t seem all that much, does it. Crossing some boundary lines can be very expensive…

My Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) Analysis

How does a writer find people who want to buy their books?

It’s the question keeping many writers up at night, myself included. I had dreams of being the next big author when I published my first novel (The Great Scottish Land Grab) which slowly, but surely faded as I realised the enormity of the task before me. Publishing Fallen Warriors this year, I’ve set out to learn from my mistakes and experiment more.

One potentially useful tool to help writers sell books is Amazon Marketing Services (AMS). In America they are currently offering $100 free advertising to new sign ups until 30th September. There are terms and conditions which aren’t 100% clear whether the offer is open to Kindle authors (On the front page of their website it states “Amazon Marketing Services is currently available to Amazon vendors and KDP authors” but the terms and conditions at the bottom of the page only refer to vendors.) If you sell ebooks through KDP in America then I recommend signing up and asking if the offer applies to you – what could you lose?

So far I’ve only tried using AMS in America. It may be possible to use in the UK, but that’s another blog post…

I have a tiny marketing budget, but have been experimenting over the last few months to see whether I can use AMS to get the word out about my novels.

I believe Fallen Warriors has a better chance in America than Land Grab. There are more Christians in America than Scots so I’ve primarily focused on Fallen Warriors as I’m marketing it as a Christian thriller.

Here’s the high level view of what I’ve done, all nicely laid out on AMS’s dashboard:

If you’ve never heard of AMS, basically it allows advertisers to advertise their product (an ebook in my case.) I can select keywords that I think people will use to search for books (author names, book titles, themes etc) and I set a bid price I am willing to pay up to to get my ad shown when someone uses those keywords. I only pay that bid price if someone clicks on my ad. All advertisers are competing to see if they pay enough to display an ad, but Amazon only charge 2 cents above the next lowest bid so in theory you shouldn’t pay more than you need to.

I started in May with a toe in the water $5 a day campaign. It ran for five days, appears to have been shown 66,862 times, clicked on 43 times with an average cost per click of $0.13. It cost a total of $5.55, but appears to have resulted in $9.98 in sales.

Amazon actually take 30% margin as their profit from my sales so I netted $6.98 giving a profit of… $1.43.

Well, that is $1.43 I probably would not have made if I hadn’t experimented.

Excited by the possibility I could maybe make some more sales and find more readers I tried again.

I wondered if my timing was wrong and so this time ran the ad over two weekends thinking maybe people are more likely to buy then.

Eleven days later I only had the ad shown 46,087 times. Quite a drop. I only had 20 clicks at an average cost of $0.17 costing a total of $3.34. I had no sales…

That was discouraging, but only a little. I’ve been following the SPF Podcast and that has been useful for understanding the fluctuations that can occur.

I then wondered if it made more sense to send people to my free ebook: Fallen Warriors Episode One. If I could get them to download that and hopefully read it, would it result in more sales? Here’s what happened:

I had been averaging around 6 downloads of the free episode a week. After that short campaign I saw an extra 30 downloads. That was interesting.

The AMS stats are also useful:
Impressions (when the ad is shown): 120,406
Clicks: 88
Average cost per click: $0.12
Total cost: $10.60

I can’t tell if I had any follow on sales of the later episodes or the full novel, but the hope is that once people start reading, they’ll get hooked and I’ll see sales over time.

I then decided to try a more radical experiment. I signed up for a $20 a day maximum spend, campaigning with the free first episode again. I upped the bid price on many keywords and let the campaign run for a full two weeks. The results?

Impressions: 303,834
Clicks: 295
Average cost per click: $0.29
Total cost: $84.38

Over those two weeks I had an extra 118 downloads.

I would need to see 72% of those downloads convert into purchases before an ad campaign like that was worth trying again. (Though I confess it didn’t cost me anything…)

My total American sales over this period looks like this:

The spikes are less grand than they appear, those are mostly for individual episodes which earn me a much smaller royalty at 30%.

However, it suggests that people are slowly going on to read the free episode and buying either the full novel or the individual episodes.

