Boxing Clever

How was July for you? A mixed bag I imagine, rather like it was for me.
The BBQ summer has been abandoned, as another disappointing spell of weather has gripped the UK.

We used to get warm rain when I was a boy on my school holidays, interspersed with wall-to-wall sunshine. Eventually, a thunderstorm would bring the magic to a violent end, but it was soon over, and normal service resumed.

These days the jet stream settles itself far lower, and as a result we get strong winds, blustery showers and cold rain instead of sunshine. Today, it’s more like October than the first few days of August. If only moving abroad was a viable option.

‘Evil Always Finds A Way’ was published towards the middle of July, and a couple of reviews have surfaced. I started on the promotion game as soon as I could, and there have been more successes than failures in the past month.
I did hit the 12000 downloads towards the end of July, just to reaffirm what I wrote in my last post, that money governs everything.

The week-long celebrations for my wife’s 65th birthday went extremely well. We had a terrific weekend away to start the ball rolling. The afternoon tea in Bath was scrumptious; and all the children, and grandchildren came to us on the following Saturday, for food and drink, and of course – the cake.

There’s nothing to be gained by sitting still. Book #9 will soon be started, but in the meantime other things should be reassessed. I’ve decided to issue a boxed set of Books 1-4 in The Phoenix series. It will be priced at $2.99 (a $2.50 saving on the list prices). I’m looking to use several promotion sites in an ad-stacking campaign. Lots of downloads on the same day is the target. That should give the overall series lots of exposure, and if that stimulates extra sales of books 5-8 (already priced at $2.99) that will help me finance promotions for the rest of the year.

As well as preparing the boxed set; I’ve overhauled the website, and shuffled the pack on my buffered Tweets. I’ve designed dozens of images for my Instagram account, and bought a K-lytics analysis of the Mystery, Thriller, Suspense genre to further assist in focussing my marketing. I’ve added to my knowledge on book promotion sites and which perform well in my genre. I’ve reviewed a dozen or so books, and am currently 80% of the way through ‘How To Market A Book’ by Joanna Penn (@creativepenn). So, I’ve not been idle.

Now, if the weather had been perfect… who knows how little I could have achieved? It’s an ill wind, they say. I’ll be back in September with an update. Keep warm and dry.

If you want regular updates on my books, why not join The Phoenix Club? The August Newsletter (#14) will be circulated in a few hours.

Write On

Within days of writing last month’s blog the fightback began, I finished writing ‘Evil Always Finds A Way’ (#8 in The Phoenix series) at lunchtime today. Sixty thousand words, give or take, and packed full of drama and excitement.

I began the editing process this afternoon. Almost as soon as I started my broadband speeds hit the floor. Everything is taking six times longer than it should. If I scream part way through this post you know why.

Last month I told you about the successful promotions in May/early June and the Amazon Ads. This month I have little to report because if you’re writing, there’s no time to think about mundane items like selling books.

It doesn’t hurt to take a break from spending money on promos. It can be a reality check. I understand totally where I stand. If I spend £1500 -£2000 this year I’ll achieve 20-25000 downloads. If I quit now having spent just under £1000, then my year-to-date figure of 11000 will struggle to reach 12000.

Money governs everything. I feature on Twitter/Facebook/ and Instagram. Half a dozen other sites say they give me valuable exposure, but in the final analysis the only thing that stimulates downloads is the money I shell out for promotions.

I’m praying I can complete the editing, prepare the book for publishing, and get it out there by Friday week. That’s when we go away to start a week’s celebration. My wife will be 65 on Wednesday week (19th) and a long weekend in the Midlands is my first treat for her. We’re booked in for Afternoon Tea in the Royal Crescent, Bath on her birthday; then we plan to have all the family over on Saturday (21st).

Yes, there will be some promotion for the book launch, and the series, but writing will not start again until October. The summer holidays mean we’ll be looking after our grandsons two days per week in August. I’ll be too shattered to write!

If you want regular updates on my books, why not join The Phoenix Club? The July Newsletter (#13) will be circulated in a few hours.

Best Laid Plans

What is it they say about ‘best laid plans’?

One month on from my last blog post, and the next book in The Phoenix is no further forward. The plan now is to start in earnest on Monday; but will I stick to it?

So, what went wrong? Very little, in fact. The weather was fine and sunny for a week or two, so I read a lot of books in the garden, and posted my reviews on Amazon.

Now my wife is retired, we find the days slip by between the weekly visits to the supermarket so much quicker than they used to. Do we achieve much in the hours in between? A trip to the recycling centre here, a drive to the garden centre there for bedding plants; a general tidy-up in the garden and inside the house, followed by time with the kids and grandkids. The domestic and social whirl leaves little time for writing it appears.

