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Perma-Free, Perma-Problem?

Are books that are perma-free causing a problem for writers trying to crack Amazon’s crucial top 100 listings?

As most authors know, once a book gets into the top 100 – whether for a specific genre or for all books on Kindle – the number of downloads can soar.

For those of us (and it’s a huge number) who use it, Amazon’s KDP platform enables us to offer our books free for five days every quarter.

Now, giving away books is satisfying on one level purely because I know that at least some of those people who download my book will then read it. (Even better, some will post reviews, which helps hugely with future sales.)

But giving your book away for free is also excellent marketing. Every time someone downloads your free book, there’s an increased chance of your book’s title and cover appearing in that wonderful ‘customers who bought this item also bought…’ feature on Amazon.

I generally find that every time I give away a few thousand free copies an immediate bump in actual sales follows. And not only is it deeply satisfying to know some readers are prepared to pay money for my work but it’s also good to know there’s going to be more money coming into my bank account!

When plugging a freebie, there are many websites willing to help you – sometimes for free but more often for a small sum. Which is all well and good but those Amazon top 100 lists are still what we need to aim for.

Why? Well, according to Anthony Wessel of Digital Book Today: “Once an author is able to get their book onto an Amazon Top 100 Free Books in a sub-genre category list, the 800-pound gorilla which is Amazon takes over and usually trumps all other book sites on the market in terms of driving discoverability and potential downloads for your free book listing.”

But when I look at those lists on Amazon, I see a lot of the same titles time and time again. Sometimes it’s old classics that have been reissued but sometimes it’s books by other indie authors (some of which I’ve read).

However, I know from the frequency they appear in the free lists that they’re on offer for far more than five days every three months.

I understand this is possible because of Amazon’s price-match policy. If an author offers a book free through other publishers, Amazon will then match the price, making books effectively perma-free (or on offer so often as to make no difference).

Because being in these lists creates its own momentum, it also means that books regularly in the top 100 will inevitably get dozens of reviews from the tens of thousands of downloads they’ve had. Look in today’s list and you’ll see some books with 1,000+ reviews – twice as many of some of the classics!

Why does this matter? Well, like I say, I’ve read some of these books and they’re good. Not necessarily great but good. (Some are probably more like okay but that’s just my opinion). But because they’re perma-free and have so many reviews then more readers keep on downloading them, they stay in the top of the lists… and they’re very hard to knock off those top spots!

Personally, I think Amazon should either review their policies or bring in a new category – Top 100 Free Offers – and limit those lists to books that are temporarily free not perma-free.

Anyone got any other opinions?

Do NOT ‘Like’ This Post!

Blogging can feel like talking to yourself. So there can be a sense of relief when someone ‘likes’ your post or follows your bog – ‘it’s not just the voices in my head, someone else understands what I’m saying’.

But how genuine are those likes and follows?

As a writer, I started my blog simply to have a platform for my novels. Last year, though, it developed into something more. I wrote quite regularly about a range of subjects, often only loosely connected with writing, and got into some interesting online conversations with other writers/bloggers.

However, with some bloggers I had a sense there was an etiquette involved: if I follow you, you should follow me.

Huh? I follow other bloggers for a simple reason. I found something they wrote interesting/provoking/entertaining and wanted to know more. If someone follows me that doesn’t automatically mean I like what they say (or that they’ve got something interesting to say).

There’s also a limit on how many blogs I can follow – I’ve only got so much time to read them.

On my own blog, I’ve currently got just over 380 followers. Some are fellow writers or other people I’m interested in enough to also follow their blogs. Others I’m not so sure about. Like the ‘follower’ that goes by the name ColombianCuties.

Yes, I do like good-looking women and I realise ColombianCuties may be a great lover of literature but…? What do you think? I’ve never clicked on their name. Should I?

I think it’s like Facebook. Some people only care about how many friends they’ve got, not the quality (or point) of that friendship.

