Claire King

Author

Archive for November, 2013

We Need to Talk about Amazon

Posted on: November 27th, 2013 by Claire - 15 Comments

While my first year being a published author has been going great guns in the UK, things have got off to a fairly quiet start in the USA.

That’s pretty much par for the course for a debut British novel, I’m told, and The Night Rainbow hasn’t done too badly. Considering there was no ‘launch campaign’ as such, around release time in April there was some great coverage in book shops, and I’ve had a modest royalty cheque, so hurray!

Then this week, Amazon.com chose The Night Rainbow for their Kindle Daily Deal. I don’t know how that works, but I am thrilled they did.

As a rule I don’t follow my rankings on Amazon, because

  • a) Frankly, I can’t actually affect them.
  • b) The numbers swing wildly about and it’s pretty unfathomable how they relate to actual books sold.
  • c) They change every hour. Can you imagine how distracting that would be to a writer if you let it?

But yesterday I made an exception, because I was interested in how the promotion – which saw the ebook price fall from around €9 to $2.99 for 24 hours – would go. Looking over the months since launch, sales on Amazon of both the printed and the e-book appear to have been close to non-existent. Yesterday my sales ranking in the Kindle Store shot up by 954,681%  (apparently*). From roughly #250,000 to #25 in the paid kindle store. That’s pretty close to the top of the list.

And at the end of the day I got to see this, which although a fleeting phenomenon, is no less exciting and, most importantly, gets The Night Rainbow noticed by readers who otherwise wouldn’t have ever come across it:

2013-11-27 at 08.40.53

Amazon USA Literary and Contemporary Fiction: #2

And also this:

Screen Shot 2013-11-27 at 16.42.31

Amazon Canada Literary and Contemporary Fiction: #6

I don’t know what my sales were for the day exactly (they certainly didn’t increase by a million percent) but they did shoot up quite remarkably and continued for a while after the Deal had finished, when the ebook was back to full price.

The Daily Deal was November 26th 2013, so if you’re interested in seeing how the ebook is ranking now, click here.

I also followed the ‘noise’ around the promotion. And it’s not just Amazon who market it. They publicise the deal onsite and send out emails to Kindle users, but I also noticed that on twitter and on the web in general there are lots of accounts set up to catch these deals and shout them out to their followers and readers, magnifying the effect. *It was one of those accounts that tweeting the amazing 954,681% leap in ranking. It’s a machine that works very effectively.

So far so good. Has anyone got to this point yet without screaming,

  • “Yes! But it’s AMAZON!”
  • “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Franzen etc”,
  • “Bookshops closing!”
  • “Death by ebook!”

Or something similar?

Well, yes. So to the thorny question of Amazon. As a reader, I’m a bookshop girl. I love bookshops. I love choosing books in bookshops and chatting to people who work there. As an author I also love bookshops. I love the warm welcome you get from the dedicated, passionate independent booksellers and from their customers, who they often know by name.

But Amazon have about a 30% market share of books in the USA. Many people now go straight to Amazon when they want to buy a book, and an even greater percentage when they want to buy an ebook. And obviously book shops don’t sell ebooks for Kindle (although Amazon are offering them the chance, which is a whole other debate).

Some people do prefer reading books electronically and the people that took a chance on my book yesterday because of a promotional price point and a big shout out from Amazon are not people who would have bought a paper copy from a book shop. Otherwise they’d have done it sometime in the last 7 months, I’d have thought. They are, however, people who will read it, hopefully be delighted by it, and hopefully tell that to other people.

Sometimes, as authors, it’s suggested that when we ‘self-promote’ we should limit that to encouraging people to go to bookshops. When the question of Amazon, or indeed supermarkets, comes up, even if they’ve helped market and sell actual quantities of our work, we are expected to hum and ha and shuffle our feet nervously. I did tweet several times yesterday to let people know about the offer. And every time I did, I must admit I felt worried that people might judge me for inadvertently ‘supporting’ Amazon.

