2013 was quite a year for me, to say the least.
Looking back to where I was last year – selling about 200 books a month, heavily in debt, heavily overweight – I’ve come along way. I’ll cover the books in some detail in this post, but I’ve managed to clear all of my credit cards debts (more than £10k) and I’ve lost three stone, though I think the Christmas break has pulled that back a bit, shall we say. I also had Lasik eye surgery, which has been brilliant, if a lot more expensive than I though it would be.
(Note – this post might be a bit boring for most of my readers, but hopefully any other writers out there will get something out of it)
A year ago, I had two books out and I was doing okay, selling 200 a month, making a couple of hundred quid (offset against the laptop and apps I bought), and I was just entering into the final edits for FIRE IN THE BLOOD, Cullen book three.
Since then, I’ve published FIRE, and have gone on to publish DYED IN THE WOOL, the fourth Cullen, and also the first in a new series, SHOT THROUGH THE HEART. I’ve also finished Cullen five – BOTTLENECK – and am about to complete a bridging short story/novelette/novella, which will need a name at some point, of course. That’s fairly good going, I think…
Fast forward to now, and my sales are pretty much 200 a day. I have downloads of 800-1,000 a day on GHOST. I’m selling over 5,000 books a month of the others.
What the hell happened? A few things.
First, and probably most important, was making GHOST IN THE MACHINE perma-free. This obviously requires a bit of hacking of Amazon, but since it kicked in during January, I’ve had 159,410 downloads (as of Sunday, so it’s definitely cleared 160k by now).
The downside of this is that it’s not just fans of police procedurals who are downloading this, it’s just people with Kindles. It seems like I’ve bored a few people with GHOST (sorry, it’s the genre), but have snared a lot more into Cullen and his world of idiots and idiocy. Thank you if you’ve taken a punt on my books this year and enjoyed them.
Judge a book by its cover
Second, changing the book covers. It’s amazing how many people judge a book by its cover.
Old cover –
Prior to doing this, GHOST had been between 300 and 500 in the free chart. A couple of plugs on some websites and it rose into the top 100 in mid-September, where it has stayed ever since, rising as high as no 4 in the UK and 98 in the US.
Thanks to Kitty for the redesigned covers, they’ve helped so much.
Third, having a solid series has clearly helped. The four Cullens are doing very well, with DEVIL having shifted over 8,000, FIRE over 4,000 and DYED over 2,000. I’ve played with the FIRE price recently, and its hopefully going to encourage people to get into the later books. DEVIL has been in the top 100 and FIRE in the top 200 in the UK, both outselling all of Ian Rankin’s output on Kindle at one point. That’s my hero. That’s crazy.
Me, me, me
Fourth, getting a publicist really helped. My name is out there now. In some parts of the country, I’m “Angus author Ed James” and in others “East Lothian author Ed James” (it doesn’t take Cullen to figure out which counties). I was on BBC Radio Scotland talking about my books and my commuting cycle. Cheers to Kenneth Stephen of Heartland Media. Awesome guy.
Ficks mie rawngg typings
Fifth and final, getting a professional editor was huge. DYED IN THE WOOL and SHOT THROUGH THE HEART are miles better than the earlier stuff I did, mainly because Rhona went all psycho bitch (her words) and tore them apart. They were really difficult to edit, but the lessons have been learnt, so much so that one of my long-standing alpha readers thought that the first draft of BOTTLENECK had been fully edited. I think DYED was the first book where I was close to serving my apprenticeship, and hopefully you’ll see that improvement in BOTTLENECK.
A final note is that SHOT THROUGH THE HEART isn’t getting that much love. No, sales, not love – people seem to really enjoy it, which is great, including a couple of people finding Cullen through it. But it is not quite doing as well as if I’d spent the time on another Cullen. I kind of forget how much of a nightmare it was to break GHOST IN THE MACHINE, basically needing another two books out. Looking back at this time last year, I sold 41 copies of GHOST in a week, compared to 38 of SHOT this week (which was 77p vs £1.99), so I shouldn’t worry. The real thing was in writing it and learning from that, plus getting myself all worried that I’d put all my eggs in one basket with the Cullen series.
