Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Howard Jones, Councillor For Leatherhead North, Is At It Again

There have been a number of high profile trolling cases in the media over the last few days. TV presenter Richard Madeley had to contact the police after his wife and daughter were threatened by Twitter trolls following his wife's "controversial" comments on rape during a live TV show.

The trolls came out in force after Judy Finnigan appearing to defend a convicted rapist by saying "the rape was not violent".

And in another high profile case, a troll who was caught attacking the parents of missing girl Madeleine McCann committed suicide, unable to live with the shame of being outed as an internet troll.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, by far the best way of dealing with trolls is to ignore them. Generally they are looking to provoke a reaction, and if the don't get a reaction they'll eventually get bored and turn their attention elsewhere.

The problem is, that doesn't always work. Sometimes they never give up. The question is, what do you do then? I have had a number of trolls over the years and as I don't engage with them, most eventually get bored and move on to other targets.

But some just won't give up. Howard Jones, Conservative Councillor for Leatherhead North, has just tweeted this:

In the Tweet he accuses me of being an Amazon fake reviewer.

That is not true. I don't review many books on Amazon but when I do they are not "fake". And I do not post reviews of my own books.

Maybe he is confused, or maybe he is deliberately lying. I don't know. But the statement he made is a lie. And a lie told in public is a libel. As a barrister he would know that.

His attacks are also highly personal. Here, for instance, he calls me a narcissist and a sociopath. Yet Howard Jones does not know me. He has never spoken to me. He knows nothing about me yet he continues to mount personal attacks against me.

I'm not sure what to do. Howard Jones has made a habit of attacking me in public and generally I have just ignored him. That's the best way of dealing with trolls.  If you get a malicious review, just ignore it. If you get trolled on a forum or a blog, just ignore it. And if a troll vents his spleen on Twitter, just block the person and they won't bother you again.

The big question, though, is how long you have to ignore a troll before they move on and pick on someone else.   Most trolls give up after a few weeks. A few will persevere for a month or two, especially on Twitter because Twitter makes it so easy for trolls. Howard Jones, though, just won't stop. I don't know why he has decided to pick on me, but he clearly won't give up.

Here's the thing about Howard Jones. He is a barrister and barristers are governed by the Bar Code of Conduct which requires barristers to be courteous at all times. Clearly in my case he's being far from courteous so maybe I should complain to the Bar Standards Board? Or maybe I should ask the Conservative Central Office if they think he is behaving in a manner befitting an elected official representing the Conservative Party. Or get a lawyer to send him a "cease and desist" letter. Or do I just continue to ignore him? I just don't know. I just wish he would leave me alone.

Recently Howard Jones publicly tweeted another allegation about me, claiming that I was behind a sock puppet account on Twitter.

That is an absolute lie. The account is nothing to do with me. I Tweet through two accounts and both are clearly labelled with my name on the profile page, @stephenleather and @firstparagraph.  Those are the only two accounts I use.  

I don't know why Howard Jones decided to make those allegations in public, but they are lies and I deserve an apology. I doubt I will get one, because Howard Jones has demonstrated an unwillingness to engage with me directly, he prefers to Tweet insults and lies. What should I do? I'm giving the matter some serious thought.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Pricing - the $3.99 Sweet Spot

Some fascinating information from Mark Coker at Smashwords here -   CLICK FOR SMASHWORDS SURVEY

I'm a huge fan of Smashwords and have been since they started.  Smashwords probably accounts for 15 per cent of my self-published eBook sales at the moment, and that percentage is growing.

In the survey Mark talks about pricing, which is one of the main marketing tools open to a self-published writer.  Mark sees $3.99 as the sweet spot, i.e. where earnings are maximised.

It certainly seems to me that the rush to buy cheap books - 99 cents to $2.99 - is over. Buyers now realise that most low-priced books simply aren't good.

I'm still trying to work out the sweet spot for my books. I recently raised the price of several of my books from $4.99 to $5.99 and sales pretty much halved overnight. I put them back to $4.99 and sales recovered almost immediately.  I'm now wondering if I drop the price further - to $3.99 - will earnings rise?  Watch this space!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

My Free eBooks Website

I don't know any writer who has given away more stories than me. Long before eBooks I used to give away free PDFs of my book Private Dancer - more than 40,000 copies in all.  I believed that the free copies would expand my readership base, and I'm sure that is true.  And I've met a lot of readers who have told me that they went on to buy a copy of the paperback after they had read the PDF, either to reread themselves or to give to friends.

