In two months and twenty days (but who’s counting) I’ll be taking a year away from dayjobbery and seeing how close I can get to generating a full time freelance writing career. For the next couple of months I’ve the luxury of preparation time, trying to figure out how to make it work and putting some things in place that will pay off down the line (maybe). Then, at the end of September, I’ll take the leap, put all of this into practice, and see if I’m right about any of it. You can browse previous entries here.
There are a tremendous number of things that can happen to a book, and I don’t know what they all are yet (and, perversely, the possible things that might happen change every few months at the moment). When I gave Craven Place away for free on the day of launch, I thought that any and all activity on the book would more or less dry up as soon as it went back to full price. My plan was to wait for a couple of reviews to show up on Amazon from those who took advantage of the free day, then do a much bigger promotion a couple of weeks later. I was hoping that just enough visibility would be created by the bigger promotion to kickstart some sales in the aftermath.
I was right, for about a week. The book went to full price, a handful of stragglers picked it up the day after, and then nothing at all. A bit of a downer, even though that’s what I assumed would happen right from the start.
Then, this week, the book started to sell. Not much, only a couple of copies a day in the US and UK, but it was suddenly moving. As nice as that was, I couldn’t logically work out why. To sell, a book has to be found. To be found, somebody has to be talking about it. Google came up with nothing. Sure, a couple of reviews did turn up on the Amazon pages – but people would have to find the book before those could be seen. What was going on?
I finally worked it out. When you list a book on Amazon you’re able to enter it in up to five different categories. I chose subsets of bigger genres. Instead of ‘Mystery’ I chose ‘British Detectives’, which nestles within the bigger Mystery category. It’s a sensible thing to do. The mystery genre is massive. You have to giveaway thousands of copies to make a dent even on the free ‘bestseller’ lists. British Detectives though? Not as many people choose subcategories. The book had much more chance of getting to the top of the pile, and indeed it did. Anybody clicking into the British Detective free charts found the book straightaway. I’m only guessing, but that would have made for a reasonable number of extra downloads on launch day.
Not afterwards though. As soon as it went back to full price, it vanished from those charts. So where was the visibility coming from a week later?
Because the book shot to the top of the free chart in the subcategory on launch day, Amazon’s algorithms picked up on it. A few days later, they listed it as a ‘Hot New Release’ in ‘British Detectives’, and it stayed there for at least week. That’s where people found it, and the small but steady stream of sales have extended the time it’s been there (so more people went on to find it after that). It’s even bumped into the bottom of the paid charts a few times this week, on those extra sales. If I’d chosen ‘Mystery’ I wouldn’t have moved enough copies to register in that big category, and none of the subsequent sales would have happened.
The sales aren’t huge in volume – not yet in triple figures but getting there – but have the immense benefit of being completely unexpected. Craven Place has earned back about 10% of the setup cost without really trying, and it’s entirely thanks to your efforts telling people it was free, combined with choosing small categories in which to list it. The book wasn’t supposed to be making money yet, but is busying itself doing so anyway. That makes me very happy.
The next promotion was going to be next week, but I’ve cancelled that and rearranged it for August 5th and 6th. I want to step back for a bit, and see if anything else unexpected happens. I don’t think it will, but I might as well wait and see. This week I sent notifications off to several of the bigger book promotion websites about the August giveaway in order to give them plenty of notice. It only takes one or two to run with it for the promotion to be successful, but there’s every chance they’ll all ignore it (which would be a disaster). What the book needs in order to meet the criteria of the biggest and best are reviews on Amazon – many won’t touch a book that doesn’t have six or seven decent reviews. Some demand twenty. There’s not much I can do about that except cross my fingers and hope that some more turn up before the promotion sites go and look.
I can only cross my fingers metaphorically though, because I need the to be doing other things. This whole freelance experiment isn’t about one book, but developing a pool of good stories which will all throw a little bit more into the pool and maybe turn into an actual living wage. That’s a hard thing to stay focused on. I know of many writers making a good living publishing their own work who treat it a bit like a production line. Write, publish, move on. Write, publish, move on. Write, publish, move on.
I don’t think I can quite do that. I invest a lot in any particular book or story – and I mean an emotional investment, not a financial one – and I can’t quite view the whole process as coldly as that. I get too excited by being published, regardless whether I’m doing that publishing myself or with a traditional publishing house. I love it, and losing that passion would end this whole thing for me.
Still, I do need to get going on other things, at the same time as I’m nudging Craven Place along. As consuming as releasing that novel has been, as soon as I step back I can see all the other things awaiting my attention. I’m making good progress on the second of three linked novellas I’ll be releasing next year, but I also need to charge into the second half of the next novel (The Flesh Market). I’ve ummed and ahhhed for ages about whether I’ll publish this myself or try and find a publisher for it, but I think I’ve finally committed. I’m doing it myself. I think it’s easily the best thing I’ve written, so far anyway – a real leap in my storytelling (which I hope you’ll agree isn’t too hopeless to start with). It could do very well indeed, if it finds its readers. If that’s not just wishful thinking then it could make a big difference to the whole freelance plan.
There’s also The 52 to get on with. An update on that to come, but basically it’s definitely going ahead, and it definitely still needs contributions. Time for another blog on that, later this week. I’m also slowly getting through the research I need to do for a novel I want to pitch to one of my favourite publishers. I’m flattered that they’ve given me the go ahead to send them something, and now I need to make the opportunity count. I won’t jinx it by saying any more just now, but for various reasons this would be a novel I couldn’t publish myself even if I wanted to. ‘Nuff said.
If all that wasn’t enough, there are four or five excellent open calls for short stories from anthologies I would love to be a part of, and a foreign rights agent has asked me to submit stuff relating to the three novels I’ve self-published for consideration.
Busy, busy. Encouraging too. There are a lot of things happening, and I still haven’t started the actual year of trying this out full time yet.