Death on D'Urville
I’m only a few weeks away now from having my third novel, Death on D’Urville, the first in the Claire Hardcastle series, ready for its public debut. Third time lucky? It certainly feels so. The experience and knowledge I’ve gained writing and producing The Lost One and Princess of Sparta mean I am much more confident about the tasks and timelines involved in the writing/revision/proof-reading/design and editing phases. I have a team of good people I know I can trust and rely on for advice, skills and expertise during each step of the process, and this in turn has given me confidence in myself as a writer. When I completed the first draft of The Lost One, I remember the terror of looking at the huge manuscript I'd produced, then an unwieldy bundle of words, and wondering what I was supposed to do with it. I was a possum in front of approaching headlights. Fortunately I received reliable and robust advice about where and how to start the revision process which managed to kick-start me into action. I know many writers attend courses and workshops which teach them these basic skills before they decide to rush out and write their first book. I’m more impatient, a natural ‘learn by experience’ person, and I figured the best way for me to grasp this new craft of writing was to actually do it and solve any problems as they arose. Never say I’m not an optimist. Subsequently of course, I have attended workshops and found them invaluable, not least because I could fit this more formal learning into the context of problems and successes I‘ve discovered during my own writing. So, now that Death on D’Urville is moving towards the final stage of production, once again the question of how and where to publish, requires an answer. I’ve attended several workshops, meetings and writer’s groups, all of which address the issue of publication. The best consensus seems to be that, in the current market, a writer who isn’t prepared to self-publish, at least partially, will never be able to establish themselves or make a financial return on their writing. Writers have more choices than ever about where and how to publish their work, they just have to be brave enough to grab them. Some self-publishers eventually sign with a publishing house. Some ‘signed’ authors discover the advantages of self-publishing. In other words, there is no established best-practice template to guide a writer trying to negotiate their way through this minefield. The only consistent advice appears to be, try every available avenue that can lead to your novel reaching your reader. To that end, I’ve been exploring the options available to the self-published author. Late last year I decided to remove The Lost One from Smashwords (where it could be accessed by Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Apple etc,) and explore whether there were advantages in exclusively dealing with Amazon and KDP Select. In return for enrolling in their KDP select programme, Amazon offers writers two promotional tools: Free Book Promotion and Kindle Countdown Deals. For a four day period in February I offered The Lost One, through the free book promotion, as a freebie on Kindle. Downloads started slowly, then took off like a rocket. Within 48 hours, the figure was at three thousand. After four days the figure had climbed, and eventually five thousand nine hundred copies of Lost were downloaded by readers. As I get wildly excited when two or three copies sell at any one time, this number of downloaded copies of my novel, now in readers’ hands, was overwhelming. Of course it would have been even more exciting if every copy had earned me a dollar, or even better, ten dollars, but that wasn’t the point of the exercise. So what did this promotion achieve? Was I ripped off, or was it successful, and if so, how? I reasoned that while the process may have earned me no dollars, at the same time, the promotion cost nothing either. Secondly, I assumed readers downloading a freebie were unlikely ever to have stumbled across my work, let alone paid for it, under normal circumstances. Net result? A large number of readers now aware of my books, my name, and the genre I write in. I can think of no advertising campaign available to me which would have generated this sort of coverage. The pay off? My ranking on the Kindle best seller lists rocketed upwards. At five o’clock one morning I discovered I was number three on the list. (This had dropped to number seven a couple of hours later. I’d had no idea how fast the levels fluctuated!) Subsequently the ranking has dropped down, but to nowhere near as lowly as position as before I promoted the work. Readers have been reviewing my book, not just on Amazon, but on Goodreads and other forum. I even stumbled on a random review on the internet. Even more encouraging, the majority of the feedback has been positive. As Amazon’s ranking system incorporates the number and quality of the ratings and reviews into its algorithms, this has undoubtedly been the reason for Lost’s improved ranking. The best spin off has undoubtedly been that interest generated by Lost has resulted in increased sales of Princess of Sparta. Do I think the exercise was worth it? Undoubtedly, and I’ll repeat the exercise again with subsequent novels I write. Which brings me back to the question of how I should launch Death on D’Urville. As I had success with the free promotion, I have developed a little more confidence in Amazon as a tool for writers. They have recently introduced a new publishing option called Kindle Scout which I am considering trying. They accept complete, ready to publish manuscripts (which includes a designed cover) and allow readers to vote on which ones they would like to have published by Amazon. Successful submissions receive a contract, a small advance and the benefit of Amazon’s marketing expertise to promote and sell the book. I would be very interested if any of my readers has tried this approach, and how it worked out for them. Otherwise I will follow the pattern of my last two books, and self-publish an eBook version through Kindle and POD (print on demand) hard copies through Createspace for those who like to purchase paperbacks. I have found privately operated bookshops have been enormously supportive to New Zealand writers, and most seem prepared to accept a few copies to put on their shelves. I know a number of readers who prefer to buy from Paper Plus or Unity, and I’m very grateful for the support. Whichever way the story goes, Death on D’Urville will be out soon, which I find very exciting.