It’s been a week of obsession for me – obsession with numbers–download statistics to be precise. What We Didn’t Say went live on Kindle last Sunday and I put it straight into free downloads for five days. It didn’t take long before I was twitching to see how it was being received and it was definitely humbling to see it released into the wild globally.
It took a couple of days and a degree of activity on Twitter to see much movement. With my competitive nature and background, never in my wildest imaginings would I ever have thought I would be delighted to see myself in 89th place however when the book appeared in that slot on the top 100 short story downloads (free content) in the UK market I have to admit to being slightly excited to the extent of happy dancing with Plottdog. My excitement then coalesced into a goal: to get into the top 50 by the end of the week.
I eyed up the competition with sinking feeling. Short of spending the last couple of years living under a rock in some remote and inaccessible corner of the planet it would be impossible not to understand how difficult it is to feature in non-genre specific charts when pitched against the works of the phenomenally popular erotica and romance flavours. On Wednesday I was surrounded by them, so I thought it would be an extremely long shot that I would reach my goal.
I was mindful of the fact that I didn’t want to drive my Twitter followers completely nuts by pitching my book at them every half hour and made a decision to limit the number of times I mentioned it. Whether this was a good or bad idea, I don’t know but I did make sure that I loaded each tweet with appropriate hashtags so that it would get picked up for re-tweet by those specializing in free stuff. It certainly seemed to work since late Wednesday the book had risen to 55th. More happy-dancing.
To my dismay on Thursday morning it looked like my plan for world domination was doomed as I had dropped out of the top 100 altogether. I carried on with the Tweets though and on Friday my fortunes turned and by mid-afternoon I found myself happily sandwiched between Roddy Doyle and Talli Rowland in 37th position. Such as it was, I had achieved my goal! The dog was really getting into the dancing thing by then.
So what does any of this really mean? After all anyone can give stuff away for free. Well it’s harder than you might think. My statistical obsessing revealed a number of things. First the book did extremely well in the US but the French didn’t like it at all. It did quite well in the German markets yet in Mexico it was a non-starter. Canada went for it, Australia didn’t, neither did India or Portugal but the Japanese gave it a try–arigatou gozaimasu! As for the UK, well, quite frankly it was a tad meh – I expected it to do a lot better than it did and although it showed a reasonable number of downloads it was not enough to get Plotty out of his basket for an encore.
This may of course, all say something about the subject matter or indeed our appetite for the short story in this country. What was blindingly obvious though was the direct correlation between my position on the chart and the volume of downloads – I know, it doesn’t take Einstein to figure it out – but there’s more to it than that. What the position on the chart did was get me in front of potential readers, the higher the position, the less they had to go rooting about to find something which caught their attention. While I wasn’t quite in the candy by the checkout position, I was certainly high enough up the list to be within attention span of page clickers. When I was languishing off-chart downloads were glacially slow, when I got a toe-hold they picked up. When they stuttered, my Twitter activity helped to get them going again but without the visibility the higher chart positions were giving me, it wasn’t as effective. Mid-week was slow and Friday probably accounted for 50% of the total number.
It was in the process of all this statistical navel gazing that I came across this post by J A Konrath from January 2012 titled The Value of Publicity. Joe Konrath has the kind of self-publishing credentials and sales which mean when he speaks, it’s well worth paying attention. While I would never compare my own efforts with his, I totally understand what he’s saying and the experience I had in the last week would certainly support it. His blog is well worth a visit for readers and writers alike.
As an independent author you have to reach readers, real ones—the ones that don’t care who you are, they only care about whether, in their opinion, your writing is good and if you can tell them a good story. I’m not saying that who you are doesn’t matter because clearly it does – you only have to look at what happened to the first Robert Galbraith novel when it was revealed who the author really was to see that. Short of the publicity that J K Rowling will have on her forthcoming outing under pseudonym with the second Cormorant Strike novel, for those indie authors down in the weeds like me, one of the best ways to reach readers, love it or hate it, is through using the sort of tools and facilities provided by a leviathan such as Amazon. How else would my book have reached the Land of the Rising Sun?
So, thanks to all who have supported me from words of encouragement to active downloads, you are truly appreciated and very dear to me.
I haven’t done much writing this last week however I have been marshaling research resources for the novel and planning the project, which is starting to look increasingly like a complete rewrite. I’ve also finished reading Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood. It’s been a long time since I read a book in a week. I will put my review up soon, suffice it to say, there’s a reason why this book is on the Baileys Prize long-list announced last week. I also have to hold my hands up yet again and say I have acquired another book which will be on my reading list for 2014: Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things also on the Baileys long-list. I’m not doing very well with controlling my book buying habit am I?
That’s it for me this week, and so I send best wishes wherever you are and hope your own particular Muse bestows a wonderfully creative week but if you aren’t into that kind of thing – then have a bloody good week whatever you’re doing!