Following some requests, I’ve now put together questions (and answers) about Déjà Vu for reading groups. You’ll find them under a new menu item above, called Resources.
It was late afternoon yesterday when I remembered that I’d signed up Déjà Vu for a one-day stint as a freebie. This is possible as part of Amazon’s Kindle Select programme. There isn’t a huge amount of data available on this, so here are mine.
For the last three months or so, sales of Déjà Vu had been slowing (oh so tragically, but you’ll hear no complaints from me about how well the book has done). In the UK, it’s March-May sales were 426, 124, and 96. For the US, those figures are much smaller: 45, 21, and 26. The overall sales stand at 9000 UK, 1487 US, totalling 10, 505 (the extra 18 come from Germany).
I’ve interpreted these sales as showing success in the UK and, well, showing a lack of it in the US. One of the nice things is that 50% of the people who read Déjà Vu want to buy Flashback, even though it’s £1.20 more expensive.
By the time I remembered about the one-day freebie, yesterday, Déjà Vu had been ‘selling’ for a few hours in the US. At that point, 576 copies had been moved in the US and only 126 in the UK. This puzzles me a little. Whereas the book doesn’t really sell in the US, there are more people ready to grab it for free. Perhaps, then, it is reasonably attractive to the American consumer but not so attractive that they’re keen to purchase in large number.
When I went to bed that evening, 2854 had moved in the US and 288 in the UK. This morning, totting up the final figures, the US total was 5713 and the UK total 358. Déjà Vu reached at least number four in both (free) science fiction charts each side of the Atlantic. With caveats, that suggests the US Kindle market is around ten times the size of the UK market.
Overall, then, I’d call it a successful promotion. It’s worth bearing in mind that not many of those readers will read the book. Fewer still, maybe none, will post a review. The last promotion I did was for Proper Job, my first — and perhaps last — comedy novel. That shifted many free copies but got no reviews.
How has the Déjà Vu promotion impacted on sales? There’s a small effect. It might last a day or two.
I’ve sold 20 copies in the US so far this month, and that compares with 26 copies for all of May. Oh, and I see one refund! Flashback sales are up a bit to 5 copies this month; last month it was 15.
In the UK, I’ve sold 25 copies of Déjà Vu in June (cf. 95 last month) and 13 copies of Flashback (cf. 73 last month).
For rankings, Déjà Vu is now at 1,997 in the UK, whereas previously it was floating around 10,000. It’s at 7,564 in the US, and has been hovering at 35,000 or so.
There are some stats I could probably compute for the effect of the Kindle Select promotion, but that would be overkill. Right now, I’d say it’s worth it, and the Kindle Select programme remains a great tool for authors publishing on Amazon.
In terms of maximising the benefit of the promotion, you should — obviously — try to get the word out on your social networks without being too much of a tit about it. I try not to be a tit but my Twitter followers could probably tell you whether or not I’m succeeding. Yesterday, I was lucky that SF Signal retweeted a message about the promotion to almost 7000 followers, and I’d be willing to bet that contributed a great deal to the final US figure of 5713.
I guess this is marketing, but I prefer to think of it as letting people know about a book they might like. A Tweet is a transient thing. I’m no fan of spam, and I don’t do newsletters.
Well, peeps, there’re the data. Not sure whether they generalise, but there they are.
No, it’s not a mash-up where Whorf marries Saskia Brandt and Data downsizes to a computer the size of a credit card. This post comprises a thought or two on the process behind what falls under the label ‘Coming to America’ — or, more accurately, working with my American agent on the edition of Déjà Vu that we’ll submit to publishers over the next few months.
Non-writers — and a few writers at the beginning of their career — tend to feel that their work is in final draft early on. Most experienced writers will agree that the editing process represents as much work, if not more, as those early drafts that seemed finished. The process is a enjoyable one because the changes take the book, inch by inch, towards the best it can be.
So, despite the flattering Amazon reviews, I’m keen to take another look at Déjà Vu and tweak it inline with the comments given to me by my agent, Katherine.
I often think of the writing process as being like producing a film, which is odd given that I have no experience of film production. But the first draft is like a rough cut: the material exists in ugly, clumsy but substantive form. Later drafts are like film edits: boiling down the bulk, compressing and adding meaning. The comments of the agent are akin to those of a producer — ‘Should this dissolve be a jump cut?’ — and intelligibility — ‘Why not insert a brief scene where Bob reveals a personal secret to Jane?’
As you might expect, Katherine made clear that I’m free to ignore all her comments, but I haven’t because they are good ones. In this new draft, I’ve made Saskia’s hybrid mind clearer to the reader; filled in some plot blanks that readers often don’t understand on their own; and, with minimal touches, I’ve tried to stop the reader bouncing out of the story on account of unnecessary complexity or unexplained happenings.
The trick, of course, is to leave the good stuff untouched and improve the bits that are just about working.
Here’s one example. In the current draft, Saskia’s physical appearance is not described explicitly. Katherine thought that a physical description early on in the book was needed. Why didn’t I include one? Well, I hate authory bits where the reader is told about a character. I want these descriptions to serve the story too.
