Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Power Of Amazon

What's the best way of boosting sales of your eBooks? You'll hear people tell you that social media is the key, or blogging, or sending out free copies for reviews.  But the best way by far is to have Amazon promote your work.

My Spider Shepherd books were selected for a blitz promotion on Amazon on Friday, where ten of the books in the series were offered for the bargain basement price of 99p for 24 hours.

The first book in the series - Hard Landing - was already selling for 99p. The final book - Black Ops - stayed at £4.99.

Did it work?  Heck, yeah! Amazon must have worked their promotional magic because within hours all the books in the blitz were in the UK Amazon Top 50 list.

And two - White Lies and Soft Target - were in the Top 20!  White Lies reached number 16 and Soft Target was at number 19.

All the books dominated the Crime Action Fiction category, nailing pretty much all the top slots!

So an Amazon promotion definitely works. The problem is that it's not generally an option open to self-published writers. The Spider Shepherd books are published by Hodder and Stoughton and while Amazon have occasionally offered promotions for my self-published books, generally they prefer to promote books they publish themselves (through Thomas and Mercer etc) or books that are published by the main publishers. There is a downside too, with prices that low, and with the Government (VAT), the publisher, and Amazon, taking their cut, there isn't much left for the writer when a book is sold for 99p! Not that I'm complaining, it's a great way of getting new readers and the promotion had a knock-on effect with Black Ops, which soared up the charts even though it was at £4.99!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Can You Judge A Book By Its Cover? Absolutely!

The saying that you can't judge a book by its cover really doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Yes you can, you absolutely can, which is why publishers spend so much time and money producing covers for their bestsellers.

The cover is often the first thing that attracts a potential reader - either on the shelves of a traditional bookstore or on the virtual shelves of an eBook shop.

My new thriller First Response is being published in the UK by Hodder and Stoughton on February 26. Here's the blurb -

London is under siege. 
Nine men in suicide vests primed to explode hold hostages in nine different locations around the city, and are ready to die for their cause.
Their mission: to force the government to release jihadist prisoners from Belmarsh Prison.
Their deadline: 6 p.m. Today. 
But the bombers are cleanskins, terrorists with no obvious link to any group, and who do not appear on any anti-terror watch list. What has brought them together on this one day to act in this way? 
Mo Kamran is the Superintendent in charge of the Special Crime and Operations branch of the Met. As the disaster unfolds and the SAS, armed police, and other emergency services rush to the scenes, he is tasked with preventing the biggest terrorist outrage the capital has ever known.
But nothing is what it seems. And only Kamran has the big picture. Will anyone believe him?

And here's the cover that Hodder and Stoughton are going with.

It's a traditional thriller cover with a Lee Child/Jack Reacher feel to it. It's a nice clean cover and the typeface for STEPHEN LEATHER echoes the Spider Shepherd books. I like the London skyline and the way the light (an explosion?) comes out from his right side. The figure could be the enemy, or the hero. It's left vague.

You see a lot of thrillers these days with the lone figure, staring or running into the distance.

The publishers of Vince Flynn, for instance, have just rejacketed his books and every single one has solitary figure on it.

The concept is so popular with traditional publishers that often you see the same figure being used, for instance here British writers such as JEREMY DUNS and MATT HILTON with identical running men!

I have to say that I think the lone figure has become something of a cliche and it wouldn't personally attract me to a book. I prefer something that stands out from the crowd.

I got a chance to try out my own design for First Response because Hodder and Stoughton decided they didn't want the US rights to the book, which means that in the US it could be a Stephen Leather self-published book.

I got in touch with the wonderful Debbie at THE COVER COLLECTION and we started throwing around some ideas.

Here are some initial thoughts -

We decided that a suicide vest would be a better image but we loved the Big Ben background, so we came up with these.

After more discussions we decided to drop the gun completely and to change the wording of the heading at the top.