I’m planning to start a new campaign soon and will be experimenting more. I need to be careful that I take into account what I’m actually selling and whether the advertising I’m doing is providing a return.

What are your thoughts and experiences with getting the word out to readers?

A box of books!

Does a print run count as a first edition when your novel’s been on sale through Print On Demand for the past three years? Probably not.

I received my first proper print run of The Great Scottish Land Grab today – 100 paperback copies. Quite exciting!

I’ve already got some orders, so will be posting them off immediately and will need to crack on, contacting more book shops to see if they will be willing to stock Land Grab.

I only ordered a small quantity of books for both Land Grab and Fallen Warriors. Having heard horror stories from other authors who ordered thousands of copies only to be unable to sell them, I’ve played it safe. I would rather sell these and have to re-order than worry about storage.

If you would like a paperback edition of The Great Scottish Land Grab you can order through your local bookshop quoting ISBN: 978-0-9929883-7-1

If you would like to buy a signed copy, I’ll be joining Wendy H Jones and Caroline Johnston at Cumbernauld Library on the 16th September from 2pm.

Refusing to Rush

I confess that I am impatient. I’ve been wanting to order new business cards for over a year, but have prioritised completing Fallen Warriors, marketing Fallen Warriors and recently writing the sequel.

When I decided yesterday to have a go at a new design for my author business cards, I wanted to order them straight away. (I felt a bit of pressure as there was a “33% off” offer from the printer I was planning to use…)

I was happy with the front image, but I knew the text on the back wasn’t working. Posting the front and back images yesterday was useful. I got helpful feedback which I’ve tried to listen to.

I had no-one suggest a different front, which is encouraging. The latest version of the back is below:

I had tried Tempus Sans font on the previous version–which I use on the cover of Fallen Warriors–but have now changed that to Antonio.

Thinking about what I’m trying to do with this card, I want to primarily use it as a marketing tool, something I can give to people I meet to advertise my novels. It tells them where they can buy or order, from selected bookshops (only four so far, but I need to keep working to expand that) and online.

Also, currently I’m giving away a short story to anyone who signs up to my mailing list, but it would make sense to offer samples of both novels since Book One of The Great Scottish Land Grab and Episode One of Fallen Warriors are both available for free already online. I can bundle the opening chapters and the short story into one sampler and it means that whether someone is interested in either novel, they can try it out in exchange for signing up to my mailing list.

I wondered if white as a background was too sparse and so have added a photo.

I’m going to hold off ordering new cards until next week. If you’ve any more feedback for me, do let me know.

An author business card

I’ve had two different author business cards over the last few years and haven’t been happy with either of them.

I didn’t like the cover image for book one of The Great Scottish Land Grab on the first one and replaced it with the cover I had designed for the full novel.

The second business card looked great, but the text on the back was confusing and didn’t tell people how to buy the book.

I’ve wanted to design a new card that I could use for both Fallen Warriors and The Great Scottish Land Grab.

This is my current draft, Front:

Back:

Thanks to Mark at http://covervault.com/ for the template I used for the book mock ups!

I’d appreciate any feedback on the designs.

[Update] After just a couple of discussions I’m now wondering if I’m trying to do too much with this card. A business card is normally used to share contact details, but I hope/intend to use this as a marketing/advertising tool, to give out to people I meet who may be interested in reading my novels, not getting in contact…

So, should I include an email address, a phone number even? Or just focus on where people can buy the books?

A professional barcode for your book

In yesterday’s post I mentioned that I was unsure whether to just leave an old email address in the manuscript when ordering a new print run of The Great Scottish Land Grab. I called the printer today and they advised they could also send a PDF proof which has prevented any delay, otherwise I was potentially looking at a full week to order a new proof copy.

I’d pretty much decided that I needed to change the email address, so this morning I did that, corrected another issue I found in the manuscript and then had a last look at the cover. I wasn’t happy with the back page.

