61. Tune in for a magical ride with Mystery Thriller Week

IT’S BEEN  a long time! Sorry about that but I really have been incredibly busy. Not only does the day job take up a lot of my time but I have also been working hard promoting my first novel Crossing The Whitewash over the Xmas period, while sending my second novel out for editing and starting a third as part of NaNoWriMo.

I just had to post this week to tell people about a wonderful new on-line project that I have become involved in.

Mystery Thriller Week is a group set up on Facebook for writers, bloggers, readers, reviewers and just about anyone interested in the genre to swap ideas, learn about a wide variety of books out there and discover new authors. It is all supposed to kick off from February 12, but some people have started the ball rolling early.

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Jennifer S. Alderson

There are a lot of us all shouting for attention, so I am delighted that my book is one of the 15 that has been included in Jennifer S Alderson’s blog about Mystery thrillers based outside the US.

As readers will know Crossing The Whitewash switches from humdrum life on a busy inner-city housing estate to the wide-open spaces of the Welsh Valleys, so just about perfect for Jennifer’s subject matter.

Please have a read and let me know what you think.

Meanwhile, I’ve been experimenting with Facebook Ads again and am delighted to say that I seem to have hit just the right tone with the current one. During December I sold over 100 copies of Crossing and this month I have sold nearly 50 in the four days so far. On one particular day I peaked at 20 copies, and realised that I was also advertising on Instagram. It may have been a fluke because there is no way of knowing who saw what before going onto KDP and taking the plunge.

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Much of it is down to targeting which I have now honed, directing the ads at people in the over-45 age group who are fans of thriller writers like Mark Billingham, Ian Rankin and Martina Cole.

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When I broke into the top 5,000 sellers on KDP I was delighted, particularly with my novel appearing in the top 20 of hard-boiled mysteries alongside household names like Stuart MacBride, Phillip Kerr and Gordon Ferris. It’s the perfect boost with the new book, a prequel, due out in February or March.

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.

 

35. Raining on my parade

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MY first-ever book signing became a bit of a damp squib – or squid as some writers would have us believe.

No fault of the good people at Books & Pontyclun in the Welsh valleys, the Indie shop where the event took place. It’s just that at 11am, just as the signing was due to start, the heavens’ opened and South Wales was drowned under a flood of Noah-like proportions.

To be honest, if I hadn’t have been there myself I don’t think I would have ventured out of the door.

Why am I so surprised? From my experience of that area of the country, the Arc was probably manufactured in Cardiff Bay.

Still, David Norrington and Daniel Parsons were fantastic company and gave me some great ideas as we talked Indie authors, books, marketing strategies and social media.

David is a leading light in his own publishing company, Onion Custard, and at the moment one of their writers is making plenty of waves (appropriate really, with water lapping at the door as we discussed her success).

As he contemplated whether we would need to employ sandbags, David told me about MK Jones and her novel Three Times Removed, which has swept up the charts both here and abroad.

At one stage it reached No. 6 in Amazon’s Women’s Sleuth section with a story centring around a main protagonist who has to investigate her family tree and solve a mystery in the past in order to prevent disaster striking in the present day.

Apparently it has been flying off the virtual shelves in Australia, for instance, and David is trying to get to the bottom of his own mystery by establishing why the good people down under have taken it to their hearts.

David organises book signings, book launches, book fairs and book clubs. In fact,  mention books in any way and David’s ears will be burning.

He was pretty busy for most of the day but has agreed to make Crossing The Whitewash book of the month at some stage in the New Year, probably to coincide with my promotion on Nook, the eBook wing of American company Barnes and Noble, which is scheduled for February.

Daniel, meanwhile, not only helps run the shop and spends time editing for Onion Custard, he has to hold down another job working in a valleys nightclub while also trying to make his way as a writer.

He is a full-time advocate of the modern publishing era, marketing his “brand” to more than 70,000 twitter followers and using tools like Wattpad to promote his writing.

Daniel writes teen fantasy novels and his serialisation Necroville was recently rated as one of Wattpad’s top-10 zombie stories. It ranks at No. 133 for horror reads as I write, and has 16,900 people read it. To put my little Sci-Fi experiment in comparison, it’s had 72 reads.

As someone who can make head nor tail of Wattpad, I salute his endeavour and will definitely take another look. He assures me it as a useful tool for creating buzz around your writing.

In the final hour of the signing the rain did ease off somewhat and I am pleased to report I made three sales on the day. This Indie author lark is a lot of hard work for little reward at times, but the satisfaction of seeing your work in print and getting encouraging comments from those who read it makes it worthwhile.

In the New Year my plan is to come up with a couple of Novellas featuring some of the less established characters in Crossing The Whitewash and to put out the novel itself on audio.

