Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Predictions for 2015 From Mark Coker of Smashwords

The awesome Mark Coker of Smashwords has delivered his predictions for 2015. They are actually quite grim reading for independent self-published authors. You can read his predictions BY CLICKING HERE

All always, Mark is on the money. He truly understands the rewards and pitfalls of self-publishing. For what it's worth I thought I'd add my thoughts!

Mark Says:  1.  More authors will aspire to publish indie – In 2008 when I founded Smashwords, nearly all writers aspired to traditionally publish.  Self-publishing was viewed as the option of last resort – the option for failed writers.  Today the former stigma of self publishing is evaporating.  Indie authorship has become a global cultural movement, as I described when I published the Indie Author Manifesto earlier this year. The indie author movement will grow stronger in 2015.  Traditionally published authors will continue to transition to indie, led by midlist authors.  We’ll also see more hybrid authors reorient their publishing strategy back in the direction of indieville.

I say:  Yup, absolutely. A lot of people still believe that the road to self-publishing is paved with gold. Trust me, it isn't. We have now reached the stage where the vast majority of self-published writers make little or no money and that will get worse. It's going to take time for the wannabe writers to truly appreciate that stark fact.

Mark Says: 2.  Indie authors will capture more ebook market share – The percentage of reader dollars going to indie ebooks will increase.  The growth will be fueled by a continued increase in the number of indie-published ebooks, and by more indie authors adopting best practices to publish with greater pride and professionalism.  In March I shared some of my longer term market share projections here and here

I say:  Maybe. But I believe that the traditional publishers will continue to tighten their grip on the major eBook outlets such as Kindle, Kobo and iBooks.

Mark Says: 3.  Screen reading will increase, but at a slower rate – For readers of English language books, the early adopters of ebooks have adopted.  I think reading will continue to transition from print to digital, yet the rate of growth will slow.  One bright spot will be the continued growth in screen reading in developing countries aided by the ubiquity of smart phones.

I say:  Yup, the boom is over. And happily a lot of people do still prefer hardbacks and paperbacks. Long may that continue. I'm not sure that people will read on smartphones - most of the people I see play games or are on social media. I see very few people actually reading on their phones. I wonder if there's a way writers can make use of Apps to get their work out there. I'm working on it.

Mark Says: 4.  2015 will be slow growth for most authors, indie and traditional alike – I blogged about this topic last month in my post titled, Ebook Publishing Gets More Difficult From Here.  While some indies had a fabulous year in 2014 (look no further than the Smashwords bestseller list published in Publishers Weekly each month), most authors experienced a slower growth year - especially when compared against the go-go days of exponential growth from 2008 to 2012.  The causes for this slow down include a new equilibrium between print and ebook formats; immortal ebooks published by publishers and indie authors alike that will never go out of print; the continued growth of self-published titles; and myriad low-cost and free non-book alternatives competing for slices of consumers’ time such as social media, Internet video and games. 

I Say:  Yup, absolutely. A lot of people now have several years worth of reading on their Kindles and iPads. I think they are going to start buying fewer books as a result. And there are now so many other ways that people can spend their time - I haven't watched any television since a PlayStation 4 arrived. I read, of course, but a growing number of people don't. It used to be that every time you got on a train or plane, most people would be buried in a book or magazine. Now it's maybe 5 per cent who are reading physical books, almost everyone else is staring at their tablet or phone. Yes, you see Kindles, but not that many. And the people on the smartphones and iPads aren't reading. This more than anything is why I think the future is bleak for young writers just starting out. Long term, it's a dying business. It just is.

Mark Says: 5.  Indie authors face increased competition from traditional publishers – For the first years of the ebook revolution, large publishers all but ceded the $4.99 and lower ebook market to indie authors.  Publishers tried to maintain higher prices, and indies – empowered with the ability to earn royalty rates of 60-80% list price -  offered budget-conscious consumers high-quality books at low prices.  The low prices, including the ultralow prices of FREE and .99, made it easier for readers to take a chance on unknown writers.

