69. HOW CONVERTING TO KDP SELECT GAVE ME AN AMAZON BESTSELLER

JK ROWLING, Stephen King, James Patterson, Lee Childs… you guys have a new rival.

Yes, seriously. Better start upping your game, looking over your shoulder.

Who is it?

Well, little old me, of course. Rippington’s the name, gangster fiction the game.

And my Boxer Boys series is about to take the world by storm.

How? You may ask. You were selling 200 percent of nothing a short while ago.

Let me explain…

I’M not a great fan of exclusivity deals. I figure that if you aim to sell books you need to spread your wings as wide as possible.

When I released my first novel Crossing The Whitewash I made sure it was available with Amazon, Nook, Kobo, I-Books and sympathetic book stores all over the UK.

The results were disappointing. Though I had a few people begging me to make the book available on I-Books, for instance, no one else seemed to invest. In fact, having made only two sales, I haven’t even been paid as the accountants at Apple deem it below themselves to transfer cash unless you have earned more than $10.

What I did find, though, was I sold more books through Amazon than anywhere else. Perhaps it was because I often targeted my Facebook Ads towards them.

two-covers

Anyway, when I launched Spark Out on July 10 I bit the bullet and entered it into KDP Select – just to see how it would go. In return for exclusivity they offer you a number of marketing options, including a “countdown deal” where you set the book at a cheaper price for a few days.

The other option – and the one I chose – was to give the book away FREE for a short period. This week I was delighted I took the plunge.

Spark Out went to the top of an Amazon Bestseller chart.

Admittedly, it wasn’t one of the big categories like thriller or action – but even so to see your book sitting above everyone else and be able to marvel at the fact you have had more than 400 downloads in just over two days is a pretty heartwarming feeling.

Particularly after marketing the book relentlessly through a live launch, blog tour and everything else, only for sales to be so insignificant they weren’t worth talking about.

So what made the difference? The fact that the book was a freebie, of course,  but also some strategically targeted ads to ‘help’ with visibility.

By enrolling exclusively with KDP Select you have a five-day window where you can offer the Kindle version of your book in a free promotion. I chose to start on August 8 and run the free promotion in one block. You don’t have to do this: You can spread out those five days across the initial three-month contract period.

I also decided to try something else.

Having had hardly a sniff of sales in the United States I decided to advertise the book on Instagram. This form of social media seems to be taking off over the Pond and many people tell me it’s the next big thing.

So I ran a £5-a-day ad on Instagram over here and a similar one in the States. These can now be set up through the Facebook power editor by clicking a few boxes. I had some nicely designed images from my cover designer J-D Smith and used these.

Alongside it I ran a £10-a-day ad with Facebook, targeting lovers of Martina Cole, Ian Rankin, Stuart MacBride, Harlan Coben and Dennis Lehane. I rather cheekily pointed out it might be the best thriller they’ve never read!

Having done all that, I sat back in hope rather than expectation.

These were the results after a day (UK top, US below)…

FirstNo1acrosspond

Amazing. Not only did the downloads start pouring in, but also I noticed people were paying for things. I couldn’t work it out. Spark Out was free. There was no option to pay.

Then it hit me like being bashed on the bonce by Reggie – my protagonist Big Mo’s tough-as-teak enforcer in Spark Out: People were not only downloading the new novel for free, they were actually PAYING for the book that started it all, Crossing The Whitewash. Happy days.

numberone!

So I had nearly two days at No.1 in Contemporary Urban Fiction, and a spell at No.2 in Urban genre fiction, only being pipped to top spot by Roy and Garry Robson, fellow Londoners who have their own little police series called London Large which is going great guns.

Now I am a convert to KDP Select, but it will be interesting to see what sort of visibility my books have once the promotion period is over.

68. DUBLIN SPARK LIT THE BLUE TOUCHPAPER FOR MY SECOND NOVEL

LISTEN to any Dublin taxi driver and they’ll tell you that you can’t fling a Bodhran tipper* out of the window without hitting a writer.