We then had chat about the colours (I preferred the orange) and whether or not the trigger was a good idea. I also thought the explosives were a bit too orange and glossy. So this is the final result -

I love it. I think it's more dramatic than the UK cover, and tells more of the story. I also like the typefaces, again I think they are more dramatic, more thrilling, if you like!  It's less subtle than the UK cover, that's for sure, but I don't think that's a bad thing. It seems to me that US thriller covers have a more 'in your face' feel, a baseball bat compared with a scalpel if you like. Anyway, that's the US cover done and dusted, I'll be putting the US edition up for advance purchase sometime in January. Watch this space!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Great Advice From The Master

Publishing guru Joe Konrath recently posted some great advice on his website - HERE - and I make no apology for reprinting it. Words of wisdom, truly.

 I thought I'd add my thoughts...

1. Nobody owes you a living. I'm old school, and I busted my ass to get where I am. But I don't feel any sense of entitlement. Yeah, I worked hard. Maybe I've got talent. But I don't deserve readers, and neither do you.

Couldn't agree more. You get readers by providing stories they want to read. You're not entitled to readers, you have to earn them.

2. Success is mostly due to luck. You can do everything right, and still not be satisfied with the state of your career. That's life. No one ever said this would be fair, fun, or easy.

You hope that this isn't so, but it is. Some writers see their sales take off for no apparent reason, It just happens. You can work as hard as you want, you can produce great books, but at the end of the day what separates a bestseller from a guy who sells just a few books is often luck. Though like most people I have noticed that the harder I work, the luckier I get!

3. Stop whining. The internet is forever. No one likes a person who constantly complains. Even if you feel that bemoaning (insert whatever here) is justified, it will always be linked to you if someone Googles your name.

Never complain, never explain, as Benjamin Disraeili (and Kate Moss) say. Moaning really doesn't get you anywhere. The trick is to work to overcome obstacles, not complain about them.

4. Don't Google your name. What people think of you is their business, not yours. Remember, one of life's greatest journeys is overcoming insecurity and learning to truly not give a shit.

Best advice ever. Hard to do, but it pays off. Don't Google your name and don't look for your name on Twitter. In my experience, the fewer books a writer sells, the more tweets they send. Or vice versa. Either way, Twitter is a waste of a writer's valuable time. Of anyone's time, actually!

5. Never respond to criticism. It will make things worse. And if you apologize, it will get even more worser. Keep out of any discussion about you and your work. You may think you know better, but you don't.

Never complain, never explain!  A good writer friend of mine was recently roasted on Twitter for four horrible days by people who misunderstood what he'd said in a national newspaper. He apologised - on Twitter - when I, like a lot of others, thought he had nothing to apologise for. Twitter storms are best ignored.  Bad reviews are also best ignored, though I do find it hard not to respond when someone reviews the wrong book, for instance, or awards one star because Amazon messed up a delivery. But you have to let it go. The trick is to getting more positive reviews, and that's down to writing great books.

6. Remember your Serenity Prayer. Fix what you can change, accept what you can't fix, and learn to know the difference between the two. If it is beyond your control, drink a beer, do yoga, go for a run, or bitch to a close friend where it can't be seen online. And if you can't stop dwelling on your bad fortune.

Don't worry, be happy. You know what old people regret most? Worrying too much!  That's right. Read it HERE.  There's no point in worrying most of the time. Writing is a much more productive way of spending your time.

7. Quit. The world will keep turning without your work. If writing and publishing is so traumatic, go use your time doing something else you can derive some pleasure from. Life is too short.

Agreed. If you're not happy being a writer, stop writing. End of.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Basement - An All-Time Kindle Bestseller

Amazon recently announced that a book of mine - The Basement - was one of the Top 10 independently published eBooks of all time.  You can read about it by clicking HERE (the Guardian)  and HERE if like me you're not a fan of the Guardian.

Amazon also announced that I am the sixth top-selling UK independent author over the past five years!

That's pretty impressive as most of my books are still traditionally published, by Hodder and Stoughton!

These days The Basement is published by Amazon Encore. But I first published it myself, back in 2010, when self-publishing was in its infancy.

I was one of the first - if not the first - writers to realise that cutting prices was a great way of boosting eBook sales and I sold The Basement for the minimum Amazon price of 99 cents, equivalent to just 75p in the UK. I sold hundreds of thousands of copies and it stayed in the Kindle UK Top 5 for months. It was one of three self-published books I put on line in 2010 - the others were Once Bitten and Dreamer's Cat. They were equally successful and at one point I had the top 3 places on the UK Kindle bestseller list. I'm pretty sure I'm the only British writer to have achieved that honour! This is what The Basement looked like back then.

