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

On 9th July I made a big ol’ public 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…

Four things I learned from the publication of The End of Magic…

The End of Magic came out a month ago today!

And here are four essential “learnings” (ugh, what have I become?) from the last month…

A good launch is essential…

… but it’s only the start. The book had the most amazing launch week, thanks almost entirely to the gorgeous, wise and undeniably sexy people who had the foresight and canny knack of knowing-a-good-thing-when-they-see-it to support the book in its crowdfunding stage. When their copies arrived they shouted about it from the social media rooftops. Without doubt, this was the most exciting part of the whole crowdfunding experience: seeing them take ownership of the book and saying lovely things. And then one of them did this…

I mean, that is above and beyond… thanks, Jason…

They came to the book launch at Harbour Books and dressed up and made it a magical evening…

However, these good folk have lives to lead and cannot be called upon to sustain that kind of manic energy for long, and so it is left to you, the author, to continue to pimp yourself and the book for all eternity. You can only ride on the goodwill train for so long, and one of the biggest lessons learned from Back to Reality was that unless you continue to promote your book it’s in danger of sinking without a trace. Every week, new and splendid books come along to draw the eye of the reader, so how can you tome survive in the post-publication wilderness…?

You will need to pimp yourself

Unbound only publicise a few books, and I wasn’t assigned a publicist. It’s been quite sobering to be an author who can’t afford a freelance publicist (I was quoted two grand) and is left to their own devices. You’re definitely at a disadvantage. When I was published by Gollancz, you could be confident of reviews and coverage and festival slots because the magazines and websites know the terms of the unspoken deal: support our debuts and midlist authors and you’ll get the interviews with our big name authors… I had no such bargaining chip. However, I was lucky enough to know a few people and have had some great coverage in the likes of Starburst, BBC Radio Kent, and blogs, and I’ve managed to blag my way into various festivals. It can be exhausting, but it’s been worth it, leading to sales and more coverage.

I made Tweets like these with the Pixaloop app… https://www.pixaloopapp.com

Publishers will surprise you… 

A couple of weeks after publication I started getting messages from readers letting me know that The End of Magic was featured on a Bookbub newsletter. This saw me hurtling up the various Kindle fantasy charts and let to this little moment of happiness…

Not only that, but I was a Hot New Release (stop sniggering at the back)… and I was riding high in a number of other charts, too. Momentum was building and I had a clutch a really good customer reviews. Then…

Publishers will screw-up…

I’m planning to self-publish the book in the USA. My agent and I discussed this before we signed the contract with Unbound and I wanted to experiment with self-publishing and Amazon ads over in good old United States of America Land, and I was planning to do this after the Unbound edition had been published in the UK.

However, I got a message from a reader in New York telling me that I had been featured in an Amazon.com mailing. I checked and he was right: my book was available for sale in the US. Tut-tut, but these things happen and I dropped Unbound a line asking them to update the metadata on their feed to remove the book from sale in America.

Which they promptly did. And then someone must have ticked the wrong box, because it all disappeared from the UK, too.

For nearly 24 hours the eBook wasn’t available in the UK. I plummeted down the fantasy charts and all that great momentum was lost.

Such is life. To be fair to Unbound, these things are easily done and they responded rapidly… Ah well, easy come, easy go. 

Oh, and they put one of the chapters in the wrong place…

That was a fun weekend…

But, again, they fixed it fast and that’s all cool, but these little blips can test your nerves. Luckily I have years of experience with these kinds of screw-ups and the best advice I can offer is don’t panic, get on it fast, be clear and concise when describing the problem and never, ever refer to it as a disaster. The Titanic and the Hindenburg were disasters. Something going wrong with your book online is a minor glitch in the greater history of humanity…

What’s next…?

Nothing less than the conquest of America.

Eventually.

One of the issues triggered by Unbound’s release of my book in the US is that Amazon doesn’t believe that I retained the US rights to my book and I now have to prove it, which means sending them scans of signed contracts (which I don’t have) and getting Unbound and my agent involved. It’s a right old faff, but it will get sorted eventually.

After that I shall be using the Amazon and Facebook ad skills I’ve been developing with Back to Reality to send The End of Magic up the amazon.com fantasy charts and start earning some dosh.

Again, a huge thank you to everyone who has banged the drum or left a rating or a review online. You’re all wonderful and you should know that every time you retweet, like, leave a nice review or comment, you make an author’s day and this author will never take that for granted.