Have there been negative signs this month that have discouraged me from locking myself away to write? Far from it; May has been my best month since January for downloads.

I ran a promo in the second week with a site that charged $29 to offer my ‘free’ title to up to 30 different sites for a feature. I’m not sure who, where or what was taken up, but that kick-started the increase in units with around 400 over the week.

Often when someone contacts you directly you are sensible to be wary. 99% of them are useless at best, and scammers at worst. I was approached by and after a few preliminary checks risked $24 on a feature. That proved to be another winner, generating just under 600 units in week three. That site has been added to my ‘go to list’.

Buoyed by that success, I returned to my ‘old favourites’ in week four. Freebooksy ran a one title feature last Wednesday and generated a further 1000 downloads. The Olympus Project shot back up to #2 in the Free Crime Thriller charts. Across all genres, it reached around #125. Happy days!

Next week, Booksends will hope to start June figures off with a bang. I haven’t been back to them since last August when they provided me with almost 1500 on a single day. Half that figure this time would be more than welcome.

The lack of writing progress has nothing to do with sales activity. Downloads have hit 10k for the first five months. With a following wind, July–June should hit 20k with ease. You only have to flip back to blog posts from Spring last year to see that a transformation has taken place.

One of the distractions over the last month has been Amazon. Nothing problematic; quite the opposite. I followed the suggestion of two writer friends to use Amazon’s Sponsored Product Ads. Twitter and Facebook ads are far more cumbersome to use, and less successful – for me, at any rate.

My first ad is coming to the end of its run, with the second hot on its tail. The quantity of impressions for my own selection of keywords were impressive, and the ‘clicks’ started to gather pace as I fine-tuned my bids, and added more keyword options. Readers of books by Fleming, Rankin, Child, and Slaughter have all seen ‘The Olympus Project’ pop up on their product pages. For a modest sum, the ad has raised my visibility, if nothing else.

The second ad will feature Amazon’s automatic selection of keywords; this will indicate areas I can use in future to supplement the ‘winners’ I discovered with my own humble effort. No, everything’s positive on the promoting/marketing front.

In the final analysis, the real reason behind the inertia is that I’ve been lazy. Mea culpa. I prayed for rain. It’s due in bucket loads from Monday; so, the plan must get back on schedule. 20 days at 3k words per day, and no excuses. Add an extra 10 days for edits, re-writes, proof reading, and the rigmarole of getting the thing published, and I can still make it by the end of July.

That leaves five months to keep the downloads coming in, the ads ticking over, and complete book #9. That was the 2017 plan after all. I may be three weeks behind; but all is not lost. Unless the sun returns on Tuesday! Watch this space.

If you want regular updates on my books, why not join The Phoenix Club? The June Newsletter (#12) will be circulated in a few hours.

Accentuate the positives

What was the question I asked last month? Have things quietened down? At the time it was two steps forward, one step back. In April, things came to a standstill. So, maybe after nine months of positivity, things had at last levelled out.

Positives remained though;

– I received a significant refund on the under-performing Books Butterfly feature. So far I haven’t ventured back to that site to decide where to spend it.

– The early reviews on ‘Something Wicked Draws Near’ have been extremely positive.

Do you remember how my writing journey began? My book of memories was published in paperback almost six years ago. Last year, while we were in Ibiza, one of my close friends from the band passed away.

Out of the blue, in early April one of his colleagues turned up on my doorstep looking for copies of the book. It has been out of print for several years, although it’s available on Kindle.

I unearthed one ‘used’ copy (in good nick) from Amazon, but several more were needed, so a short print run is in the offing. If you fancy a copy, just give me a shout.

I spent time in April too, searching for new sites to use during May and June. Results from the half-dozen sites I’ve had success with have been disappointing when I’ve returned the second/third time. That was when the negatives started to build! One Hundred Free Books and Robin’s Reads both turned down my request for a book feature. That was the first time that had happened. It was a wake-up call.

I spent a decent sum on a promo with Book Goodies during April, but returns were pathetic. Maybe it was just the wrong site, at the wrong time. I won’t be rushing back to try again.

My wife and I returned from our Ibiza holiday on Saturday; the weather was excellent, and a good time was had by all. Now it’s back to the grindstone. I’m starting ‘Evil Always Finds A Way’ #8 in the series tomorrow.

The holiday came at a good time. The negatives during April could have depressed me last year, or the year before; but the past nine months have convinced me things are still moving forwards. I just have to keep working harder to find the right sites to promote with, and to keep writing.