Once eBooks took off, I realised that free stories were the best way of attracting new readers. It's a win-win situation all around. Readers get free books that they can just throw away if they don't like them. I get to show my work to a potential new reader. The cost to me is minimal. The cost to the reader is zero. To date I have given away more than half a million stories.

At present I have six books for free on Amazon and on all other retailers through Smashwords. Two of them - Short Fuses and More Short Fuses - are collections of short stories and tasters of other Stephen Leather best-sellers.  Blood Bath is a collection of Jack Nightingale short stories all using that title and based on the cover. Contributors include my fellow Hodder and Stoughton author Matt Hilton.  One of the free stories is an Inspector Zhang locked room mystery, and I'm also giving away a free Thailand story, Banging Bill's Wife. And finally I'm giving away the first in the Spider Shepherd SAS short stories.

I have just put all the free eBooks together on a new website, designed by my friends at WHITE WAVE WEB SOLUTIONS.

You can visit the new Free eBooks website BY CLICKING HERE

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Power Of Amazon

How cool is this? Today I am the third most popular horror author in the US - behind the amazing Blake Crouch and the even more amazing Stephen King. I'm not worthy.

It's all down to promotion by Amazon on their US and Canadian sites.

I've been a huge KDP fan ever since it started, and am hugely grateful for the way KDP and Amazon have boosted my sales over the past three years.

As well as self-publishing several books through KDP, I gave two of my books - Once Bitten and The Basement - to Amazon to publish through their Thomas and Mercer imprint.

That was three years ago, and yesterday - yes, yesterday - Once Bitten was in the US Kindle Top 100. How cool is that? It's nothing to do with me, it was simply that Amazon decided to promote the book. And wow, does their promotion produce results!

Within hours of Amazon starting their promotion, Once Bitten was in the US Top 20 chart. As of today, it's just outside the Top 100. And it's the top selling vampire book which is way cool when you consider what the competition is. 

The book is even higher in the Canadian charts! Number 73 as we speak, though it was higher!

Publishing is a funny old game. One of the things I've learned over the last twenty years as a published author is that the difference between an author who sells just a few books and an author who sells a ton of books is promotion, pure and simple. And no one does promotion better than Amazon!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Amazon - The Good And The Bad

Amazon revolutionised the publishing world with its KDP Kindle-publishing program, which allows pretty much anyone to publish pretty much anything.

It's transformed the way I work and made me one of the top UK eBook authors. Generally KDP is fast and efficient and works without a hitch.

Amazon is able to boost sales in a way that the regular publishers can't, in particular with its Kindle Daily Deal promotion, where they reduce the price of an eBook and promote it like crazy.  It's an awesome marketing tool, and it can take a book from nowhere to the top of the bestselling charts. Yesterday Amazon did just that with my book Once Bitten, which they now publish through their Thomas and Mercer imprint.

It usually sells for £3.49 and languishes down in the 5,000 level of the bestseller charts, selling just a few copies a day.

Yesterday Amazon cut the price to 99p and promoted it, and within hours it was at Number 11. That means it sold at least 1,000 copies, which is great going.

The sales boost of the Kindle Daily Deal program runs for more than the one day the price is reduced because it raises the profile of the book.  Amazon have done this several times with another of my books they publish through Thomas and Mercer, The Basement.

When Amazon does something well, it does it really well. I can't think of a better way of promoting a book than the Kindle Daily Deal.

But when Amazon does something less than well, it can be really, really annoying.  I've had an ongoing problem with releasing free books on the Kindle, and the problem is getting worse over the years.

When I first started self-publishing on Amazon, I realised that giving away books and short stories for free was a great way of raising my profile.

Amazon generally has a minimum price of 99 cents and won't allow you to automatically list a book for free. But they do carry out what they call price-matching, where if the book is available anywhere at a lower price than it is listed on Amazon they will reduce the price accordingly.  When I first started self-publishing I was able to email contacts at Amazon's head office in Seattle, tell them I was making a book free on Smashwords and they would pretty much immediately make it free on the Kindle. It was a great system and I put up several books for free. It paid off, brought in new readers, and lifted sales of all my books.

As the months have passed, Amazon has become much less approachable, and these days writers have to wait much longer for price-matching to occur. And email requests to speed up the process are usually met with a standard response, along the lines that it is up to readers to point out a cheaper price and that if enough do so, price-matching might take place.  I have to say I find that very frustrating. If Amazon was serious about price-matching, and offering its customers the best deal, then surely it should enough that the author tells them about the lower price?  But no, it's not enough. Even when I have sent them the link to the free book elsewhere they have still refused to immediately price-match.