It started nearly a year ago…

My crowdfunding campaign for The End of Magic started on 14th February (how romantic!) 2018and the first pledge was from my aunt Marion. I got ten pledges on the first day… no day after that was ever that easy again! Almost 90 days of crowdfunding to reach my target, then months in the edit, copy-edit, proofread, cover design and then signing off on it and a few sleepless nights where I was sure there would be some disaster like all the pages being printed upside down.
And then last week, this happened…

My best George McFly impression…

It’s one of those moments that writers dream of and for me it became a reality and I could not have done this without the amazing support of everyone who pledged and spread the word.

I’d become used to seeing the words on a screen and so to finally get a copy in my hands and see the ink on the grain of the page was really special. And then, my social media started going crazy… 

You lot are amazing…

I’m completely overwhelmed by the amazing support I’ve had from you all. I really mean it. There’s so much crap going on in the world, but you’ve proven again and again that there are communities of readers and writers and creators who help each other out and bang the drum for new and shiny ideas.

I thank you all again, and I really hope the book lives up to your expectations.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all my years in bookselling it’s that the launch day is just the beginning. I’m going to be on the sales, marketing and publicity warpath for the foreseeable future and anything you good people can do to help spread the word would be much appreciated: pop a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or social media… let your local library or bookshop know that it’s out… stop random strangers in the street and badger them until they– Actually, you can probably skip that last one…

Whatever you can do, thank you, thank you, thank you. You’re all blimming marvellous and I really hope you enjoy the book and I promise to stop banging on about it…

Till next time…

Mark

PS. Don’t forget, there’s a launch at Harbour Books on 15th Feb at 6:30– there will be cakes, wizards and I’ll be donating a pound for every copy signed and sold to Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy!

The End of Magic is available to pre-order now…

Cover art designed by Mark Ecob: http://mecob.co.uk

And the most amazing people have been saying very nice things about the book…

Cover Reveal for The End of Magic

Behold the cover art for The End of Magic as designed by the magnificent Mark Ecob

I’m a very happy author and this is everything I had hoped for. There’s still time to pre-order and get your name (or the name of a loved/pet/significant other) in the book and you can do that by clicking here!

Getting pre-pub quotes for your novel

A few weeks ago, just after finishing the copy edit for The End of Magic, I decided it was time to see if I could get some advance quotes for the book from authors that I knew. I got some ARCs printed and converted my doc into ePub and Mobi (for Kindle) using a free bit of software called Calibre.

I had drawn up a list of authors I knew, popped them on a Google spreadsheet, and started making contact with an introductory message asking if they would be interested in reading the book and giving me a quote, while acknowledging that they are most likely deluged with such requests. I gave a deadline of the first week of December (when the book is going to print) as it would be great to have a positioning quote on the book’s cover.

A few got back saying they were just too busy, and that was to be expected (I was surprised that wasn’t the reply from everyone, to be honest!), but I was delighted to see that most replied saying they would do their best and get back to me before the deadline.

One author replied saying that they couldn’t get into the book, and again that’s fine. I wanted honest reviews and it’s always a big ask to get someone to read your novel, so I was cool with that. All I wanted was one quote. Just one I could pop on the cover. And then, this week, the quotes started coming in…

Edward Cox, author of the epic Relic Guild series, says… “Slick and entertaining, The End of Magic is powerful fantasy.”

Gavin G Smith, author of the superb Bastard Legion series, says… “Mark Stay takes the tropes of high fantasy and uses them to wield an original, compelling and intricately plotted story. With some wonderfully human characters (even the elves) and at times laugh out loud funny, The End of Magic is exactly the kind of fantasy that we need more of.”

And James Barclay, author of the classic Raven series, says… “Mark Stay’s End of Magic is the sort of book you give to people who say ‘prove to me why I should read fantasy’. It’s an intensely human novel, beautifully paced, populated by finely drawn characters and containing startling allegories to the world we find ourselves in today. It deals with tragedy, cataclysm, treachery and hope with equal skill. It asks difficult questions and answers them with clever twists, neat prose and incisive dialogue; delivering a most satisfying conclusion. I loved the humour amidst the tragedy. I was drawn in by the premise, carried along by the unfolding dramas and disasters, the hard, sometimes conflicting choices and inspired by the sheer will of the human spirit to triumph over disaster. A simply terrific read.” 

I currently have an ego the size of Jupiter and I am a very happy writer… Also, James’s email was perfectly timed as it arrived just after a note from my script agent telling me I had just been rejected for a gig, so I’m doubly pleased.

With any luck there will be a few more like this before we go to print, but if it stopped right there I would still be happy. However, I might be cheeky and chance my arm with a few more requests. Even post-publication these quotes still have great value. They position the book for the browsing reader and give the book a credibility beyond me begging you to give it a go…

Speaking of which…

Why not give a pledge for Christmas? Get a loved one’s name in a book! Click here to make someone happy (and not just me!).

