Monday, 25 May 2015

Stock Images - Control, Copies and Context

In today’s Irish Independent, there’s a small article about stock images. A family agreed to have their images taken and used by the photographer for stock in return for a free family photo-shoot.

Their image has then been (perfectly lawfully) licensed out, and used on a website for an Australian law firm, and by an Irish fertility company.

The latest sale, however, was a group called Children Deserve a Mother and a Father which campaigned unsuccessfully in the recent referendum on same-sex marriage.

All three of the above used the image legally. The couple signed a model release, and agreed to the sale of stock images using that image. They didn’t anticipate that would mean their images were used for political purposes with which they don’t agree.

This isn’t a new problem with stock images. If you want to sell images to specific individuals, then standard licences (as used by .e.g. Shutterstock) are not the way to protect those images (and actually, the copyright owner here is the photographer – who plainly did intend to sell licences on those terms as it’s part of their intellectual property portfolio, and they have every right to monetise it).

There’s are a couple of lessons here for authors.

Firstly, those people on your erotica cover? They might not be too happy with the way they’ve been depicted. A quick glance on Amazon reveals all sorts of, ahem, niche content. I can’t imagine that when a model posed for a provocative pouty photo that she contemplated she might be shown as a consort to a dinosaur on the cover of Dinosaur Orgies 4.

Secondly, unless you buy exclusive rights then you’ll probably find other people using the same images. That can and will dilute your branding – because whatever you’re using won’t be unique to you. It also takes a lot of control out of your hands as you could see ‘your’ stock image associated with a controversial brand or cause.

I’ve seen a few authors get more than a little upset when they’ve found books with similar images. There are a number of popular stock images that I’ve seen dozens of times, particularly on pre-made sites where the temptation may be to create the most popular cover templates, and the most popular images are one way of doing that.

So how do you get around it?

  • Option #1 – Modify your stock so it isn’t recognisable. Any designer worth hiring should be able to combine three or more stock images, and render them into a unique design. I don’t mean flipping the photo or tinting it with a new colour either.
  • Option #2 – Buy exclusive rights. Some stock image sites sell exclusive use licences (for a heck of a lot more than a non-exclusive licence). Read the terms carefully with these – as many are exclusive from now on, but many licences may already have been sold so you won’t have sole rights to the stock in that case.
  • Option #3 – Custom shoots. Either hire a photographer, or if you have the skillset and kit, create your own image that then belongs to you. This isn’t going to be cheap – especially if you want models, but if you’ve got a series to brand then having one shoot for all the poses you might need from a cover model can be pretty effective.
  • Option #4 – Custom illustrations. Have someone paint or draw your design from scratch. It’s not cheap, and it doesn’t suit all genres/ titles, but it will allow you to get exactly the image you want and ensure it’s completely unique.
  • Option #5 – Don’t use images. This is more common in non-fic, but textures, colours and fancy font-work can create a striking unique design without needing any photos (stock or otherwise).
And there we go, 5 ways to avoid the pitfalls of stock imagery. Remember that you’ll want to keep to genre conventions as far as possible – and the bestseller lists are the strongest clue as to what the current conventions are. There will be outliers who do their own thing successfully, but if you want to do the same you’ll need a substantial branding plan and plenty of existing readers to spread the word that this unique new concept means you.

PS - We'll be revealing the cover for the third DCI Morton novel exclusively on this blog on July 1st so keep your eyes peeled for that post.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Three Years, 250,000 words+

Today marks three years since Dead on Demand was first published – and what a roller coaster it’s been!

We started out, two idiots, no writing experience, and thought it would be great idea to see if we could write a book. We tried to run before we’d learned to walk. And yet we ran. Sort of.

I have no doubt that we have a long journey ahead of us as writers, and that our journey will be a very public one. The wiser writer might have spent years toiling away in private before casting their net out into the world of kindle.

We made as many mistakes as you’d expect from two rookies, and a few extra for good measure.

In 2012, we started with a very minimal number of sales. Most newbie self-publishers get an initial spurt of sales from their family and friends – and then sink… Which is exactly what we did.

Go take a look back at our sales trajectory and you’ll find we had a ‘summer slump’ in 2012 where every sale was precious. Books are like rolling stones – they take a while to get going, and to gather momentum.

