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Dilemmas, Dilemmas

It seems to me that a writer’s life is full of dilemmas. At the moment, my main one is whether to try going back to the traditional publishing route.

Apart from winning a £10,000 publishing prize some years ago, this is not an area where I’ve had a huge amount of success.

That prize came after years of trying – and failing – to get myself published, mostly back in the day when ebooks were still the realm of sci-fi imaginings.

I’d collected quite a number of the standard rejection letters. Many along the lines of: “Dear (insert name here), Your submission (insert title here) was read with interest but we do not feel we are the right agent/publisher for you.”

Then – in 2005 – I entered and won a national UK contest for new authors with The Tale of Findo Gask. As well as getting that very substantial prize, even more marvellous was the publishing contract that came with it.

Sadly, the company involved did next to nothing to promote my book and went out of business within a year or so. I never did understand their thinking. I was very glad to have the money but would have been equally delighted with a £100 prize and a few national newspaper ads to promote my book. That way we might both have ended up better off.

Findo made it onto Amazon but I’m not sure many copies were ever printed. I only ever got one royalty cheque and that certainly wasn’t huge.

So it was back to trying – and failing – to find a new publisher/agent. Over the following years my enthusiasm waxed and waned. Other things distracted me, like moving to Portugal to teach, setting off on a 10,000-mile tandem ride… but that’s another story.

In 2011, my wife bought me a Kindle for my birthday. I wasn’t sure I wanted one but we were still living in Portugal at the time and it was really hard getting English language books to keep up with my reading rate.

Later that year, having got used to my Kindle, I discovered Amazon’s self-publishing arm KDP. A revelation!

I must admit: I rather rushed in at the beginning, publishing a collection of my short stories and re-issuing Findo on Kindle. I didn’t take as much care as I should have done over anything: covers or content. I was just so happy to have people choosing to read my stories.

Since then, I’ve tried to get more professional about the whole process: proper editing, proofreading, decent covers etc. I’m selling books – and gathering some decent reviews – but sales are low. I’m a very long way off my ultimate ambition of becoming a fulltime writer.

The trouble is that so many other people have discovered self-publishing. Amazon is full of independent authors. Some of their books are superb, some are terrible. Many would be good if they were properly edited.

When I first turned to KDP, their five-day free book promotions were quite effective. Even without doing anything to promote your book, you could give away thousands of copies and then see actual sales in the following weeks as other readers clicked on those “people who bought this have also bought this” links.

Now, though, there are just so many free books out there – and so many websites vying for your money as they offer to promote your free days. When I put my novels on a promotion, they’re not just one among hundreds, they’re one among tens of thousands.

The reason for my current dilemma is that I don’t have the clout/know-how/money to effectively market my books on my own as an independent author.

Which is why, having just completed my latest novel, I’m seriously thinking of going back to the search for an agent/traditional publisher. (I’ll try not to get too depressed when my unsolicited manuscript disappears off into that horrible black hole!)

 Any advice or comments on the whole indy versus traditional dilemma are very welcome.

By the way. If anyone’s noticed that I haven’t been posting regularly on this site for a while, that’s because other things have taken over my life. Partly completing my latest book. Also a major revision for the novel now known as Waking Broken – more about this next Friday. Plus I’ve been spending a lot of time on my website on cycling in Portugal.

That’s the trouble with being an author. There are so many possible projects out there. Which one to choose?

No Borders

Life certainly moves on. I was recently admiring some images on someone else’s blog – and now it looks like I might be working with the photographer on a couple of book covers!


Image borrowed from ‘Moodphoto’

Bizarre thing is that Teija lives in Finland. Makes you wonder how we ever lived before the internet. I’ve pinched one of her pictures (above) – if you want to see more of her work, take a look at Moodphoto.

Hmm. Now, I just need to come up with a title and finish editing the novel…

In the meantime, I’ve also got another Kindle Countdown Deal for you:

The Tale of Findo Gask is available on Kindle for $0.99 or £0.99 for the next three days, after which the price goes up to 1.99. (Normal price is $4.90 or £3.99.)

This is the book that won the UK’s 2005 Undiscovered Authors contest, got me a publishing contract and made me think that maybe one day I would be a real writer not just a dreamer sitting in an attic.

Findo coverFindo is the story of a boy born into poverty who also happens to be a very good thief.

It’s a book about whether we should expect people to obey our rules if they don’t have a stake in society.

It’s also a roller coaster adventure that goes from pinching cigarettes at the corner shop to saving drowning dogs and from an armed heist at a security firm to snatching the diamonds from an opera diva’s head.

It’s also a book about young love and a boy who doesn’t want to be ignored.

It’s got 4.2* on and 4.5* on – if it sounds like your kind of thing, please click here.

