I publish, therefore I am invisible

When I told my brother-in-law in Belfast that I was going to upload my novel London Eye to Amazon's Kindle Store, his reaction was swift and to the point. “Make sure you price it at 99p like that fella who sold a million."

He was referring to the American author John Locke, whose Donovan Creed crime novels have apparently sold more than 1.2 million digital copies this year alone. How Locke managed this is frankly beyond me. Is he a writer or a machine? Maybe I should buy his “How to sell a Million" handbook to find out. But it turns out that his books are prepared for Kindle by the Telemachus Press, of Florida, offering “professional author services for the busy writer who has neither the time nor the inclination to develop the skill-sets necessary to create and deliver either a ‘print-on-demand’ or eBook product". Hmmm. So that’s the secret! 

Anyway, I told my brother-in-law I would do what I could. Two weeks on, I have sold three copies in the US, eight in the UK and, er, none in Germany.

E-Publishing – not to be confused with the availability on Kindle and other digital platforms of “proper" books from “proper" publishers –  is the version of vanity publishing that dares to speak its name. Yet for all but a tiny number of writers, the reality lies a long way behind the hype. To its hopeful but mainly hapless practitioners, e-fiction is a bit like a politician who is constantly tipped to lead his party but never actually makes it off the backbenches. It is the future of publishing, and it always will be.

The thing is, I am not entirely a novice at the writing lark. My first book, the Oxbridge Conspiracy (Michael Joseph, 1994), a study of elitism in higher education, created a fuss and was universally derided by the Oxbridge Establishment. The Beginning of the End (Mainstream/Random House. 2006), a memoir of growing up in Belfast during the Troubles, sold well in Ireland and was serialised in the Sunday Times. A thriller based on the imaginary true story behind a Baroque masterpiece lost for 200 years reached number one in its class in Italy as Il Codice Caravaggio (Newton Compton) and will come out this autumn from the Irish publisher Lilliput Press as The Caravaggio Conspiracy.

But London Eye never found a home. Several top British publishers nibbled at it, only to spit it out as unmarketable. It failed on two counts. It was funny (“you cannot be serious!") and it featured three men, old friends, who were about to turn 50 ("Dear God, no!"). My then agent was convinced it would make my fortune and was dismayed by editors’ responses – especially as so many of them said how much they had enjoyed it, only to add that it couldn’t possibly sell.

Thus it was that I decided to market it on Kindle. My wife, a graphic designer, came up with a quick cover. I then followed the instructions on Amazon and sent it out into the ether.

During the cumbersome editing and publishing process, I ended up downloading no fewer than six copies to my own Kindle, for four of which, I am assured, I will be reimbursed. I also spoke at length to customer service reps in California and Costa Rica, both of whom undertook to get back to me but never did. Whatever else, London Eye remains all my own work.

It was then that a cloak of invisibility descended. The only people who knew about London Eye were my immediate friends and family, my facebook friends and those whose sadness is defined by their close personal knowledge of recent uploads to the Kindle Store. A number of those I approached – one of them a distinguished publisher – didn’t know there was such an entity as the Kindle Store and were unable to find the book without the equivalent of global satellite navigation.

So far so bad.  I realise that there are websites devoted to my problem, and others that list and review selected additions to the Kindle oeuvre. What does not exist is a proper grown-up site, possibly run by Amazon, in which hot new arrivals, bestsellers and chart climbers are featured as if they mattered, and not as if they were the products of small-time eccentrics who really ought to get out more.

I need word of mouth. I need that elusive buzz. I need help. So will anyone – you, for example – read these words and say to themselves, hey, maybe I’ll take a look at this book . . . what’s it called again?

It’s London Eye. It’s by Walter Ellis and it’s in the Kindle Store on Amazon. Buy now while stocks last. More on the way.



Both right and wrong

David Amerland's picture


Walter speaks from personal experience here and he is right. He is also wrong. Digital publishing, just like paper publishing, to succeed, requires visibility. Visibility has always been controlled (and guided) by publishers. In assuming the mantle of the publisher authors gain speed in publishing, get rid of the tediousness of submission and rejection until they find a publisher and gain control of their book. They lose the ability to make it visible easily because publishers, traditionally, controlled these channels. There is a way to overcome this and I wrote a detailed piece addressing exactly this, as a response to Walter's post here. 

Bottom line is that until a writer also successfully assumes the publicity side of a publisher's business, just bringing a book out, no matter how good a book it may, will never be enough. 


Invisible London Eye

Let it not be said that Madame Arcati ever forgets its commenters: http://madamearcati.blogspot.com/2011/08/walter-ellis-old-madame-arcati-moaner.html


Walter Ellis's picture

No. Let it not be said.

You're absolutely right about

You're absolutely right about it getting harder for indies. It's happening already - whenever Amazon run a sale, most of the indies get pushed right out of the top 40.  here's only us and a couple of others in there at the moment.

I expect that soon the chart will go the same way as the US where the chart is dominated by traditionally-published books with teams of marketers and Amazon support. It's possible for indies to make decent sales and money over there even if they aren't in the higher echelons of the chart because the market is so much bigger.

All of this was part of why we decided to sign up with HarperCollins (along with a desire to be in print, have an editor, get an advance, etc).

We did pretty much all of our marketing through social media - blogging, networking and using Facebook. All of that, which was like pushing a huge rock up a steep hill, got us noticed on Amazon and positioned on the 'also bought' bars of some top sellers.  Then, as soon as we released the second book, it was as if we could let go of the rock and let it roll.

