I Caught The June Bug

The past six weeks have flown by. All the doubts and fears over ‘Larcombe Manor’ have been resolved. I’m 75% through the writing now with 15000 words to go. Give or take. The story lines were easy to find, the eventual conclusion and farewells will be hard to write.

Nothing’s changed. This is still the final book. I tinkered about during the last two weeks in May, then went flat out with the writing from the beginning of June. Five days will get me where I need to be. Another week revising and editing will get it published.

How have the numbers stacked up in the past six weeks? Crazy. The 3 promotions have been unspectacular, but worth the expense. The actual sales have seen a steady increase.

I think that means the few readers I do manage to hook continue to read the series and will be poised to buy ‘Larcombe Manor’ in mid-July.

In the periods of downtime, I’ve read a lot – almost 80 books reviewed of my 100 book Goodreads Challenge for 2018 – I’ve discovered new thriller writers I love and ditched some duds that I won’t be downloading again.

If you want to follow my Amazon Author Central updates, why not head to amazon.com/author/tedtayler

If you want to join my mailing list, why not join The Phoenix Club? Newsletter (#26) will be circulated very soon.

Trials & Tribulations

Although I haven’t been adding to my blog posts recently, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy. We returned from our annual trip to Ibiza last week. In the days before we left I spent many hours struggling with the best way to end the Phoenix series.
I tried to give more thought to things while we soaked up the sun (when it was available) or out walking (every day). As we landed at Bristol Airport early on Sunday morning, I was still confused.

One reason I hadn’t resolved matters before we left was the impending GDPR. 90% of my books are read in the USA, Australia, Canada, and India. However, the Privacy Policy you can read for this site has to be in place for the few UK/European readers I might have.

As each year passes it becomes clear that we indie authors must run faster just to stand still. Nothing can be ignored for long, or you find yourself hopelessly out of touch.

Anyone who has read my posts will know the trials and tribulations this Long Hard Road have met with on my journey. Some I’ve conquered, others I still struggle with daily. Reviews are nowhere near as numerous as I would like. Good reviews (4* & 5*) still make up over 80% across the board. With the Box Set, the frequency of less favourable reviews that mention the lack of editing has had its effect.

How many more times must I admit that I can’t afford one? Yet again, I spent days before we left for our holiday using Grammarly/ Pro Writing Aid to improve the Word files for the 4 titles that comprised the Box Set. I updated all 9 books on Amazon (5 Kindle & 4 Paperback). I added ‘Revised Edition’ to the Kindle edition.

Since I returned from Ibiza, I did a similar update on ‘The Final Straw’ and ‘Unfinished Business’ which can be read under one title ‘Conception – The Birth of The Phoenix’. Three more Kindles, and two Paperbacks have been refreshed. (You will understand why later)

It won’t come as a surprise that I’m yet to begin writing ‘Larcombe Manor’. I promise I’ll start next Monday. I need to get it over with. Who was I kidding? I thought I could put my feet up once I’d finished writing. This past five weeks has shown me I’ll still be kept busy trying to maintain the status quo.

If you want regular updates on all my books, why not join The Phoenix Club? Newsletter (#25) will be circulated very soon.

A Frequent Peal Of Bells

I often wondered how approaching retirement felt. Those weeks and months as you neared the date when you could officially pack up work. Redundancy robbed me of that anticipation, and I was thrust into semi-retirement with no time to prepare.

I’ve kept busy in the past eighteen years with exam invigilation and quiz compiling for a decade each. In the past six years, I’ve written fiction. In two weeks’ time, the eleventh book in the Phoenix series will be published. That leaves me with just one more to write. Four weeks in May/June to write a fitting end to series that’s given me so much pleasure.

I plan to post the odd blog and promote the eighteen books I’ve published since I started, but retirement beckons. I’ve got time to prepare this time around, and to be honest – it feels right.

Yesterday (9th April) saw almost 1200 downloads of the boxed set. Figures are a third up on 2017 in general. I can’t complain. I received this from an ex-schoolteacher in Missouri last month: –

Just recently discovered Olympus and Phoenix. I am midway through Book 5 and totally committed to making my way through all of the books. I’ve visited so many of the places mentioned in your books that I’m comfortable with settings. Your characters are so believable that I’m easily drawn into their lives and activities. Although I am no fan of Phoenix’s music choices, I am totally in sympathy with his mission. Congratulations on weaving a tale worthy of our oral traditions.

