Author Advances, Earning Out and Royalties explained…

There’s been all kinds of scuttlebutt online regarding a blog piece by the author Heather Demetrious on how she burned through book advances of several hundred thousand dollars and ended up back working in a day job. I’m simplifying her story massively here, so do give it a read.

It’s a fascinating and honest piece, for which she has received all kinds of sneering abuse online, most surprisingly from other authors. At the root of this is an assumption that she should have known what an advance was, how royalties work, and have an understanding of publishing practices that, frankly, are a bit weird and arcane.

Publishing is an industry that has been slow to progress in many ways. It’s still very white and middle/upper class, and the people you work with will assume you’ve been to the same private schools and universities and that we all read the trade magazines and publishing news feeds.

And, like me and Heather, if you come from a working class background you can throw in a feeling of imposter syndrome when you mix with publishing types. And that can mean you’re afraid to ask even the most basic questions. Here’s the thing…

NEVER BE AFRAID TO ASK A STUPID QUESTION

Also…

DON’T STOP ASKING STUPID QUESTIONS UNTIL YOU GET ANSWERS THAT MAKES SENSE

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Einstein

Here for you, dear reader, is a quick rundown of some of the terminology associated with publishing advances…

An Advance

This is a sum of money paid to an author in advance of the publication of the book. It is usually paid in three stages: on signing the contract, on delivery of the manuscript, and on publication.

It is NOT a salary.

Payment will come through your agent (if you have one) and they will deduct their commission, which can be from 10-20%.

Then, like all income, you will have to pay tax on what remains. If, like me, you’re baffled by taxes I would advise getting financial advice to help with your tax return.

Here’s the big thing to bear in mind… You will not receive any further money from the publisher until your advance has been “earned out”. So what the hell does that mean?

Earning Out

Think of your advance as a debt to the publisher. If they’ve given you ten thousand pounds in advance, you need to pay that ten grand back before they give you any more in royalties (we’ll come to those in a minute).

How do you do that? Simple. Sell enough books to cover the advance. Ideally, you should do that in the first twelve months after publication.

This is harder than you might think. If books are going to sell they need to be marketed and promoted and that will mean heavy discounting. If your eBook is selling for 99p in Kindle promotions it will take longer to earn out that advance. If your eBook is on sale for £9.99 and not being promoted then the chances are it’s not selling that many copies at all.

You see the problem here.

Very few books earn out in the first twelve months after publication.

But let’s say you do – woohoo! – now it’s time to earn some…

Royalties

These are the payments you earn from book sales once you have earned out your advance. They are usually paid twice a year.

Yes.

Twice a year.

Not monthly, like a salary.

Twice a bloody year.

And the payment will be accompanied by the most baffling document in written history: The Royalty Statement.

Ask your agent (or, if you don’t have an agent, contact the Society of Authors) to explain what it all means, and make sure they check it because it will almost certainly be wrong. My agent discovered an error in my last statement with VAT payments on eBooks and got me an additional £300.

Twice a year.

Bastards.

THE CURSE OF THE BIG ADVANCE

Advances are changing. It used to be a spectrum based on predicted sales, now it’s all or nothing: huge advances or piddly little ones. Publishers used to be a bit rubbish at predicting sales, because it was usually done solely by the editor based on little more than their enthusiasm for the book. While this was all very admirable, it wasn’t terribly scientific and led to huge advances for authors who had no bloody chance of earning out. For example…

Case Study 1: Debut author of a literary fiction masterpiece gets half a million quid for world rights in advance for a book that the editor is head-over-heels in love with. The book gets some buzz, but ultimately fails to sell more than a few thousand copies. That author now has a ton of red ink in their profit and loss statement. The author still has the advance (yay!), but the publisher now sees them as an expensive loss and writes them off. The next book is either rejected, or the advance is tiny in comparison to book one. The author’s career never recovers.

These days the advances are calculated by an unholy cabal of sales, editorial, rights, production and marketing and they’ve become a lot better at using data to predict sales. And their predictions err on the cautious.

But… this does mean that if they’re willing to give you a big advance that they’re far more more confident that it will earn out. For example…

Case Study 2: Debut author of a commercial thriller gets half a million quid for world rights in advance for a book that the editor is head-over-heels in love with. Because the sales, rights and marketing departments were involved in calculating the advance they are more engaged when they sell it in. The buzz is great, and the rights are sold all over the world, including the movie rights. A miracle! This means the book has earned out its advance before it’s even published! Every book sold will earn the author a royalty and for the next deal they will be able to to negotiate a higher advance. Hurrah!

