Thursday 24 May 2012

With A Cast of 50,000 - The Valley Of The Trolls

I'm a troll
We've been together for a year now - just you and me. Well, it's better than drinking alone I guess. One year ago I was certain I knew nothing. Today I know everything there is to know about uncertainty. I had just launched "Knockout" - my genre Romance pulsating with animal lust, lusty animals and International Locations. To some extent I have come in a complete circle. At that distant time I realised that I was saying goodbye to 35 years of serious writing. The slush piles of the Great Gatekeepers had felt the weight of my A4 gravitas. The bin-men of south London had kept pace with my output and the scorn of editors. Employers had failed to appreciate my creative day dreaming. The dog shampoo sales stats from Manchester got lost in the post modernist white thrusting buttocks of yet another dystopian philosophical tract. My writing career had arrived at the genre milestone simply because I was too poor even to starve in the attic. Perhaps - just perhaps, one could actually make some kind of income as a writer?

At first it was all about blogging and networking. That is how we met. The book went out onto all the platforms and we struggled with different formatting and "American" grammar. A few dozen kind souls looked at the blog. Now and then someone bought a book. We were priced at 99 cents. Each sale was like a birth. Now and then a kind soul would enjoy the book and give me a decent review. At that time I was able to write and live in France. I was a humble little mouse, building my literary burrow.

Firstly then the blog. I regard this as something of a success story because the readership has grown without any corporate stunts. The help and support of indie writers has boosted the readership to a total of 2,500 per month. For the first 6 months I set myself the goal of blogging every day.  Although I'm ever popular with Russian males, most of the traffic is random hits from people clicking on photographs. The fact is that the blog has sold very few books.

I arrived in the digital budget hotel with just 2 items of luggage. One was a short story "Sub Prime" and the other a genre "supermarket" book about cops and slobbers. I had decided a few years before to ditch everything of the previous period - i.e. my life. We used to live in a Capitalist system. Now life is Capitalism. Every single thing is commercial. Everything is bottom line. This is a born poor/stay poor world unless you can pull off the deal and get your hook to hold up in the sky. Dear old "Sub Prime" is the last footprint of the way I wanted to write. 

"Knockout" bumped along the bottom all through 2011. It was so far on the sea bed that only flat fish and readers fitted with sonar could detect it.  I believe we were at about number 60,000 in the Amazonian Ocean of a million digital books. This appalling figure means that 900,000 books have no significant sales at all. 

Course of the Amazon
Then came KDP Select. We knew that other writers had gained visibility by offering free books. This was our chance to get a hook up into the blue sky. We hurled it up - and it stuck behind a fast moving cloud. We topped several categories and reached the top 300 of all books. So far we have given away 50,000 books. A success story perhaps? Well - it rather depends on what happened next. 

Our first free run in January 2012 led to a sustained sales period over weeks. People were buying and enjoying the book. Reviewers on the whole were very positive and we were beginning to see some hope of some income after months and months of day and night  promo work through every conceivable media and cyber hang-out. I had also returned to the UK, grateful to get work as a bus driver.  I must also add that my actual book and story writing had stopped. Quite simply the endless jingle jangle of click this and check that has destroyed my inner calm. I tell Gilles that I am going through the Zenopause. 

Our second free run in early March was a similar success with a sustained sales afterglow. I began to notice hits by very negative reviewers as the book went back for sale. I have a policy of not commenting on reviews but surely if you are going to criticise a book - you should have read it properly or indeed, merely have read it to some extent.

Our third free run was in mid April. Clearly things had changed. Now, I'm not much of a musician - but I do have a natural sense of algorithm. Amazon have changed the deal so that you need to do ten times the traffic of free sales to get the same advancement up the sales charts. Visibility means sales. Sales means visibility. Almost the minute we came off the free deal, the negative reviews came in. Perhaps I am paranoid but can you really slam a book on the basis that in "real life" a woman would not risk her career for forbidden love? Come on guys! The book is a light sex infused escapist Romance, not a career development manual. 

So - 50,000 potential readers have the book. On the basis of the last free run we gave away about 5,000 books in order to sell about 50. It is quite clear  that in the current format KDP Select is not for me and I will not do any more free days. I know people only grab the book because it is free, but if I had sold one tenth of those books, I would not be working all day driving a bus - at least for a few months. I also think there is a great difference between the free reader and the person who looks at your book, samples it and then actually buys it. In the long term it is probably counter-productive  to put your book into the hands of people who would never like it or choose it. 

Here is the problem though. During my last free run, I was one of 15,000 free books on that day. There are now so many free books that no one is ever gonna have to buy one again. Soon there will be a plug in external memory for e-readers and all free books will be scooped as they come out. One day our unfortunate children will receive only our digital libraries of unread free books as their inheritance. Well, they won't have jobs to keep them busy.

Emma at the Oracle
I am not an Amazon hater. They have enabled me to publish at little cost. The lending library feature provides some income, albeit small. All the same, I feel like a supplicant at the feet of the priestess of Apollo as she interprets the gas emissions at the Oracle of Delphi. No one knows what is going on. Each time the oracle pronounces, the mob charges off to the latest Klondike. Each time a Romance novelist writes a blog, the historical imagery becomes more tangled. Soon there will be Amazon soothsayers and experts. Amazon lobbyists will offer special insights. And they will all be right - until the oracle emits gas again.