Excerpt from the current edition of Déjà Vu:
Ghost-touched by the air conditioning, her sweat dried cold. She entered the lift, which rose on a piston and opened high in the building. Her office was one among dozens on the floor. Its plaque read: Frau Kommissarin Brandt. She licked her thumb and squeaked away a plastic shaving from the newly carved B.
Excerpt from the unpublished, newer draft:
…She licked her thumb and squeaked away a plastic shaving from the newly carved B. There was a picture alongside the name. It showed a serious, beautiful woman in her late twenties. No make-up. No earring in the exposed, left ear. Many photographs had been taken and Saskia liked this one the least. As always, she scowled at herself before opening the door.
I’m fairly happy with this description. It is plausible that Saskia would see this picture; it’s still vague, but gives enough for the reader to imagine her appearance; and it contains her reaction to it, which tells the reader something about her character. With luck, I’ve avoided this kind of thing [from Dan Brown’s angels and Demons]:
Although not overly handsome in a classical sense, the forty-five-year-old Langdon had what his female referred to as an ‘erudite’ appeal …Langdon still had the body o a swimmer, a toned, six-foot physique that he vigilantly maintained with fifty laps a day in the university pool.
If I ever write like this, shoot me. Shoot me vigilantly.
A heads-up from Ben Johncock tells me that no less than Nicholas Clee has been writing in the New Statesman about the transition from tangible to electronic books. (I’ve been struggling to find an official link to the piece; here’s an unofficial-looking one.)
It’s fair to say that Nicholas Clee is traditional in his perspective.
Ebooks are destroying this economic model. …Will 99P become the optimum price for an ebook? If so, who is going to make any money out of publishing or writing books for such a market?
I agree with the first point here. The ebook is a disruptive entity. But anybody who has been around since the early 1990s has seen, in the music industry, an example of electronic merchandise destroying an economic model based on the physical. Perhaps ‘destroyed’ is the wrong term to use in this context. The market is still there. But how much growth does the CD market have? How much in the hardback market?
The second point speaks to a fundamental issue of business. One should not ask ‘How are all the employees of the legacy publishing industry — from receptionists to the CEO — going to maintain their income?’ because this leads to the problem that afflicts all publishers: they decide as a group, implicitly or explicitly, to act as a cartel. Prices are kept high. This creates situations where the electronic version of a book costs the same as or more than the tangible. Try explaining this to a consumer. It’s hard. ‘We need these prices because of the way our business was set up’ makes for poor advertising copy.
Now for the part that mentions your humble correspondent:
As for the financial implications — on the Me and My Big Mouth blog, the novelist Ian Hocking … has confided his sales figures and revenues from self-publishing ebooks with Amazon. Two of them have sold more than 8,000 copies. This is a figure that many conventionally published novelists would envy. But Hocking’s profit to date is only just over £300 (his revenue is just over £2,000).
Had Hocking chosen a conventional publisher, he might well have sold fewer copies, but he would have earned more, thanks to the publisher’s advance.
Yes, my profit is just over £300, but this figure is essentially meaningless (the revenue is more informative) as a proxy for success. First, I’ve ploughed virtually all the money from the first book into the second, and so on. ‘Profit’, then, in this context, represents the amount that I’ve decided not to spend. I might have adjusted that up or down arbitrarily. Second, my science fiction novels continue to sell in greater number each month, and unless I can find other book-related expenditure, this ‘profit’ figure will rise sharply. Overall, I believe it was more sensible for me (as a writer nobody has heard of) to price low and sell in quantity than opt for the preferred option of a legacy publisher, which, perhaps, is to price high and sell few.
The question of the publisher advance is an interesting one. It would certainly be in my short term interest to land a large advance, which I may not earn out. But, if I may say, the industry-wide behaviour of doling out these advances is one of the reasons the business model is unsupportable.
To return to this question: Is 99p too cheap for a book? I really don’t know. If you’re employed by a business that requires the new Ken Follett book to be £16 or more, you’ll probably think it’s too cheap and consider me an upstart who is undercutting you. If you’re an individual, creative person who is putting out a product and is in control of the consumer experience, you will think carefully about the impact that your price will have on the perception of the product. I think 99p for Déjà Vu represents good value. After all, you can get it from a library for free, and that doesn’t lessen its worth. Neither does picking up a second-hand copy from the church bazar.
Last word from Mr Clee, which requires no comment beyond a brief nod to its past tense:
An industry that paid unrecoverable advances for books, and then published them in formats that the public thought too expensive, had its eccentricities.
This is, I think, the first non-customer review of Déjà Vu for its current edition. Red Adept is a site where authors can submit their works for review. The administrators make clear that reviews are non-debatable, and always publish them to the book’s Amazon page after one month. I like the breakdown into ‘plot’, ‘character development’, ‘writing style’ and ‘editing’.