Sorry, but I’ve lapsed into gaelic since spending three days in the fair city to launch my difficult second novel Spark Out. And it’s certainly true to say that the only people I saw who weren’t writers during my brief but highly enjoyable stay were those kind people who served me their finest beers, spirits and other sustenance to help me survive the ordeal.

This was the second time I had been to this wonderful event run by the book promotion service, Books Go Social. I had asked Laurence O’Bryan (pictured below) – the brains behind the company – if he might be able to fit my book launch into his jam-packed schedule. Even though he had Hollywood producers and best-selling authors to accommodate, he was delighted to oblige, and kindly filmed the event as well.

laurence

BooksGoSocial logoHaving not ventured out of the famous Gresham Hotel last year, I pledged that I would see a bit more of the famed Dublin nightlife this time around. The trouble is that once you become embedded with a group of writers, even the most introverted is itching to tell you of their latest project or their creative journey.

As a result I became part of the fixtures and fittings of the Academy Plaza on this occasion, spending the days enjoying lectures on every aspect of my craft, from first sentence to organising book launches, and nights ensconced in the bar, swapping tales with fabulously entertaining company.

wendyh     There were too many good speakers to list but I would just like to make quick mention of Scottish dynamo and crime writer Wendy H Jones (right). Having lived a full and varied life before beginning a “life of “crime” she drew on her experience as a nurse to inform us: “I can assure you that no one has EVER died of embarrassment.” Wendy was encouraging us to get out and take risks, to ask local book stores and other enterprises to stock and sell our books, or allow us to perform book signings and launches.

A testament to her success was when she visited her local bank branch near Dundee and was not only invited to do a book signing but was then approached by head office to do an entire tour of Scotland’s banks. Brilliant work!

wendybook

As for myself, despite having to compete with the clinking of cutlery and what seemed like a demolition derby going on in the nearby kitchen, I think my speech went down well.

I was pleased with the banner that I had bought on eBay and had delivered straight to the venue without actually seeing (I feared there might be an awful spelling mistake in it or something, but luckily that wasn’t the case). I was also delighted to be able to do a short reading from the new book and give out three as prizes to those people who could come up with a tale about their favourite fictional baddie.

To finish off I did a reading from the novel which you can see here…

At the end of it all I was feeling revved up, the adrenaline flowing… there was nothing for it than to retire to the bar again and mingle with the glittering company.

* A Bodhran tipper is the stick with which you beat an Irish Bodhran, or drum.

  • Spark Out is available in paperback this Saturday (July 1) and can be obtained through Amazon or ordered through most good bookstores. It will be available as an eBook through Kindle Unlimited from July 10. 

66. BUSKING FOR A BIG BREAK: ONE WEEK INTO KINDLE SCOUT

I FEEL like one of those lost souls wandering tube trains late at night, putting little packs of tissues on the seats with a short note to explain their dire circumstances.

When they return later asking for a donation in exchange for their kind gift, most of us pretend not to notice them, even though the strong smell is pretty hard to ignore.

Your heart tugs at you, telling you that to dip into your pocket and hand over the meagre change that lies there among the shredded tissues would be the humane thing to do and could make a world of difference to this person’s life.

Your head warns you that it’s the start of the slippery slope: TV programmes and newspaper articles have alerted you to being taken in by professional beggars. They dress down deliberately and even sit in a bath of urine before hitting the streets and robbing good, honest, hard-working people of their cash.

So you put your head down and pretend you are reading your Kindle while waiting for the scruffy oik to move on, which seems to take an age.

You hope that after his shift ends he won’t be returning to a rat-infested squat, but to his four-bedroomed country mansion in Epping, therefore fully justifying your ‘snub’.

OK, maybe that’s a bit over the top, but I don’t like begging for anything. This week, however, I have tried every far-fetched scheme in the book to garner support in my bid for a Kindle Scout contract.

I hadn’t attempted this route to publication before. With my first novel Crossing The Whitewash I took it all on myself – the writing, the research, the cover, the formatting, the uploading, the pre-publicity, post-publicity, the placement of the book, the emails alerting book shops to its availability, the launch: the whole kit and caboodle.