If you want regular updates on my books, why not join The Phoenix Club? The May Newsletter (#11) will be circulated in a few hours.

Marching On

Marching on into April that is. After the revelations last month about what really counts in this crazy world of writing, have things quietened down?

Not at all. The pattern remains the same. Two steps forward, one step back. I’ve finished writing ‘Something Wicked Draws Near’ #7 in The Phoenix series. The cover is ready, and the blurb. Editing is 90% complete. The Kindle version will be published in three weeks at the latest. The paperback shouldn’t be very far behind.

I held off on promotions in March, until a Books Butterfly feature in the final week. The last one I ran with them five months ago was successful. This one only yielded 50% of my ‘guaranteed’ target. A refund is in order.

However, my total number of downloads in the first quarter was still only just short of 7500. When I look at how that compares to the last half of last year it’s amazing. Now the writing is done with I can spend time searching for the best sites to use over the next eight weeks. I need to keep the pressure on!

For me, it’s back to the grindstone – editing, polishing, preparing slideshows, and getting ready for a holiday at the end of the month. When I get home, I’ll be starting on ‘Evil Always Finds A Way’ #8 in the series.

Have a good month! I shall be busy, as you can tell!

If you want regular updates on my books, why not join The Phoenix Club? The April Newsletter (#10) will be circulated in a few hours.

Reality Bites!

Here we go again, marching into another Spring; full of optimism no doubt? Well, yes and no; in the year since I last experienced the gradual warming of my bones, and new growth in my garden, there have been many positives.

When you look at things more closely however – reality bites.

Do you recall my New Year resolutions? To write more; to market The Phoenix series, rather than individual titles. To double the number of downloads I achieved in 2016; and to enjoy life.

With the help of the Freebooksy promotion in mid-January, the first month of 2017 gave me huge optimism with well over 4500 downloads/sales. I had started writing the next book; the marketing plan was off to a great start, and I was enjoying life. So how did February turn out?

It’s never easy to pitch the follow-up promotion with a site that brought you plenty of success first time around. I discovered that last year with Digital Books Today, and Book Sends. A six to eight weeks’ gap should be reasonable; but ‘list exhaustion’ can strike before you know it, and the cost per unit yielded for the second, and particularly the third promotion make them far less attractive.

Last Monday, with no other promotions throughout February, I returned to Freebooksy for another Phoenix Series feature. This time, the figures fell to around 1700. There will be little point returning for six months; even then, it could give a similar return, rather than the heady heights of January.

What about all the other social media channels you’re using, you ask? That’s a fair point. This is where reality kicks in. Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, Goodreads, AskDavid, IAN (Independent Author Network) are all avenues I’ve used to spread the word about my books.

Do they help sell your books? Their effect is minimal at best.

Should I be worried? Why bother? Last February I was shifting a mere 10 – 15 copies per week. In the second half of 2016 I shifted over 300 copies per week and in 2017 so far, I’ve achieved 750 copies per week.

So, who needs Twitter, or any of the others if it comes to that? My own website, my Facebook Author Page etcetera, have plodded on for the past year with no significant improvement in traffic. There’s no evidence to suggest any one of them has been responsible for this eight-month long surge in interest in my books on Amazon.

No, the reality is the only sure-fire way for an indie author to sell books is to use a wide range of promotion sites. I’ve identified around 30 sites, where costs vary from $10 to $150 per feature.

Until last summer, I limited my marketing budget to around $500 per annum. I was well aware it was too little, so I pushed the boat out at the end of June, with $125 spread over four promotion sites. The results galvanized my enthusiasm for the game!

If I showed you a graph with the ‘peaks’ and ‘troughs’ of my weekly sales, it would become evident that when I don’t have a promotion running, the units drop dramatically. Not as low as the 10 – 15 of last February, but there’s no consistent, sustained level. Why is that? Because reality costs!

My hope was to use one site on six to eight occasions, costing $150 each time, to achieve 16000 copies (or 20000 if things went well). That’s not practical, because one site will never have a large enough list to sustain me revisiting it any more than three times in a year maximum.

My guess is that by varying the promotions, and trying to have one running somewhere every week of the year would mean I would need to up my budget to at least $5000. I’m not sure I can stretch to that – but if I could, I wouldn’t be surprised if I could achieve close to 50000 copies for the year.

What does it all mean for me going forward? Despite my reservations above, I’m going to continue using the majority of the social media channels I currently use, but I’m not going to do much more than ‘maintain’ them.

All my efforts are going into funding the promotions; what I need to locate urgently are features which help me SELL copies of books 2-6 (plus 7-9 later this year) in the series. With the first book set as Permafree, there are thousands of copies of that being downloaded, without a promotion that specifically encourages the take-up of the series as a whole.

