Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Marketing tips!

I'm often asked how to market a new book. Well, no, that's a lie. But I should be.

Here I am collating the wisdom I've gathered on the subject over nearly a decade in the biz.



MARKETING TIP #9 Even the most dedicated of conversationalists must draw breath, and the words BUY MY BOOK fit neatly into any such lull.




MARKETING TIP #12 ALWAYS LEAVE CAPS LOCK ON. EVERYONE WILL APPRECIATE YOUR DIRECTNESS.


MARKETING TIP #17

Any unattended bag is an opportunity to leave a free book.

If the wallet/purse is also unattended leave a non-free book.


MARKETING TIP #33 Try these easy conversational gambits on seeing any stranger with a book: i) "A book, eh? I too have written one of those." ii) "I see that you like readingBUYMYBOOK." iii) Draw a breath in through your teeth: "See, that's your basic mistake. Wrong book."

MARKETING TIP #41
Invest your time well when visiting bookstores. By careful shelf blocking your can steer shoppers toward your volumes.


Swaying and spreading your arms can help to ward readers from your rivals' sections of the alphabet.
MARKETING TIP #47

A fixed number of words are read in any given year, so in order to secure your fair share be sure to disparage all other authors at each opportunity.


Sunday, 24 February 2019

Can we expect bestsellers from the SPFBO?

To contrast the level of attention this year's 300 authors are getting compared to what they might expect from a real agent ... I questioned two such a beasts. Successful ones.

One of them was my own illustrious agent, Ian Drury!

(seen here attacking the editor of a fantasy magazine with my Gemmell Legend Award)

Both typically spend 5 to 10 minutes with a manuscript and given a pile of 30, such as the SPFBO blogs are allocated, both would expect to be mailing out 30 "no thank you's" after a day's work. The reason you might have to wait for that "no" is that they have many other things to do and may not get around to looking a manuscripts for some time.

The 5+ months that the blogs take to consider their 30 books now looks pretty damn good! Some of them review EVERY book too!

Anyway, that's how tough it is and that's how quickly they go through the slush making decisions. The rest of their time is spent pitching the work of and dealing with the needs of existing clients.


One of them gets 30 submissions a week (cover letter, synopsis, first few chapters) and the other 50-60. They call for around 6 full manuscripts a year. That's <0.4% of submissions leading to a full read. In those cases they will typically get back to the author within a week. Most of those guys they still don't take onto their books.

So that's >52 SPFBO blogs' worth of books seen each year (let's call it five SPFBOs) leading to maybe 1 or 2 new clients.

Ian gets a publishing deal for at least half his new clients, so lets say 5xSPFBO = 1 publishing deal.

And we are only on our 4th SPFBO!

And most traditionally published books don't earn out their advance (which averages around £5,000).


So, the strong implication (but this is not necessarily true) is that with 10 weeks' worth of what passes over an agent's table we cannot reasonably expect to find a best seller in any given SPFBO - though we can definitely hope - and that with 1 week's worth of an agent's inbox no blog can expect their finalist to fly - but again, it can happen.

The other interpretation is that the process the agents use to filter books is very flawed. But even if their inboxes are crammed with books that could sell 100,000+ the fact seems to be that there is simply no room for such numbers in the market.

The question is does the market hyper inflate books that are only slightly better (or no better at all) than others (which sell very poorly?) And my own opinion is that it definitely does to a significant extent.

Or are the vast majority of books incapable of sustaining a large readership no matter what breaks they are given. And my own opinion is that this is also true to a significant extent.

I.e. I feel that many great books definitely fail because the winds of chance don't blow favourably for them. And simultaneously that only a small % of books out there would sell in huge numbers even with those winds filling their sails.



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Saturday, 23 February 2019

Social Media: Occupational Hazard?

An author I know has quit all social media recently. Goodbye Facebook, goodbye Twitter, adios Instagram, auf weidersehen Reddit. The author in question felt that these things were having a negative effect on their mental health, and if you feel that way then they undoubtedly are!
Social media can be having a bad impact on your metal health even if you don't feel it is.

The thing is that as an author these days you are strongly encouraged both by your publishers and by logic to partake of social media. Wallow in it. Dive in and only come up for air when you need to write.

The best of books can utterly fail without sufficient initial publicity (the author in question is actually a prime example of this - their excellent book only flourishing after belated publicity following years in the wilderness). So clearly there is a vast pressure for authors to engage with the public, be seen on forums, be available on Twitter, be responsive, witty, entertaining, constantly placing their product in the spotlight without seeming to do so. All striving for that golden ratio of "just enough" selling that it moves books while not pissing folks off.

And that's fine if you enjoy social media and have a more or less healthy relationship with it. Many of us do enjoy it. With my caring duties it's basically my only social life, a much needed window on the world. I would be all over social media whether I had a book to sell or not.

But for those whose personal makeup makes them vulnerable to the harm that social media can inflict ... to then be bound to it by your profession must be a very hard thing. Like having to drink poison in order to stay alive.


And an author's relationship with social media is not quite like Joe Public's. Not only are we spreading our wares out, but we are talking with strangers who know us only through our stories. We are part of a complex network of obligation and interactions each with different boundaries. We talk with reviewers and readers, with authors who sell way more, or way less, or broadly similar amounts to us. Strangers of various shades become friends in varying degrees. We have to say "no" a lot, to reading this book, to critiquing that chapter, to signing at this venue. Everyone has expectations of us. Some think we can help their careers, some we know could help ours. Everything is potentially coloured by these sorts of unhealthy considerations when really we would just like friends.

So again, for those of us with sufficiently thick skin, arrogance or whatever is required to navigate these waters safely, its great to have a swim. But to those who feel they are drowning in it, social media is a burden.