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Five things I learned crowdfunding with Unbound books

After 90 days of crowdfunding I am absolutely over the moon that my fantasy novel The End of Magic is now fully funded at Unbound Books and will be published most likely in early 2019!

My agent mentioned Unbound early on in the process, and the thing that really grabbed my attention was that I would be working with the editor Simon Spanton. Simon is a legend in science fiction and fantasy. I knew him from his time at Gollancz where he worked with the likes of Richard Morgan (Altered Carbon), Joe Abercrombie (The Blade Itself) and Scott Lynch (The Lies of Locke Lamora). The opportunity to work with Simon was too good to pass up.

“Let’s do it!” I said.
“There’s a catch,” my agent replied. “You have to raise about four grand… in ninety days…”
“Me?! I can barely scrape together my rail fare, how am I supposed to raise four grand?”
“You know lots of people, you’ll be fine.”

This is how Unbound works: by crowdfunding the production and editorial costs of every book they publish, not only does the book build its own readership, but it’s also profitable on the day of publication. Very few publishers can claim that these days.

All I had to do was raise £4000 (actually about five and a half grand before VAT) in 90 days.

Like most Brits I can be queasy when it comes to just talking about money, and like most Brits I am in danger of spontaneously combusting when it comes to asking another person for money. So I knew that I would find this whole process difficult, but I seem to have become this experimental author by accident so I figured what the hell and grasped the nettle.

So, dear reader, should you dare to venture on a similar quest here are a few of the things I learned from my Unbound Crowdfunding experience that you might find helpful…

1. It’s personal

You’re going to have to contact an awful lot of people, but you must avoid any blanket blind-copy-all emails. This needs a personal touch. You need to draw up a list of everyone you know, everyone you’ve ever emailed, everyone you know on Facebook, and put them on a pledge grid (a secure one in these days of GDPR!). I created columns for:

Name
email
Contacted?
Chased?
Pledged?
Signal boost?
Notes

PastedGraphic-1-1

This will be your bible for the whole of the campaign. Save it on your desktop and open it every day, because this thing is going to take over your life a bit…

2. Set targets

After the initial flurry of pledges from close friends and family I had a first day total of 5% pledged. I reckoned that if I targeted myself 1% per day that I would make the total within the recommended 90 day period. I figured that it took an average of four or five pledges per day to make my target. Of course, not all pledges are equal (I had some options for £150, £250, £300) but the great majority would be for the paperback, so use that as your average pledge amount.

I referred to the pledge grid on a daily basis, working through the names and sending each individual a template email topped and tailed with personal details:

PastedGraphic-1-2

Some stats:

38% of my pledges came direct to the site. That is, from links that I sent to people. Only 8% came from the mailings that Unbound send to over 40,000 people. The remainder were variations on mail referalls from Facebook and email links that I sent. It became clear very early on that this book wasn’t going to fund itself!

Oh, and have a cheerleader! Someone you can brag to about your daily total and celebrate the milestones with. In my case it was Simon…

PastedGraphic-2

3. Polite persistence

If there’s anything worse than asking for money, it’s asking for it twice… or three times… or four. What started as crowdfunding became borderline harrasment.

Timing is key: if you’re writing to colleagues then don’t ask for money a week before payday when they’re skint… ask on payday when they’re flush!

And don’t be shy about asking for help when you’re close to a milestone. These were the most effective mailings and Tweets:

PastedGraphic-3

And always remember to thank them when you hit those milestones…

PastedGraphic-4

One problem that threw me was how some people struggled with the idea of crowdfunding. I’ve supported a few myself, so was already familiar with the concept, but quite a few people couldn’t get their heads around why I needed money to edit, produce and print a book (let alone write it and pay an artist and designer for the cover art). Make it clear how it works in a pithy way. Luckily, Unbound provided a handy page explaining it all.

4. Social media won’t do it alone

Very few of my Tweets or RTs resulted in direct pledges. However, there is an old marketing maxim that we have to see something at least seven times before we’re prompted to purchase, and I lost count of the number of times that people told me they were reminded to pledge after a Tweet or a Facebook update. This made their eventual pledge a combination of:

initial email + update + social = pledge.

My regular updates were key. I updated on the Unbound page, on my blog and social media and celebrated every milestone. This was a gentle way to remind those who hadn’t pledged that this thing was still a going concern. It also helped those who had already pledged to take ownership of the project: they were involved in something fun, they had skin in the game, and were as determined as I was to make it work as I work. This has been the most rewarding part of the project: having pledgers bang the drum. It’s a great feeling!

I did dabble with Facebook ads. Don’t bother. A complete waste of time and money. You’ll be better off spending that money pledging yourself!

