60. That Difficult Second Novel

SETTING A deadline is always a good thing. Without one you can keep tinkering for ever more or, worse, put the whole thing off until you “feel like it”. As a journalist, I pride myself on hitting deadlines in the day job, so I figured I should show the same dedication to my “difficult” second novel.

I was getting a bit bogged down a short while ago so decided that, come hell or high water, I would complete the first draft before my holiday in Spain, when I can go away for a while, lock it in a musty cupboard and forget about it before having to do all the dirty work (editing etc).

I am pleased to say the first draft of the new book, with a working title Headers, is now complete.

Originally, Crossing The Whitewash was intended as a one off. So many people said they wanted to learn a bit more about the characters, though, so I looked at some of the questions that may have been left unanswered.

I kept coming back to the Dolan’s – this career criminal family – and how they had developed. The Boxer Boys were Arnie Dolan’s invention, but he is only the third boy in a family of five.

What about Maurice Dolan, locked up in prison for most of Arnie’s life after a series of Post Office robberies, and his relationship with mum Beryl? What about oldest boy Chuck, the enforcer. How did he start on his journey to become the hard man of the family?

It was originally intended as a novella, but the story developed in such a way that when I finished the first draft this week it was 140,000 words!

Once I started looking into the early 80s, developing the characters and things, what I considered a really intriguing story started to arise – complete with a few twists and turns.

I’m afraid for those who loved the Welsh side of the story The Legend and Gary Marshall only figure briefly, while the Bard Guys don’t get a mention.

It’s possibly not as light-hearted and humorous as parts of the previous book but hopefully it is engrossing nonetheless, covering such important topics like the Falklands War, the Flying Squad, Police corruption and Ron Greenwood’s England Boys of ’82.

Don’t worry, though, the Welsh boys will be back, as will the Sunday Tribune Despatch and Arnie Dolan – you may just have to wait another year to see them.

Meanwhile, below is a sample of the new book Headers. Remember this is only the first draft and I will probably need to cut about 40,000 words, change things around, get it edited, proofread, have a cover designed, formatted… In fact, it’s unlikely this will bear any relation to the finished article! Hope you enjoy, and want to read more about Big Mo and the Dolans.

HEADERS SAMPLE FOR BLOG

59. Building a mailing list shouldn’t be like The Krypton Factor

DO YOU remember the Krypton Factor?

It was a programme on ITV presented by Gordon Burns in which contestants were tested on qualities like memory, strength and resilience.

You had to be a superhuman to come out on top and I’ll admit here and now I wouldn’t have fared particularly well.

When I set out on the path to becoming an author the plan was to simply write books. Now I find it is becoming more and more like a TV endurance programme every day. I’ve been sucked into the dark, mysterious and, some might say, evil world of marketing.

At times I’ve felt myself turning into one of those fanatical salesmen who jump on desks and recite a mantra before grabbing the phone and interrupting you in the middle of your busy day, only to get a mouthful of abuse.

It’s probably easier being a Jehovah’s Witness, but some salesmen are extremely good at this sort of thing and leave the rest of us standing.

Mark Dawson runs a course about how to get the best out of Facebook Ads and is full of tips and tricks. It’s very good, but the trouble is you need an accompanying course on how to use the many online tools needed to make it work.

Minimum requirement is a mailing list compiler, a lead pages generator, a company who will supply free eBooks on your behalf so you don’t have to deal with complaints… it goes on and on. It makes the Krypton Factor look like Snakes and Ladders.

Come to think of it, I started feeling like that was what I was playing. I would get something right, check it out and find one of the components wasn’t doing what it says on the tin. Down the snake I went.

Result: Customer wasn’t receiving the free book they had asked for, and it makes you feel like a fraud.

I became so frustrated I was driving the family to distraction and, at around £600 a pop, I would suggest the course is for authors a bit further down the line than those like me with one published book.

With finances a bit tight, I plumped for the money back option after trying my luck with the ads.

The one thing I did learn, though, was how effective a lead generation ad can be on Facebook. You can do this on twitter, too.

You still need a mailing list compiler (I use the paid version of MailChimp so that I can set up an automated email response to anyone who joins my list) and also someone like Book Funnel to provide the link to your free eBook.

But other than that it is great because you don’t need to have confirmation pages, thank you pages, welcome pages, captcha pages and a number of other things that  tend to get between the customer and your mailing list.

With a lead gen ad all the reader needs to do is click once on your offer then agree to hand over their email address. Facebook does the rest.

