Monday, 30 June 2014

Kindle book selling like Hot Cakes!

I am so excited - my Kindle book is flying off the virtual shelves. (Or should that be, 'virtually flying off the shelves'?  Whatever).

I have the book on promotion for the next week.  I only sell ebooks through Amazon, for various reasons.  I know some other self-published authors don't like Amazon and feel they have an unfair monopoly, but I love them.  They pay excellent royalties, they help with promotion and quite simply they sell more of my books.

Anyway, every three months, if you publish through Amazon, you can promote your book for a total of seven days on a Kindle Countdown.  Basically, you sell it for less intitially, and then the price rises incrementally.  I have discovered that for me, the best method is to use all seven days at once.  So yesterday my book cost 99p to download.  It will stay at that price for the next couple of days, then rise to £1.99. And then, after the week is up, it will go back to the full Kindle price of about £3.00. 

This might be getting a bit long-winded, but bear with me.  Basically, I have done these promotions before, with varying success.  The first time boosted sales a fair amount; the next occasion, less so.  Then at the beginning of April this year after a Kindle Countdown promotion, sales took off again.  This was unexpected and led me to wonder whether it was due to the promotion, or whether something else had happened that I was unaware of - for example somebody had recommended my book to a professional network or a group of carers somewhere. 

Anyway, whatever the cause of the sales spike, I was chuffed.  And this time I was prompted to invest a little in the book.  I have been reading a lot about self-publishing and everything I have read tells me that you need a professional cover as well as good content in a book.  So I shelled out for the new cover.

And I am delighted to report that it really does seem to have made a difference!  Last time I checked (and I keep having to stop myself checking) I was at 1,385 in the overall Kindle rankings, which is about as high as I have ever been, since the glory days of 2012 when I first began to publicise the book.

I know that this is a mental health blog, and so going on about book rankings might not seem appropriate or relevant.  But I know an awful lot of people who are as desperate to tell their story as I once was, and so I do try now and again to give them some tips on how to do so.

I once had a comment on a piece I wrote for the Mad in America website, from a chap who said that people like me should not make money from their stories, but should give them away for free, for the good of others.  I am sensitive to criticism and I understood where he was coming from, but I don't agree.  I have given away thousands of copies of my book as free downloads, and I have also given away most of the paper copies I have ordered to sell (to Paul's frustration, I would rather give a book to someone than sell it to them). 

I wrote my memoir primarily to help others to see that there was a way out of the maze of mental illness and its aftermath.  It was almost an act of deliberate self-sacrifice, one that I felt prompted to do, and I was surprised by the fact that actually I found it a cathartic and freeing experience, not least because it enabled me to finally give up collecting disability benefit and consider myself to be a person who was capable of worthwhile work.  Three years on, I am a writer.  It means the world to me.  And I cannot continue to write unless I earn money from my profession. 

I have not earned a lot from my book.  I have never paid tax, in the last three years that I have been self-employed, because I don't earn anywhere near enough to qualify to do so.  But I do earn something; more than most self-published authors and indeed more than many writers in general.  Taking into account that I have four kids, and have to do a lot for them and around the house and so if I went out to work I could only work part-time and also that I would probably only get a menial job despite the fact that I have a law degree, due to the diagnosis and the fact that I have never worked in a professional position - bearing all that in mind, I am quite happy with what the book brings in.  (Whew, that was one long sentence.  Call me brain-dead, but I couldn't work out how to cut it into shorter ones).

I do need to ramp things up with my career now.  Well, not need to - I am pretty content with my life as it is in lots of ways - but I do want to, partly because I need affirmation that I really can write and that comes partly from being well recompensed for it and partly because the kids are growing and we have a mortgage to pay and all that stuff.  Paul has carried all six of us financially for many years now, and I think it would be nice if he could have a bit of a rest at some point.

I mentioned that I need affirmation.  I have noticed that the state of my mental health sometimes seems to be alarmingly linked to the success or otherwise of my book.  When it is doing well, I feel happy - not just because I am earning money, which enables me to stay at home and be a writer, but because I feel validated - I have done something worthy and I know that because I am achieving recognition for it.  Conversely, when the book is not doing so well I find myself becoming morose - as I felt just a few days ago before the new cover had begun to make a difference to sales.  (I was telling myself that I had wasted my money and time on what basically amounted to an exercise in vanity).

