Title Trouble

The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul taught me the power of a good title. As soon as I saw it, I was so intrigued that I decided to read Douglas Adam’s novel before I even knew what it was about.

Cover of There Must be horsesAs a result, I took care when choosing the title of my first young adult book. Throughout the months it took to write, I’d called the book Sasha’s Story. However, a quick search of Amazon showed this style of title usually belongs to “misery memoirs” – books about people who have overcome horrendous childhoods.

Although Sasha is in foster care and her childhood has been pretty miserable so far, this book wasn’t about her past. It was about her future and, in particular, about her love of horses. As my target readers were horse lovers, I realised that I needed to change the title to one that would appeal to them and show up on relevant searches they made on Amazon.  I decided to concentrate on the keyword “horse” and, after a lot of trial and error, I settled on There Must Be Horses – a title that’s worked well and proved as effective as I’d hoped.

Unfortunately, in my case, a lesson learned isn’t necessarily a lesson remembered.  When I published my children’s novel about an alien who comes to earth disguised as a green sheep, I forgot about the importance of finding the right title. I’d called the book The Green Sheep while I was writing it so, without thinking hard enough, that was the title I used when I published the book towards the end of 2014,

I soon realised my mistake. My book didn’t show up at the top of Amazon searches for “green sheep” because there’s a picture book called Where is the Green Sheep? and there’s The Little Green Sheep range of organic baby bedding. Worse still, it didn’t show well on searches about aliens, and there was nothing about the title to suggest the book was funny science fiction.

alienkindlecoverThe obvious solution was to change the title to Alien Sheep,  and I found a useful article by Joanna Penn describing how easy it is to do. I was encouraged by her success and thankful that I’d used print-on-demand for the paperback so I didn’t have a pile of unsold books with the old title. However, just as I’d decided to go ahead with the change, the  book was shortlisted for and eventually won the children’s category of the Rubery Book Award. As that was under its original title, I decided to delay the change until 2016, just to be sure.

I finally started the change this month, and it took far less time than I’d expected. Changing the title of the ebook was ridiculously easy. I just had to replace the original cover and content for The Green Sheep with the new ones for Alien Sheep, complete with updated copyright info, and change the title and publication details in my KDP account. I also updated the book description to make it clear that Alien Sheep was originally published as The Green Sheep to avoid anyone accidentally buying it twice.

The print book was slightly trickier as it’s not possible to change the title of a book once it’s been allocated an ISBN. I had to write to Createspace and Ingram Spark to ask them to turn off the original book and then upload a new edition on both systems with a new ISBN. (For this book, I’m using Createspace to supply Amazon, and Ingram Spark to supply wholesalers and other bookshops.)

Time alone will tell whether the change was worthwhile, but I’ve enjoyed doing it. I like the new title and the new cover. I also like the fact that, as an independent author, I can take my time, fix my mistakes and experiment to see what works.

Hopefully, with the next book, I’ll get the title right first time!

Do you believe you can’t do maths?

Long before I became at author, I was a maths teacher and, since I left the classroom, I’ve helped quite a few people with maths on a one-to-one basis. Over the years, I’ve heard the phrase “I can’t do maths” many times, but the people who said it were always wrong. Their problem wasn’t that they couldn’t do maths – it was that they had not been taught it well enough.

That wasn’t necessarily the fault of their teachers. I know from experience how hard it is to give individual attention to each student in a large group. You have to decide to move on to the next topic when most of the class understand what they are doing – you can’t hold them all back because one person has failed to grasp a new topic or has fallen behind because they’ve ill.

That doesn’t matter in many subjects. You can still learn about the Second World War, even if you’ve failed to learn about the first one. Not having read Private Peaceful doesn’t stop you studying Of Mice and Men and, even in science, you can learn about plant reproduction even if you haven’t mastered human nutrition.

Maths doesn’t work like that. The individual topics build on each other like bricks in a tower so, if one of the lower bricks is missing, the higher ones wobble or fall down completely. Then another difference between maths and other subjects kicks in: it’s possible to get it completely and utterly wrong. There is nothing as effective as a page full of crosses to make a student declare “I can’t do maths”. Continue reading

Is this why Kindle Unlimited affects sales?