Of course, it still won’t be successful unless you sell your offer to the reader, but you can experiment with your ad and your targeting.

ADNEWMART

For instance, the Ad that worked for me targeted Martina Cole readers (mine is a UK gangster novel) who were women between the ages of 30-65. I did this for two reasons: I have surprisingly had better responses to my book from women and Martina Cole is hugely successful in the genre.

Having done this I used a new FB picture that my book cover designer JD Smith set up for me and put it out there. I was astonished at the response: Around 140 new email sign-ups for just under £40.

Happy days. I’ll explain in the next blog post step-by-step how to do it, but if you haven’t set up a Facebook Ad account yet it is probably worth checking how to do that first. FB provides plenty of advice in this respect and it is key you have an author ‘page’ rather than just a personal account.

57. The Terminator and SkyNet really exist: We just call them Google

FOR THE last two days I have been going all Sarah Connor.

Sarah, for those who like their Sci-Fi, is the hero of the early Terminator movies. Her reward for identifying the dangers of a new world dominated by technology was to be wrapped tightly in a straitjacket and stowed away from the general public.

Well, I can safely say I can see Sarah’s point. For all the new wonders that new tech has bought us, how many of us are turning into boggle-eyed raving loonies by this computer-dominated world?

The task I started on this week seemed relatively simple. I had 25 free codes to give away after Crossing The Whitewash was released as an Audio Book.

CrossingpromoSTILLWow! Fantastic. A giveaway. FREE.

Recently everyone has been telling me that the way forward to becoming a “real” author is to develop your mailing list, so those interested in your work are at your fingertips when you launch new projects.

And to start this little process what better way to build a list than with a company invented for the purposes of compiling such lists?

The most popular of these in writing circles seems to be MailChimp. As with most of these things it is COMPLETELY FREE until you get to around 2,000 subscribers.

I have been with them for about two years. My current list numbers 16, including my wife and several of my mates who, no doubt, felt sorry for me.

Here is the key, then. You set up a Facebook Ad, with a classy video like the one my narrator/producer Samuel J Haskell made for me, then invite people to click through to your website and fill out the email link, which goes to MailChimp and is forwarded to yourself. From there you send out the codes. Simple.

chimpA useful piece of technology like that – with such a cute, cuddly name, too (Awwww, MailChimp, look at him) – could hardly be part of a conspiracy to take over the world, surely?

Then it begins. Trying to set up a mailbox to get notifications sent to me of new members on the list, I am informed both my Yahoo and Gmail accounts aren’t suitable. Because messages are being sent out from a third party (MailChimp) then Yahoo and Google will think they are up to no good and attempting to steal all the goodies from your email account.

Fortunately, you can click a button which says “I’ll take that risk” which, of course, I did.

Then I ran the ads and in one day had 22 clicks for just a fiver. Not a bad start.

When I checked the Email list, though… Nothing, zilch, nada.

So 22 people clicked through to my website and, one step away from their free gift, decided “Nah, can’t be arsed with that”.

I’m sure that does happen, but all 22?

I checked the link and, lo and behold, while my website said my email address had been accepted, nothing was passed on to my MailChimp list. The technology didn’t work. This, by the way, comes after five hours of tinkering about, trying to get the Ad together on Facebook before it rejects about half the things I want to do. So this is a hair-tearing moment… No wonder I have the hairstyle of Buster Bloodvessel.

Anyway, I try everything: Building a new list, tinkering with the forms, changing the website around… nothing works. I have to suspend the ad campaign, imaging that some people will be pretty fed up with the fact they haven’t got their audio codes even though they filled in the Email box.

Finally I take the plunge. I am told I need a website with my own personal domain. Which costs money. Luckily I spent some a while ago buying the domain name for my website, so I can set one up with that.

My website is from a firm called Wix. Quite frankly they get on my Wix on regular occasions. Other lucky writers take the plunge and “employ” website designers, but I figure: I design pages on a national newspaper, what can be so difficult?

The f***ing technology, that’s what.

Anyway, on we plunge and I obtain the website incorporating my own personal domain name. I am now nickripp@theripperfile.com. Only trouble is this has to be verified. I click for it to be verified and where do I end up? Google, of course.

Now, Google already runs my computer. Everything happens through Chrome. It knows all my passwords, usernames, inside leg measurements, length of… well, you get the picture.

Apparently Google is in charge of Emails, even if you thought you were setting them up with Wix, or Go Daddy, or any number of other companies.