Amazon already have a tool – ACX – which will pair you with a narrator and an editor. I understand you can get some gift “codes” enabling you to give away the book free to some people, part of my long-term plan for world fiction domination.

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.

32. Setting the scene

CROSSING THE WHITEWASH takes place in three main places; the East End of London, Cardiff and the South Wales valleys. I’ve never actually lived in the valleys myself, but I can boast a close affinity with the other two.

In fact, from the days I attended journalism college way back in the mists of time Cardiff has always had a strong draw for me, and since 1978 I have spent 19 years living in Wales’ capital city at various times.

Last week I was invited to write a blog post for the highly popular We Are Cardiff about some of my memories of this beautiful, fun city, which helped inspire my debut novel in no small measure.

I can honestly say that it provided me with my happiest journalism career moments, working as part of the mad, mad world of Wales on Sunday and helping to launch the UK’s first pullout sports section 26 years ago.

The characters and the laughs we shared on this unique paper even inspired me to write a blog “What I Cooked Last Night” back in the mid 2000s.

Anyway, this preamble is just to inform you I am cheating a bit this week because I am pushed for time, so am posting the link to the WeAreCardiff blog post for you to, hopefully, enjoy and get a flavour of the city.

  • Featured images courtesy of former Media Wales colleague Nick Machin’s instagram account

29. Meeting the public

THERE are some who say I shouldn’t be allowed out in public. On Saturday, though, I will put my best-foot forward and step out in the heart of the Rhondda as a published author.

I will be one of 30 creative souls engaging with readers, discussing our work and, hopefully, selling a few copies at the Rhondda Book Fair in Penygraig.

I’ve never been to Penygraig but am looking forward to a unique experience and hope I might pick up some tips and tricks from some old hands more versed in the business of book marketing than myself.

My wife Liz and daughter Olivia will be with me, holding my hand and keeping me out of trouble as I take this big step into the great unknown.

Marketing is obviously a key strategy in the process of attempting to become established and getting your book out into the wide world. After doing a few interviews on radio and for newspapers, from which I saw a decent result, sales have stalled a bit so I am looking at a way to bump them up.

I haven’t gone down the free book route yet because I wanted to see exactly what I could do before taking such a step. Maybe after the Rugby World Cup will be the time to try a more radical approach.

Meanwhile, I am experimenting with Facebook ads at the moment and was very pleased with the response I got to my before and after carousel ads that I put up last weekend.

As any rugby buff will tell you England played Wales at Twickenham on Saturday night in a World Cup “Group of Death” match. It had created a real buzz and I piggybacked on it with an ad asking: “Are you ready for a REAL thriller?”

I’d like to give you an example but it seems I’ve over-written it with the follow-up idea, but it was a strip of five pictures, a face painted with a St George Cross, a superhero ripping open a shirt to reveal a Wales flag, Twickenham, a Rugby World Cup graphic and finally a picture of the book cover.

The captions went “Passions will ignite, heroes will be needed, as the tension builds, in a massive sporting event… will you brave: Crossing The Whitewash?” There was then an option to click to my website and I managed something like 68 at a rate of 13p per click, which I was pretty pleased about.

You can target the people who see the ad, too. I went for sports lovers in England and Wales with a love of reading, thrillers, suspense, novels and a few other things.

When it was all over I tweaked it to look like this and targeted just Wales. After all, they did win…

AFTER

I am now working on an ad to send people straight to Amazon for the book and will see how it goes. Meanwhile, I’ve changed the name of my Facebook page. I can’t call it I’m going to Publish, when I already HAVE published. Why not like Crossing the Whitewash/Rugby World Cup thriller?

22. Banging the Drum

WalesOnline

SORRY I haven’t been in touch but I’ve been very busy.

There are 11 days to go now before Crossing The Whitewash hits the streets and while I was keen to keep you updated I’ve been up to my neck in formatting, editing proofs, marketing and getting all my ducks in a row for launch day: Saturday, August 1.

I got the book formatted by a wonderful little operation called Bookow in the States and have found owner Steve Passiouras’ help invaluable. He may be a whole continent and several time zones away but he has always been ready to answer queries and help out generally. I can recommend his formatting tool, which will prepare your books for print, Kindle and other tablets. To me it was all done for the incredible giveaway price of $40 because as a NaNoWriMo winner back in November one of the prizes was a half-price discount from Bookow. Bargain.

If only everything was so easy, like proof-reading. Luckily a number of Beta Readers selected from my mailing list have stepped in to help, so thanks to Bridie, Mark, Laurie and Zoe for your expert analysis and eagle-eyed assistance.

Now onto the hard bit. By its very nature writing is a solitary business, and a lot of us like to shut out the real world when we are tapping away. But to self-publish a novel means you also have to do your own publicity and marketing.

Hopefully by picking a topical subject – the Rugby World Cup – and some memorable locations and strong characters the book will do a bit of the work itself, but if you don’t shout about it you won’t get very far.