And ONE week later: –

And now the waiting game begins. Finished Three Weeks in September, Book 10 and eagerly await number 11. Wow! I thought Demeter was an evil witch, but this new member is a true snake in the grass. Chilling. My total fascination with this series remains strong. I am surprised to see so few posts on this FB page. I am going to have to encourage my friends to read the Olympus series.

That’s why we write isn’t it?

There are others out there who will react the same way. I just have to find them. It’s not imperative I slog away with more books about The Phoenix or start a new series altogether. What’s done is done, and good enough to spark that reaction.

I’ll be back with news on the FINAL book sometime in May. 

If you want regular updates on all my books, why not join The Phoenix Club? Newsletter (#23) will be circulated very soon.

Another Pitstop On The Long Hard Road

The longer gap than usual between blog posts has been due to several things. I’ve been writing for 32 days and have completed ‘Three Weeks In September’.
I know, you thought I was hard at work on ‘The Noble Heart Cracks’ #10 in The Phoenix series. Well, the title didn’t match the plot in the end. That’s what happens when you let the characters loose and they disappear over the horizon making up their own plotlines.
This week I’ll be editing. Next week I start writing #11, which is now entitled ‘A Frequent Peal Of Bells’. Whatever happens, it must be written, and edited before we fly to Ibiza on holiday at the end of April.

Promotions in January and February went ahead as scheduled, and there have been 4500 Downloads/Sales YTD, which is most encouraging. My concentration has been on writing & editing. The numbers appeared with a lot less input from me than in previous years. The end is in sight, and that’s my focus.

My writing ‘career’ has always been three steps forward, two steps back, so there have been setbacks since I last posted. It took until the end of January to get Amazon to upgrade the Product Pages to my satisfaction. I also upgraded the four titles in the Box Set (taking the opportunity to feed the changes into the original books too). More editing to satisfy the critics who concentrate more on the packaging than the content.
I know I’m a Philistine, but I believe the story is what’s important. More of that next time.

I uploaded the new files to Amazon KDP and Createspace. All went well until mid-February when Createspace sent a Content Validation Request. They seem to be confused over whether I actually wrote ‘The Olympus Project’, or at least, that I own the publishing rights. It was stupid, but it’s finally been resolved.

Back to the editing, then the new book. I hope to be in touch before April, but you never can tell.

If you want regular updates on all my books, why not join The Phoenix Club? Newsletter (#21) will be circulated very soon.

Slow But Steady Wins The Race

As one gets older, days pass more quickly. Two weeks of this new year have gone already. It seems only last week I was preparing for Christmas. What progress have I made towards achieving my goals for 2018? The two days of ‘free’ promotion for the box set on Amazon yielded two thousand downloads via Freebooksy, The Fussy Librarian, and Good Kindles. We’re well on the way to matching one of those goals.

As for writing the three remaining novels, I’m afraid progress has been zero. I’ve blamed the cold weather; it’s too cold to sit upstairs writing without putting the central heating on. My wife and I heat one downstairs room, and share it, getting on one another’s nerves at times. If things get too bad, she’ll decide to hang the expense and tell me to get warmth into every corner of our home; so we can spend several hours as far apart as our four walls allow.

Another reason for the lack of writing is a further bout of self-analysis. I carried out a ‘reverse engineering’ exercise two years ago, and it felt time for another assessment. Amazon (US and UK) have been pedestrian in their updating of my newly-refreshed Editorial Reviews. On some titles they have been slower than that; more a snail’s pace. I had hoped it would all be complete by the end of the first week in January, but it looks like being closer to the end of the month.

Older readers will recall the 10 writers I selected as my benchmark against which my Titles/Covers/Blurbs/Author Profile/Website and Social Media ‘footprint’ was to be measured. Initially, I came out as a size 8, where I was hoping for a size 10. When I decided a refresher was needed last December, I looked at Karin Slaughter’s Editorial Review section, and reckoned if that format was good enough for her, then I had nothing to lose – even if Stephen King, Jeffrey Deaver, and the New York Times haven’t reviewed any of my books as yet.

