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The Promotion Experiment

Like most hybrid or indie writers, the most difficult things for me is making sales. Writing is the easy part. They say you have to spend money to make money, so for the past three or four months I’ve been doing an experiment; instead of spending all my spare dosh on booze and kebabs (can’t go out in the midst of a global pandemic anyway) I decided to put all the money I make from writing during that period back into writing. Or more specifically, into marketing and promotion.

As you may be aware, there a hundreds of promo sites and services out there and most of them cost money. Bookbub is the undisputed king, which I wrote about before, but as far as the multitude of others are concerned, it’s hard to know which ones are truly worth the money and which aren’t. Hence this little experiment. There is little scientific basis behind it. I didn’t do a ton of research, I just looked around to see how much various promo sites cost and what people were saying about them, and tried a few. I’m going to be completely honest and transparent with my figures, so don’t laugh. Believe me, I’m well aware that some people out there sell more books me.

It’s a sad fact that one way to grab new readers is to get on your knees and beg them to read your work for free. Though it’s not really free for them, they’re still giving up their time and energy. Giving away free books is a controversial marketing technique in itself. Some writers feel it devalues the product, and makes things worse for everybody. If readers get used to being given free books, why would they ever bother buying another book again? I can see their point, but in my experience giving away freebies has been hugely beneficial. To clarify, I’m talking about free Kindle promos here, rather than permafrees or books given away on newsletter sign-up. For starters, people who would never normally read my books are given the opportunity to check them out, and if they like my stuff it might encourage them to pick up another of my books. They might even leave a review somewhere. Plus, an increase in downloads, free or otherwise, improves your author ranking and skews various algorithms in your favour, all of which adds to your visibility. For obvious reasons, if you’re going to run a free promo on one of your books you’re better off making it one of a series, or at least having a healthy back catalogue.

CONFESSION: I also write rip-roaringly, thigh-slappingly funny travel books under a super secret pseudonym. It’s difficult to promote something when you can’t put your own name to it, so because THAT GUY had a new release a while back (book 3 in a series), I thought I’d invest the lion’s share of my budget into giving him a little boost. The Fussy Librarian is one of the better-known services but they aren’t cheap, and some strategizing is required to make it worthwhile. The series is about China, so to capitalize on the Western media coverage I scheduled the promotion to run during Chinese New Year. I made the first book in the main series free, left book two up at normal price (1.99) and put book three up for pre-order at a reduced 0.99. Then I paid a whopping $48 for a spot on the FL site and in their ‘non-fiction’ newsletter blast, and waited to see what would happen.

By the way, spots in different FL newsletters have different prices, related to the amount of subscribers each one has. But if you’re a first-time user, you can input the code 10OFF at check-out to get $10 off the regular price, which for me knocked the fee down to $38. Not to put too fine a point on it, the results were incredible. On the day of the promotion, my book was downloaded 1016 times, and a further 258 times over the next few days. Okay, the pessimists might say that all I succeeded in doing was give away over £2500 worth of books. But if only 1% of those who downloaded it leaves a review or even just a rating (optimistic, I know) I’ll be more than happy. In addition, during the same time period the second book in the series sold a dozen copies and I picked up six pre-orders for the third.

Verdict: Hit

EreaderIQ have a list of requirements almost as long as your arm. Novellas and collections are ‘unlikely’ to be accepted, your books should have at least five reviews and should be free or deeply discounted. A place in their email blasting in the ‘horror’ category which, according to the site, reaches 9,500 subscribers, costs $10 (other categories have different rates). I put my recently reissued and revamped novel Sker House forward for this, which was duly accepted. The day of the listing it sold 9 copies, and the day after it sold another 3. Not bad. But because I had to discount the book so much, I made a slight loss on my investment.

