It’s three months since I began my epublishing adventure (click on Epub Stats above to see the sales figures and other numbers). But what have I learned so far?
1. TIME IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN MONEY – Success seems to come from a steady online presence: tweeting every day, blogging regularly, contacting readers and other writers, joining community forums, and so on. I underestimated how much time I would need to do it all properly. The fact that I’ve not blogged for 4 weeks reflects the same old story of 60-hour working weeks and weekends spent studying for exams – and I’ve actually found it quite difficult to spend money promoting Amsterdam Rampant. BookBub rejected me, I think because they tend to go for books with more than 100 positive reviews (basically I would pay around 200 dollars to get put on their mailing list, which they estimate would generate around 500 sales). There are numerous tweeting services, where for 20-30 dollars they will tweet about your book to their hundred thousand or so followers. But in general the marketing of ebooks is not really an established business model yet, and the best way to do it is on your own, hacking through the jungle, putting in the grind on a daily basis. I’ve not had the time and this has hurt my project.
2. THE POWER OF FREE – perhaps the most amazing experience I’ve had so far was when I ran a 2-day free promotion through the Amazon KDP Select programme. You have to firstly commit to sell exclusively through Amazon, so I ‘unpublished’ Amsterdam Rampant from the other sales platform I was using, Smashwords (I’d not sold one ebook through it anyway, so it wasn’t a big loss). Once signed up to KDP Select, I could select one of two promos – discounted or free. I couldn’t use the discounted option as I’d tinkered with pricing constantly up to that point and didn’t have the required stable period of 30 days at the same price. So I opted to go for free. Wow. Within the first hour there were around 65 downloads and complete strangers were tweeting that Amsterdam Rampant was free. The STV website in Dundee kindly published the link and mentioned that the Dundee Book Prize readers “couldn’t put it down” during the judging process. At the end of the first day more than 500 e-copies of Amsterdam Rampant had been downloaded all over the world. I spent the weekend studying for my MBA but checking online intermittently, while also tweeting every hour or so. I excitedly watched the download graph jump every half hour, eventually hitting 781 free downloads over the 2-day spell. Even more exciting though was my progress up Amazon’s charts. At one point I reached number 12 in Amazon UK’s free literary fiction chart, and was the only living author in the top 12. One minute I was studying MBA stuff, the next minute I was checking my chart position – “BOOOOOM!!! Jack London boy, you down! Dickens ya gadge, I’m coming fur ye!” There are few sights more ridiculous in this world than a middle-aged Scotsman kung fu dancing around his living-room in Luxembourg while jabbering in an ill-advised fusion of African-American slang and Scots dialect.
3. AMAZON TEACHES YOU GENRE – it’s been really interesting to monitor the Amazon function “Customers who bought this item also bought…” Based on the sales and free downloads it seems Amsterdam Rampant is mostly bundled in with crime, violent adventure stories, and comic novels. I was always confused about what genre the book belonged to, which is no bad thing. But it’s made me reflect on what I will write in future, and rethink my priorities, for example…
4. I’VE GIVEN UP ON THE SCOTTISH SCENE – perhaps the main goal I had when I first started writing was to pen something that would be considered as ‘Scottish Literature’ and would enter this hallowed canon. I spent too long knocking on this door. I left Scotland almost 12 years ago and the scene there is dominated by the old guard, while newer upcoming writers all seem to know each other through creative writing postgraduate degrees (just take a look at the biography section of any Scottish magazine or anthology and probably 60-70% of the writers have one of these degrees). It’s taken me this long to realise that being around a thousand miles away from a ‘scene’ is a major handicap to breaking into that scene. So I’ve finally decided – my scene is now epublishing, and the world. I am letting go of Scotland.
5. THE INTERNET IS A GLASGOW POST-PUB PARTY – the internet is a noisy, chaotic place, full of yammering loonies, kind strangers, utter bawbags, funny people, and the occasional psycho. Exactly like a random post-pub party in an unfamiliar Glasgow tenement. At the outset of the epublishing project I was apprehensive of trolls and nutjobs. But in fact all of the people I’ve interacted with so far have been kind, generous, interested, and helpful. Epublishing has reinforced my optimism about humankind. Sure, at some point I will get stuck in the corner of this chaotic shindig with a yammering loony, maybe even bump into the nutter in the kitchen, but so far this has been one hell of a party.
6. FUN BEATS FEAR – Before epublishing I was feeling beaten up, worn out after years of trying and failing to sell the novel through the traditional channels, always on edge and waiting to be judged by editors, readers, interns… putting the book out there has liberated me completely. The fear has disappeared, and the fun of it all has brought my confidence back as a writer.
7. THE WELL IS FILLING BACK UP – at the Dundee Book Prize dinner in 2012 I chatted to Scottish writer Alan Bissett (one of the judges) about his next project. He used a metaphor I like, saying that he was “waiting for the well to fill back up again.” Thanks to epublishing, I feel that happening now – ideas for my next novel are starting to trickle, glistening, into the well. Three years ago I bashed out around 30k words of a novel that was unlike anything I’d written before – part science-fiction, part allegory of Soviet Russia / Industrial Victorian Britain. In my head it’s now growing into a trilogy, a hybrid of Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, and Joseph Stalin’s life story. All a bit messy, but it’s thrilling to be having ideas again.
Nine months to go – bring it on!