Oooh - I do go on. Thank you all my lovely readers who have sustained me during the last year. How was it for you? Please dear friends - let me know how you are getting on with KDP Select?  My own future is gonna be a lot more proactive. I want to get to the readers who want to read me and will pay a few cents to do so.

In the teeming millions of creatures being swept down the Amazon to the sea, I will no longer be  a speck in the universe washed onto the shifting sands of broken metaphors. Who said I was a purple crap writer? I really do love you guys out there.

Emma thinx: Don't big yourself up. Big yourself within.


  1. You write well enough and tell the kinds of stories that thousands should want to read. The problem is: how do we find them? Caleb Pirtle

  2. I will still be linking to Amazon as my main bookstore but will not be using the KDP Select 5 free days. The Kindle Owners Library does bring in some income so I will stick with it for this aspect whilst I look into alternative approaches such as getting back with Smashwords to access the rest of the e-reader market.

    I would be interested to know how your next free days go?

  3. Sadly, I have to agree, Emma. No success thus far with selling many of my five books, but gave away plenty. I think your observations are spot-on, certainly in my experience. I have no idea where to turn next. There surely is a key, but it hasn't yet revealed itself, that's for sure. It seems next to impossible to get one's work in front of the staggering numbers of people that it would take to make some headway. But...never say die!! We plod along, chasing the dream down every elusive trail in the labyrinth. Good post, my friend!

  4. I haven't pulbished anything yet, so I have no experience with KDP Select. However, I will continue to be interested in reading about all the new things you try as you become more proactive. Good luck!

  5. Emma, you're such a good writer and I do fervently hope that you get back to serious writing! Like you, from December 2011 up to April 10 2012 (when I was operated)I spent all my time on Internet, on my blog (it was hitting the 5,000 readers a month and I was so happy with that!) and trying to push my book and get reviews. Hard work, and of course I ended up not writing anything at all anymore. Dried up inside. All this mad marketing is very dangerous for a writer's creativity: it simply kills it off! The hen that lays the golden eggs (hum, golden? well...eggs anyway) drops dead...

    In a way my operation (and the subsequent 6 weeks needed to recover - btw, I'm fine now!) were really a life-changer. I realized many things (like the importance of sunshine compared to my computer screen) but most of all I realized quite clearly that there is absolutely NO correlation between a successful blog, hyped marketing on Twitter, FB and elsewhere and sales.

    And equally important, I realized (having the time to ponder the question and check my numbers)KDP Select free downloads lead to lots of downloads, yes, but (in my case) NO spike in sales. None at all. I've come to the conclusion that free downloads only WORK FOR THE FIRST BOOK IN A SERIES. Also free downloads in that case make sense if you ALREADY HAVE A FAN BASE FOR PAST PUSBLISHED WORK AND YOU'RE INTO LAUNCHING A NEW SERIES.

    Otherwise, forget free downloads. Like you, it's something I will never do again. Though, like you, I'll stay with KDP Select: I like their Library thingie and it might help one's exposure to new readers in the long run.

    Smashwords? I don't know. They're like a regular publisher: they take a percentage on your books forever. Is that what you want? If you're willing to give up a percentage like that, better try and land a traditional publisher, even an e-press. Sometimes (I hear from writer friends) small presses are better than big ones. They take you on and care for you (meaning they do a good job on the editing and marketing - the two things any Indie really needs). Personally, I haven't given up on traditional publishing and I keep trying to land an agent. Maybe someday it will happen but it's worth trying in my opinion. Remember Amazon itself has gone into publishing and is the Next Big Publisher, no doubt about it. So the ideal situation would be to land a deal with Amazon.

    To do that of course you need to hit high in their ranking - be part of the first 100. Look, maybe it won't happen with your genre book KNOCKOUT but why not try and return to your literary writing? Don't be afraid of literary writing: in the long run, you'll stand out much more easily than with genre (in my humble opinion). I know it's a "long-run" affair...and living in the attic (or the street) is no fun. I realize that. But you do need to produce the absolute BEST book you can and keep producing one after the other, without thinking about ever making a hit. Sad but true. But I know you're hugely talented and you'll make it!

    I can't wait to read one of your "serious" novels and you won't need to tell me to download it free: I'll be happy to buy it!

    And speaking of hooks in the sky, this is a funny coincidence isn't it? My next book is called A HOOK IN THE SKY!

  6. Wow - that is a coincidence. I'm so glad you are fully powered up again and thank you so much for your praise and taking the time to post your comment. I do feel that the whole DIY publishing maelstrom is the death of the objective writer. It takes me a while of reflection to get into the zone and the constant bish-bash-bosh of the hard sell wipes me out. Surely, fewer and fewer people will be able to be full time writers when the market place is so crowded and so many products offered for free. I wonder what I will be saying in May 2013?

  7. I can't say what's happening to me is sales of any nature. Mind you I haven't done much serious marketing, primarily because I'm not sure what's best. I didn't do the freebie deal as it just didn't sit right with me. More than sometimes I can bite off my nose to spite my face and that may have been one. I still believe it will come about for those of us who continue to become better writers and determine it's our future - regardless. The upside is this amazing group of women I've met. You are all a prize in that regard and I'm most appreciative.

  8. Hi Christina, Yes - the upside is the fantastic group of great folks one meets in the process. I have no idea of the future of publishing and it is an enormous comfort to know that I share my ignorance with some very learned people. This time next year,next month or tomorrow the landscape will be different.


Thanks so much for stopping by. Always so happy to get your feedback. Emma x