Amazon Encore went to to publish Once Bitten - a vampire story set in Los Angeles - and it has been a regular bestseller for them over the years.

It's worth taking a look at the all-time independently published eBook bestseller list. It makes for interesting reading.  Here's the list -

The top two books are both by Rachel Abbott,  a relative newcomer to self-publishing, which goes to show that it is still possible to start from nowhere and sell an awful lot of books! She gives hope to all independent writers and shows that it's not necessary to have a regular publishing deal. She also has a book at Number 7.

I have to say that if Amazon Encore hadn't taken over The Basement it would probably have been much higher in this chart. It was only self-published for two years and after Amazon Encore published it the book went onto top the US Kindle chart. The Basement is one of very books that have been Number 1 in the Kindle list in the UK and the US.

There are some other interesting authors in the Top 10. Nick Spalding is at Number 5, He went on to sign a publishing deal with Hodder and Stoughton but he has since gone back to self-publishing.

A book by former journalist Kerry Wilkinson is Number 6 on the list. He started some time after me but did really well, later switching to a traditional publisher, Pan MacMillan. His books have continued to sell well. You can read about Kerry's success HERE

At Number 9, just below The Basement, is Mark Edwards, who had amazing success as a self-published writer. Mark signed a six-figure deal with Harper Collins but in his own words it all went "horribly wrong" and he is now back self-publishing. You can read about that HERE

I saw both Mark and Kerry - on separate occasions -  at the Crime Writers Festival in Harrogate. They were there as spectators rather than speakers and they were both clearly nervous and feeling out of place, and it occurred to me at the time that they had no reason to be over-awed by the writers on display. Between them they sold more in one week than a lot of writers there had sold in their entire career.

All three writers did amazingly well as self-published writers. I think that's because they wrote fast-paced stories, but more importantly they were writing for readers rather than editors. All three were also terrific at dealing with their readers, on social media and in person.

Why did it go wrong for Mark and Nick, but worked out so well for Kerry? That is one of life's mysteries. No pun intended. I would say that they are all terrific writers, and they are all great at interacting with their readers. I'm not sure it's fair to blame the publishers, there is something else at work, I think. I'm moving towards the view that some types of writing are better suited to eBooks. Maybe it's the technology, the fact that all you do is click to turn a page so people read faster. Maybe faster-paced books with fewer descriptions and lots of dialogue sell well as eBooks but not so well as paperbacks. And maybe it is price sensitive. Maybe people will pay 99p for a frothy rollicking eBook romance but won't pay £6.99 for a paperback. Maybe it's the fault of booksellers who are unwilling to promote a former self-published writer.

I'm still giving it a lot of thought, and have yet to reach any firm conclusions, I'm afraid. I'm lucky in that I'm in both worlds. I'm still one of the most successful UK self-published writers, but I am also regularly in the Sunday Times Top 10 hardback fiction list. I know I spend more time writing my Hodder hardbacks, but that's because they are generally longer - my Hodder novels tend to be 120,000 plus words while my self-published books are generally below 100,000. I would say that the quality is the same, but I have to leave that to my readers to decide!

Michael Kozlowski - A "Journalist" Who Doesn't Check His Facts

When self-publishing first started to take off in 2010, it was hard to get information on what to do and how best to do it. It was a bit like the Klondike, where thousands of amateurs picked up their shovels and headed to the hills in search of fortunes. 

Because I was doing so well self-publishing (I had the top three places in the UK Kindle bestseller list at the time) I was constantly getting emails asking for advice, and I was happy to help wherever I could.

Back then cover designers were few and far between, and there were very few people out there who could format quickly and cheaply for Smashwords and I would pass on the names of those that I could recommend. I was often asked for tips on pricing and marketing, and again I was happy to oblige and tell writers what had worked for me.

Since those heady days, self-publishing has become a global industry, yet I get far fewer requests for help. That's mainly because there are now hundreds of 'experts' offering advice on self-publishing. There is a huge support industry offering editing services, formatting and covers. It's far easier to get advice on what to do to make a success of self-publishing.

