May started with my birthday, quite literally, as my birthday is 1st May. I don’t fuss too much about my birthday. In fact, most years, I can’t actually remember what age I am and have to work it out! I try not to do any day job work on my birthday and my preferred way to spend it is to write but I had lots of bits and bobs to sort out so didn’t get much writing done this year.
I did go out for a lovely meal with my daughter and husband on the evening, though. I might have had some pudding. Nom nom.
Age has caught up with me and, for the first time ever, I now need glasses. Always one for bright colours (as you can see from the striped t-shirt), I opted for red frames and I love them. They’re only for close-up reading but it makes such a difference, especially when reading something on my phone. I hadn’t realised that my phone was actually blurred until I’ve looked at it through my new glasses and realised how sharp the words should be. I struggle to remember to put them on all the time, though, so I think that might take some adjusting to. Speaking of ageing, I found a white hair in my eyebrow. What’s that all about? Seriously unimpressed!
May was another award-winning month with Dreaming About Daran, the final book in my Welcome to Whitsborough Bay trilogy, also receiving a Chill With A Book Readers’ Award. However, Daran just edged it over Searching for Steven and Getting Over Gary by receiving a Chill With A Book PREMIER Readers’ Award. This is given to books which receive “exceptional high evaluations from Chill readers.” It’s my favourite of the trilogy and one of my favourites of all my books so I was really thrilled by this.
My fellow Yorkshire Rose Writer and good friend, Sharon Booth, and I attended the 2nd part of a social media workshop for authors in York run by the lovely Anita Chapman from NeetsMarketing. It was good to catch up with some of the authors from the part 1 in May last year and really great to have another of our Write Romantic friends, Rachael Thomas, join us on the course. Unfortunately I’d booked set train tickets before I knew Rachael was going or I could have stayed behind for a drink and a chat with her.
Sharon and I had another catch-up a couple of weeks later and, as usual, were the last ones in the café we frequent. They’re always really polite and we never stay beyond the official closing time, but we do feel a bit guilty for being there so late so we’re trying a pub next time where this won’t be an issue.
I was thrilled with the grade I received for my 4thassignment on the final year of my MA in Creative Writing. This involved 2k words of fiction, a submission letter to an agent or publisher and a synopsis of the fiction we’re producing for our final assignment. I hoped for a high mark as I didn’t think there was too much I could get wrong in a submission letter although writing a synopsis for a novel I’ve not written any words for yet was a bit of a challenge! I worked hard on the assignment and was rewarded with a high distinction of 94% which is my best mark yet. My previous assignment grade was a little disappointing, scoring just below the distinction barrier and I was beginning to think that I’d have no chance of securing a distinction at the end but the latest grade has made me a little more hopeful that it may be within my grasp.
I’ve done very little in the way of writing this month. I’ve done some final editing on my next book and have penned a couple of chapters on the one after but nothing significant. That’s mainly because I needed to get on top of the day job before I went away for holiday over half-term. We went to a resort called Albufeira onThe Algarve.
It was our first time in Portugal and we loved it. It was a very relaxing holiday although the temperatures got a little hot for my liking halfway through (when they hit 37 degrees). I don’t tan very well, tending to get a heat-rash halfway through a week away, no matter how high a sun cream factor I use so I’ve returned sporting a slightly darker shade of ‘pale and pasty’.
Our self-catering apartment complex was lovely (see picture above). We were the room just above the pool bar at the end of the photo which was ideally situated to be close to the pool but not right next to it.
My favourite day out was a jet boat trip along the coast, visiting various caves and then an hour dolphin-searching. Sadly we didn’t see dolphins but it was still a fabulous trip and the marina was gorgeous with colourful apartments overlooking it.
I took my laptop with me but didn’t do any writing, even on my last day when I needed to stay indoors because my heat-rash was so itchy. I was tempted to spend the day writing but decided to use the downtime to read instead. Although this boat could have given inspiration for a thriller. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a black boat before. Talk about looking like an evil villain’s boat! Mwah ha ha ha!
June promises to be another very busy month. I have another MA assignment due, significant progress needed on my current WIP, a family wedding, a gig, the munchkin in a show at the YMCA, and a trip to York with my mum and sisters-in-law on my side of the family. And June will start with some very exciting news which I can’t wait to share so watch this space.
What’s this? Three blog posts in the space of a week? Goodness, me, that’s unknown!
I promise this is only a short one. I’m delighted to say that the final part of my Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series, Dreaming About Daran, has just won a Chill With A Book Readers’ Award too! And not just that, but he’s won a PREMIER award which is for “exceptional high evaluations from Chill readers”. Wow! Just wow!
My boys have done me so proud. I know you shouldn’t have favourites so, shhh, but Daran is my favourite of the series. Congratulations Daran and thank you to Pauline and all the Chill Readers. I’m ever so grateful.
If you’d like to know more, here’s the blurbs for all the books in the trilogy and the buying links:
Searching for Steven (winner of Chill With A Book Readers’ Award)
What if you already know your future… but not the path to take you there?
When Sarah Peterson accepts her Auntie Kay’s unexpected offer to take over her florist’s shop, she’s prepared for a change of job, home and lifestyle. What she isn’t prepared for is the discovery of a scarily accurate clairvoyant reading that’s been missing for twelve years. All her predictions have come true, except one: she’s about to meet the man of her dreams. Oh, and his name is Steven.