The above is an unusual outcome, but it does happen. Publishers need a handful of these every year, otherwise they would go out of business.

However, here’s what most deals are like these days…

Case Study 3: Debut author of a genre book gets a few grand for world rights in advance for a book that the editor is head-over-heels in love with. Because the sales, rights and marketing departments were involved in calculating the advance they are more engaged when they sell it in, but… they also have that commercial thriller with the big advance at the top of their priority list, so they give less attention to the genre book with the small advance. The author has to work harder to get publicity and marketing, they pay out of their own pocket to go to festivals, and have to write the second book while holding down a day job and bringing up a family. The rights are sold to France and Germany for a small amount. No one buys the film rights. But… after twelve months the book earns out and over five to ten years the author slowly builds a profitable and credible career.

No one said this would be easy, and you should not give up on your dream of becoming a full-time author, but the odds are it will be a long journey with all kinds of ups and downs. My advice is to keep writing and never, ever be afraid to ask for advice. Speaking of which…

Need advice?

I’ve worked in bookselling and publishing for over twenty-five years and I offer all kinds of bespoke services for writers, from reader reports to full edits. Drop me a line here for a free consultation.

The End of Magic challenge week 9, War of the Keywords

On 9th July I made a big ol’ pubic declaration to sell a thousand copies of my fantasy novel The End of Magic by Christmas, and I promised to keep folks in the loop with the ups and downs of sales and marketing with a weekly update.

A few caveats…

  • I can only do this in the USA… Unbound have the UK rights and I have no visibility on sales other than the twice yearly statements.
  • I’m going to stick with Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.
  • I’ll be counting both Kindle and Paperback sales.
  • Here’s week nine!

A busy week of writing for me, which means I’ve only had one eye on the challenge, so all that’s really happened is a continued trickle of newsletter subscribers thanks to the StoryOrigin promo (which you should definitely check out if you’re a fantasy fan – so many free books!)

However, I did notice something disturbing... You may recall that in last week’s update I was pondering whether or not to return to Amazon ads to boost sales of The End of Magic. By mid-morning that day I had pretty much decided against it, but a few days later I decided to check where I was coming in the search results on Amazon.

I opened a new tab, switched on my VPN and connected as if I was in the USA, typed “The End of Magic” into the Amazon search bar, and this is what came up…

Fourth! Bloody fourth! That’s below the line, too, so if the searcher can’t be bothered to scroll down (and few do) then I’m completely lost! I have to win the War of the Keywords. And how do you do that…?

Bloody Amazon ads.

It’s almost – almost! – as if the whole system is rigged to make you pay for Amazon ads. Hmm.

So I ran a keywords report on Publisher Rocket and I’m now running ads at $2-per-day to see if I can get back to the top of the search results. Grr. I’ve only been running them for a couple of days, so nothing yet. Even the KU page reads are drying up…

Here’s a summary of last week’s sales…

Kindle units sold: 0

POD Paperbacks: 0

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 788

Royalty: $0

Advertising spend total: £2.86

And here’s the running total…

Kindle units sold: 98

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 10,825

Royalty: $46.98

Advertising spend total (since 9th July): $464.00 (and £105.81 in GBP)

AMS: $102.78

Bookbub: $272.70

Still 902 units to go!

That’s 8 a day between now and Christmas.

Thanks again for all your messages of support and to everyone who’s bought the book or spread the word.

If you would like to help, then please do any of the following:

Buy a copy here in the US, or here in the UK

Tell your friends about the book

Leave an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads.

Oh, and I’ve just finished with a client on a writing project and now have a slot available on my writing services schedule. If you’re looking for feedback on your novel or screenplay, or maybe you just need a second opinion on that submission letter that you’re sending to agents, I offer all kinds of services for writers at all stages in their careers. There are more details here.

The End of Magic challenge, week 8 – Giveaways and Group Promos

On 9th July I made a big ol’ pubic declaration to sell a thousand copies of my fantasy novel The End of Magic by Christmas, and I promised to keep folks in the loop with the ups and downs of sales and marketing with a weekly update.

A few caveats…

  • I can only do this in the USA… Unbound have the UK rights and I have no visibility on sales other than the twice yearly statements.
  • I’m going to stick with Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.
  • I’ll be counting both Kindle and Paperback sales.
  • Here’s week eight!

Not a huge amount to report this week, but a quick update on how last week’s Joe Abercrombie giveaway went, and how the StoryOrigin group promo is going.

