Is There Anybody Out There?

Not trying to steal Pink Floyd lyrics from the song of the same name and no this is not a comment on the recent planetary discoveries. This is about this very quiet blog. Quiet from me that is after nearly a month without a post. Of course I have done a couple of minor updates to pages. Blink and you would miss them. Updates on pages about books which is, in the end, the purpose of this blog.

Yes despite the politics and commentary I’m trying to sell my books or at least get people interested in reading them. Sorry if that is a shock to anyone that does read the blog.

“How’s that going then?” I hear you not ask.

Well, as of 18:30 UK British Summer Time on 7th September 2016, generally OK. Not great but OK if I take the long view. My biggest seller is currently ranked just over 700,000 out of 6 million plus on Amazon USA and 290,000 on Amazon UK. One sale can move me up tens of thousands of places until you hit the lofty heights of the sub 100,000s. Good news today is that I have had an offer to translate one of my books into Portuguese.

I still have sales occasionally, even rarer to get reviews which may or may not hamper or help sales but we are not here to discuss sales or reviews or even lack of blogs. Oh no, we have bigger fish to fry.

The anyone out there was based on some alarming statistics on the actual number of readers as percentages of the population. I was led to this topic by a GoodReads forum discussion. They had USA figures which implied that only 2% of the US population had read a book in the past year. That is still a lot of people but that means 98% had not – a much bigger number.  So I have been digging.

According to National Readership Survey 65% of UK adults read some print news on a daily basis rising to 92% on an irregular basis and higher if electronic media is included. According to this news story in The Guardian from 2013, 4 million adults never read a book for pleasure which implies that the UK is far more literature inclined than the US and…

A quarter of the UK’s adult population – more than 12 million people – had picked up a book to read for enjoyment less than twice in the past six months.

Which of course means that 75% of adult population had i.e. 36 million potential readers and the numbers are better for a single book in 12 months. I would presume that this number had not gone down significantly in last 3 years.  So I have a massive market to aim at. I should be happy at the potential, I mean even an Apple like 0.0005% (tax Apple allegedly paid on profits in Ireland) would equate to 186 sales – wow I could get to 150,000 or higher on that basis!

Surely there is someone out there that wants to read a book, mine I mean? Is there anybody out there?

Advertisements

Mea Culpa

Yes I’m guilty. In this case guilty of hypocrisy. What leads to this confession you ask?

Reviews, yes reviews the bane of all self-published author’s lives (alongside marketing, editing, sales – oh and writing). The reason for this self-assessment is that I was about to bemoan the lack of reviews on Amazon for my work. Despite steady sales reviews seemed to have dried up. How can it be that no one wants to post how much they loved/hated/ignored my last work. Then as I started to compose this blog I stopped and thought. I don’t review on Amazon either and haven’t for ages. I do review and rate, briefly, almost diligently on Goodreads for all my reading. This has led, once, to a minor disagreement with the author about my review, but generally I have written a paragraph about the latest Read book. Some people have even liked my review or retweeted the rating across the World.

For me though, on Amazon, nothing despite email reminders from the Amazon team. Of course the ratings systems are different between the two sites, despite Amazon owning Goodreads. Reviews do not flow through. Book purchases can flow from Amazon to the My Books section on Goodreads, if the user selects to do so, but no review transitions.

Now I could go back and cut and paste my reviews for each book onto Amazon adjusting star ratings as I go. It’s a lot of work as I am at least 50 books behind. Still I may have some time soon as I switch main jobs.

It doesn’t help my lack of reviews on Amazon, Goodreads or anywhere else for that matter. What would help is if Amazon.com allowed other Amazon sites’ reviews to show up on Amazon.com. They do the other way round, then my latest reviews, more recent in the UK  and for books not reviewed in the US, would be available to all. Not sure why Amazon has it set up that way – I’m sure it does not help sales, but then again if I don’t review on Amazon, I’m not helping either. As I said Mea Culpa!

 

Translations

I have been looking into getting my books translated. This seems to be another minefield for the self published or indie author and yet another potential drain on funds with little possibility of recovery or a return..