Riddle Of The Not-Quite Free Sphinx

Hello again. Haven’t been around this blog much recently. Not really sure why – partly perhaps because I’ve been working on my Portuguese cycling site. (I’m a man of diverse interests).

No, not tombs but ranks of 'espigueiros' in northern Portugal. Traditional stores built for drying and holding maize cobs.

No, not tombs but ranks of ‘espigueiros’ in northern Portugal. Traditional stores built for drying and holding maize cobs.


Have to quickly mention that the Kindle version of my adventure novel Pagan’s Sphinx is on a price promotion. If you fancy an armchair adventure searching the deserts of North Africa for a lost ancient statue then this might be up your street. (4.4* on from 27 reviews.)

Pagan's Sphinx smThis one is written under the pen name William Webster – my inner Indiana Jones. A dash of history (real and possible), some intrigue, a hefty helping of romance and plenty of excitement. It’s on offer for $0.99 or £0.99 for the rest of the day – then goes up to 1.99 until Thursday. Get it here.

Fellow indie authors might have twigged that I’m trying out Amazon’s new Kindle Countdown Deal (KCD) option. Until recently, if you signed up to Amazon’s KDP Select, you were allowed to give your book away free for five days every quarter as a way of getting more readers.

The disadvantages of this option are: a) you make no money and b) free downloads don’t count as sales so do nothing for your ranking.

The KCD option lets you offer your book from as low as $0.99 for one week. The big advantages being: a) you make (some) money and b) your sales (presumably) do count.

I’ve seen some book promotion websites describing KCDs as ‘the new free’. Although £0.99 isn’t quite my definition of free, I understand what they’re getting at. So many authors are now self-publishing on Kindle that offering your book on a five-day free promotion is no longer enough to get you noticed. There are tens of thousands of others doing the same thing.

Which is why I decided to shell out a bit of money on a couple of these book promotion websites. I paid $50 for a feature on BargainBooksy (who boast an email subscriber list of 50,000) and $4.99 for a feature on PeopleReads.

The first promotion went out on Friday and generated a certain level of sales. Not huge but certainly an improvement. The second one began this morning – and will be followed up with a Facebook post and email to subscribers. If anyone’s interested in the details, I’ll let you know more at the end of the week!

In return, any advice on other effective sites for promoting KCDs would be most welcome.

(I’m one of those people who am on Twitter but still haven’t really got my head around how it works. Or – to be quite honest – the point of it. However, I’ve already had two tweets of my book from PeopleReads – and dozens of people have retweeted. I’ll be checking my sales figures…)

Competition link

Recommendations Please

As mentioned at the bottom of my recent post on titles, I’m working on a rewrite of my paranormal thriller Thin Ice.

Hopefully, I can manage to come up with an appropriate new title but I’m thinking that I need to spend some of my hard-earned royalties on a decent (professional) cover.

Any fellow authors out there who can recommend a decent cover artist? (Or any artists who want to offer their own services?)

I won’t have a huge budget but I’m prepared to pay for quality!

Making The News

Ever wondered how to get a newspaper or radio station to take notice of what you’re doing?

If so, my latest book might be of interest – and the Kindle edition is free to download this weekend (Saturday & Sunday).

My main focus these days is on writing novels but – in that strange parallel world that involves working for a living – I originally trained as a newspaper journalist before going into the PR/communications field. I’ve also been involved in training others in how to use the media.

Cover02Now, I’ve put some of that experience into a new ‘how to guide’ called Making The News.

The tagline for the book is:

Simple advice on writing clear, effective press releases

And that’s what it’s about. Advice from the horse’s mouth – based on more than 40 years’ joint experience from myself and my wife, Carolyn, of working both on newspapers and for ‘the other side’.

The guide is aimed primarily at anyone who’s new to the world of public relations – whether you’re doing this as a career or you’ve got a particular cause or enterprise you want to promote.

It doesn’t cover the whole gamut of PR and communications. This is focussing solely on using the media – newspapers, radio, TV etc – to get (free) publicity through news stories.

One word of warning – the advice inside is based on working in the UK. How the workings of the media translate to other countries, I’m not sure, although the basics of how to write a press release and communicate your message should be universal.

Hopefully the guide might also be of interest to anyone who wants to brush up on old skills or anyone thinking of a career in journalism.

There’s no rocket science involved. In fact, that’s the point. Using the media is about having a clear message and knowing how to communicate it.

Try it and see. If you like it, please consider posting a review on Amazon. If you get it for free and like it, please consider making a donation to the disaster relief charity ShelterBox. (They’ve got affiliates in 18 countries so you don’t have to give in the UK.)

Please note: the free download is available tomorrow and Sunday – not today!