But when they do, the trajectory can be quite impressive. In September 2012, we gave away 55,000 copies of Dead on Demand hitting #1 in free eBooks as a result.

The next week, we took it down and re-proofread it. That cost us momentum. At the time it came off sale, we were #168 paid in the UK kindle store and on the up. There’s every chance that without the pause in sales, we would have continued into the top 100.

But the book wasn't ready for the big time, and neither were we.

We only had one book. Freebies worked back then because they counted as a fraction of a sale for the popularity charts on Amazon (at roughly 1/10th of a sale). That meant we were visible immediately after the free run.

But we didn’t have a second book to sell. 55,000+ readers, many of them clamouring for a second DCI Morton novel, and all we could say was “We’re working on it”.

Pretty daft, right? Anyone who has worked in sales would love to have that sort of audience clamouring for more. But we couldn’t give it to them because it didn’t exist.

Cleaver Square took until late 2013 to finish. We uploaded it a week before Christmas. We were desperate to get in by years-end lest we become those authors who don’t keep up with one a year.
It did well. It’s continued to do well. In the UK we’ve typically been ranked between 500 and 6000 ever since publication (~1200 at the time of this post). That was 17 months ago now, so it’s not been a flash in the pan. There’s been continued, on-going and prolonged interest in our books (for which we’re hugely grateful).

We made the decision to make Dead on Demand free in 2014. We’ve gone into why at length in the past, but the reason we did so is that it gives you a fair free sample. Readers can try us out, and decide if they want to buy another book from us. No DRM, no time limits, no tricks where we give away part of a book and charge for the ending. You get a book. We get a chance to show you what we’re made of.  If you don’t like it, delete it. That's as simple, fair and honest as we can make it.

And we’ve kept the second book affordable too at £1.99 / $2.99. We’re not giving this one away for free (as we do have to eat). We hope you agree that the total cost of £1.99 for two books (over seven hundred pages total) is a bargain.

Our pricing strategy isn’t changing. Many publishers are asking £6, £7, £8 or even £10 for a single eBook. It’s absurd. The difference in cost between print and eBook is enormous and the price should reflect those differences (though I will point out that eBooks are subject to 20% VAT while printed books are not).

If anyone is particularly interested in how the numbers work, email us and we’ll go through ‘em. We think £1.99 is a fair price, so we’re sticking with that for now (which means that books 1-3 will cost a grand total of £3.98; less than a beer in most London pubs!).

Book three, which is called Ten Guilty Men, has taken even longer than Cleaver Square. We’ve had interludes – to do non-writing work in my case, and to study in Dan’s, that have delayed publication. 

We wanted to release it in 2014 – in keeping with a one a year minimum release calendar.

That didn’t happen. 

We’d rather delay the book than give you a half finished work. I hope you’ll agree Ten Guilty Men is worth the wait. It’s in the editing stage now, and will be released on September 1st. We'll be making Beta and ARC copies available in due course, and we'll post on this blog once the eBook is available for preorder.

In other news, we took Can’t Sell, Won’t Sell down from all retail outlets a while back. We’ve had a few emails about this. We never wanted to charge for it. It just made sense to put it into a book format rather than a series of digital articles. Over time these have become less relevant. Kindle Free Days don’t work like they used to. We now have subscription services. We have Kindle Countdown. The industry has changed rapidly in the last three years – and we’re not comfortable leaving outdated advice live.

We would love to re-write CSWS, but it’s not something that makes us a return on our time so it’s way down the pecking order. I may just put up the whole thing on this blog, and let you guys pick over what remains useful.

Finally, you might have noticed a push on our part towards exploiting subsidiary rights. Cleaver Square has been available in Spanish for a while now (thanks to our excellent translator, Cinta Garcia DeLa Rosa), and we’re going to bringing Dead on Demand to audio in Q2 2015 with the help of Irish voice actor Nicholas Jackman.

We’re also looking into further opportunities here – but for commercial reasons, we can’t discuss specifics. As ever, we’ll put news up as soon as we have any.

Thank you for your support over the last three years. You’ve turned a drunken bet into a wonderful journey.