Suddenly Stevens are everywhere. Could it be the window cleaner, the rep, the manager of the coffee shop, or any of the men she’s met online? On top of that, she finds herself quite attracted to a handsome web designer, but his name isn’t even Steven…
During this unusual search, will Sarah find her destiny?
Getting Over Gary (winner of Chill With A Book Readers’ Award and Cover of the Month Award)
How do you move on when life keeps throwing surprises at you?
Elise married her childhood sweetheart, Gary, straight out of college, and they’ve been happy together for over twelve years. Elise is now desperate to start a family, but Gary doesn’t seem to share her enthusiasm anymore. Arriving home early from a party, she discovers why: Gary’s been keeping a secret from her. A very big secret.
While her own marriage appears to be falling apart, being a supportive bridesmaid for her best friend, Sarah, isn’t easy. Especially not when Clare, her nemesis from day one, is one of the other bridesmaids. If she’s going to get through it, she needs to put her own feelings aside, find herself again, and get over Gary, fast.
Could recently-divorced Daniel be the tonic Elise needs, or is he full of secrets and lies too? Is his hostile, but strangely attractive brother, Michael, the genuine article instead? And why do the good guys like Stevie turn her down?
But then Elise discovers she has a secret of her own and getting over Gary suddenly becomes the least of her worries…
Dreaming About Daran (winner of Chill With A Book PREMIER Readers’ Award)
Where do you go when it’s your own past you’re running from?
Sometimes, you can run from the past, but you can’t hide. Since the age of sixteen, Clare O’Connell has lived her life by four strict rules:
Don’t talk about Ireland
Don’t think about Ireland
Don’t go to Ireland
Don’t let anyone in
And so far, it’s worked well. She’s got a great career, some amazing friends, and she’s really happy. The future’s all that counts, isn’t it?
When her boss insists she travels to Ireland to repair a damaged relationship with a key client. Clare finds herself drawn back to the village of Ballykielty where she comes face to face with the one person she’d hoped never, ever to see again.
With the door to her past now wide open, the first three rules have gone out of the window. Can Clare stick to rule number four?
I’ve decided to start a new monthly post where I reflect on the previous month. Hmm. Might only remember to do this once but the intention is definitely there!
April was an award-winning month. Getting Over Gary won a Chill With A Book Readers’ Award and also a Cover of the Month Award which was a bit exciting. The final book in the trilogy, Dreaming About Daran, is under consideration at the moment so I’ve got everything crossed that May brings exciting award news for Daran.
I went to an event in my hometown of Scarborough as part of our literary festival: Books by the Beach. It was a talk with Lucy Diamond and Lynne Truss.
I really like Lucy Diamond’s books. I’ve read a couple and have a few more on my TBR pile. I am more familiar with Lynne Truss for the incredibly successful book about punctuation, Eats Shoots and Leaves. She’s recently written a humorous crime novel called A Shot in the Dark so she was talking about that. Both women read very gripping excerpts from their novels, engaged in conversation with the presenter, and answered audience questions.
My good friend, Sharon Booth, joined me so it gave us a good excuse to go for lunch to reflect on what we’d heard and have a good old catch-up. There was cake. There’s always cake! Ooh, and we had milkshakes. Yummy.
I saw Sharon again earlier this week when I joined the monthly RNA Chapter Meeting in Beverley. We decided to meet a little earlier for tea but it went a bit wrong initially. The Chapter changed venue last month to a quieter pub with a little more space for us to get together without being on top of the other patrons. They were serving food so Sharon and I arranged to meet early there only to discover that, somewhere between our March and April meetings, they’d decided it wasn’t financially viable to have the kitchen open on a Monday or Tuesday (not enough punters). Fortunately one of the customers was able to direct us to a pub a couple of minutes’ drive away where there was food. I had a delicious meal and couldn’t resist a spot of pudding: cookie dough cheesecake.
Writing-wise, I’ve been very busy editing my next release. It was a little long at 115k words and I’ve managed to reduce it by 20k. This has really tightened the story and I feel much more positive about it. I’ve also made some progress on the next release after that, which is now at 15k words.
Outside of my writing cave, I took my 12-year-old daughter to see Dumbo at the cinema over the Easter break. Visually, it was spectacular, but it was bit dark and a bit sad for me. I suppose that was to be expected with it being a Tim Burton piece. Sadly, my daughter sobbed all the way through it so it was actually quite a traumatic experience. I think I’d have probably enjoyed it a bit more if she hadn’t been so distraught. Bless her. She needed mummy cuddles throughout!
She put me through another traumatic experience a few days later. We needed to go shopping for holiday clothes for her so we headed through to a retail park in York. Guess how long we spent in Primark? I do not exaggerate when I say we were in there for 2.5 hours. Argh! I didn’t mind the wandering around and picking clothes part but the trying on was hideous as she is unbelievably slow. I’d probably try on 6 things in the time it takes her to pull on one. She was in the changing rooms for about an hour. An hour, I tell you! I was finding it painful enough but poor hubby was losing the will to live as he waited by the basket! On a positive note, she’s fully kitted-out now. Phew. Because I absolutely could not go through that again any time soon! And what did I get as a treat? A pair of shorts and a vest top. Feeling a little short-changed!