I’d heard about Kindle Scout, of course, but it seemed like just another popularity contest and I doubted many people actually succeeded in their task.

spark-out-cover-medium-web

Two years on, though, and I took the plunge. Having heard a bit more about it I decided I would enter Spark Out for a Scout deal. If it failed I was no worse off for the experience – If it succeeded? “Woohoo!” in the words of Homer Simpson. That’s a $1,500 advance that will immediately cover my costs of enlisting proof readers, editors, cover designers and all, even leaving me some money for social media adverts.

A week in and I am addicted, but as someone who just wants to write books and get them into the hands of as wide an audience as possible, I’ve started to scrape the bottom of the barrel in the search for support.

KSdayone

It began pretty well, my Facebook chums and Twitter acquaintances all weighing in during the first few days. I jumped straight into the Hot and Trending category and stayed there for four days.

Now, though, I’ve slipped out of it, and I am wondering how the hell I can revive the interest.

I have resorted to doing Periscope readings of parts of the book, the equivalent of the busker in the underground holding out a cap and hoping someone will show their appreciation when all they are interested in is getting from A to B.

Today I have even gone through my Goodreads list of friends, sending some of them personal messages and hoping that even though they don’t know me from Adam they will take pity on a poor writer and click the link to my Kindle Scout page.

scouting1stweek

Perhaps things will pick up as I get closer to the end. If they don’t, though, I will just have to throw myself on the mercy of those nice people at Kindle Direct Publishing and hope their editors believe Spark Out is worthy of their charity… together with a nice, juicy contract.

  • Sound familiar? Let me know your Kindle Scout experiences in the comments

 

65. BREAKING NEWS: I’VE ENTERED THE KINDLE SCOUT PROGRAMME AND NEED YOUR HELP

IN the social media kindergarten where all the kids are holding their hands up shouting “Me! Me! Me” I’m appealing for people to help me get my squeaky voice heard.

I’ve been reluctant to try these voting schemes before as I’m such a shy, retiring personality I worry I’ll end up with ‘Nil pwan’ like the very worst Eurovision song contest performer.

Sometimes, though, you must be brave and bite the bullet.

This morning I stepped into the unknown and put my second novel Spark Out up for a Kindle Scout contract.

spark-out-cover-medium-web

The way it works is that you give all the details of the book, submit the manuscript, cover and other relevant information about you as an author and your previous work – in my case the first book in the Boxer Boys series Crossing The Whitewash – then have a month to convince people it deserves to be published.

Once that period is up, those nice people at Kindle Direct Publishing will make a judgement call on whether your work has garnered enough interest to carry their stamp of approval.

If it has you will then have all the power of Amazon behind you in terms of marketing and publicity – a useful tool I’m sure you’ll agree.

Once the campaign is up and running I will provide you readers with further information on how you can lend me your support.

With a $1500 advance also on offer if the book is successful I will be off to buy a mansion in the Maldives and you’ll never hear from me again.

That, at least, has to be worth your vote.

62. Spark Out: Cover reveal

THEY say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I certainly hope you can in my case. In my humble opinion, my cover designer Jane Dixon-Smith has excelled herself with Spark Out, the second book in my Boxer Boys series.
Jane, one of the members of the prolific author-collective Triskele Books, has a simple but effective way of working with authors and her covers can rightfully take their place alongside the very best on the virtual bookstand (or, indeed, in book shops if you are lucky to find anyone prepared to stock your book… hint, hint Waterstones, WH Smiths and Foyle’s).
It’s all about genre, really. Jane asks you what type of book you have written and invites you to submit covers you like in that genre. Once you have provided some examples and explained the kind of imagery best fits with your story, she sources them and sends you a variety to choose from. Once you have done that she then gets to work.
two-covers
Crossing the Whitewash was my first book and because Spark Out is part of a series Jane wanted to stick to the overall style. As you will see the name is very similar as is the idea of taking a silhouette image, in this case a man and a boy, and adding a background significant to the story. For Crossing the Whitewash we used the Millennium Stadium, for Spark Out it’s the QE2, which carried 3,000 troops to war in the Falklands back in 1982.
For me, the image of a soldier’s eyes, facepainted with camouflage and the Union Jack, was striking, and we used it above the title in the same way we used the knife in the first book.
So that’s it. I hope you like it.
The book has just come back from my American Editor, more of which later, and is now with my wife Liz, a qualified proofreader. I will soon be selecting Beta Readers to get a free copy of the book and give me their comments while hopefully posting a review on Amazon or Goodreads on launch day. If anyone is interested please let me know via the comments on here and I will get back in touch.