There are still a few titles with the ‘old’ versions, but many now have the updated section as I wanted it to be, plus a refurbished Author Profile on my Author Central Page. No doubt there are other more important things that need to be done, but change is continuous. Any aspect of my online presence that can be ‘tweaked’ to attract more first-time readers has to be beneficial.

The next two weeks will be filled with finishing those amendments, booking the next promotions for February and March; and starting the tenth Phoenix book. I will also be hoping for warmer weather, or a short, sharp, cold spell that forces a review of our heating plan. I can’t delay too long. The three-book goal must be achieved.

If you want regular updates on all my books, why not join The Phoenix Club? Newsletter (#20) will be circulated very soon.

A Year In The Life – My 2017 Review

The icy fingers of winter have started to grip. The nights are long, and days where hours can be whiled away outdoors, a distant memory. Last time I told you ‘Christmas was around the corner’. Christmas, with its festive decorations, its customary surfeit of food and drink, and happy times with friends and family.

For the indie author it’s often a time for reflection. How have I done this year? Did I achieve the goals I set? Have I learned anything in the past twelve months to alter the way I approach 2018? Are there different ways to be in a better position to reach my 2018 targets?

My writing days are entering their final stage. I have three stories in my head, which during 2018 will become Books 10,11 and 12 to complete The Phoenix Series. All good things must come to an end.

I know I’ll miss the act of writing, so, I might revisit the short story genre. ‘A Sting In The Tale’ (2013) was my first attempt; perhaps it’s time for a second volume.

Another avenue to exploit is this Blog – ‘The Long Hard Road’ will be over, but a new path lies ahead. I’m planning to write about anything and everything – maybe in a ‘Midweek Matters’ and a ‘Sunday Roast’. (Suggestions welcome.)

In January I posted these goals for the year that’s almost done and dusted.

To write more; to market The Phoenix Series, rather than individual titles; to double the downloads achieved in 2016; and to enjoy life.

I published the 3 books that I promised, plus regular blog posts and newsletters to The Phoenix Club members. I concentrated my promotions on ‘The Olympus Project’ #1 in the series, the 4 book box set, and the series as a whole. The strategy worked. I hit 20000 downloads by November. There were 8000 in the whole of 2016. Life was good.

Was there a downside? Downloads from free promotions don’t always translate to actual sales.
True, but in 2017 I will have sold ten times as many books as last year, plus, with the box set in KDP Select I’m also earning royalties on KENP Reads.

What about reviews? Are there many criticisms?
Not from readers whose only aim is to enjoy a good story; but I’ve always had occasional remarks about the lack of a professional edit. I can’t afford it – end of story. That might continue to hold me back in 2018, but I can only do what’s affordable.

These are my 2018 goals: – To complete The Phoenix Series; to promote the box set, #1 in the series, and the complete series whenever possible. (the first dates are the 3rd/4th January) The strategy is to maintain the 20000 downloads level, to entice more readers to BUY books 5-12; and to continue to enjoy life. In 2017 we visited Ireland for the first time. In 2018, we want to visit Scotland. Simple pleasures.

My experiences with promotions in 2017 taught me where my attentions should be focused. That will position me better to achieve my goals. I won’t waste money on sites giving little or no return. If sales increase sufficiently, it could encourage me to tackle the editing issue. I’m not in it for the long haul (not at 72!), and if sales stick at the same level as 2017, then the books can carry on as they are.

Will I be content with what I achieved, when I reach the end of ‘The Long Hard Road’? I can tell you the answer to that already. An unequivocal YES. I’ve had so much fun writing this past five years. The fact that a good number of people have enjoyed reading my books has been amazing, and unexpected.

If you want regular updates on all my books, why not join The Phoenix Club? The Christmas Newsletter (#19) will be circulated very soon.


Christmas Is Around The Corner

Happy Thanksgiving.

I’ve no idea why I wrote that. In the UK it means nothing, yet on social media today all I’ve read is designed to make me feel warm and friendly. I guess it’s worked.