In the last year, large publishers, borrowing a page from the indie author playbook, have stepped up their price-cutting in the form of temporary promotions on titles from big-name authors.  In 2015 we’ll see the temporary promotions from large publishers that were so common in 2014 give way to permanent lower prices on backlist titles from big names, and faster, more aggressive discounting on recently released titles.

This means indies will face increased competition in the sub $5.00 price points.  In the past, you could identify indie titles on the bestseller lists by price alone.  This is no longer the case.  Large publishers will also make greater use of ultra-low prices.

I Say:  This is the biggest danger facing self-published authors in the short term. The big publishing houses want to crush them and Amazon seems keen to help. It used to be that one of my self-published books would go straight into the Top 10 and stay there for a while. Those days are gone. Now I'm lucky to hit the Top 100 and I don't stay there long. Don't get me wrong, I still earn good money from my self-published books (almost £800 yesterday) but it's a lot less than I was earning during the gold rush days of 2011. The reason for this is the the established publishers are tightening their grip on the eBook bestseller lists, through promotions and price-cutting, and they will continue to do so.

6.  Large publishers step up usage of FREE – Inspired by the success of indie series writers who’ve had enormous success pricing series starters at permafree, large publishers will start making increased use of this unconventional price point.  Although few large publishers have made use of free as a promotional tool to date, this will begin to change in 2015.  As retailers such as iBooks run more "First in a Series Free" promotions which heretofore have been dominated by indie authors, publishers will feel the pressure to jump in.  As I write these predictions, iBooks is running a major multi-genre First in a Series Free promotion with nearly all the titles supplied by indie authors. Fifty nine Smashwords titles are featured!

I Say:  Yes, for sure. The big publishers are now using all the tricks that self-published authors used to use, from social media to linking titles to free and cut-price promotions. They watched, they learned, and now they are on the attack. My publisher had me in many times to chat about the eBook market and I now see them doing pretty much everything I used to do in the promotion of their big-name writers.

7.  FREE will lose more mojo – Since 2008 I’ve encouraged authors to utilize free as a price point to turbocharge downloads, build readership and reader trust, and drive readers to priced titles.  Authors who followed this advice early on reaped the most benefit.  However, free is losing some of its gusto as the market becomes flooded with free ebooks. At Smashwords, nearly 50,000 titles are priced at free.

In our 2014 Smashwords survey we found that free books at iBooks were downloaded with 39 times more frequency than books at a price, down from a multiplier of 91 in the prior 2013 survey.  In 2015 I predict the multiplier will drop further.  Despite the anticipated drop in effectiveness, free remains one of the most powerful merchandising tools for indie authors, especially when applied to series starters. This also means that authors who utilize free today will get much more mileage from it than authors who use it a year from now (hint:  If you’re using free, make sure your free titles are upgraded with enhanced backmatter so they direct readers to your priced titles. See my blog post and video on this subject).  If you haven’t experimented with free yet, now is the time.

I Say:  Yes, definitely.  There are now so many awful free books that the good ones can get swamped. The days of a self-published authors successfully promoting themselves with giveaways are almost gone. Instead we'll see the big name authors like Lee Child and Michael Connolly being given away to widen their readerships. And to be honest, that's a tough deal to turn down. The same goes for low pricing. If you can buy a Lee Child book for 99p or get a free Robert B Parker novel, why risk money on an unknown writer?

8.  Many indies will quit in 2015 – Authorship is tough work.  Discouraged by weak or slumping sales, many indie authors in 2015 will either give up on publishing or will decrease their production rates.  With the rapid rise of anything – whether we’re talking tulips, dot com stocks or real estate – bubbles form when the market becomes too frothy, too optimistic, too euphoric, and too crowded.  All markets are cyclical, so this boom-to-bust pattern, while painful for many, is healthy for the long term, especially for authors who stick it out.

Indie authors will be forced to take honest stock of their dreams, motivations and commitment.  What drives you?  Is it the joy of writing, or the necessity of putting food on the table, or both?  Either reason is respectable, but if your family’s next meal is entirely dependent upon your book sales, you’re under extra pressure.