I’ve created my own bar code and it dominates the initial draft. I’d also decided to add my author photo as I’ve seen that done and it just didn’t line up in any way with the text or barcode.

So, I had another look at some traditionally published books and decided to have a go at creating my own publisher barcode.

I added my website URL, put on the website of the graphic designer who designed the book cover the first time round and also credited my wife for her photo of me. Set it all up so everything lined up, shrunk down the barcode to a more reasonable size and the finished version is below.

I really like it. Hopefully a much more professional look to the back page. What do you think?

Why every author should fully review a proof copy of their book

Gah! That moment where you realise you forgot to do something really simple…

I’ve been reading through my first novel again – The Great Scottish Land Grab. I’m having a small print run done to finally allow me to sell to Scottish book shops and took the opportunity to make a few changes, the main one being updating my contact details.

When I published Land Grab, back in 2014, I thought it would be a good idea to buy the domain www.cafepolitics.net as Cafe Politics played such a huge role in the story and www.markandersonsmith.co.uk (and all variants) were taken, and www.thegreatscottishlandgrab.co.uk would have just been silly.

I’ve since decided on www.dragonlake.co.uk as my permanent web presence and wanted to update the new edition of Land Grab to use this website and my current email address. The Copyright page was done fine. I added in an author note asking people to sign up to my mailing list – all fine. Even the Call to Action at the end of the book was updated okay.

Everything bar the acknowledgements page which I foolishly didn’t even read before sending off the manuscript to the printer… Turns out the acknowledgements page contained a request to email me if the reader found any mistakes using the old email address… Gah!

I’m in two minds whether to just let it slide as I still own that domain, except, it just doesn’t sit right.

Maybe I’ll call the printer tomorrow and ask about just sending through a new manuscript and forgoing a new proof.

What would you do in this situation?

My first bookshop orders

Ever since I’ve wanted to be a writer, I’ve wanted to see my books for sale in book shops. When I self-published The Great Scottish Land Grab I ran out of money and opted to release it as a physical book through Print On Demand (POD). The main problem with that was the price per unit was way too high to allow me to sell to book shops.

With Fallen Warriors I’ve ordered 100 paperback copies at a price that’s low enough I can make a small profit on each sale, including the book shops discount and postage. I’m not going to get rich from selling physical copies, but it allows me to reach a wider readership than I would otherwise.

I’ve offered Fallen Warriors to three bookshops now and two have so far said they’ll take copies with the other taking a proof copy to review. One of those bookshops – The Shetland Times Bookshop in Lerwick, Shetland – took one copy each of Fallen Warriors and The Great Scottish Land Grab last week when I was up in Shetland so if you want to buy the first paperback copy of Fallen Warriors on sale anywhere, or a copy of The Great Scottish Land Grab, you can do so in Lerwick! And they’ve even ordered more copies of The Great Scottish Land Grab so I now need to urgently order copies to send them. It’s all quite exciting!

10 ways to fail at publishing and marketing your book

When you’ve never done something before there is a high chance you’ll try things that just don’t work. Then again, perhaps you’ll eventually look back and have mixed feelings about what you did. I’ve found that I’m not at all sure that every mistake I made while publishing The Great Scottish Land Grab was quite as bad as I saw it at the time.

For the last few days I’ve been carrying out an analysis of Sales of The Great Scottish Land Grab. You can find my first post here and Thursday’s here. (Friday is my flash fiction day…)

Here is a round up of some of my biggest (maybe) fails while publishing and marketing my first novel:

1. Paying for a libel read
In 2014, in the UK, if you wrote a book defaming a person or organisation you could find yourself being sued. The situation in the US is much safer for writers and it may have improved in England with recent law changes, but don’t quote me on that! Currently in Scotland an MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament) is being sued for defamation for something published on his blog.

Defamation of character is a problem I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand I don’t think we have an absolute right to say whatever we like about other people. On the other, I think that defamation law is abused in the UK to protect the rich and powerful. I think the law in the US is too lax while the law in the UK is too extreme. There has to be a better way.