Last week I spent much of my time putting together a press release. Of course, I am at a bit of an advantage having worked for various press organisations. Even so, I needed a story to tell rather than just “I’m writing a book and its setting is the Rugby World Cup”.

Here, too, by a cosy coincidence, the chance to make headlines fell into my lap. Four years ago this month I was made redundant by the News of the World, two years after taking up a dream job I thought would see me through to retirement. Writing the press release in the third person, providing pics of family, location, friends and the excellent book cover, I was then able to adapt the story so that it was relevant to the places in which I thought the book might sell well.

As it is based in Wales, for instance, I did one press release for all the Media outlets there about my time working in Cardiff and why I had left for the smoke to take up my dream job as Welsh Sports Editor on Europe’s largest paper. For Bristol outlets, my home town, I made great play of the fact I am from there and have written a regular blog about Bristol Rovers for the Bristol Post website.

Anyway, pleased to say my old paper and first journalistic love, Wales On Sunday, printed the tale at the weekend and it also made the WalesOnline website. You can view it here.

Meanwhile there are plenty of other avenues still to explore.

Here’s a plan:

1. Make a list of all the relevant media outlets you think might be interested. Try to find out to whom you should direct correspondence. It may be the news desk in some cases, features desk in others. Maybe they even have their own books department! A preliminary phone call might help.

2. Plan out your story, bringing all the information to the fore that will be particularly poignant to that newspaper, TV or radio station.

3. Do the hard work by virtually writing the piece yourself, and forwarding the pictures. Media groups are notoriously short-staffed these days with cutbacks and the like. We are writers. We should know how to tell a good tale, bringing all the juicy stuff to the top – like writing the first few paragraphs of a novel.

4. Make sure all your contact details are attached for anyone who wants to follow up.

5. Use any ‘ins’ you can: If you know any journalists they may be prepared to help you with publicity.

6. Sit back and hope someone takes notice. If they don’t why not try a follow up call.

There is a lot more that can be done but this blog post is already a bit long. Meanwhile, I’ve set up a pre-order for the Kindle version of the book with Amazon, hence why it’s all been a race against time these last few weeks.

Next time we speak I could be a published author!

9. Wholesale bloodshed

SO I’ve taken my first tentative steps on the baby killing road and now I’ve got a taste for blood. Call me Nick The Ripper, because now I’ve started my killing spree I can’t stop. There are bodies lying all over my writing room floor, and the blood is dripping from the walls. Having done away with Micky I have now parted company with all his old London newspaper colleagues, the rapping Severn Bridge Tollbooth operator Malteezer (who models himself on Eminem), the Scottish Editor Mac, the dope-smoking, party-loving page designer Adam Edwards, the office messenger-turned-marketing manager Jonah Harrison… they’re all on the cutting room floor.

A few begged for mercy and somehow survived: the managing director, who began as Luna Munddes, becomes Lana Desmund in Crossing The Whitewash and switches roles to Editor while the affectatious, debonair, cravat-wearing feature writer Quinten Tucker-Green and the work experience boy Jason Shakespeare remain pretty much intact. There are new characters too, like the rugby-crazy sports editor Hugh “Jacko” Jackson and perhaps my finest creation, the psychotic east London gang boss Arnie Dolan.

My desire for bloodshed has turned the book from broad comedy to thriller, though I’ve tried to retain my “voice” with humour on the more subtle side, interwoven with the characters. I’ve also made efforts to keep some of the chapters I loved so much in the beginning, but they are falling by the wayside one by one. Still, I want them to see the light of day in one way or another – I wrote 108,894 words so surely they can’t all be shit – so I’ve decided to let you have the benefits of some of my scintillating comedy writing. Who knows, maybe Sex & Rucks will be published one day if the demand is there.

Anyway, I mentioned Malteezer. How, for example, did he come into Sex & Rucks and Sausage Rolls? If you’ve read Richard Blandford’s critique you will also be wondering about his references to Goldie Lookin’ Chain. For what it’s worth I think he missed the whole point of the joke, which is that Wales does sometimes struggle a bit to keep up with the pace of modern culture on the other side of the Severn Bridge. It’s not a slur, it’s a fact. While the Welsh can be extremely innovative and cutting edge, they tend to hang on to their heroes rather than ditch them as soon as someone new comes along. To be honest, that’s an endearing trait that should be applauded in an age when one fad replaces another at the blink of an eye. Bands like GLC, who had their 15 minutes of fame in places like Brighton or Grimsby long ago, are into their 15th year of fame over in Newport. Here’s a recap on what Richard said…

goldie 001

… and here is Micky Biggs, still very much alive at this stage, arriving at the Severn Crossing to meet Malteezer for the first time and learn about his hero-worship of the spoof rappers.

(click word Malteezer to get the link)