Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Tao Of Spalding - Advice to US authors on selling in the UK

(Also posted at Kindle Boards)

Now, I don’t claim to be any kind of expert, but I have managed to sell several thousand copies of a comedy autobiography written by a complete nobody to the good people of the United Kingdom at a decent price, so I guess I might be a wee bit qualified to offer some advice about getting an audience in the UK.

Life… With No Breaks also has 14 five star reviews. Why not buy a copy for yourself and everyone in your family?


Anyway… I often see posts from US authors wondering how to boost sales in Britain and I’ve contributed here and there to them. However, because it gives me a thrill to be the ‘OP’, I thought I’d start a new thread with some pearls of debatable wisdom.

To whit:

Anywhere you have a link to Amazon US, also put a link to Amazon UK. The British are a fine, intelligent, internet savvy lot, but you’re going to get zero interest from them if you force them to click on the Amazon US page about your book. They can’t buy anything from it, and none of them will (quite rightly) bother to search the UK site for your magnum opus. They all have far better things to do with their time, like trying on new bowler hats and saluting the Queen.

Drop the hard sell. Seriously, drop it like it’s hot. It doesn’t work with us. We invented cynicism and can spot a needy indie author from a mile off. Make proper contributions to UK forums, not just spam promo blurb posts. It baffles me the amount of writers out there who expect people to part with their cash when they’ve not made any genuine attempt to communicate with potential customers. You’re a writer, so write something by thunder! Impress all those British types with your posts so much that they immediately click on the link in your signature (that goes to the UK Amazon site, right?).

Check your book for its international appeal. If you’ve written something heavily mired in Americana, there’s a good chance it won’t sell anywhere outside the US, let alone just in the UK. Change any relevant descriptions, references and themes accordingly. And if you’re not sure what those references and themes may be, and why they won't work in the UK, then do some bloody research, eh? Or don’t try and sell outside America, the choice is yours.

Covers. Hmmm…. how to put this tactfully. Go spend a constructive hour on Google comparing US book covers with UK ones…

Done? Good. Notice a difference? The UK covers look more subtle some of the time, don't they? Maybe more stylised and a tad less… er… garish? Even a bit esoteric and abstract, now and again? There’s a reason for this. It’s too long and complicated to go into here, but suffice to say it might be worth re-designing your cover with a UK audience in mind. Look at the UK covers of other books in your genre and take a lead from them. Oh, and regardless of US / UK differences, for God’s sake produce a professional looking cover. The British are even less likely to forgive a cheap looking cover than you Americans.

Be patient. You’re not going to sell tons of copies quickly. It takes weeks and months to get sales going – and don’t assume that success in the US means it’ll translate over to the UK. Our reading habits are very different. There are certain genres you’re going to struggle to sell in the UK. Cozy mysteries aren’t popular here from what I can tell, neither are hardcore American political / espionage thrillers. If you want to sell in the UK in any volume, you’re going to have to put equal time into promoting to and engaging with UK readers as you do American ones.

Everything I’ve just mentioned about the UK? Do the same for Australia, Europe, Africa – and everywhere else in the world. We’re all unique people who respond to different kinds of books and differing sales techniques. If you want to sell books to people around the world, you have to understand them and the market first. This is a lot of hard work, with the potential for very little reward. But you’re a writer, right? You should be well prepared for that! Basically, be aware of the world around you a bit more if you want it to give you its money.

Lastly, keep smiling. Even when some pompous Brit is drilling advice into you in an online forum, or another one is criticising you for bad grammar / unrealistic plot developments / terrible characterisation. NEVER be negative with a reader and never let them see you hurtin'. Keep it to yourself... and maybe go fire off a few shots in the backyard. That's what you Americans like isn't it? Guns?

All the best,


Monday, 7 February 2011

The Tao Of Spalding - On Self Publishing

(Re-posted here as I've removed the original page in a fit of e-tidiness)

It’s been several months since I set sail on the deep, dark waters of self-publishing, filled with mindless optimism and hope... but sadly lacking a compass.

In that time I’ve learned a lot about the process, cyber-met some very nice people and earned enough cash for a slap-up meal in a posh restaurant of my choice (which is very handy, as I’ve just met a new lady and need somewhere swanky to take her so she doesn’t think I’m a cheapskate).

Anyone who’s been good enough to buy and read my book Life… With No Breaks will know I’m never shy to offer an opinion – usually accompanied by a few witticisms about bodily functions, and an annoying habit of writing in paragraphs that are too short.

I thought I’d put together an article on the self-publishing milieu, during what is otherwise turning out to be an afternoon duller than Paris Hilton’s IQ.

A monumental argument rages across the web, my friends.

There are some people that will tell you:
“Self-publishing is revolutionising the publishing industry! All agents and traditional publishers will soon be out of jobs... and good riddance to the greedy b**tards! Now anyone can become a successful author - getting their books straight to the readers and cutting out the middle man! The entire traditional publishing industry is full of Nazis, paedophiles and people who think Paris Hilton is intelligent.”

And then others will tell you:

“All self-published authors are about as talented as a pile of three day old mucus. The entire self-publishing industry is one big slush pile, full of books so packed with spelling and grammatical errors that they can cause massive and irreparable brain damage if you so much as glance at the first page. Don’t buy a self-published book because people will think you’re a communist.”

The truth – as is the case in many arguments of this type- is probably somewhere in the middle.

