I first interviewed Jan Hurst-Nicholson for my blog a few years ago, when I was stunned at how many copies she had sold of But Can You Drink the Water? tales of an expat family in South Africa. Now, in 2014, she has taken her book to another level and has many gems to share with those of you who want to not just write a book but sell it!
My venture into e-publishing began with But Can You Drink The Water? which started as a stage script in the 1980s and progressed to a 13 part sitcom before eventually becoming a novel (and a few short stories). Although it had some positive responses from publishers, and even won an award, it was never taken up, but when it reached the semi-finals in the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award the encouraging review from the Publishers Weekly judge (droll, witty and utterly British) prompted me to self-publish it as a Kindle e-book. The original cover was designed by a graphic artist in exchange for her using some of my humorous short stories in an anthology, and the editing was done by a writing tutor friend, so it cost me nothing to e-publish.
I set the price at 99c (70p), believing readers wouldn’t mind risking 99c on an unknown author and an unfamiliar genre. In 2010 there was not as much competition as there is today, and although sales began slowly when Amazon UK came online the book started to take off and it was on the ‘movers and shakers’ list selling 3 000 copies a month and reached #20 in the bestseller list, and was #1 in three categories on Amazon UK for three weeks. (I’m sure the mention on Jo’s blog helped with the sales).
When sales tapered off in 2011 I looked for new ways to promote it and enrolled it in the KDP Select programme to take advantage of the promotional ‘free’ offer. This worked well initially, except for the impulsive buyers who tend to download anything that’s free, even if it’s in a genre they don’t usually read, and often results in some poor reviews. (Most of my one star reviews came after a freebie. You have to develop a thick skin to succeed as a writer!) With so many authors offering free books it no longer works as it once did and I feel that the KDP ‘countdown’ is a better option for boosting sales.
The US KBoards Writers’ Café thread and the UK Kindle Users Forum offer a wealth of information as well as being a way to connect with fellow writers who are eager to help with tips on formatting, covers and blurbs (a writer’s nightmare). Taking part in the forum is also a form of advertising as your books appear in your signature line, and writers share data on advertising websites that offered the best value for money, although I have never paid for advertising – yet. The best advertising of course, is word-of-mouth, but no one knows how to harness that! Marketing can be harder work than writing.
David Gaughran’s books Let’s Get Digital and Let’s Get Visible are must reads for authors and publishers of e-books, and I’ll be forever grateful to David for his plain vanilla explanation of how to get a US EIN to avoid paying US tax on income from Amazon.
I subsequently increased the price of the e-book from 99c to $2.99 and have now sold in excess of 20,000 copies and have 65 reviews on Amazon UK. Many of the situations in the story are loosely based on my own experiences and those of fellow expats, so it was gratifying to read that some reviewers ‘recognised’ the characters and one even commented ‘this could have been our family.’
I have recently launched But Can You Drink The Water? as a paperback through CreateSpace and have given it a new cover that makes it more obviously ‘humorous’ and helps to avoid clicks from readers expecting a non-fiction book on the quality of water in SA!
Encouraged by the success of But Can You Drink The Water? I e-published nine more books (three of them originally trad published, and all very different). Four of them are in print through CreateSpace and I’m busy having full covers done for the rest.
Writing in diverse genres and writing styles has been a bit of a marketing nightmare as each book is aimed at different readers, so it’s difficult to build up a readership. But at least I do have a readership, which wouldn’t be the case if the manuscripts had remained unread in the bottom of a drawer. And no one can promote a book with as much zeal, or incentive as the self-published author who now earns 70% of the royalties!
My Amazon author page: http://amzn.to/jzZt7e
The Mystery of the Mundane
I’m inspired again. And again it’s the Writers’ Café that did the trick. This week it was Nova who led the exercise and, as usual, none of us knew what to expect. But that’s the whole point of our café: we turn up, we drink coffee and we do a writing task there and then. Then we read our our frantic scribblings to the group and everyone gives feedback.
Nova arrived with several white, unmarked, envelopes. She held them out in the shape of a fan.
“Lots of things in our homes are pretty dull, really, mundane,” she began. “And so I went round my house and took photos of ordinary things. Your job is write a story about the one you pick. It can be a story about the item, where it came from, where it’s going or anything you like in fact.” She passed round the envelopes.”There is a photo in each envelope. If you hate the one you get you can swap.”
I got the sparkly shoes and was delighted. I couldn’t wait to start.
“You have 20 minutes.” She set the timer on her phone. “Go!”
So we went.
It’s funny, isn’t it, how so many would-be writers complain that there is nothing to write about. Nothing interesting. Nothing inspiring. Yet Nova, who is a pretty darn good photographer by my reckoning, helped us all to see that we honestly have no excuse. Everything can be inspiring. Even a red mug, or a fridge.
I loved this exercise. I’ve never written about a pair of shoes before and I found it both fun and exhilarating to be forced to write some first person fiction. It even made me giggle while I was writing it. What’s more we all wrote something. Even though one of wrote about not being inspired, she still wrote several hundred words about why she found her ammonite completely uninteresting. We had a story from the point of view of a lipstick, a wonderful piece about intercultural relations thanks to a photo of a bowl of bananas and a glorious Petit Prince style story about the life of a carpet.
Back home now, I feel completely indulged. On mundanity? Now that is inspiring!
Lindsay wrote the following piece on her photo – a lipstick
My name is Lipsy.I am always so thrilled when I am chosen to go on my owner’s luscious lips – I am so creamy and make her look gorgeous.
I started life in the imagination of Madame Coco Chanel – that amazing doyenne of the fashion world – she knew what women wanted and made sure they got it. I am in good company with all the fabulous perfumes, skincare and other cosmetics.
I was in an amazing store called Harvey Nichols (those in the know call it Harvey Nicks) in the perfumery department where I spent some time in a drawer with the other lipsticks. We hated it in there. It was dark and stuffy except that every time the drawer was opened a divine smell wafted through and then came my chance to be slipped into one of those posh bags and whisked off to who knows where.
My ‘where’ was first to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel – out of the bag, carefully taken out of my box then lovingly applied to those luscious lips and down to the glamorous cocktail bar where I encountered being put on a table. Then it went dark again as I was popped into a brand new but different bag. Now I shared space with a pretty little enamelled mirror and a small bottle of that oh so famous perfume that I knew so well – Chanel No 5 – probably the most well-loved fragrance in the world. Sometime later I was off again somewhere new, another adventure to who knew where – this time my bag was hanging from a beautiful jewelled clip – so we didn’t go crashing to the floor!
Then something really exciting happened I was released from the bag along with the mirror and found myself being spread over those lovely lips again, heavenly. I was then passed around and ‘oohed and aahed’ over –how thrilling to be so loved and appreciated – bliss.
Time to go back to the hotel where I was laid very carefully beside a different coloured friend – which of us will be chosen tomorrow?
While Caron attempted to write a whimsical poem about her photo – a jewellery box:
I’m black and square
sort’a dumpy looking
but not bare
’cause I’ve inlay of pearl
and whirl colours of cream and sort’a pale green.
I can be seen in Nova’s house
I’m not sure why,
cause my gold seems to not,
fit into her fold,
perhaps it’s the jewellery I hold?
All neat and kept cool
above my little gold feet.
Where will I go next – hmm do I know?
I don’t think so …
Lady Nova brings me
from this land
and I’m sat,
next to her
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