One of the best sources of information is the amazing Joe Konrath, who is very much a self-publishing evangelist and one of the most successful self-publishers out there. You can read his self-publishing blog HERE and I suggest you do, because it's a mine of information!

But for every Joe Konrath there are hundreds of people who describe themselves as experts but who in fact know little or nothing about the industry. There are hundreds of self-published books charging for the same information that Joe Konrath offers for free. And there are hundreds of so-called journalists who are scrambling to make a living from the self-publishing industry.

One of those so-called journalists is a Canadian by the name of Michael Kozlowski. I had never heard of him  until he wrote about me on his website. Well, lied about me would be more accurate. This is what he wrote on his Good Ereader blog -

I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Michael Kozlowski, who I have never heard of and who has never made any attempt to contact me, had published two outright and unequivocal lies about me.

I have never, ever paid people to leave positive reviews. Leaving aside the legality/morality of paying for reviews, I have never done so because I get plenty of 5-star reviews anyway. All my books get all the positive reviews I need, I don't need to pay for reviews.

And I have never left fake reviews. I don't review many books but when I do I use my own name. Saying I leave fake reviews is an absolute lie.

Michael Kozlowski didn't provide any evidence to back up his allegations. And frankly I didn't understand where the allegations had come from.

I sent him a polite email pointing out that he was in error and that the unsubstantiated allegations he made  on his Good eReader blog were false.

I didn't get a reply, let alone an apology. But some time later he amended his copy and republished the following -

He was now accusing me of creating multiple accounts to generate buzz on forums and to leave reviews on his own books.

The first allegation is complicated. I have never denied that I have sometimes been on forums and not used my real name. Most people on discussion forums use a pseudonym or pen name, especially on forums frequented by trolls. But his second allegation, that I left reviews on my own books is an outright lie. As I said earlier, I get all the reviews I need, I don't have to pay for reviews or review my own books.

I wrote back to Michael Kozlowski at Good eReader pointing out that his article was still making unsubstantiated false accusations about me.

This time I did receive an email from him. No apology, in fact nothing other than two links which I assume were to the websites he had taken his lies from.

It turns out he had taken his information from two 'journalists' who are as unreliable as he is.

The first one, Suw Charman-Anderson made allegations that are simply untrue in her Forbes blog. She corrected some of the mistakes she made but not all, and I have complained several times to Forbes management. She no longer writes for Forbes. In fact she never really did, she just had a blog that ran under the Forbes banner.

The second link is to another website where another journalist wrote that I confessed to reviewing my own books. That is not true. I asked for a correction but as with Michael Kozlowski I didn't get it and the lie remains up there.

That's the problem with these so-called journalists. It's almost impossible to get them to correct their mistakes and they never seem to apologise. If Michael Kozlowski had contacted me before writing his piece I could have given him the truth. But he didn't want the truth. All he wanted to do was to knock out a quick article using work stolen from other writers.

So, I can safely say that Michael Kozlowski is a liar and a plagiarist. He claims to be a journalist, but to me a journalist is a professional who gathers facts and then assembles a readable article. From what I've seen of Michael Kozlowski's work, he seems to think it's journalism when you take another reporter's work and repost it. That's not journalism. That's theft. And what makes it worse is that Michael Kozlowski doesn't even check the material he steals, which means he publishes lies and rumour.

There are also doubts about his impartiality. He accused me of paying for reviews - which is an absolute lie. But he quite happily tells manufacturers that they can buy reviews in his column. That's worth repeating. If you pay money to Michael Kozlowski, he will review your products. The man is a liar and a plagiarist and a hypocrite.

You can read his Good Ereader blog HERE - but I wouldn't bother. It's rubbish. And pretty much all the material is lifted from elsewhere.

For instance, he doesn't think that self-published writers should call themselves authors. You can read that nonsense HERE.  But I wouldn't bother. The man's an idiot.

He also thinks that self-published authors are destroying literature. You can read that nonsense HERE, but again I wouldn't bother, really.

I'm not the only one who thinks that Michael Kozlowski is an idiot - you can read more HERE

I'm guessing that he makes outrageous statements on his website to get people to click on his links, and I assume that's so he earns money from advertising. That doesn't excuse him plagiarising the work of other writers or from printing lies.

