It’s a long time since I first wrote an article for writing.ie, back in 2011. At that time, Belfast Girls had been published for almost a year and had reached the top 100 in Women’s Literary Fiction, and I’d won the prize for the most popular book published by Night Publishing over the last year. Yes, 2011 – three years ago!
Since then, things have moved on dramatically. Belfast Girls has been No. 1 in Women’s Literary Fiction (for a year or more) and has been in the top 100 overall on Amazon.co.uk several times. It’s now been read by well over 60,000 people, and can be considered a major bestseller. I find that when I meet people, they have heard of me and of Belfast Girls, which is very encouraging.
I’ve changed publishers and am now with Precious Oil Publications, and have had quite a few more books published. My second book, the Irish thriller Danger Danger, has also been in the top 100. My latest book, Johnny McClintock’s War: One Man’s Struggle Against The Hammer Blows Of Life, the story of a young Irishman going off to fight in the first world war and struggling to maintain his faith in spite of everything he experiences, went straight into the No 1 spot in Hot New Releases in Irish Historical Fiction on Amazon.com. My thriller series about a feisty Belfast Girl called Angeline Murphy – Angel to her friends, devil to her enemies – has proved popular, and my two Seanachie collections of short stories, the Tales of Old Seamus, first published in Ireland’s Own, have done well. Then there’s my young people’s story, Lady Molly & The Snapper, set in Dublin and on the High Seas, a Time Travel tale of action and adventure. And lots more to come.
Publishing on the Internet is a rapidly changing playing field. When my first publisher took me on, it was all very new. Articles on blogs and free postings on sites which promoted books worked well at that time. Then came the introduction by Amazon of Kindle Select. This was an offer to writers/publishers to restrict their books to Amazon only, rather than also publishing through Smashwords, etc. In return, they were allowed a number of days, 5 in every 3 month period, when they could put their books up free. To me this was far from attractive at first. Why should I give away a book on which I had worked hard, for no financial return? But it wasn’t long before I saw that writers who put their books up free went on to sell large numbers of the book after the free days were over. This was because the book had become visible, and to be visible is one of the most important things in the eBook market. My second publisher knew this too, and he made, first of all Danger Danger, and then Belfast Girls, free, resulting in huge sales as soon as the free days were over.
Alas, Amazon changed the goalposts. Free downloads no longer counted as sales in terms of the book’s ranking. Instead, there were a number of days when the book was free during which no sales were counted at all. As a result, instead of climbing the ranking and remaining visible, a free book dropped like a stone and lost its previous ranking, and therefore had very few sales as a result of being free. Moreover, the number of books on Amazon increased enormously, and the number of free books rose, until to be free was no longer different or useful.
At this point, Amazon, afraid, I suppose, of losing writers from Select, introduced a new thing, Countdown. A book goes on Countdown sale at a reduced price which would normally mean that it would earn only 35% royalties. It is allowed up to 7 days in every 3 month period at this reduced price, during which it will still earn 70% royalties. This is a great advantage, and makes it worth while to stay with Kindle Select.
To get the best out of Countdown, it’s probably best to arrange for some paid advertising while the book is reduced. There are a number of sites which will advertise your book to a large mailing list, at a price. Of course, you need to sell enough books to cover the cost and still earn a profit, but this usually happens.
So things have changed dramatically since even two or three years ago.
It’s still valuable to have a Facebook page, a web site, and a Twitter account. With eBooks, people can’t walk into a bookshop and see your book there. You need to draw it to their attention.
But the days when you could sell a lot of books without paying out any money have gone. Sales on the Internet, like book sales in brick and mortar bookshops, now depend more and more on paid advertising. Sites which would previously have posted your book at no charge have become professional and expect to earn money by charging you. That’s just how it is.
But I’ll end by saying that paid publishing alone won’t sell your book. As has been said repeatedly, to sell, your book needs to be good. People need to enjoy it and to speak well of it. Word of mouth advertising is always one of the best ways to sell.
So to all you writers out there, keep pushing your book. If it’s well written, it will attract readers. Believe in your work, and keep looking out for new ways to sell it – the market changes so rapidly, there’s bound to be some new way along at any minute!
(c) Gerry McCullough
About Johnny McClintock’s War
The story of one man’s struggle to maintain his faith in spite of everything life throws at him.
As the outbreak of the First World War looms closer, John Henry McClintock, a Northern Irish Protestant by upbringing, meets Rose Flanagan, a Catholic, at a gospel tent mission – and falls in love with her.
When Johnny enlists and sets off to fight in the War he finds himself surrounded by death and tragedy, which pushes his trust in God to the limit.
After more than five years absence he returns home to a bitter, war torn Ireland, where both he and Rose are seen as traitors to their own sides.
John Henry and Rose overcome all opposition and, finally, marry. But a few years later comes the hardest blow of all. Can John Henry still hang on to his faith in God?