The Rare Unsigned Copy: and other mistakes

“You don’t really want one of the signed copies, what you really want is one of those rare unsigned copies.”

Laughter echoed around the bar at the Blackpool landlords amusing quip… Possibly because this was one of the funniest things anyone said the whole weekend. The noticeable exception to the laughing voices of many lifelong friends was my own. Not that I harboured any great resentment at being the butt of that particular joke. I am more than capable of laughing at myself. I have also been known to throw the occasional harsh one-line observation around. As my dad, a dour Yorkshireman to his core, is often fond of saying, if you can’t take it, you shouldn’t give it out… Equally, I was in fairness, as amused as anyone else. As one line observations go, it was a sharp, poignant and amusing one for sure. Far more, I suspect, than the landlord in question knew.

All this took place at the annual gathering of itinerant souls known as ‘Adamscon’. A gaming weekend that I and a few of my closest friends attend in February each year in a small hotel in Blackpool. It was once known as ‘Hayescon’, before Mark Adams who organised it with me every year, realised I had stopped doing any of the actual organising five years before. So back in 2011, its name changed, and it has been ‘Adamscon’ ever since. It remains one of the most entertaining weekends of the year, and a good time spent with friends I see less than often enough…

The rare unsigned copies in question were copies of ‘Passing Place‘ my second novel. It had been released a few months earlier, and several of those present in the bar room had requested signed copies from me on the release of the book. Indeed between them and others, I had worked my way through two large shipments of authors copies. Which to my mind of course raised the question,

Why would any of you actually want a signed copy from me anyway?

It was this observation that led to the Landlords quip, just after another friend had bemoaned the somewhat impersonal nature of the message I wrote in his copy. (Actually, it had been one of thirty books I was signing in my living room at midnight, in order to post them out in the morning. I had ceased coherent thinking by that point, or I would have written something more personal to the friend in question. But, as I eluded, I still found the idea of signing copies of my novel a bit bizarre.  I still do. I have lots of signed books. Ones I have gathered over the years from the likes of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. Some signed with a great deal of flourish like the one below, but people asking for sign copies of my own witterings still seem mildly absurd…

signed coipy of reaperman (3)

As I said, I did not laugh and was alone in the bar room in not doing so, but mainly this was because I realised just how right the Landlord was. To my knowledge at that time, the ‘rare unsigned copy‘ in question belonged to a gentleman called Frank de Vocht. I know this because he was kind enough to write a fabulous review of the novel (see below). I also knew this because I had sold exactly one print copy through Amazon at the time…

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase

This book is an (unexpected) gem as far as I am concerned. I read the writer’s first book as well, which was also an enjoyable read, but this one fitted a lot better with the genre I normally read. It’s a very interesting mixture of fantasy, horror, a doorman with a past, a club with a forest attached, an engaging personal journey…all mixed with a bit of suspense.
…oh, and there is a cat. An odd one…
In summary, it combines many different things with a story that goes nowhere and everywhere, and I will be waiting impatiently for the sequel….

 

Like most self-published authors, E-books are where I get the majority of my sales. I go to the effort of setting up a paperback version of the novel because some people, my mum, for example, don’t like Ebooks. Also because frankly, I like to have at least one copy of my novel I can hold in my hand. It feels more real that way. It seems odd to me to say you have published a book if it is only in pixel form… I don’t say that out of any disrespect to those who only publish in the virtual form, I just like bits of paper with ink on them…

In fairness I am not alone, a lot of people just like to have paper copies. However, the cost is prohibitive, print on demand books are a little more expensive than the average new release paperback, and never get reduced in price. Unlike trade paperbacks, they don’t turn up in ASDA on the three books for a fiver stand. So while you might order author copies to sell at fairs and send out to people, copies bought through Amazon are generally a rarer commodity. Even more so when the majority of those who are likely to buy the novel in paperback ask you for a signed copy, rather than buy one through Amazon. Where in there resides a problem…

Here then is the point of this post, beyond an amusing anecdote involving me being the butt of a landlords joke. Signed copies are a lovely idea. I doubt there is a single author, self-published or otherwise, who doesn’t always feel pleased when someone asked for a signed copy of their latest novel. So we all happily will sign a few copies for people who ask. But in the cold light of the day what we are doing is kicking ourselves where it hurts the most, because, in the wider scope of things, we are hurting our ability to sell books by doing so. Ironic I know, but here is why…

By sending out signed copies on request, and a lot of signed copies at that, I lost a lot of Amazon sales on release day and the week or so that followed. Yes, I sold copies of the novel and was more than happy to do so. Indeed, I was gratified that some many readers expressed such interest. But it had a definite impact on Amazon sales figures and prevented the novel rating highly in the first week or so in its genre. To understand why that was a problem, you need to understand how Amazon sales can work both for and against you as a self-publisher…

To understand why that was a problem, you need to understand how Amazon sales can work both for and against you as a self-publisher. The way Amazon markets books internally has everything to do with rankings. The higher you rank in your genre, the more likely they are to recommend you book. As an experiment pick up your Kindle and search for books in your favourite category, ‘Time travel sci-fi’ for example…. Go on I’ll wait for you a moment…

Go on I’ll wait for you a moment…

See how it came back with the top 100 books in that category… that the top 100 by sales figures, nothing else. It’s not the top 100 ratings or most positive reviews, it is pure and simple on sales, which makes sense if you’re a multinational trying to make money selling books. People have bought this before, so more people are likely to buy it in the future… And yes, you can alter the search parameters, but the default is the number of sales every time, and people don’t normally change the defaults setting. The best way to find your audience through Amazon is, therefore, to sell books on Amazon, pure and simple. So selling your books direct, having scribbled a nice heart-warming message on the blank page at the front, is cutting your own throat in many ways.

Then there is the second problem, the review problem. As I have discussed before Amazon reviews are important to you as an author. Amazon can, and will, publish reviews from people who didn’t actually buy their copy on Amazon. None verified purchase reviews unlike Franks review above, are however far more likely to be rejected by Amazon. Amazon will almost certainly reject none verified reviews unless you have a lot of verified ones. They will use reasons, such as it is a review someone on your friends’ list, by another author, etc. While they would protest otherwise, one suspects they will reject as many as possible. So though nice people with signed copies may struggle to leave a review.

review-picture

Finally, the nice people with signed copies are less likely to leave a review anyway. The majority of reviews are left because people get a nice email from Amazon asking them to review a product they purchased. ( if you have bought anything from Amazon ever you will have received more than your fair share of these.) Also at the end of a kindle book the leave, a review message pops up to remind you as well. So signed copies will also inevitably lead to fewer reviews.

So there you go, a little wisdom for the budding author there, don’t do signed copies ( except for your mum perhaps, and the proofreaders/editors  who I always send a copy to as a thank you …) Say thank you, apologise that your unable to do so, and promise to sign their Amazon purchased copies if they happen to bring it with them to the barroom of the hotel in Blackpool in the middle of a rainswept February…

Of course, I am more than likely to forget this insight when I release my next novel, and lovely people ask for signed copies, but there you go, I never said I am good at taking my own advice …

Adios

Mark

Other witterings of the subject of self-publishing…

 

This entry was posted in humour, opinion, Passing Place, publication, self-publishing, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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