If I can get five percent of those readers who have taken ‘The Olympus Project’ through a promotion, to BUY the other books in the series, it would help fund my extended marketing budget.

So, that’s the dilemma for March. How to fund more promotions; how to stimulate sales of the other books, and carry on writing ‘Something Wicked Draws Near’ (#7 in the series), which is scheduled for completion before the end of April.

Have a good month! I shall be busy, as you can tell!

If you want regular updates on my books, why not join The Phoenix Club? The March Newsletter (#9) will be circulated in a few hours.

Perseverance Pays

Here we are again at the start of a new month. I can’t believe they come around so quickly. Perhaps it’s just old age.

Last April I published a blog chapter entitled ‘After The Black Dog’ in which I set out all the positives and negatives concerning my writing ‘career’. Nothing was working, no matter what I tried. Money was an issue, certainly, but at that point I was designing my exit strategy. Which was to write a couple of books to round off the Phoenix series; then quit, to take it easy.

In July, a book promotion changed things totally. Several thousand downloads during the rest of the summer, saw me publishing eight books in paperback, planning to complete 12 books in the series, and working harder than ever.

At the dawn of this New Year I told you that I had resolved: –

To write more.
To market The Phoenix series, rather than individual titles.
To double the number of downloads I achieved in 2016.
To enjoy life.

On the 16th of January, my first Freebooksy promotion for The Phoenix series yielded 4000 downloads. The rest of the month added a further 500.
So, January produced over 25% of my annual target already!

Odd how things can turn around isn’t it? Ten months ago, I was ready to pack it all in; but I decided to persevere. Perseverance pays.

I can put a tick beside all four of my resolutions. I’ve started writing the next book; the marketing plan is off to a great start, and I’m enjoying life. (Even the man flu that I’m suffering can’t stop me smiling.)

For quite some time this book was Free on Amazon, but I’m only offering #1 ‘The Olympus Project’ Free from now on. 

If you want news of offers and gifts, why not join The Phoenix Club. The February Newsletter (#8) will be circulated in a few hours.

A Dig In The Ribs

October was an interesting month, but ultimately it saw little return for the ‘dripping tap’ experiment. Despite the efforts of a handful of sites offering cheaper advertising for ‘Nothing Is Ever Forever’ and ‘In The Lap Of The Gods’ via 3 day blog posts & tweets; Daily spotlight; and 7 day pinning to Home page there were few actual sales.

I’ve used Books Butterfly this week for the two permanently free titles and ‘Bingo!’ the extra money I laid out paid dividends immediately. Over 700 downloads in 3 days. On Monday it’s a return to Booksends for a blast on ‘Gold, Silver, and Bombs’. (On Aug 8th ‘The Olympus Project’ got the same treatment and that yielded almost 1500 downloads) You get what you pay for I guess?

The next three weeks are promotion-free zones and although Digital Books Today are running a campaign throughout Dec/Jan, I’m waiting to decide where to target my promotion next.

The ‘dripping tap’ has been abandoned for the time being. It seems more beneficial to give the vast reading public ‘a dig in the ribs’ from time to time. So, the strategy going forward is ‘larger lumps every now and then’!

Time will tell whether this will bring lasting rewards, or just short term elation as the Amazon rankings improve sharply.

The EIGHT paperbacks are still on the shelves awaiting orders. I’m still trying to work out how to promote these better. All ideas welcomed.

I’ve reduced the number of daily posts via Buffer, with that mixed-bag of titles, images and media. October saw an increase in impressions, but not enough to warrant it being a regular method of communication. Time for another batch of tweets, images and media vehicles perhaps?

Although the modest, regular spend strategy is now out of the window, I’m still increasing my ‘background’ presence with listings on EReader Café, Readers In The Know and The Fussy Librarian.

The website is fully functional at present, but there are changes to be made and by the dawn of 2017 I hope to let you see a slimline, more dynamic site. More news as I get it.

I’ve made a start on ‘A New Dawn’, book six in The Phoenix series, but it’s behind schedule. Mea culpa! Not to panic though, if I can write 3k words per day for 20 days between now and the 30th of November, it will still be ready for Christmas. No worries.

If you want news of offers and gifts, why not join The Phoenix Club. Newsletter #6 will be circulated to my ‘happy band of followers’ in a few hours.

The Dripping Tap Plan

With every month comes new challenges. September has thrown up a few familiar ones I’m afraid, but resilience is one attribute that a writer develops over time.

A setback that would have floored me a year ago is merely a mild irritation these days. All the evidence shows that progress is being made, so ‘onwards and upwards’.