So far I have tried Babelcube and now Fiverr without luck. Babelcube has a risk share approach to creating foreign editions which at least is more attractive from a financial point of view but so far I have received no offers. Fiverr as discussed in the comments on my last blog allows buyers and sellers to join up. Sellers or buyers bid or request gigs. I requested a gig for translation services into French or Spanish for my books. I have received 20+ notifications all straight forward unadjusted offers to translate approx 1,000 words for $5 or variations of such. Some offers of work have reviews some don’t.

The contact mechanism was broken on two of the offers when I wanted to make contact. Not one of the offers addressed the request i.e. to translate a book the shortest of which is over 95,000 words. Based on the offers that is $425 minimum per language per book. At Kindle 70% royalty of $2.99 – my normal sale price that is 203 sales of that edition to break even. Then there would be foreign blurb, foreign descriptions, cover art, author profile and marketing – what would be the break even point then.

Is this a risk worth taking. It is impossible to know, will foreign readers flock to my tales that I have kindly arranged to sell in their own language.  Advice is split, and of course it is likely that not all the translations will be perfect, recommendations are one thing but I as a non-speaker I will not know until the dreaded review. Of course if the review is in a foreign language I won’t be able to read it. Yes I know I should have studied harder at school to take my limited French further or carried on my Spanish classes, my few words of Russian and most embarrassingly off all my lack of Dutch despite a Dutch mother. There are still language courses and of course Google Translate. These have helped for odd words in the books I have written. No one has told me I have those little elements of French (mostly) incorrect. Perhaps I have put of every French bi-lingual reader on the planet with my offering – who knows. If I really wanted to expand my market I would translate to Chinese.

As with editing or proofreading there is no way of proving a negative. If I invest will I get a return or is this just more vanity on my part?

Now if there is a bi-lingual person out there who would like to help – let me know

My Daughter’s Acknowledgement

I’m in trouble. It’s not an unusual state of affairs when it comes to family matters. This one concerns acknowledgements in my second book – To The Survivors.

It seems I gave an acknowledgement in the closing pages to my family except my daughter. At the time she had not read the book, but she has now. Good news is that she liked it, bad news, she noticed her omission. Sorry! You of course helped and supported me and now you have a dedicated blog to acknowledge the fact. She is of course busy with her studies so she has not had time to read the books in the publishing timeframe. Quite right study first, Dad’s requests later.

More generally how many readers actually read the preface/front matter or the closing pages after the end of the story. Kindle defaults settings seem to start at the first formal chapter unless the publisher is careful to change the settings to start at the start. The start of a normal book is of course the Cover. Many writers like me add in quotes, extracts or other starting material. For my first book I added a cast list but I now realise many readers will not have seen it. No wonder they found it complex.  Until I changed the settings to start at the start. Of course many writers have shown family trees or lists. For one of my new books I even have a web site to give the back story and hopefully generate some initial interest.

For acknowledgements it’s harder, I normally skip the long lists found in many books of all those that have helped with producing the book. I keep it down to under a page. Then there are the links to other books, and frequently a sample chapter. I have not produced a sample chapter, but I have added a brief description of other books by me.

Some writers have added reviews from newspapers or web sites to their introductions alongside links to web sites, Facebook, Twitter etc. all hoping that one sale will lead to another.

So acknowledgements are important alongside all the other bits either side of the story.  I must remember to read them myself and not forget anyone. Thank you for your help, Tasha. Now, can you read the others!

A Year of Writing

I   have now completed my first year as an author. My first book An Agent’s Demise was not actually published on Kindle until the end of January 2013. Paperback and hardback versions followed via Lulu.  Even writing the words I am an author still seems strange. I prefer the term writer but that also seems pretentious. Not as pretentious as I felt when friends and family asked me to sign my first editions!
 

IMG_0146
New Author
IMG_0147

I currently have three books published and available. To The Survivors and A Persuasive Man followed An Agent’s Demise in May and August respectively. To say they were all written in 2013 would be misleading. An Agent’s Demise was originally started in 2006 then disappeared until November 2012, when a change in work circumstance led to what was supposed to have been a three to six month break but turned into nearly a year. Writing filled my time, and frequently took over all my time outside of hunting for work, but that is another story and not the purpose of this blog.  Then there is the joy of that first review (good) the despair at the first bad which meant that someone other than friends or family had actually ready my scribble.  Of course making number one in free downloads was fantastic however short-lived!

