Tag Archives: James Oswald

Book Pricing—Perceived Value

This article is worth a look, especially if you’re considering self-publishing your book:


You might well think, that the less you ask for your ebook, the more copies you’ll sell, but that isn’t necessarily so. Shoppers for all types of goods, from books to wine to cars, have pre-determined limits on what they want to spend. They equate the price with the quality of the product—they want to spend £7.99 on a paperback, which is a big saving on the £15.99 asking price of the hardback—and they’re not going to demean themselves by looking in the charity shop, where the best-selling title they’re after is available for £1.00.

Wine lovers are price-driven, however much of an expert they claim to be. I’ve known many car and motorcycle dealers who were amazed at how few buyers haggle over the price of the vehicle. They’ve saved £10,000 and that’s what they want to spend, or that’s what they’ve calculated they can afford in repayments if they’re buying on a finance plan.

I’ve attended two business start-up courses, set ten years apart, where the tutors both told the story of a baker who made a disastrous price change to his sausage rolls. His were an inch longer than his only competitor in town but priced at 25p more, so he dropped the asking price to one penny less that his rival, thinking to boost sales, in a more for less way. Sales plummeted, as customers liked paying that bit more for what they saw as a luxury product…they were treating themselves. I don’t know if this baker ever really existed, but he lives on in business studies.

I’m intending to launch my Cornish Detective series of crime novels this summer, so have been pondering pricing, while scurrying around trying to understand blogging and social media posting to create my author platform. I’ve praised James Oswald several times on this blog for his success story with crime writing. Oswald went from not selling many copies of his fantasy fiction, to writing detective stories set in Edinburgh, which he sold online, shifting 150,000 downloads in nine months. This led to Penguin offering him a six-figure advance. He’s been a best-selling author ever since.

When he started publishing online, James Oswald copied a trick from an Australian science fiction author called Simon Haynes who made the first book in the series free. James Oswald said:

The idea was that they could try it, and if they liked it they could pay me money for the rest of them.

A lot of people have asked me for information about how I did this, as they want to do it themselves. I always ask them how many books they’ve written, and it’s almost invariably just the one.

There is no point giving away your first book in a series if the next one isn’t immediately available (and ideally a few more as well).

If people like your work, they will want more, and they will want it now. By the time you’ve written and published the next book in the series, they’ll have forgotten you and moved on to the next thing.

I’m going to copy James Oswald copying of Simon Haynes, by offering my first novel Who Kills A Nudist? for free—accompanied by promotion of the rest of the series (four more books already written and ready to go) + links to my online presence on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and my blog.

Quite how attractive crime fans will find this offer, I’ve no way of predicting. I feel like a one-man band at the moment, making up tunes as I go along, about to fall off my unicycle!

Pricing books makes me think of how drug dealers and casinos get their customers hooked—give them a freebie, then jack the price up! Will anyone get addicted to my books? 

How do you decide on what to charge for your books?

Have you found a sweet spot where the asking price generates more sales?

Do you use special offers?

Social Media & Book Deals

This article in the Independent is worth a read:


Lots of differing opinions in the article, about how worthwhile having a strong social media presence is when it comes to getting published. Followers online aren’t necessarily going to buy your book.

It caught my eye, as I’m in the early stages of establishing my author platform, with a view to returning to self-publishing. My blog on writing is almost ready to go live, after which I’ll build a WordPress website devoted to my Cornish Detective novels.

(Me waiting for a train full of readers!)

I’ve long had a jaundiced view of Facebook, though I’ve had a personal page for 16 years and a business page for four years, which I’ve done nothing to. Facebook was once useful to promote sales by advertisements, but many writing gurus reckon it’s had its day:

Marketing experts are favouring mailing lists generated by subscribers to an author’s blog and website as the way to go to generate sales. I was mulling over how much time to devote to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, when the latest newsletter from James Oswald arrived. I’ve mentioned him several times before, and his success story continues to inspire me:

Image result for james oswald

He reveals his attitude to social media sites. He’s removed his presence from Facebook, owing to their stance on sharing users’ data. He doesn’t see the point of Pinterest (where I started 27 boards) and admits that he became addicted to Twitter—to no real purpose of serving his writing or book sales. I’m amazed at how many intelligent creative people have admitted to this addiction, so it’s something for me to be wary of…I’ve only made one introductory tweet when I joined three years ago. Oswald has suspended his Twitter account and relies on communicating with readers directly, by a CONTACT ME email link on his blog, but, as he runs a livestock farm, the animals take precedence. He says:

‘Above all else, though, Twitter is an enormous time sink. Struggling with deadlines, I often find myself nipping back to the site for a quick look ‘while I gather my thoughts’. It’s a kind of addiction, and one I can do without.