That’s all for now. Have a good weekend – I’m flying to Portugal this evening for a two-week holiday and I can’t wait!

Where Do I Go From Here?

I’ve got a confession to make. It’s rather embarrassing and I’ve been in two minds whether to just keep silent and pretend everything is wonderful or come clean and ask for help.

The thing is, I launched a promotion for my novel The Vault last Thursday and – so far – I haven’t sold a single book!

I'm in a whirl...

I’m in a whirl…

There, I’ve admitted it. Obviously, I’m still hoping the big zero is down to a problem with Amazon’s sales reporting but that seems a bit unlikely. So now I’m asking, where am I going wrong and what should I do now?

The Vault had been priced at $4.85 on (with a 3.9* rating from nine reviews) and £3.99 on Amazon UK with the same rating and number of reviews. On Thursday, I dropped the price to $1.99 and £1.99.

I didn’t want to spend a huge amount on advertising – particularly with sites that won’t give you concrete figures on how many people they have on their subscriber lists. (Can’t help feeling a bit suspicious there.)

However, I did pay for the following:

  • a ‘bargain book sponsorship’ listing on Bargain EBook Hunter, which included a listing on Pixelscroll on Thursday
  • a ‘hot deal and tweet package’ with the Kindle Book Review starting Friday
  • a 14-day ‘Kindle Daily Deal’ slot on Digital Book Today – this was due to start this Thursday but Anthony Wessel has generously made my listing live from today

Not a lot, I know, but I wasn’t sure where else it was worth advertising and I can’t afford to just throw money around.

I’ve also organised my own mini ‘blog tour’ with author interviews, book features etc on a number of other blogger’s sites. Two of these have gone live already with several more to come but – based on performance so far – I’m not feeling that optimistic.

Now obviously my book isn’t going to appeal to everyone. But it has had a number of 4* reviews and a couple of 5*s (plus those 2 and 3* ones). Lisa Hall has just reviewed the book on her Read & Rated blog giving it 4*s and commenting:

“I had no idea what to expect from The Vault but soon found myself greatly enjoying this multi stranded tale which brings you into the life of school boy Adam Strong and very real feeling account of being at school and dealing with friends, bullies and girls!”

During previous free promotions, I’ve given away about 4,500 copies and I have sold a trickle of copies over the past year.

I also appreciate these things take time. Building a name isn’t going to happen overnight – plus the Digital Book Today listing has only just gone live and some bits of my ‘blog tour’ haven’t happened yet.

But no sales at all?

I think one problem is with the cover. I went through a bit of a redesign several months ago when I released the print edition. (The book was also re-edited to iron out a few typos etc mentioned by previous reviewers). Although I think the print edition cover is fine, it doesn’t work as a thumbnail size ebook image.

I did put a different cover on the Kindle version which looks completely clean on my computer whatever the size but for some reason isn’t coming up well on Amazon and looks slightly blotchy.

I do want to commission a new, professional cover but I can’t quite believe that’s the only problem.

So – dear readers and fellow bloggers – I’m asking for help!

Obviously you can make me happy by going ahead and downloading a copy but what I also want is advice.

Where am I going wrong? How do I get my book noticed? What sites will profile my book to real customers for a sensible amount of money? All answers on a postcard please… or just use the comments box below. Thank you.

No Dangling Or Squinting, Please

I used to think English was easy. I spoke it and I wrote in it. End of story.

Sure, there are some weird spellings but that’s because, as a language, it’s a bit of a mash-up. Some words come from Latin, some are Anglo Saxon, there’s a dash of French, a few words stolen from Gaelic, Hindi etc. But having this rich and varied vocabulary is what makes English such a pleasure to use.

It’s a language that can be extremely flexible and subtle. You can write one sentence in many different ways, with a wide choice of words and the end results may all say exactly the same thing – or all be slightly different. A lot of English words have many different nuances depending on how they’re used.

But that’s just vocabulary.

A few years ago, I retrained to teach English as a foreign language and realised I was only scratching the surface with my knowledge.

Apart from the difference between noun, verb and adjective, I wasn’t taught any grammar at school. At the age of 40-plus, I had never heard of past participles, let alone the workings of passive or perfect tenses, future conditionals or non-dependent relative clauses.

Now – having decided to teach this stuff for a living – I’ve got a much better grasp of the mechanics of English. However, the learning curve certainly isn’t over.

This week, I’ve been using a programme called Grammarly to analyse some of my writing – and have discovered even more esoteric terms to bandy around!

Grammarly flagged up a few of my sentences and questioned whether they contained ‘dangling’ or ‘squinting modifiers’. Huh?! I know what a modifier is but ‘dangling’ and ‘squinting’?