We’ve had a couple of family events this month too. My in-laws celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary so there was a family party for that and my nephew on hubby’s side of the family became a dad for the first time too. I haven’t had a chance to meet baby Winnie as she is on the special care baby unit after being born at 32 weeks but hopefully I’ll get a chance to welcome her to the family really soon. Her arrival got my daughter all broody and the ‘can I have a brother or sister’ question arose again. Absolutely not!
My final bit of news is that I’ve resigned from part of my day job. I’m an HR Tutor, marking assignments and answering queries for students studying their HR professional qualification online. I work from home and I love the flexibility this role has around my writing. I did have a secondary role as an internal verifier (IV) with the same company, quality checking the work of other tutors and giving feedback to them. It was something I did quarterly but the volumes massively increased in the most recent round and, for the second half of March and first half of April, I couldn’t squeeze any writing in as I had so much IV work to do. I made the decision to resign from that role as I really can’t afford not to write for a third of the year. I’ll miss the income, but the time back is far more valuable to me.
So, that’s my April. I feel quite exhausted thinking about it!
Hopefully I’ll do one of these for May too and get into a routine. You have permission to slap me with a wet halibut if I don’t!
Hot on the heels of winning his Chill With a Book Readers’ Award, I’m very excited to say that Getting Over Gary has been awarded the Cover of the Month for April! All the books that win the Readers’ Award for the month are considered for this and a designer from Avalon Graphics picks the winner. The announcement on the Chill With a Book website can be found here.
Bear With Me also won the Cover of the Month last May. This is a proud moment for me because my husband, Mark, designs my covers. He drew the Beatle on the cover of this one, which is the car that the protagonist, Elise drives.
Hi there. Remember me? Very, very intermittent blogger? I’m sorry I haven’t been around much. I will endeavour to rectify that. But I’ve said that before, haven’t I? Oops!
This is just a quick post to announce the great news that Getting Over Gary won an award. But when I looked back over the blog, I realised I’d neglected to say that Searching for Steven won one too. Double oops.
They have both won a Chill With A Book Readers’ Award. This is given to independent releases. A group of prolific readers are asked to review the books against the following questions:
Were the characters strong and engaging?
Was the book well written?
Did the story / plot have you turning the page to find out what happened next?
Was the ending satisfying?
Would you recommend to someone who reads this kind of story?
Those who fulfil all these criteria will be awarded a Chill With A Book Readers’ Award. Bear With Me won one last May so I wondered whether the trilogy would be able to follow in Bear’s footsteps.
The answer, so far, is a resounding YES! Searching for Steven won the Award in February 2019 with some amazing reader feedback:
“I enjoyed this so much that I have since read the other two books in the trilogy. Well written and feel good. The characters were brilliantly formed.”
“I enjoyed this one, a nice little love story well written and with a decent plot.”
Hot on his heels, Getting Over Garywon an Award this month with this lovely reader feedback:
“I loved this book.”
“A really enjoyable story well thought through with plausible characters.”
Dreaming About Daran is waiting for his opportunity to be read so watch this space for news as to whether he scores the hat-trick for the trilogy and makes it four out of four. He’s my favourite of the trilogy so I am hopeful he’ll have his own little Award too. Fingers crossed!
A huge thank you to Pauline who runs these great Awards and all my readers. You can read more about them here.
Today is a book birthday and my head is currently so full of my day job and my current work in progress that I nearly missed it!
So this is just a really quick post to say Happy Book Birthday to Bear With Me, released two years ago today. You can find him on Amazon here.
This was a really special book for me for several reasons:
It is partly set in a specialist teddy bear shop. I set up and ran my own teddy bear shop between 2003-2005. The setting up of the shop provided some inspiration for the plot of my debut novel, Searching for Steven, and I started writing that novel while I had the shop. I’d work on it during quieter days and that experience of having a teddy bear shop is inextricably linked with my writing so I always wanted to write a book partly set in one
It explores a life-changing diagnosis and was the first time I needed to do some really in-depth research for any of my books. I learned such a lot about Parkinson’s and dementia from my research, much of which I didn’t already know. My Auntie, to whom the book is dedicated, sadly passed away last year, far too young, suffering from Parkinson’s and dementia
It was the first book I’d released outside of a publishing deal. My publisher had ceased trading and, in order to keep momentum going, I chose not to seek a new publisher, releasing this as an indie author instead. Terrifying yet exciting!
I’ve received some amazing feedback about Bear With Me from bloggers on a book tour last year and also from readers. He currently has only 4 and 5-star reviews on Amazon, 78% of those being at 5-star which gives me a warm and fuzzy bear hug moment.
He’s also received a Chill With a Book Readers’ Award and a Chill with a Book Cover Award too. It’s definitely like bear hugs all round!
And if you’re not into teddy bears, it’s worth giving this book a chance because, as many of the reviews acknowledge, it’s about so much more than that.
Happy Book Birthday, my book baby ❤
Bear With Me
Jemma has the job of her dreams as curator for the children’s section of a museum in London. She spends each day surrounded by the one thing she’s absolutely passionate about: teddy bears. When boyfriend, Scott, shows a genuine interest in her passion instead of laughing at her for “playing with teddies all day”, she knows he’s a keeper.