I scheduled the final Free day promotion on the Boxed Set for today (with special features on Book Gorilla, and Ebook Discovery) hoping for a warm and friendly response.
I have a promotion on The Olympus Project scheduled next Tuesday, and if there’s an afterglow from today and Black Friday, who knows? Christmas may come early.

The big news is that #9 in The Phoenix series arrived ahead of time. Yes, you read that right. ‘Revenge Comes In Many Colours’ was promised for the 1st December, and like many babies after your first-born, the little devils have a mind of their own and pop out without warning.

You can buy the new book on Amazon here

As the Blog Title says, Christmas is only a month away. I’ve spread my Glad Tidings earlier than usual, so watch out for a little Joy before the big day. Take care, and happy reading. I’ll be back in four weeks.

If you want regular updates on all my books, why not join The Phoenix Club? The December Newsletter (#18) will be circulated very soon.

One Day At A Time

Two occasions have passed me by in the last ten days; Halloween and Bonfire Night.
Neither has any real significance in the calendar, yet they attract vast amounts of money spent on them, when family finances are reported to be at breaking point.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the marketers sat down several years ago and decided there was too large a gap between the Late Summer Bank Holiday (last Monday in August to any Americans reading this) and Christmas.
Something was needed to stimulate sales as autumn (fall) crept towards winter. So, now you can’t escape the masks and costumes from early September. Bonfire Night should be simple enough; remember, remember the 5th of November. Yet family pets are cowering under beds from the first of the month until the fifth, and often later as freworks litter the night sky.

Well, if you can’t beat them, join them. On the 9th and 31st of October I ran Free days for the Box Set (Days 2 & 3 of my 5 in KDP Select).
Booksends/The Fussy Librarian gave me 1400 downloads on the 9th, and a combination of Digital Book Today/Many Books/Book Adrenaline added a further 800 on the 31st. The latter wasn’t great, but I had a lot of competition. Next year, I’ll avoid Halloween.

My target for 2017 was 16000 units. I hit 18500 by the 31st. My dream of 20000 is only 2 Free days away now, and I have a promotion on The Olympus Project scheduled.
The downloads were welcome, of course, but actual sales have been climbing, and the volume of pages in KENP has been staggering. In October my royalties exceeded my outlay on promotions for the first time. I know, another two months like that, and I could break even for the year. Who knew?
If ever there was an incentive to write, then October provided it, and ‘Revenge Comes In Many Colours’ #9 in the Phoenix Series is 95% finished. I’ll be editing, and polishing by the weekend. The next instalment in the Olympus story should be with you by December 1st.

Take care. I’ll be back with the latest news and a post about the new book in four weeks.

If you want regular updates on my books, why not join The Phoenix Club? The November Newsletter (#17) will be circulated very soon.

A Tactical Switch

If you have stuck with this ‘Long, Hard Road’ blog post for a while, you’ll know that nothing ever stays the same in this game, from one month to the next. When I started out, I used to feel obliged to write something every two, or three weeks. Lucky for you, I settled on a once a month update. I’ve seen some bloggers who are ‘at it’ every day. Heaven knows what they find to write about, but it’s not for me. It would be like being on one of the most extreme switchback rides ever at an amusement park.

At the end of August, you heard about my ‘bump in the road’. The Penn-inspired ‘ad-stacking’ experiment for the box set which in the end yielded $60 towards the $95 spent. Overall, I suppose it wasn’t too big a bump.
(The eagle-eyed among you will spot that one site is still to give me that date for the Spotlight I booked. So, there’s $65 out there that may yet bring results, unless it was a scam site, of course?).

On September 25th I started to use the box set as my bargaining tool. If you recall, my strategy now is to generate downloads on Free days in a Countdown Deal, using my best performing promo sites. I have 4 more days to schedule between now and December 1st. I chose Freebooksy at $85 as my flagship performer. When I checked progress late on Monday evening, the box set was at #3 in Crime Thrillers, #6 in Suspense Thrillers, and #42 Overall on the Free Kindle charts.

I slept well. I was reasonably confident that meant I had received 1000-1500 downloads over the 24-hour period. When I checked the numbers in the morning, it was 3487, the best day I’ve ever had.