Verdict: Partial Hit

Readfreely are less particular. $6 (gold level, again there are different options) buys your book a spot in their newsletter and promotion across their social media platforms. It’s difficult to quantify how big their reach is, but as they have less than 4,000 Twitter followers, which is a great indicator, I’m guessing it isn’t great. I put X4, my latest collection, forward for this one at it’s regular price of £1.99 (though I said it was being discounted from 3.99. Shoot me). X4 sold one solitary copy on the designated date, which sucks, but over the next few days sales of my other X books increased and I sold several of each, which may or may not be related. I’m not convinced either way.

Verdict: Miss

Because this is one of the most cost-effective options, I repeated the process with one of my pseudonym’s rip-roaringly, thigh-slappingly funny travel books. The results were similar.

Verdict: Miss

There are two connected sites, Freebooksy and Bargain Booksy. One is for free books, and the other, surprise surprise, is for bargain (reduced) books. I opted for the latter, and paid $25 to have X4 included in an email blast to 77,000 subscribers. On the day of promotion, X4 sold a dozen copies and, mirroring the pattern in the last promo, my other x books also benefitted from a sales bump and sold another dozen or so between them.

Verdict: Hit

The last, and most recent thing I tried was Amazon ads. I’m a complete novice at this. You need a flipping degree in economics and marketing just to work out which key words to use. Like most things it’s a case of trial and error. Basically, you set a daily budget, choose your settings, and are then billed per click. I set a budget of $5 per day for 5 consecutive days on my psuedonym’s latest release, which resulted in just five clicks at a total cost of about $3.40 and no sales. Then I ran a similar promo on X4 with a higher budget over a longer period of time and got similar results but for a bigger outlay (around $18). It was at this pint I realized I must either be doing something wrong or Amazon ads, like Facebook ads, were a complete waste of time. I hear stories about people making a killing from Amazon ads. I might try it again at some point in the future after I learn more about it but on this occasion, I think I’ll lay off them.

Verdict: Miss

So, all things considered, it was a mixed bag of results. I must admit that in the back of my mind I’d hoped all this effort would at least give my Amazon ranking a lasting boost. But the moment I stopped actively promoting, my sales virtually flatlined. Turns out worthwhile promotion of any kind is expensive, but if you don’t promote you don’t get any sales and you hemorrhage money anyway. There are, of course, reasonably effective ways of marketing your work for free using social media and cross-promotion, if you have the time and the energy. Maybe I’ll write another post about that at some point. In the meantime, I hope other indie writers, who may be as confused and bewildered as me, can get a few pointers from this post. It all boils down to doing your research, knowing your target market, and choosing the right places to invest based on your budget and readership.

I think.


The Bookshelf 2020

As is customary, below is a complete list of all the books I read, from cover to cover (or from 0 to 100%, as is increasingly the case) in 2020. This list is a bit longer than other recent reading lists, we can blame being in self-isolation half the year for that. I won’t bother counting the books I gave up on. There’s been a few. I’m disappointed with myself for not finishing Infinite Jest, though proud of the fact that I made it to about 30%. From what I gather, it’s one of those books you either love or hate. I fell into the latter camp. Too wordy, dense, and pretentious. I deserve some credit for persevering as long as I did with it.

To compensate, this list also a couple of shorter books. The Craft Beer Textbook is only 38 pages long. But it’s still a book, and I still read it so it counts. I finally got around to reading the second Secret Footballer book, which I remember buying at Heathrow airport a few years ago. It was great until he started talking about literature and quantum mechanics in an obvious attempt to show us he’s more than just a footballer. I made a conscious effort to branch out a bit and sample some work by authors I haven’t read before, and generally speaking I made some good choices. Pick of the bunch was probably Nick Cutter’s The Troop which, fittingly, is about a rogue virus. Kind of. I don’t know why it took me so long to read it, but it’s epic. Stephen King, Amy Cross and Jason Arnopp were as reliable as ever, and Adam Nevill’s mini-anthology Before You Wake is well worth a look.