When I was writing it, I was getting a bit fed up of Cullen, and the sales hadn’t kicked in, so motivation was a bit low. Writing DYED had been hard, editing had been harder, and I worked out again how much I love writing and also freshened my writing up a bit. I loved plotting and writing that book. It was very different to a Cullen, very similar in a lot of ways, and the last third was a real change to my usual writing and I learnt a LOT. And I learnt to love Cullen again.
Other tedious stuff
In terms of the long-term goals, amazingly I’ve pretty much met what I thought would be 3-5 year goals. The way the sales graph has exploded upwards has meant that I’m earning more from books gross than I did in my full-time job this time last year. I’ve got the income going into a limited company just now (in case there’s a tax man reading), but that’s mental.
In my professional life, as professional as I get anyway, I managed to break free from a permanent contract and get into the world of self-employment. This has been a great thing for me, aside from earning decent money for the first time in my career, I’ve got one step closer to doing the writing full-time.
I worked in London for seven months as penance, though. It was an interesting experience, from the 4.45am alarm call to getting off the train at 10pm on a Thursday and working from home on Friday. If nothing else, it got me the opportunity to exploit for publicity. The London stuff is going to get ploughed into CRASH INTO MY ARMS (Supernature 2), and poor DI Simon Fenchurch will suffer for it like I did.
One thing that London did give was lots of free time, when I wasn’t drinking. Ahem. I did a hell of a lot of writing on public transport, but I was able to get a fair whack done in my grotty little hotel room. I did get to the point where I didn’t think I was being productive enough and I worked myself pretty hard in November and December, getting BOTTLENECK drafted and edited, ready for other eyes.
This year, I’m back working in Edinburgh. I’m so happy about that. I’ll be back on the train from North Berwick to Edinburgh and out to the Gyle. That’s two solid hours of writing every day. The secret to my success has been momentum, I’ve rarely let it up in the last two years. Having that time available for writing will be good.
What do I want out of 2014?
First, I want to end it writing full-time. As I said earlier, I could do it now, but it’s possibly a bit too much of a risk to take. I could do with some savings and so on before I get stuck into writing full-time. Amazon could kill off KDP tomorrow. Hopefully, the arse won’t fall out of the sales in the meantime.
Second, I want to publish three books, maybe a fourth, and some shorter fiction as well. I want to get two more CULLENs out by the summer, the second SUPERNATURE (which will draw heavily on my time in London) and start a new police procedural series which will partner the CULLEN books. I’ve got so many ideas that I could write full-time for a year and still have loads left in the bank.
Finally, I want to take more time off and relax a bit more. 2013 was a great year and I was really frantic, but I’m wary of not learning what happened to Iain Banks. Writing lost a true legend last year, one of the best writers ever, and a truly great man. I need to pace myself and relax more. I’ve been able to manage the on-off a lot better when I was doing BOTTLENECK, and it’s something I’ll take forward into next year.
I hope that post doesn’t seem too mercenary and money-oriented. The real reflection for me is that I’ve gone from being an unskilled amateur to someone who could make a living out of this in the space of a year. I have loved writing every single word I’ve committed this year (over 250,000 I think). I’ve loved interacting with people on Twitter, Facebook and email (seriously, I love talking to people). I’ve appreciated every single review on Amazon or Goodreads or on your website, even the bad reviews (in some cases, especially the bad reviews and especially the American ones).
Anyway, hope you lot have a great 2014 and all your dreams and wishes come true, or at least that you have fun and don’t get too stressed. In the next couple of days, I’ll be putting out a pop culture review of 2013 (written but I don’t want to spam the hell out of this).
Book links –
Ghost- Free – http://myBook.to/edjamesghost
Devil – £1.99 – http://mybook.to/edjamesdevil
Fire – £1.99 – http://mybook.to/edjamesfire
Dyed – £3.99 – http://mybook.to/edjamesdyed
Shot – £1.99 – http://mybook.to/edjamesheart