My impression is there are (hundreds of) thousands of other writers out there: some published, some not. All want publicity and one (limited) way of achieving that is by luring as many other people to your blog as possible. This ignores the fact that the vast majority of the bloggers in the ‘writing’ niche are too busy trying to sell their own books to want to buy yours.

Or am I just a jaded wannabe who’s not playing the game?

I’ve got similar issues with ‘likes’. There have been times I’ve published a 600-word plus post and someone has liked it within seconds. Call me cynical but I don’t think there are that many speed readers who can go that fast. Do you really ‘like’ my post or are you just trying to get me to visit your blog as a way of boosting your ratings? (And what is the point?)

Not long ago, I started publishing extracts from my new novel in instalments. Again I had quite a few likes but no actual responses to the story.

It made me wonder if anyone was actually reading it. So, at the bottom of the last published extract, I included a poll, asking readers to rate the story from 0-5. I’ve still not had a single person click on the poll even to diss it!

Unsurprisingly, I’ve given up on the instalments. But the published version of Church of the White Rabbits  is now available on Kindle with a print edition coming soon.

Which brings me back to the beginning of this post. Am I just talking to myself? What do you think of ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ by people who don’t really care about you or your blog?

(I’ve had very worthwhile exchanges with some of you in the past so please don’t think I’m putting all bloggers into one category!)

Thanks for reading this far. Now, please, do not like this post. If you do, I promise not to reciprocate. Instead, assuming you’ve read this far and have an opinion, do share your thoughts and leave a comment.

Read Carefully – Scam Warning

This has nothing to do with writing in general but is a warning to any fellow writers – and other self-employed people – who deal with their own tax affairs, particularly UK residents.

I just had an email purporting to come from HM Revenue & Customs to tell me I was owed a tax rebate of nearly £400.

Great! Just what I like to hear…

The email also looked authentic. It was VERY, VERY good. The message appeared to have come from an HMRC government address.

Except – ignoring my momentary enthusiasm for the Government giving me some money back – a couple of alarm bells began to ring.

Firstly, I was pretty sure I wasn’t owed any money! (I only recently completed a tax return and I haven’t paid enough tax to get that kind of rebate.)

Secondly, it was asking me to download a web form so I could claim my money back. (Why wasn’t it directing me to the HMRC website where I submit my tax return?)

Thirdly – and crucially – there were two minor but telling spelling mistakes that made me realise the email hadn’t been written by a native English speaker! (And, whatever you may think of the Government, their spelling is normally spot on.)

I won’t reveal what the spelling mistakes were as I don’t want to help these people. But there’s a clear message here – beware Greeks bearing gifts, always looks a gift horse in the mouth… and read everything carefully – particularly offers that sound too good to be true.

Have a good weekend and may it stop raining soon!

The Mystery of NASA

Here’s a New Year puzzler. Nothing to do with space exploration but on the vagaries of the English language.

I’ve been teaching a Polish student recently and was doing some work on the use of articles – a, an and the – when talking about ‘things’.

Some rules are easy to explain – we put a or an in front of singular nouns when talking about something that we’re introducing for the first time, when the thing is one of many etc. The goes in front of plural nouns or when the individual thing is unique or we know specifically what we’re talking about.

We also don’t use an article (often confusing referred to as the zero article) when referring to certain things, including countries, people, concepts, types of things and some geographical features.

For example:

Agreen-skinned man from _ Mars was discussing _ politics as he had _ lunch with thePope on _ Thursday, while sailing a boat across _ Lake Chad in preparation for his crossing of theAtlantic Ocean.

It seems obvious when it’s your own language but believe me it’s not that simple for people learning English for the first time. A lot of my students would probably put the in front of Mars, politics, lunch and Thursday.

(I got confused when trying to learn Portuguese as they put the in front of proper names!)

