Publishing Your First eBook? The Hardest Part Starts Now

You've spent months or years slaving over a keyboard and developing an idea into a novel that you are proud of. But what many budding writers don't realise is that is only half the job.

You've spent months or years slaving over a keyboard and developing an idea into a novel that you are proud of. But what many budding writers don't realise is that is only half the job.

Because with 1.5million other self-published books available - a number that's growing by an estimated 2,000 a day - unless you dedicate many an hour to promoting your work yourself, it will sit on Amazon's virtual bookshelf with very few browses.

My first attempt at a novel, psychological thriller The Wronged Sons, made its debut on Amazon in October 2013. As a journalist who specialises in celebrity interviews, it's my job to promote whomever I'm chatting to. Unlike writers such as the Daily Mail's infamous Liz Jones or the Guardian's brilliant Simon Hatterstone, I'm not often required to impose my own views into my words.

So self-promotion doesn't come naturally to me. But I've quickly learned the skills of self-promotion for fear of watching my novel disappear into the great eBook mire.

Along with persuading blogs to review my book or interview me for their pages, Facebook became a shameless way of promoting my novel. But there are only a certain number of times you can remind your friends of your latest feat. It's the equivalent of posting daily pictures of your cat or your kids - after a while, even your best friends will begin to sigh.

Likewise Twitter was a useful tool because unlike Facebook, most people who follow you don't actually know you personally. But eventually, even they risk being irritated by your constant requests to retweet your book updates.

There were some means of promotion I seriously debated but eventually ruled out. Tweeting Keeley Hawes, David Tennant and Olivia Colman to inform them they inspired some of my characters seemed a little too desperate. But paying a whopping $5 for a stranger to create a one-minute YouTube promo video was self-indulgent but fun.

Once the bulk of my promotion was complete, I surprised myself at how obsessive I became in checking sales and rankings. Amazon updates its figures hourly, so as a result, once I made a mark on the charts, I simply could not prevent myself from regularly scanning them. And I don't mean once or twice a day, I mean at least once every 60 minutes for every waking hour. On the train, in the lift at work, during a TV commercial break ... if I had two minutes to spare, I couldn't relax until I saw how it was performing.

Author Tom Rob Smith told me during an interview that when his first novel, the rather gripping best-seller Child 44 was published, he set up Google Alerts to read every review or comment posted. But gradually he realised he couldn't please everyone and turned the alerts off. When you put so much effort into writing a novel, you really want other people to like it too. Of course, not everyone will.

Your book's reviews are something you'll never be able to control, and the sooner you recognise that, the better. Many writers believe potential purchasers don't read reviews anymore before they decide to buy, but I think that's wishful thinking. I have many reviews in which people admit they only downloaded my novel after they had read what others said first. And along with reviews comes your readers' rating out of five. Thankfully to date, most of my reviews have earned five or four stars, but anything under that and irrational panic sets in.

Naturally I took my first three-star review to heart and desperately wanted to respond and point out where I disagreed with her. But what right do I have to question someone else's opinion? There are plenty of books I've read over the years and disliked. Her opinion is just as valid another who awarded it five stars. So instead, I shut my mouth and took it on the chin (Well, maybe I sulked a little too) and I'm sure there will be more negative and positive reviews to follow.

Three months after my book appeared on Amazon, sales predictably began to dwindle to around 50 a month. Free downloads is a contentious issue among those writers enrolled in the Kindle Direct Publishing Select programme. By exclusively remaining there, you can give your book away five times in 90 days. The hope is that once it reverts to being a paid-for download, interest in it will remain and you'll generate new sales.

After emailing dozens of Twitter sites dedicated to promoting free book days, I had 2,800 downloads in 48 hours. Granted, that was 2,800 potential sales I had lost out on. But once it rose to the 26th most downloaded free book of the day in the UK, momentum spurred it on when the free offer ended and a further 480 copies were sold over the next seven days. It is a risk, but for me at least, it paid off.

eBook publishers might also find themselves constantly tinkering with prices. I'd love to have sold The Wronged Sons for £2.99, but I'm aware very few people will fork out that sum for the work of an unknown author. Amazon takes 30% of sales of eBooks priced over £2.99 and 70% for anything under that price. And pricing my book at just 99p means that I'll have to sell three books to make less than a quid. But 30% of 99p is better than 70% of nothing.

The money I'm earning from The Wronged Sons means I'm going to have to put the down payment on the Necker Island holiday home on hold until around the year 2078.

But it will hopefully help keep my name floating around until it is time to promote my second novel. Now I just have to stop wasting time looking at Amazon's rankings list and write the damn thing.


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