34. Swimming with sharks

I LOVED Jaws. It was one of the first books I read cover to cover in just over 24 hours. A fantastic feat by Peter Benchley and, yes, I didn’t go in the sea for quite some time.

More than 40 years later, though, here I am swimming in shark-infested waters. There are predators left, right and centre ready to take a bite out of me. This is the murky world of the Independent Author and, at the moment, I am just managing to keep my head above water.

Don’t get me wrong. I am enjoying the fact I can now call myself an author and I am immensely proud of having published my first novel Crossing The Whitewash.

I’ve really extended myself when it has come to marketing the book, too. I’ve done something that as a writer is a complete anathema to me – I’ve called in favours and pleaded for help.

And, for the most part, journalist mates have rallied around and come up trumps. I’ve appeared in newspaper and magazine articles and featured on websites and in blogs. I’ve been interviewed by the BBC and appeared on a podcast.

The result: Negligible sales.

I tried another tactic. I began using Facebook ads, first to send people to my website www.theripperfile.com and then straight to my Amazon page. The trouble is that without going through my website and getting something called a widget to record exactly how many people went the whole hog and bought the novel, I really don’t know how successful it’s been.

I get the odd nice comment and reviewers have been highly complementary in the main, with 11 five-star reviews as we speak – many from people who don’t know me but requested an e-copy of my book through Net Galley. It’s all been done completely above board, without enlisting the help of those dodgy people who charge for reviews.

My latest tactic is to sign up with a Book marketing group – Books Go Social – to push Crossing The Whitewash to their 50,000 followers on social media. I think it is starting to pay off, judging by some of the comments I see on Twitter.

But let’s get back to sharks. As soon as you announce you are an Indie Author there is no shortage of people offering to help you sell your book. The difficult thing is spotting the ones with big fins on their backs.

There are a few voices I know I can trust, people who have made writing their day job and given up everything else. I can only salute the likes of Nick Henderson, Mark Dawson, Joanna Penn and Kerry Wilkinson, who are extremely prolific. They’ve cracked it and can be justifiably proud.

The trick, I’m told by these successful independent authors, is to release more and more books, give your first few away free in return for people joining your mailing list and eventually, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of the hat, there you are at No. 1 in one of the Amazon bestseller categories with thousands waiting to buy your next release.

It sounds wonderful but my problem is it took five years to write Crossing The Whitewash, my first novel. I put my life and soul into it. It was a slog. It changed many times as you realise if you read the entries on this blog.

Give it away? Then write another and give that away too? And all that while still holding down a day job and acting daddy day care for my 5-year-old. What are you talking about?

There are simpler ways I’m told. And this is when you look straight into the glaring white teeth of some very fishy operators.

I simply can’t hack those people who offer you courses and insist that you can crack the Amazon charts if you follow their fullproof system and pay them a certain amount of money for the privilege.

Can’t write? Not a problem, you just get someone in who can.

Need to manipulate Amazon? We’ll talk you through ways of cheating the algorithms.

We’ll make you a best-selling author, you’ll be earning a five-figure salary in a month, giving up the day job and zipping around in your top-of-the-range sports car without a care in the world. So come on sign up, sign up, sign up and cheat the system.

So what’s the reaction you get when you don’t take up the offer? Your mailbox gets flooded with messages which sound like they come from a disappointed parent.

“We can’t believe that you aren’t taking up this chance of a lifetime? We thought you were one of the clever ones? We’re really disappointed in you.”

Well, sorry to hear that, but let me just say this.

I write because I want to be a writer. I want people to read my books, not books written by someone else with my name on. I want genuine reviews. I want them spreading the word saying: “Have you read this Rippington? He isn’t bad you know.”

Yes, I’d love to be successful, give up the day job and concentrate on this all year round. But if I get a handful of people giving me positive feedback it gives me an immense sense of pride.

What pride would I get from cheating my way to the top? Paying people to put together an eBook in a couple of weeks, then putting my name on it. None.

Sorry, I won’t be doing that, so you can just put those sharp teeth away.

I won’t be going swimming today.

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