And Google won’t make things easy for you. Oh no. There is a “How to get verified” video that lasts five minutes. I dare anyone to watch it and NOT find their mind well and truly boggled.

I give up and try different ways. “Congrats”, pings my old email. “You now have your own Email domain!”

“No I soddin’ don’t,” I reply, ranting at the screen. Google won’t let me play!

I try a variety of other tricks, none of which work. I am supposed to stick some code on the end of my website address as verification. How? “Watch the simple-to-follow video” says Google. “F*!*”|!”

By this time my wife has run for cover, my little girl is riding around the living room on a tiny bike which goes squeak, squeak, squeak and I’ve put my head through the computer and am shouting “Here’s Nicky!!!” having just typed 3,000 times “All Google and no play makes Nick a dull boy”.

Then, without warning, and I still don’t know how… it lets me in.

Ha…lle…lu…jah!

Unfortunately, now my brain is mush. I am mumbling to myself. I am sweating. I am picking bugs off the wall and eating them whole because I didn’t have time for lunch, or dinner.

My wife is whispering on the phone to someone… in my paranoia I am convinced it is the men with white coats.

Of course, Google isn’t the Terminator or SkyNet. It is much more subtle than that. It is not going to destroy us with guns, or lazers, or flying, whirling machines of death. It is just going to send us all slowly  mad.

google

So here I am, staring blankly at my screen, the Google logo in its jolly colours taunting me in its untouchable status.

And one question is whirring around and around and around in my head: “Who died and made you boss?”

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.

 

47. Closing the Nook

 

Say it fast and a Nook eReader sounds like a person addicted to steamy romances.

To be perfectly honest, I’d never heard of one, never used one and never seen one before I decided to go into the publishing game. In fact, I had to google it to obtain this picture.nookereader

However, when I published my novel Crossing The Whitewash plenty of people suggested that I should make it available in this format for digital readers.

Barnes & Noble developed this particular eReader as their answer to Amazon’s Kindle and another device I’ve never seen, Kobo, which has being plugged quite ferociously in WH Smith’s lately.

So, of course, I loaded my novel to all these platforms and waited for the royalties to flood in.

Unfortunately, while Kindle sales have taken off and at the weekend I reached #12,600 in the “charts” and 52 in the Urban category – more successful than an All Saints reunion I might suggest – sales on Nook have been zero, zilch, nada.

Recently I wrote to them and suggested they might like to plug the book and they obliged. I was featured on new reads, but unfortunately they put the wrong blurb with the book which meant anyone buying it would be in for a shock.

The writing accompanying the book jacket suggested it was some sci-fi adventure, rather than a gritty UK gangland thriller. I made nine sales (a vast improvement on none), but wonder how many complained and got a refund.

nookcockup

To be fair, it seems to have pushed me up in the Nook First (the debut novel section) best-sellers list, anyhow.

Still, I mentioned the error to Nook and they graciously offered me another free promotion in the future, maybe to coincide with the Writer’s Digest Award announcement. Great!

Except now I read this… Barnes and Noble are pulling the plug on the Nook, cutting their losses. Oww!

I’m not quite sure what it means. After all, apparently Sainsbury’s are taking over sales in the UK. Confusing.

And there was I thinking it’s time for you Nook owners to put it up in the loft, next to your Betamax videoplayer, Sinclair C5, DeLorean sports car and complete collection of Robert Maxwell’s 24-hour newspaper.

Can anyone throw any more light on this?

 

 

 

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.

 

 

43. Buy my Valentine

DAMN! No sooner has one “special day” disappeared than another is around the corner. I swear that card makers invent one every year just so that they can keep their industry thriving.

Last year, for instance, was the first time I had ever come across Grandmother’s Day. Their kidding, right?

Well, no, they are deadly serious and we all get “shamed” into turning the myth into reality. In a few years time it will be “What? You didn’t get your second cousin twice removed a present for ‘Second Cousin, Twice Removed Day’? You scoundrel!”

As a self-published author, though, I’m beginning to realise the more special days there are, the merrier. For instance, this week I have been putting out Valentine’s Day adverts for Crossing The Whitewash.

“What?” I hear my faithful reader say. “That book has as much in common with romance as it does with English basket-weaving in the 18th century”. And on the face of it you’re right.

But that’s where the creative juices come in – those same juices I used to think up the plot for Crossing and produce an “award-winning” (I love that phrase) novel in the first place.

