Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Kindling an Interest

*This post first appeared as a guest spot on Susanne O’Leary’s blog.*

Yep, I’ve jumped on the Kindle bandwagon. Enticed by tales of thousands of sales and generous royalty rates, I recently stuck up my second novel, Scratch, and sat back, waiting for the cheques to roll in.

I did it for various reasons. Or at least I could pretend I did. My experience with ‘traditional’ publishing didn’t go too well with my first novel, Will You Love Me Tomorrow, so I could say that’s what put me off this route and made me go out on my own. I could also say that my writing is far too unique and experimental to find a place on celeb hungry trad publishers’ lists. I could even say that I’m joining the band of hardy pioneers blazing a trail into the ‘new’ publishing model because I’m all cool and stuff. I could say all of that, but it would be bollocks (especially the ‘unique and experimental’ thing).

I put Scratch on Kindle for two reasons and two reasons only. I’m lazy, and I’m skint. I want some easy money, and I want it on a monthly basis - a modest second income to supplement my extremely modest first income. Not too much to ask, surely? So, to achieve this, do I spend months (or years) sending samples out and failing to get an agent, or do I put the book on Kindle for relatively little expense or effort? Guess which one I chose.

So, what now? The book is there, it’s got a good cover, it’s a reasonable price, it’s not the worst book ever written. When does the cash arrive? Seriously, when?

That’s when the ‘lazy’ bit started falling apart. I quickly learned from other writers that, to get any kind of buzz going about the book, I would have to dive headlong into the world of self-promotion and, more specifically, the Amazon Kindle Forums. ‘Get your name known’. ‘Take part in discussions’. ‘Look for threads with people who’d like your writing style and genre’. All sounds fair enough. ‘But, whatever you do, don’t push the book too obviously’. Huh?

I quickly learned there is a highly vocal and significantly large number of Kindle Forum contributors who actively, and sometimes viciously, dislike authors who use the forums to promote their book(s). This seemed a bit odd to me, but again, fair enough. Apparently the best strategy is to simply become a regular forum user and hope that sales will be achieved through some sort of osmosis. A bit like Bruce Lee’s technique of ‘fighting without fighting’ (wee Scratch reference, there), we must master the art of ‘promoting without promoting’. I’ve barely mastered the art of feeding myself, so this was a daunting prospect.

But, needs must. So, armed with a bottle of red wine and a willingness to make friends with complete strangers for entirely selfish purposes, I found what seemed like a relatively ‘author friendly’ thread on the Amazon US forum and said hello. I even got away with mentioning Scratch a few times. It was all going very well and I was pleased with these early efforts. A few people even said they’d download a sample of the book. Excellent! This was going to be easy. There were a few users who seemed to be a bit cheeky about each other for no reason I could fathom, but that happens everywhere.

I had some fun making up new swear words to get round Amazon’s ‘decency’ policies (I am Glaswegian). I joked I could become the thread ‘bouncer’ to fend off trolls. It was all very jolly. Then I noticed that the ‘cheeky’ stuff was getting a bit personal between some users. Hmm, I thought. Why are they ripping into each other like that? I did a little digging and discovered that I had inadvertently landed myself smack in the middle of one of the fabled ‘flame wars’ of which legends tell, between two competing factions from different threads who had seemingly been involved in a prolonged and bloody battle for months. Oops. I then had a wee look at the other camp’s ‘home’ thread to discover I had apparently been added to numerous people’s ‘do not buy’ lists because of the made up swearing and the fact they thought I was taking sides. Again, oops. I did what all decent, honourable people would do is such circumstances and ran away, never to return.

So, not the best start, after all.  I learned a valuable lesson on that strange, corpse-strewn night, though – people take this shit awful seriously. For me, the internet has always been about trying out jokes and taking the piss out of my online mates as they do the same back to me. Not on Amazon, it seems. Oh no. I’ve since been far more reticent to jump in, all ‘farktwits’ blazing. I just respond to anyone who asks me a question and try to mention Scratch when I think I can pretend it’s relevant to the discussion. Then go back to Facebook to have a swear, take the piss and try out jokes.

It’s not so easy, this self-promotion thing. The slightly baffling factor, though, is that I sold more copies in the US that night than on any since. Maybe I should have kept calling people ‘bastiging iceholes’ and making enemies, after all. Dunno.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. When does the cash arrive?  


  1. Fresh faced young thing wanders from the balmy, fresh and friendly fields of Authonomy into massive 'grown up forum' troll war.

    Loved it. I'm even going to wander over to the Kindle forums now and take a poke around - and not, I can assure you, to participate in all that rough-housing! :)

  2. Ah yes, the halcyon days of that paragon of peace and harmony, Authonomy. Oh, how I miss it :-)

    Have fun on the Kindle forums, Alexander. Just don't say I sent you. Or mention that you're a writer. Or the title of your book. Or anything else. Then you'll be fine!