You may recall that I had read and enjoyed my ARC/Proof copy of the new Joe Abercrombie novel A Little Hatred. Rather than let the proof languish on the shelf, I ordered a copy of the book from Waterstones, and decided to give the proof away as part of a newsletter giveaway. A simple deal: sign up to my newsletter and you’re in with a chance of winning the proof. Boosted by retweets from Joe and Gollancz I was able to gain over a hundred new subscribers in just a week. Once I announced the winner at the weekend, I lost fifteen of those, but such is the cut and thrust of these sort of newsletter giveaways.

Last Thursday saw the launch of a StoryOrigin group promotion designed to attract more newsletter subscribers. The way it works is a bunch of authors in a similar genre offer a free short story each to entice readers to sign up. All of the authors plug the promotion via their channels and we all gain a few new subscribers. Since the launch on Thursday I’ve gained 68 new subscribers…

And if you fancy reading the short story yourself you can get it here.

And hey, if you like fantasy you should check it out. There’s something for everyone: high fantasy, grimdark, romance and even big cats wearing bras. Yes, really. No judgment here. Click on the banner for more…

Has all this resulted in a sudden boost in sales…? Er… no… Once again, this week has been a blank…

I have had a few more KU page reads though…

And I now have a chunk of new fantasy fans who might just like my book enough to buy it. However, I can’t just start bombarding them with BUY MY BOOK emails. I need to give them fun and engaging content to reassure them that they’ve made the right decision.

What’s next? The StoryOrigin promo runs until September 27th, so that should keep the trickle of new subscribers coming, and I’ve also enrolled in a Kindle Unlimited one that starts in early October. However, none of these are driving sales in the here and now. There’s a part of me that wants to go back to Amazon AMS ads. I know they’re a money pit, but I was getting sales and the book was more visible. Will I succumb to the temptation…?? Should I?? Tune in next week!

Here’s a summary of last week’s sales…

Kindle units sold: 0

POD Paperbacks: 0

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 960

Royalty: $0

Advertising spend total: £0

And here’s the running total…

Kindle units sold: 98

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 10,037

Royalty: $46.98

Advertising spend total (since 9th July): $464.00 (and £105.81 in GBP)

AMS: $99.92

Bookbub: $272.70

Still 902 units to go!

That’s almost 8 a day between now and Christmas.

Thanks again for all your messages of support and to everyone who’s bought the book or spread the word.

If you would like to help, then please do any of the following:

Buy a copy here in the US, or here in the UK

Tell your friends about the book

Leave an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads like these lovely people…

I still only have six reviews on Amazon.com (the US site). They’re good ones, for which I’m very grateful, but ideally I need at least 20+. I like my reviews to grow organically and they have to be honest, so if you’re American and have read The End of Magic a few kind and honest words will go a long way.

If you have any thoughts or comments on what I might be doing wrong, do please leave them below! Until next week…

The End of Magic challenge, week 7 – Bloggers and giveaways

On 9th July I made a big ol’ pubic declaration to sell a thousand copies of my fantasy novel The End of Magic by Christmas, and I promised to keep folks in the loop with the ups and downs of sales and marketing with a weekly update.

A few caveats…

  • I can only do this in the USA… Unbound have the UK rights and I have no visibility on sales other than the twice yearly statements.
  • I’m going to stick with Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.
  • I’ll be counting both Kindle and Paperback sales.
  • Here’s week seven!

The big change in strategy has been to stop with the expensive ads on Facebook, Bookbub and Amazon and instead to build my readership. And that means bulking up my newsletter and getting bloggers to review my book to drive a little buzz.

I started by looking online at other authors’ blog tours. Both Mike Shackle and Edward Cox have had recent blog tours with their new books – both of which are similar enough to mine – and they posted these handy images with the details of the bloggers…

I spent a day visiting the websites of these bloggers, finding out how they accept submissions (they all do it differently) and dropping them a line.

I also did a small blog tour when The End of Magic was launched in the UK in February and I got in touch with a couple of bloggers who had offered to review, but hadn’t posted anything. Immediately, I got a result…

The good news is I’ve had some very positive responses from the other bloggers I contacted. A few weren’t taking reviews (despite the Ed Cox and Mike Shackle blog tours… but that’s what a big publisher gets you!), and a Grimdark blog had the cheek to tell me that it wasn’t for their readers (!!).

When will these reviews go live…? God knows. A few of them post their TBR piles online and they’re swamped. I’ve told them I’ll be happy with anything between now and Christmas.

Next on my list was to start building my newsletter numbers. I was lucky enough to get a proof of the new Joe Abercrombie novel from my friends at Gollancz. I loved it, said so on Twitter, and got a great response from fellow fantasy fans. I had finished with the proof, so I could give it to a charity shop, maybe? Or… I could give it away online to people who subscribe to my newsletter!