This is how Michael Kozlowski of Good eReader describes himself on his Twitter account -

He says he's editor-in-chief but I get the impression he's a one-man band. He describes himself as a 'young hero' but he's not that young and he's no hero.

I'm not the only one who thinks that Michael Kozlowski shouldn't be describing himself as an editor in chief. And he often gets accused of blogging nonsense to get traffic to his blog. He's a blogger, and not a very good one, and not a journalist.

Eric is right to question Michael Kozlowski's journalist credentials. A look at Michael Kozlowski's CV shows that he has had no journalist training. He is not a journalist.

Professional journalists, when confronted with their mistakes, apologise and print a correction. Not Michael Kozlowski. I know this from experience because he published lies about me. He didn't apologise when I pointed out his errors, he just rewrote the article so that it contained even more lies. And he justified his lies by showing me the articles he'd stolen his copy from. I pointed out that those articles were inaccurate, but he didn't care. I doubt that Michael Kozlowski's career will prosper. We'll see.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Great Affordable Covers On Sale

My pal Debbie at The Cover Collection is having a £30 sale at the moment, with a load of terrific pre-made covers on offer at a bargain price.

Here are just a few of the covers she is now selling for £30.

I've used Debbie at lot in the past and IMHO she's one of the best book cover designers in the business. I used her for San Francisco Night and she has done the cover for New York Night, which I hope to publish in October.

Here are some of the many covers Debbie has done for me - and others - in the past.

You can visit Debbie's pre-made cover sale by CLICKING HERE

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Once Bitten On Sale for Just £1

Amazon have slashed the price of my vampire book Once Bitten to just £1 for the Kindle.  I'm not sure why or how long the promotion will last but that's the price at the moment!


In just a couple of days the promotion has made Once Bitten the top-selling Kindle book in the Zombies, Werewolves and Vampires category! (The number two is the Zombies Survival Manual, which is a fun book that I bought myself a few months ago. I love it!)

Amazon recently did another price promotion for my New York thriller, The Basement. I'm never quite sure what it is they do to promote the price cuts but it always seems to work - The Basement shot up into the UK Top 100 despite the fact that it was first published as an eBook more than four years ago!

The Once Bitten promotion came out of the blue, but I am currently in the middle of another one-month long Amazon promotion that I was expecting. They contacted me a few weeks ago to see if I wanted to take part in a cut-price Kindle promotion featuring my book Spider Shepherd SAS - Volume 1.

The book is a collection of six of my Spider Shepherd SAS short stories, set back in the days when he was still a special forces trooper.  YOU CAN BUY IT BY CLICKING HERE

In my opinion you'd be crazy to turn down any offer Amazon makes to promote your work so I jumped at the chance.  The book has been selling at £2.99 (which I think is a very fair price for 80,000 or so words).  Under the Amazon deal, they cut the price to 99p.  Now, the downside is I only get paid based on the 99p price rather than the regular price, but the upside is that Amazon will promote the book. They have now started doing that and I'm already seeing an upsurge in sales.

Where I hope it will really help me is that there is a second volume of Spider Shepherd SAS short stories. If the promotion works, hopefully a lot of people who buy the first volume at 99p will return to buy the second at £2.99. I shall keep you posted!

Anyway, go Amazon. I'm a big fan. Obviously! But not everyone is, unfortunately. In fact some writers go out of their way not to publish with Amazon, which I really don't understand.  Take Suw Charman-Anderson, for example. She touts herself as a self-publishing and social media guru but I find that most of what she says is absolute tosh.

She refuses to do business with Amazon, the biggest outlet for self-published books in the world. I sell more than 90 per cent of my self-published eBooks through Amazon. But Suw Charman-Anderson won't let them sell her work.  That's nonsense and anyone who follows her lead would find their self-publishing career stalling before it even started to take off. This is what she said recently, and it's nonsense.

In fact Suw Charman-Anderson's foray into self-publishing has been so disastrous she recently announced that she was giving up selling her books. You can read about that BY CLICKING HERE.

I'm not the only one who thinks that Suw Charman-Anderson's advice isn't up to scratch - YOU CAN READ MORE ABOUT THAT HERE.

The simple fact is that anyone who is serious about self-publishing has to work with Amazon. You'd be crazy not to!