Half-term report

At the end of last year, I set myself an annual target that was intended to ‘steady the ship’ after disappointing sales in 2013. I sold a lot less than I did in 2012, and there were signs that this trend might continue. A Kindle freebie at the end of the year did poorly, and I feared that 2014 would be a worse wipe-out than 2013 had been.

I set my target as a new high water mark; designed to be considerably higher than 2013’s total and only slightly higher than my sales in 2012. I believed it to be a realistic and achievable figure, so long as I worked hard at marketing my books. I even made it one of my writer’s resolutions.

Of course, I had a specific reason for setting my target: It was to determine whether or not I remained a self-publisher.

If I reached my target, I would continue as a self-publisher; and if I didn’t, I would start working towards ending my self-publishing adventure. The options were to write something a bit more mainstream, with an eye towards getting an agent, or to give it all up completely.

I didn’t really want to think about the second option, but I knew that if I got dejected enough, and ended things, I could at least say that I tried and failed.

January wasn’t a great month – I did okay in the US, but in the UK I was already down on the average I needed to ensure that I hit my target. In February, I released The Curious Case of the Missing Moolah, and had my (until then) best ever sales month. Then at the end of the month, I decided to make The Hunters permanently free on Amazon via their price matching function.

It was a calculated decision. The Hunters had been out for a couple of years, and sales were okay, but I still hadn’t finished the direct sequel to that book. That made it the right candidate as a freebie – to get people salivating for The Glasgow Grin, once it finally makes an appearance, and to possibly shift copies of my other Stanton brothers books. As it turns out, making it permanently free has been the best decision that I’ve made as a self-publisher. In March I shifted several thousand copies of The Hunters, which had a real knock-on for my sales. That month I smashed February’s sales record to pieces, and April sales were almost as strong (falling short by only nine copies). I also reached my annual sales target towards the end of the month. May has seen a drastic drop in free downloads, but sales – although down – have been solid, which means that everything I do now just makes 2015’s target a little larger and more ambitious.

So, that’s me happy – at least regarding sales.

The Glasgow Grin is still dragging on a bit, through a combination of slow writing, a lot of freelance work, and a desire to make sure I get the story right. Another couple of Stanton stories (a novella of about 30k words and a long story of around 10k words) that I’ve been writing concurrently are also going very slowly. My muse just isn’t firing on all cylinders at the moment, but I’m not worried – it’ll return. Some other stories that I have percolating in my head, or in various stages of completion, are currently stalled. At this point in time, TGG and a story that I’m writing for Ryan Bracha’s anthology 12 Mad Men are my main priorities. All other writing work – including book reviews – will have to come a distant second, for now.

Right, I suppose I better get back to it. The Stanton brothers, Mark Kandinsky, and Eddie Miles are waiting for me out in the woods, and they’re getting very, very impatient…

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To free, or not to free? That is the question

I’ve given away plenty of freebies in the past – far more than I have sold, if I’m completely honest – so why am I asking this question now?

Well, I’ve been thinking about it a lot, recently. Partly because I want to sell more books in 2014, and partly because I want to progress as a writer, by turning it into a career, rather than a side-line. There are other elements at play in my thinking, but these main points have occupied me for much of the beginning of the year.

The answer to the title, essentially, comes down to this one question, and how I answer it:

How much do I value my time?

Is the time I spend writing (time that would be more lucrative financially if I spent it chasing clients for new freelance work) of any worth to me? Do the hundreds of hours I spend writing, rewriting, fine-tuning, and editing my work mean anything to me spiritually? Do I have any defined goals as a writer? Do I want to sell more future work?

If I answer yes to any of these questions, then giving all my work away for free makes very little sense.

If I don’t value myself as a writer, why should the reading public? Some stats suggest that more than 70% of the people who download free books never read them. Goodreads figures for The Gamblers and Bone Breakers suggest that this isn’t far from the truth. Of course, they have every intention of reading them – otherwise, what is the point of downloading them? But, as any Kindle user will tell you, downloading free books becomes an addiction. The more they download, the more choice they have; and the more choice they have, the harder it becomes to make a clear decision based on those choices! Also, when Kindles are jam-packed with content (years of it, in many cases), what kind of choices does this force the reader to make?

If you’re like me, you probably base your reading priorities along several lines of thought: 1) novels I have bought (especially if the authors are known to me); 2) authors with a known track-record (I’ve read and enjoyed them before, so they get prioritised next); 3) recommendations (particularly from other writers); 4) publishers that I respect (I might not know the author, but I have read work from other authors that they have published in the past); 5) interesting, well-written synopsis; 6) all other freebies.

Note where all other freebies comes in the list.

