Thursday, 20 November 2014

Doesn't time fly when you're having fun?

A year ago tonight I stood in the Reivers Fish Bar in Duns, waiting for our fish suppers and scrolling through Twitter on my mobile. Suddenly a tweet came in that mentioned me. It was from my good friend and fellow Borders writer Peter Flannery saying he'd just bought a copy of my first novel, No Stranger to Death. 

I paid for the takeaway and wandered out in a bit of a daze. I was a published author!

The last 12 months have been great. I've not made a fortune (I didn't expect to) but I’ve earned more than what I spent on the book’s cover design, editing and formatting. There have been more thrills than spills, far more highs than lows, and I feel optimistic about my future. So here’s a whistle-stop tour of what has happened and what I've learned.

A few things that have happened to No Stranger to Death
  • Has 35 reviews on Amazon UK, 32 of them 5 stars, and an average of 4.17 from 24 ratings on Goodreads.
  • Highest UK Kindle ranking at full price was 17 in Scottish crime fiction on 26th December 2013
  • Highest UK Kindle rankings on 99p Kindle Countdown Deals were 2 in Noir crime fiction, 5 in Scottish crime fiction, 7 in British crime fiction and 902 in the entire Kindle store on 27th July 2014.
  • Has sold enough copies for me to join the Society of Authors.
  • Has been awarded an Indie B.R.A.G. Medallion.
  • Has been reviewed on numerous websites and blogs, even being made Book of the Month by Crime Book Club.
  • Was the 14th most borrowed title in Scottish Borders libraries in May/June 2014.
  • Has gained me four appearances in my local paper, the Berwickshire News.
  • Has been read by a local book group who invited me to attend their discussion about it (they liked it ­– phew!).
  • Its wonderful cover, designed by Kim McGillivray, received a gold star and high praise in a prestigious ebook cover competition.
  • It has been read by my 80-year-old Dad, who never reads fiction and was a bit shocked.

A few things I’ve learned
  • Once the actual writing is done, self-publishing is about decisions on countless issues such as pricing, layout, cover design. And only you can make them. This is both empowering and terrifying. 
  • As with many things in life, publishing a book takes far longer than you expect, if you want to stand any chance of getting it right.
  • Amazon moves in a mysterious way, its wonders to perform. Trust no one who claims to fully understand it.
  • Small details are important. For example, ebooks are subject to VAT in the UK. If you input your price at £1.92, the price the customer pays is actually £1.98, whereas to achieve £1.99 you have to input £1.93. What difference does a penny make, I hear you ask. Well, a book can’t be on a Kindle Countdown offer if it’s priced at less than £1.99, so some authors (cough) have had to delay promotions because of that penny.
  • Self-promotion is hard. I do it with what a friend calls ‘a very light touch’ because I don’t want to annoy people, and as a result probably don’t promote my book enough. But I can live with that.
  • We all know not everyone will like our books. But knowing this and experiencing it are entirely different. I’ve not had a 1-star review yet but even that 3-star one, describing my baby as ‘pretty average’, hurt at first.
  • I’m already developing a thicker skin, or maybe I’ve gained confidence now that readers are telling me they’ve enjoyed my book. Not long after No Stranger to Death came out, I was kindly offered the chance to have it reviewed by an online book group, but turned this opportunity down. I wouldn’t now!
  • There’s a tremendous camaraderie between authors which transcends the published/unpublished and indie/traditional divides. I’ve been touched by the generosity of other writers who have supported me.
  • You can’t force people who’ve enjoyed your book to leave a review. However, I’ve found that giving readers other ways to show their appreciation, like putting my Facebook page and Twitter handle at the back of No Stranger to Death, has paid dividends. I’m thrilled every time I receive a message saying someone has read my book and enjoyed it. Sometimes they even use the word 'loved'.
  • I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many men have told me they enjoyed No Stranger to Death, including Nigel Adams who wrote a lovely review on his blog.
  • I don’t sell many paperbacks but I’m glad I went the extra mile to make them available. They are invaluable for signings, giveaways, thank you gifts and review copies. And I'm hoping a few people who've enjoyed the ebook may buy paperbacks for their crime-fiction-loving friends and relatives at Christmas. 

A few things I’d like to say
  • If you’re one of the many, many people who have supported me over the past year by buying my book, reviewing it, spreading the word about it or by any other means, I'd like to say ...  

  • If you’re thinking of self-publishing, go for it! It’s not easy and the results are unpredictable, but it is tremendously satisfying.  
  • And finally, if you’re wondering what’s next, I’ll be publishing my second book, working title Too Soon a Death, in June 2015. 

(All pics courtesy of

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Spoiled for choice?

Gaps on bookshelves? In my dreams.
I can honestly say that reading has made me the woman I am today. It's not a hobby, it's a way of life, something I do every day in a variety of places. However tired I am, it's impossible to settle down to sleep without picking up the book on my bedside table. The prospect of a train or bus journey without something to read is unthinkable. And yet recently I've had to downgrade myself from a 'voracious' reader to an 'enthusiastic' one, due to a lack of time. 

Taking all this into consideration, why is it that when I finish a book these days, I find choosing which one to read next so challenging? Am I overwhelmed by sheer numbers (500 or so on real and virtual shelves), like when I try to buy shampoo in a big branch of Boots? Or has my selection of what to read next become more critical because I don't have time to waste on a book which may prove disappointing?

I’ve experimented with different ways to tackle my vacillation. Sometimes I stand in front of the bookshelves, close my eyes and put out a hand. I’ve even resorted to asking my husband to pick a title, but for some reason I’m never happy with his choices. Most recently, I declared October my Scandi-crime month. And this seemed to work.

Pulling together all the physical copies of qualifying titles, many of which I'd owned for years, I piled them on top of the filing cabinet. Books by Sjowall & Wahloo, Larsson, Mankell, Indridason and Fossum stared at me every time I entered the study. And I started working through them.

This makes it sound like a chore but how could it be? I enjoyed some more than others, and haven't managed them all yet, but I've definitely read more this October than I have for a long time. So I plan to continue reading by monthly 'theme' for a while.

Inspired by this year’s Book Week Scotland (24-30 Nov), November is my Scottish Crime Fiction month. I've already started the Frederic Lindsay.

December’s theme is going to be friends’ books. I’m privileged to know a lot of writers yet rarely seem to get round to reading their books. Because Christmas will be spent lounging on the sofa reading while John cooks to his heart’s content, I should be able to make good progress through the list I’ve come up with for this.

And then in no particular order, I intend to spend a month each on:


Short stories:

Later on in 2015 I shall revisit old favourites and the few ‘Golden Age’ crime novels I possess, and take in some crime fiction debuts.

Do you ever feel spoiled for choice and if so, how do you choose what to read next? And can you suggest any reading themes I should consider? Remember, my aim isn’t to buy more books (aye, right!) but to read the ones I already own.