Best sales month yet

In a month when all of my other books sold pretty well, Iron Curling Ale performed very poorly. Nevertheless, I love this little book and I'm still glad I wrote it.

In a month when all of my other books sold pretty well, Iron Curling Ale performed very poorly. Nevertheless, I love this little book and I’m still glad I wrote it.

Over the past month I’ve managed to put together my best month of sales and my best single day of sales for my books.

As I’ve said many times, sales of my books aren’t going to get me on any New York Times lists, and I’m not making anything more than date-night money off the books, but sales of the books give me something significantly more valuable than cash in my pocket.

There really is nothing more gratifying to a writer (at least, this writer, I shouldn’t try to speak for anyone else) than to see that someone is willing to drop $4.50 on one of my books. And especially when it’s the later books in the series. That suggests that someone has read one of the books and liked it enough to come back for more. That’s the best part.

So, this month was a good sales month for me.

The book of my humor columns, “Four Things My Wife Hates About Mornings” had a mini resurgence. Never a book to draw much interest from readers, several people bought it this month and one of them left a new 5-star review.

I’m grateful for that! All indie authors understand that reviews help sell books, and so a new review really helps.

The Jackson Speed books sold very well, also, and I’m really thrilled to say that all four of the novels and the new novella sold, which is great. Some months I’ll sell a few of one book and a few of another, but I don’t always sell copies of every book in the series every month.

One thing that was really cool, on my best single sales day yet, I sold at least one copy of all five of the Speed series!

In the big picture, that’s not a big deal, but it was a little milestone that I was happy to celebrate.

I also sold a fair number of paperbacks, and that very rarely happens. I go some months without selling any paperbacks, so that was also a nice surprise.

My sales this month were a happy mixture of sales from the United Kingdom and the United States. As always, I am grateful that so many people in the United Kingdom enjoy reading about a cowardly scoundrel in 19th Century America.

Sadly, Iron Curling Ale achieved another month of zero sales. I don’t mind saying that I’m disappointed with Iron Curling Ale. When I wrote it, I thought maybe it would be the sort of book that would pick up a following. It was only ever going to appeal to a narrow niche of readers, and I always understood that the audience for Iron Curling Ale would be limited.

It’s a rough story all about drugs and sex and drinking and a cross country road trip, and you probably had to have spent time drinking with me in college to even begin to enjoy this book (but, as my wife pointed out, the people who drank with me in college may very well outnumber those who did not).

But Iron Curling Ale is sort of like my offspring – no matter how much it might disappoint me with its sales, I’ll still always love that book. That little book has a piece of my heart.

Meanwhile, to all those who are reading about my actual children in Four Things and those who are following Jackson Speed’s adventures, I remain grateful to you for your interest.

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Update on Jackson Speed at the High Tide

The trauma of NaNoWriMo has left me speechless. I’ve not written a blog post in two months.

For you fans of Jackson Speed, here’s where things stand: The fourth book is written but I am still editing/rewriting.

Taking Jackson Speed at the High Tide as a continuation of Jackson Speed on the Orange Turnpike and considering them one complete work as they were initially intended, I’ve got to say Volumes III and IV of the Jackson Speed memoirs are my personal favorites so far. I’m really proud of these two books, and I cannot wait for Jackson Speed fans to see Volume IV!

Speaking of Jackson Speed fans, I’ve occasionally written about my sales here, and I’ll say a word about sales today, too. December was awful. I’d been riding a pretty good wave of sales from May through November, but December my sales fell off the wagon.

Thankfully, January picked up steam and February (so far) has been very good. Interestingly, I’m selling books in the United States again. Back in June my sales in the United Kingdom began to increase dramatically, and through the second half of 2014 almost all of my sales came out of Britain. But my U.S. sales outpaced foreign sales in January. I think that’s a good thing, because my novels offer a chance for more people to learn about U.S. history as seen by Jackson Speed – and what better way to learn than with Ol’ Speedy as your teacher?

When I say that I am grateful beyond words to you people who buy my books, I hope you understand that I am being completely genuine. It’s not the $1.34 I get from the sales in England or the $2.05 I get from the sales in the United States … it’s the fact that people are enjoying my work enough to come back and read the next book. That’s really so amazing to me.