I know that the answer to my insecurity issues is not to become a success.  I need to be strong mentally regardless of what happens in my life externally.  I shouldn't need validation from others in any form in order to believe in myself.  But it is a real issue and one that helps to motivate me to keep writing - which is a good thing because if I don't write I really do become a mental wreck quite rapidly.  

I am working on the mental strength thing.  I am tacking my issues of social anxiety, although sometimes I feel that I take five steps back for every step forward.  I keep trying to be a new, improved version of myself.  But meanwhile, I am a writer, and that is something to be proud of.  And I am.   

Thursday, 26 June 2014

New Book Cover up on Kindle!

Well, I didn't think that would happen so fast.  Barely a week after making enquiries about a new cover for my book, the Kindle version is up and running.  Here it is:

The paperback will take a little longer - it's going to have a new wraparound jacket, with the same design as the Kindle one, but because it has to include a bar code, blurb, reviews and so on it is a bit more fiddly. 

I am so pleased with it all.  The incredible thing is that the image on the new cover - of a mother and daughter balancing on a train track, holding hands - actually looks very much how my mother and I would have looked forty years ago.  The cover designer - Briony from Goldust, highly recommended - read the book and said the cover symbolised my mother and I, and that the idea was to have a bright image, but with a hint of something sinister (the possibility of an approaching train symbolising the threat of mental illness in my case, the ravages of alcoholism in my mother's...)

She sent me several possible cover designs, but that one really stood out.  In fact, I felt close to tears when I saw it.  I really do think it's fantastic. Feedback from anyone out there would be really appreciated. 

It is such a relief to get my face off the front cover.  I am going to have a new author photo, but just a small, normal one on the back cover of the book.  Also professionally done!  I am splashing out, because I feel that although the book has done really well (especially for a self-published work) it still has the potential to reach a wider audience.  It deserves to look more professional - it has done me proud, garnered lovely reviews and given me the confidence to believe that I really can write. 

Hopefully I will not always be a one-book woman.  I am moving on - slowly - but that book gives me enough income to be able to stay at home and call myself a writer.  I do write every day now, but I won't go on about that in this post because I have written a lot recently about my various endeavours. 

The recovery book should come out soon (she says).  I was aiming for the end of the summer term - the middle of July - but I may have to adjust my sights.  It will definitely, one hundred per cent, be done by the end of this year though.  Even if I am not entirely happy with it, which I may never be, I am going to publish, so that I can move on with my other writing.  Hopefully it will help someone, somewhere, on their path to recovery. 

And I already have a cover designer lined up - so the new book will look as professional from the start as 'Surviving' does now.  Hurrah! 

Monday, 16 June 2014

New Book Cover, Raymond Briggs and Sunshine

Well.  Quite a lot has happened recently, or is about to happen...

I decided to splash out on a new cover for my memoir.  I know I need to move on with my writing, and I have in a way - I have quite a few books out on Kindle now.  But most of them are not all that good, if I say so myself.  None of them are full length, for a start.  I have published two 'How to' books, a set of three chick-lit novellas, a short children's book, a poetry pamphlet...  I think I have at least four pen names.  I've kind of lost track.  That's the thing about self-publishing - you can be as diverse as you wish.  No chance of pigeon-holing me.

Anyway, the memoir is still the only book that really sells, partly because of the fact that it's a better book than the others, also because I have taken the time to publicise it, and probably for various other reasons I haven't got time to analyse just now.  (There's a chicken pie and some oven chips cooking and there is going to be a disappointed family if that lot burn). 

Having second thoughts, I just dashed to the kitchen to turn the oven off.  I know what I'm like once I start blogging (or any sort of writing).  It was only a matter of time before the smoke alarm went off. 

I am writing outside in the summerhouse.  This is only comfortable for a couple of months of the year, so I am making the most of it.  The boys are in the conservatory.  The older one is teaching the younger to play chess.  This would be one of those proud mother moments, except that every fifteen minutes or so there is a minor argument and some tears, followed by one or both boys stomping off angrily, before they reconcile their differences and move on with the game.  I can see and hear the whole thing from my window out here.