This wasn’t officially sanctioned by the publisher, but I have a copy of the hardcover on order from Waterstones, so I figured what the hell, created the giveaway and added the Tweet to my original review…

Joe retweeted the giveaway without any prompting from me and the result at the time of writing has been…

… which is nice. Lots of new fantasy fans who might be looking for something read after Joe’s book.

To be in with a chance of getting your hands on it, simply sign up to my newsletter here before 23:59 UK time on Saturday 31st AugustFull terms and conditions are here. Good luck!

After last week’s FB video (did you know I also put a video version of these blogs on my FB author page…?) Sam Missingham – my guardian angel of marketing – got in touch to tell me about Story Origin, who run book and newsletter swaps for indie authors, much like Bookfunnel, though, unlike Book Funnel, Story Origin are currently FREE.

Rather than just fill out the form I interviewed Story Origin’s founder Evan Gow for the podcast to find out how it all works. It should go live as an exclusive for our Patreon supporters next week.

The interview inspired me to get started, and I’ve been accepted for a group promo. This means I give away my short story – How Drust Krax Lost Two Fingers – as part of a group of similar authors to gain newsletter subscribers. It starts on Thursday, so I’ll report back on how it went next week.

Sam Missingham also featured me on her first webinar for The Empowered Author last week. It was a fun session, discussing book sales and marketing and this very quest, and I’ll post a link to the Youtube video when it goes live. Thanks, Sam! Once again, if you’re an author and you’re not following Sam on Twitter or The Empowered Author, you’re really missing out.

I also realised that I hadn’t let my Unbound supporters know about this. 279 gorgeous and wonderful people supported The End of Magic on Unbound and I’m able to contact them via the book’s dashboard. I rattled off a message asking them to spread the word and maybe leave a review on Amazon/Goodreads. These posts are sent via email and need to be review by Unbound and we’ve just had a Bank Holiday weekend in the UK, so it probably won’t go out for a couple of days, but I’m hoping a few of them might say something nice online.

So, how many sales have been driven by all this hard work? Drumroll, please…

Well, no one said this would be a get-rich-quick scheme… but none of my efforts last week will have the immediate impact of, say, an expensive Bookbub ad. I’m planting seeds, folks, planting seeds…

The KU page reads are up and down…

I did get some good advice from my friend Ian W Sainsbury over on FB and here’s the conversation we had…

He’s absolutely right, of course. This is something we discovered when pushing Back to Reality this year. You need a series to really make this work. And, as I’ve hinted at there, I am working on a brand new series.

I also got a couple more wonderful five-star reviews on Amazon UK…

Those both truly made my day… But I’m still stuck on 6 reviews in the US…

Honestly, with whom must I copulate to get a review in the States?? (Not that I’m desperate or anything).

Here’s a summary of last week’s sales…

Kindle units sold: 2

POD Paperbacks: 0

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 489

Royalty: $4.06

Advertising spend total: £0

And here’s the running total…

Kindle units sold: 98

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 9077

Royalty: $46.98

Advertising spend total (since 9th July): $464.00 (and £105.81 in GBP)

AMS: $99.92

Bookbub: $272.70

Still 902 units to go!

That’s a little over 7 a day between now and Christmas.

Thanks again for all your messages of support and to everyone who’s bought the book or spread the word.

If you would like to help, then please do any of the following:

Buy a copy here in the US, or here in the UK

Tell your friends about the book

Leave an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads

I still only have six reviews on Amazon.com. They’re good ones, for which I’m very grateful, but ideally I need at least 20+. I like my reviews to grow organically and they have to be honest, so if you’re American and have read The End of Magic a few kind and honest words will go a long way.

If you have any thoughts or comments on what I might be doing wrong, do please leave them below! Until next week…

The End of Magic challenge, week 6

On 9th July I made a big ol’ pubic declaration to sell a thousand copies of my fantasy novel The End of Magic by Christmas, and I promised to keep folks in the loop with the ups and downs of sales and marketing with a weekly update.

A few caveats…

  • I can only do this in the USA… Unbound have the UK rights and I have no visibility on sales other than the twice yearly statements.
  • I’m going to stick with Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.
  • I’ll be counting both Kindle and Paperback sales.
  • Here’s week six!

Not much to report this week as I was mostly at Worldcon in Dublin, but a Facebook ad with a video was running in that time (here it is)…

… and here are the resulting sales…

Not a sausage! And here’s the FB ad analysis…

Well, that’s thirty-four quid I won’t be seeing again!

