An Ugly Way to Go

Guest Post: Humorist Iain Pattison explains why he’s adopted a quirky approach to attracting new readers on Amazon

Today I am pleased to bring you a guest post by my old friend – and former Writers Bureau colleague – Iain Pattison.

Iain is a UK-based author, competition judge, creative writing tutor and script doctor. His short stories have appeared in a wide range of magazines and literary publications, including Woman, Woman’s Own, Take A Break, Chat, Woman’s Weekly, My Weekly, Writers Forum, Acclaim Magazine, and The New Writer. They’ve also been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and featured in numerous North American short story and flash fiction anthologies.

In his entertaining article below, Iain spills the beans on how he adopted a more entrepreneurial approach when his original short story anthology, Is That a Pun in Your Pocket, stopped selling. There are useful lessons all authors can learn from this, non-fiction as well as fiction.

Over to Iain, then…

* * *

It’s a story that’s as old as time itself – or at least, as old as the digital age. You’ve got an eBook that’s doing well, attracting glowing reviews, and enjoying steady sales. Then, without any warning or apparent reason, it starts to falter. Sales dip, reviews dry up and no one mentions it any more on social media.

This is what happened to me recently, when sales of my comedy short story collection Is That A Pun In Your Pocket?: 21 Short Stories to Tickle Your Fancy began to slide. From being a book that created a buzz, garnered loads of five and four star reviews and saw sales rocket so much that other authors were asking me to share the secret of my success, I suddenly found that I had a parrot that, if not deceased, was pining for the fjords too damn much for my liking.IPcover

I was surprised and rather perplexed. I’d have understood it if “Pun” hadn’t done well at the start, had been tied into some topical date or event, or it or I had been the subject of some nationwide scandal. But none of these were true. (I certainly hadn’t been controversial in the Nationwide, although I couldn’t necessarily vouch for my behaviour in other building societies.)

So what to do? Belonging to the noble order of quitters, whose sacred motto is: “If first you don’t succeed, immediately give up and have a pint”, my initial reaction was to mutter darkly and forget the whole business. Let the parrot die.

I’d seen too many authors panic into dramatically dropping the price, doubling the decibels and frequency of their “BUY MY BOOK”!!!” tweets and Facebook posts, while messing about with cosmetic Frankenstein revamps to their creations. I wasn’t going down that road, thank you very much. I still had a little pride.

But no matter how much I tried to put it all behind me I couldn’t ignore that niggling, itching, troubling voice in my head. What God of publishing had I offended? Where had it gone wrong?

Donning my metaphorical deerstalker I set off to investigate. I quizzed lots of people, sought opinions, had many “It’s okay – give it to me straight” conversations, accepted advice, criticisms and sympathetic cups of tea.

And rapidly a clear answer emerged from all the probing and pleading. Is That A Pun In Your Pocket? had been a hit with those who knew my work – but it had failed to attract the attention of the wider reading public. Yes, I’d enjoy a mini sales surge every time I was interviewed on a writing website or did a guest blog, but the reality was that I was selling in a bubble and had exhausted my available audience. (You can experience the same effect if you sit through one of my after dinner speeches!)

I just wasn’t attracting new readers. The world was taking one look at my wonderful, satirical, deeply insightful and whimsical book and saying: “It’s good, but it’s not quite Carling.” And those I asked weren’t shy at letting me know why.

It didn’t matter how entertaining or clever my stories were, I’d got the three key selling points of any eBook badly wrong. 

Casual browsers and impulse buyers were being turned off by:

  • the price
  • the book title
  • and the cover

So just about everything important!

To examine each of my crimes in turn: I’d suggested to the publisher that the collection should be priced at £2.99. It had seemed a reasonable amount at the time. After all, the book was packed with competition winning stories, tales that had appeared in anthologies on both sides of the Atlantic and been broadcast on Radio 4. What I hadn’t realised was that other short story collections on Amazon were priced around £1.99, and with eBooks an extra £1 makes a huge amount of difference to allure and saleability.