I’m not a great fan of this lovey-dovey day of the year, and I suspect there are plenty of other blokes like me.

I can hear the collective muttering under breaths. “Oh bloody hell, Valentine’s Day is on Sunday. She’ll be expecting something. What do I buy? Chocolates? She goes to Weightwatchers, so she won’t be very impressed. A bottle of wine? She’s given up drinking. A slap up meal? Costs a fortune and I’m saving up for the footie next week.”

Of course, not a word of this can be whispered within half a block of the lucky lady, who will be telling her mates: “Oh he’s ever so thoughtful. Can’t wait to see what he gets me for Valentine’s Day.”

All the time she has her fingers crossed firmly behind her back, hoping he doesn’t produce something to match the scented coat-hanger thrust upon her last year… lovingly wrapped so there was NO WAY she could guess what it was!

Women like to compare lovers. It’s a bit like that Monty Python Four Yorkshireman sketch. “We used to get up in the morning and Dad would make us lick road clean wit’ tongue.”

“You were lucky, our dad would slice us in two wit’ bread knife.”

Anyway, I completely digress. I got to thinking, how can I relate Crossing The Whitewash to Valentine’s Day. So I had a little think, and the Eureka moment duly came. “That’s it!” I thought. “What if I make my novel the ANTIDOTE to Valentine’s Day” – a kind of double bluff. “Know someone who hates Valentine’s Day? Then get them this for Valentine’s Day.” Genius, right?

So I came up with a Facebook ad that I hoped would not only appeal to blokes, but would get their women-folk pressing the Shop Now button, too.

Well, for a £5 investment initially I got 21 Amazon clicks and enough sales to push me up to no 79 in the Kindle Urban chart. It seems to have worked.

What did the Ad say? See for yourself…

facebook valentines

Now, how do I turn Mother’s Day to my advantage? Gangsters love their mums, don’t they?

 

37. Exploring the Amazon

WHEN I first set off on my novel-publishing mission I kept hearing the word genre over and over again.

People insisted that it was important that you established yourself in a certain genre if you were to start selling books. This is because if you are to use the Amazon algorithms to your advantage your book should turn up when people are searching for subject matter of a similar style.

It’s about discovering readers, the people who might be partial to the kind of thing you are writing.

 

 

rankings

For me, initially, it seemed pretty obvious that Crossing The Whitewash fitted in the thriller category, with a bit of suspense and mystery thrown in.

Along with that, particularly if you are publishing with Kindle Direct Publishing, Createspace or Lightning Source (the UK version of Ingram Spark) you get a number of key words you can input to help the search engines discover your novel.

I tended to throw these about willy-nilly. I included Wales and London – the two settings where the novel takes place – sport (because the Rugby World Cup is one of the backdrops), mystery, murder, gangsters and one other which I can’t recall at the moment. On Kindle you are allowed seven which seems plenty.

The trouble is that because I had chosen thriller as the main category, the amount of competition I had was vast. We all know that thrillers can be used to describe any book really with a bit of a twist and an edge. Drill down and there are all sorts of different types: medical thrillers, legal thrillers, cop thrillers… even those novels like Gone Girl and Girl On A Train find themselves in that category.

An author’s priority is to get your book to be seen, and to alert potential readers to its availability.

Your aim is to reach one of the bestseller lists, so that you find your book linked with other people of a certain genre. Let’s be honest, if you are writing about a gang or perhaps UK organised crime, you can do no worse than find you’re sharing the same Amazon page as Martina Cole.

Of course, with the word thriller in the title (I originally called it the Rugby World Cup thriller and later a UK gangland thriller) you probably don’t need to use the word again to denote your genre. With KDP, for instance, you can only choose two genres so to use up one with thriller seems a bit pointless. Search engines  should find it anyway.

This week I took a close look at my Amazon page and studied the section where it lists books readers have bought as well as mine. Most of them were gang-related novels set in the UK and I found when studying a couple of them that they had something in common. They were in the ‘Urban’ category.

With that in mind I tinkered with my KDP genres. You can put your book into two of them so I used Coming of Age and Urban. Lo and Behold, by Wednesday morning, when the change took effect, I found myself at No. 66 in the Best-selling charts for UK Urban novels.

These things change hour by hour and by this morning I had dropped out of the top 100. Still, it’s pointed me in the right direction. I know with advertising targeted in the right areas and picking the appropriate key words and genres I can make my book more visible.

I am no longer lost in Amazon, up a creek without a paddle.

 

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.