There are no quick fixes here. I’ll look at the ad and see how I can improve it, but I’m losing faith in the ads approach. I spent much of yesterday contacting bloggers to review the book, and I’ll continue to do that today. Reviews and word-of-mouth are essential for a book like this, and it’s working already…

A big thank you to Andy at ebookwyrm for that!

And I was over the moon to get this review on Amazon UK from the wonderfully-monikered Masked Marauder…

Here’s a summary of last week’s “sales” (note the air quotes!)

Kindle units sold: 0

POD Paperbacks: 0

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 1023

Royalty: $0

Advertising spend total: £34.77 (Facebook)

Yes, some folks are still reading it on KU, which is nice…

And here’s the running total…

Kindle units sold: 96

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 8588

Royalty: $42.92

Advertising spend total (since 9th July): $464.00 (and £105.81 in GBP)

AMS: $99.92

Bookbub: $272.70

Still 904 units to go!

That’s a little over 6 a day between now and Christmas.

Thanks again for all your messages of support and to everyone who’s bought the book or spread the word.

If you would like to help, then please do any of the following:

Buy a copy here in the US, or here in the UK

Tell your friends about the book

Leave an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads

I still only have six reviews on Amazon.com. They’re good ones, for which I’m very grateful, but ideally I need at least 20+. I like my reviews to grow organically and they have to be honest, so if you’re American and have read The End of Magic a few kind and honest words will go a long way.

If you have any thoughts or comments on what I might be doing wrong, do please leave them below! Until next week…

The End of Magic challenge, week 3

On 9th July I made a big ol’ pubic declaration to sell a thousand copies of my fantasy novel The End of Magic by Christmas, and I promised to keep folks in the loop with the ups and downs of sales and marketing with a weekly update.

A few caveats…

  • I can only do this in the USA… Unbound have the UK rights and I have no visibility on sales other than the twice yearly statements.
  • I’m going to stick with Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.
  • I’ll be counting both Kindle and Paperback sales.
  • Here’s week three!

Oh dear… oh deary dear… I somewhat dropped the ball this week. In my defence, I’m on holiday and have been mostly reading and napping. I highly recommend it for one’s mental health, but it’s not conducive to sales.

For those of you keeping track, I had intended to try a little more advertising last week with a Bookbub campaign aimed at both the US and the UK to drive visibility. There was a hitch however. When checking my links I got this when checking Apple Books…

Oh, bugger…

I got straight on to Unbound, my UK publisher, who promised to fix it, but it took them nearly a week to do so (it was sorted overnight last night). It was, if you’re interested, a “a playorder error in the toc.ncx document in the epub”. So there.

This delay — along with the reading and napping — meant there was no targeted advertising activity from me this week, apart from the tick-tock of AMS ads. Once again, the VE Schwab ad got me a couple of sales…

However, I did continue to get a few residual sales which I suspect came from the book’s inclusion in the newsletters of the wonderful Ian Sainsbury and Andi Cumbo Floyd.

Here are last week’s sales…

Nine… Nine!!

Not great. The peak came from Ian re-sending his email. I also got a few extra followers on my newsletter, which is very handy. On the upside, the KEDP page reads are still on the rise…

By my reckoning a fair few KU readers got through the book this week…

What’s next? Well, I suspect next week will be similarly flaccid as I’m still on holiday and still reading and napping (really, it’s a fantastic way to live), though I do still have a squeeze page on my to do list. More on that next time. Maybe. If I can get out of the reading/napping cycle.

Here’s a summary of last week’s sales

Kindle units sold: 9

POD Paperbacks: 0

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 2349

Royalty: $3.15

Advertising spend total: $12.35

AMS: $12.35

Bookbub: $0.00

And here’s the running total…

Kindle units sold: 65

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 3151

Royalty: $28.01

Advertising spend total (since 9th July): $233.59

AMS: $35.90

Bookbub: $197.69

A piffling 935 units to go!

That’s a little over 6 a day between now and Christmas.

Thanks again for all your messages of support and to everyone who’s bought the book or spread the word.

If you would like to help, then please do any of the following:

Buy a copy here in the US, or here in the UK

Leave an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads (this new review just went live on Amazon UK and made my day!)

Tell your friends about the book

If you have any thoughts or comments on what I might be doing wrong, do please leave them below! Until next week…

Are you looking for feedback on your novel or screenplay? sending to agents? I offer all kinds of services for writers at all stages in their careers. There are more details here and get in touch now for a free ten minute Skype consultation and a quote.