But what’s got me really puzzled is NASA (and FIFA). Normally, with acronyms for organisations we follow the same pattern as if we spelt the name out in full, e.g. the BBC and the FBI but _ IBM.

So far so good. But can anyone explain why we talk about the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association) but not the NASA? I thought for a while it was to do with collective nouns but how does that work with the CIA and the RAF.

Answers on a postcard please…

Three Well-Known Authors Dish about NaNoWriMo

Cutting, funny and oh so true…

Sass & Balderdash

Budding writers and aspiring novelists have been reminding the Internet via acronym for the past five days that it’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In an effort to combat the stigma that the manuscripts resulting from NaNoWriMo are rambling novellas with inconsistent plot lines, hollow characters, and a mish-mosh of half-conceived ideas, I decided to interview three successful writers to get their thoughts about NaNoWriMo. After pulling more strings than a cello player with obsessive compulsive disorder, I was able to sit down with Fyodor Dostoevsky, author of Crime and Punishment, Stephenie Meyer, “author” of Twilight, and George Orwell, author of 1984.

Katie: I’m so glad you all could make it. Especially Fyodor and George, you guys really pulled through.

Stephenie Meyer: What about me?

K: I’m still not sure why you brought a Robert Pattinson cardboard cutout.

Among the three of you, you’ve authored enduring and thought-provoking…

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The Pace Of Change – Part II

So, fancy a new car for less than £1,000 or a television for under £60? Sound too good to be true? Well, it’s not a trick – just how much these things were being advertised for back in 1963.

The newspaper where I work two days a week runs a ’50 Years Ago Today’ column and today I had the job of going through the old archives to find some suitable stories.

Tito and queenThe news was interesting – in part for the historical details. There was mention of President Tito of Yugoslavia driving through the area on his way back from a UN meeting and local rows about whether fluoride should be added to the Hampshire’s water supplies.

What was also interesting was how similar much of the news was to what goes in the paper today. Some people have a rose-tinted view of life in the past but judging by the stories in the paper it wasn’t that different.

Okay, no mention of drugs but otherwise still plenty of the usual local newspaper staples – theft, drink-driving and petty squabbles.

Even at a national level I found familiar themes. The New Forest’s Conservative Member of Parliament warning that the Government needed to take action to keep mortgage costs down because young couples were being priced out of the property market. (We certainly haven’t solved that one!)

Singer VogueWhat I found just as fascinating, though, were the adverts. Back in November last year, I wrote a post called The Pace Of Change, mostly talking about how technology had changed in my lifetime.

Looking through the newspaper adverts from 1963 was weird. This was two years before I was born but it was like a world out of a book or film.

The new Singer Vogue – yours for £685 plus tax – boasted ‘fully adjustable front seats’ and even came ‘now with front disc brakes’. The ad also highlighted the fact: ‘greasing points now completely eliminated’.

What! Did people have to grease their cars before 1963?

austinYou could also buy the new Austin A60 for £720 or rent the latest Philips 19″ TV for just 9/6 per week (that’s 47.5 pence in decimal coinage).

Alternatively, buying the new telly would set you back £59.85. But that was without legs. They were another £2.10.

Looking at the ads for electrical goods was like staring into the technological dark ages. One advert offered a deal encouraging you to buy two televisions – ‘be a two TV man and get the best of both channels!’

Yes. That’s right. In 1963 British viewers had the choice of BBC or ITV. The BBC2 channel didn’t come along until 1964 and Channel 4 was a very, very long way off.

There was also the ad for the Bush auto-player. This marvel could play both 10 and 12″ records – and was ‘wired for adapting to stereo’.

An advert for bathrooms highlighted the fact there was a ‘wonderful choice of colours’, while the National Coal Board was plugging (coal-fired) free-standing cookers that could not only heat the kitchen but provide ‘the luxury of instant hot water’.

If that much can change in 50 years, it makes you wonder what they’re going to be advertising in 2063!

