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.

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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)…

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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.

31. ALL THE FUN OF THE FAIR

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Nick Rippington, author of Crossing The Whitewash: The Rugby World Cup thriller, with wife Liz and daughter Olivia at the Rhondda Book Fair

APART FROM the fact I spent a sleepless night while World War Three appeared to break out on the streets of sleepy Monmouth, I had a wonderful weekend at the Rhondda Book Fair.

Thanks Books & Pontyclun, David Norrington, Colin R Parsons and Emily King (and everyone else who helped) for their dedication to the cause of us writers in arranging the first-ever such event.

The setting itself was a wonderful old building known as the Soar Centre in Penygraig, an imposing former Baptist Chapel which has become a big asset to the local community.

For me coming down from ‘that’ London it was a step into the unknown – very similar to the journey my hero character Gareth Marshall makes when he moves to the Welsh valleys in a bid to escape his violent past. I was expecting to be mugged by feral kids running wild on the streets, or accosted by giant rugby players declaring “Oh, you’re English are you butt? We don’t like your sort around here.”

What I received instead, though, was a welcome in the hillsides (or valley sides in this case) which made me keen to go back in future. This being the inaugural event – with the competing attraction of the Rugby World Cup going on throughout the UK – those attending were mainly the relations and friends of the authors on show. Hopefully, though, the message will spread and next year it will be packed out with readers keen to sample some very fine literature.

Maxine Ridge, author, When The Crow Cries

Maxine at her table

Each author had a space in which to set up around the room and I shared a table with Maxine Ridge, mum of one with her second due on Xmas Eve. Maxine very kindly shared her tablecloth with me and then told me all about her children’s fantasy novel “When The Crow Flies”, the first in a trilogy published by Stairwell Books.  When she told me about her story it put me in mind of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the Narnia books by CS Lewis I loved so much as a child. Throughout the book there are colourful illustrations provided by Maxine’s talented Aunt Helen Ridge, who sadly passed away through illness on the day after the book deal was signed. I couldn’t resist buying one, thinking it would probably be right up the street of my middle grandson Marley.

Which set the tone for the day really. It was great to meet other authors writing in a variety of different genres and I couldn’t resist buying some of their works. In turn, they no doubt felt it was rude not to reciprocate and visited my table. I bought as many books as I sold. Still, Xmas is just around the corner. Though it didn’t lead to the bumper sales I was hoping for I got one big surprise –school friend Colin turning up out of the blue to renew our acquaintance after 35 years – and all in all I had a lovely day shooting the breeze with fellow writers.

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Welsh crime writer Wonny Lea and her effective banner

I picked up some useful tips too. While Liz sneaked out to buy me a little Welsh flag and a rugby ball key ring to help liven up my stall, other writers were thinking altogether bigger. Many of their works were showcased on massive banners decorating the entrance to the building, and photographer Lis McDermott overheard my moans about not having anything quite so striking to attract customers. She told me that provided you had really high quality, high resolution pictures of your book covers then most printing firms can make you up a banner these days. “But don’t put any words at the bottom,” she confided, “they will probably be hidden behind boxes of books or whatever”. I will be investigating the possibility of having a banner designed soon, but I’d better get writing some more books first! (Lis, by the way, took the picture of us at the top of this entry)

The event was rounded off splendidly when prolific author Catrin Collier gave an inspiring talk in which she was quite happy to give away some trade secrets (I won’t repeat them here as I can’t afford to be sued!)

After that, with wife Liz and daughter Olivia in tow, we returned to Monmouth and another night experiencing the Battle of Agincourt Square. If you ever choose to visit this beautiful town in Wales on the weekend I’d avoid staying in the Kings Head Hotel, next to the late opening Wetherspoons. The Food and drink were very reasonably priced, which was great, but perhaps that only served to fuel up the locals for their loud street invasion late at night.