I'm having that problem now with a compendium of short stories I have just published - More Short Fuses.  It follows on from a similar book I published last year, Short Fuses, which is already free on Kindle.  I know that more than a dozen readers have already pointed out to Amazon that More Short Fuses is already free on Smashwords, but they have yet to price match. I've emailed Amazon but that hasn't got me anywhere. Like I said, I don't know why they make it so difficult, but from my experience complaining won't get me anywhere.

Anyway, you can see More Short Fuses for the Kindle  HERE

But if it's not free, please don't buy it!  Just report it as cheaper elsewhere and get it free from Smashwords  HERE

Sunday, May 25, 2014

How A Cover Revamp Can Boost Sales

A month I ago I decided to revamp the cover of my book of free short stories - SHORT FUSES.  There wasn't much wrong with the first version, I just felt it could do with freshening up.

The old version is on the left, the newer version, by designer DEREK MURPHY, is on the right.

The revamped cover had an immediate effect on downloads (I can't really call them sales as Short Fuses is free) as you can see from the following chart.

It looks to me that in March I was averaging between 60 and 70 downloads a day. In April that had fallen to about 50 a day.  But following the cover revamp on April 24, downloads rose quickly, to a peak of 112, and overall seems to be averaging about 90.  That seems to me to be pretty conclusive - revamping a cover can boost your downloads. I guess the big question is does it work as well with paid-for titles. We shall see!

You can download Short Fuses for FREE by clicking HERE

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Dealing With Trolls

Every self-published writer sooner or later has to deal with trolls. That's just the way the world is these days, unfortunately.  Part of being a self-published writer in the brave new world of ePublishing means going out and marketing books, which means drawing attention to your self. The downside is that sometimes that attention can be negative rather than positive.

Every writer gets bad reviews at some point, and while I've always said that I can learn more from a bad review than a good review, it's also true that some reviews are just plain malicious.  Writers can also get trolled on their blog, on social media, and on forums.

So what should you do when confronted by a troll, someone who wants to give you grief in public?

The best thing to do, by far, is ignore them. If you do, eventually they will realise that they are not provoking a reaction and move on to someone else. There is almost nothing to be gained by interacting with them. The same goes for reviews. If you get a bad review then read it carefully to see if there is anything helpful in it, but if it seems to me malicious, don't rise to the bait and reply.

Some of the best advice on dealing with trolls comes from self-publishing guru Joe Konrath. His mantra is - ignore them. –  ALWAYS GREAT ADVICE FROM JOE KONRATH

Prior to the ePublishing revolution, marketing was something that the publisher did on behalf of the writer. Publishers would arrange book tours, set up interviews with newspapers, magazines and radio stations, and arrange tours of bookshops. These days most self-published writers have to do their own marketing, and that means blogging or using social media. And the sad fact is, the more you use social media, the more likely you are to be trolled.

I’ve never really seen the point of Twitter. Most of the time it seems to be a lot of people shouting and no one listening. My first twitter account - @stephenleather – was opened by a fan a few years ago who said that he thought it would be an important marketing tool. He sent me the log-in details and gave the account to me.

While I do use it – and another account @firstparagraph – I have to say that I’m not a big fan and don’t use it much. I prefer to keep in touch with readers through my Facebook page or email.  But I do check in every day or so because some readers like to use Twitter to tell me their thoughts or ask about my work. The problem with Twitter is that it can be quite a cruel place at times. There is a lot of bullying and sheer stupidity on Twitter that in my humble opinion is a waste of time and best avoided. I have had my fair share of insults thrown at me on Twitter and I have learned from experience that they are best ignored. It’s a bit like having someone shout abuse at you in the street –there is almost certainly an element of mental instability involved and nothing good ever comes from confronting the abuser. Walking away is always the best thing to do!

What came as something of a surprise to me was the type of person who trolls on Twitter. You would think that the average troll would be young, ill-educated, possibly unemployed and with too much time on their hands. In fact in my experience it's very much the opposite - when I am trolled it tends to be by middle-class, middle-aged professionals with a university education.

Recently when I was on seeing if there were questions from fans, I noticed that someone I had never heard of had mentioned me. It was a chap called Howard Jones, and he posted a very strange Tweet. Someone had posted about a character called Mo Ansar being evasive  and Howard Jones then Tweeted ‘Makes Stephen Leather look easy to pin down.’

I had never heard of Howard Jones but according to his Twitter profile he is a barrister, politician, historian and cricket lover.