Returning home to the North Yorkshire seaside town of Whitsborough Bay to celebrate her birthday, Jemma thinks she’s heading for her happy-ever-after when Scott unexpectedly proposes. So, a few days later, why isn’t he retuning her calls or responding to her texts?
Julie has always been a wonderful single mother to Jemma and her little brother, Sean. As owner of specialist teddy bear shop, Bear With Me, and the creative genius behind the successful range of Ju-Sea Bears, she inspires Jemma with her ability to balance a demanding career with home life. So why is the shop now in disarray and why is Sean so upset?
Sam thought he had his future all worked out. With a promising neurology career, a home, and a devoted fiancée, life was looking good. But now he’s all alone in a strange city, far from everyone and everything he cares about, struggling to rebuild the tatters of his life. Did he do the right thing by running away? What does the future hold and is he strong enough to face it?
Sometimes love finds us when we least expect it. But sometimes love leaves us, just as unexpectedly. When you’ve loved and lost, can you bear to let love in again?
It’s World Book Day today and, if you or anyone you know has primary school aged children, then your social media is probably full of pictures of them dressed as characters from books. Some will be wearing shop-bought costumes and others will be be the result of hours of labour by a parent, probably late into the evening last night, sometimes to huge success, and sometimes not quite what they (or the child) had envisaged. Oops.
This year, the munchkin is in year 7 – senior school – so it’s the first time in years when she hasn’t needed to dress up. I’m not particularly creative when it comes to costume ideas for World Book Day. My excuse is that all my creative juices go into my books and there are none left for making fancy dress costumes. I also very much come from the “We’re not spending loads of money on this so if it’s not in your wardrobe already or can’t be created from something in your wardrobe, it’s not going to happen” school of thought. What a meany, eh?
I’ve been trying to remember what munchkin dressed as over the years and I can barely remember what I had for breakfast most days so this is no mean feat. I’m pretty sure we did a few Disney Princess years – very easy – and we had a cute ladybird costume so she became the ladybird in Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. She wanted to be Violet Beauregarde from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory one year although she refused to have her face painted. I do remember spending quite a bit of time making a golden ticket that year but the outfit must have been something blue or purple from her wardrobe. I’m pretty certain we’ve had Hermione from the Harry Potter books too. I think. Hmm. Told you my memory was bad.
One of my favourite costumes, though, was in her penultimate year at primary school. I did my usual “We’re not spending loads…” lecture and, after some sulking, she came up with the idea herself: Mia from The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot, inspired by the outfit worn by Anne Hathaway in the film. We plaited her hair the night before but, other than that, the outfit took very little effort. Unfortunately she split her lunch down her dad’s silk tie and it didn’t look too happy after I tried to hand wash it clean but, seeing as he works from home and never wears shirts and ties, I decided we could live with that sacrifice.
This year is the 22nd World Book Day and, although it is aimed at children: “World Book Day is a registered charity on a mission to give every child and young person a book of their own”, World Book Day is “a celebration of authors, illustrators, books and (most importantly) it’s a celebration of reading.” These quotes, along with a stack of fabulous information and images, can be found on the official World Book Day website. It’s been lovely seeing Facebook posts from authors celebrating their achievements and I couldn’t resist knocking together a quick post of my own, courtesy of a Canva template (shown at the start of this post) and this got me thinking…
I still have many dreams I want to achieve with my writing, including earning enough to make it my main job, but the first dream was simply to finish a book and see it published. I achieved that in 2015 and it’s a good reminder to myself that, whilst sales can be disappointing, high chart positions can seem elusive, news from publishers can seem slow, and rejections can be difficult, I wrote a book. Then repeated it 9-fold. Actually 10-fold but that’s the one doing the round of publishers. And I’m halfway through my current WIP with another two books started. It’s not that long ago since I wondered if I’d ever finish one. So I’ll raise my can of Diet Pepsi to World Book Day and feel proud that I turned my love of reading into a love of writing too.
Happy World Book Day to everyone, whether a reader, writer or both. Whatever genre you read, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, whether it’s eBook, paperback, audio or a combination, keep doing it. Immerse yourself in information, meet new characters, experience different worlds and keep learning.
Something really scary happened to me on Monday 14th December. At 5.19pm, completely out of the blue, I received this email from Amazon:
We are reaching out to you because we detected purchases or borrows of your book(s) originating from accounts attempting to manipulate sales rank. As a result, the sales rank on the following book(s) will not be visible until we determine this activity has ceased.
Please be aware that you are responsible for ensuring the strategies you have used to promote your book(s) comply with our Terms and Conditions. We encourage you to thoroughly review any marketing services you have employed for promotional purposes.
Please be aware, any additional activity attempting to manipulate the Kindle services may result in account level action.
I clicked onto the link they’d provided and it took me to my debut novel, Searching for Steven, on Amazon.com. Yes, that’s right, on Amazon.com rather than my home market of Amazon.co.uk. Weird. And even more weird is that:
I had only sold ONE eBook in the USA in the past 90 days and that was nearly 2 months previously in late October. I repeat ONE copy. In 90 days
I had a little over 1000 pages read in the USA in the same period. That’s the equivalent of 3 people reading the book in its entirety
There had to be a mistake, right? So I emailed the address given and nicely asked them to explain what this meant. They replied that same day with this:
We do not sponsor or endorse any 3rd party marketing services. You’re welcome to promote your book through third-party websites and other services, but we encourage you to monitor the tactics they use to promote your books. You are responsible for ensuring that no tactics used to promote your book manipulate the Kindle publishing service and/or Kindle programs.