56. How Audible brought my characters to life

 

ANYONE who has read Crossing The Whitewash will probably agree that Arnold Dolan is a pretty terrifying character. At least, that’s how he was described by judges in the Writers’ Digest eBook awards.

This week, though, Arnie even SOUNDS terrifying. I know, because I have heard him speak.

Today I am wallowing in the satisfaction of releasing an Audio version of my UK gangland thriller, having spent four months helping to edit and perfect what I believe is a pretty impressive product.

In collaboration with a very talented young producer/narrator, Samuel J Haskell, I think we have come up with something with which we both can be pretty proud.

Don’t take my word for it, though. The book is on sale on Audible and if you take up their offer of a month’s trial you can download it for FREE and put it on your MP3 player, phone or other listening device. Better still, why not listen to the sample which is provided on the page first to see if it whets your appetite.

I am a convert to Audio books. I find they take the pain out of the mundane commute to work, though I’m not sure if I would like Arnie Dolan sitting next to me on the District Line journey from Mile End to Monument!

The book has to be pretty exciting, though, to maintain the interest, because it is easy to doze off as the tube train clickety clacks through Whitechapel and Tower Hill.

I think Samuel manages to do that, and he has also added some pretty impressive sound effects for things like loud speakers and phone conversations.

So how easy is it to produce your own audio book? Amazon’s ACX division have made it a pretty straightforward process.

All you have to do is put a sample of your book on their website and then invite people to audition for the role of narrator/producer.

Then it is a question of setting a deadline for the first 15-minute sample, followed by a deadline for completion. You have to agree a fee – which can be done either as a flat rate of a certain amount per hour, or as a share of the profits.

With Samuel I agreed BOTH but unfortunately ACX don’t have a provision for that so he will just have to hope I am honest about how much money we rake in.

I paid Sam £750, which may seem a lot, but over that period of four months he certainly earned his corn. He was able to put up chapters a few at a time for me to listen to, and I then sent him corrections or comments if I didn’t think things sounded quite right. There was a lot of back and forth before we got it exactly how we wanted it, and Sam – a trained film producer – also threw in the promotional video that you can see here.

I think I got a bargain but, as it was his first experience of ACX too, I believe the experience for both of us has been invaluable.

At the end of it all, one simple click on the writer’s part and the audio book goes to the ACX techies for final approval, which they carry out as soon as the producer confirms he has been paid.

It’s interesting to know, too, that every time someone signs up for the one-month free trial with Audible and makes your book their first order, you earn $50. Whether I will get my money back I don’t know… but, to be perfectly honest, hearing characters I have created like Arnie, Gary and The Legend talk has been priceless.

 

53. Don’t apologise for being an Indie, we’re cool. Learn the lesson of Tarrantino and Co

I’VE just found a blog post which absolutely sums up the way I feel about writing and Indie publishing. If you want something new, bright and refreshing don’t bother too much about the trad published stuff: in my opinion they just see a formula that has worked in the past and hammer it.

How many times have you read a book and thought: This plot and the characters are awfully similar to something I read not that long ago? If it’s by the same writer I sometimes wonder whether there is a writing team back at Big Press Towers who are just following a formula to produce the next bestseller. Admittedly,  there are a fair number of Indies who follow tried and tested formulas (vampire stories, anyone?) but that’s probably because another Indie came in to break the mold and put them back in fashion. It just stands to reason, you are much more likely to find something new and original in the Indie pile.

So if you think you have a story to tell don’t wait for the big agent or publisher to come to you… be brave, be bold and put it out there. It worked for some in the film industry who got fed up of banging on the doors of the big studios and just did it. There is plenty of help out there these days to help write, edit, proofread, publicise and market your book… why not just go for it.

Use this article as your inspiration

51. To join KDP select or not join KDP select… that’s the big question

 

INDIE AUTHORS have a great deal to thank Amazon for – in many ways the revolution in writing has been led by them.