Cover of There Must Be Horses

Several months after the introduction of Kindle Unlimited, several indie authors have blogged about the way their sales have dropped while they were in the system and picked up again after they left.

I’ve noticed a drop too. In fact, while the ebook of There Must Be Horses has been in Kindle Unlimited, it has  often sold slower than the print edition – a situation that is not usually the case.

It’s easy to assume that the drop in sales was due to readers borrowing the book instead of buying it. If that were true, I’d expect the number of borrows to be roughly equivalent to the drop in ebook sales, but it’s not. It’s much lower, and the income from borrows isn’t enough to make up for the lost revenue on Amazon, let alone the lost sales from other outlets because the book had to be exclusive to Amazon in order to be on KU.

It was only the other day that I noticed something about books in the KU library that may be significant: they are listed on search results with a price of zero for Kindle Unlimited. The real price does show below it, but you naturally read the zero first and may not even notice the other number.

Amazon is probably hoping that this will lure people into joining Kindle Unlimited. However, it could also be having several less desirable effects.

  1. People who see the zero and think the book is free will be disappointed when they find it isn’t. As a result, they may neither join the library nor buy the book.
  2. The real price automatically looks expensive when compared with the zero offer.
  3. The zero may put off potential readers who equate free with poor quality.

Indie authors know that price is important, and we put a lot of thought into how much to charge for our books. However, the current way of listing prices for books in Kindle Unlimited my be restricting the effectiveness of our pricing strategies because the real price is less obvious.

All the above is just a theory based on my own experiences with amazon.co.uk and, like all theories, it may be wrong. But it would certainly explain the way sales pick up again after books come out of Kindle Unlimited and start having their prices listed in the usual way.

Looking forward to 2015

lowresgreensheepcoverFor the last few months, my time has been swallowed by home educating our granddaughter who has been too ill to go to school. But she’s now back at school part-time so I can get back to writing.

I haven’t been completely idle during that time – I’ve published The Green Sheep – but I haven’t created anything from scratch. So my New Year’s Resolution is to be a proper writer and tackle fresh projects. I’m starting with a pantomime for our local theatre. Then I’ll have to work on something completely different, but I can’t decide what that should be.

The options so far are

  1. Another story about Sasha and Meteor (from There Must Be Horses)
  2. A new horse story, not featuring Sasha and Meteor.
  3. A young adult fantasy with horsey connections but not actually about horses
  4. A book for homeschoolers about algebra.
  5. A book for writers about creating plots.
  6. A series of short novels about a world with dragons

As you can see, my head is teeming with ideas. I’d welcome your opinion on which ones to work on so please add a comment to tell me what you think.

Choosing a publishing name

When I first decided to self-publish, I was faced with a dilemma. Should I create a publishing imprint or publish under my own name? Much of the advice on the internet suggested I should create an imprint, but mostly that was to set myself up as a business and I’ve already done that. (I’ve been registered as a sole trader for tax purposes since I first started earning money as a writer.)

I was also keen not to hide the fact that I was self-publishing and I couldn’t see another reason to have an imprint name. So I self-published There Must Be Horses under my own name and don’t regret doing so. However, I have found that it looks odd in reviews, especially the ones in magazines where they just the title, the author and the publisher so my name shows up twice in swift succession. It also looks slight odd on the title page if I follow the traditional system of putting the author’s name under the name of the book and the publisher’s name at the bottom of the page in smaller type. That’s why all my future books will be published under the name of my own imprint: Kubby Bridge Books. In case you’re wondering, I don’t live near Kubby Bridge and don’t think such a place exists. The name came from playing around with my horse’s name and the name I use for larping (live action roleplay). I originally used it as a username in an online game and liked it so much that I decided to use it for my books.

I’m delighted that this change hasn’t cost me anything. Nielsen were happy to add the imprint to my account so I can still use the ISBNs I originally bought under my own name. It will deal with the problems I’ve discovered, but I’m still being upfront about self-publishing – the copyright page will make it clear that the imprint belongs to me.


For more information on writing, publishing and marketing books, visit my other site at helpwithpublishing.com.

Partying with Princess Ellie

Ist July was publication day for Princess Ellie’s Perfect Plan, the much requested 13th book in my Pony-Mad Princess series. So I’ve had a double celebration recently – the publication of the new book and the 10th anniversary of the series itself. To mark both occasions in an appropriately horse way, I sponsored the first ridden pony class at the Royal Isle of Wight County Show and invited Anne Finnis (the person who originally thought of the series) to come down from London to watch the event with me.