I Say:  Yes, I absolutely agree. Unfortunately though, the writers will quit but their work will stay on line, hundreds of thousands of awful books that make it that much more difficult for quality to shine through. The ones that drop out will whine and moan about how unfair life is, but the simple fact is that they are quitting because no one will buy their books and that is because their books aren't good enough. You can read the bleating of one self-published writer who has given up BY CLICKING HERE.  As Mark Coker always says, the first key to success is to write a great book. The problem is, most people aren't capable of writing a good book. Mark is right - being an author is bloody hard work and only the tough will make it through.

9.  Time management will separate winners from losers – Raise your hand if you have too many hours in the day.  I’d hazard to speculate that each and every one of us fails on time management to some degree each day.  We only have so many minutes in a day, and only so many heartbeats in a lifetime.  Are you optimizing your author time so you’re spending more time writing and less time on the nonessentials?

For example, if it takes you multiple hours to format your ebook, why not hire a low cost formatter for $40 or less?  I’ll give you another example, and this one’s entirely self-serving but will resonate with many Smashwords authors - using a distributor.  Smashwords is a distributor.  Our job is to help you quickly deliver your book to multiple retailers, and then help you manage and control it with minimal effort.  When an author works with Smashwords, in exchange for a small commission we earn on every sale, the author gains the time-saving benefits of a single upload, centralized metadata management, and consolidated sales reporting and tax reporting.  I think this is why the vast majority of Smashwords authors choose to fully distribute with Smashwords rather than uploading direct to retailers.  The time-saving advantages of managing your publishing with a distributor become even more pronounced once you’re managing multiple titles.  No author’s career will fail because they gave 10% list to a distributor, but many authors will fail because they’re not focusing enough time on writing.

Another example. Many authors spend too much time on marketing and social media when they should be spending more time writing.  Your best marketing is a book that sparks enthusiastic word of mouth, so focus on the book.  If you enjoy social media, that's great, but try to make it your end-of-day brain break after you've completed your daily writing quota.

I Say:  Yes, you can't argue with this. Writers need to write, that's what they do best. Everything that can be sub-contracted out, should be.

10.  Amazon Will Use Kindle Unlimited to Pay Authors Less – Whether you love it or hate it, KU is already a massive disruptor in the world of ebook publishing. Many writers are claiming it caused their sales to plummet, while others say it has helped them reach new readers.  You can check out my prior analysis of KU here and here, or check out David Streitfeld's recent story on KU in the New York Times.

KU will have broader impact in 2015.  Unlike its ebook subscription competitors Oyster and Scribd which allow authors and publishers to set prices and receive retailer-level margins on qualifying reads (Smashwords authors earn 60% of their book’s list price), KU pays from a shared pool.  Author/publisher compensation is based on a book’s prorated share of readership multiplied against the size of pool.  If it sounds opaque, that's because it is. Amazon determines the size of each month’s pool and the value per qualified read after the month ends. 

This wouldn’t be a problem if Amazon was a benevolent player, committed to paying their publishers 70% list.  In November Amazon paid only $1.39 per qualified read, regardless of the book’s length or price.  $1.39 works out great if your regular retail price is $.99 (a $.99 ebook sold at Amazon otherwise earns about 34 cents).  Yet if your regular ebook price is $3.99 and you’re accustomed to earning almost 70% of that or $2.80, then KU means your effective royalty rate was cut by almost half  in recent months to 35%.

Kindle Unlimited represents Amazon’s end-run around the Agency pricing model.  With Agency, Amazon is obligated to pay publishers 70% of the list price set by publishers and cannot discount books. KDP has an “Agency-lite” equivalent model in which Amazon doesn't discount except in price matching situations.  With KU, your book’s price becomes irrelevant to Amazon.  It also gives Amazon the ability to pay you less than 70% list for each qualified read.