Createspace, Kindle and ACX are all valuable weapons in a writer’s armoury once they decide to self-publish.

Through Createspace you have the ability to produce a physical book, with a professional cover and quality printing, which can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with anything turned out by the traditional publishing giants.

Meanwhile, Kindle has led the way in the astonishing rise in digital books over the last few years while ACX is now allowing Indie Authors to bring their stories to life in the form of Audio Books. Once put together and produced with a narrator, they can then be distributed and sold through Amazon’s Audible branch.

In the past, sick of rejection slips or ignorant firms who refused to even answer our emails, potential authors no doubt put their hard work on the fire, admonished themselves for being such terrible writers and gone back to the day job.

Now there is an alternative – and it is something which is growing in popularity so much that even traditionally published authors are considering the alternatives: whether that means going the whole hog and doing everything off your own bat, or enlisting help through the “hybrid” companies. More of those in a future blog entry, though.

I spent a day at the London Book Fair a couple of weeks ago and found the Author Central section crammed with writers eager to learn more about this brave new world in which they have the power to publish in their own hands.

Perhaps their biggest problem now is getting their work “seen” – without the aid of the vast marketing machines the trad-pub companies can call upon.

It takes a lot of hard work and tinkering – trying to use Amazon’s algorithms to your best advantage – not to mention paying for advertising through social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.

And it is tempting at this early stage to find a method of giving away your book free so that you can get it into the hands of more people and rise up the book “charts”.

This is something that Amazon encourages, too. They invite authors producing eBooks to enlist in KDP select, which means you give them exclusive rights to sell your novel any way they want.

Join Kindle Unlimited, for instance, and the reader gets a whole library full of self-published books to delve into, picking and choosing, their subscription money going into a central pool, rather than payment for books going to individual authors.

The big advantage of KDP Select is that Amazon positively discriminate in favour of those that sign up, giving their books better visibility and special promotion. But at what price to Indie Authors in the long term?

To join Select or not join Select is now the big question, to misquote Shakespeare in the week of his 400th birthday.

It seems to me the more cards KDP Select holds, the more the writer’s work is being devalued.

cokerMark Coker, co-founder of Smashwords, gave his own thoughts on the matter in a video talk entitled 10 trends driving the future of publishing. It’s worth watching.

 

50. Climbing the charts like a Take That comeback single

SIX months ago if my sales graph had been a print-out from a life support machine doctors would have pulled the plug. To say things were flat lining would be like suggesting the Alps were “a bit hilly”.

Tonight I am basking in the heady atmosphere of being no 43 in the Urban Kindle sales rankings, having tried every trick in the book to resuscitate my baby.

Well, as an Indie Author, you can never give up hope, can you? The traditional publishers might whisk the plug out as if they had finished the ironing, rather than destroyed a promising career. We have a greater emotional attachment to our sickly child.

In the case of Crossing the Whitewash it had taken me four years hard labour to give it life and I wanted it to have every chance of succeeding.

To be fair I had plenty of advice about how to revive the patient, but the trick is deciding what is genuine help and what is designed to make a quick buck out of you. You have to wise up to those blowing on your neck telling you a hurricane is on its way, and it isn’t easy.

Still, by experimenting with Twitter and Facebook ads, changing categories and key words, and enlisting help from Social Media experts claiming to have hundreds of thousands of followers, the recovery has been a steady one.

The problem is I have no way of gauging what has worked and what has not. I just know that over the last month or so sales of my beloved novel have looked much rosier – in terms of Kindle anyway.

The fact none of the big bookshops will stock my novel, even though I emphasised my connections with Bristol, Wales and London and made a big selling point of the fact the Rugby World Cup – a backdrop for the novel – was taking place last September and October, has been hugely disappointing.