I wrote back in September in a blog called Advertising for the Self-Published Author of my experiences in trying to sell my books; I thought it would be worthwhile to share my sales figures, not as a way of boasting (there is little to boast about and I don’t want to discuss A Persuasive Man) but as information to my fellow new authors, I have excluded all physical copy sales (nearly all directly to me) – they don’t change anything and SmashWords sales which total less than 10 – so here goes.

Book Stats 1

I have cut off the first couple of months of An Agent’s Demise as this distorts the charts due to the number of Free Downloads and my brief number one position, using KDP Select so here it is on its own.

Book Stats 2

The impact of various advertising campaigns I have run has been disappointing to say the least. I have not been able to attribute any increase in sale to promotions through:

  • Book Daily
  • Project Wonderful
  • GoodReads

These campaigns have cost hard earned money, which can only be recovered through higher sales. So far I would have to say they are a pointless waste of time and money.  I cannot even be bothered to list the actual statistics, number of views (allegedly hundreds of thousands) the number of clicks (tens) then the number of attributable purchases (0)

I did save money initially, by not Professionally Editing (in progress as I write) nor did I pay for cover design, promo video (I only have one) web site design or formatting. I purchased Scrivener and Aeon Timeline software after trying others.  Add in costs for ISBNs, review copies to approve physical output, then there are the library copies British library and the others.  I may never publish a physical copy again simply because of the cost.  In other word I have to purchase 7 copies of each book version just to fulfill these requirements.

I have set up two blogs, this one and one for the forthcoming Sci-Fi series The Interplanetary Geographic Service, a Facebook page and tried Twitter as guided by my betters. For book two I created a YouTube video. I have attended one writer’s workshop but personal selling has been non-existent much like my paperback and hardback sales. I did not join GoodReads until March. I updated my LinkedIn profile to include my new status.

So after my first year what are my conclusions?

KDP Select worked (for the downloaders) for An Agent’s Demise but of course free means nothing for the author.  I am not convinced free actually leads to any reviews or even readers. Amazon knows whether someone downloaded for free but do they know if they have read it?  Does a free download lead to a greater likelihood of a review?  I left KDP Select alone for To The Survivors it has never been free except for a couple of Review Copies but remains my best seller.  For A Persuasive Man it has been very difficult.  It has had more advertising then any of the others, and KDP Select Free promotions and recently a KDP Countdown.  I recently received some personal feedback on the book, which may explain its lack of sales or at least partially explain the reason.  I shall be addressing that over the next few months.

I have several new projects underway:

  • The first part of my proposed Sci-Fi tale The Observer Series – The World of Fives has had a couple of Beta readers
  • An Agent’s Rise the sequel to An Agents Demise is nearly done.
  • New editions of An Agent’s Demise and To The Survivors after editing will be out soon
  • Adjustments on The Persuasive Man
  • My collection of short stories
  • A thriller on revolution
  • More ideas in outline or just paragraphs
  • More ideas about other genres
What have I learned:
  • Building an audience takes time – if I wanted patience I’d be a doctor
  • Advertising has little if any effect – If an advertiser disagrees then put your money where your mouth is.
  • Marketing in any form, including writing this blog, significantly reduces available writing time
  • I’ll never understand how the algorithms that Amazon uses to rank sales actually work
  • Nor which Amazon search expression should be used to describe the books
  • We need more books in more varied categories
  • Too many writers, not enough readers, and even fewer reviewers
  • I have interacted with hundreds of new people around the world making friends with many – may that continue and expand
  • I love writing!
  • That being ranked in the hundred thousands is OK when it’s out of several million!
  • Pushing Publish is always going to be scary.
What would I do differently?
  • Professional editing before launch – if only it was financially feasible for many new authors.  Payback could take several years.
  • Think about a marketing plan, but don’t expect any return
  • Don’t check sales everyday, write more instead
  • Learn from fellow authors – thanks GoodReads – but not all advice will work and don’t pay for the advice.
  • Get more Beta Readers – contact me if you would like a Kindle copy for private review.
  • Blogging and commentating is OK but that is not writing
  • Keep writing!