But in the end, is it we authors who are responsible for the struggles that bookshops face? I don’t think so. Most authors I know would happily do signings at bookshops, support library reading groups etc., even if they find public appearances rather painful (the authors not the reading groups).

Nor are we responsible for where readers choose to shop. We have excruciatingly little influence, quite frankly, over who buys our book and from where. We can tweet our little hearts out, but unless we seriously set about a time-consuming social media campaign, it’s just not our call. The greatest influence we have is in the quality of our writing.

So, if a retailer stocks our books and readers buy them, enabling us to feed our kids and write more books, then we are happy. And if we can give that income a little boost along the way, then generally we will, as best we can.

Yesterday’s Amazon promotion was a great opportunity to boost awareness of The Night Rainbow in the USA and Canada. It’s the kind of novel that thrives on word of mouth recommendations, and as many authors can tell you, it can be frustratingly difficult to kick those off.

I hope the people who picked up the e-book for $2.99 yesterday will love it, and that they’ll consider giving it as a gift (wherever they choose to buy it) or just tell others what they thought.

And also that they will want to buy the next book. Speaking of which I’m off to finish it. Hopefully there’ll be news on that soon.

UPDATE:

Since posting this a couple of good articles have shown up on this topic, so links are here:

New York Times tongue in cheek, what Amazon is to a modern author 

New online retailer opens up in UK to offer online alternative to Amazon (The Bookseller)

 

 

Following a Trail of Thoughts.

Posted on: November 25th, 2013 by Claire - 2 Comments

Sometimes people visit this blog via a link from another website, and of course I like to pop over and see who sent them here.

– Today I found myself at the blog of Mitzi, whose blog is Tea & Biscuits & A Good Book (and who can argue with that?) and who has just finished reading The Night Rainbow (in the bath).

I had a look around her blog and was interested to see that Mitzi lists three criteria for how she chooses her books, and the first is:

“1. Recommendation – you know whether your taste in reading material is the same as the person who recommends it.”

Sure enough, in her review Mitzi mentions that she had heard about The Night Rainbow last month from Jo, at her blog Through The Keyhole.

I followed the trail, and in reading Jo’s post, I found that in her turn she had come to the book through recommendation, having heard about The Night Rainbow from Anna at the Green Tapestry blog, (a gardening and allotment notebook), who had written a post back in August talking about her summer holiday reading.

I usually try not to read too many reviews, as I’m finding that what people have to say about a book that has been published somehow affects how I feel about the one I’m writing now. But as an author it was a joyful little moment, finding this organic trail of blog posts. It’s reassuring to see readers picking up on recommendations and passing them on in their turn, and a privilege to peek at the dialogue between the bloggers and the readers who leave comments.

So my thanks to each of these three bloggers for sharing their thoughts, and to everyone who has taken the time to write a review or simply to tell others how you’ve enjoyed reading The Night Rainbow. After the brief burst of excitement over the launch of a book, I honestly believe it’s people like you who determine how it fares in the long run.

Tea and Biscuits

If you’re interested in other blogs where you can find book recommendations, I did a series of interviews with book bloggers earlier this year. Start here and follow the trail!

Word of Mouth 1

 

We’re in the Business of Selling Dreams.

Posted on: November 19th, 2013 by Claire - 17 Comments

I want to talk about becoming an author. About publishing a book.

So you’re a writer. You get up early in the morning and you write. You drop the kids off at school and you write instead of doing the hoovering. You commute to work and you write on the bus. You stay up late at night and you write. And your dream is that one day, hopefully very soon, you will see your work published. In a book. A book that you can hold in your hands. If that’s you, I’m talking to you.

If what you dream of is your book being available in ebook format only, I’m not talking to you. Because you know that there are many options now for doing that. And personally I know very little about them, and you too have Google and Twitter. You will find your way.