By providing KU preferential in-store merchandising, Amazon discourages customers from purchasing individual ebooks.  Since Amazon has a critical mass of over 700,000 books in Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s most voracious power readers already have nearly one million fewer reasons to purchase indie ebooks at full retail price.  This means that for many budget-minded readers who love indie ebooks, your $2.99 and $3.99 ebook is now too expensive when they can read it (or similar books) for free as part of their subscription.

As I mentioned in my last post, Is Kindle Unlimited Devaluing Books, most of Kindle Unlimited’s catalog is supplied by indie authors enrolled in Amazon’s KDP Select.  Without indie author support and participation in KDP Select, there’d be no Kindle Unlimited.

Will indies step up to the plate in 2015 and say no to KDP Select?  Since most indie authors sell poorly, I fear many indies will hear KU’s siren song and decide that earning $1.39 or less is better than earning nothing, and this will then perpetuate a slippery slope that will jeopardize earnings for all authors at Amazon.

I Say: I have never seen the point of offering work to one retailer exclusivity. Best to be on as many platforms as possible. I earn good money from Smashwords and love dealing with them.

11.  New VAT rules in Europe will put a damper on European ebook sales – Indie authors will suffer a drop in earnings from European ebook sales in 2015.  The cause?  New European Union VAT (Value Added Tax) rules.  On January 1, 2015, new VAT rules go into effect in the European Union.

In the past, the VAT imposed on ebooks was based on the VAT rate for the country in which the retailer was based.  To reduce the tax hit, retailers located their European headquarters in Luxembourg, where the VAT was only 3%.  At Smashwords retailers, the price set by the author was always VAT-inclusive, which meant the author and retailer’s cut was calculated after the 3% VAT was deducted.  At 3%, the rate was negligible and went unnoticed by most customers and authors.

Effective with the new EU rules that start January 1st, VAT is charged based on the customer's geographic location.  Rates across the European Union will range from 15% to 26%.  This means that effective January 1st, myriad tax rates will be applied to your ebooks sold at Smashwords retailers such as Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble UK, Txtr, and Kobo.

Indie authors must now decide whether to raise their prices to pass the tax burden to readers, or hold the line on prices which means the author absorbs the tax hit.  Either way, the author loses.  The ebook retailers are harmed as well since the tax comes out of the purchase price before the retailer earns their 30% cut.  As one retailer told me, “we’re all hit with the same stick here.”  To help mitigate the pain, Smashwords is developing new pricing tools for authors.  Stay tuned.

I Say:  Yeah, the bloody EU unfortunately. As of today they will be taking up to 26 per cent of the price of a book, and I think that will hit authors most. I'll be bearing the cost of the VAT so effectively my earnings will at a stroke drop by almost 20 per cent. It's more than annoying, especially when one considers how that money is spent. Unfortunately there is nothing writers can do about this.  You just have to bite the bullet.  But it's another nail in the coffin of self-publishing. A writer selling just a few books will have the government taking 20 per cent off the top followed by taxing the writer on any profits they make.  At least there are tax-free bands with income tax and small business owners can offset expenses against earnings. But that VAT hits everybody. It's the way of the world, unfortunately, the mega rich get richer and richer and the poor get taxed. Totally unfair, but then who said that life was fair. My solution - I'll write 20 per cent more in 2015 than I did in 2014.

12.  Back to basics:  The bestselling authors in 2015 win with best practices - The formula for bestseller success isn’t rocket science.  Success is all about best practices.  For every well-executed best practice implemented by the author, the author gains an incremental advantage in the marketplace.  What are some of these best practices?  1. You must write a super-awesome “wow” book that takes the reader to an emotional, satisfying extreme (this applies to fiction and non-fiction).  2.  Your books should be professionally edited and proofed  3.  A great cover image makes your book more discoverable and more desirable to your target reader.  Great cover images make an honest and visual promise to your target reader about the experience your book offers.  4. Give your book a fair price.  5.  Release your book as a preorder.  If you’re not doing preorders, you’re missing out on one of the most powerful merchandising tools today (click here to learn how preorders work).  6.  Avoid exclusivity and distribute your book widely.  7.  Write another book, rinse and repeat.