Regardless, when I set out in early 2014 to rewrite Land Grab, I knew I needed to be careful. The first draft lampooned various well known political figures and while politicians are one group of people who can be legitimately targeted with humour, there was a real undercurrent of nastiness as the Scottish independence referendum grew closer. One of the main campaigning groups – Better Together – had set itself up as a limited company, potentially allowing it to sue anyone who attempted to defame them.

I run my own company and had no desire to lose that, or my house if someone took offence at what I was planning to publish.

I contacted several solicitors for quotes and ended up selecting one. They read each of the three books as I wrote them and offered their legal opinion on whether I was at risk of being sued. It cost me £2,580.

Just to put that into perspective, I receive £1.67 per ebook novel sold through Amazon. I will need to sell 1,545 full ebooks novels before I break even on that cost.

As I wrote here, I’m nowhere close to that.

I have regretted that decision. Yet, as I wrote above, I have mixed feelings about it.

I was extremely nervous about publishing my first novel. The process of discussing the situation with the solicitor and applying his advice gave me a confidence that helped me overcome a real hurdle. In my writing now, I’m conscious of the threat of defamation and do research my characters to ensure I’m not inadvertently libelling real people.

I believe that far too few indie-authors give proper thought to the risk of defamation. Certainly if you’re writing fantasy or off world science-fiction you are unlikely to be at risk, but even in these genres, if you lazily base a character on a real person and that person can identify themselves – and is offended by how you’ve portrayed them – and they can show it in court, you may find that that catch-all declaration “Any resemblance to actual people living or dead, events or locations, is entirely coincidental.” doesn’t save you from legal costs…

And that is the real killer in the UK. You can win your case, but still lose everything when the bill comes in.

2. Paying for indemnity insurance
Being aware of traditionally published authors who had found themselves in court defending themselves against defamation, I decided to take out indemnity insurance, insurance that covers legal costs and gives some protection against damages awarded.

Six months on and £265 lighter I cancelled the insurance. The fact was that I’d already paid more in insurance premiums than I’d earned on book sales. I’d sold nowhere near enough copies to think that I’d managed to find someone who would consider themselves defamed and since I’d followed the solicitor’s advice, it was extremely unlikely anyone would have a case against me.

Again, the act of taking out the insurance policy gave me confidence to write what I felt needed to be written, while also reminding me to take care with how I did it.

Still, that’s another bill that it’s going to take some time to pay back…

If you are writing a contemporary novel and there is a risk that you could defame someone, even inadvertently, it may be worth you considering.

3. Rush into marketing decisions
In the summer of 2014 I was commuting to Edinburgh from Cumbernauld on the train and I had this brain wave that I could get a T shirt printed up with the book cover on it and could become a walking advertisement for the book.

It was a disaster.

I still was in love with my first cover design and was filled with a sense that if I didn’t get the word out there about the book, no-one else was going to.

I turned up at a printer with a USB drive and the notion that since everyone was obsessed with voting Yes or No in the referendum, I should add some text above the book cover image saying:

Vote Yes?
Vote No?
Vote For…

It didn’t take long for me to decide that wearing that T shirt may actually do more harm than good.

Fortunately that mistake only cost me £12.95

4. Don’t tell anyone how to buy your book
I think I’ve mentioned this already, but it is worth repeating. I had thousands of leaflets and business cards printed up, none of which told people how to buy my books on Amazon. I still mentally kick myself over that mistake.

It meant that every time I gave out a leaflet or card, I had to tell people where they could buy the book. Yes, some of those people did then log onto Amazon and did buy it, but I’m sure I could have given more leaflets out and had more sales with just a few extra words telling where the book was on sale.