Then there was the title. I’d assumed that a generic, tongue-in-cheek label would convey that this was a fun book, something guaranteed to raise a smile – an easy read that didn’t take itself too seriously. What I hadn’t realised was that most book buyers browsing on Amazon prefer a “does what it says on the tin” title. As with jokes, you can be too clever or oblique. Yes, the second part – “21 Short Stories to Tickle Your Fancy” – hinted at the tone and subject matter but many browsers weren’t reading past the opening words “Is That A Pun In your Pocket?”  Even those potential buyers who did, seemed confused – and I was asked on more than one occasion if this was a book of jokes and riddles or radio scripts.

As for the negative reaction to the word “pun” – who’d have guessed it? Well, I should have. For me it seemed an easy way to summarise the deft wordplay and satirical semantic flourishes that I like to include in my multi-layered comedy. Unfortunately, for others it suggested the childish, groan-inducing headlines you see in newspapers around Easter promising Eggs-tra Special Fun. Everyone fixated on the poor three letter word – to the exclusion of anything else. Even those kind souls who left five-star reviews all worked in a mention. My fault – not theirs.

All that was bad enough, but arguably it was the cover that was causing me the most problems. How do you illustrate “Is That A Pun In Your Pocket?” without devising something visually baffling or guaranteed to be so rude it would make even Frankie Boyle blush. So I’d plumped for a text-only cover, and in so doing ensured that the book appeared drab and uninspiring next to all the colourful, dynamic, loud and eye-popping artwork and photo-montages of the opposition. Yes, it had a jaunty typeface but it came across a bit like a wallflower maiden aunt at a swingers’ fancy dress ball.

And one of the harshest pieces of feedback to swallow was that it looked so sedate that some wrongly assumed that it was a non-fiction book. So a wallflower maiden aunt librarian with horn-rim specs at a swingers’ fancy dress ball. No wonder it didn’t score!

Having digested these bitter revelations, I came to a conclusion. I wasn’t heading for despair but back to the drawing board. I was going to have another bash.

As I mulled over how to revive the parrot, two chance conversations changed my whole way of looking at the task.

Firstly, my wife Liz (immensely wise in everything except choosing me as a husband) remarked that if she was categorising my stories she’d say they were “quirky” – in fact, most of my output, even the fairly straight tales, were “quintessentially quirky.”

Then a writer friend asked me why I was so surprised that ‘Pun In Your Pocket’ had stumbled and fallen. Didn’t I know that stand-alone eBooks were notoriously difficult to sell? “If you want to make any money, you need to be producing  a series of linked books,” he said. “If readers like one, they’ll immediately want more of the same and buy several others in the series.”

Eureka!!!! Cue cartoon light bulb flashing on above my head. And Quintessentially Quirky Tales was born.

I’d bring out a series of light-hearted eBooks all under the same marketing banner, all priced at £1.99. There would be 15 stories to a volume – mostly humour. And each would have an easy to understand and categorise title such as Fiddle of the Sphinx and other Quintessentially Quirky Tales. In addition, each volume would feature a striking cartoon cover designed by the same brilliant artist – each image different but the overall typography and layout clearly conforming to a recognisable QQ brand.IPSphinx

There would be at least two volumes launches a year. In between, I’d periodically offer a discount promotion through Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program on one of the existing series – just to keep interest bubbling over.

Luckily – and crucially -when I explained my vision to the publisher of Is That A Pun In Your Pocket? he loved the idea and generously offered to kill the original book so I wouldn’t be competing against myself.

So that’s what happened and, after a hectic few weeks of editing, formatting and cover design, the first two QQ volumes have just gone live on Amazon. I’m thrilled with Fiddle of the Sphinx and other Quintessentially Quirky Tales and its sister title An Ugly Way to Go and other Quintessentially Quirky Stories and hope the reading public will be as well. 

There’s one additional feature to my original vision – each QQ volume contains a guest story from an author whose work I love and whom I think my readers will love too. In volume one it’s Glynis Scrivens and in volume two it’s Chloe Banks. Both have contributed entertainingly quirky yarns. I believe that cross promotion and author co-operation is the way of the future so I’m excited to see how this pans out for us.

Well, the adventure is off and running. If you fancy checking out Fiddle of the Sphinx, and reading the first story for free, please click here

And for An Ugly Way to Go, this is the link you want.

* * *

Thank you to Iain Pattison (pictured, right) for an interesting and thought-provoking article. I hope the new publishing initiative is a roaring success! IainPattison

I do very much agree with Iain that for e-book writing especially nowadays, writing a series is the way to go, and this applies just as much to non-fiction writers as fiction.The advantages in terms of cross-promotion and building your personal brand are too great to ignore.