We advise against using any sites that “guarantee” a return on your investment. We support our authors’ efforts to promote their books worldwide, but at the same time, we work to prevent any manipulation of the Kindle publishing service.
Did I have questions? Oh yes. I still had all the questions I’d asked in my first email that hadn’t been answered:
What are you talking about?
Have you seen my sales figures?
Surely if I was manipulating sales or pages read, there’d actually be some sales or pages read?
I begged them – literally begged – to explain what was going on in words that actually made sense.
So they replied in the early hours of Tuesday and, is it just me, or does this pretty much say exactly the same thing as the others i.e. nothing that makes a shred of sense? Computer-generated jargon that has ignored all of my questions:
We detected that purchases or borrows of your book(s) are originating from accounts attempting to manipulate sales rank. As a result, your sales rank will not be visible until we determine this activity has ceased.
While we fully support the efforts of our publishers to promote their books, we take activities that jeopardize the experience of our readers and other authors seriously. Please be aware that you are responsible for ensuring the strategies used to promote your books comply with our Terms and Conditions. We encourage you to thoroughly review any marketing services employed for promotional purposes.
So I wrote to them yet again – with questions – and they responded that evening with this even more aggressive email which basically told me I was STILL engaging in manipulative strategies but they refused to give me any information about this. There was no offer to get in touch with further questions. Case closed. Verdict: guilty…
As we previously stated, we still detect reading or borrow activity for your books originating from accounts attempting to manipulate Kindle services. You are responsible for ensuring the strategies used to promote your books comply with our Terms and Conditions. We cannot offer advice on marketing services or details of our investigations.
Please be aware we will not be providing additional details.
Cue another email from me begging them for some help and I received no response.
After the first email, Searching for Steven was immediately rank-stripped across all the markets in which Amazon operates, all of which offer my eBooks. What does this mean? This means all visibility of my book was lost because I was no longer featured in any Amazon charts. It didn’t mean that Searching for Steven couldn’t be found; it just meant that someone would need to specifically search for the book by title/author as it wouldn’t come up in any other sort of search. And yes, the irony of the book title and this situation is not lost on me!
So where did this leave me? Nowhere really. Amazon had made a massive administrative mistake based on some faulty algorithm yet their aggressive, threatening emails were all computer-generated and the system was clearly set up to spit out 4 barely-different emails then shut down any correspondence after the final version.
I turned to the closed Facebook page of the Romantic Novelists’ Association hoping that there’d been some sort of technical glitch and loads of members were in the same boat as me but it appeared I’d been singled out for Amazon’s super special Christmas gift. I am very grateful to one member, though, for pointing me to a blog run by a writer called David Gaughran who champions and supports writers and investigated several cases well over a year ago where this has happened to other writers. The emails were exactly the same but the scenarios different. In those cases, they were all participating in promotions – absolutely legitimate ones – and the spike in sales on the back of that seems to have been what generated the scary email. Not in my case. I hadn’t promoted Searching for Steven since I participated in a blog tour to celebrate his 3-year-book birthday in June last year and, as already stated, sales were pretty much non-existent. You can read his blog post here.
David responded to a comment I posted on his blog, asking for more information, and immediately contacted Amazon on my behalf using different email addresses that should help escalate the situation. All we can do was wait. And wait. And wait.
Back in December, how had this sorry tale affected me? It was pretty horrific. On the Monday night, after the first email, I couldn’t sleep. Would you be able to if you’d been accused of a crime that you didn’t commit and the punishment was already dished out (the rank-stripping) before you had a chance to plead your case? On the Tuesday night after the final ‘we’re not giving you any info so get lost’ email, I didn’t sleep either. Or on Wednesday night. By the Thursday, completely exhausted, I couldn’t stop crying all day and I only managed to get a bit of sleep that night thanks to David stepping in and a belief that something might happen after I’d had no joy.
You might think it’s not something to cry over but, believe me, it is:
I was losing sales and pages read. Granted, not many because (a) it was Christmas and I had 4 x Christmas books out there which were the main sellers at that time and (b) I had barely any sales of that book anyway, particularly in the USA, although I did have a trickle of them in the UK and a steady 500 average pages a day read in the UK. These sales were likely to disappear, though
Sadly, I do not sell many eBooks or have that many pages read so I cannot afford to lose this visibility
I secured an audio deal for Searching for Steven and the Thursday of my horrible week was the release day. It should have been a happy day yet I didn’t see the point in doing any promotion of a title that could be removed at any moment and felt far too emotional to ‘celebrate’
I felt like I’d been found guilty and locked up but nobody would tell me what my crime was or allow me to defend myself despite being completely innocent. I mean, let’s face it, if I was going to do something to manipulate sales, you’d think I’d actually trigger some sales. Going from zero to zero isn’t exactly yelling criminal mastermind, is it?