5. Tell people your book will make them scream
Unless your genre is horror, that just doesn’t work, trust me…

I was desperate for someone to review the first book in my trilogy and allow me to include their quote on my marketing material. Unfortunately, one of my earlier reviewers was extremely taken aback by my reveal and cliff hanger ending at the end of book one and wrote the following:

“Interesting ideas as one man searches for answers to the direction his life has taken, to the backdrop of the referendum. Knowing the author I can see where the story could be going, but I’m sure he will surprise me. I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in current events in Scotland, though I know a fair few who would be shouting at the screen. Look forward to the next instalment if only to find out what he has done to Eck”

For some reason I thought referring to this reaction would be a good idea. I think that deep down, I want to avoid people having a negative reaction to what I’ve written and so want to warn them that it might be somewhat controversial…

I foolishly included the following statement on business cards I had printed up:

“Described by some as an easy read, by others as making you want to shout at your screen
The Great Scottish Land Grab
Scotland’s future is in your hands”

It’s wrong on so many levels.

I’m advertising a book, why is it talking about a screen? I could see people reading it, confusion growing on their face as they asked me what I was selling them.

Then there was the statement about shouting (okay, not screaming.) How many readers actually want to sit down, relax and get comfortable with a book that might make them throw it across the room?

6. Don’t try and get reviews for your book
While there are clear benefits from splitting a book into a series and making the first part free, one downside is that you will draw reviews away from your main book.

With Land Grab I wasn’t very focused on reviews. I was delighted to get them as I published each book in the series, but was focusing far more on selling copies than trying to get reviews.

Then, when I published the full novel, I failed to ask people I’d known to go on to review the full novel. As a result, three years on, I still only have one review for The Great Scottish Land Grab – The Complete Trilogy. I need to rectify that!

For the last few months, almost a year now, I’ve been almost totally focussed on Fallen Warriors, but Land Grab is still a book of interest and at some point over the summer I need to get my begging cap on and start asking people for reviews because even just a few positive reviews make a huge difference to how people perceive your book.

7. Waste time by contacting people who are never going to review your book
I emailed every single MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament) and offered them a free copy of Land Grab. All 129 of them.

It was such a waste of time. A couple did write back, but the vast majority either ignored the email or it went straight into spam. You would think a novel exploring issues around independence might appeal to a few politicians, but how many of them actually have time to read. Especially during the run up to a critical referendum.

I’ve started to discover this group of people called book-bloggers… They are the people I really need to get to know and spend time on…

8. Rush out and get thousands of leaflets and business cards printed
While getting thousands of leaflets printed is a cost effective way to go about it, the problem is with the rushing.

However much time you spend on your book cover, you probably should spend as much or more on your marketing material. You get it wrong and you’ve just invested in some very expensive fire lighting material…

I still have several thousand leaflets and cards that I really should just recycle. I confess that the whole situation is holding me back from getting better thought out material printed up. That’s something I need to overcome soon.

9. Expect bookshops to buy your Print On Demand books
Print On Demand is not the way to go if you intend to sell paper copies. The per unit cost is way too high and that’s before you factor in delivery costs and the discount the bookshop will need to make it worth their while stocking your book! Finally, you may have to accept returns to be stocked by many bookstores. Not all of them, but most.

Using CreateSpace is great for getting your book available online and ordering a few copies to sell yourself to friends and family, but it is a poor option for small print runs compared to contacting a book printer and ordering 50 or 100 copies.

I actually walked into bookstores asking them if they would like to stock my book when all I had was a couple of POD copies. Once I realised I would make no profit on the deal, I gave up. It seemed like too much effort for no reward.

I’m now working towards my first small print run for Fallen Warriors and will go back to organise one for Land Grab over the summer.

10. Give up.
At various times over the last few years I have given up. I stopped writing, I stopped trying to market my novel, I stopped trying to get it into bookstores.

Giving up is the easiest way to slide into oblivion. If you never write another book, people will forget about your first one. If you never try and sell your books, people won’t know to buy them.

Don’t give up!

If you have a good story, if you believe in your heart you are a writer, keep trying. Keep trying different methods until you find one that works. If you can learn from my mistakes above and avoid them, great! You probably will make your own mistakes and that’s okay. If we want to achieve anything great in life, we’re going to make mistakes.