And if you enjoy reading quirky, well-written short stories with a clever twist at the end, I highly recommend giving Iain’s books a try. They are perfect for reading on your Kindle on the beach or by the pool this summer. In addition, as Iain is regularly asked to judge short story writing competitions, you may pick up some useful lessons about his tastes and preferences by reading his own stories!

For the convenience of my non-UK readers (though they will work for UK readers as well) here are universal links to Fiddle of the Sphinx and An Ugly Way to Go. These should take you to the relevant pages of your own national Amazon store, wherever in the world you are based.

If you have any comments or questions for Iain (or for me), as always please do post them below.

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The Best Ways to Make Money Online in 2015


I read an interesting article by Dr Andy Williams this week on his EzSEO blog. In it Andy answers a commonly asked question about the best ways of making money online today. This is of course a subject in which I have a particular interest, so I was keen to see what he had to say.

I have reproduced the opening of his article below.

I got an email today. The person wanted to start an online business, and they asked me to help them learn how to create affiliate sites. That got my thinking…

If I was starting out today, what would I do online?

What would you do? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below…

If I was in a hurry, I would not create affiliate sites. With the changes in Google over the last few years, affiliate sites are no longer a quick solution for a long-term, sustainable business. They take time to build and mature and get one thing wrong, your work could wiped out overnight. Don’t get me wrong, as part of a long-term strategy affiliate sites are fine, but they are not a source of instant income like they used to be.

So what would I do?

Well, I would want something that was not dependent on Google, and there are two clear winners for me – Kindle books & Udemy courses.

The great thing is, if you can do one, you can do both…

Source: What would I do now? – ezSEO Newsletter

Kindle is, of course, a well-known option among entrepreneur writers. A small but growing number have become millionaires through Kindle publishing, and many others are earning a worthwhile sideline or even full-time income.

On the minus side, in recent times it has become a very crowded marketplace, and getting your title to stand out has become increasingly difficult (though it can still be done, of course).

Udemy is the new kid on the block, and as yet it has failed to get on the radar of many writers. I agree with Andy that it should, though.

Udemy allows anyone to publish courses on almost any subject, from writing to programming, foreign languages to astronomy. Courses can include video, audio and text. You set your own price, and split the income with the platform. You can also publish free “taster” courses, which can be a great way of building your list.

This is clearly not an opportunity for fiction writers (unlike Kindle) – but if you have any kind of expertise you can share, it is definitely worth looking into. I certainly plan to investigate it in more detail myself in future.

I should also mention that Andy has his own comprehensive course on creating Udemy courses, which you can read about in his blog post. It is currently available at a huge discount. This is not an affiliate link and I don’t make any money for recommending it. I am simply mentioning it as a service to my readers. I’m a big fan of Andy’s books and courses, and in my experience they always deliver amazing value for money.

* Have you tried Udemy yourself, as a student or instructor? If so, what did you think of it? I’d be intrigued to hear your views. Please leave a comment below as usual!


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Niche Publishing Monthly

Niche Publishing Monthly Review

Niche Publishing Monthly is the latest product for writers to be released by the prolific Amy Harrop.

Niche Publishing Monthly is, as the name implies, a monthly membership service. Each month subscribers receive an information pack focused on one particular niche publishing opportunity.

The pack includes background information about the niche concerned, the results of Amy’s keyword research, competition analysis (including Kindle), and much more. The idea is that you use this information to create e-books and other information products to appeal to people interested in that niche.

This service is therefore aimed primarily at writers (and other entrepreneurs) who have some experience in online publishing, rather than absolute beginners.

Amy was kind enough to allow me pre-launch reviewer access to the first monthly issue of Niche Publishing Monthly, so here’s what I found.

The “Niche of the Month” in the first issue is the hugely popular online game Minecraft. The main information is contained in an 18-page PDF. This starts by discussing the Minecraft niche and the demographic it appeals to (I must admit I found some of this information quite surprising).

After that, Amy sets out the fruits of her research into the Minecraft niche, looking at relevant keywords (e.g. Minecraft hacks) and the search volumes they attract. She also covers the various potential outlets for publishers (Kindle, Smashwords, the iBookstore, and so on) and discusses their relative merits and the terms they offer to author/publishers.