When I started writing the Jackson Speed novels, I was writing stories that would entertain me. I created this character who I found amusing and put him in historical situations that I found interesting. I didn’t know if I would ever sell a single book or if anyone who read the stories would even enjoy them. Basically, Jackson Speed was just a pleasant diversion for me.

But when I go to look at my sales chart and see that I’ve sold a copy of Blood Tubs or Orange Turnpike – that people enjoyed El Teneria enough to want more – it truly is the most gratifying experience.

While I work on edits of High Tide, I’ve also got some other projects that I’m working on – many of which are in some latter stages of completion – and I hope to soon be able to share some details about some of those projects.

My target date for publishing Jackson Speed at the High Tide is late March (though it could be mid-May), and when the time gets a little closer I’ll release the cover image that Alex McArdell created for High Tide. It’s spectacular!

Help a writer out, review books you enjoy at Amazon

Which of these books are you going to read? The one on the left with zero recommendations or the one on the right that nine out of 10 people rated at 4 or 5 stars?

Which of these books are you going to read? The one on the left with zero recommendations or the one on the right that nine out of 10 people rated at 4 or 5 stars?

I try to check daily, sometimes hourly, to see if anyone has reviewed one of my books at Amazon.com. But obviously I am not checking with enough frequency. For eight days I’ve had a 4-star review posted at the Amazon.co.uk site and I didn’t even know it!

In fairness, Jean and I were out of town last week for a couple of days celebrating how happy she’s been these last 19 years being married to me. Then we were gone to a soccer tournament all weekend. We came home and – surprise! – we actually had to work at our paying jobs. Then yesterday I was gone all afternoon visiting my friend Howard Sills.

It’s been a busy week, so if I was slow to check reader reviews I might be forgiven. The review was left on El Teneria.

It’s a 4-star review and the reviewer says he finished El Teneria and bought the follow-up novel, Blood Tubs, and I’m grateful whenever anyone enjoys one of my books enough to buy the next one. In fact, that’s as good a review as I could possibly ask for.

The review is titled “Flashmanesque” and the reviewer states that El Teneria is “very much a take on GM Fraser’s Flashman novels. It is not as good as they are.”

This is true. I’ve written here before that I hate the thought of Flashman fans reading Jackson Speed novels and comparing the two. Jackson Speed is not Harry Flashman and I’m certainly not George MacDonald Fraser.

I do think the Speed books are entertaining, and the history is solid. I’ve heard from a couple of Flashman fans who have really enjoyed the Jackson Speed Memoirs, and I’ll be honest, if a Flashman fan says that Jackson Speed comes in second to Flashman, I’m not disappointed by that. Even I say that Speed comes in second to Flashman!

I’ve only had one person tell me that he thought the Jackson Speed Memoirs are better than Flashman, and I’m very dubious that he says this out of a sense of loyalty to our longstanding and close personal friendship.

This sort of leads me into another something I have been trying to write on my blog but wasn’t sure the right way to say it without appearing self-serving.

I spend a lot of time reading blogs from other indie writers. Some of them are legitimately out there trying to make a living on their books, or supplement their living with their book sales.

I’m just screwing around, enjoying myself and having fun writing stories that entertain me. I love it when my stories entertain others, and I love it when readers leave a comment on my blog or send me an email or post a reader review (particularly a positive one, though I have this odd masochistic side that feels validated whenever I get a poor review).

But on behalf of those writers out there who are seriously trying to make a buck, if you find a book you really enjoy, please give a thought to leaving a 4- or 5-star reader review at Amazon. It doesn’t have to read like an English Lit grad student’s thesis paper, nor does it have to be particularly long or detailed.

You can offer potential readers who are looking through reader reviews a summation of the plot. You can briefly mention some things you liked about the novel or the author’s writing style. You can just simply say that you enjoyed the book. Just write whatever feels appropriate to you.

My favorite thing to see in a reader review is when a reader says they will read the sequels – if it’s a series – or other books by the author. That’s gold for an indie writer, because it tells people who are considering whether or not to buy a book that the book was good enough to get a reader to come back for more.

