What’s Occurring (Part 1)

Now and again, I get the urge to talk about things without wanting to go on at sufficient length to fill an entire post. A mish-mash, if you like. A potpourri. (Completely by the by, but does anyone else’s brain insist on pronouncing the ‘t’ in that word, despite knowing that it’s silent? In my head it’s always pot-pooh-ree. Even more off topic, but does anyone else think that potpourri smells yeuch? My mum always kept a dish of the stuff in the hallway and I came to detest its perfumed fragrance.)

This, then, is the first part of a series of musings on the state of my writing career and associated matters. Oh, and for those who don’t know, the title is a catchphrase of one of my favourite sitcom characters, Nessa from Gavin and Stacey (though she used it in the interrogative: “Oh, Stace, what’s occurring?”). Since I live not twenty miles from Nessa’s home town, it seems apt.

Audiobooks
So I finished The Beacon audiobook and it passed the quality checks of both Audible and Findaway Voices. Findaway is the audiobook distributor I am using to publish my audiobooks in various places other than Audible and Amazon. I have taken my other audio titles (The Cleansing and the short story collections Pond Life and Ghosts of Christmas Past) out of exclusivity with Audible due to their shenanigans over returns—see Returns—and am distributing them through Findaway, too.

I can’t honestly say that going wide has yet proved to be worthwhile. Sales via Findaway have so far been sporadic and not at all lucrative, while I now receive a lower share of each sale on Audible (and it wasn’t great when I was exclusive). One sale through Findaway—actually more in the way of a borrow in some sort of library lending service I’ve never heard of—netted me the grand royalty of $0.10. Yep, that’s ten American cents, around 6 or 7p in sterling. And that’s for a novel over ten hours long in audio format. When I read that, and rubbed my eyes and read it again, I think a tiny part of me died.

The only saving grace is that the site in question was winding up its audiobook operation and perhaps such a pitiful royalty was all they had left. At least it shouldn’t happen again or else I’ll be seriously considering chucking in the towel on audio.

Marketing
Yep, the dreaded M-word. I’m heartily sick of marketing at the moment. It seems that whenever I try something new and begin to make it work for me, something outside my control changes and abruptly the method loses its effectiveness.

Take advertising on Amazon through AMS (Amazon Marketing Services). Putting aside the irksomeness of having to pay Amazon to make my books visible on its website so it can make more money out of me through my increased sales, I was having some measure of success with this a year or so ago. By ‘success’, I mean my books were gaining visibility and selling steadily if not spectacularly.

Then the price of advertising started shooting through the roof as, so I understand, the bigger publishers began to use the service more and push prices up. Since I’m neither prepared nor can afford to pay a couple of dollars each time someone clicks the ad for my book without any guarantee they’ll go on and buy it, Amazon advertising has lost its lustre for me. (You see, my cut for each sale is generally around a few dollars. If I have to spend a couple of dollars merely to get a potential buyer to click my ad and if, say, I make one sale per ten clicks, well, you do the maths. Suffice it to say, it’s not cost-effective to run ads at those prices.)

Then there’s Facebook advertising. I’ve only recently started dabbling with it and it began reasonably well, generating some sales and interactions from new readers. If a method of advertising can achieve both these things, it’s bloody great in my book. But something has happened, something I haven’t yet fully looked into, to do with changes Apple has made to its operating system that have had a knock-on effect, which seems to have stopped the effectiveness of my Facebook ads dead in their tracks. I clearly need to investigate in detail, but it’s the sort of time-sump of a task I hate and I need to psych myself up to perform it.

Social media presence
Perhaps absence might be more accurate.

I’ve never been a massive fan of social media. Even less so over the last few years in this age of polarisation and pandemics. It’s made me appreciate why it adversely affects some people’s mental health. The utter tosh bandied about as fact—and believed by many as such—is astonishing. And there’s so much vileness out there, so much hatred and unkindness, I find myself shaking my head, wondering what’s gone wrong with the world.

Still, I suppose social media is useful for posting links to new blog posts, promotions, releases and the like, which is pretty much all I use it for nowadays. Even then, there are so many other writers competing for attention, it often feels as though I’m shouting into the void.

I see writers on places like Twitter engaging in lengthy conversations and lively discussions, and I wonder how they manage to devote such time and energy to social media without it affecting their writing output. Maybe it does, but not that you’d notice. I take my hat off to them.

On the brighter side…
Hmm, that was all a touch doomy and gloomy. Sorry—I’m not trying to bring anyone down, but it’s how I feel about publishing right now.

Whenever I’m a little despondent about writing-related matters, I remind myself that it wasn’t too long ago that I was trying to fit in all this stuff around a full-time job, and later around a part-time one. Since November 2019, I’ve had the massive good fortune to be able to work full-time from home doing what I love. And I do love it: the writing, the publishing, the audiobook production. Not so much the marketing.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing. In February 2020, I suffered the aneurysm in my knee that resulted in an emergency bypass operation and laid me up for weeks (National Heroes Service and Part 2).