But back to you, the dreamer, the one who wants to hold the solid block of pages in your hand and see your name on the cover and the printed words inside that you created and pulled together and spun into a story to be told to thousands of readers. You, who wants to be paid for your work, perhaps even for writing to be your actual job. You would like to make a living from it. Yes, well I’m really happy you’re here. Because that’s what I want to talk to you about.

Without money

If you are anything like I was, you’d be delighted to hear that somehow there is a shortcut. That agents can see through a first draft of a manuscript to the dazzling novel you know it eventually will be. Or that publishers right now are trawling the electric interweb for rising stars to pull under their wing and lead through the golden doors of literary fame and fortune. Or how the publishing landscape is changing and that now the gatekeepers have left and you are the most powerful person in the publishing supply chain, if only someone could explain to you how that works. You might even be willing to pay for that advice.

Well, my advice – which is free and you take it as it is – is that as far as I know there are no shortcuts, and you are certainly not the centre of the publishing world. Sorry. It’s not you. If I were to go out on a limb and say who I think does occupy that position, thinking about agents, publishers, bookshops, online retailers, authors, editors, and all the others, I would have to say that the most powerful person is likely to be…the reader. Maybe. But in any case it’s not you.

You are the writer, you are the author, you are the person who will create a story, and you will send it out into the world and you will ache with every rejection and bad review (and later you will soar with the offers and the delight of five fat golden stars). Or maybe you have thick skin or pure genius and that won’t happen at all.

But in the meantime I’ll tell you what you *are*. You are a market. Because of that ache for something that is out of your reach, because of your dream of something that is hard to achieve. Because there is something you really, REALLY want. Because of that, there are people out there ready to sell to you.
They are not there to sell you the magic formula, because if they had it, we’d all have it, and we’d all be hitting the jackpot, riding our fat advances to the top of the Sunday Times best-seller list. Oh but wait…
No. But what they are there for is to sell you back your own dreams.

They will tell you there are no guarantees. They will not promise you a publisher, or an advance, or literary prizes. But they will tell you that by buying something off them, a product or a service, you will be doing the right thing, putting yourself in the best position to publish that book, to be that person, the best-selling prize winning author who can give up their day job and set off on tour, gathering movie and foreign language rights as you go. They may throw in a lavish drinks reception or a star studded evening mingling with agents and publishers. Lovely. But the champagne is on you.

Do they have something that is worth your money? It’s your job to work that out. These people are in business. One of the many businesses that are set up to take advantage of the hungry market of aspiring authors. Legitimately. They are not there to take on the establishment, or create a new publishing paradigm, all for one and one for all. They are there to make money. For some that’s all it is, although of course some, often those run by well established writers, also have the very best of intentions and really want to help you succeed.

So if you are thinking of making money from writing, if that’s one of your goals, then before you pay out anything, *anything* to advance your career as a published author, be that writing courses, editorial services, social media publicists, conference fees, subscriptions to writing websites, publishing services or anything that wants your money, take yourself seriously. Make a business plan.

It doesn’t have to be complicated:
1) How much do you expect to earn?
Do you hope to earn a side-income or to give up the day job entirely? Do some research and find out how much an average debut novel earns, and an average second novel. Look into different genres too. Look at self publishing versus the traditional route. Look at advances and royalties and do some maths. Work out the probabilities.
2) How much are you willing to invest?
Do you have money to spend? If so, where is it best spent? Improving your craft; making new contacts; paying to be published, building an author platform on social media or buying a decent desk chair? Taking some paid leave in order to write, perhaps? What would each of those things give back to you and how would they help you to succeed?

I’m not suggesting at all that writing is all about making money. If you’re like most writers you do this because you love it. Because you can’t not tell stories. And sometimes we can buy things that help us along, even if it’s just a copy of Writers’ Forum or a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. But as soon as the question of handing over your money to other people comes up, and you’re tempted, think about it. And whatever you do, don’t become part of someone else’s business plan just because they talk a good talk.

That’s makes them the salesman, and you the punter.

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