The threat of having my books removed (this is what “account-level action” means) hung over me. Amazon have the power to do this whenever they want
The emails take the ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach with a bit of ‘and by the way, we don’t care if you’re innocent because our algorithms tell us you’re up to mischief so you’re black-listed for life and there will be consequences’ thrown in for good measure. I’m back in the playground at school being bullied again. Or work. Take your pick as bullies lurk everywhere
This all came at the end of a dire year for me writing-wise. Sales had started to look up in late 2017/early 2018 after I released Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes and Charlee and the Chocolate Shop. From selling hardly any eBooks and having very few pages read, the Christmas books got immediate attention and, whilst sales were still very low, they were steady. Hurrah! And this had a knock-on effect on the non-Christmas books suggesting readers had enjoyed my Christmas offerings and were seeking out other titles.
Then something happened in the spring of 2018. Sales dropped through the floor and so did pages read. My income from writing – which was never particularly good anyway – plummeted and, despite bringing out 2 x Christmas books in the November, this made little impact in November although December did see some recovery (not a patch on last year, though).
I write under a pen-name and the “real” me has a Kindle. I would regularly receive emails from Amazon promoting Jessica’s books but, cninciding with this plummet in sales, these seemed to stop. I have since had one for my novella, Raving About Rhys, but none with any my Christmas books on. Something strange is happening.
Alongside the plummeting sales and lack of promo was review-gate; the much-publicised situation where Amazon went through their system over a few months and removed all of the reviews that certain readers/reviewers has placed, accusing them of creating false reviews. Some noticed, complained and had reviews reinstated. Some probably haven’t noticed. Some will have spotted it and not have the energy to fight it. I lost up to 20 reviews during that time. As a struggling indie writer, this is a massive blow, especially when they were predominantly hard-earned 5-star reviews. I completely get that there are “rogue” practices out there and there are authors who pay for reviews. It’s right for these people to be stopped … but not to the detriment of those whose reviews are honest and genuine.
Then in early October, I think it was, a very successful author threatened me with legal action. All I’ll say about the situation is that it was very upsetting, especially as I was completely innocent again. Thankfully it went away, but it left scars.
And, on top of that, I had several rejections from publishers. They’re what we call ‘positive rejections’ i.e. they love my writing, my world, my voice but the story is not for them. I got a stack of rejections when I sent Searching for Steven out into the world and none of them hurt. These ones floored me.
I think you can probably see why Amazon’s accusations and subsequent sanctions tipped me over the edge. As Christmas approached, I felt mentally and emotionally drained. I had never felt so low and started questioning whether any of it was worth it. As an indie writer who still works full time because the writing income is so low I can’t afford not to, I struggle to make an impact on the charts but my love for writing and the amazing reviews I get have kept me going … until last year. For a few weeks there, publishing and me are not friends. I was hoping could find my optimism over the Christmas break and rise above all the crap that 2018 presented me. Something you love doing shouldn’t be so traumatic, should it? Sadly, that didn’t work and, if I’m honest, the Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company ruined my Christmas. I smiled, I laughed and I pretended everything was okay but it really wasn’t. They’d broken me.
The New Year arrived and clearly they weren’t going to respond to David’s chase email so I emailed ‘Jeff’; a general Amazon email address. I was thrilled when Jeff responded the day after (4th January 2019):
I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused.
I understand you have a question about Sales rank manipulation issue.
This issue requires input from another team. I’ve forwarded your email to them and someone will reply within 2 business days.
Thanks for using Amazon KDP !!!
Yes! At last! A human was going to deal with it. There was hope. So I waited two business days. I waited three. I waited several more. On 10th January, I chased Jeff again. And on 23rd. And on 30th. Jeff had obviously decided to blank me too.
So, on 4thFebruary, I emailed the 2 x addresses that David had used and tried a different tack; not forwarding the history on email in case fwd emails were getting kicked out the system.
On 7th February, they finally responded with this email:
We’ve restored the sales rank of your book and it will become available within the next 24 hours.
Please review your account or any promotional services that you may have paid. You’re responsible for ensuring that no tactics used to promote your book(s) manipulate the Kindle publishing service and/or Kindle programs.
No apology. No explanation. No offer of compensation for the inconvenience and stress. Just a factual statement and another telling off. Seriously. And by compensation, I don’t mean money but it would have been nice for them to do some promotion for me or even offer me a Prime deal.
I should have felt relieved but I was actually really angry that day because this is not how businesses should be run yet it happens all the time. I get that I am insignificant to Amazon. My limited sales make little financial impact on my life so they’re certainly not going to make an impact on Amazon’s billions but imagine if thousands of ‘little people’ are being treated in this way, with automated threats and no explanation. How many people are feeling low and have nowhere to turn?
The ranks have remained in the week that has followed and I’ve had no more threatening emails but I know it could happen again any time and that’s very scary. If anyone else is in this situation, please leave a comment. If you’re struggling, I’ll give you the email addresses I finally got a reply from. If you found a better way of resolving this, please let me know in case it happens again.
That’s the end of my story. It’s not a happy ever after. It’s not happy at all but it is an end … for now.
As an independent author, I am eternally grateful that Amazon exists. It has meant I can get my books out there without a publishing deal but a company that is so enormous that it has to operate on algorithms and automated responses scares me. There surely needs to be a ‘human’ way to have contact and get mistakes rectified without putting someone through what I’ve been through.
I’ve been on a little road-trip (or train-trip to be precise) this weekend, down to London. As Joey from Friends would say: London baby!
