7 things I’ve learned from epublishing


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  You have to firstly commit to sell exclusively through Amazon, so I ‘unpublished’ Amsterdam Rampant from the other sales platform I was using, Smashwords (I’d not sold one ebook through it anyway, so it wasn’t a big loss).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!



3 thoughts on “7 things I’ve learned from epublishing

  1. Hi Neil, it is lovely to hear you so stirdent and in your creative flow. I was thinking about what you wrote about Scotland. you only left scotland 12 years ago. i left ireland exactly half my life ago at 22. NL, especially amsterdam gave me the freedom i craved from a rleigious culture that had never known the enlightenment or the 1960’s cul;tural revolution. but when i sepnt three weeksin scotland, i fell in lvboe with your country and i finally understood al lthose german immigrants o ntheir organic farms in 1980’s ireland who felt so happy i nthe rain and dour catholicism….they were far enough remvoed to enjoy the nature and beauty and wild irsihness without being crushed by the conservative church. They even seemed immune ot the icnessant rain. i was that German tourist in Scotland. When I read trainspotting, years ago I got a horrible impression of soctland. your short stories made me think it even a worse place. thne i went there and it was amazing. I started in edinburgh and my first day there i visited my new ssword teacher in hisarmory, the only one in scotland and he showed me his bladesin ther forging. i left the armory and wandered through the meiveal heavy masculine rock old city , i hjad just come from seville,m drneched i nsun, all the architecture, light,islamic, colourful, feminine, exotic and now i was i nthis dour heavy granite rock but i felt the power nad endurance of the place. My aussie firned prue and my LA friend PJ, joined me for a great weekend in edinburgh and we did the spooky gohst tour. PJ is psychic and she said there was narry a ghost in the haunted spots but she flet presneces elsewhere. Pat of her ancestry is in scotland and she gave me a very expensive mini-kilt afterwards. for me, i fell in lvboe with the plce, it was like home but one essential remove from. I come from an extremely disturbed family full of mental illens,s violence, depresion and suicide. it is also a middle class family keeping up with the joneses whose main principle and motivation is not to hang any dirty laundry out in public. Ib Scotland i felt at home i na way i cannever fele at home in ireland. The culture is sosimilar but one step away. my first evening in edinburg i brought my guitar ot a flok session and sat humbly i nthe background. Within 15 minutes i was invited to sing and play. As a sign of respect I sang and played socttish folk songsalso in gaelic like Fihr an bhata, a Sctotish trgaic folk song. I don’t know howot decribe my joy when the costtish musicians asked me how i had learned their traditional song in the language they don’t speak anymore. none of them spoke Scots gaelic but i do. I told them my mother spoke Irsih gealic as her mother tongue and taught me, and that Irish and Scots gaelic are just dialects of the same language. neil i was totally embraced that evening and they begged me to return. then i went ot thev westenr Highlands with Mac for the sword fighting week and it was a week of history, mythology, extreme physical activity, we were out in anture doing war games, survivalism, hiking and 4 hours a day of sword fighting ……the widlerness there is more beautifu lthan ireland because the mountians are higherr and the landscpae totally remote. it set my soul on fire.

    almost a year later scotland still setds my soul alight. i look back at the sort of dark working claass depressed writing i’ve read from Scotland but to me Scotland is all sunlight and swimming naked in freezing lochs and learning 17th century sword techniques on the beach bonnie Prince Charlei andede on, talking ot local fishermen, singing with a lcoal fampus accordionist, listening to the exquisitely beautiful highland lilt as the people talk about their history and culturee to me. i guess i am now thje German in Ireland, immune ot the derpessing parts, engaging with the loveliness. but Neil yuor country is amazing. don’t underestimate it and the highlands are where the culture survives. i challenge you to write thje opposite kind of book to trainspotting, to redicover the illumimated Scotland, to explore the wilderness and expreince the rare beauty and inspiration of the Western Hihlands. XS

    Date: Sat, 10 May 2014 13:51:15 +0000 To: daly_sinead@hotmail.com

  2. As someone hesitantly researching the epub process, this made my day! Thanks for a fun read 🙂 I feel a lot better about the possibility after reading this!!

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