IMG_20140627_162708925Anne and her husband arrived on the Friday evening, so we started celebrating with cake and champagne. I’d baked the cake myself and, although I’m not the world’s best cook, it tasted okay.

We had to be up early on the Saturday because I was giving Princess Ellie books to the competitors in the leading rein class which started at 8.30. I really admired them for managing to look so smart so early in the morning. This is the young lady who came second. For some reason horse and pony classes at the County Show gives blue rosettes for first and red for second, although most places do it the other way around.

IMG_20140628_085909581Next in the ring were the two competitors for the First Ridden Pony class. Everything went well until a tractor starting up near by and frightened one of the ponies so much that he misbehaved and dumped his rider on the ground. Luckily she wasn’t hurt and I gave her a book to cheer her up. That left the one remaining pony as the winner, but he was so lovely that I’m sure he would have one even if there had been a dozen other ponies. His name was Huey and he also won the leading rein class too so he ended up with a championship rosette as well. You can see it on Jack’s jacket.

IMG_20140628_091908749IMG_20140628_091950875His sister rode Huey in the first ridden pony class and you can see her rosette on her jacket. It had “The Pony-Mad Princess” on the ribbon tails because I’d sponsored the class.

After the two classes were over, I’d finished my official role of handing out prize books so we went to explore the rest of the show. It was a lovely event, full of animals and country activities. The falconry display was fascinating – one of the birds flew so low over my head that its wing brushed my hair.

We thought it would be good to try some of the activities but pole climbing looked much too scary. I felt much safer  milking a cardboard cow.








My publisher, Usborne, had asked us to post pictures of the day on Twitter, but it’s difficult to look at photos on a mobile phone in full sun. In the end, we solved the problem by hiding under my coat which earned us some strange looks from passers-by.

tweeting in sunshine

Tweeting in sunshine



Let’s get the facts straight about Hachette and Amazon

Amazon and Hachette are currently locked in a dispute over how they work together and, as part of that dispute, amazon.com has increased delivery times and reduced discounts for Hachette books. No one outside the two companies knows the exact details of their negotiations, but there is no shortage of articles complaining about the way Amazon is behaving. Many of these are presenting the situation as a David and Goliath battle and painting Amazon as a monopoly that acts against the interests of authors and literature in general.

These articles ignore a few basic facts:

  1. This is not a battle between David and Goliath. This is a negotiation between two multi-national companies and Hachette is definitely not a David. It’s one of the five huge companies that dominate traditional publishing, and it’s as capable of cut-throat negotiations as any other business. In fact, it’s already been pulled up once by the US Department of Justice for illegal collusion to raise the price of ebooks.
  2. Amazon is not a monopoly. We can all buy books from a multitude of outlets, and anyone anywhere can start their own online bookstore whenever they like. Amazon’s power doesn’t come from a monopoly situation. It comes from being very good at what it does so customers like to shop there.
  3. Like all shops, Amazon can choose what it sells and it is under no obligation to stock any particular product. Supermarkets sometimes drop lines because they don’t like the terms from the supplier, and Amazon is allowed to do the same. So they don’t have to stock Hachette books at all if they don’t want to.
  4. Similarly Hachette is under no obligation to sell their books through Amazon. Not all publishers do. If they can’t agree terms, Hachette can withdraw their entire list, although their authors might be a bit peeved if they do.
  5. Amazon is not anti-author. On the contrary, it has opened up the possibilities of profitable self-publishing and freed authors from the dominance of big publishing companies like Hachette.
  6. Amazon is not anti-literature. It enables readers to enjoy backlist titles they may never have discovered any other way, and it risked its own money to develop the Kindle and the resulting ebook market.
  7. Amazon has not raised the price of Hachette’s books – it has stopped discounting them. This may sound a nit-picking difference but it’s not. The price Hachette is complaining about is the price that they themselves set. If that price is so high that people don’t want to buy the books, that’s Hachette’s fault, not Amazon’s.
  8. Publishers have complained for years that Amazon’s discounts devalue books, but they are now complaining that those discounts have stopped. So it looks as if Amazon is always wrong whatever it does, at least as far as publishers are concerned.