Sporting my brand new hair colour – time to go a bit lighter again in an effort to reduce the impact of that pesky white badger streak that insists on appearing after a few weeks – I caught the train down on Friday morning and returned on Sunday afternoon, feeling somewhat shattered, having had a very busy and very lovely weekend.
The purpose of the trip was to attend an RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) meeting on Saturday afternoon. I don’t normally go to the London-based events because it’s so expensive to get down to London from oop north, even when booked well in advance, but I had an added incentive this time. Sara-Jade Virtue, Special Sales Director and Brand Director at Simon & Schuster was the guest speaker and I was really keen to meet her.
You see, each year, on 15th July, S&S run an un-agented submissions day: #OneDay. Last year, I decided to submit but, because the MS had to be finished, I couldn’t submit my work-in-progress, Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye. They were happy to accept previously-released works providing the author owned the rights, so I submitted the first chapter and synopsis of Bear With Me. I was thrilled, two weeks later, to be asked to submit the full MS. Woohoo! Bear With Me ended up being a pass but I had some amazing feedback about my writing and was encouraged to submit any other manuscripts outside of #OneDay so I submitted Wish… in December with fingers crossed and a little prayer.
I knew that the trip would be expensive, particularly when adding in hotel costs and meals, but I decided to go to the meeting to hear what Sara-Jade had to say and hopefully speak with her in person. I figured that, whilst meeting someone in person isn’t going to make them like my manuscript any more, it’s always great to have that personal contact. Even if Wish… is also a pass, I’d have more of a relationship than I would via email only.
The thing is, I’m not very good at networking. And by not very good, I mean terrible. I don’t have a problem talking to strangers. In my day job in HR, I’m a recruiter and trainer so I’m used to engaging strangers in conversation all the time but the big difference is that I’m the one they’re there to see so they need to talk back to me! When I’m not the “person in charge”, I have a huge problem in being the one to approach a stranger to to start a conversation. All sorts of worries and doubts fill me: Why would they even want to speak to me? What if I start talking and they walk off? What if they start yawning or looking at their watch? What if I turn into a jibbering mess, especially when I want to impress them? What if they turn into a dragon and start breathing fire on me? Okay, that last one might have been an exaggeration but the others are very real. Lots of people I know are terrified of public speaking and that’s how I feel about networking. Scary stuff. Even though I’d made the journey, I had a feeling I’d bottle it.
Sara-Jade gave us a fascinating insight into the world of publishing. I had no idea how many people and how many steps there in the process from reading a manuscript to getting (and keeping) a book out there. I was hanging on every single word and also to her responses to the many questions the group asked. I was quite proud of myself because I asked a question and got a detailed answer so, if I did bottle introducing myself, at least I’d drawn myself to Sara-Jade’s attention in some small way.
The good news is that I was brave and introduced myself afterwards. She didn’t ignore me, walk off or yawn and I didn’t make a mess of it. She was absolutely lovely, knew who I was, and said she’d be in touch in a few weeks’ time. She even followed this up with an email afterwards which absolutely made my day. A moment’s courage and all that …
Before the meeting, I had a chance to meet two of my Write Romantic writing friends, Jo Bartlett and Jackie Ladbury. We met at Victoria and had the most amazing lunch in the Market Hall there. It’s like a food hall but with independent stalls rather than chain ones (or at least, if they were chains, I certainly wasn’t familiar with them) and it had a really relaxed atmosphere.
Jo was unable to join us for the RNA meeting so Jackie and I caught the tube back to Tower Hill for the RNA meeting and met another Write Romantic, Helen Rolfe, for a drink first. The three of us then went out for a meal and drinks afterwards. We went to All Bar One and had the most amazing sharing platter and nachos although we were all starving and dived in so I didn’t get a picture of those!
I have to say that it was a wonderful day from start to finish. One of the most valuable things I can ever do as a writer is to meet with other writers and talk about all things writing. It’s motivating, inspiring and incredibly helpful.
I’d decided to stay over on the Friday as well, giving me a chance to catch up with a university friend who lives in London so I had a chance to reminisce about our uni days and catch up on the latest news with him too. And I got to have a brief explore around a part of London I’ve never visited. I now want to visit The Tower of London for a proper explore and I’d like to walk across Tower Bridge too.
Earlier this week, my wonderful writing friend and fellow Yorkshire Rose Writer, Sharon Booth, wrote a blog post about a serious condition from which she suffers, I suffer, and many other writers also suffer: comparisonitis. It’s the feeling of inadequacy brought on by constantly comparing ourselves to other writers. You can read her honest and entertaining post here.
But this got me thinking about the other ailment from which I’m suffering really badly at the moment: itsapileofpapitis. A bit like comparisonitis, it’s a really nasty bug that can creep up on you and floor you completely. Man flu? It’s got nothing on this little beast.
It can overcome a writer at any point but here are the three main parts of the writing process where a writer is likely to be struck down with it.
The very start
You have this idea. This great idea. It might have come to you in the shower, in the middle of the night, when you heard an item on the news, listened to the lyrics of a song, or overheard a snippet of conversation. Ooh, exciting! The creative juices start flowing. This could be it. This could have mileage. This could be a bestseller.