Sean and Dan

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

VAT Hike on eBooks - from midnight

Tomorrow, January 1st, the VAT rate on eBooks is changing. It’s changing because the rules used to be that VAT was charged where the vendor was which meant retailers could be legally resident wherever they liked (within the EU) and pay VAT based on their location. This was called the ‘Place of Supply’ rule.

Naturally, they chose the countries with the lowest VAT rates. For a few years now, that’s been Luxemburg at 3% VAT on eBooks.

From January 1st, the Place of Supply rule dies (as far as eBook publishers are concerned). The new rule is ‘where the customer is’ under Council Implementing Regulation (EU) No 1042/2013).
That means sales of eBooks are going to attract variable VAT rates in all EU member states. 

Thankfully, it’s up to retailers to levy this on behalf of publishers (so Amazon collect and pay it). If they didn’t, it would make selling eBooks ridiculously complicated and decimate low volume sellers with high admin costs (as well as potentially making <£81k turnover businesses lose UK VAT exemption).

So, for publishers this means a change in how they price. To take Amazon as the obvious example, the change means publishers will give Amazon ‘Inclusive’ rather than ‘Exclusive’ pricing.

So today, I might be £1.93 exclusive. With 2014 VAT at 3%, that’s £1.99. I’d then get paid £1.93 minus the delivery fee (circa 5p per copy for most average length eBooks with no extraneous images) and minus Amazon’s cut. That’s about £1.31 to the publisher per £1.99 sale.

From tomorrow, I could be pricing at £1.99 and paying 20% VAT. Thus Amazon would work backwards [(£1.99*0.8) – Delivery Fee]*Royalty rate. So £1.99 becomes £1.59 exclusive of VAT. Then the delivery fee comes off the top to get £1.54. Then Amazon take their cut which leaves about £1.07 per £1.99 sale for the publisher.

That’s a loss of roughly 18% of net royalties on UK sales. Small publishers will therefore be left with a horrible choice – hike their prices by passing on the added tax or cut margins.
Obviously, we’d all like to see prices stay the same. But to keep the same income in 2015 as in 2014, you either sell 20% more or up your prices by about the same.

Except, it doesn’t quite work out that neatly. Prices are almost always going to end in that magic .99. 

It doesn’t look ‘right’ seeing products priced anywhere else.

But £2.99 is a huge hike from £1.99. The question will be ‘Can you maintain the same sales volume at the higher price, and if not, how much do you lose?’

It’s all well in good asking for £2.99, but if you now make half the sales you did before then the total income will fall (and with eBooks, there are no ‘unit costs’ as sunk costs like production should be amortized over time which means there is little downside to volume).

Static pricing means a need for greater volume to offset the per unit loss. For low sellers (e.g. non fic, older titles, niche fic) where the demand curve isn’t so resilient, this might be challenging.

I however suggest small publishers take heart. That 24p you’re going to lose on the £1.99 sale? It’s much less than HaperCollins & Penguin RandomHouse have to eat on their £7.99 books. A £7.99 book (assuming static pricing) will go from a mere 24p in VAT per copy to a whopping £1.59 which makes it much more likely that prices from big publishers will have to go up.

The observant among you might be thinking ‘but Amazon will be swallowing some of the rise, won’t they?’ and yes, they do. Tax comes off before the retailer/publisher split, so on a 70% royalty category Amazon get to cover 30% of the VAT hike (or 5.1% of the total). On 35% royalty sales (i.e. those prices under £1.99) Amazon will be taking a 65% hit on that VAT hike.

That all makes it much easier for small publishers to tank the hit.

And the best part is, Amazon are automatically hiking prices by the appropriate percentage on Jan 1st. Those who change back down will get an immediate price advantage over those who do not do so. To make a change, just login and set a new, VAT-inclusive, price for all EU regions (but note that not all countries have their own price – Ireland will use the UK price as it does now, which can make pricing look funky; alas, there is nothing that you can do about that as there is not yet the granular control required to normalise everywhere).

I’ll be making the change in about an hour and fifteen minutes. Hopefully, Amazon will process that before consumers wake up tomorrow. Sure, I’ll make a little less per copy but now the differential between my book and the others vying for purchases is going to be even bigger which should mean more overall units.

It’s up to you how you price, but in the long run more readers is almost always better than less. 

Within genre fiction at least, volume pricing is here to stay.