I had every intention of reading them at the time, but as I’ve added new content to my Kindle they have been gradually pushed down the pecking order. Why? Because in my mind they have less value than the works I paid for, and, because they have less value, I consider that reading them is less important. When my Kindle gets too full, they are the books that I delete or archive first. Truth be told, I’m probably missing out on some cracking stories because of this…

And so it goes for my novels and stories. Same rules apply.

And when I think about it in this way, I realise that giving my work away makes it essentially worthless to more than 70% of readers. Carelessly giving away my work might garner me a few new readers (even long-term ones), but it will most likely lose me a lot more in the long run.

Also, why should readers take the time to buy your work on initial release when they think, Well, he’s only going to make it free at some point. Might as well wait till then. If your readership thinks you’re just going to give it away eventually, where is their incentive to buy? Nowhere – that’s where.

So, 2014 will see me taking a different approach to writing, and how I market and sell my work.

No more new freebies for a start: The Curious Case of the Missing Moolah, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Billingham Forum, and The Glasgow Grin will never be free. Ever! The same goes for any other future publications (with the notable exception of short stories, because they work as advertisements for my larger works).

The only freebie I have planned for this year is a tactical one. A couple of months before the release of The Glasgow Grin, I will make The Hunters permanently free. This makes sense because The Glasgow Grin is its direct sequel – every other Stanton brothers’ book works solely in its own right. It also makes sense, because I think The Hunters is a good enough read to make people want to get their hands on the sequel.

Otherwise, the free ride ends here.

I think my work is good enough to charge money for it.

And if you’re waiting for me to change my mind, and start giving it away again, you’ll be waiting a long time.

November price drop!

My recent good progress with sales has dwindled drastically this month, so I’ve slashed the prices of all my Kindle books to 99p or less (in the case of The Green-eyed Monster and The Greatest Show in Town).

They will remain at these bargain prices until December 1st when they will revert back to their original prices.

Grab ’em while you can!

Bone Breakers UK  |  Bone Breakers US
The Hunters UK  |  The Hunters US
The Gamblers UK  The Gamblers US
The Green-eyed Monster UK  |  The Green-eyed Monster US
The Greatest Show in Town UK  |  The Greatest Show in Town US

The Next Big Thing

Nick Quantrill tagged me for this in his excellent The Next Big Thing Interview that can be found here. So I guess I better get busy trying to get people interested in my ramblings…

What is the working title of your next book?
Which one? I’ve got three on the go simultaneously: The Glasgow Grin, sequel to The Hunters; Bone Breakers, a standalone Stanton brothers’ novella; and Cry Tomorrow, a revenge novella that will introduce readers to the Blood Smoothie!

Where did the idea come from the book?
The idea for The Glasgow Grin came from The Hunters, which even though it is resolved is also left open for a sequel. The sequel follows on a week or so after the events in the first novel. Bone Breakers came from a short entitled Hot Fat that was due to go in The Greatest Show In Town, but seemed like it would benefit massively from space to breathe. So I dropped it from the collection and rewrote it. Cry Tomorrow came out of reading Incident on a Rain-Soaked Corner from Heath Lowrance’s Dig Ten Graves. I wrote a story with a very similar premise long before I read Heath’s tale. I was ready to include it in my short collection, but when I read IoaRSC it was immediately obvious that the tales were quite similar, and that Heath’s was vastly better than mine, so I dropped it. However, much later, I recycled and altered the short and used it as the basis for a revenge novella that I’d already started drafting.

What genre does your book fall under?
Everything I write, barring a few minor exceptions, is a crime thriller.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
The Stanton brothers get revenge on the man who crosses their path.

Will you will be self-published or represented by an agency?
Self-published.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
The first draft has taken about six months. The next draft and additional edits will take another two or three.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Wanting to write something that I as a reader will feel compelled to read. Wanting to write something that thrills and excites my admittedly tiny readership, but also expands that readership further. Further inspiration was also provided by my love of tough guy thrillers: Richard Stark, Dan J Marlowe, and most of all James Crumley, whose C.W. Sughrue and Milo Milodragovich first-person narratives helped inspire the Stanton brothers’ general couldn’t give a shit attitude towards the world.

What else about your book might pique the readers’ interest?
A cynical and weary tone-of-voice, a Teesside locale that is pretty much virgin territory in fictional terms, an assorted cast of villains, both humorous and frightening, and most of all the brothers themselves. A series is only as good as its main protagonist/s.

After checking, it seems there is absolutely nobody on the planet who hasn’t already done this, so I haven’t a clue who to pass the virtual baton to. If you fancy being nominated then mention it in the comments below and I’ll tag you after the fact!

Happy Kindle birthday, The Gamblers

This slipped past me almost unnoticed (partly because The Gamblers was first released on paperback in November 2011), but I thought I’d say a few words to mark the occasion.

