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.

 

 

Any progress with Author Solutions?

It’s now well over a year since I blogged about Penguin taking over Author Solutions. At that time, I was wondering if the takeover would improve the way Author Solutions treats authors. It hasn’t. If anything it’s made matters worse by giving the company a sheen of respectability. But at least there has been progress on one front – the Bookseller has decided to stop taking advertising from them.

Congratulations are due to The Bookseller for acting ethically and to David Gaughran for highlighting the issue in the first place.

You can find out more at David’s blog.

Exciting news for Pony-Mad Princess fans

cover of Princess Ellie's Perfect PlanI love getting letters and emails from fans of my Pony-Mad Princess series, and many of them ask when I’m going to write another book. Until recently, I’ve said that the series was finished. I’d run out of ideas so there weren’t going to be any more Princess Ellie stories. But I was wrong. There’s now another book on the way – Princess Ellie’s Perfect Plan comes out in the UK in July.

The first Pony-Mad Princess books were published in 2004 so 2014 is a very special year for Princess Ellie. To mark her 10th Anniversary, Usborne are re-issuing all twelve books in the series with new covers and extra pages at the end that we’ve filled with quiz questions and pony facts. They also persuaded me to write a brand new story – a special Anniversary book will be published in the UK in July.

As soon as they explained what they were doing, I was keen to write the book. The only problem was deciding what it should be about. I’d used so many ideas that it was difficult to think of something completely fresh and different. I had long conversations on the phone with my collaborator, Anne Finnis, who came up with the original idea for the series. We thought about having an anniversary celebration in the book, but I’d already done that in A Surprise for Princess Ellie. Then we thought about having a royal baby, but it was difficult to work the ponies into the story and Will and Kate got in first by producing their own royal baby.

Finally, we decided to give Ellie a real problem to solve. The first book in the series brought Ellie and Kate together. Maybe this one should threaten to pull them apart. Desperate not to lose her best friend, Ellie would need to find a perfect plan to stop that happening.

You can tell from the title that this is the storyline we chose to develop. But I’m not going to tell you what happens. You’ll have to wait until the book comes out. If you want me to remind you when that happens, please join my mailing list. I’ll give you a free story to say thank you. (It doesn’t feature Princess Ellie – it’s an alternative version of Sleeping Beauty.)

 

 

 

 

Google v Authors Guild – a decision at last

It’s eight years since the Authors Guild first sued Google about scanning books and displaying snippets. During that time, the Guild claimed to be representing all authors, not just their authors, and attempted to sell us all down the river by entering into a deal with Google that would have given them permission to produce and sell our books without the copyright holders permission and would also have prevented us suing Google ourselves. The Google Book Settlement was over 200 pages long, hard to understand, very one-sided in Google’s favour and a nightmare for authors. It took a  great deal of effort and hours of time to fight but fortunately we won.

The judge who threw out the dreadful Google Book Settlement was Denny Chin – the same judge who has ruled that Google’s scanning and display of snippets is “fair use” under US copyright law. Judge Chin listened carefully to authors comments on the Google Book Settlement, even those like me who wrote him ordinary letters because we couldn’t afford to pay lawyers.

I’m sure Judge Chin was right in his decision over the Google Book Settlement so I’m happy to accept that his decision on the “fair use” issue is equally right.

Kobo, babies and bathwater

When Kobo was faced with accusations that explicit books about incest and rape were showing up on the same searches as children’s books, they had several options available. They could install a filter so that books with adult content only showed up if users opted to see them or they could stop selling books in categories that might cause trouble  until they’d been checked to see if their content was suitable for general viewing.

Instead, they opted to take all self-published books off their UK site – an action that chucked out a deluge of babies amid the bathwater. Gone were perfectly innocent children’s books like mine and other books by authors who had conscientiously followed Kobo’s own guidelines. Still in place were books about incest and rape published by traditional publishers. Lolita, for example.

Although many of the books that followed the rules are now back on sale, the effect on their authors is still there. The way Kobo and their partner, WH Smith, have put all the blame for the problem on self-publishing has damaged the good reputation that independent authors have been working hard to develop. It has also highlighted our vulnerability to random and unfair censorship and has persuaded me that relying on Kobo as the sole outlet for my epub books is no longer a good idea. Although they still claim to support self-published authors, actions speak louder than words and I, for one, am now looking for other outlets for There Must Be Horses.

If you are interested in self-publishing, you’ll find plenty of information to help you on www.helpwithpublishing.com.

 

The new Kobo pricing strategy

This morning I had an email from Kobo telling me they had changed the payments section of their agreement. I clicked the link and was horrified to see exactly what the changes were.

In order to continue to qualify for 70% of the sale price, the price of my book had to meet a set minimum for each country in which it’s for sale. That doesn’t sound so unreasonable until you realise Kobo wants me to charge at least £2.99 for There Must Be Horses  in the UK although it’s happy for me to charge the lower price of $2.99 in the US.

I was upset and took my books off Kobo as a result. But they have now contacted me and told me there was a misprint and the price should have been £1.99. That sounds much better and shows why proof reading is so important.