NB - this all applies to eBooks only. Print has never been subject to VAT (in the UK at least) and that isn't changing. A few people have asked why print is exempt but eBooks aren't - I don't have a good answer for you there. The technical response is 'governments have a limited number of exemptions from EU VAT rules and ours does not choose to use one of those on eBooks'. In short, it's up to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to get with the times and either VAT print or exempt eBooks. It is wholly absurd to tax them differently.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Don't Panic!

This week Amazon leaked and then launched Kindle Unlimited in the USA. It's an all-you-can-eat reading service for $9.99 with approximately 600,000 titles in it so far.

The service includes hundreds of thousands of KDP titles (i.e. those in KDP Select like our own Cleaver Square Spanish Edition) plus some big names.

The latter, I believe, are not on the same terms as the KDP lot. From the rumours on the net, it appears the big names are getting their full contractual royalty.

But indies aren't. Here's what we get according to the KDP Select Terms and Conditions (scroll down within link to see original context):

"2.3 KDP Select Fund. We will establish a fund on a monthly basis and
you will be eligible to earn a share of that fund for each of your
Digital Books included in the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners'
Lending Library Programs. You will earn a share of the monthly fund,
calculated as the number of qualified reads of your Digital Book
through Kindle Unlimited plus the number of qualified borrows through
the Kindle Owners' Lending Library as a percentage of the number of
total qualified reads and borrows of all KDP Digital Books. This share
is your total Royalty for customer access to your Digital Book through
the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners' Lending Library Programs. For
example, if the fund for a particular month is $1,000,000, your
Digital Book has 1,000 qualified reads through Kindle Unlimited, 500
qualified borrows through the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, and
there are 300,000 total qualified reads and borrows for all
participating Digital Books in that month, your Digital Book will earn
$5,000 ($1,000,000 x 1,500/300,000 = $5,000). We will determine in our
sole discretion the criteria for determining which customer events
qualify for this calculation. A maximum of one event per customer
account will qualify for each Digital Book. We may publically announce
the top Digital Books, including the author, publisher, number of
qualified reads and borrows, and KDP Select fund royalties earned."

In short Amazon create a 'fund' then divide it up by 'units' neither of which are all that fixed.

Firstly, the fund - Amazon set this, in their sole discretion. Authors have no control over it.

Secondly, the 'qualified reads'. The terms don't actually define qualified read but my understanding is that for KOLL (the one book per month free with prime) a qualified read is 'on download' whether the book is read or not. Conversely, a qualified read for Kindle Unlimited may well mirror other subscription services like Scribd where partial reads under 10% are discounted and over 10% count as a unit (or part thereof).

From a 'I want to know how much I'll be paid' perspective, this sucks. We don't know how big the pie is or what slice of it we'll get.

We can guess. If Amazon charge readers $10 and maintain the 30%-65% cut they charge on books at the moment then that leaves $3.50 - $7 on the table.

I suspect it may be a tad more - subscriptions are cheaper for Amazon as there are less micropayments (taking one big $10 chunk costs less than 10 x $1).

Let's be really generous and say it's $7.50.

There are 4.3 weeks in a month.

  • If, on average, a KU reader reads past 10% once a week  then that's about $1.74 per book into the fund.
  • If they read two a week then that's $0.87 per book into the fund.
  • If they read one a day then that's $0.25 per book into the fund.

Of course, it isn't this simple. Amazon are merging the Kindle Unlimited Fund into the Kindle Online Lending Library fund. That has historically paid about $2 a borrow give or take about 15%.
Now, that's one per month per reader (who has prime).
Not everyone has prime, so not all KU subscribers will be prime members. I don't know what proportion will be.
Let's guess at half - probably on the high side but early adopters are probably big Amazonians.

Fund share = assumed $7.50 from above.


  • One read a week (Fund share /4.3) ---> $1.74
  • Two a week (fund share/ 8.6) ---> $0.87
  • One a day (fund share/ 30) ---> $0.25

Prime (assuming ALL use their borrow):
One a week ---> $2 for the first read plus 3 more at the rate of (Fund share/ 4.3] = $1.74 ---> $1.81 on average.
Two a week ---> $2 for the first read plus 8 (rounding up) at the rate of $0.87 ---> $1.00 on average
One a day ---> $2 for the first read plus 29 at $0.25 ---> $0.31 on average.