The Horror Collection: White Edition by Various Authors (2019)

Resurrection: A Zombie Novel (Book One) by Michael J. Totten (2014)

Ghoster by Jason Arnopp (2019)

Can I Say: Living Large, Cheating death, and Drums, Drums, Drums, by Travis Barker (2015)

Bloody London: A Shocking Guide to London’s Gruesome Past and Present by Declan McHugh (2012)

After: Undead Wars by Various Authors (2018)

The Institute by Stephen King (2019)

I Was Jack the Ripper by Michael Bray (2017)

Wales of the Unexpected by Richard Holland (2005)

Sex, Marry, Kill by Todd Travis (2014)

Mountain of the Dead: The Dyatlov Pass incident by Keith McCloskey (2013)

Test Patterns: Creature Features by Various Authors (2018)

Billy Joel: The Definitive Biography by Fred Schruers (2014 ed)

Logging off by Nick Spalding (2020)

The Craft Beer Textbook by Jonny Garrett (2020)

Sunbather by Frank Floyd (2020)

The Lighthouse by Keith McCloskey (2014)

If It Bleeds by Stephen King (2020)

Ten Chimes to Midnight: A Collection of Ghost stories by Amy Cross (2019)

Haunted World War II by Matthew L. Swayne (2018)

Stranger Than Fiction by Chuck Palahniuk (2004)

The Troop by Nick Cutter (2014)

Vampires, Zombies and Ghosts: Volume 2 by Various Authors (2019)

American Hoarder by Jason Arnopp (2016)

If Flies Could Fart by Justin Boote (2020)

Tales from the Secret Footballer by The secret Footballer (2014)

Walkers by Graham Masterton (1991)

The Haunting of the Lost Traveller Tavern by Cat Knight (2019)

Brewtality by Various Authors (2020)

Before You Wake: Three Horrors by Adam Nevill (2017)

The Ghost of Old Coal House by Amy Cross (2020)

My Christmas Story by Rayne Havok (2016)

You can read my 2019 reading list here.


Unknown Pleasures – Post Mortem Press: The Early Years (Volume One)

One of the first short stories I had accepted after my return to writing fiction after a long hiatus was a story valled Curiosities, which was included in an anthology called Uncanny Allegories on Post Mortem Press back in 2010.

Curiosities, which was later included in X2, is about an antique shop on the south coast of England. It’s a shop with a difference, and more than a few secrets. The original plan was to write a series of stories about the same place and central character, but I never got around to it. I guess there’s still time. 

Anyway, Post Mortem Press has just compiled all the stories from Uncanny Allegories and many others into one handy, specially-priced volume called Unknown Pleasures – Post Mortem Press: The Early Years (Volume One).

unknown pleasures

The book contains over 1800 pages and includes over 80 stories and novellas, including ‘secret classics’ by Jack Ketchum and Jonathan Maberry, among many others. 

Check it out that awesome cover!

I think somebody over there must be a Joy Division fan.

 


The Bookshelf 2019

As is now customary, below is a complete list of all the books I read, from cover to cover (or from 0 to 100%, as is increasingly the case) last year. I gave up on more than a few, which I won’t bother to name. Life’s too short to read a shitty book.

I didn’t read as much as I would have liked in the first half of the year, but in my defence a couple of entries in this list are absolute monsters. I actually started the longest, Sleeping Beauties, weighing in at 702 pages, about eighteen months ago. I kept drifting in and out of it. All things considered, let’s just say that it was far too long and meandering. A good editor could cut at least 30% off the word count and not lose anything from the plot. I had high hopes for the Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, but I rolled my eyes so much reading it that by the end it was like a physical affliction. Amy Cross hit another couple of home runs, but probably the best book I read last year was Lost at Sea by British journalist Jon Ronson. A selection of essays and investigative reports, it’s not my usual thing but I found it both insightful and refreshing.

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I’ve been making a conscious effort to read more widely, which is why I gave some new writers a shot. At least, writers new to me. And I fell back in love with the short story and read a bunch of anthologies, the pick of which being Body Horror: Trigger Warning. And I’m not just saying that because one of my stories is in it. Ultimately, however, I returned to Dean Koontz after a long break. I actually forgot how good the guy is. At first, anyway. But then a dog and a demented serial killer turned up like they do in all his books and I had to suffer yet more preachy, religious overtones. Sigh.