Hachette can muster many people to support their side of the dispute, but that doesn’t mean they are right. It just means they can shout louder. This is just a business negotiation so let’s allow them to get on with it without taking sides.


If you’re interested in writing and self-publishing, visit my Help with Publishing site.

A new use for old stories

cover of Stories for IllustrationLike most authors, I have stories that are hidden away in a drawer or on my computer. Some have never been published. Others have been published in the past, but are now out of print.

Self-publishing provides a wonderful way to give new life to stories, and I’ve done so successfully with Perfectly Pony – a collection of pony stories and facts for readers of 7+. But it’s much more difficult to do with picture book texts because I only have the words, not the pictures.

So I set to wondering who might appreciate pictureless picture books. The first group that came to mind were sleepy children, lying back on the pillow with their eyes closed. They could listen to my stories and make their own stories in their heads.

Then I realised there was another group who might want them even more – would-be illustrators who wanted to try bringing a story to life with pictures. Why not make my stories available for them to practise on at college, school or home? And maybe they could also be used by teachers who wanted to trigger their students’ creativity.

That’s the idea that triggered Stories for Illustration – a selection of five of my picture book texts complete with tips on illustration and permission to copy them and use them in class and in portfolios. I’ve put gaps in the text to show where the page turns might go and added tips at the end of each story that look at particular issues the illustrator needs to consider. And of course, they are still fine for reading aloud to those sleepy children.

I’ve no idea how many I’ll sell and I don’t really care. What matters to me is getting my  stories out of the drawer and back into the world where they can be read.

Buy paperback from Amazon
Buy Kindle ebook from Amazon
Buy epub ebook from Apple itunes

Trying Kindle Countdown

Cover of There Must be horsesI’m always keen to try different marketing techniques so I’m currently experimenting with a Kindle Countdown deal for There Must Be Horses.

To do this, I first had to put the book on Kindle Select which involved taking it off the Kobo shop so it could be exclusively on Amazon for three months. This wasn’t a big problem as I only get a tiny proportion of my sales through Kobo and I’m still cross with them over the way the dealt with the WH Smith crisis.

Once I’d done that, I just had to set up the Countdown deal. I chose to run two simultaneously – one in the US for 99c and one in the UK for 99p. I also set up a promotion on ebooksoda which is a new promotional site and newsletter that seems well run and is free at the moment.

The Countdown system works well. It’s easy to use, and it provides useful statistics to help you see how well the promotion is going. Plus the countdown ticker on the book’s page gives potential customers an incentive to buy immediately.

I’m now on the fourth day of the promotion and sales are definitely up, with the majority of the increase in the UK. The numbers aren’t huge, but the extra sales are having a welcome effect on the sales ranks. (The book is currently number two in two categories on amazon.co.uk.)

Discovering my author brand

picture of people on the course

Here’s the course photo. I’m the one in the blue top.

Last week I spent an enjoyable day on a course in London organised by Usborne, who publish my Pony-Mad Princess books. There were only four authors (including me) working with Justin Somper and Phil Norman from AuthorProfile so we all got plenty of individual attention. And I needed that when it came to deciding on my author brand.

The other three authors were all on their first book so the themes of that story helped decide their brand. But I had a trickier task because the range of books I’ve published is so wide. There are more than forty so far including picture books, early readers, chapter books and a novel for older readers plus non-fiction books on subjects ranging from rainbows to special effects.

Justin encouraged me to focus in on the core of a selection of booksmy writing to see if I could find a common theme in my fiction and, to my surprise, I did. I now realise that all my stories are about  family, friendship and the power of love. So that was the first part of my brand sorted out.

The other part involved thinking about me rather than my writing. As soon as I started focusing in on myself, I immediately came up with the animals I love most – horses. But Justin encouraged me to think more deeply, asking lots of searching questions about my relationship with my favourite animals and how that relates to my writing. By the end of the session, he’d picked out three important phrases for me to remember. So I am:

  • the little girl who never got a pony
  • the author who bought a horse to help research her novel
  • the author who deliberately chose an imperfect horse

So I was able to come home confident that I now I know who I am. Thanks Justin and Phil for a great course. I loved every minute.