To that end, I’ve logged off the site, and am keeping my distance for the moment. I won’t delete it like I did Facebook. My publisher would have a heart attack if I abandoned social media entirely. My daily Blipfoto uploads automatically, as will notification of this newsletter going out. I will return to posting occasional Highland cow and sheep pictures, too, now that lambing is over. But until Inspector McLean book ten is delivered, my presence will be much diminished. Newsletters are the new thing, honest.’

Interesting, that he favours an image sharing site called Blipfoto, which I hadn’t heard of…where he posts pics of his sheep and cows. I may join:


The only tactic I believe in when it comes to social media, is to link everything that you do, driving readers towards your sales points. (Makes them sound like cattle!)

I’m going to be following James Oswald’s example by giving my first novel away for free, following up with the second in the series at a reasonable price. I’ve got three more written and edited, so feel like I’m in a strong position—but that’s only so if readers like them. I favour his reliance on newsletters. I’ll use Twitter to make contacts, network and to tweet the occasional witticism.

How do you handle your social media presence?

Author Interviews Website

I subscribed to crime novelist James Oswald’s newsletter two months ago. His career as an author is inspirational, going from rejections to self-publishing success to signing with Penguin.

Anyway, in this month’s newsletter he mentions a relatively new website called Author Interviews.

Only seven authors have been interviewed so far, including James Oswald, but you can sign up for an alert to tell you when fresh interviews are posted.

When Writing Gets Personal

Some time ago, I posted about authors and their friends appearing in their own books and film adaptations, in a thread called You In Your Book

It’s still going on, for quite by chance, I’ve recently read three novels in a row which feature personal appearances. James Lee Burke’s excellent Dave Robicheaux series has long seen the Louisiana detective raising an adopted daughter called Alafair. In the books she’s an El Salvadorean refugee he rescued from a crashed plane. She grows up to become a lawyer and screenwriter. In reality, his own daughter Alafair is a lawyer and crime novelist. I don’t know how tightly he’s based his book character’s mannerisms on his own daughter, but there was an unsettling moment towards the end of the latest story, New Iberia Blues, in which Alafair is kidnapped and threatened with death by a nutter. It really looked like she was dead at one point, which felt ominous—surely, he’s not going to kill his own daughter, thinks I—but no, she survived. Imagine the atmosphere, if he’d bumped her off.

Image result for james lee burke and alafair burke

Sadder, was the way that crime novelist James Oswald handled the real-life death of his parents in a car crash when he was 40, by having his protagonist in his Inspector McLean series lose his parents in a plane crash when he was four. Write what you know, certainly: writing as therapy, maybe.

Image result for James Oswald

Touchingly, Amanda Coplin based the titular character of her debut novel The Orchardist on her own grandfather, who tended orchards in Washington state, where the story is set. It’s all the more realistic for being drawn from her own memories. She acknowledges his influence when giving thanks in the end matter.

Image result for Amanda Coplin

In my Cornish Detective series, I’ve based two recurring characters on friends, with their permission. One is a retired social worker, the other a photographer and maker. I don’t steal details from their lives, striving more to capture their attitude to the world.

Have any of you used friends, family members, acquaintances or work colleagues as the basis for fictional characters?

Did you do so in an admiring way?

Or, for revenge!

Did you tell them?

Unexplained Sources of Income

It always helps a protagonist in a novel, if they’re comfortably off. Money is a great aphrodisiac, encouraging intimacy in luxurious surroundings, not to say kinkiness that would be rejected if proposed by a road sweeper!

And if things turn brutal, being able to afford weaponry, the latest technology, vehicles and the wages of disposable soldiers will provide more thrills for the reader than some lone tough guy with iron fists and a chip on his shoulder.

It slows things down if your hero has to work a 9-5 job. Much of Fantasy and Science Fiction storytelling sees the protagonist cushioned by the efforts of serfs or technological support teams.