The End of Magic challenge – week 1

Last week I made a big ol’ pubic declaration to sell a thousand copies of my fantasy novel The End of Magic by Christmas, and I promised to keep folks in the loop with the ups and downs of sales and marketing with a weekly update.

A few caveats…

  • I can only do this in the USA… Unbound have the UK rights and I have no visibility on sales other than the twice yearly statements.
  • I’m going to stick with Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.
  • I’ll be counting both Kindle and Paperback sales.

Here’s week one!

I’m starting from a position of very few sold already, so my also boughts on Amazon at the start of the week were basically Back to Reality and a handful of self-pubbed fantasy compilations. Not much to give me a clue as to where I should target my campaign. However, there was a VE Schwab title in my also boughts, and one of the USPs of The End of Magic is that it’s a stand-alone.

I fired-up Publisher Rocket to generate a few keywords and started putting together a couple of campaigns to test the water. 

First up was the VE Schwab, which seemed straightforward enough. I figured a quote from the lovely RJ Barker would help readers click on the buy button. So far… not a sausage…

Next was the stand-alone. I used Publisher Rocket and some lists on Goodreads to draw up a list of similar one-and-done fantasy books. And the sales…? Zip.

This was slightly dispiriting, but I realise that these ads sometimes need a little time to get going and may need tweaking. I also ran ads aimed at an indie also bought (the Flame ad with the fab James Barclay quote) and one for Terry Pratchett fans (with a great quote from Julian Barr), but again no sales.

However, I knew one place where I’d had some success with Back to Reality. The mighty Bookbub and their excellent newsletter ads!

Following the instructions as per David Gaughran’s excellent Bookbub Ads Expert, I started daily campaigns. The first two were aimed at fans of Tad Williams and Brandon Sanderson. The results were poor. Just a few clicks and a handful of sales.

Then I decided to target Terry Pratchett readers. I had an excellent quote from the wonderful Julian Barr to tempt them with… 

This seemed to do the trick! Daily sales were picking up, and I had a 1.15% CTR (click through rate), which isn’t bad (anything over 1% is deemed good). I started to run this ad on a daily basis. They peaked after a couple of days, then tailed off. By then my also boughts were improving and I noticed Marie Brennan was second only to Back to Reality, so I tried a campaign targeting her readers. No sales!

That was yesterday. Today I’ve gone back to Sir Terry.

In the meantime, I’ve also been getting great support from folks on my newsletter, on social media and listeners to the Bestseller Experiment podcast. Here’s what the daily sales are so far (that peak on 7th July is when my newsletter went out)…

And here are the Kindle Unlimited pages read…

204 in total so far

And here’s a breakdown of sales and spend so far…

Kindle units sold: 37

Kindle Unlimited Pages read: 204

Royalty: $14.14

Advertising spend total: $163.07 – that’s broken down as…

AMS: $10.65

Bookbub: $152.42

Only 963 units to go!

Let’s see, a hundred and sixty-two days till Christmas (taps calculator)… I need to sell about six copies a day to make my target. That feels do-able, though at this rate of ad spend, I could be bankrupt by Halloween.

I’ve had kind messages of support and I’ve been delighted when folks tell me they’ve bought the book, or that they’ll feature me in a newsletter. These will all help and I shall be forever grateful.

If you would like to help, then do please do any of the following:

Buy a copy here in the USA, or here for the UK/rest of the world.

Leave an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads

Tell your friends about the book

Buy 963 copies for your bookclub… worth a try.

If you have any thoughts or comments on what I might be doing wrong, do please leave them below! Until next week… onwards, upwards, sideways, backwards!

A Public Declaration

We had a pivotal episode of the Bestseller Experiment podcast this week. We finally revealed if we made our target of ten thousand copies sold of Back To Reality by the end of Glastonbury weekend. You can listen here…

EP208: Glastonbury Or Bust – Did We Make It?

It’s not much of a spoiler to say that we didn’t make it. However, if failure is a teacher then we learned an awful lot. Here were the big lessons for me…