And what if you set it aside and then your next book dies on the launchpad? Imagine how that feels. You, left unable to tell whether that would always have been the book's fate or if somehow you had swallowed your medicine and gone out to bat for it on Reddit the book might have found its audience and soared.

It's a scary equation to consider. Nobody should think they have to do themselves harm in order to succeed.

In the end it is definitely possible to succeed and to continue to flourish with your back turned firmly toward all forms of social media. And I wish those who take this path every success. But, sadly, it is also entirely possible for superb books to fail entirely without that first flame being applied to their touchpaper. And in this day and age it's hard to walk away from the channels of communication knowing that they really could make the difference between the career you want and writing as a hobby.

I've no answers to offer.




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Tuesday, 19 February 2019

The return of the RIDICULOUSLY HUGE giveaway!

I'm running a giveaway to celebrate the release of One Word Kill, my first work of science fiction ... ish. You can see all the elements of it below, a helm, a sword, a set of dice, and a rare signed & doodled Advance Reader Copy of the book!

All you have to do is guess what the numbers on this dice roll add up to!


There is a 4-sided die, a 6-sided one, an 8-sided one, two 10-sided dice, one 12-sided and one 20-sided. So the total will be between 7 and 70, inclusive.

You can roll your own dice and make your guess that way.
You can mimic dice on random.org and do it that way.
Or you can just pick a number between 7 & 70, inclusive.

To enter you must post your guess in the comments below along with your email address (or I can't tell you you've won!)

Comments are moderated. Do not panic if yours takes a day or two to show.

I will post the full video so you can see my roll on general release day for One Word Kill.

The winner will be the person with the closest guess.
(If we have a tie there will be a second roll (or more if needed) to select a winner. Each extra roll will require you to notice (I will post about it on Twitter and Facebook) and get your new guess in within 24 hours of the previous one.)

Open internationally.


Here I am wearing the first element of the giveaway:


...it's not the jumper or even the Prince of Thorns Tshirt.

& then there is this!



And then these non-standard D&D dice!








Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Hate mail.



I realise that because there are a LOT of very stupid people out there that this blog post will be seen by some as an invitation to send me hate mail. To anyone who actually does that, well done on your predictable monkey-see-monkey-do knee jerk.

The point of the the post however is that in 8 years of being published I have, to be best of my memory, received only one email or message that could possibly be considered hate mail, and that one struck me as comical.

This state of affairs didn't seem remarkable to me. I just write fantasy books. Why would anyone take the time to write me nasty emails, and why would they think I would give a shit if they did?

However, it seems that I have been living in a bubble. From recent discussions on Facebook and reddit r/fantasy it seems that lots of authors - some of them with very modest sales or in one case whose debut novel hasn't even been published yet - have had plenty of hate mail.

By hate mail I don't necessarily mean "I'm going to shoot your dog then kill you." but "I read your book and didn't like it." doesn't qualify. (I should note that I don't recall ever getting a "I read your book and didn't like it." email either...

I guess most of it is between those two levels and constitutes aggressive criticism of writing choices and/or any personal information they have hold of.

I haven't conducted an extensive survey but it does seem that the nastier and more personal criticism is focused on female authors and that where male authors report critical emails it tends to fall more into the "scolding" bracket and often concerns use of bad language in the books.


Given that I've sold a fair number of books and that quite a lot of controversy was stirred up around my first book I've found a degree of astonishment when I say that I don't get hate mail.

My theories in this regard are:

i) I'm a male author. Much of this vitriol seems to be reserved for female authors.

ii) I am on a ton of forums and social media platforms. This allows those with gripes to get them off their chests with an audience.

iii) Perhaps something in my books gives the impression that time spent telling me off in an email would be time wasted.


Here is a POLL to gather some more information about how prevalent this is and whether there is a gender gap.

Here are the results after 64 responses. These resulted from posting the link on a number of fantasy writer groups, and are (likely) to all be from authors. I will leave the poll open but note that as I widen the field the data are more likely to be corrupted by non-genuine input from folk who wish to sway the data in either direction to support their world view.



The results shown here are not based on a great number of votes and so the error bars would be sizeable. The takeaway here is that there seem to be no significant differences based on either sales or gender. This does not mean that a significant difference doesn't exist, just that it doesn't appear to be huge and would require much more data to identify.

Another takeaway is that none of these authors is getting a deluge (5+/year) of hate mail, though I am sure that even 1 a year can be very demoralising and it is certainly unacceptable.

The posts that prompted this investigation are in a way self-selecting. Nobody goes on Facebook to post: "Hey! I go NO hate mail today." And because I know a lot of authors I see a fair number of "Hey, I got hate mail today." posts, which can give a false impression of its prevalence.

It is, of course, a sad state of affairs that any authors get any hate mail.

A sobering observation to make is that while many female authors responding to this poll told me, "Nope, I've never had any author hate mail." a lot of them did say that they had had unsolicited sexual messages from strangers who they were pretty sure had no idea they were authors.














Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Library Loans

In the UK & Ireland authors are paid for each loan of their books from libraries. For the most recent year in the UK this was 6.52 pence per loan.

For the past few years I've earned over £1000 (~$1300) each year from library loans. So no, pirating (stealing) is not like borrowing from a library.

And these earnings figures do not include the purchase of the hundreds of my books by the library system to allow these loans (including new purchases to replace damaged books).

The most recent year's 12,154 loans break down thusly:



I do have some doubts about their bookkeeping (excuse the pun) since it seems weird that Emperor of Thorns should be more borrowed than King of Thorns, and The Wheel of Osheim recorded zero paperback loans vs 769 paperback loans for The Liar's Key. But it's all good - libraries are good things and it is nice to get paid!