Even ordinary-looking characters are given social cachet by money. I recently enjoyed James Oswald’s first Detective Inspector Tony McLean novel, Natural Causes, one of a series featuring an Edinburgh copper. Fourteen chapters into the story, he learnt that his recently deceased grandmother has left him a fortune of £5,000,000 in shares and property.

Image result for Tony McLean novel, Natural Causes,

My own Cornish Detective, Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle, is a millionaire from the sale of his deceased parents’ farm and a life insurance payout when his wife died in a road traffic accident. He inherited another half-a-million from his father-in-law, (who turned out to be a serial killer), but gave his house away to a charity who operate women’s refuges, using income from the investment portfolio to run the place.

He’s unimpressed by wealth, his own included, as he’s more of a spiritual soul interested in art, music and nature. He’s toyed with the idea of packing in his career to become a painter, something which bothers his boss, the Chief Constable, as he’s a brilliant sleuth. He stays a detective because he relishes the intellectual challenge and resents the loss of order to society that crimes cause.

I’ve written two novellas in a series about an American Civil War veteran, who is trying to rebuild his life in the Era of Reconstruction. He’s a self-sufficient fellow, a trained blacksmith, but he’s helped on his journey by having been left funds and horses by a fellow veteran, he assisted in fighting off the KKK, before the man committed suicide. Giving him financial freedom enabled me to keep my protagonist moving, not having to stay static to work a job for money.

Ray Robinson did the same thing with his protagonist in Jawbone Lake, which I’ve just read, in which a software entrepreneur investigates the mysterious death of his father. His company is up for sale for millions, so he’s able to travel at will and help out witnesses damaged by dad’s criminal activity.

Image result for jawbone lake novel

Forbes business magazine used to publish a list of the wealthiest fictional characters, the last list released in 2013…with the richest fictional character not even human!

Reading a story is escapism for many, so why would they want to stay in a world with the same financial constraints as their own?

How do your protagonists earn a crust?

Are they independently wealthy or wage slaves?

Image result for not so fresh feeling

Fan Letters

I’m not really the type of person to pen letters to an artist of any kind, nor to stand in line to get a copy of a writer’s book signed with a personal dedication. Were I to achieve any success as an author, I suppose I could find myself on the other side of the table.

Nevertheless, I contacted three writers yesterday, all of whom run interesting blogs that I subscribe to. In the last year, I’ve been assessing what works and what’s bloody annoying about blogs. The most irritating, is one that requires me to click through three links to get to the article mentioned in the newsletter—that’s like entering a supermarket through the sliding doors, only to find a vast empty space with a shop assistant directing you to open a door into a corridor, where you meet another shop assistant who points at another door you need to open before seeing the first food items.

There are some blog newsletters I’m always glad to see in my Inbox. I intend to pinch emulate some of their techniques as I resurrect this blog Paul Pens. I’m still rather naïve about blogging, but understand that guest blogging is a good way to network and meet people. I’ve noticed that several well-known writing gurus seemingly started out with a blog/website to promote their novels, but in offering advice about writing they created an income for themselves by offering online or residential retreats.

Image result for writers residential retreat cartoon

Building my brand, my Cornish Detective series and me as an author is best done through blogging, and, more importantly for sales, having a mailing list of subscribers. At least that’s what marketing experts reckon is the most effective way of making sales, compared to Facebook, Twitter and paid ads on Amazon.

I’m such a numbskull, that I’d failed to appreciate how lucrative blogging could be. Of course, I knew that revenue could be made from ads down the side of the page, promoting products that are often nothing to do with your books, but I hadn’t put two and two together to realise that blogging could be a viable business.

Anyhow, as an early attempt at networking other bloggers, I responded to three authors who’d put out requests in their latest newsletters. One wanted to know about novels that were neglected treasures, another was happy to take suggestions for articles about Cornwall, while the third was suffering from a cold and wanted home remedies…I told him about my use of garlic.

(I haven’t had a cold for 24 years).

If they respond, we may start a dialogue that leads to guest blogging. Writing is such a solitary occupation, that it’s good to know there’s someone else out there who’s castaway on another desert island chucking bottles into the sea containing messages! 

Have any of you written to an author?

Did they reply?

Have you attended a book signing?

If you blog, do you have reciprocal arrangements with other bloggers?

How many subscribers do you have to your blog?

Have you received fan letters for your own books?