HTML in Amazon’s Author Central

As I briefly blogged yesterday I have been playing or more accurately trying to play with my book descriptions on Amazon.  This follows several GoodReads forum discussions on marketing and how we as authors, can persuade you as readers, to buy our books.  The flat nature of a typical Amazon book description does not help to catch the eye of a passing potential buyer.  On one particular forum, here,  it lead to the author of a new book on the subject both promoting his book but also talking about how it was done.  I even became a test case for him and he has kindly shown on his blog where I ran into trouble, which we both then spent some detective work trying to sort out.

My experience shows up in screen shots on Marcus’ blog here.  You can get the full down and dirty in his book here which discusses the how to and gives practical examples.  This though is about the problems we overcame initially.

Problem One

I didn’t have the same lay out on my Amazon Author Central account as discussed in the book.  Following an exchange of Goodreads messages with Marcus I approached Amazon support and received a completely unhelpful response which told me what I already knew.  I had an Amazon.co.uk Author Central Account not an Amazon.com one.  What they didn’t tell me was that I could get a .com one just as easily.  Marcus told me that follwing an alternative suggestion, which I also couldn’t do, about noms de plume.

Problem One was then solved by creating an Amazon.com Author Central Account and claiming my books on sale in Amazon.com.

Problem Two

Each version of the book has its own details section, which are not pre-populated.  I was horrified to see for example that the hardback description for my first book An Agent’s Demise had no description despite the editions being linked.  Likewise my author profile for each edition was missing.  Several frustrating hours later all were populated.  There is also another section to fill in for Shelfari which also needs to be filled in but only on their site and again it doesn’t copy from editions so I haven’t finished doing that yet.  The screen shot below show the unfilled in sections but you have to go to Shelfari and open an account (you can use your Amazon author account) to fill this in and then it backfills – what a pain.

Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 08.32.07Problem solved with a lot of copying and pasting

Problem Three

Now I can actually get round to doing the thing I went on Author Central to do, namely use some of the clever stuff to enhance my book description.  Now I’m not an HTML genius and my eyes aren’t as good as I wished they were, especially when I forget to wear my reading glasses.  Some parts seemed to work fine.  The formatting of text is fine.  My main problem was the more advanced elements like video and Amazon widgets.  I managed to get both working at one point but not formatted position wise.  When I adjusted they all stopped.  After some further action I have managed to get it all working, but you do have to be very careful and precise.  If you visit To The Survivors on Amazon.com, you can see all the elements working.

Problem solved after some fiddling and correcting my errors

Problem Four

Not really a problem but the process does take a lot of time, copying, editing, pasting, checking and then waiting for Amazon’s servers to deliver the new code because the Author Central platform doesn’t show you what it actually looks like.   You have to wait about 30 minutes for it to upgrade, then find out that something isn’t right, then check the sales site, then re-edit and start again.  If you think this will be a quick process then think again especially to do several books then get all the descriptions sorted.  Then there is the author profile which can also be adjusted…

Verdict

The techniques do work although they could be overdone if you are not careful.  From my personal design perspective the Amazon page is already crowded with Amazon stuff like recommendations OneClick and so on.  I’ll be experimenting further if I have time to get other changes made like font colours and so on.  I know it’s my errors, but I’m supposed to be working, or writing my next book, not playing with HTML code.  If Amazon were a little more forthcoming on the formatting of Product Descriptions then maybe we wouldn’t have to bother in the meantime give it a try.  Marcus’ book is not cheap but it is worth it.

First review for The Persuasive Man

First review on Amazon.com

4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read, August 26, 2013
By
Maria Miller, Author “Maria” (Ohio) –

THE PERSUASIVE MAN is not a story, per se, but a confession by a man who has had it all throughout life. Now that the end is near, he has to come to terms with the good and the bad, the fortune and the misfortune, the happiness and the misery. If you’re looking for a fast paced thriller, this isn’t it. This is a lot of rambling by a man who wants to get everything off his chest before it’s too late.