Now, if half are prime members then we'll be dead in the middle on an average pay to author basis so $1.77 / $0.93 / $0.28. I suspect less than half will be prime, and that only a proportion of prime members use their borrows.

We know that there are 'over 20 million prime members' ( We also know the average royalty in KOLL has been $2 - indicative of about 600,000 borrows per month... suggesting less than 3% of prime users actually use their free book each month.
On that basis, the 'non prime' figures likely to be much closer to the truth. Even if they aren't, we're talking about a swing of pennies per copy caused by prime.

Now if we suggest Amazon want a bigger cut of the $9.99 e.g. the half off that they've been rumoured to be asking for as their margin from hachette then we can take a knife to a third of those royalties reducing them to:

  • One a week -  $1.15
  • Two a week - $0.57
  • One a day - $0.17

So how does that compare to the amount earned by the author on a sale? An author selling for 99c gets a flat $0.35. If the average reader reads less than four Kindle Unlimited books a week, the author gains on average.

But at $2.99, the author gets $2.00 (minus a few cents if the file is huge as authors get charged for delivery). He only wins if the average subscriber takes out 3 books a month. If the average reader grabs 4 ($1.75 a copy to the fund plus adjustment for prime) then he's making less.

At $4.99 ($3.50 royalty) then you'd need Mr Average KU Subscriber to read two books a month or less.

What this tells us is that authors are unlikely to maintain their current margins. Unlimited subscriptions increase usage (as proven with buffets the world over, netflix, spotify etc). We're talking of course about averages. On average, authors lose out - and Amazon gain as authors have to give them exclusivity to get into KU.

In my experience borrows cannibalise sales.  Why would a sensible reader buy what (s)he can have for free (or included with a prepaid plan of some kind)?

Individual authors may do very well - I forsee a 1% economy in play here as in the rest of the kindle store. The big names will get tens of thousands of downloads while others languish. We know that one sale a day at present nets a ranking under 100k on That suggest the other 2.4m+ don't get one a day i.e. downloads are concentrated into a very small number of authors nabbing very large numbers of downloads. Those doing well now are likely to get a disproportionate share of the fund. Think of YouTube - the big get bigger and the unloved stays unloved. There may well be a few break-outs, but this is going to depend both on word-of-mouth and on exposure algorithms within the KU store pages.

But what about readers? Is Kindle Unlimited worth $9.99?

The 'occasional reader' of a handful of titles is best off just buying their books. We can already see that. So those who subscribe are likely to be voracious - which means we're probably looking at royalties under a dollar on average. If you're spending more than $9.99 a month at the moment then KU is obviously worth considering - IF the content contained within it is what you want to read. With a one month trial available for free there's no harm in giving it a go (just untick autorenewal!).

But, will savvy readers go for it? Those who want to save a few pence (i.e. the demographic KU is targeted at) might realise that Select titles (i.e. ALL the indie books in the KU offering) were probably given away for free at some point. KDP Select free days and countdown are the reason authors/ publishers opt in. As a reader, I'd personally rather pay slightly less and go to Scrib'd for a wider selection... or I would if they could deliver to my e-Ink kindle. But they can't and Amazon can. I don't see the point in paying a sub for titles that may well be free at some point in the next 90 days (the length of the KDP Select term).

KU may fail for lack of quality content - or Amazon will suffer the hit and pay full royalties on the big names just to get the content that will hook everyone. I think it'll be a lot like early video streaming - that early adopters will soon read everything they want to and may unsubscribe until the content selection is more mature.

Amazon may also take a hit on the cost. They might run Kindle Unlimited at breakeven rather than profit, or even take a loss to increase subscriber base. Books are great, but Amazon makes a lot more money getting readers to engage with their ecosystem - their devices (inc phone, tablets etc) AND their store. Books cause engagement - and they deliver rich customer behaviour data. Amazon might decide that information is worth forgoing a cut (or some of the cut) of the eBook subs.

Or they might do what most big corporations do - keep content providers happy in the short to medium term to gain market share then use that dominance to slice margins to a razor thin level - and if you look outside of ePublishing, Amazon has pressured suppliers in the past.

Why then, is this entitled Don't Panic?

