A crazy crazy day

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A crazy crazy day

I am officially astonished.

My gob is smacked. My flabber is gasted. As we say oop north, I am well chuffed.

(Translation – I am very happy and surprised).

Yesterday was quite a day in the Once household. It was the first day of the free promotion for Love, Death and Tea. And we sold the fabulous total of 99 books on that one day.

Of course, 99 books would be small change to a JK Rowling or a Stephen King. And I am giving the book away for free. And it’s the first day of the promotion. I don’t expect to sell this many every day.

But all the same – 99 copies! I would have been happy to have given away ten or twenty.

I think this has taught me a few things.

The first and most obvious point is that publicity matters. I may not like it. I may not be very good at it. But no-one will buy a book if they don’t know that it exists. It sounds pretty obvious when you put it like that.

It’s not enough to write a book and publish it to Amazon or Smashwords and sit back waiting for the royalties to flood in. You have to tell people that the book is there. You need to work hard to get those first few reviews. Then you can quote those reviews as you try to get your second wave of sales.

Of course, it helps if people actually like your book.

The next thing I have realised is that you have to give things for free if you expect to receive something in return.

I started this adventure by writing stories on http://www.chessgames.com. I don’t know why. It seemed like the right thing to do. Every day, the website publishes a puzzle. Chess players from around the world talk about the puzzle.

Most of the time, we talk about the chess. The moves that the players should have played. Interesting side variations. Okay, okay, interesting if you happen to like chess.

One day I realised that I had nothing to say about a particular puzzle that hadn’t already been said. It was a very hard puzzle. I hadn’t found the solution. Others had solved it. I had nothing to say.

So I wrote a story instead. Just for fun. Some people liked the story, so I wrote some more. The challenge was to write a fresh story each day to fit the puzzle.

I didn’t expect to publish these stories. There was no game plan. I was just happy to give something back – to put a smile on someone else’s face.

After a while someone suggested that I should collect these stories into a book. At that point I reverted to my defensive “Nah, it won’t work” mode.

Someone else suggested that I should write fiction. The idea appealed, so I wrote “Love, Death and Tea”. A work of fiction using the comic style from the chessgames posts, but without any chess in it.

“Love, Death and Tea” did what nearly all first time novels do. It sold a dribble of copies. I did a little publicity for it, but not much. And I was rewarded with a correspondingly small number of sales. The reviews were good but there weren’t many of them.

After a few months, I polished up forty of my chess stories and published those as “Once upon a chess game”. That book sold better, but we are still only talking in tens of copies.

Then a friend on Goodreads suggested that I should start a blog. The idea came out of the blue. I had never seriously thought about blogging before. That may be because I was confusing it with dogging, which is (I am told) a different hobby altogether.

It seemed to me that my chessgames stories were a kind of blog. So I started writing this blog. Again, I had no idea where it would lead. Just giving away stuff for free. Talking away to myself in the hope that someone will be listening.

So to yesterday. I decided to take the plunge and make “Love, Death and Tea” free for the five day period that Amazon allows – from the 17th to 21st September.

The response has taken me by surprise. 99 copies sold and 90 page views on the blog. But what has surprised me more is where the sales have come from. Yesterday I had 22 referrals from chessgames.com – chess enthusiasts following me into a non-chess work of fiction.

What has this taught me?

  1. Publicity is important. It may feel like a mercenary, unBritish way of doing things, but there’s no getting away from it.
  2. You need to make friends, and then be prepared to act on their good advice. Nearly everything I have done on this adventure has been the result of someone suggesting it to me.
  3. You need to give it away. Your time, your skills, your experience, anything. Be prepared to help others without expecting anything in return. You never know when or whether it might be repaid.
  4. Sometimes you need to let the adventure unfold without knowing where it will take you.

I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who downloaded Love, Death and Tea yesterday.

All 99 of you.

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