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 1

[First posted 28th July 2017]

Before we go any further, I’d better explain the title. In the UK we use ‘muppet’ to describe someone who’s a little clueless about something. Here, I’m using it to describe someone who’s a little clueless about marketing, and that someone is me. (‘Numpty’ would do as well but, you know, alliteration.)

If you also consider yourself to be a little clueless about marketing, then well met, fellow muppet. Should, on the other hand, you feel you’re pretty clued in to marketing in all its multifarious forms, then you may quietly mock me. I won’t take offence.

As for ‘Part 1’, this leaves the door wide open for a sequel. It’s the blog equivalent of a cliffhanger, without the cliff or, er, the hanger, but you get the drift. I intend setting out what I know about marketing—shouldn’t take long—and following up later, or perhaps a few laters, with stuff I learn as I progress.

I’ve been an indie author—both self- and small press-published—for nearly five years. You’d think that by now I’d have developed at least some basic skills in marketing. You’d think. One of my excuses (yeah, I have more than one), and one that will be familiar to many, is that I’ve always had to fit writing around working a regular, full-time job. What with family commitments and the usual stuff life throws at us, I’ve never made time to try to get to grips with marketing, always preferring to make time for writing first.

But that’s about to change. As of last week I cut my hours in my day job in half, mainly to make more time to concentrate on writing but also to eliminate that ‘no time to learn’ excuse. Whilst most of my freed-up time will be spent writing, an hour or so each free afternoon will now be devoted to learning how to promote my books. I’m going to post about my experiences and what I find works for me as regularly as I can. And I have much to learn—this could turn into the blog equivalent of the Friday the Thirteenth movies.

Another thing I need to mention: now that I’ve cut my regular working hours, my income has also been halved. (I did suggest they carry on paying my full salary if I promised to work twice as hard when in the office, but they didn’t like the idea.) Money will therefore be tight and I am going to have to explore free or almost-free marketing techniques. No BookBub ads for me—no change there, then, but I won’t be applying any more.

I thought that as I go along, I’d state in bold any principles or theories that seem especially true based on my own observations and experience. This is an opportune time to mention the first:

Proposition 1: What works well for one author, won’t necessarily work well for another.

In case I haven’t already mentioned it, I’m rubbish at marketing. Utter pants. A complete muppet. I intend to change that, but I know that not every marketing method will suit the sort of person I am, the type of fiction I write or the time I have available to spend on promoting.

Some writers spend a lot of time engaging with readers and other writers on social media—these are the writing superheroes who can bend time to their will, making it stretch to enable them to write in addition to spending all that time on Goodreads or podcasting, or whatever; either that or they never sleep. Some do nothing but write, aiming to publish a book every month or so, coupled with a spurt of highly-targeted, paid adverts at launch time—these, too, possess superhuman powers: the ability to produce a 60,000-word novel every month. Most others, like me, fall somewhere along the broad spectrum in between.

I think that before we decide what marketing tactics might work for us, we need to decide what fits in with our lifestyles and character. For instance, being heavily active on social media neither appeals to me nor do I believe I’d be very good at it. I’m simply not someone who enjoys chatting at length to strangers; I firmly believe my time would be more profitably spent writing than attempting to portray myself as someone I’m not.

What, then, might work for me? Well, posting regularly on my website (and on my Goodreads blog) is something I’ve only done sporadically, but is something I enjoy and would like to do more regularly. So, first up, this is what I’m going to do: post once a week a piece that’s, broadly-speaking at least, writing-related, although I won’t be able to begin properly until late August since we’re escaping another typical British summer (a scorching week in June, when the unaccustomed heat makes us wilt like unwatered house plants, followed by a couple of months of grey skies and rain so heavy it makes your head throb) for the sunshine of the Med.

I don’t expect results, in as much as I expect them at all, in weeks. This seems to me a longer-term tactic but I will report back on the effect, if any, this has on my sales. At least one sequel, then. Oh, and of course it’s all well and good writing regular blog posts; it’s another thing altogether to get people to read them. And there are other mysteries to delve into, such as how to organically build a mailing list (yep, I have one; nope, it doesn’t have many subscribers), how to effectively use social media if we’re on the introverted side of sociable, and (this, for me, is a biggie and one of my other excuses for being rubbish at marketing) how to make potential readers aware of our books without making them, or us, feel that we’re shoving them into their faces.

Friday the Thirteenth meets Rocky it could be.