Anyway, I’m now a bit wiser so in case you want to know, here goes:

A ‘dangling modifier’ is one that isn’t obviously linked to the main clause in a sentence. For example:

Aged five, my parents bought a house.

Obviously, the parents weren’t five and this is a problem with context. The modifier ‘aged five’ relates to the person who is the main subject of the text as a whole, but isn’t mentioned in this particular sentence.

A ‘squinting modifier’ is one that could apply to either the part of a sentence immediately before it or the part that follows. For example:

‘Doing fifty press ups rapidly builds up your muscles.’

Does this mean you’re supposed to do the press ups fast, or are we talking about how quickly your muscles grow?

Whether a writer really needs to know and understand all these terms is a matter of debate. The good thing, though, is that setting Grammarly on my writing is making me look a lot more closely at my words. Am I saying what I want to say… and will others understand it how I mean them to understand it?

It’s an ongoing battle but one worth fighting. Even if you can afford to pay a professional editor, as a writer I’d say it’s still worth getting down to the nuts and bolts of the English language.  If I understand how my language works, that can only improve my ability to express myself and make me a better writer.

Avoiding Amazon’s Double-Whammy On Tax!

Yes, the title’s a bit of a mouthful but this post contains vital information for any non-US authors wanting to get ALL their royalties from Amazon.

Earlier this year I found out the hard way that – unless you’ve completed the right paperwork – Amazon withholds 30% of royalties from all sales on for anyone without an American tax exemption number.

There’s NO way round this. Even though, as a British citizen, my country has a reciprocal tax treaty with the US, the onus is on me to prove why I shouldn’t pay tax in the US. (Despite the fact I’ll pay tax in the UK anyway.)

It’s also worth pointing out that Amazon do NOT refund tax that has previously been withheld. They will only pay all your royalties ONCE you have a tax exemption number and they have received the relevant form.

Amazon do provide advice on this among the FAQs on the KDP publishing site but it’s not exactly obvious and the instructions on how to complete all the paperwork are pretty vague and confusing.

Don’t get an ITIN

As detailed in a previous post – Death & Taxes – the information provided by KDP made me think I needed to get an ITIN number from the American IRS, which would have involved taking my passport to the US Embassy to prove my identity!

Luckily, fellow author Samantha Holt set me right and the information below is a rehash of an extremely helpful post she made in November last year.

The most important point is that you do NOT need an ITIN number.

Instead, an EIN number can be obtained by making a single phone call to the US. (I estimate this cost me about £3 in call charges rather than the £35 it would have cost me to get to London on the train, not to mention taking a lot less time!)

Applying for an EIN

You need to apply for an EIN as a foreign entity and sole proprietor. Here’s the process:

1. Call 001 67941 1099 – bearing in mind the time difference and office hours! (I called at about 2pm British time.)

2. Select the right option for applying for an EIN as a foreign entity.  (It was #1 when I called.)

3. You may be asked if you have filled out an SS-4 form. This is not necessary – says so on the IRS website. (The person I spoke to said it might have been ‘helpful’ but it could all be done on the phone.)

4. Explain that you are a sole proprietor.

5. You will need to spell out your name, address etc very carefully and slowly – they will, however, read it all back to you.

6. You will then be given an EIN number over the phone. An official copy will come in the post several weeks later.

The whole process – including waiting on hold for ages – took about 30 minutes for me. Samantha got it done in less than half the time despite her Scottish accent!

What next

Once you have your EIN number you then need to complete a W8-BEN form. KDP provide an example of a completed form or there are detailed instructions for completing it here.

Now send the completed form, with a covering letter to:, c/o AP Tax,  PO Box 80683,  Seattle, WA 98108-0683, USA.

If Amazon receive your form before 10th of the month, you will get full royalties for that month. If it arrives later, it will only come into effect for the next month’s royalties. (I sent mine off last month and got an email confirmation from Amazon soon after so I’m looking forward to getting ALL my royalties from August on!)

Good luck.

What KDPS can do for you

An excellent overview that’s well worth sharing with any other indie authors out there unsure how Amazon’s KDP programme works:

Words on the Page has been a lot of talk over the last couple of years about Amazon’s Kindle Select program. For those not familiar with it, enrollment in the program allows you 5 free days in every 90 day period during which you’re enrolled. You don’t have to do anything except choose your days; Amazon lowers the price to $0 and then raises it back for you. It also allows your books to be borrowed by those who are members of Amazon Prime. You get paid out of a general fund for each of your borrows. The price per borrow is figured out by taking the total number of borrows across Amazon for the month and dividing it by the number of books enrolled. The pot for July was $1m, so it’s not chump change. The payment per borrow normally comes out somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.

Another author, Michelle, who…

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

Excellent advice from two very valuable sources!