Richard Wright

author of strange, dark fictions

December Book

The Freelance Leap: The Terrible Maybe

About five months ago, I finished up at a day job to see what I can make of a full year of writing full time. I’m keeping track of things during these blogs. Previous installments are racked up here.

pbackSo, I am neither Hugh Howey nor J.K. Rowling.

That’s rather disappointing.

On Monday I launched my novel The Flesh Market. The results have been less than impressive. It’s like that toy you saw on television when you were a kid, that definitely turns you into a superhero/princess (or indeed, for a curious minority, a superhero princess). Expectation builds up. You don’t know what to expect, and so you make your own expectations. You unwrap it on Xmas day, and it looks amazing. You open it up…

And there are no batteries in it. So it just sits there, looking pretty. Then it gets forgotten about.

Welcome to my book launch week. It’s like a crushingly disappointing childhood.

The Terrible Maybe

One of the big downfalls of self-publishing is the amount of success that’s floating around. Everyone doing it knows of Hugh Howey, or J.A. Konrath, or numerous other exceptional outliers. What you don’t see all the time are the ordinary experiences, or even the outright failures. People tend to stay on the quiet side about those. I can see why. I wasn’t sure I was going to write this entry at all*, but these Freelance Leap blogs are supposed to be about what happens over the course of this year, good or bad. There’s not much point walking you through this whole thing if I don’t show you where the potholes are. It could be that this turns into the longest, wordiest caution to you all in history.

Two months ago things were different. My expectations for the launch of The Flesh Market were pleasingly low. I thought I’d be lucky to move fifty copies in the first week, all things being equal. I also knew that I was in different territory than with previous books, as I wasn’t launching with free download days to give things a visible boost. I suspected the book would stagger out the door, and I’d have to grow it over time.

Somewhere in the last month before launch, as I lost all semblance of myself while running around preparing to launch the book, I succumbed to The Terrible Maybe. Maybe it will land with a bang. Maybe sales will be good from the get go. Maybe this book goes to profit inside a fortnight. Maybe this time next month Hugh Howey will come knocking at my door asking me how that happened. When you’re buried in success stories, it’s hard to keep your head where it should be. What’s worse is that none of them are impossible, especially on the Kindle. There are no barriers to success, so anything can succeed. I suspect things were even more distorted, as I was publishing in the middle of the furore over the Author Earnings Report. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard about it. Basically, an author developed a crawler to trawl Amazon and find out how self-published titles are doing next to traditionally published. The answer is ‘better than anybody would have guessed’. As a result, there are a lot of hyper-smug self-published authors strutting about, and a lot of grumpy traditional publishers.

None of it matters, unless you’re one of them. Don’t worry. How the novel you’re enjoying was published doesn’t matter, if you’re a reader. It’s the book, stupid.

Anyway, with the Terrible Maybe perched on my shoulder I launched the book.  You helped – and thank you for that. It’s always a little bit humbling when people give you little slices of their time just because they want to, and humbled was exactly how I felt watching people share the book on Facebook and Twitter.

But here are the sales figures to date. It’s a fraction higher in real life, but only because I’ve used Amazon myself to send  a couple of review copies (easier than trying to post things from India), so have taken them off the total. On the Kindle, 10 copies sold in the US, 16 in the UK, and 1 in India. In paperback 12 copies sold in the UK and 4 have sold in the US. So, 43 copies total. Almost all in the first two days. After that, things almost stopped dead. It’s hard to be sure, but I doubt that’s enough to scratch Amazon’s recommendation engines, so it’s going to be harder for anybody to stumble across.

To say I’ve had a shattering week is understating things. All because of The Terrible Maybe.

The Good Stuff

I’m recovering from that though. The Terrible Maybe did not swing in my favour, but that was always the assumption. That it’s sold 43 copies isn’t actually a bad thing when there are thousands of books that haven’t sold to anybody other than the author. If I had done a traditional book launch event in a store and moved 43 copies, I’d be over the moon. A couple of other things went well, namely:

  • Some of you have been pretty active talking about the book. That’s something that still amazes me to see. Sitting here in a study in India, thousands of miles away from any of you, I’m always taken aback by the astonishing support I get whenever I launch a book. You’re all much lovelier than you look**. Thank you – I can’t say that often enough. That it didn’t work out as we’d want this time doesn’t mean it wasn’t a tremendous thing to do (we had the opposite experience with Craven Place last year, where you did the same thing and for reasons we’ll never pin down, it accelerated sales enormously).
  • There have already been two blog reviews, within days of the actual launch. Jim at The Ginger Nuts of Horror said “The Flesh Market was a revelation, a game changing book”, while Clarice at the Book Nook said it was “Gruesome and fascinating.  A true terrors-of-the-night type of thriller.” That’s an excellent first reaction – and early doors Amazon reviews have been among the best any of my books have had. The people who have read it not only like it, but are keen to tell other people that they like it. That’s something else I’m grateful for.

I’ll take both as a sign that I can grow the book over time. Instant bestseller it isn’t, but it’s there, and that means there are possibilities.

Emergency Changes

As you can imagine, The Terrible Maybe has been screaming at me all week, demanding I change everything about the book until it sells. I’ve resisted because it’s only been five days, and that’s nothing. The exceptions have been:

  • I changed a couple of keywords behind the scenes at Amazon, to see if I can’t help the book’s potential readers stumble over it.
  • I dropped the kindle price, though not by much. I don’t know that it was too high at all, but it’s a quick and easy change. Something is stopping people from buying the thing, and I might as well rule out the cover price.