The next Free day (make a note in your diary) is next Monday 9th October. By the end of the year there could be 8000 box sets out there. I’ve got 10000 words of Book 9 done, and ‘Revenge Comes In Many Colours’ will appear on Amazon by December.

Will every one of those 8000 readers love the box set so much that they will each buy the next 5 books in the series? I wish. Whatever happens it’s given me every reason to finish the last 3 books in the series next year.

My target for 2017 was 16000 units. I hit that on the 25th, thanks to Freebooksy. My dream of 20000 is only 4 Countdown days away. I could run an occasional promotion on other titles too. I’m tempted, but I don’t want to tempt fate. That next big bump is probably waiting around the corner.

It’s a Long, Hard Road after all.

If you want regular updates on my books, why not join The Phoenix Club? The October Newsletter (#16) will be circulated very soon.

Writer’s Cramp

Here are my suggestions for a low-cost, low risk strategy to achieve a realistic level of book sales.

As you will learn later, there are bumps in the road, even if they are less damaging than when travelling on the high-risk highway.

Book Cover
The average cost of a professionally designed cover can cost $100 – $200. So, save every cent by using Canva design. I had zero experience when I started, but as my brand image is unchanging, it was a five-minute job to produce a template. All I do now is amend the title, the number in the series, and I’m good to go.
Of course, you can go the Paid route with Canva, and develop more elaborate designs, but either way, it will cost you a fraction of what a professional cover designer would charge.

(Posts ‘Building The Brand’ and ‘Can We Learn From The Best’ will let you see why I chose to follow my particular path with my covers)

Where do we start? Well, I reckon you can spend anything between $500-$2000 per title, depending on how badly put together your manuscript is in the first place, and how ‘clean’ who want it to be. For the sake of our argument, let’s pitch it at the mid-point of $1250 per book. You should then have a file that passes muster on Smashwords, or Amazon, without any hitches when you upload it.
I’ve used the free Grammarly app for the past two years, to correct my Grammar, Punctuation, and Spelling errors. The Premium plan would cost $140 per annum to remove the other ‘impurities’, but I took the advice of a fellow writer and chose Pro Writing Aid instead. This costs me a quarter of that, and does the same job.
Do I get as polished a finish as from a professional? Of course not, but none of my books has less than a 4* average. Would I sell more if I raised that to 4.5*? Show me absolute proof and I’ll give it a try. No? I didn’t think so. When you don’t have the funds to experiment, you need to target every cent you spend with care.

No doubt you’re wondering why this one is here? Well, this is a free tip. No matter how apposite your title may appear for the book you’ve written; check to see if it’s been used before. As a reviewer, I see dozens of examples where authors use a title that has between 3 – 7 titles already. Give yourself a chance of success! Five minutes research could help find a title that lets your book stand out from the crowd.

Some ‘How To’ authors will mention the word ‘copywriter’ in this regard. They will cost you money. Forget it. Maybe for the first book, just to give you the tutorial. After that you HAVE to go it alone. You use Social Media don’t you? And a mobile phone? So, you’re an expert in getting your message across in a limited number of characters. Develop those skills.
Your blurb should be 150 – 200 words. A maximum of 10 sentences. It should be engaging & fresh, setting the scene, introducing the characters, raising conflict, hinting at an outcome. It shouldn’t reveal too much, yet it must leave them wanting more.

I’ve found that all my Tweets can be constructed from a combination of my Blurbs, and my Reviews. Some have become a constant presence in identifying The Phoenix brand. You are the best person to do this. You know your characters; a copywriter doesn’t.

When I started out, I used Smashwords to upload my first novel. I was given a list of 10 contacts who would format my Word file so it would pass through the ‘mincer’ first time, every time. On average, it costs me $30 per title. The lady I chose from the list at random, has become a friend over the past four years. A fellow writer, she smashes it (excuse the pun) every time. Never a problem. I tend to stick to Amazon these days, but the success rate is still 100%. This is one area where it’s worth spending the going rate to get the job done.

I’ll save you the task of adding the numbers. My hours grafting at the editing come free as far as I’m concerned, so the day Amazon confirm my title is LIVE, my savings compared to the route suggested by Joanna Penn, and others, is just shy of $1500 on every title.