Then we went into the first covid-19 lockdown and the pandemic has pretty much dominated our lives since.

But things on both those fronts are looking up. I had my first (and only) outpatients follow-up appointment in the vascular clinic for my leg last week. It was supposed to have taken place within three months of the op, but this was fourteen months later due to the pandemic disruptions. The doctor checked the pulse in my foot and declared it to be strong and healthy. When I told him that I haven’t smoked since February 2020 and I’m currently walking 16 miles a week, aiming to increase to 20 miles very soon, he said he couldn’t ask me to do more. He promptly discharged me. Happy days.

On the pandemic front, vaccinations in the UK are continuing apace and here in Wales businesses are being allowed to gradually reopen. I’m due to meet up with five friends at an outside table of our local pub this Sunday. These are mostly the same bunch of friends I went to Dublin with to celebrate our 55th birthdays and to watch the rugby the weekend before I suffered the aneurysm (In Dublin’s Fair City). To say I’m looking forward to seeing them all again and to imbibing a few pints would be understating it.

Of course, as the current horrendous situation in India demonstrates, we are not out of the woods yet with the virus and we cannot afford any complacency. Mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing continue to be the order of the day. We are yet to count the full cost in loss of lives and livelihoods. Nevertheless, it is nice to be able to look forward with cautious optimism.

Finally, in October we acquired a new addition to our family. He’s a little bundle of fluffy energy who has brought a great deal of joy into our lives. Say hello to Milo.

He’s eight months old, and is a cross between a Maltese and a Shih Tzu. We love him to bits.

 

Here endeth Part 1. There’ll be a Part 2 along sooner or later. Till then…

 

Marketing for Muppets – Part 7

The last Marketing for Muppets post appeared in March – it’s here if you’re interested: Part 6. I talked about my international BookBub deal and indicated that I probably wouldn’t do another marketing post unless I was successful in obtaining a BookBub deal in the US. So, yep, you can guess what happened.

Since being accepted in January for the international deal, I’d been applying for a US deal every four weeks and been refused every time. After a while, such regular knock-backs start to wear you down and when the reminder popped up in my calendar in mid-October, I almost didn’t apply. Just as well I did and it shows that persistence can pay off. I was offered a US deal on 16th November, which I accepted with alacrity. As before, it was for The Cleansing at a discounted price of $0.99.

I turned off the ad for the book on Amazon because I wanted to see whether BookBub still lives up to its reputation without the results being skewed by any other forms of promotion. In truth, the Amazon ad had been dwindling in effectiveness for a while—to put it into context, I’d sold the grand total of two copies of the book on Amazon.com in the previous thirty days. Advertising on Amazon is becoming tougher unless you have deep pockets, but that’s a possible topic for a future post—maybe Part 8 will make an appearance at some point although, as I said in the last part, I’m heartily sick of talking about marketing.

BookBub featured deals are not cheap. For a deal in the US for The Cleansing, the cost was $594—that’s £461. To break even at a sale price of $0.99, I’d need to sell around 2,000 copies. But that’s only if you look at direct sales arising from the promotion and ignore sales resulting from increased visibility and sell-through of the sequels. I wasn’t concerned about recouping the cost on the day, though I hoped to achieve around a thousand sales in total so that I’d stand every chance of good sales of the sequels.

In fact, I sold exactly 1,000 copies of the book on Amazon.com on the day. In addition, I sold around 200 copies on the wider channels, thus exceeding my hopes.

At the start of Saturday, 16th November, the book was ranking at around 126,000 in the US store. By the early hours of Sunday, the book had fleetingly gained an orange bestseller tag on Amazon.com for one of the science fiction sub-categories (thank heavens for screen shots) and peaked at 103 in the entire US Amazon store. (It might have climbed a little higher, even breaking briefly into the top 100, but if it did, I didn’t see it—this was all happening after midnight UK time and I had to snatch a few hours sleep.)

Around 60 copies of the sequels also sold that day and all three books have been selling steadily—on Amazon and in the wider channels—at their usual prices in the US since. There has been a knock-on effect with an increase in both audio and paperback sales of The Cleansing.

So, is BookBub worth the expense? I can only speak for myself (remember Proposition 1), and I’ve only had featured deals with the Earth Haven books, which have a high sell-through rate, but the answer is a resounding yes. Proposition 6 bears repeating:

Proposition 6: BookBub is an effective promotional site, especially for authors with sequels or a substantial back catalogue available to take advantage of sell-through.

And that’s enough about marketing. Unless I ever do feel the need for a Part 8, I’m going to concentrate on topics I find more appealing; anything else, then, essentially.

Till later…