To misquote Edison: “You might find 10,000 ways to fail at publishing and marketing your book, but all you need to find is one right way…”

Are you willing to share some of your biggest mistakes below?

Analysis of Sales of The Great Scottish Land Grab Part Three

Continuing a short series analysing sales of my first novel: The Great Scottish Land Grab. You can find yesterday’s post here and the first post here.

Every author’s story will be slightly different. I’ve benefitted from reading and hearing about the lessons other authors have gained from their experiences selling their books so it makes sense to offer what advice I can from my own experience.

What worked

1. Don’t discard rubbish first drafts
The first draft of Land Grab was not great, but it contained large sections that contained the core of the story I wanted to tell and on re-reading a couple of years later, still thrilled me.

I was extremely fortunate to have a relevant first draft waiting when I realised the level of interest in the Scottish independence referendum. If only I’d realised it sooner, but in reality, much of the plot of the finished book came out of my own journey exploring the issues. I doubt I could have written the novel, especially my first, at any other time. I was told from an early age to write and save what I wrote as it may become useful later. It’s good advice.

2. Be aware of what people are interested in
My decision to try and publish Land Grab in 2014 was definitely the right one. I made sales I might not have made at any other time. The original idea for Land Grab was for someone to try and steal a General Election to gain power and use it to reverse the Highland Clearances. As my interest in the referendum grew, I realised it offered a ready made situation that could be exploited in my plot and I began to rework the story to fit a topic all of Scotland was interested in.

Yet trends can easily vanish, as happened in October 2014. The No vote won and my sales began their quick slide towards zero.

Still, almost three years later and interest in Scottish independence has had a resurgence following Brexit… I’m still selling this book three years on…

3. There is no substitute for advertising
If you want to see zero sales, don’t market your book. If you want to sell one copy, tell someone you’ve written a book. Then tell someone else. Repeat until one of them buys it! If you want to sell hundreds or thousands of copies… You have to tell thousands or even millions of people.

How you advertise is possibly less important than the fact you are doing it. As long as you are reaching out to people who might be interested in your book, you may see some sales.

I’ve managed to sell dozens of copies by approaching strangers and talking to them about my novel. I found out this year that I could also sell copies by paying for Facebook advertising and I’m now also experimenting with Amazon Ads.

Time or money, you have to pay at least one of them and probably both and if you do it right, with a good product, you’ll find that you will sell.

4. A good cover will help, but a poor one won’t stop people if the concept is right
My first book cover was poor:

Yet, if you look at yesterday’s post, I still managed to sell a hundred copies. I knew it wasn’t the best I could do and kept trying different ideas, using this one when I released book two:

By the time book three was almost ready, I’d convinced myself I needed to show another side to Scotland and settled on this:

The last chapter written, the third book in the trilogy published, I listened to reason and hired a graphic artist: David MacKenzie who took a new concept I’d wanted and produced what became the final cover for The Great Scottish Land Grab:

David was kind enough to produce related covers for each separate book in the trilogy as well which you can view here.

5. Telling people how to buy the book
When I’ve told people they can buy copies on Kindle or physical copies through Amazon, they have. When I’ve told them there is a book, but failed to include that vitally important where to buy, I suspect they haven’t… It’s rather embarrassing to admit that on my leaflets and business cards I forgot to include that vitally important piece of information!

6. Split your book and make the first part free
Or write a short story or novella or prequel and give that away.

While giving the first part free is no guarantee that anyone will read it, let alone go on to buy the rest of the novel, I am seeing results where I’ve advertised the novel and let people know they can try the first book for free. If they are interested enough to act on your request and download the book, I think people will be more inclined to read it. Then, they may enjoy it and go on to buy the rest…

Want to start reading book one of The Great Scottish Land Grab for free? Click here…

7. Don’t give up!
If you have written a good story, then believe in yourself. Publishing is a long game and as many more experienced writers than myself have said, ebooks will be there long after printed copies are removed from the shelves.

My intention is to keep writing, keep selling and keep learning.

If you have any advice to share on your experiences of selling your books, why not comment below.