Blast From The Past

I had a different kind of blast from the past last night. I went to see the Boomtown Rats at Boscombe Academy.

For those of you poor people not familiar with the Boomtown Rats, they’re the Irish new wave band led by Bob Geldof that had a string of hits in the late 1970s – and reformed this year. Their best known song – in the UK at least – is probably I Don’t Like Mondays:

Back when this came out, I was still at school and – like so many others – could totally relate to the sentiment of the title.

But the story behind this song is much darker than just wanting to get out of school. In January 1979, the Boomtown Rats were on tour in the US and Geldof was giving a radio interview in Atlanta when the telex machine (?!) next to him started printing out a report on a school shooting in San Diego.

A 16-year-old girl called Brenda Ann Spencer had picked up the semi-automatic rifle her father gave her for Christmas (she later claimed she had asked for a radio). Spencer started firing across the street into the local elementary school, killing the headteacher and the school custodian, and injuring eight children.

At the time, Spencer’s explanation was “I don’t like Mondays”. Geldof adds that at the time a journalist was asking her “tell me why” – which became part of the refrain.

I’m not going to comment on the link between the first part of this post and that story. Except to say that it’s sad how some things don’t change and perhaps the world would be a better place if we worried more about people than having the latest ‘things’.

Nuff said. I’ve got to finish rewriting the ending of a book.

5 Book Marketing Myths You Need To Forget – Guest Post by Joanna Penn

Excellent advice from two very valuable sources!

Who’s Obsessed?

It’s probably fair to say that most writers can be a tad obsessive. We spend months – sometimes years – hiding away as we work at something no one else can really comprehend.

If we’re lucky, at the end of the process we’ll unveil our masterpiece to universal acclaim.

Well, that’s the secret hope. Sadly, what’s probably more likely is that our nearest and dearest will say ‘that’s clever’ and a handful of strangers might read our great work and think it reasonably entertaining.

If we’re really lucky – and also good at other arcane arts like marketing – who knows… maybe some people out there will even pay money to read what we’ve laboured over for all those hours.

Like I said, you’re not likely to write a full novel unless you’ve got a certain amount of obsessive, bloody-minded, stubborn persistence in you.

Recently, though, I went to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu and found myself looking at Bluebird. The car in which Donald Campbell broke the land speed record in 1964.

bluebirdBluebird is a monster. It makes the Batmobile look like a toy. The car is 30ft long and weighs four tons. You could lose a child inside the air intake at the front and, with a little glass bubble over the tiny driver’s cockpit, it looks more like a submarine than a car.

Donald_CampbellCampbell hit a top speed of 403.1 mph in the car – disappointing as Bluebird had been designed to reach 500mph. Unfortunately, however, the surface of Lake Eyre in Australia where he set the record wasn’t dry and hard enough to get the car up to its max.

But Campbell’s mission wasn’t something he came up with over a weekend. He (and his team) spent eight years building this version of Bluebird and preparing for what was his second land speed record.

That’s only part of the story, though. Campbell had previously broken the water speed record in 1955 and set a total of eight water and land speed records. Tragically – or inevitably – he died in January 1967 on Coniston Water when his boat (also called Bluebird) flipped over after reaching a speed of 328mph during another attempt on the water speed record.

Now, I’m one of those blokes who missed the ‘car’ gene. Personally, I think they’re useful for getting about but I don’t get excited by cylinders, metallic paint and fuel injection. Speed just doesn’t excite me.

But for Campbell it was everything. He dedicated his life, literally, to going faster. Seeing Bluebird at the National Motor Museum reminded me that it’s not just writers who can be a bit obsessive. Maybe the question is, can you be great without being obsessive?

Donald Campbell's jet hydroplane Bluebird on Coniston Water in  Photo: PA Wire

Donald Campbell’s jet hydroplane Bluebird on Coniston Water. Photo: PA Wire

PS. I know this blog’s not had much attention recently. I blame a combination of factors – work (always the biggest nuisance in my life), house-hunting ( thankfully successful) and a major dental problem (don’t get me started on that one or I’ll be ranting about rip-off dentists until the cows come home).