If you are interested in self-publishing, you’ll find plenty of information to help you on www.helpwithpublishing.com.

The pain of wanting a pony

When I was a child, I wanted a pony so much that it hurt. I was nine before I learned to ride and my one hour a week on the back of a horse was the high spot of my life. Between times, I devoured pony books and, completely ignoring my mum’s rules, I sat astride the back of the settee and imagined my own pony adventures.

The desire for a pony of my own started as soon as I started riding and was fuelled by the stories I read. The few main characters who didn’t have a pony at the beginning of the story always had one by the end. But they lived in a world surrounded by fields, where there was always a convenient orchard in which to keep the object of their desire.

We, on the other hand, lived in suburbia: row upon row of similar houses with neat front gardens and not an orchard in site. A pony was unrealisable dream, but that didn’t stop me pestering my parents for one. I even entered a competition to win a saddle in the hopes that, if I won it, they would feel duty bound to buy a pony to go under it.

Eventually my parents compromised. They would let me have a pony if I saved up enough to buy one. I suspect they thought that would let them off the hook, but they hadn’t allowed for my determination. I went without sweets and presents for a long, long time and the money I received instead gradually accumulated until finally there was enough to buy a very cheap pony.

I never got it. By the time I hit my target, my dad had developed terminal cancer and my mum faced a future bringing me up on a widow’s pension that definitely wouldn’t feed a horse as well as a growing daughter. Although I finally got a horse of my own when I grew up, childhood remained a time of dashed hopes and unfulfilled dreams.

Maybe the pain of wanting a pony was a subconscious reason for my current choice of career. After all, in Jill’s Gymkhana, it is her mother’s success at writing children’s books that finally solves the money problems associated with keeping Prince.  But whatever the reason, now I write pony books myself, I am always aware that, for the majority of my readers, pony ownership is out of the question and even riding lessons may be an impossible dream.

Partying with publishers

Contrary to what many people think, authors’ lives aren’t a constant whirl of launch parties and champagne lunches with publishers. Contact with the people who edit and produce our books is mostly by email, and the reality of an author’s life is mainly sitting alone in front of a computer, trying to put words into meaningful order.

scan0001So the arrival of my invitation to Usborne’s 40th Birthday Party caused great excitement, especially as the venue was the Orangery at Kensington Palace. The words “posh do” flew through my brain, rapidly followed by a question triggered by the dress code:  “What’s a cocktail dress?” A quick email to Usborne provided the answer so I set off to the shops.

As always, I initially met with disappointment. Designers don’t understand women with big busts. They create a dress for a flat chested size 8 and then adapt it to size 18 by increasing all the dimensions, thus producing a dress for someone who is still flat chested but fat. Honestly, it’s only my bust that strains the material. I don’t need armholes suitable for an elephant, and I don’t want something that’s the same size all the way down. Watching Gok Wan has taught me I should be proud of having a waist so I wanted a dress that admitted that I’d got one.

I finally found what I wanted in a dress agency. Retro style with a halter neck, it fitted perfectly and made me feel good. With the addition of a pink bag and some sandals that looked reasonably smart, I was all set to go. So on Tuesday 11 June, I walked nervously down the extremely long drive to Kensington Palace.

The nervousness wasn’t due to the auspicious surroundings. It was caused by my tendency to turn up to events on the wrong day. Although I had checked the invitation countless times, I still had horrible memories of turning up for a party brandishing a bottle and a happy grin only to discover I was a week late.

Once I reached the Orangery, I relaxed. There were other women in posh frocks, several of whom were changing into high-heeled shoes too precarious for the previously mentioned long walk. I obviously was at the right place at the right time.

the_knowhow_book_of_spycraft_coverAnd then we were inside, being greeted warmly by friendly Usborne staff and served wine and nibbles by waiters dressed in trench coats, hats and false beards The reason for this became clear when Peter Usborne gave his entertaining speech about the history of Usborne and revealed that one of their first books was The KnowHow Book of Spycraft.

His speech wasn’t just funny – it was illuminating. The piece that resonated most with me was “My work is my hobby and my hobby is my work”. That’s so true of writers and explains why so many of use never retire.

The Orangery was packed with fascinating people I would never normally get the chance to meet, and it was particularly enjoyable to meet so many independent booksellers. Although we’re often told they are a dying breed, the ones I talked to were definitely alive, well and fantastically enthusiastic about books.

Huge thanks to Usborne for organising such a great event. I returned home, bouncy and enthusiastic and totally sure I had chosen the right career.

Usborne have published twenty of my books so far: 12 in the Pony-Mad Princess series and 8 in the Amy Wild – Animal Talker series. There’s another book in the pipeline – more news of that later.

Help with self-publishing

Ever since I switched to self-publishing my books, I’ve been bombarded by questions from other authors thinking about doing the same. As a result, we’ve developed a new website called helpwithpublishing.com which has just gone live. It’s still in its early stages so we’d welcome feedback and suggestions on topics we should cover.

We’d also love to hear from UK-based editors, designers, illustrations and technical people who would be interested in being on our database of experts willing to help self-publishers.