This last year has been an interesting ride on Kindle. Sales were marginally better than I hoped upon release, though it’s never troubled the best-seller charts (not counting the occasional chart place in the hard-boiled hit parade). And in that time I’ve managed to release another book, making me almost prolific, haha! I’ve learned a lot about this indie-publishing business too during the last year and I thought I’d share these thoughts with you (feel free to click away when you get bored):

1) There’s a vibrant hard-boiled crime and noir community out there. I didn’t realise just how vibrant it was until I joined Twitter and noticed that not only are there lots of people doing what I’m doing, but they’re doing it a lot better too. What this means is I know I have a lot more to learn. It also means that it’s not a lonely place, and there are a lot of great writers to chat with online. That feeling alone is marvellous.

2) I’ll never make my living as a full-time writer. This isn’t some whiny point declaring woe is me, it’s more a simple statement of the facts as I see them. Getting noticed is incredibly difficult and involves more effort than I can manage if I’m to keep earning a living as a graphic designer and pay my rent. I can only do it to a minor degree, far less than I would like, which means minor returns. But I’m cool with that. Sales might take off to a degree over time, given a more substantial back catalogue, but I’m pretty certain the best I can hope for is something that can supplement my full-time job income rather than replace it. Regardless of this, I’ll keep writing. I love doing it, because it’s not about the money, it’s more than that… I don’t want to sound all poncy and pretentious, but it fulfils me in a way that I can’t quite explain – whether that’s spiritual or what have you, I don’t know, but there’s a sense of contentment I feel when I’ve finished a project that I don’t get from any other aspect of my professional life.

3) The Gamblers wasn’t a one-off. I was worried that I might return to my pre-Gamblers routine of starting projects that remained unfinished, but this hasn’t been the case. The Hunters, the first of a series of hard-boiled and blackly comic crime thrillers featuring two dysfunctional criminal brothers, made an appearance and will be quickly followed by three other books later this year and into 2013. Also, I have another noir that is on schedule for late 2013! The floodgates are well and truly open.

4) I’m going to stop trying to sell my wares all the time on Twitter. I’ve been scaling this back, but unless I have a specific deal going (two-for-one deals, a price drop etc.) I’m going to cease with the Twitterbombs. To be honest, Twitter is an abysmal selling tool and I find that I get more sales through providing interesting content on this blog, or links to interesting content on Twitter, than I do by saying, ‘Oi! Buy my books’. If I slip with this promise at any point, feel free to pull me up about it 😉

5) I won’t be doing any more KDP Select giveaways. Initially, KDP Select kickstarted sales of The Gamblers again after they went dormant for a while, and it’s given The Hunters an initial boost, but repeated freebies have done nothing more for me in terms of sales and are probably detrimental in the long run. And what’s the point of giving away my work to hoarders who don’t read it? It’s a waste of my time and theirs – they’ll only end up deleting it unread anyway. Better a tiny audience of devoted readers than a larger audience of those who couldn’t care less. So, I have a few ideas of my own to boost sales in the summer months, involving a slightly more structured giveaway of my own devising (I’ll reveal more another time).

6) It’s been fun, thus far. I’ve enjoyed having all three of you visit my blog from time to time and read my work, and I hope to keep you entertained for many years to come. And if the standard slips do let me know. I’ll come back stronger and better for it.

Adios!

The Hunters now in paperback

That’s right, folks. For those of you who prefer your crime fiction in Tree-Book as opposed to E-book format (and statistics say there are still plenty of you out there), I’m proud to present The Hunters as a paperback for the really rather decent price of $7.99 (just over £5 in sterling).

I wanted to make sure it was available to as wide a selection of people as possible. So using my graphic design and layout powers, I’ve ensured that you folks who prefer reading off paper can also enjoy the first of the Stanton brothers series in a nice looking paperback.

It’s currently only available on Amazon US, but if it sells enough copies I will seriously consider forking out for an extended distribution package, which ensures availability to traditional bricks and mortar bookshops.

The Hunters will be free this weekend

In celebration of my novel The Hunters entering KDP Select, I have decided to give you lot a free-for-all from Friday 17th through Sunday 19th February.

I felt that The Hunters wasn’t getting enough exposure and thought that this would put it in the hands of a few readers. These readers will hopefully like it and tell their friends, who will, in turn, tell their friends, and everything will start to snowball. After all, there’s nothing like a bit of momentum.

And if you do grab it for free, please either post a review (it can be ultra-brief if you’re not the wordy type) or hit the Like button next to the title. Come on, you know it’s the right thing to do…

After the free-for-all has ended, the price goes up to £1.99 ($2.99) and will stay there.

That is all!

UK Edition

US Edition