Although the best practices aren’t secrets any more (check out my Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success for a refresher on best practices – or watch my best practices video tutorial), most authors fall short on the best practices front. Some authors fall into the trap of searching for easy silver bullet shortcuts. There is no single silver bullet.  You must do many things right and avoid pitfalls that undermine your opportunity.

I Say:  Yeah, Mark has said this before and it's still true.  Though I'm not convinced about pre-orders. I think people want a book there and then, and better to give it to them rather than say they can have it next month. But Mark says it works and I believe him. So your call!

Anyway, 2015 is going to be interesting, and not in a good way. And unfortunately I think it's going to get a lot worse, for self-published writers just starting out, and for mid-list authors who in the past have got by on small advances from the major publishers. I think we are going to see a lot of writers being cut loose by the publishers who no longer want loss-making authors on their payroll. Most of those authors will turn to self-publishing, which will be ironic as they were often the most critical of the self-publishing industry. Unfortunately if your books don't sell with a major publisher they probably won't sell when self-published. I see a lot of writers not being able to pay their mortgages over the next few years...

Monday, December 1, 2014

Free Stephen Leather eBooks - Why I'm A Big Fan Of Free!

I was one of the first authors to give away free eBooks. It always seemed to me that it was the best way of bringing in new readers.

It was deodorant that first give me the idea, believe it or not!

I was walking through a train station in London and a couple of pretty girls were giving out samples of Nivea deodorant, small, dark blue cans.  Now at that point I wasn't a fan of spray deodorants. I prefer aftershave and don't like mixing the two.

But the girls were pretty and smiling and before I knew what had happened, I had a can in my hand.

I went home and next day I used it. And I immediately became a fan. It stops you sweating and it smells great. That was about five years ago and I have used their product regularly ever since. I used it this morning, and again in the gym this afternoon.

The lesson I learned was that if you give someone something for free and they like it, they will become a fan. And it seemed to me that you could do the same with books. So I started giving away free short stories as eBooks and over the last few years I have probably given away well over 100,000 copies a year. And the graphs suggest that when downloads of my free books goes up, shortly afterwards my paid-for sales also rise.

You can now see all my free eBooks on one site - HERE IT IS

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.

I'm not the only one that Howard Jones picks on. Recently he retweeted an allegation about Prince Andrew. I doubt that Howard Jones knows anything about Prince Andrew's private life, but he seemed happy to spread the rumour.

Howard Jones clearly has something against Prince Andrew as he also retweeted the following vile Tweet.

Does Howard Jones expect to follow a political career? Seriously? While Howard Jones has reached the dizzy heights of Mole Valley District Council's Executive Member for Town Centres, I hope that anyone considering Howard Jones for elected office sees the above Tweets and reflects on them.

Clearly Howard Jones has nothing but contempt for the Royal Family. He also seems to take pride in the fact that he never married the mother of his children, which seems strange behaviour for a Conservative elected official.

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.


Unbelievable as it may sound, instead of spending Boxing Day with his family, Howard Jones was on Twitter continuing to libel me.

He started off by calling me a narcissist, a sociopath and a bully. I don't think I'm any of those things. I'm certainly not a narcissist, I hate seeing my photograph and am able to see all my own faults to the nth degree. A sociopath maybe, but then a lot of successful people have sociopathic tendencies. The tricks to keep them under control.  A bully?  I can honestly put my hand on my heart and say that I don't think I am a bully. I don't recall ever attacking anyone unless I was attacked first. I will always defend my corner but I can't think of any occasion when I have gone on the attack without me being wronged first.

Name-calling is the norm on Twitter but Howard Jones crossed the line again with his next Tweets.

In them he accuses me of using sock puppet accounts to post bad reviews of rival authors. I have never done that. And why would I? Posting a bad review of a rival author (and that's in itself nonsense, authors are not rivals) doesn't help sell my books. And almost certainly wouldn't hurt that author's sales. It could be that Howard Jones is confusing me with another author outed by the Jeremy Duns he refers to. But he is quite wrong to make that accusation about me.