Oh, and I have to confess that I did resort to this a couple of times. I knew that I would get a mailing from Unbound when I hit 50% and after a couple of days of non-activity I thought screw it and pledged for 5 copies (I can sign and sell them at events/conventions later). This nudged me to 50%, got me the mailing and gave the campaign a boost… Just don’t make a habit of it! It kind of defeats the object.

5. It’s not personal

Don’t be offended when people say no… Okay, allow yourself a moment a rage, but then get over yourself. Though, some of the excuses for not pledging did make me laugh:

Friend, “I don’t read fantasy fiction.”
Me, “You don’t have to read it, just gimme the money!”
Friend, “Hmm… Nah.”

Friend, “Sorry, I’m funding my own project.”
Me, “Cool. I had no idea. Let me have a link and we can pledge to each others’ projects. Let’s help each other out.”
Friend… <tumbleweed>

Friend, “Yeah, I promise to pledge!”
90 days later…  <tumbleweed>

Never forget that people have busy lives and it’s astonishing these days when money is tight that anyone hands over their money. Be grateful for every penny.

Once again, a huge thanks to everyone who pledged (some of them more than once, some of them to the tune of hundreds of pounds!), and those who spread the word, banged the drum, cornered strangers at parties, and wrote the theme tune and created a mini trailer that I used pretty much every day… okay that last one’s pretty specific, but thanks Dom!

A quick note on videos – you’re asked to produce one when you start with Unbound. I made mine with my kids and it was lots of fun, but it was only after I added subtitles that we started getting better engagement. Most people watch social media vids with the sound down, so it’s worth the extra effort…

What’s next? Well, edits, revisions, repeat and rinse, then copy edits, proofreading, choosing the cover art and then sending this baby out into the real world.

Oh, and you can keep pledging! More money means we can spend more on the cover art and finishes (spot laminate on the cover would be lovely, thank you) and of course you’ll get your name in the book. So pre-order now!

I hope you found that useful and if you have any further queries, then do please drop me a line below and I’ll do my best to answer them and good luck with your own project!

 

UPDATE: I got to speak to Unbound’s Head of Crowdfunding Jimmy Leach on the podcast, and it’s full of great info, so be sure to check it out here.

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The End of Magic is 100% funded! Now where’s my bloody book…?

It happened overnight while I was sleeping, but one of you beautiful people nudged me over the finish line with less than 24 hours to go. Here I am getting all excited after breakfast…

A massive thank you to you everyone who pledged (some of you more than once!), banged the drum and kept the faith – this has been an incredible experience and a massive learning curve.

Already I’ve had a few messages from you asking when the book might come out. Well, it is written but will need an edit, then revisions from me, then maybe a second edit, followed by more revisions, then the copy edit, more revisions, then a proof read, more revisions, and then we need to sort out the cover art and schedule a publication date.

Based on my own experience in publishing I reckon we might be looking at early next year, but I’ve yet to properly liaise with the Unbound team, so I’ll update as soon as I hear from them.

Again, thank you all and here’s to the next stage!

All the best,

Mark

PS. The funding doesn’t end here. If you haven’t pledged yet, you still can! Do it now while you can still get your name in the book.

80% and 200 backers, but I’m lost… does anyone have a map…?

The End of Magic is 80% funded! Wallop and thank you… Though I’ve not had a single pledge in the last few days, and I’ve contacted everyone I know (twice) and chased everyone who hasn’t pledged (two or three times) and what was fundraising is now bordering on harrassment! But all is not lost, and I’m hoping to make an exciting announcement very soon…

Please keep spreading the word!

All the best,

Mark

The End of Magic: 78%, 69 days and 196 backers…

Just a quick update, but another big thank you to everyone who’s pledged so far – you’re all scientifically proven to be more gorgeous, intelligent and frankly awesome than those who have yet to pledge… That’s science. You can’t deny that. Why not join their ranks and help me make it to 200 backers? Click here and hit that big blue ‘Pledge’ button.

Oh, and here’s me reading an excerpt if you like to try before you buy…

You may have seen some online chatter about this book’s editor Simon Spanton being made redundant from Unbound. Here’s the story on the Bookseller: https://www.thebookseller.com/news/unbound-makes-four-editors-redundant-due-cost-cutting-773346

Simon is a top bloke, and a fantastic editor with an incredible track record, and he was the main reason that I decided to go with Unbound for this book. I have been assured that Simon should still be able to work on the book, a) once all the redundancy negotiations are over in about a month’s time, and b) should he choose to do so.

Whatever happens, I will do everything I can to ensure that this book will be as good as it possibly can be. If you have any concerns do please leave a comment below, or drop me a line and I’ll get back to you with the answers.

Until next time, thanks again for all your magnificent support!

 

Mark