 

Signal Failure by David Wailing (2016)

Private Number/claws by Derek Muk (2018)

Stranded by Renee Miller (2018)

The Lighthouse by Amy Cross (2015)

The Last Days of by Jack Sparks Jason Arnopp (2017)

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (2017)

Filthy Beast: Diary of an English Teacher in China by White Buffalo (2018)

Bad News by Amy Cross (2019)

Body Horror: Trigger Warning by Various Authors (2019)

Living After Midnight: Hard & Heavy Stories by Various Authors (2010)

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King (2017)

The Nowhere Men – The Unknown Story of Football’s True Talent Spotters by Michael Calvin (2014)

Room 9 & Other Stories by Amy Cross (2018)

Lost at Sea by Jon Ronson (2012)

The Neighbour by Dean Koontz (2014)

Take the Corvus: Short Stories & Essays by Luke Kondor (2018)

Strange Weather: Four Short Novels by Joe Hill (2017)

The Corona Book of Ghost Stories by Various Authors (2019)

The Taking by Dean Koontz (2007)

Zombie Punks Fuck Off by Various Authors (2018)

You can check out last year’s bookshelf HERE.

 

 


Vampires, Zombies and Ghosts, oh my!

I am pleased to announce that my short story, Down the Road, is featured in part two of the new twin-volume anthology on Smoking Pen Press entitled Vampires, Zombies & Ghosts.

Here’s a sneak preview of the breathtaking cover art by Elle Rossi.

Vampires, Zombies, and Ghosts Volume2

I first wrote Down the Road, an alternate take on the phantom hitchhiker urban legend with one of my customary twists in the tail, several years ago. It was originally accepted by another publisher for a proposed new horror fiction magazine, but financial problems meant that project was put on hold indefinitely. After about two years in limbo, I finally accepted the fact that the project was probably never going to get off the ground, withdrew my story, started submitting it again, and here we are. It’s one of my more subtle, thought-provoking offerings. I am excited that thanks to the good people at SPP, it will finally see the light of day. Or the dark of night.

Vampires, Zombies and Ghosts (Volume 2) is out now on paperback and ebook.


X: Omnibus – Cover Reveal

Greetings! I am excited to announce the imminent release of my next project. And this is a BIG one. Details to follow soon, but in the meantime I wanted to give you a sneak preview of the stonking new cover art designed by the ludicrously talented Greg Chapman.

What do you think?

X-omnibus

The ebook is available for pre-order, and through some strange quirk of fate, the paperback is out now.


The Bookshelf 2018

Below is the now-customary list of every book I managed to read cover-to-cover in 2018. I know I am cheating a little by including a couple of novellas, and even the odd short story. My rule is, if they stand-alone, they are eligible. Besides, to even things up I also devoured a couple of absolute monsters. Reviews are linked.

And this isn’t my actual bookcase. I stole this image from Pinterest. But it’s still cool, right?

coffin

Extreme Survivors: 60 Epic Stories of Extreme Survival forward by Bear Grylls (2012)

100 Word Horrors by Various Authors (2018)

Craven Manor by Darcy Coates (2017)

Just a Bit of Banter, Like by Chris Westlake (2017)

Wales and its Boxers: The Fighting Tradition by Peter Stead & Gareth Williams (2008)

The Ritual by Adam Neville (2011)

Last Man Off: A True Story of Disaster, Survival, and One Man’s Ultimate Test by Matt Lewis (2014)

Friend from the Internet by Amy Cross (2018)

Craigslist Horror by Max Hess (2017)

The World’s Most Haunted Places by Jeff Balanger (2004)

Call Drop by John. F. Leonard (2017)

Bird Box by Josh Malerman (2014)

Eat the Rich by Renee Miller (2018)

The Outsider by Stephen King (2018)

The Chase by J.L. Rose (2018)

Lost Highways by Various Authors (2018)

Fearful Fathoms (Volume 1) by Various Authors (2017)

Black Shadows Under a Blood Moon by Roma Gray (short story) (2018)