I’m not promising an immediate return to more regular service as I hate making promises that I might break. On the other hand, between dealing with all these inconveniences, I have managed to write quite a few thousand new words on my new novel.

I’m now on the last chapter of Church Of The White Rabbits. So, to all those lovely people who offered all those weeks ago to be a beta reader, hopefully I’ll be in touch soon!

WordPress – Sometimes You’re Just Bizarre

I’m curious to know if anyone else has noticed a particular little quirk of WordPress when it comes to tags?

When I publish a new post, WordPress not only lists the tags I’ve added but always suggests a few others I might want to use…

Who knows what seals think... maybe they secretly dream of flying?

Who knows what seals think… maybe they secretly dream of flying?

Most of my posts are to do with writing and publishing novels, plus the odd mention of my travels and photography. So why the blinking heck does WordPress invariably suggest – among others, some equally bizzare – that suitable tags would be ‘aviation‘ and ‘gaming‘?!

The other day I wrote a post about how frustrating writer’s block can be and WordPress suggested that a suitable tag would be ‘mental health‘. I can kind of see how that works – I made a few mentions of the words mind, brain… and frustration!

Street book shop in Cuba - perhaps the schoolboy needs a treatise on game theory?

Street book shop in Cuba – perhaps the schoolboy needs a treatise on game theory?

Now, I know most geeks are into games so maybe that’s why the people who write all the wonderful programmes that enable me to write this blog have a thing about gaming.

But I don’t think I ever go on about flying, being high, wings or the price of an airline ticket so, come on WordPress, what’s this obsession with aviation?

And just for the fun of it... my grandparents on their tandem in the 1930s!

And just for the fun of it… my grandparents on their tandem in the 1930s!

(I’ve already included tags for ‘aviation’ and ‘gaming’ so I’ll be interested to see what else is suggested for this post. The random pictures are just an excuse to push the tagging envelope!)

Frustrated By Rabbits

Writer’s block is so annoying. A couple of months ago all was fine. My current project seemed to be on a roll. I was writing one chapter straight after another, barely having to pause for thought.

It’s  the kind of mental zone any author loves to be in. The words are flowing, the end is in sight and there’s even a (loose) plan on how to get there. (And I do so hate having to think.)

But then… Well, it all started to slow down a month or so ago.

I partly blame life – the real kind – for interfering. Not only did I have more work on but we’d got buyers for our house in Cornwall. With the real possibility of getting some money in the bank within a few months, Carolyn and I then couldn’t help but start to look at possible homes around here.

Inevitably more hours spent working (and thinking about work) and looking at options for places to live have meant less time for writing. All these things going on probably also meant less spare capacity for my brain to cook up plots, scenarios and dialogue. (Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis will know that my mind is the kind that works best when not given any conscious instructions – let ideas fester on their own and my subconscious will eventually dish out the goods.)

The fact that the weather has finally turned nice hasn’t helped either. All that sunshine out there makes me look out of the window rather than at the screen in front of me.

To begin with, I didn’t worry when the word flow began to dip. We went off on holiday for 12 days at the end of May but we’ve been back for more than a week now and I was hoping to do some writing this evening.

Then I looked at where I’d left it with the White Rabbits… and my brain just feels like it’s full of sawdust! I know roughly what’s left to write. I’ve got a vague outline – and various loose threads to tie together. But it just isn’t coming.

So what’s the answer – whisky, sleep, exercise, yoga, another holiday?

Arrrrgh. Writer’s block isn’t just annoying. It’s gut-churning, fingernail-chewing, mind-numbing, anxiety-making, confidence-sapping frustration. Hate it!

Any tips on how to slay the beast and awaken my inspiration?