Of the very nice people I mentioned in the first paragraph, some are genuinely talented writers. There’s at least three I can think of who are more than good enough to be successfully published traditionally, and it baffles me why they’re not.

(And if you’re one of my fellow authors reading this - then yes, of course I mean you.)

There’s a right old load of codswallop floating about out there too, but this is to be expected. If writing to a high standard was easy we’d all be doing it - and going to the same holiday resorts as James Patterson and Jo Rowling (I’ve have no idea where they are, but I bet the drinks in the mini-bar aren’t cheap).

I’ve read self-pubbed books with a good story but terrible spelling and grammar, and I’ve read technically excellent books - with stories as dead as my goldfish Spanky after I neglected to feed him for two weeks when I was fourteen.

You know what though? I’ve never read anything that made me want to throw up, kill the author, or gouge out my eyes with a rusty spoon.

There are people who have the opinion that all self-published work is universally terrible. These people are idiots, who should be ignored and never invited to parties. To dismiss an entire (and fast growing) section of the writing community is arbitrary and grossly unfair. While there are a lot of awful books about, there are also some brilliant stories that deserve attention and might not get it if this attitude prevails.

Having said that, some self-published writers need to get a grip too…

Agents and traditional publishers are not demons from the seventh circle of Hell, who sit on thrones made of bones, eating babies while deliberately dashing the hopes and dreams of every new writer who has the temerity to send them an unsolicited manuscript.

They are in it for the money, though...and I know that for some people this is tantamount to the same thing.

Fact: Agents and publishers sign up new writers all the time. How do we know this? Because new writers get published all the time. Every top selling author who can afford the drinks in the mini-bar was once a new writer that a publisher took a chance on. Anyone that tells you any different can be uninvited to the same parties as the group of idiots above.

The trick is to write a really good book that’s spelt and edited correctly.

This is the bit a surprising number of writers seem to forget about in their rush to condemn the gate-keepers of the industry.

Some writers also forget that the people you really have to be nice about in public (whatever your private opinions) are the readers. Insulting a reader – no matter how much they hated the 100k word fantasy epic you’ve slaved over for the past six years – is dumber than a bucket of spanners. Word of mouth spreads about an author as much as the books they write. Keep the punters happy, no matter what.

Of course, the people who are really happy in all of this are the cheeky executives at Amazon, Smashwords and similar, who kick-started this whole thing off in the first place.

Yes, self-publishing existed before, but it was a right ball-ache to get anything done and cost quite a lot of cash. Now, you can upload your masterpiece to the interwebs for bugger all - other than the time spent mucking about with the HTML tags and paragraph indents.

I can see in my head the meeting they had at Amazon:

Exec One: “Right, so how are we going to exploit all these mouth breathers who think they can write a book?”

Exec Two: “Er…let them upload their books for free and we take a massive cut of the royalties if they sell any?”

Exec One: “But what if the book doesn’t sell?”

Exec Two: “Doesn’t matter! There’s hundreds and thousands of the mugs out there! Even if each one only sells ten books, we’ll still rake it in!”

Exec One: “That’s brilliant! …by the way, have you seen Paris Hilton’s latest show? It’s fantastic.”

I’ve often voiced the opinion that the best thing Amazon and Smashwords could do for their authors is set up some kind of quality control system so that the best books get the best service, but this would be quite expensive and would cut into those healthy profit margins Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum are talking about above.

No matter which side of the fence you come down on in the self-publishing vs traditional publishing war – always remember that everyone involved is in it for the money.

My own personal experience of self-publishing has been a largely positive one. By my own admission, Life…With No Breaks is a weird little book and I never expected it to become a best seller - but I’ve had a steady trickle of sales and a good level of feedback. It’s been lovely to get positive reviews, and even the negative ones have been interesting to read. As a writer, all constructive feedback is welcomed - and only agonised over for an appropriate amount of time before necking a bottle of Jack Daniels and kicking the cat.

I never got into this thinking it’d make a) rich, b) famous, c) more attractive to women, or d) invited to the Amazon Christmas party. If all the authors who chose to publish using this route have that same attitude, I’m sure they’ll have fun and enjoy it as much as I have.

But becoming the next Stephen King via self-publishing? Not a f**king snowball’s chance in Hell, in my ‘umble opinion.

So what does the future hold? For me personally it might well be trying to respond to lots of angry comments about this article, but for self-publishing in general things are only going to get bigger.

Better? …the jury's still out on that as far as I'm concerned, but there's no doubt the self-published mountain of material will continue to grow as more prospective writers decide to go the route of the self-published.

As Terry Pratchett said, writing is indoor work, with no heavy lifting, so it's no wonder millions of people would like to do it for a living. They might well get to do it more easily as a hobby in the future, but earning proper cash writing isn't going to get any easier.

Agents and publishers will always exist, because whether some writers like it or not, the general public need a filter between them and authors, to sieve out the gold from the dirt. The review section on Amazon doesn't cut it and never will. Readers are very savvy and know that one man's meat is another man's poison. Traditional publishing lends an air of legitimacy and will continue to do so, ensuring the public keep buying traditionally published books over self-pubbed ones.

Having said all that, the industry needs to pull its head out of its collective arse and stop looking down on self-published authors. There's money in them there self-published hills and the first company who realises that will be able to afford all the mini-bar drinks they want in the future.

But hey… what the hell do I know, eh? I crapped myself in public once and wrote a short story about killer hedgehogs.

All the best,