Now I was worried, because when a barrister says that you are hard to pin down, it suggests that he has met you and gathered that impression from something you had done. And I was very sure that I had never met Howard Jones, in his professional capacity or indeed in any capacity.

To be honest, I did worry that people might think that he had questioned me in court!

He obviously wasn’t an anonymous troll, he’s clearly a real person, and an educated one at that.  It could of course have been a case of mistaken identity, so I decided to make contact with Howard Jones just to check what on earth was going on.

I Googled him and the only ‘HOWARD JONES, BARRISTER’ appeared to be at the Carmelite Chambers in London, a venerable and much-respected firm. – CARMELITE CHAMBERS

This actually worried me even more – it wasn’t a random stranger casting aspersions on my character but a barrister from a leading City firm.

I sent an email to the firm asking if Mr Jones would please contact me but they didn’t reply, so I picked up the phone and called them. It seems that he doesn’t work there any longer and the charming lady on reception said she didn’t know where he worked now.

According to Google,  Howards Jones’ last case through Carmelite appears to be back in September 2010 – there is a newspaper article about it here -

I wasn’t sure what to do as I didn’t want to send him a public Tweet but then I noticed that he was following my @firstparagraph account.  I was following him and he was following me, and when two people follow each other they can send each other a direct message, a Tweet that only they can see. A private Tweet. So I sent Howard Jones a private Tweet, just for his eyes, saying that I wanted to get in touch with him.

Unfortunately, instead of getting in touch as I’d asked, he then fired off four public tweets, for everyone to read.

In the public Tweets he said that I had been putting some time and research into trying to get in touch with him. That’s a bit of an exaggeration as I spent just one minute on Google and one minute on the phone. Ten seconds to send him a private Tweet.

And he made it seem as if I had been doing something wrong in following him –  completely ignoring the fact that he was following me.  If he hadn’t been following me, I wouldn’t have been able to send him a Direct Message.

But what really worried me was his public comment – “Should I expect grief or do you have to be a fellow writer to get grief?’

I was stunned that a barrister would think it appropriate to ask such a leading question in public.  It’s on a par with the legendary ‘how long have you been beating your wife’ question. I doubt any judge would allow such a question in court and I don’t understand why he felt it necessary to say that in public. All I wanted to do was to talk to him, to ask him why he felt that I was hard to pin down when he had never even spoken to me. Why would I want to cause him grief?  It looks like I’ll never know because I certainly don’t want to start a conversation with him in public and he’s clearly not interested in talking to me man-to-man.

As I said, I’m not sure where Howard Jones works now. His last chambers said they didn’t know where he had gone. I did notice that not long after he sent the Tweets, he changed his profile to say that he was a non-practising barrister.

Howard Jones is now determined to follow a career in politics. Hopefully he'll feel able to talk directly to voters and won't insist on communicating through Twitter.

So why did a middle-aged, middle-class, university-educated professional seek me out to cast aspersions on my character in a public forum? But refuse to interact with me as in individual?  I'll probably never know. But Howard Jones isn't alone.

Not long afterwards, another middle-aged, middle-class, university-educated professional took to Twitter to have a go at me.

I have to say that it's a very middle-class way of attacking me, and I guess that most of my readers won't even know who Johann Hari and Mo Ansar are.  But trust me, when Mobeena Khan sent that Tweet she wasn't trying to do me any favours!

Now, I didn't know Mobeena Khan, I've never met her, never spoken to her or about her, and until she sent that Tweet I had no idea who she was.

It turns out that Mobeena Khan is the editor of the journal of the Public and Mobile Libraries Group for Hertfordshire Libraries and has a BA and an MA in Literature, so she is clearly well-educated. I am a huge fan of libraries. I spent much of my youth in the local library and these days I do whatever I can to support the library system. I'm also very proud of the fact that I am one of the most borrowed authors in UK libraries. So why would a librarian decide I'm fair game for abuse?  I have no doubt that if I met her at a dinner party or in a bar I'd find her articulate, pleasant and polite.  So why would a middle-aged, middle-class professional decide that it is acceptable to cast aspersions on the character of someone they have never met, in public? The same goes for Howard Jones. I have no doubt at all that neither Howard Jones nor Mobeena Khan would behave like that if they actually met me.  But there is something about social media that encourages people like Howard Jones and Mobeena Khan to behave badly.

So, going back to the question of dealing with trolls. Ignoring them is the only way of dealing with it. Read Joe Konrath's advice and follow it. Oh, and if you can develop a thick skin, that will help!