Wednesday 5 March 2014

Selling ebooks without promoting - Karen MacLeod tells how she did it.

My Guest Blogger today is novelist Karen MacLeod. Karen has been successful at selling her novels as ebooks with virtually no promotion or advertising. Or maybe that should be no 'virtual' promotion or advertising. 

I asked her to tell us how she achieved this without tweeting, blogging or promoting on Facebook.

Karen, you write mainly historical novels set in the 16th century - tell us a little bit about them and why you are attracted to this particular period.
I have three historical books - the Warbeck Trilogy. The first, Doubtful Blood, is a lengthening of a novella I wrote years ago from my own research and the other two followed naturally out of my protagonist’s life, unplanned. 

Cover of Doubtful Blood
I’ve been fascinated by the sixteenth century since I was a child. I had knowledge and heaps of books on the period already, so it was only a case of buying a few more particular ones (and I still do – can’t go past a bookshop…) 

Why did you decide to self publish your books? What has your experience of self publishing ebooks been like?

I had submitted novels and had compliments from publishers and agents, but no one was taking and the difficulties for unknown authors were getting worse in the economic downturn. Barbara, who had put her books onto Kindle, suggested I might like to too. She did the technical bit and the fabulous covers. 

It’s very exciting, but varies so much. If I have a good sales day, it’s brilliant. A bad day makes me think that the publishers who rejected me were right. I can’t tell whether the readers are reluctant or the sales reports are slow in coming through. 

All I know is that readers who like my type of books also like tennis. Televised tournaments reduce sales. Last Wimbledon was wonderful in terms of Andy Murray and depressing in terms of sales. I got my first double figures in a fortnight on the day it finished, so that seems conclusive. 

Are you pleased though, with the number of sales you have achieved?

My last day without a sale was in September 2012 and I’ve had thirty plus sales on several days, so yes. My best ever month was last August, presumably due to holiday reading. 

It took sixteen months to reach my first thousand but accelerated so I've now had over six thousand sales. Kindle authors don’t have the publicity department of a publishing house behind them so every sale is precious. And the idea that my work might be distracting people from their worries is very satisfying

Many writers believe it's necessary to constantly promote, to blog and tweet, to be active on Facebook and suchlike. How much of this, if anything, have you done?

Cover of Deverell GatehouseVery little, despite Barbara’s urging me. I work full time, so don’t really have the opportunity. Plus I want my work to be well known, not me. 

So, are you a technophobe? Do you think you could reach more readers by more promotion, advertising etc? Or do you think it's a waste of time?

Not a waste of time; one blog reader might tell lots of others. I just have a feeling that most of my readers are older and wouldn’t be reading blogs. Or I might be making two incorrect assumptions in one sentence. 

So what's your secret? How do you account for your success with almost no online promotion? Did you do any other advertising and was that successful, worthwhile? And did the discovery of Richard III's bones help do you think?

The discovery helped; the month it was confirmed was my first to reach three hundred sales. 

The e-books carry blurbs for my other books. A work colleague kindly created a website for me off her own bat but my only formal advertising was for my trilogy. 

My protagonist is the grandson of Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be the younger of the Princes in the Tower supposedly murdered by Richard III. If Perkin was the prince, then Richard III could not have murdered him as the Tudors alleged.

I put an advert in the Ricardian Bulletin, the magazine of the Richard III Society, of which I’m a member. It got straight to people who already knew who Perkin Warbeck was and were fascinated by his claims and by the period.

Another Society member, a complete stranger, wrote in to a subsequent Bulletin saying she hadn’t read such good fiction in many years. At that point, eleven months after the trilogy went online, the sales began to climb and continued to do so, I assume by word of mouth to readers who are not Society members. 

So yes, that advert was worthwhile. There’s nothing like an unsolicited testimonial. I’d love to meet that lady some day and thank her. 

Tell us something about your current writing project. Do you have a deadline? Do you intend to submit to agents or will you self-publish again?

I’ve begun a second timeshift/ghost story. My first timeshift novel Deverell Gatehouse was inspired by a stay in a haunted medieval gatehouse - we didn’t know it was haunted until we stayed there or I don’t think I’d have gone, but I got a book out of it. 

This second ghost story is about James IV of Scotland, the king who died bravely at Flodden. I’ve no deadline and think I’d self publish rather than submit to agents. 

And anything else you'd like to add?

I’ve just brought out an omnibus version of the Warbeck Trilogy and am holding my breath for the effect on sales. Self doubting as ever! 

Cover of the Omnibus Edition of The Warbeck TrilogyLastly, I like to thank my husband, Alan Richardson, who understands why I write since he’s a playwright himself, my fellow members of Visible Ink Writing Group, who also understand, Flora for her website and, most of all, Barbara, for her kindleship/script reading at short notice/nagging and general encouragement.

Thanks for the kind words, Karen. I hope sales continue to rise - and good luck with the Omnibus.

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