A few reasons. Firstly, some people want to own rather than buy. We don't stop selling. DVD sales are down, but they do still sell. We will probably see less sales in the long term in eBook format. But it won't drop to nothing.

Secondly, indies can adapt. We can put out shorter works - they still count as 'a unit' so those putting out short stories (particularly in erotica) stand to gain a huge number of units at the expense of longer books.

But thirdly, we can survive on less. Big publishers cannot operate on 17c royalties. They just can't. If they get forced into similar terms then they'd go bankrupt. Authors with those publisher on 25% lockstep net royalties would end up with 4c per copy.

If you think about that, we're a million miles better off. We don't have high overheads. No staff (except freelance) for most, no New York/ London offices.

Of course we should keep an eye on this. It might well work best for back list/ specially created titles to help engage readers to buy the rest of our books. It might be a great discovery tool like Netflix. It might mean we have to think about other ways to monetise - and we're well placed to innovate in that regard. Indies can react and adapt very quickly - much more so than our competitors.

So proceed with caution. The sky isn't falling and book sales won't nosedive this week - but do think about where your place in this new publishing paradigm is.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Price match / Mallory update

Hi all,

It's been a while since we updated the blog - especially with regards to Operation Mallory. As you guys know, Steve is going for a permanantly free first book - following our approach.

To do that, Amazon have to price match somewhere else that is already free. Steve is now up and running for free on Barnes & Noble. If you've got  a Nook - go grab a free copy!

Then do us a favour - and tell Amazon to price match. Here's how:

Step 1: Go to the Amazon page for It's Always Darkest

Step 2: Scroll halfway down the page and click "Report a lower price".

Step 3: Enter the price as $0 and include this URL:
A massive thanks to those that take the time to do this - it'll really help Steve as once he has a free eBook available, the marketing should become less time intensive giving him the rest he needs.

Sean & Dan

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Blurbage: does this blurb make you want to buy? (It's Always Darkest)

Today is the first of my Operation Mallory blurb posts. Steve's books have great new covers, you guys have been blogging all over the net and we've seen thousands of tweets/ likes/ emails.

But, as Elle Casey says the trifecta of awesome for eBooks is cover/blurb/sample. We've tested the cover - it's been through split testing, and we struck a balance between 'most clickable' and 'best fit with the story'. I highly recommend people adopt split testing as one of their methods prepublication - if you know a cover doesn't work, change it (which we did).

We had some debate about the cigar - it did divide opinion. The final call was to keep it in - because it's important to the story.

So, let's assume the cover is fine. Let's also take it as red that the sample is where it needs to be, just so we can focus in on the blurb.

Here's what Steve's got for book #1, It's Always Darkest:

Small-town sportswriter Paul Mallory doesn't need much to keep him happy: Red Stripe beer, H. Upmann cigars, and enough money to put down a few bets at the track every so often will do the trick nicely. He likes his quiet, undemanding life in upstate New York, and he really likes his quiet and undemanding girlfriend Pam. Maybe he even loves her. 

What Paul doesn't like is travel, complications, and most of all, responsibility for the welfare of others. But when his insatiable curiosity—along with a propensity for showing off—gets the better of him one fine June day, he has to leave his old life (and Pam) behind to take on a lucrative new job; a job he never really wanted in the first place. 

Then, on his very first assignment with the mysterious Cramer Press Syndicate, Mallory immediately finds himself in the spotlight at a Russian handball tournament and must decide whether to become personally involved in the biggest story he's ever covered—putting both his career and his life on the line in the process. 

Whatever he does, he'll never be the same again.

I always think there are 3 golden rules to writing blurbs -
1. Introduce the protag
2. Set up the conflict
3. Do that quick enough to get and keep the reader's interest.

It tick box 1 straight off, and it does set up the broad conflict.... but it doesn't give us any detail about it. It's very non-specific. Paul is a journalist, he's reporting on Russian handball. Should get involved?

While it does give us the plot, I'm not sure it's got the same level of tension as the book itself. Underselling can be useful - it makes buyers happy, but we need to have buyers first.

Remember that a blurb is sales copy. It's job is to get the reader to look inside, grab a sample or buy the book. It's not the right time to be getting into detail.

