Blog amalgamation

Because I’m struggling to keep two blogs up to date, and I don’t want to neglect either of them, I’ve decided to incorporate this one into my new all singing, all dancing author website here: (this replaces by website,

I’m just getting settled into my new home. Why not pop over, say hello and have a cuppa?


Experiment: Using keywords to improve Amazon discoverability

I do like nice, concise titles!

The full explanation of this method comes courtesy of Joanna Penn, self-publishing guru and can be found here: . It involves using Google adwords to research popular search terms in your field then double-checking them on Amazon – a keyword popular on both Google and Amazon should be on your list.

This technique employs some of the SEO tactics used over the years by web masters to get their sites noticed by Google. The theory is, by adding important keywords to both the keyword field on the KDP upload page:

Amazon keywords

and to the product description or ‘book blurb’:

Amazon product descriptionreaders searching Amazon for their next purchase might just enter the topics they’re interested into ‘search’ and if your book is what they’re interested in, bingo! If you can get a keyword or phrase into your book title too (eg The Loyal Servant – A Political Thriller) even better.

Now this technigue might work really well for non-fiction books (Joanna Penn uses a non-fiction example to describe the method) but to date (I added the keywords and tweaked the description on April 23) I’ve seen no increase in sales. At all.

It might be my keywords haven’t bedded in yet (technical term) and it’s too soon to call, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this isn’t worth spending a lot of time on if you’re a fiction author.

How to sell books (part 1)

books on shelfIt’s a widely accepted view (I’ve read it in so many places I can’t even remember them all, let alone list them) that there are 3 main drivers that books book sales:

  1. Write a good book (a great one would be even better) get it edited, proof read and properly formatted
  2. Get a professional cover designed
  3. Put together a compelling product description (or blurb) for the book

Now obviously I would say that I’ve already achieved no.1 (there’d be no point in this Big fat Experiment if I thought my books were rubbish) and I’ve recently completely overhauled  the blurb for both The Loyal Servant and The Senior Moment. But I’ve been holding off on redesigning the covers as I knew what a big job it could be. But as the experiment is all about going the extra mile, sleeves rolled, muscles flexed, I finally accepted the mission.

Covers that work for ebooks
There are a few key elements that should be considered when designing a cover that will not only fit the book you’re selling, but also work well online (whether that’s at Amazon, Kobo, iBookstore or Smashwords). Here’s a lits of the big ones.

What’s on the tin
The image/design should fit the genre – there’s no point in having a pink cover featuring a woman in high heels swinging a handbag if you’ve written a gritty noir-ish thriller. The cartoony pink thing would work with cozies (more popular in the US than the UK, hence the spelling), but the only way for a reader to know they’re getting what they hope for when they click on that thumbnail image is making sure what’s on the tin matches what’s inside. I know it’s plain common sense, but the same mistakes are made over and over again

A sense of story
It also helps if the image picks up on elements from the book – a character or a location or an important object. You don’t have to be literal, but getting a sense of the story from the cover never hurts (didn’t someone once say something about a picture painting a thousand words?)

Fit for the front table at Waterstones/Barnes and Noble
It must look professional. This can be a tad controversial – what seems like a swanky bells and whistles cover to one person might look completely amateurish to another. And that’s just down to taste. But what you can’t do is throw something together in Microsoft Paint or even worse, Powerpoint (!) and think that it’ll cut the mustard.

One of the most neglected elements of cover design and the thing that will identify an indie author as an amateur faster than anything is bad typography – not just the use of unsuitable fonts (please: no more Comic Sans) – but also the positioning of the title and author name and the technical stuff like kerning and leading (basically the space between letters and the space between lines, respectively).

You have to be honest when you ask yourself whether your cover would look out of place in a long line of ‘also bought’ thumbnail images.

The Miniaturist
Talking of thumbnails… there’s no point in beautifully rendered titles and author names if they’re unreadable when the image is resized to postage stamp dimensions. Some people may say that any other text should be excluded from the design for this reason too – you just can’t make it out. But I think the addition of a tagline or a glowing quote from an established author adds to the professional look of a cover, without it an image can seem strangley naked.

Black and white
Choose colours that display OK in black and white. I’m not sure what the statistics are for readers browsing Amazon et al directly from their ebook reader (ie NOT from a tablet or via their laptop) but it doesn’t do any harm to cater for them when considering the elements of your design

All of which leads me to the redesign of The Loyal Servant. The cover has already been through two iterations (you can see them both here) but the one I’ve been using for quite a while now didn’t really suggest to a casual browser (they do exist, don’t they?) that the book was a political thriller set in Westminster. So I fixed that. I also tweaked the design for The Senior Moment so that the font choice and word placement matched more closely than they had previously – I wanted to make it clear both books are part of the Degrees of Separation series.

