Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Hello! Is there anybody out there?!

I remember in distant times gone by (well, 3 years ago) when I published Summerset, how I somehow blindly thought that now my book was out in the public domain, that millions of people would be drawn to it and I would be an overnight sensation. Why I thought this, I’m not even sure. Yes, I think it’s a good book, but it isn’t that good, and how would someone like me, with no media profile, be sought out by eager book buyers? I very quickly learned that after badgering friends and family to buy a copy, I suddenly had no audience. This was in the days before the UK was introduced to Kindle, and I thought selling books meant hard copies sold in a book shop. In the UK most book shops, either independent or big chain, won’t touch a self-published book. They still have the stigma and the inaccurate linkage to vanity publishing – poorly edited, badly written stories so obscure no one would be remotely interested. I looked on in awe as I made friends over ‘the Pond’ and discovered that self-pubbed authors in America are allowed into book stores and on local radio shows. Even now that would be unheard of in Britain.

Then I discovered the discussion boards on Amazon. People would post, asking for recommendations. If someone was looking for a romance set in wartime, I would innocently chat to them and mention Summerset, leaving it up to them if they wanted to pursue it further. But slowly, over time, the discussion boards became over-run with other authors, plugging books in categories that had nothing to do with their genre. The same books would have glowing reviews from ‘readers’ who had never reviewed another thing, and suddenly I got lumped in with these ‘trolls’, and after receiving some abuse and a 2 star review from someone, who clearly hadn’t even read the book, (that isn’t vanity, I don’t mind 2 star reviews, but don’t just quote the blurb in the review, say something that proves you’ve read it), I withdrew from the discussion boards and just plugged away, relying on friends passing on my books, or else donating books to second hand shops in the hope someone would read it and pursue my other books.

Now things have changed dramatically. I have discovered Smashwords and Kindle, and in just over a week, my five books have received over 400 downloads on Smashwords alone. Okay, most of these are freebies, but I don’t care about that, I could never have afforded to print out 400 hard copies and donate them to second hand shops. With very little promotion, these books have been sought out and bought or downloaded and for that I’m very grateful. But when I went back onto the Amazon discussion boards, I discovered that authors are now banned from promoting their work full stop. This seems a little unfair to me. Yes the trolls who advertised their cyberpunk, shoot ‘em up novel in a thread where someone’s looking for a book similar to Downton Abbey, deserve to be banned. But should all authors be treated the same? Surely Amazon is awash with advertisements from the big publishers. Log onto any book page and you’ll see recommendations, supposedly because of what you’ve browsed, but uncannily, always a book from a mainstream publisher.

Surely the public have got the sense to just scroll over the trolls, if they’re not interested in what they’ve got to say. Or why not have an Indie Author discussion thread? Then if people are looking for something a little bit different, they can take a look, if not, they can stick to the other threads. Increasingly Amazon are making huge profits from Kindle books, surely they could afford the authors who are bringing them thousands of pounds, a little advertising space and a chance to let the world know what they’ve published.

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