Tonight, though, I am pretty happy. In the hourly Amazon rankings I see that in this country my novel has reached an all-time high at no. 10,508 of all Kindle paid sales, fiction and non-fiction (and if you knew how many people are trying to flog books in this format you would know why I am so impressed). In the Urban category I have broken through the top 50 barrier. Admittedly it is one of the more “niche” genres but even so it gives my heart a flutter to see my baby actually featuring in one of the best-sellers charts.

kindlegraph

 

Of course, the spin off of this is that my novel is likely to be seen by more potential readers. With 24 reviews, 16 of which are 5 stars, it should begin to feature much higher on the search engines, which will improve its visibility for potential readers.

At £1.99 Crossing is still in the virtual bargain bin, of course, so there is little hope of making any profit or giving up the day job. The first ambition, though, is to establish myself as an author and with the latest news I think I can say I am starting to do that.

I’ve got some new marketing tricks to try out over the coming months in the hope of raising sales even further. An audio book is in production and there are plans to promote it through a video in conjunction with my narrator and producer friend Samuel Haskell.

The key, eventually, is to establish a fan base and hopefully then those four or five sales a day will multiply handsomely.

arnie ad

Meanwhile, the current Facebook ad seems to be the one pulling them in. I’ve made a strength of the fact the American eBook competition judge described Arnie Dolan as terrifying, and I’m delighted to say it must be working.

 

45. Battling distractions

THIS blog entry is a paradox. I am writing about distractions and this little rant is a distraction in itself.

What I should be doing is working on Header (working title), the follow-up novel to my debut effort Crossing The Whitewash. Instead I am writing this to give you an idea of how easy it is to be dragged from the beaten track, a victim of the savage, wild beasts we know as “everyday things”.

I’ll explain. This morning I sat down to work on a particular chapter of the new book. It is actually a prequel to Crossing, in which we get to know Arnie Dolan’s father Big Mo,  a dangerous career criminal with a different set of values to many of us.

It is set in 1982 and Big Mo is planning a Post Office raid. Beforehand, though, he makes a visit to his guru, a bloke who helps ease his tensions with a massage and some sage advice. Like everything with Mo, even this visit is accompanied by drama.

He parks up his car, using a disabled sticker he has obtained from someone “on the council” who owes him a favour. This causes a serious altercation with a member of the public.

Trouble is: Try googling Disabled Disc 1982 or such like and see how you get on. Typical of everything on the internet, nothing really happened before 1990 unless someone decided to write about it on Wikipedia.

I want to get it right so it starts nagging at me, distracting me from the scene I’m trying to write. It seems like a good excuse to ring my 91-year-old disabled Dad.

Trouble is, he refused to use a sticker before he was 65, even though he had managed to survive very nicely thank you on one leg from the age of 12. His memory isn’t great (unless you want him to remember films from the 1940s) and his hearing is even worse.

The result was a long, drawn out conversation – with me shouting down the phone to be heard and losing my voice, already on the wane because of a bad case of man flu – and failing to get a satisfactory answer. “I don’t know, I didn’t have one,” was his final answer. Pfft.

I decide to chase the problem up later but as I cut the call I see a text message on my phone. It is a reminder that a buy-now-pay-later loan I took out years ago is due for payment in seven days.

It’s the first time I have ever had a reminder of something that goes through automatically by direct debit, so I decide to ring the bank. I wait 15 minutes before being able to speak to the relevant person.

“Oh yes, it is just a new system the bank is trying out.”

“But it alarmed me something was wrong and I thought I had better ring you. The number I had been given was 0345 which is no doubt expensive and I’ve been waiting 15 minutes to speak to someone. It has probably cost me quite a lot of money on this silly call.”

“Sorry about that. You can always complain.”

“Yes, I think I will.”

This involves looking up a number for the complaints dept, ringing them, putting in all the account details, sort codes, security numbers, inside-leg measurements and amount of times you figured in a 20-run opening batting partnership in your works cricket team over a five-year period.

Before they put you on hold.

Eventually someone answers, apologises, puts you on hold again… and eventually says your complaint has been approved. You will get £12 back in your bank account within the next two hours.

Having started the whole “research” business at 10am, now having written this blog because I am still steaming over the bank’s stupid text message, my distractions have lasted just over two hours. Actually novel-writing time today? About 15 minutes. See how easy it is?

A small addendum: If anyone knows anything about Disabled Drivers discs in the early 80s, please send me a message. I will be most grateful for the information.