But his most damaging allegation is that I have fabricated bogus solicitors letters. I have never, ever, done that. I have no idea why Howard Jones has made that accusation. I do wonder why a barrister, albeit non-practising, is prepared to tell so many lies about me in public. It's all very worrying.

And I'm not the only one to have noticed that Howard Jones behaves badly on Twitter. READ THIS TO SEE HOW HE USED THE MURDER OF MP JOE COX TO SMEAR LABOUR SUPPORTERS. 

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!

If you are a self-publisher, Amazon is the best place to be. Yes, I would recommend using other platforms - I am a big fan of Smashwords - but Amazon is the gorilla in the room and you would be crazy to ignore them.

Not that there aren't crazy people out there. Self-styled self-publishing guru Suw Charman-Anderson for instance, hates Amazon with a vengeance. She claims to be a social technologist, journalist and writer, but she refuses to use Amazon.

It's crazy advice, frankly, from someone who clearly doesn't "get" self-publishing.

In fact Suw Charman-Anderson recently announced she was giving up self-publishing. You can read about that HERE

It's hardly surprising that her foray into self-publishing was so unsuccessful - ignoring Amazon makes no sense at all. And anyone who suggests that is really not giving sensible advice to aspiring writers. (I also think that a real journalist wouldn't feel the need to use the word "shit" in an article about self-publishing, but that's another story.)

Here's an example of Suw Charman-Anderson's writing - which pretty much says all there is to say about her, frankly.

She also touts herself as a social media "expert" but seems to think it acceptable to use profanity on Twitter, and her blog. That fact alone means any advice she offers about social media is suspect.

But look at her Twitter stats if you want to get an idea of how much of an expert Suw Charman-Anderson is on social media.  Last time I looked she had sent almost 80,000 tweets (the equivalent of two million words, by the way - more than 20 novels!) but despite that prodigious output she had fewer than 6,000 followers. So she tweets away but hardly anyone notices. Does having 6,000 followers quality her as any sort of expert on social media?

Not according to TwitterCounter who say that there are more than 100,000 Twitter accounts that are more popular than Suw Charman-Anderson. So presumably there are 100,000 people who know more about social media than she does.

So the question is, who can you depend on to offer up useful, and accurate, advice to writers who are just starting out? Not writers like Suw Charman-Anderson, that's for sure.

It seems to me that the best guide to the quality of the advice you will get comes from the number of books the person has sold. Not the number of books they have written because there are plenty of awful authors who are churning out rubbish books in huge numbers. Look to see how many books they have sold.  Suw Charman-Anderson - virtually none.  So look instead for advice from writers like Stephen King, Lee Child, Val McDermid and Jefferey Deaver, who sell in their millions.

And if you want advice from a self-publishing guru - a real self-publishing guru and not simply a wannabe - then go to the font of all knowledge, the awesome JA Konrath who has sold well over a million eBooks himself. YOU CAN READ JA KONRATH'S ADVICE BY CLICKING HERE

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?  Mobeena Khan is also the Chair of the Dagger in the Library Judges for the Crime Writers Association. 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.

Mobeena Khan, like most middle-class middle-aged trolls on Twitter, is also a hypocrite. For example, this is a recent post of hers -

See that?  She thinks it's wrong to pick fights with strangers.  Yet she is quite happy to attack me, and trust me, I had never heard of her before she took a swing at me. Mobeena Khan says one thing, but does another, which is pretty much the definition of a hypocrite.

It's also significant that Mobeena Khan is tweeting to Jeremy Duns - it was to the same Jeremy Duns that Howard Jones sent those defamatory tweets.  In fact Jeremy Duns, Mobeena Khan and Howard Jones have all attacked me at one point or another so I suppose it is not surprising that they are Twitter friends. Several people have accused Jeremy Duns of being an online bully.


Another middle-aged, middle class, well-educated woman who has trolled me on social media is Suw Charman-Anderson who likes to describe herself as a journalist and writer but who is less than successful in both fields and recently announced she was giving up self-publishing after a number of setbacks.  You can read about that BY CLICKING HERE

Despite claiming to be a professional journalist, Suw Charman-Anderson recently posted this on Twitter.