Haunted Cardiff and the Valleys by the South Wales Paranormal Research Group (2007)

Spree Killers: The World’s Most Notorious Gunmen and their Deadly Rampages by Al Cimino (2010)

Everyone Loves You When You Are Dead (And Other Things I learned from famous People) by Neil Strauss (2011)

Tales from the Murenger by Michael Keaton (2017)

Classic Rock Unseen by Various Authors (2013)

Quad by Toneye Eyenot (2018)

Tales from the Lake 5 by Various Authors (2018)

Readers’s Digest: Great Mysteries of the Past by Various Authors (1991)

Please see HERE for last year’s expansive list!


2018 in Review

2018 was a busy writing year, though I feel I didn’t really achieve much. Isn’t that always the way?

In the first quarter, I focused on writing some short stories and flash fiction, thrashing out over a dozen pieces ranging from an apocalyptic 100-word drabble to an 8000-word zombie splatterfest. Then I turned my attention to my Joshua Strange series of YA adventure books and wrote a third installment. That took all summer. I also went back and edited the first two books. I’m happy with the series so far, but still trying to find the right agent to rep them. I’ll be taking a step back from that project and waiting to see how things develop.

I released two books in 2018 – X3, the latest installment in my on-going series of short fiction collections, and a revised version of a novella called Dead of Night, which was first put out by Damnation Books in 2010. As both books were pretty much already written, they weren’t very time-consuming. I just had to polish them a little, format them, and commission some cover art. I also had short fiction published in Crimson Streets, Indie Writer’s Review, TwentyTwoTwentyEight, Deadman’s Tome and The Horror Tree, as well as the anthologies 100 Word Horrors, Digital Horror Fiction, and Terrors Unimagined. Perhaps best of all, from my perspective anyway, on the back of a Bookbub promotion I managed to scrape into the Top 40 of Amazon’s list of horror writers for the first time.

Finally, bringing you right up to date, I just finished my latest novella, Tethered, which explores the phenomena of Internet rituals. More news on that coming soon. Until then, I just want to express a heartfelt THANK YOU for all your support. I truly appreciate every like, comment, share and insult. If you’ve ever read any of my books, please think about leaving a short review on Amazon or Goodreads. It would really mean a lot.

Have a great 2019.

dead-of-night-reissue


Dead of Night

My latest release, an updated version of my 2010 novella Dead of Night, is available now!

dead-of-night-reissue

Young lovers, Nick and Maggie, decide to escape the city for a romantic weekend deep in the idyllic countryside. The excursion soon degenerates into a maelstrom of terror when one of them comes face to face with a centuries-old civil war soldier. Together, the couple flee into the wilderness, but soon find themselves engaged in a mortal battle with a group of long-dead Confederate bushwackers.

PLEASE NOTE: This is a story of extreme horror and is not suitable for children.

Dead of Night is available now on ebook and paperback.


Digital Horror Fiction, Volume I

I’m pleased to announce that my short story Roadkill is included in the new anthology Digital Horror Fiction, Volume I alongside a host of stellar names including Aaron Gudmunson, James Dorr, Gregory L. Norris and my fellow Deviant Doll, Renee ‘Twisted Bitch’ Miller.

Digital Horror Fiction

Roadkill was inspired by a feature I did for Nuts magazine back in the day about rogue ambulance crews in south America. They patrol the roads, listening in to police scanners, looking for accidents. Then they ferry the dead and injured to hospitals and pick up their payment. Of course, the system is wide open to manipulation, and makes a great backdrop for a horror story. I started thinking, what if, one day, a rogue ambulance crew picked up a casualty who really should be dead, but wasn’t? In fact, what if he flat-out refused to die?

And what if he had a score to settle?

It’s probably fair to assume that heads will roll.

I had a lot of fun writing this story. It probably represents one of my first shambling steps into splatterpunk. It’s a bit over the top but hey, it’s fiction! If it makes you crack a smile, as well as turn your stomach, then my work is done.

Roadkill has been previously published in the anthology Fading Light and was also included in my collection X2.


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