Where was I?  Oh yes.  The memoir really provides me with my only writerly income, so I need to maximise that.  Plus, I think it has a really important message, and I think there is still potential to reach a wider audience and that would be a good thing.  So a few days ago I found a locally based firm that design book covers, and got in touch.  After looking at the website I was convinced that I would not be able to afford their services, because they have produced books for every major publisher I can think of, and the BBC and the British Library and...  Anyhow, as it turned out, the designer was taken by an urge to help me and offered me a special price.  I am not sure that I feel entirely comfortable about that - but then I hope that she will also design future book covers for me, and I am sure she won't be doing me favours for ever.  Hopefully, this is just the start of a mutually profitable enterprise. 

I can't wait to see her initial designs!  SO exciting!  And on the same day I engaged the cover designer, I plucked up my courage to contact Raymond Briggs (of The Snowman et al) and asked whether I could use his kind quotes about my book (I sent him a copy back in 2012 and he sent me a lovely letter in reply).  Mr Briggs replied very promptly and said yes, I could quote him.  So we are going to put some of his lovely comments on the new front cover. 

I am en route to finishing my recovery book (I know, I have been saying that for years, but I am at forty thousand words now and working steadily).  Hopefully, it will come out not long after I re-launch the memoir with its new cover.  The idea is that both cover designs will then tie in.

I don't really know why I am blogging about all this.  It is a big step forward for me though.  I have known for a long time that it is really important for self-published books to look professional, and I have been promising myself for a while that I would invest in my own.  I just needed to have a product worth investing in.  And since I haven't come up with a new one yet, I have decided to re-issue the memoir, see how it does, and then make sure any subsequent books I publish are properly presented.

I am lucky that I don't need an editor (or I don't think I do).  I can write comprehensibly and reasonably accurately without one (although it's handy that Kindle allows you to change the e-book manuscript without charging for the service.  I have had to go in and correct typos more times than I would have thought possible).  But a book, self-published or not, should at least look like a book - and lovely as the photo on the front of mine is, it does not make up for the fact that everything about the cover looks really unprofessional. 

Finally: after what felt like weeks of constant sunshine here in the South of England, the sky has finally clouded over.  I'm not sorry.  I miss the sunshine and the heat, but it made me feel as though I should be hot-footing it to the beach every instant.  I did write every day, but it was a struggle.  I took the boys swimming daily last week after school (making me very unpopular with the rest of the family who came home at six pm to find that dinner was not on the table ready and waiting as they are accustomed to finding it).  Now at least, I can get on with my writing during school hours (and even sneak a little extra time after school today).   Hope the summer hols are sunny though.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Sunny Sunday

I got all excited this morning when I woke up to sunshine.  I was itching to get down to the beach and soak up some rays.  With one or both of the dogs (only one at a time probably, as the puppy is in season and needs extra supervision at the moment.  Too much information?  Sorry).

Where was I?  Oh yes, I was itching to get up and get going.  Well, that was an hour or two ago, and here I am settling down to type a quick blog entry, still in pyjamas.  Meanwhile, I have cooked bacon sandwiches for myself and my lovely little six year old (it wasn't deliberate favouritism, the others had already eaten breakfast). 

Then I consumed two cups of tea.  Next had a short go at Twitter (got excited again when I saw that Gwyneth Paltrow is now one of my followers, excitement quickly subsided when I realised it was a spoof Gwynnie.  The spoof Gwynnie has sixteen thousand followers though!  That is amazing...)

I like Twitter.  Partly I like it because most people I know are completely flummoxed if I mention that I use it.  They have no idea what it is or how it works, or why on earth anybody would be interested in it.  Which shows that there is an alternative reality out there, peopled by people like me.  Although in theory I only use Twitter for promoting my book or this blog, in practice I really like connecting with people.  And there is all sorts of fascinating  information out there, if you click on the right links or follow the right people.  I am by no means an expert, and sometimes I don't use the site for weeks on end, but I can't imagine my world without Twitter now.