The book promotion early last month yielded almost 900 downloads. The last three weeks were promotion-free zones and the drop-off in sales was significant, but not as low as the barely-visible levels of January to June.

The EIGHT paperbacks are now on the shelves awaiting orders. Don’t be shy!

If you’ve read the ‘Reverse Engineering’ blog post from a week or so back, then you will know I’ve been busy measuring my ‘digital footprint’ against others in my field. It’s a constant task; nothing stands still in social media. If it does; it stagnates very quickly.

So what’s new? The dripping tap? This will be evident on THREE fronts between now and the end of the year.

I’ve increased the number of daily posts via Buffer, with a mixed-bag of titles, images and media.

I’ve identified up to THIRTY promotion sites with potential benefits for the indie author. You might still see the occasional obvious ‘big spend’ on the sites I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, but essentially I’ve targeted a modest spend EVERY week across a range of promoters.

Instead of a possible ‘spike’ on a particular day, I’m hoping to spread the word far and wide, picking up a few new readers here and there, day by day.

If you want more news of offers and gifts, why not join The Phoenix Club. Newsletter #5 will be circulated to my ‘happy band of followers’ in a few hours.

Can We Learn From The Best?

I know this is earlier than expected, but I spotted a post from another blogger about ‘reverse engineering’ and thought I’d give it a spin.

The basic steps: –
1.Select a group of writers in your genre that you admire, or you believe are a few rungs up the ladder from you. I went mad and chose NINE! Three ‘greats’; three well-known indie crime thriller writers and three who specialize in Vigilante Justice series.

cover-collage2.Compare and contrast your covers. Produce a photo collage. Is there anything you can learn? In my case, I noticed Ian Rankin’s Rebus series uses very similar covers across its range, quite basic in design, but easily identifiable as part of a series. As you know, I elected to keep the same Phoenix image throughout the series. Tim Stevens and Jon Mills use almost exactly the same cover image.
The font size for titles and author name on many of the people I chose is far larger than mine. Colour though, isn’t that important to the group. My cover stands out from the rest because of the bold orange I used. Or is that just me being protective?

3.Check out the ‘blurb’ for the book. I deliberately cut off where Amazon states ‘Read More’. If you haven’t captured their interest in the first half-dozen lines, why would buyers delve deeper? If you do read on, some of the ‘big’ names have reams of information, mini-reviews from other ‘big’ names and prestigious publications. Although we can’t all add in that much detail, there are tips and tricks to learn from what they say & how they say it.

4.Look at the huge variety in the author bios! Claude Bouchard tells you about his writing, but there are lots of personal insights too; he gives the impression of being approachable. The sort of guy you might want to know? Jon Mills tells you zip about himself. Decide for yourself what works best and try to match the content and flavour of your bio to which you think is the best. I’ll let you into a secret: – when I re-vamped mine last year, I visited Ian Rankin’s. Apart from all the accolades and achievements he’s got in his, it contains some personal background followed by a list of all the books he’s written in chronological order. I used his as my template; thinking I could add in the accolades if/when they came along!

5.Analyse their social media output. Where are they? What do they tweet about? How do they use their Facebook page? How interesting is their website? Do they have other ‘footprints’ to help them sell books in greater numbers than us? My chosen authors were a mixed bag, but a couple had websites that were awesome (when compared to my own) and yet Tim Stevens, who is prolific and successful doesn’t have a dedicated website. Peter James has a YouTube TV channel (another box I can now tick) and Karin Slaughter posts dozens of trailers, interviews and other items through YouTube on her website.

6.Some writers suggest you should read books by your ‘favourite’ or ‘successful’ authors and then use what they wrote about & how they did it to improve your own writing. I think that’s rubbish! Be your own person. The world doesn’t need another Ian Rankin (sorry Sir). Your stories have to be unique in some way that sets them apart from the crowd. You’ll never achieve that if you follow the template laid down by another writer, no matter how brilliant they might be.

There’s nothing really new in this approach is there? I remember reading articles from other bloggers and book promotion site owners telling me pretty much the same things over the past four years. I agonised over my covers, my blurb and my bio twelve to eighteen months ago and re-vamped everything. I think it had a positive effect; but you can’t afford to sit still. It’s time to re-assess. I’m going to sift through the data I’ve gathered and I’ll tweak those areas of my set-up I think will benefit from ‘learning from the best’. If you want to try it out yourself (I suggest on a more limited number of writers!) it might help; if it does come back & tell me all about it.

This was a bonus post. There are lots of newsworthy items left over for another day. I’ll be back in a fortnight. Happy Autumn!