My Marketing Budget
Between 2012-2014 it was only $1000; In 2015-2016 I raised the bar to $1500. In 2017, buoyed by the success of the second half of 2016, it became $2000.

Do you see why it’s vital for me to control my expenditure in every area possible? I am writing THREE titles per year. My outgoings on this first stage of the exercise could be as much as $7500; and that’s before I’ve even scheduled my first book promotion If you can afford much more, then good for you, but still watch where you spend it.

My strategy
Over the past sixteen months I’ve identified up to 75 promotion sites that claim to produce results. The costs vary, and if you go the cheap route, you will get downloads/sales, but you won’t set the world alight. Money talks. I selected maybe eight last summer, and raised my modest marketing budget to see if I could bring about a change of fortune. The ones I chose were a mix of moderately expensive, and cheap. Some were Twitter based promotions; some were email blasts to their client list, and some a combination of both.

The first six months of 2016 had yielded 1000 units. The second half of the year that figure shot up to 8000. I raised the budget bar further in January, and Freebooksy gave me a single day of over 3000 downloads of the first book in the series. At the end of August, my downloads/sales from a range of sites stand at 13000.

From now until December I’ll continue to spend $40 per week on average. My target for 2017 was 16000 units. My guess is I’ll be closer to 18000. For me, that’s outstanding. Remember where I was in January 2016? Ready to quit. I was doing everything the book promoters, and ‘How To’ writers said I should do (albeit on a shoestring) and I was lucky to achieve 20 units a week.

Can I call that successful? You bet. Could I spend $4000 or $5000 in 2018 and do even better? No idea. I’m not sure I could afford it, and if I could, are there any guarantees?

My strategy HAS to be low-cost, and low-risk. When you look at your own situation, you may realise that something similar might suit your pocket. If so, feel free to follow my tips and hints. Don’t disregard the ‘experts’ out there though, they will provide you with lots of great advice; but remember that you want to be lining your own pockets with cash – not theirs.

Proof of the pudding
I said earlier that you would hear about a bump in the road. I keep saying there are no guarantees. I tried an ‘ad-stacking’ experiment as suggested by Joanna Penn. My first box set was published a week ago. On the 30th August, I tried to get five promotions running on the same day, without changing my overall budget. Either side of the 30th, I spent next to nothing on promotions. Only $20 on the 14th August.

One of my five sites fell by the wayside because it demanded a minimum of 10 reviews. The 4 books in the set had over 60 between them, but that didn’t count. Go figure.

One is still to give me the date it will run the Spotlight I booked. So, $65 of my $160 commitment has yet to bring any results.

Three sites began the promotion yesterday. Bump. $95 spent; $40 back in royalties so far. So, for one of the biggest single days expenditure I’ve risked, my returns look to be falling short.

What if I had risked $5000 like Ms Penn on her ‘ad-stacking’ campaign to hit #1 on the Amazon best-sellers’ lists? My career, such as it is, would have been over, and possibly my marriage , if my returns had been so poor.

I’ve proved it’s possible to reach 18000 units in a year on $40 a week. If that’s a success for you too, then go for it.

I’ve got the box set now to use as a bargaining tool. My strategy is to generate downloads on Free days in a Countdown Deal, using my best performing promo sites. This time next year there could be 10000 to 15000 Free downloads out there of the first four books in the series. Will that give me a better chance of converting more first-timers’ into true followers? Not a clue. I live in hope. I can’t afford to do much more. It’s a long hard road. The bumps are many, but because my financial risk is low, these setbacks don’t deter me. I’ll keep plugging away, moving forward a little, day by day. The numbers don’t lie. The evidence is there – my strategy can produce an average 350 units a week. The more seeds of the series I sow – #1 Permafree; #1- #4 at a saving of 45% off list price, and occasionally Free in the box set – the more readers I can attract to the last 8 books in the series. #9 will be out in December. Three more next year, and then all my attentions will be focused on promotion. The writing will be done.

If you want regular updates on my books, and my progress along that long, hard road, why not join The Phoenix Club? The September Newsletter (#15) will be circulated very soon.