Sunday, 8 May 2011

Desperate writers with cunning plans...

Unpublished authors are a pretty desperate lot. This became clear to me in the later stages of Authonomy, Harper Collins' site for writers, where some members would do anything, it seemed, to scrabble their way to the Desk and win a review by an HC editor. Swap backing, creating sock puppets, grovelling flattery, backing hundreds of books a day, and spamming the entire site all became common. It was a refreshing change to move on to Amazon, where the stakes are real and paying customers don't have an axe to grind; if they like the look of your book they will buy it, simple as that.

So I do a bit of eye-rolling when I see people attempting to game the system. It makes them look sad, and it doesn't work except in the very short term. Today on Kindleboards, a writer started a thread offering to buy the books of the first twenty posters, as long as they bought her book in return. She's had plenty of takers, all, in Mark Twain's phrase, trying to make a precarious living by taking in each other's washing.

Another author a couple of months ago offered to repay the cost of her ebook, if buyers emailed her with proof of purchase, thus effectively buying her own book in an attempt to get it high in the charts (it's now around the 33,000 mark).

And among the tags on my books I've found other writers' names or book titles, presumably put there in the hope of gaining exposure. Hey ho. Have these people no shame?*

*Er, no, they don't, in case you are in any doubt about the answer to my rhetorical question.


  1. I guess you can't blame people for trying.

    In similar vein some very high-profile bloggers offer reviews of commentators' works in return for getting their blog retweeted, linked to and otherwise promoted.

    All very unseemly.

    Authonomy, despite recent changes, remains a back-scratchers' paradise, and inevitably some of those then move on to Amazon and try similar tactics.

    But at the end of the day we all need to promote at some level to get our works noticed.

    It's a matter of balance and integrity. As ever, Lexi, you manage both with aplomb.

  2. My god Lexi, that is an amazing coincidence barely twenty minutes ago I was reading the same sort of offers in Amazon's Kindle set up. You scratch my back and ...well modesty forbids any further mention. Considering that I have just this weekend published my novella(The Liberties of London) on Kindle and was exploring the options to promoting and marketing. I soon found a number of less than savoury or in my opinion useful plans. I believe a number of them to be downright foolish actually, and seem to imply that a well written novel isn't neccessary. I would have thought that in these days of sample downloads that was even more essential than before. Anyway good luck with Replica.
    Regards Greg

  3. Mark, there are two tags on Sugar & Spice, The Child Taker and Conrad Jones - is this helpful as the books have something in common, or not? The books/authors who tagged my book weren't at all in my style.

    Gregory, one thing one can be sure of, is that Amazon does not welcome attempts to game its systems, and will act directly they notice anyone managing it.

  4. Lexi - it's everywhere!! Even in the cosy world of blogging!! Everywhere!!

    Make it stop, please! LOL!!

    Take care

  5. Alas, Kitty, you overestimate my powers.

    You could try Fairy Hedgehog, she has a magic wand :o)

  6. Fabulous sales figures Lexi. May I ask how the sales split between UK and US?

    I think a good way to promote books for new authors is to have a web site containing free material (like your dragon books) and then post on as many relevant blogs as possible, making your name a link to your site.

    Setting the price low for the first book, then gradually increasing the price to search for the extremum, where total return (price x sales) maximizes, seems an excellent strategy.

    Looking at your prices, I see that I may be teaching grandma to suck eggs though! :lol:

    Actually, when reader are hooked I think they will pay almost any price, assuming they have the spending money.

    I also think that the depths that some will sink to in order to sell books is becoming a little embarrassing.

    I fully expect to see Lady Godiva back in Coventry soon, displaying a book! *grin*

  7. Q, I sell much better in the UK, particularly with Replica, which the Americans have not yet taken to their hearts (or possibly haven't noticed).

    I think it takes years to really hook your readers, so they will gladly buy any new book, and won't forget you in the gaps between books. For this, one still needs mainstream publication, I'd say.

  8. Thanks for the note about tags. To be honest I haven't a clue if that's good or bad. Saffi deals with all the Amazon process and I've passed on your observations.

    My location here in west Africa means I can't access Amazon direct, which BTW is why I've not yet left reviews for Remix and Replica. I will do when I go back to Europe this summer.

    We too see a small fraction of our sales to US, yet Mel Comley seems to have it down to a fine art.

    Check out
    to see our unique solution to the problem of crossing the pond.

    Too soon yet to say if it's working.

  9. Good luck with an American version. Some Americans are hugely insular ( many aren't at all, of course) and I remember one chap on MobileRead finding Remix just too puzzling for him to enjoy, so it may be just the thing.

    For me, I wouldn't like a US story with UK spellings and words. In Frasier, it always made me uneasy when Daphne, supposedly from Manchester, said faucet instead of tap which she would actually say. I also dislike updated versions of The Famous Five with anachronistic decimal currency. And modern versions of Shakespeare...

  10. Hi Lexi!

    We (well, me) have a cunning stunt too... ;-)

    Tags are a strange thing. Not sure how much bearing they have on total sales (congrats on yours btw). Like you say, there are tags on ours that have nothing to do with the book or genre and there are tags that say 'saffina desforges' on books like Stieg Larsson et al. Any reader can tag a book, not sure it makes a great deal of difference.

    Once you are in the Top 50 of a genre/chart, your book sells with reviews, chart position and word of mouth. I doubt very much that many sales are from tags.

    Blogging, however, is different. You NEED tags for your blogs, cos there ain't no chart (as such) for blogs!

    I can see how they work, but I wouldn't worry too much about them with sales like that!

    The swapping sales and review thing is also bullshit. At the end of the day, the readers aren't writers, they're readers.

    Saffi (the loud half)

  11. All I have to say is "Mark Twain was a wise man."

    Except when it came to money.

    But you can't hardly beat him for a spot-on observation of human nature.

  12. "if they like the look of your book they will buy it, simple as that."

    Well, the problem is most people's books never get found, so they're never even in a position to be judged by this criteria.

    We know the book-swap scheme doesn't work, but everybody has to figure out what *does* work for themselves. ;)

    P.S. I think traditionally published authors would be just as desperate if they had unlimited access to their sales stats (updated hourly, thank you very much!). When I see some of the Kindle sales rankings for many traditionally published books, I'm surprised how few copies they sell, at least in e-versions.

  13. Alan, I must read some Mark Twain some time. I wasn't too keen on Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as a child, but I was very young and should give him another chance.

    Lindsay, promotion is essential, but in our eagerness to flog our books it's important to hang on to a few standards, let alone our dignity :o)

    Of course you are quite right about published authors. I was astonished when Alan Sugar's publishers raised the price of his ebook while it was in the top ten, JUST as a series of The Apprentice finished. I couldn't believe a canny operator like him had let them do that - but most likely he didn't notice. The book dropped like a stone, and has only now returned to the top 100 since they've once more reduced the price.

  14. We'll just have to hope that quality wins out. It seems to be doing so with your books!

  15. Thanks, FH.

    I've just come from the Amazon UK forums, where authors repetitively promoting their books is an issue. A bit more restraint by the most determined pluggers would benefit everyone, readers and authors alike.

  16. Authonoy tricks being used on Kindleboards -never a good thing

  17. Authonomy's quite a corrupting site.

    I remember someone on the forum defending swap backings; it showed you were prepared to market your book. I asked how this translated to the real world.

    Maybe he meant something like this: a writer started a thread on KindleBoards last week where everyone bought five books; his (because he started the thread) and the four books below their post. He seemed to be getting a lot of takers.