So, as I was leaving Twitter, I checked this blog quickly, and saw that there was a comment from someone asking if I was okay, because I haven't posted for a while. Which was really sweet, so I felt compelled to reply, and then to turn on my proper computer and write this blog post.

So, what should I write about?  Well, I am okay, having had no repeat episodes of what I wrote about last time, which I have come to the conclusion was probably acute indigestion.  Still embarrassed by the panic...  I have been a bit edgy since then, had a couple of wakeful or disturbed nights, so I guess there is an underlying anxiety issue.  Which I am also a bit embarrassed, and a bit confused by, because I tend to think I am fine nowadays.  But I suppose it is possible to suffer from anxiety and still be fine.  It will pass.

It has been half term this week, which probably explains my absence from this blog (although I don't update it as often as I used to anyway).  I have really enjoyed the break, because of the opportunity to spend time with the children.  They are all growing up fast, but for now even the older ones spend the vast majority of their time at home when school is out, and I want to make the most of that.  And although I have been busy doing stuff that doesn't always involve them - I had a massive clear out and took so much stuff to charity shops that it gave me backache - they are here and so we necessarily interact. 

Our two boys love their computer games - they mostly play Lego Marvel on the X-Box.  They play together, which is good, but I have limited their time to half an hour a day for as long as I remember, because I don't want these games to take over their lives.  It often goes over the half an hour, if I am honest, but I always call time at an hour, maximum.  Anyway, in the last few weeks, although the weather has not been great, I have been weaning them off the computer games, taking them out of the house as much as I can and encouraging them to play outside when we are at home.  As a result we have had lots of water fights and nerf gun play going on, as well as old favourites like Twister and lots of noisy games on the trampoline.

And now that their sisters are home they have all been playing together, which I love to see.  Usually the girls spend so much of the day at school, and weekends doing various activities, that their brothers don't get to be with them very often.  And when they are, they just suck up the attention from their big sisters. 

I relish every moment of watching my kids grow up, and feel at my happiest when I am with them.  So I have been ramping up the reading with the youngest (he was reading bits of The Times out loud to me this morning - obviously only the suitable bits, and I helped him with the long words).  I have been practising verbal reasoning with my older boy (I have had some ten minute test books for years, and recently discovered that he absolutely loves doing them).  And as for the girls - well, I just feel lucky to sometimes be included in their talk and laughter and plans and even in their revision (although I must say, participating in their revision is not my favourite bit.  Thank goodness exams will all be over by the end of next week).

I am aware that my smug Mummy factor is far too high, which is why I don't write about the kids on this blog very much.  I am so proud of them all, I just can't write about them impartially and I fear that must be annoying to read.  To be honest, I am not a brilliant Mummy all of the time - for example, I spent a lot more time with the girls when they were little than I do with the boys, because now I am distracted by my writing.  I want to get my writing career off the ground so that the girls see work as something to aspire to.  When they were tiny they both used to say that when they grew up they wanted to be a mummy like me, and although I think that is a wonderful aspiration (and is certainly the part of my life that has given me the greatest happiness) I think it would also be nice for them to play a part in the wider world!  And of course, I think it is good for the boys too, to know that Mummy is not just there to cater exclusively to their needs.  But they do need me to be around. 

I do my best for the kids, I think about them and their welfare constantly.  That is probably partly why I get anxious - because we can't control the future, we can't guarantee that our kids will always be safe and happy.  We can do our best for them though, which means above all spending time with them.  And luckily, it turns out that spending time with one's children is the best, most enjoyable way to spend one's time.  Luckily too, I have Paul to help when I need a break.  (And if any of you are wondering what happened to the poor dogs' walks that I woke up eager to do and then forgot about, he has walked them both, individually, in the past couple of hours while I have been reading the paper and tweeting and blogging.  He's a good man, my husband). 

Anyway, I am going to get up now and get dressed and get on with the day.  I am going to take my elder son to the museum for a couple of hours, something that I have been promising to do with him for ages, and that he is really looking forward to.  Sweet boy that he is, a trip to the museum with a parent all to himself really is the thing he wants most to do in the world. 

Lucky me!