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.
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