In the next part of the guide – arguably the most useful – Amy sets out the different types of product that could do well in this niche. With Minecraft, for example, she lists quiz books, how-to guides, beginner guides, and even joke books. There is also a separate spreadsheet listing the top-selling Minecraft e-books in the Kindle Store, including their length, number of reviews, price, estimated gross sales, and much more. There is plenty of food for thought here, even if you are not a Minecraft aficionado.

The guide concludes with links to various useful resources for content creation, including websites, articles and videos. There is also a link to a spreadsheet listing related blogs, Google Plus communities, Facebook Groups and Pinterest boards.

Obviously, Minecraft might not be everyone’s ideal niche, but from Amy’s advice and resources guide, I am certain most writers could come up with something publishable on this topic. Amy does say, however, that a broad variety of niches will be covered in the coming months, including Health, Hobbies, Relationships, Self Help, Fiction (Romance, Thriller, Mysteries, etc.), Kids’ Books and Topics, Popular Culture, and more.

Any downsides? Well, if large numbers of subscribers are all targeting the same niche in any particular month, this will inevitably increase the level of competition. I don’t think that will be a major obstacle in practice, though. It’s not as if everyone will be publishing the same thing. There are lots of different sub-niches you can target, and different media as well. In addition, after every month that particular issue will be removed, so nobody else will be able to access it. So in practice it’s highly unlikely that any of these popular niches will ever become swamped.

In summary, Niche Publishing Monthly is another great-value product from Amy Harrop, especially at the launch price of just $9.99 (about 6.50 UKP) a month (and you can of course cancel at any time). Clearly it will still be down to you to apply the information provided and create your own products, but that does mean that you should end up with something unique that should generate a growing online income for you for many months to come.

If you have any comments or questions about Niche Publishing Monthly, as ever, please do post them below.

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Ten Things I Have Learned About Buying Information Products Online

In the last few years I have bought a LOT of online information products. Some were writing-related, while others were about running various types of online business. Many were bought for the purposes of reviewing them on my blog or for my clients at More Money Review.

Buying and reviewing these products has given me a few insights into how these products are sold and how to spot the good ones from the average, the poor and the downright scams. So I thought today I’d share some of the things I’ve learned through doing this. Some of the items listed below are a bit tongue in cheek, but in my experience they are all essentially true…

1. If it’s sold from a video sale page, always be wary. In addition…

2. The longer the video and the less other written information, the greater the likelihood it is a scam.

3. Similarly, the vaguer and/or more outrageous the promises made, the more likely you are looking at a scam.

4. On the other hand, sale pages with detailed and informative text and relevant graphics are a promising sign.

5. If there is no way of contacting the vendor from the sales page, don’t expect any support if you sign up either.

6. NEVER give your real phone number, or you will almost certainly receive a stream of phone calls from telemarketers trying to sell you ever more expensive “upgrades”. If it’s compulsory (a warning sign in itself, of course) enter a string of zeroes. That’s never failed to work for me.

7. There will almost inevitably be a “one time offer” (OTO) after you have made your purchase. This is where you discover that the original sales page omitted to mention that there is something else you need as well to make any real money from the opportunity. My advice (which admittedly I don’t always take myself) is never to pay for an OTO. You can almost certainly still buy it later if you find you really want to, often at the same price. But until you’ve tried the original product, how do you know if you need the upsell or not? And even if you end up paying slightly more later, overall you will still be much better off than paying for every OTO on the off-chance you might need it.

8. If you buy an information product, give yourself time to read it and properly apply the information it contains. Don’t put it to one side as soon as some other “bright, shiny object” distracts you. The internet is awash with “opportunities”, with many more being added every day. It’s highly unlikely you are going to miss anything life-changing if you forswear buying any other information products while you focus on the one in hand.

9. If you’re looking for advice on whether a certain product would be right for you, beware of Googling for reviews. The great majority of online reviews are placed by affiliates who are seeking to make money by hyping new products to the skies, whatever their actual merits (or otherwise). Instead, check out independent review websites such as More Money Review, which – as mentioned – I write for myself. Another review site I like is One More Cup of Coffee by “Nathaniel”. His reviews are always honest and entertaining. Admittedly, he is actively promoting Wealthy Affiliate throughout the site, but as that is a pretty good product (and free at the basic level) I don’t have a problem with it. You can see my own review of Wealthy Affiliate on this page of the MMR site, incidentally. Note that you will need to register (free) and log in to read the full review.