And then itsapileofpapitis strikes. Out of nowhere, it punches you square on the jaw and shouts: Are you mad? That’s the most stupid idea I’ve ever heard! It’s flawed. There’s not a full story in that. Go on, write it, I dare you to waste your time…
And that’s it. The doubts have set in. You convince yourself it was a rubbish idea and either abandon it or bravely attempt to write it, but it’s like wading through treacle because those nagging doubts are there and you can’t stop listening to them.
It’s going well. You’ve got a plot, you’ve got some characters, the dialogue is flowing, the
setting is coming alive when … oh my goodness … it hits you. A hideous dose of itsapileofpapitis. You look at what you’ve written, hold your head in your hands and sigh loudly. And that little voice starts again: What a pile of pap! It’s all over the shop. Full of plot holes.Your 5-year old/the dog/next door’s guinea pig could have written something better than that. You might as well give up. Stop writing right now. Seriously, stop.
And that’s it. But this time you’re stuck. You have already invested time, effort and perhaps a few tears in creating half/a third/quarter of a book. You believed in it enough to have got this far. But do you have the courage to go further? Will you be able to work through itsapileofpapitis and come out the other side? Or will your work languish on your computer, unloved; just a series of words that nobody will ever read?
At the very end
This is perhaps the most dangerous form of this condition and it’s the one that takes the most out of us. You’ve typed ‘The End’. You smile, you sit back in your chair, and you silently congratulate yourself. You did it! You wrote your 1st, 8th, 97thbook. Wow! That’s some achievement. You know the hard work starts now because you’re about to embark on some major proofreading and editing but, for now, relax and enjoy this moment because you have finished writing a book. Amazing.
Then the edits start and … argh! Itsapileofpapitis takes its hold with the tightest of grips and that voice of doubt pierces your very soul: You’re kidding me, right? That’s your book? That’s what you’ve spent the last 6 months/year/10 years writing? Oh. My. God! Don’t give up the day job. It’s the biggest dollop of pap I have ever read. In fact, I didn’t even make it to the end before Zzzzzz. You’re never going to publish that/try to get it published are you? Ha ha ha. That’s hilarious. Get ready for rejection / one-star reviews. You’re finished as a writer. So much for improving with age and experience.
And that’s it. Those doubts, those worries, those fears smother you and you have to ask yourself some serious questions:
Is this genuinely a dollop of pap that should never see the light of day?
Is it actually boring?
Are there seriously lots of plot holes?
Is there really no character arc?
Have I honestly created one-dimensional stereotypical characters?
OR … and this is very likely the case … am I just tired/too close to it/having an understandable and quite human meltdown?
So what do you do when you’re still struck down with itsapileofpapitis?
I don’t think there’s anything you can really do except keep believing in yourself. If you put your heart and soul into this and can say it really is the best you can do, then I’d say it’s just the condition getting you down and you should do your best to quieten those doubts.
I never used to suffer from itsapileofpapitis. I was really proud of my first book but I think that was me being a bit naïve about what lay ahead. At that point, the fact that I’d finished writing a whole book was pretty astonishing and I was very happy with what I’d done. And it was really well received. It received great feedback on the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme, got two publishing deals and started to gather lots of four and five star reviews on Amazon. But that in itself opened up my susceptibility to itsapileofpapitis because, with each subsequent book, doubts started to creep in: Was it as good as Searching for Steven?
What becomes really weird the more books you release is that you want readers to say of your newest one: It’s amazing, my new favourite! Yet this then brings in the doubts again. Does that mean they didn’t really like the previous one and they were just being nice? Ha ha ha. Can’t win, eh?
So why am I bringing this up today?
Because I’ve come down with a bad case of itsapileofpapitis. I finished my tenth book, Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye, in September. At the RNA’s Conference, I received positive comments from four publishers but I decided not to submit it to one of them and it didn’t lead to anything with the others. So the doubts started which is ridiculous because I had something like 35 rejections before Searching for Stevengot two publishing deals. I have only actually had three rejections for Wish…so far but it’s still been enough to floor me with itsapileofpapitis.
I knew that I wanted to give Wish… one last read-through before indie publishing it in spring (assuming it hadn’t found a publisher home by then). On hearing that a new publisher would be looking for submissions from today, I decided to do that this week and, oh my goodness, I had three doses of itsapileofpapitis in the space of a few days:
Doubting the premise as soon as I started reading it
Doubting it was a gripping tale somewhere in the middle
Doubting it would do anywhere near as well as the others near the end
Then I read the last chapter and, even though I’ve read it so many times before, it made me smile, it made me cry, and it made me sigh in that way I sigh when I’ve reached the end of a really enjoyable book and feel satisfied with the ending. The story made me feel things.
And I reminded myself that the feedback I’d had from publishers was that it was a great story, great characters, great setting and that I could write … it just wasn’t for them.
And I reminded myself that my beta readers have unanimously said it’s the best thing I’ve ever written and they loved it (whilst trying not to question what’s wrong with my other books!)
So itsapileofpapitis can do one. I refuse to let it bring me down and I refuse to listen to it … although if I do start getting one-star reviews for it, maybe I’ll change my mind!
Have you ever suffered from this? I’d love to hear from you, particularly if you have ways of getting round it.
Have an amazing week. My plan is to return to a WIP I’ve been dithering with for the past few months because … you’ve guessed it … I’ve been hit with a serious case of itsapileofpapitis about it!