So my big tip to the original poster is network like crazy and try to get attached to some other books. Guest blogs and interviews work very well.  

This article is dead on. I

darnzen's picture

This article is dead on. I only disagree with one point, that "the future of publishing will always be just that, the future." The industry must transform and make the transition. It will happen as a fully digital market is way more efficient than the current set up with a string of middlemen up and down the distribution channel. It's simple economics. The most efficient market wins. All those people making money off the current set up will fight the change every step of the way.

This is one reason I created the site writelydone.com. I'm also struggling with visibility as a start up, but once there is traffic, all users of the site will benefit. It's a publishing company without the 'brick and mortar.' Writers will have access to publishing professionals to get everything set and it's in the sites best interest to promote authors work and inject it into distribution channels broader than just Amazon.

I've called it "assisted publishing" and "community publishing" or "crowd publishing." It's kind of like self-publishing, without being alone.

It is possible to do it alone

I have to point out that it is possible, though very hard, to do it on your own.

Last night, Louise Voss and I sold our 70,000th self-published Kindle book in 5 months.

Both books have slipped down into the mid-20s since our month at number one (briefly knocked off the top during that month by James Craig himself!).  We were unable to hold off the onslaught of the Amazon summer sale.

James/451 - you were helped by promotion by Amazon, weren't you? A slot on the kindlepost blog (which sends every cheap book featured up the chart) and various other mentions by them, and it was sent out to their Vine reviewers programme.  I do not say this in a begrudging way at all, as at the end of the day is was the quality of your book, plus a great cover, title, blurb and reviews that made the real difference. But I wonder how much you think Amazon's backing of your book helped?

London Calling

4fifty1's picture

Hi Mark,

As I think you know, both myself and Craig are huge fans of the success you and Louise have had with your books and I agree with pretty much everything you said. 

Is it possible to do it yourself? Yes, of course it is, but you know better than most, the time, dedication, planning and expertise it takes. These successes don't just arrive neatly packaged on your desktop and there is NO MAGIC WAND. You have to know what you're doing and you need to work hard at it.

Did our publisher's relationship with Amazon help? Of course it did and for that we give praise.

Everything we did was part of a joined up, well thought out marketing and publicity campaign - it was a proper team effort involving 451, the author, the publisher (and yes) Amazon. Our team tactics paid off and our team got a result that we're all pretty pleased with.

I'm pretty sure that as the established publishers get nimbler and quicker to respond, the self-published writer will find it more and more difficult to compete and they will find it harder and harder to make an impact at the top of the charts.

To be honest I assume that you and Louise recognised this and that's the reason why you recently got yourself (a top notch) literary agent, a sure sign if ever I saw one that your days of 'doing it alone' are very shortly about to end.

All my own work

Very interesting piece.

My experience with my book (London Calling - http://www.amazon.co.uk/London-Calling-Inspector-Carlyle-ebook) is that it is impossible to do it all on your own.

My big break came when i hooked up with a guy called Chris McVeigh at 451 - www.fourfiftyone.co.uk - a specialist in social media as it relates to publishing. 

 451 spent a lot of time and effort getting the book in front of people who might be interested: end result = 15,000 sold in first month.



Philip Jones's picture

Hi James, I've noted the success of your book and its e-book publication ahead of C&R's print version. I'd be interested in hearing more about your story. Can you email me on philip.jones@bookseller.co.uk.

Inspector Carlyle

Walter Ellis's picture

Congratulations! I shall look you up at once.  But believe me, I am doing everything I can.

London Eye

Walter Ellis's picture

Crquimby (below) isn't right about America. In fact, London Eye IS AVAILABLE for purchase and sampling in the U.S. You will find it by either going to the Kindle Store and typing in Walter Ellis London Eye, or else by typing in the same info in the opening All Departments searchline. It works. I've just tried it.

And thanks to everybody for being so nice and helpful!

Finding the right genre publisher

Hi Walter,

Agree with the other comments here - its hard, and simply because we are facing a flood of self-loaded books in several channels its very tough for the would be reader to identify the right books. It takes time, effort and the ideal is to find a publisher with similar titles so that utilising group social media is possible. Take Sherlock Holmes fiction. We have a few dozen now, have been doing it for a few years and have some nice momentum on Facebook, Twitter, globally with the societies, several seasoned well respected bloggers and reviewers across the globe that will do detailed reviews - that kind of thing. So we have a fair shout in that genre - same with NLP and coaching. We've recently done some motor racing historical fiction which is a bit of a departure for us and we are finding it tougher - though at least the Holmes fans also seem to like that subject matter too. Good luck with the book and feel free to give us a shout as we could at least get it 'out there' into the other channels including (dare I say it on an ebook blog) but physical books....


crquimby's picture

And your book is unavailable for sampling or purchase in the U.S. via Kindle. Stupid policy.

london eye

It is a comment on the industry that a book by a writer of Mr Ellis's obvious talents was not snapped up by a publisher. I will buy London Eye and will urge my friends to do the same. I hope to see it become a Kindle best seller.


4fifty1's picture

Pretty much every client who comes through my door now is chasing the formula for visibility in the Kindle Store.

Having just helped take an unknown author's debut novel to the No.1 spot we know that it can be done but it takes hard work, experience and creativity. Every book, every author, is different and different skills are required.

There is NO magic wand but there are quite a few charlatans out there moving into the industry claiming they have a system. They don't. Trust me. They're trying to steal your money.


Philip Jones's picture

Keen publishing observers might like to look at the reader review on Walter's book on the Amazon site: from one Patrick Janson-Smith.

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