My opinion - cut the first two paragraphs. Cigars, beer, a girlfriend. None of it screams "thriller".

But the plot is very tense. We've got not merely a handball tournament but a decapitation - and the infamous Russian White Nights.

So let's flip it upside down - and skip the basics to get to the action.

When sports journalist Paul Mallory is sent to cover a women's handball tournament for his first assignment with the Cramer Press Syndicate, he expects a working holiday - beer, sports and gorgeous women.
But then the woman he was due to interview is found brutally decapitated, and Paul finds himself not reporting the news, but becoming a part of it.

Now, this isn't perfect. It's a quick 30 second mock up. but it does most of what the original does. Conflict, tick. Curiosity value, tick. Protag introduced, tick.

What do you guys think? Can you do better? Leave a comment if you can!

Monday, 14 April 2014

#OperationMallory Update #1

Hi all,
The response to our plea for help on behalf of Stephen C Spencer has been staggering. We've already seen 20+ blog posts go live, and hundreds of you have been tweeting us on #OperationMallory. There's a huge list in the original post acknowledging your contributions. If I've missed you, please let me know so I can add your name to the list.
Before the public phase of Operation Mallory, we did a lot of groundwork - the new website, the new covers and preparing for this public phase. Now, we've got even more to do.
In the last 24 hours....
  • It's Always Darkest (Book one in the Paul Mallory series) has gone live on Smashwords. It's free, and you can pick any format you like. Grab that here.
  • A series facebook page has been set up.  Many thanks to those that have already liked it, and a big thank you to Clarissa Yeo for designing the header graphic.
  • All the covers have been swapped over on Amazon
  • We've added to the #OperationMallory google drive folder. It now contains a couple of banners (including one specifically for the free book) and an author headshot.
We're still waiting on some retailers to go live. Once they do, we'll update the Links pdf with the new information. We're also still waiting on Amazon to go free on It's Always Darkest. If you fancy popping over to your local Amazon store and telling them it's free elsewhere then feel free. They don't typically price match Smashwords, but it's not impossible. To do that, click "Tell us about a lower price" which is roughly half way down the product page.
The other big ask is reviews. If you're a reader then please consider trying the free book, and leaving a review when you're done - good or bad. We'll be submitting to a number of thriller book blogs this week now we've got the new files with the updated art, but every single review is helpful.
Here's what we're doing in the immediate future to help Steve:
  • Preparing a media kit - Q&A (from older interviews), series info, review extracts, 3rd person bio. That'll go in the folder.
  • HTML ready blog posts - optimised for Blogger & Wordpress. We'll try to put up a few options with different content. Again, those will go in the folder.
  • Optimising the product page. That means using all the spaces available in Author Central on Amazon, working with Shelfari to expand the Book Extras and updating series information. One easy change that'll pay big dividends is putting the series info on every page.
  • Updating the website with more and new content
  • Making sure the reader experience is perfect. This means minimising front matter and making sure the format conversions haven't introduced new errors. Amazon use .mobi but other stores use .ePub, .PDF, .rtf, .lrf, .pdb and .txt files. We need all of them to be perfect.
  • New print versions, using the shiny new cover.
  • Ensuring professional price points in all regions. Using a $ pegged price means some regions end up with odd looking prices like £0.77. We're aiming to get to .99 in all the regions that is possible in.  Pricing controls aren't quite granular enough to do it everywhere (as the prices are broken by Amazon store rather than country) so if yours still look odd, please accept my apologies. If we ever get that level of fine control, I'm sure Steve will use it.
  • ...And generally, more promo. More tweets, more facebooking, more google plus, more pinterest, more blog posts.
We're replying to emails as fast as we can. As you can imagine, there's a lot of work going on behind the scenes.
There may be some split testing going on this week as well. We want to make sure that things like blurbs are the absolute best they can be. Feedback here, as with everything else, is much appreciated. Don't feel the need to pull any punches either - no one is going to be offended if you say "this line doesn't work for me". It's much better to identify weaknesses now and fix them, than it is to have a paying customer find out later.
I'm sure there are a few other tasks on the list, and I'll update this post if any occur to me (or, more likely, someone emails to tell me I'm missing something obvious!).
Thanks again to everyone who has helped so far. You guys rock.

Sean, on behalf the #OperationMallory team.