And that’s it. I’ll hold for another week, and see what happens. If I make a lot of changes all at once, I’ll never know what actually made a difference. If the book’s still in a slump next Friday, I’ll have another look at it. If you’ve any ideas you want to put forth, the comments are below!

What’s Next?

Going forward, I’ll be looking for new chances to introduce the book to people in the coming weeks and months, until I find something effective. There’s still a chance that it will  do better business next week, especially as reviews come in on Amazon. It could even be spotted by the all-important Amazon algorithm monkeys (which will encourage Amazon to promote the book for me). I don’t think I’d better count on that though. Let’s stamp on The Terrible Maybe until it stops squirming.

Beyond that, I certainly won’t rush to start writing the next novel I hope to self-publish. My criteria for doing this has always been that a book earn back its costs before I do another one. With this book I hoped to get ahead, and have it eventually pay its own costs and the next one before I proceed. I still think that’s a good idea, which means the next self-published book could be quite some way down the road. We’ll see. Anything can happen. The trilogy of novellas I was planning to release over the summer are still a go though – they’re already budgeted, and part of the whole one year experiment.

I’m also going to pull right back from this one book, and looking for new ways to push the backlist too. Around book launch time it’s easy to get sucked into that one thing, but none of my books have gone anywhere. They’re all brand new to somebody.

So that’s how this week went. Next week… well, it can’t be any worse.

What’s that?

Oh.

Balls.

 *crawling away and hiding under the stairs seemed a better option.

**and most of you look very lovely indeed.

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8 Comments

  1. Casey TibbsFebruary 21, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    I’m not done with the book yet (slow reader) but I’m thoroughly enjoying it despite my usual lack of interest in the genre. I’d expect anyone who enjoys historic fiction or zombie/horror stuff to love this book.
    What about the possibility of misinterpretation of the title? “The Flesh Market,” at first glance, appears to suggest something more brothel related than monster related.
    I realize this is likely intentional. I read (and loved) your Hiram Grange story – you have no qualms about including that side of perverse in your tales.
    But What If someone glances at the title/cover and simply says “enough of that, not feeling it today” and moves on to something they believe will have more substance, or something like that.
    Maybe “The Flesh Market, a zombie tale. One that is certainly not about brothels.” 😉

  2. Casey TibbsFebruary 21, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    I feel the need to go on a bit more about this.. I realize you can’t just pull all the paperback copies and change the title, nor do I actually feel that you need to. But if there are tweaks that can be made to draw in the Kindle cover-judgers, at least, it might be worth it. In print the book looks appealing enough to pick up, at which point a quick glance inside fills the blanks.

    I suddenly felt guilty for suggesting something so bold as a title change! That wasn’t really what I’d set out to do. Just attempting some helpful feedback.

  3. Richard WrightFebruary 21, 2014 at 9:04 pmAuthor

    It’s a very good point. In the UK, certainly in Scotland, Fleshmarket Close is strongly associated with Edinburgh (not least because of Ian Rankin’s Rebus novel of the same name), but it could lead people to move on. I think anybody who reads the blurb will have their fears dispelled – but this is online, and a lot of people won’t stick around that long. This could be worth a tweak, if nothing else works.

    I like your subtitle a great deal.

  4. Richard WrightFebruary 21, 2014 at 9:05 pmAuthor

    Oh – and all suggestions welcome, don’t worry! Thanks for picking it up Casey.

  5. RobFebruary 21, 2014 at 9:45 pm

    I too was led astray by the title at first. Even when I gleaned that the undead were involved, I pictured a rather peculiar brothel (which probably says more about me than the title). Now that I know the whole story, I think the title is great, but a subtitle on the Amazon listing may help. Something like The Flesh Market: An Historical Novel of the Undead (I am sure you can come up with something better.)

    It is quite a brilliant novel. I am finishing it up today and will review posthaste.

    • Richard WrightFebruary 21, 2014 at 9:51 pmAuthor

      Hah! This clearly isn’t a title that travels well…

  6. Jackie BFebruary 21, 2014 at 11:19 pm

    I never got that about brothels at all. But, then again I have read a few of your books now… I’m also loving it. I just wish I had a day off from the kids to finish it!! This may just be a slow burner. I’m sure some books can be and then really take off…? Obviously I know nothing about writing, publishing or algorithms on Amazon, so it’s just a thought. It would be a very real shame if people did not discover and enjoy this book.

  7. Richard WrightFebruary 22, 2014 at 7:33 amAuthor

    Don’t worry Jacks, it isn’t a race. I think I’ve been spoiled by the unusual things that happened to Thy Fearful Symmetry and Craven Place in the first fortnight – but the whole point of an unusual thing is that it’s unusual. The algorithms are just the top-secret Amazon programs that kick in to recommend the book to people, either by email or on the site when you’re logged in. Nobody really knows how they work, and they keep changing them anyway. With Craven Place particularly, they kicked in big time.

    Now that my head’s clearer, I’m actually where I expected to be. Some legwork to come, but that’s as anticipated!

    And Rob – just popped by Amazon – thank you!

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