You see, the conventional wisdom that I read over and over from writers who offer marketing tips is that the thing that helps drive book sales is more reader reviews. The more reader reviews they have (especially positive reviews), the more likely other people will be willing to give an unknown writer a chance.

Personally, I think there are other things readers could do that would better help indie writers. If you’ve read a book by a writer and you’ve enjoyed the book, tell people. Post it on Facebook or tweet it on Twitter or tell people face-to-face that you enjoyed a book. How do you think Fifty Shades of Gray did so well? I haven’t read it, but I’m pretty sure it had nothing to do with the writing. Instead, it had to do with women telling other women, “I just read this book and you should read it, too.”

I actually heard someone make a recommendation to a couple of other women about Fifty Shades of Gray.

I can tweet links to my books thousands of times, but none of those tweets will have the same impact as someone who has read my books saying to someone else, “You know, these books aren’t half bad.”

As far as negative reviews go, I’ll say this: Obviously if you read a book and you don’t like it for one reason or another, you certainly can leave a negative review.

But I would ask that you don’t leave a 1-star review if you bought a Kindle book and something corrupted the download and you didn’t get the book. That’s a problem to take up with Amazon customer service (and they will get you the book) and not something over which the author has any control. A 1-star review for a failed download punishes the author unnecessarily.

I realize that for people who are writing books – especially the people who are depending on their income from books to pay bills – we eat, breathe and sleep this stuff. Reader reviews or sharing a book you’ve enjoyed on social media, these are things that we are desperate for and think about all the time.

But for the average reader, who doesn’t give any thought to the challenges in trying to market a book and only wants to know when the next one in the series will be released, these aren’t necessarily things that you’re thinking about.

So, if you find a writer you enjoy and you want to encourage them and help them, I would ask that you give some thought to promoting their work. It doesn’t have to be a lot. A two or three sentence review, a post or two on social media, maybe a word to a friend – and then you can feel really good about yourself, because you’ve probably just really helped an indie writer and maybe turned some folks on to a great new book.

Jackson Speed in the United Kingdom

For the past three months sales of the Jackson Speed books have been higher and more consistent than they ever were previously.

Jackson Speed used to sit unnoticed on virtual bookstore shelves for weeks, sometimes a couple of months, with no sales. Those were frustrating and dispiriting days as I lamented my lack of readership and obviously poor noveling abilities.

jackson speed in the united kingdomBut since May, I’ve been selling books regularly, and the real surprise is the rate at which Jackson Speed is selling to Kindle readers in the United Kingdom. I’ve noted before that the first Jackson Speed on the Orange Turnpike paperback sold in Amazon’s UK site, but through June and July better than half my Kindle sales came out of the UK.

It’s still early in August and my sales are continuing to be consistent, but so far I’ve not sold a single Kindle ebook in the United States. All of my sales this month have been out of Amazon’s UK store.

I never expected the books to sell in the United Kingdom the way they are. The protagonist works his way in and out of America’s 19th Century conflicts (mostly with herself), and as a result when I first started writing, the audience I had in mind was strictly an American audience.

I am left to conclude that the reason the Brits are buying the Jackson Speed books is because of the obvious influences George MacDonald Fraser’s Harry Flashman had on Robert Peecher’s Jackson Speed. As I’ve noted before, I am a massive fan of the Flashman novels, and Fraser’s creation was the inspiration for Speed.

I entered the latest Jackson Speed novel in the Reader’s Favorite book contest, and disappointingly (but not surprisingly) I didn’t even make it to the finalist stage. As part of the contest, Reader’s Favorite reviews the book and posts the review on their website.

Though the book received four stars out of five, the reviewer clearly is not a fan of Jackson Speed.

She called him a sociopath!

I feel terrible for poor Jackson Speed. I’ve heard him described as everything from a rascal (my personal favorite, thanks Mandy Stephens!) to despicable, and now he’s “sociopathic.”

From the review: “Jackson Speed has so few redeeming qualities that it didn’t quite leave me laughing.”

Well, as Ol’ Speedy might point out, there are plenty of men with no lack of redeeming qualities who found their way into an early grave while he’s able to enjoy the peace of his sunset years.