  • Write a series – It’s much more difficult to sell a standalone book using advertising tools (Amazon Merchandising Services, Facebook Ads, Bookbub, Publisher Rocket) that are best designed to sell more than one product. So guess what I’m writing next…?
  • Not being able to use AMS in the UK hurt our chances of success. Yes, I know some authors have managed to use loopholes to run ads in the UK, but that wasn’t available when we signed up. I did ask Kindle’s Darren Hardy at the London Book Fair when it might be available and he said it was coming soon, but couldn’t give a fixed date. I’m not holding my breath. Back to Reality is very British in its humour and tone — and it’s been great to get such a wonderful reaction from readers all over the world — but it would have been great to sell more effectively to our Amazon readers in the UK.
  • It might just be that I’m bad at marketing. This is very likely my biggest issue… I did the Mark Dawson course, I read the David Gaughran books, I did everything I was supposed to… but marketing is a skillset you have to develop over years, and I was hardly going to master it in a few months.
  • Genre and readers are key. Back to Reality is a little bit of humour, a little bit contemporary fiction, a little bit science fiction, and a little bit rock n roll, so pinning down one genre was nigh-on impossible. And it’s tricky trying to identify just who your readers are, especially when your “also boughts” on Amazon are mostly for non-fiction “How to write” books (a byproduct of the podcast: our first readers were our listeners who are all writers). Compared to straight-down-the-line thrillers or romance, our novel wasn’t quite as straightforward.
But I’m not complaining!

It is said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results (I guess that makes every author insane). With that in mind, I’m going to repeat this experiment with The End of Magic, but I intend to make ALL NEW MISTAKES!

We’ve long banged on about writers making public declarations on the podcast. They put a fire under your bum and, combined with a firm deadline, can spur you on to great things.

So here goes with my NEW PUBLIC DECLARATION:

I will sell 1000 copies of The End of Magic by Christmas 2019

A few caveats…

  • I can only do this in the USA… Unbound have the UK rights and I have no visibility on sales other than the twice yearly statements.
  • I’m going to stick with Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.
  • I’ll be counting both Kindle and Paperback sales.

Wish me luck! I’ll chronicle my progress here on the blog and in my newsletter. I’ve already started with a couple of AMS ads and Bookbub newsletter ads. I’ll let you know how they get on. Current sales are zero. The only way is up…

If you want to help, why not buy a copy right now? It’s right here.

Seven Books on Writing…. by Women!

There I was, feeling all kinds of smug about my new blog post on seven books on writing, getting all kinds of lovely clickthrough action, when I woke up this morning to discover that I was called out on Twitter…

Gah! Typical bloke… In my defence, this wasn’t supposed to be a definitive list of the best books, but the ones that I had found to be the most helpful over the years and for some reason I find myself – a middle-aged, flabby man – reading books by other older (and dead) flabby men . But that’s no excuse (well, it’s the only one I have), and here in a craven attempt to redress the balance are some excellent books on writing, from my shelves, written by women…

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss

This was on Julie’s Tweet above and I’m kicking myself for leaving this off, because I recall devouring this when it first came out. This book should be handed out to anyone who opens a social media account, with its clear and concise approach to punctuation there’s simply no excuse for getting anything wrong after this. With the exception of semi colons; no one knows what to do with those anymore. I also had the pleasure of driving Lynne from bookshop to bookshop to promote her book Going Loco and she’s completely delightful and not the grammar Nazi that people might think she is.

Dent’s Modern Tribes by Susie Dent

I bought this just a couple of days ago when I was lucky enough to meet Susie at the Whitstable Literary Festival. I’m reading it at the moment and it’s hugely entertaining. Susie – who folks will know from Countdown and Eight Out of Ten Cats do Countdown – has an encyclopaedic knowledge of words, but is no stick-in-the-mud. The English language evolves and twists and turns and that’s one of the reasons it has endured this long. With Modern Tribes she investigates the languages used by bankers, DJs, Hells Angels, Soldiers, Politicians and more. If you have a character that inhabits these worlds you will want this book to hand to add that extra snap of authenticity to your dialogue. Susie has written about a dozen other books on the English language and they’re all a feast.

The Pitch by Eileen Quinn & Judy Counihan

I definitely should have included this one because it has actually got me writing gigs (though sadly it appears to be out of print with no sign of an update). Eileen and Judy have decades of experience in film and TV production and this was the first book I found that dug deep into what producers and development executives are looking for when a writer pitches their work. Even if you’re not a screenwriter this will sharpen your pitching skills. I have a permanent bookmark on page 73 for the PFC: the Pitch Format Card, their essential ticklist for any pitch document.

How Not To Write A Novel by Sandra Newman & Howard Mittelmark

Yes, yes, Howard is a bloke, but this also should have been on my blog the first time round, because this is essential reading. It covers the perspective of both the author and editor when it comes to novel writing and the most common mistakes that authors make and it’s very, very funny and frank and for the first time I felt like I was reading a book by people who had sat in publishing meeting rooms and had heard the kind of despairing comments that publishers might make about some of the submissions they get. Don’t make it easy for a publisher to reject you. Buy this book.

A Feast of French and Saunders.