10. Finally, remember the old adage: if it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is. If there really was an easy, fail-safe method of making money online, everyone would be doing it by now. There ARE genuine ways of making money on the internet, from blogging to Kindle e-book writing, online auction trading to affiliate marketing, but in all cases you really do need to work hard at it. Sorry!

If you have any questions or tips you would like to add to my own, please do post them below.

Wordcloud courtesy of Word It Out.

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Spotlight: Essential English for Authors

Today I am spotlighting my downloadable course Essential English for Authors, which is published and sold by The WCCL Network.

Essential English for Authors is basically a crash course for anyone who would like to write for publication but fears that aspects of their written English might let them down

In twelve modules, Essential English for Authors takes you through all the common problem areas for new writers: from the basics of grammatical sentence and paragraph construction, through principles of capitalization and punctuation, to “minefield” topics such as subject/verb agreement and how to set out and punctuate dialogue. I’ve tried to explain everything in simple, easy-to-grasp terms, with lots of examples to illustrate the points made.

It’s not just the basics, however. A long module titled “Putting on the Style” covers a range of matters that – while they may not all be essential to achieving publication – will help bring your written English up to the highest professional standards. The topics discussed include parallel construction, active v. passive voice, use of the subjunctive in modern English, when to use “who” or “whom”, and many more. There are also self-study tests you can complete to check your understanding of the material covered.

The course assumes no previous knowledge, and is ideal for beginners and people for whom English is not their first language. It is, however, equally suitable for established writers who want to brush up on their knowledge of grammar, spelling and punctuation. And for aspiring self-publishers – especially if they won’t be engaging a professional editor – it’s an essential reference, to ensure that your book isn’t laughed out of court by critics and reviewers.

And finally, even if you don’t actually aspire to write for publication, but just want to bring your written English up to the best possible standard in the shortest possible time, Essential English for Authors is the guide for you!

Essential English for Authors is suitable for anyone in the world. It is written in US English, but British English is also referred to throughout (I’m a Brit myself, of course). To give you a flavour – or perhaps I should say flavor – of the guide, here’s a short extract from the section about subject/verb agreement…

One of the fundamental rules of grammar is that the parts of a sentence should agree with one another. So if the grammatical subject of a sentence is in the plural, the verb should be plural as well. Likewise, if the subject is in the singular, so should be the verb. 

So a sentence such as, “The boys was playing in the street” is an example of faulty agreement. “The boys” is plural, so the plural verb “were” is required: “The boys were playing in the street”. 

Likewise, “The telephone were ringing” is a sentence with a singular subject but a plural verb, so in this case the verb needs changing to the singular: “The telephone was ringing”. 

Put this way it sounds easy, but there are various situations that can cause unwary writers to trip up. In this module I will therefore set out some of these situations and the grammatical rules that apply to them. 

1. Two singular subjects connected by “or” or “nor” require a singular verb. Haddock or plaice is fine by me. Neither Bill nor Suzy is able to come. 

2. When one of your subjects is “I”, put it second, followed by the word “am”. Neither Ruth nor I am planning to attend. 

3. When a singular subject is connected by “or” or “nor” to a plural subject, put the plural subject last and use a plural verb. Either one adult or two children are allowed in at one time. Neither roast turkey nor sausages are on the menu today. 

4. As a general rule, use a plural verb with two or more subjects when they are connected by “and”. Tennis and swimming are my favorite sports. But where the subjects clearly form a single entity, a singular verb should be used. Steak and fries is my favorite meal.

By the way, don’t worry if you’re a bit hazy about nouns and verbs and such like, and the differences between them. This is all covered in Module Two, where I discuss the so-called “parts of speech”. I promise, after reading this, everything will be much clearer 🙂

Essential English for Authors is available as an instant download and will run on any PC using Windows 95 or later. More details can be viewed on my publisher’s website, which can be accessed by clicking on any of the links to Essential English for Authors on this page. Alternatively, just click on the banner below.

And, of course, if you have any queries, do feel free to leave a comment as usual.

Essential English For Authors

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