It is amazing that anyone who considers herself to be a serious journalist would behave like that in public. Though to be honest she doesn't do much journalism these days and recently gave up her blog which was attached to the Forbes website. She's very clever in that her CV says that she "blogs about publishing and crowd funding for" - in fact they don't employ her. It's just a blog. And not a particularly well read one, either)

What's interesting is the way that trolls often band together in their attacks. Some time after Howard Jones attacked me in Twitter, Mobeena Khan twitted in his defence, even though the two have never met and don't know each other.

Another respectable middle-aged middle class chap who has attacked me on twitter is the writer Lloyd Shepherd.  Again I have never met Lloyd Shepherd or read any of his books, but he seemed to think it acceptable to call me a scumbag in public.

I haven't heard of Grant Shapps, but I have heard of Johann Hari, a journalist who has had his fair share of on-line trolls, as has Mo Ansar.  I don't know why Lloyd Shepherd decided to lump us all together and describe us as scumbags, but would he say that to our face?  I doubt it. I really doubt it.

This is Lloyd Shepherd, author of The English Monster, published by Simon and Schuster -

Why did Lloyd Shepherd, a man I have never heard of, decide to call me a scumbag in public?

Maybe it has something to do with him being a social media contact of Jeremy Duns.

That is the same Jeremy Duns that Howard Jones enjoys talking to on Twitter. Jeremy Duns is also a close friend of horror writer Steve Mosby, who Mobeena Khan enjoys talking to. You can read more about Jeremy Duns BY CLICKING HERE   I am sensing a pattern, aren't you?

The Mobeena Khan-Steve Mosby link is an interesting one. She was on the judging panel of the Crime Writers Association Dagger In The Library award in 2012 - the year that it was awarded to Steve Mosby. The award is presented for a body of work but in Steve Mosby's case this meant six books that had sold in very small numbers in the UK and which represented a tiny tiny fraction of library lending. In fact his name has never appeared in the top 250 of borrowed authors in the UK. Despite this Mobeena Khan and the other judges gave the award to Steve Mosby.

Oh, and would it surprise you to learn that Steve Mosby and Lloyd Shepherd are Twitter friends?

And remember that tweet Mobeena Khan sent to @joannechocolat about not picking fights with strangers. Well, @joannechocolat  is the writer Joanna Harris.

And look at which writer has given Lloyd Shepherd a nice plug for his new paperback!

And I'm sure it isn't a coincidence that Lloyd Shepherd is a social media pal of Suw Charman-Anderson. They often chat on Twitter.

And of course it's no surprise that Suw Charman-Anderson is a Twitter pal of Steve Mosby.

In fact Steve Mosby is connected in some way to pretty much every troll who has had a go at me over the past two years. When I have time I'll go into that in more detail.

Anyway, a lot of the trolls I have come across do seem to be readers of the Guardian, so maybe it is significant that Lloyd Shepherd used to work for them. And it is definitely significant that he is a friend of Jeremy Duns. And a friend of Suw Charman-Anderson.  And has a mutual friend with Mobeena Khan. I just think it's sad that nice middle-class, middle-aged Guardian readers think it's acceptable to gang up and attack people they don't know on social media.

Lloyd Shepherd is also something of a hypocrite. Back in 2013, he blogged this -

You can read the full blog BY CLICKING HERE  See what he says there? "Be kind. Be honest. Do unto others as you would be done by".  Then he goes and calls me a scumbag in public. Shame on you, Lloyd Shepherd. Shame on you.

So, going back to the question of dealing with trolls. Generally they are a nasty bunch and tend to act in packs, so you can't win by engaging with them. In the case of the likes of Steve Mosby and Jeremy Duns, they go out of their way to whip up a lynchmob mentality.  Ignoring them is by far the best thing to do. Or blog about them so that others can see them for what they are.  Whatever you do, do not engage with them directly, because that's what they want. DO NOT FEED THE TROLLS is sound advice.  Oh, and if you can develop a thick skin, that will help!