I wanted to share this excerpt:
Saskia enjoys a metric ton (or rather, tonne, as Mr. Hocking is British) of character development during the course of the story, since she begins from a point that’s worse off than a blank slate: the little she knows about her current life is a lie. As the plot progresses, she worries who she truly is, and if she’ll be lost to the resurfacing of her body’s violent personality. By the end, she’s far outstripped everyone else in complexity and sheer awesomeness.
Did you know that Déjà Vu’s price has been slashed by 16% to make it 72p? That’s 72p British pence, people.
What is Twitter?
Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to send “updates” (or “tweets”; text-based posts, up to 140 characters long) to the Twitter website, via short message service (e.g. on a cell phone), instant messaging, or a third-party application such as Twitterrific or Facebook.
You’ll have noticed that I include my Twitter feed in the footer text of this website. So, when I’m drinking a coffee and feel that the world needs to know; or I’m stuck on a train outside Basingstoke; or I’m watching Dr Who…then I can tweet.
Twitter is one of those technologies that gives Web 2.0 a bad name. That is, whenever I explain it to people who don’t use social networking thingies, they look at me like I’m a complete idiot.
Just like you’re looking at your web browser right now, very probably.
For a long while, I’ve been interested in somehow capturing — live — the process of creating a novel. I’d like to put together a form of parallel art that mirrors the insertion, deletion and movement of words around the manuscript, and perhaps make a time-lapse film of it. I’m still a long way from being able to do this. Some species of screen capture technology pointed at my word processor might do the trick, but the bandwidth implication makes me dizzy.
So, as part of this experimentation with reflecting the ongoing development of a novel, I have created a Twitter account for my heroine, Saskia Brandt. The current novel (my third in this series; the first was published as Déjà Vu) is set in 1907. That’s where my time traveller has wound up.
Who is Saskia Brandt? (If you haven’t read Déjà Vu and think you might, look away now.) Saskia is physically fit, about 30 years old — nobody is quite sure of her age — and a former detective with the European Föderatives Investigationsbüro, a specialist organisation set up in 2019 to address EU-wide computer crime. She was forcibly put through an experimental procedure that left her with a small, glass-covered chip at the back of her brain. It contains a digital copy of a murdered woman’s mind. It contains what is, essentially, Saskia’s personality. The original personality of her physical brain is suppressed; though it can usurp control in her dreams and moments of stress. Various skills were flashed onto the chip before insertion, including weapons handling, language competency (she understands more than 6000 languages), and special programs that post-process sensory information. In 2023, she travelled backwards in time and is currently being hunted by her former employers. Now she’s in St Petersburg in 1907.
Saskia Brandt is going to tweet her ‘status’ as the current novel is being written. You’re very welcome to add Saskia to your Twitter friends, if you have an account. She’ll add you straight back. Her Twitter address is: http://twitter.com/saskiabrandt You don’t, by the way, need an account to follow her. Her status updates are now included in the page footer, and you can visit the above address manually.
Here are some rules:
- She will update her status about once a day; her time frame is ‘live’ in the sense that she will tweet about things happening to her in that day’s writing session
- Her statuses will contain teasers, not spoilers
- Though she is updating her status as though she had a mobile phone in 1907, the character in the final novel will not be stopping every few pages to send a tweet
- Saskia will reply to your questions if you ask them, but will not spoil the story
Interested? Then make Saskia a Twitter friend. I’m currently 4400 words into the manuscript (which will total around 100,000), so Saskia will be tweeting for the next few months. Here’s the latest tweet. For her, it’s November 1907 and she’s travelling into St Petersburg on behalf of a criminal organisation which (I think) she’s just betrayed.
Michael Stephen Fuchs — whose rather good novels I have reviewed for Pulp.net and on this blog — has written an article for the manfully-named www.shotsmag.co.uk. He writes about the difference between British and American authors in their treatment of guns. In summary, the Brits are less expert.
I’ve made my own, modest contribution to this trend by bungling a description of firearms not once but several times in the original publication of Déjà vu. I described the cylinder of a revolver as the barrel (hey, it’s somewhat barrel-like!) and was very loose in my treatment of the term ‘firing pin’. Fortunately, an American reader pointed this out — in a genuinely kind manner — and I’ve put it straight for subsequent versions of the book.
This cultural difference also results in some very palpable differences between writing about guns and gunplay by British authors versus American authors. With American crime and action writers – if you know what to listen for, at any rate – it’s easy to get a sense that they are writing from first-hand experience. With Brits, it’s equivalently easy to get a sense they are writing straight from research. This is because, generally, at some point in the book, the British writer will let slip one small but enormously glaring boner about the makeup or operations of firearms. When this happens, it’s like getting a brief glimpse around the edge of the cardboard building facade in a Hollywood set: nothing else has changed, all the other details are still right. But, suddenly, the whole thing just looks irretrievably fake.
I’ll get m’coat.
Hell, I am busting to fire a projectile weapon. I want to know how much it stings one’s palm; what it smells like; how loud it is; does it make that PEEEEOW(OW)(ow) sound liberally employed on the foley track for The Professionals? I also wouldn’t mind hitting something, as long as it’s made of clay.
I wonder if Michael has any in his cupboard.