So, perhaps the answer to the mystery as to why my books are selling so well in the United Kingdom is simply this: The Brits simply love a sociopath.

Either way, every sale of one of my books is humbling and gratifying. I cannot express how much it means to me. I’m still a long way from making any best seller lists, but when I started writing these novels I wasn’t sure if anyone, anywhere would find them interesting or entertaining. The fact that people do seem to be entertained by them (as demonstrated by the fact that it’s not just El Teneria selling, but all three of the Speed novels) is just overwhelming. It really is.

As I’ve said before, I love to hear from Jackson Speed readers. If you’d like to be added to my list to receive updates about the next Speed book, you can send me a message through the form below. And if you’re one of the Speed readers in the United Kingdom and you’re thinking of sending me a message, I’d love to know how you found the novels.

Also, you’ll want to get added to my email list because when I told my wife that my sales in the United Kingdom were doing very well, she immediately started planning a UK book signing tour. Details on that tour will be available as soon as we can afford it.

Based on my current rate of sales and the 8-day packages she has been able to put together, it appears that the Robert Peecher book signing tour in the United Kingdom will be in about 63 years!

I can’t wait!

 

Celebrating little successes

If you’re a self-published novelist or published through a small press, there’s a pretty good likelihood you’ve wallowed in a fair amount of self-doubt and self-pity.

If you see fireworks this week, almost surely they are being set off in celebration of my best sales month last month.

If you see fireworks this week, almost surely they are being set off in celebration of my best sales month last month.

I think most indie authors discover that finding and connecting with potential readers is a more challenging task than writing the book.

I didn’t know what to expect in terms of “success” when I first published Jackson Speed: The Hero of El Teneria. I mean, obviously I wanted to sell a million copies and be on the NYT bestseller list for years. But I suspected that wouldn’t happen.

Now, after two years and four published books, I’ve learned that you have to find success where you can. Maybe you even have to redefine what success means. Otherwise, it’s easy to get terribly dispirited.

In June I had a pretty good run of “little successes.”

Toward the end of May I realized I was coming up on a milestone – 1,000 books distributed through Amazon. Around the first of June I achieved that milestone when I distributed my one-thousandth book. That’s not 1,000 sales, and that’s not all the books I’ve sold or given away, but it’s 1,000 books through Amazon (paperbacks and Kindle ebooks) both paid and free. The majority were free, but that’s okay.

Then over the course of the rest of the month, as I periodically checked my sales reports, I realized that I was having a good month. Again, this is scaled because we’re talking about a good month for me, not for Stephen King. But I was consistently selling books through the month of June and – by far – had my best sales month ever.

My month of little successes kicked off at the end of May when I received an email from a reader who contacted me through this blog. He’d read all three of the Jackson Speed novels and was complimentary. He favorably compared them to George MacDonald Fraser’s Harry Flashman books (which is high praise in my mind, because Fraser is among my favorites).

Fraser died in 2008, and for his fans it was devastating to know there would be no more Flashman books.

As I’ve noted before, I patterned the character of Jackson Speed after Flashman – a coward and a womanizer. As I’ve written the novels, I’ve felt that Speed has developed more into his own self, but the comparison to Flashman is obvious and will always be there.

Anyway, the email closed with: “Thanks for filling the void, but making it your own.”

That’s enormous praise. I can’t ask for anything more than that. If a Flashman fan thinks I’ve filled the void left by Fraser’s death, that’s as much as I can hope to do.

Still, it scares me to think that fans of the Flashman novels would read a Jackson Speed novel, because truthfully they must be disappointed. I’m not half the writer that George MacDonald Fraser was.

When compared to a lot of other indie authors, I know my sales seem pretty weak and my little successes insignificant (especially after two years of this), but I’m still feeling pretty good about the way June went.

So, I’m filing this under advice for indie authors: Don’t get bogged down in the disappointments. Whether you set small goals (1,000 books distributed) or just celebrate unexpected victories (a reader who enjoyed your book reaching out to let you know), I’m convinced that the people who achieve success as indie writers (or, really, anything) are the ones who persevere through the tough days so that they can enjoy the good days.