So now… the big reveal (I feel strangely nervous)

The Loyal Servant


The Senior Moment

I’d love to know what you think.

Snapshot of where I am in the ‘writer’s journey’ (I know)

road - the author journeyI’m still fossicking at the moment, attempting to devise my master plan. I have tried one marketing ‘ploy’ to increase the visibility of my first novel (The Loyal Servant) – more of that in another post – but I’m still deciding on the first step in the experiment. Could be procrastination, but it doesn’t feel like that, and believe me, I have a LOT of experience of procrastination. Thinking about it, I should go and put a load of washing on right now. And there’s the hoovering to do…

So ahead of the first Big Experiment post proper, I thought I’d provide some details of where I’m starting from, the foundation (such as it is) that I’ve put down already and how my books are doing right now. If this experiment is going to help anyone besides me, transparency is the only way to go. Which I’m sure will be at the very least, mildly embarrassing.

Published books
At present I have two novels and one short story for sale on Amazon and one permanently free short story available everywhere. (Note to self – upload to Kobo and iBookstore quick smart)

The Loyal Servant (a political thriller)
The Loyal Servant is the third novel I’ve written but the first to be published. The other two were consigned to the virtual bottom drawer and will remain there. Forever.

I was inspired to write about a whistleblowing civil servant uncovering government corruption by my eight years working as a contractor in the Department for Education. Although my gripes about the incompetence of some managers, the terrible waste of tax payers’ money and the proliferation of management consultants were edited out of the final version, it was still a very cathartic experience. Happily, through many drafts and rewrites the original spleen-venting rant was transformed into a page-turning political thriller (at least I like to think so.)

It’s available from Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Ca.

The Senior Moment (an unconventional ‘heist’ thriller)
The Senior Moment started out as an exploration into the invisibility of old age. Conceived originally as a two-part TV serial in a Sally Wainwright/Kay Mellor mould, it became a novel when I realised I just had to write it and get it out there (clearly I wouldn’t have a chance of getting it on telly) after I felt a creeping sense of transparency myself.

That explanation makes it sound a bit worthy, it’s actually quite a pacy thriller and even a little bit funny.

It features a character from The Loyal Servant, hence the creation of the Degrees of Separation series (every character in every novel can be linked to every other in no more than three or four steps).

You can find it here: Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Ca

Work in progress – The Third Estate (a police procedural)
This is the novel that I meant to write first, but has somehow become the third book of the Degrees series. Set on a council estate in south London, it’s about the disappearance of a nine-year-old girl and the effect it has on her family and the local community. It also explores assumptions made by the media and the police about the ‘kind’ of people living on the estate.

Told from the perspective of a journalist covering the story (Angela Tate from The Loyal Servant) and two of the detectives investigating the disappearance, The Third Estate is primarily a police procedural with a bit of amateur sleuth thrown in.

I will attempt to implement everything I’m learning about launching a book with this title and of course report back on this blog.

cash registerSales so far
To say current sales are disappointing wouldn’t do justice to the sinking feeling that sweeps over me every time I check my Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) dashboard (something I do far too often, although not as often as I used to). Currently I’m selling around 60 books a month (yes that’s right – a month!) across the three paid-for titles. And that’s been pretty consistent for the past few months. When I’ve had a free Amazon campaign there’s been a slight bump, though nothing significant, certainly when compared to the success I had last year before Amazon changed the way they calculate their rankings. The Mystery of the Zon Algorithm has to be a fantasy/science fiction title just waiting to be written.

So there it is: No Marketing = Very Few Sales

Hence the sleeve-rolling, palm-spitting and elbow grease of The Big Self Publishing Experiment.

New series
This I’m undecided about at the moment – I have some elements that are non-negotiable (more of what I like vs what’s insanely popular in another post) – but with this new project I plan to do some research into what might help books ‘fit’ more comfortably into existing niches/genres using techniques I’ve read about over at the Tim Ferris Four Hour Week blog (thanks to Joanna Penn at for tweeting that link).

The books I’ve written up to now really don’t fit neatly into any one particular category and that’s making it more difficult for me to know how to market them/increase their visibility.

It may all sound horribly calculated – an exercise in writing for the market rather than from the heart – but as I say, I have some themes and elements that I simply won’t jettison, no matter what my market research reveals.

Ultimately I still have to write the books I want to read. Happily I have quite eclectic tastes.

What do you think?
Which genres/styles/themes are your favourites? When picking a book to read, how much are you influenced by trends? Friends? Price? And how about choosing what to write? Is it a burning story that just has to be told? Or do you have one eye on the bestseller charts?