Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Getting A Boost From Amazon

The wonderful folks at Amazon have decided to slash the prices of most of my self-published paperbacks for UK readers for the month of May.

It's a terrific promotion for those readers who want to hold a real paperback in their hands.

I've written before about the advantages of having Amazon promote a writer's books. You can read that HERE   Amazon have run several promotions for my eBooks over the years, and they have always boosted sales. But this is the first time they have offered to promote my self-published paperbacks.

This is what they said to me late last month.

It's a great promotion, and a chance for readers to get paperbacks at a really cheap price.
I have self-published the books through Createspace, which is an awesome print-on-demand system which most self-publishers use. The promotional Amazon price is less than I pay when I buy copies from Createspace!

Authors don't make as much money from the POD paperbacks as they do from eBooks but it's worth doing as so many readers do prefer paperbacks to eBooks.

Amazon have chosen six Stephen Leather paperbacks as part of the May promotion.

New York Night is just £5.99 for the month of May - You can buy it - HERE

San Francisco Night is also just £5.99 - You can buy it HERE

Spider Shepherd: SAS Volume 1 is now £5.39 now, down from £8.99 - You can buy it HERE

Spider Shepherd: SAS Volume 2 is also £5.39, down from £8.99 - You can buy it HERE

Take Two is also down from £8.99 to £5.39 - You can buy it HERE

The Bestseller is slashed from £7.99 to £4.79 - You can buy it HERE

Monday, March 21, 2016

Createspace - Another Way Of Self-Publishing

I was one of the first writers to crack the eBook market with self-published books. At one point back in 2010 I had four of the five top positions in the UK Kindle bestellers chart, something no other writer has managed.

But it took me some time to try selling self-published paperbacks. I was never convinced that the time and cost was worthwhile. But I had a lot of people telling me they wanted to see my self-published books as Stephen Leather paperbacks.

I was a bit nervous about making the jump to self-publishing paperbacks but I've been pleasantly surprised at how well my paperbacks - published through Amazon's Createspace platform - have sold.

The two Jack Nightingale stories I have put on Createspace - New York Night and San Francisco Night - sell in greater numbers than the five Jack Nightingale books published by Hodder and Stoughton. And my copies are selling at £9.99 each!

Here are the covers of my two self-published Nightingale books.

Anyway, here's me talking about Createspace on a blog - CLICK HERE

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Awful 'Journalism' From Ian Johnston Of The Soon-To-Close Independent

A truly awful piece of journalism appeared in the Independent this week under the byline of Ian Johnston, describing Amazon as Darth Vadar and accusing it of closing down small publishers.

Strong stuff. Totally wrong, of course. No one has done more to help independent publishers than Amazon. Any book published by anyone anywhere can be bought through Amazon. How does that not help small publishers?

So what is the source of this attack on Amazon?


Ah. So the source is a political spin doctor? Hmmmm. We all know how reliable they are, right?

The adviser is Rohan Silver, who is launching his own book shop.

Ah. So the source is a spin doctor who plans to go into competition with Amazon. Obviously a man with an axe to grind. And what better way to get publicity for his new venture than to attack Amazon in public?

Silver even describes his new shop as 'an Amazon-killer'.  Now I know that spin doctors do tend to tell porkies, but seriously? His shop has as much chance of killing Amazon as I have of walking on the moon.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan - and supporter - of book shops (and libraries).  I shop at book shops and I do signings when asked. And I agree that Amazon's discounting and superb customer service has hurt book shops. But the Amazon marketplace is available to all sellers, and offers opportunities for small publishers to sell their wares around the world.

If small publishers are hurting, then let's hear from them. But let's also hear from all the new publishers that have been formed to take advantage of the Amazon marketplace.

I function as a small publisher. I sell thousand of eBooks a month and 90 per cent of them are sold through Amazon. I am not alone. Thousands of other authors are publishing their own work and most sell their work through Amazon. Small publishing operations like ours would not be possible without Amazon. And hundreds of small publishing companies have been set up to help authors sell their eBooks - that would never have happened without Amazon.

This article by Ian Johnston is one-sided partisan nonsense. And it's not even his own work!

You can read Ian Johnston's article in The Independent  HERE

As you can see HERE  it's a rewrite of an article that appeared in The Daily Telegraph. That's all he did. He didn't speak to anyone, and he didn't add anything. He just rewrote what the Telegraph had published.

What would a decent journalist have done? Spoken to Amazon, for a start. Or spoken to small publishers. Or spoken to someone with a different point of view. Or perhaps realise that the 'story' was a nonsense and should be ignored.

Ian Johnston didn't do any of that. He just rewrote the Telegraph article and the Independent published it. Shame on the Independent, but then it's a pretty awful newspaper these days. Readership has slumped to just 40,000 and it will shut for good next month.

Good riddance, I say. It's a pity, because I was a Fleet Street Journalist when The Independent was launched in 1986 and back then it was a terrific paper and I like most journalists admired it for what it was trying to do. Friends of mine worked for it and they were all enthused by The Independent's commitment to fine journalism. But those days are long gone. Now it's staffed by ill-trained youngsters in the main, wannabe journalists who would never have been hired back in the Eighties.

The Independent will continue as an on-line edition, but I'm fairly sure it won't succeed in that form either. Not with journalists like Ian Johnston, anyway.

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!