Barmy by Victoria Wood

I’m going to do these together as I bought these when I was in my late teens and was writing comedy sketches with friends after school. These books were some of the first sketch comedy books I ever got and I can’t begin to tell you how much learned about comedy dialogue, timing, pace and character from these. Both have moments of surrealist humour, but it’s the back and forth of dialogue that has filtered into my work. Like the Pythons, Victoria Wood and French & Saunders rarely had punchlines in their sketches, but unlike the Pythons their characters were recognisably human and incredibly funny for it.

Monkeys with Typewriters by Scarlett Thomas

Okay, I confess I haven’t read this one yet, because after this morning’s Tweets I figured I owed it to my sisters in words to go and bloody well buy a book on writing by a woman. There were a number to choose from, but I went for this because it covers everything from Plato and Aristotle to fairy tales and tragedies, and because the bookseller raved about her writing, and she lives up the road from me in Canterbury, so once I’ve read it I will do my darnedest to get Scarlett on the podcast to talk stories.

I hope that goes some little way to redressing the balance and I shall definitely look into the recommendations from Margaret and Julie as should your good selves!

If you need any help or advice with your writing, I provide writer services too. Drop me a line here for a free consultation.

Should Writers Avoid Getting Political?

Back to Reality, the novel I co-wrote with Mark Desvaux for the Bestseller Experiment podcast, has been having a good run with reviews since its publication in 2017. Folks have liked it a lot and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. To meet our rather ambitious self-imposed target of ten thousand copies sold by the end of the Glastonbury Festival (our book climaxes at Glastonbury) we’ve been dialling up the advertising and asking anyone who’s read the book to leave a review. That means I’ve been checking the Amazon customer reviews fairly regularly, and that’s when I noticed that we received our first ever one-star review for the book. At first, my heart sank a little, but then I clicked on the review and had a read and this is what I found…

For context, here’s the part of the book that the reviewer objected to. Our hero, Jo, has travelled back in time from contemporary England to ‘90s Hollywood. She finds herself on a late night chat show where she reveals that she’s a time traveller…

There are two things going on with this review. First is an inability to make a distinction between the protagonist and the authors.

This still manages to surprise some readers. To write crime thrillers, you don’t need to be a cop or a murderer, to write science fiction you don’t need to explore deep space, and you, dear writer, can write repulsive characters and not agree with their world view.

Although, for the sake of clarity, here’s where I stand on Donald Trump. The man is a misogynist, homophobic, racist, narcissistic fool and a failed businessman whose time would be better spent indulging in his sexual peccadilloes behind closed doors while the rest of try and save the planet from climate change.

In short, I’m not a fan.

But this is what writers do: we put ourselves in the shoes of these characters and try to imagine would those people might be like — and very often it can be based on personal experience — and we try to convey that in words.

As an aside, I think this is why there is such a liberal bias in the entertainment industry. Creators will try and see both sides of the argument in a story, character or situation and present them in a compelling way. That sense of fairness is very much a characteristic of liberals, especially in contrast to the meritocratic views of the right. 

The second aspect of the review is the disappointment in the reader that we’ve dragged the messy world of politics into their reading. This prompts the much bigger question: should writers get political? Sure, if you’re writing a political thriller it’s expected, but when you’re writing in an escapist genre like comedy, romance, science fiction or fantasy should the poor reader be inflicted with soap box politics? And is it worth it for the writer? Think back to The Dixie Chicks when they made disparaging comments about George W Bush and the effect that had on their sales. Isn’t it just safer to avoid any political content altogether?

Here’s the thing: all writing is political… if it’s any good.

Fiction isn’t like a family gathering where you avoid religion and politics. It should be a truthful reflection of what the creator believes, otherwise what is the point?

I’m not saying that our joke where Jo compares Trump to Hitler is some kind of profound insight into the human condition. Far from it. It’s simply the thing that stuck out for the reviewer. What that reviewer missed was the masses of other political content in the book. The themes of family, compassion, sexism, work, money and greed are threaded throughout the story, and if you don’t think those are political then you’ve not been paying attention to the world around you.

So, will we lose sales because we’ve upset some fans of Trump? Possibly. We’re hardly the Dixie Chicks, but to be honest if you’re a Trump supporter I don’t want your money. You’re going to need it when you realise you’re on the wrong side of history and need to pay for therapy.

In the meantime, I shall continue to write about the world through the eyes of characters that both attract and repulse me. It’s pretty much the only way I can make any sense of the chaos around me, especially that Trump fella… 

PS. To be clear, there are my opinions and not those of The Bestseller Experiment or my co-presenter -author Mark Desvaux…