Monday 29 July 2019

Amazon Fails Authors on Launch Day

My last post was a bit of a gripe about the difficulty KDP authors face getting hold of Amazon.

Here's why I was trying to get hold of them - it's quite bizarre.

Any author, whatever they're publishing, knows the importance of launch day. Whether trad or self-published, it's the day you spend months leading up to. You advertise the date everywhere. You organise your blog tours and promotion around it. You set up your giveaways to go live at midnight.

Launch day is fundamental to, well, launching your book.

Which is why it's utterly unbelievable that Amazon doesn't let you set one!

You can set your launch date for a Kindle e-book, and even set up pre-sales so that people can order your book and receive it the moment it's released. But you can't do it for a paperback.

What's worse, is that you have absolutely no control over the exact release date of your book. When you hit publish, you're met with a message saying it can take up to 72 hours for your book to go live. 

Up to.

That means it could come out the day before launch date or even the day after. There's no way to synchronise it with your Kindle copy, and no way to set up pre-order.

Why is pre-order important?

Well, book bestseller rankings aren't based on how many books you've ever sold. They're based on how quickly your book is selling. Sell 200 copies over a year and you won't make a dent in the listing. Sell them in an hour and you'll zoom up the charts. Any pre-orders count as a sale on launch day, giving your book a much-needed bump up the rankings.

A paperback takes far more effort to produce than an e-copy. E-formatting is really simple, text layout on a print copy is not. Yet there's no benefit to creating a paperback with Amazon. Doesn't count towards launch day sales, can't even set the launch day.

KDP is a total mess for print books. If I'd known all of this a few months ago, I'd never have published through them. They really don't appreciate how long it takes to write a novel or the work that goes in to preparing for launch.

When I contacted them about this problem, they replied saying they'd enabled phone support for me because it was a 'unique issue'. It's not a unique issue. Authors all over the place are pissed off with Amazon for messing up their launch promotions. Here's a few comments from writing groups I'm in:

Signe: You can't [control the release date]. It was slightly easier to control with CreateSpace, but KDP is a mess. My clients have had numerous issues. 

Juliet: I've heard horror stories about this and lots of promotional work being ruined, because Amazon doesn't give a crap. I will never publish through them, not when there are far more reputable POD publishers like IngramSpark and, Inc. out there...

Michelle: Doing audiobook releases is worse because ACX (Audible) doesn’t give an exact date just a (I think) two week range.

When I spoke to Amazon, they told me they understood the problem and that other authors had reported it too, but they couldn't do anything about it. Maybe in the future.

Well, maybe in the future I'll publish through them again, but for now I'm exploring other options.

UPDATE:  A friend in publishing just told me this:

Hi. I just saw your post about Amazon not allowing you to set up preorders for paperbacks. There is actually a way, but they won't tell you that. You have to set yourself up as a seller on Amazon and list the book as one of your items. Then you can do preorders. BUT just be aware that if you set it up for preorder and no one buys it, you doom your rankings. So it's not worth putting it up for preorder unless you've done a lot of promotion ahead of when you set it to preorderable. The algorithm does some weird math and a low sales rank will stop people from seeing the book in the ways that Amazon is actually good at promoting things.

I won't be doing it as I believe pre-order is a right for all authors - and that's a sucky system - but interesting to know.

Wednesday 24 July 2019

Amazon's Non-existent Phone Support

Back in April, I posted about Amazon's non-existent customer contact form, designed to keep KDP customers from ever making contact with their customer care team.

This month, things get even more ridiculous.

There's a massive issue with their pre-order system - or lack of - which I'll go into in a separate post. Suffice to say, I needed to talk to someone who could fix that problem.

They seem to have sorted the e-mail system, so I was able to send them a message outlining the issue.

I received the following response:

Thank you for contacting Amazon KDP. I understand that you wanted information on coordinating your books release dates. I would be glad to assist you.

Due to the unique nature of your inquiry, I've temporarily enabled your account for phone support. Our phone support is available every day from 4:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Pacific time...

1. Sign in to your KDP account [...]
4. Follow Steps 1 through 7 above to request a phone call.

First off, this really wasn't a 'unique issue,' many other authors are hacked off by the same thing and have been vocal about it in writing groups - seems Amazon just isn't listening. 

Secondly, there were no steps 1-7. Not above, not below, not anywhere in the e-mail, not on the website.

I replied to point this out and received:

First of all, our apologies for the inconvenience caused.

The steps for the phone support were sent incorrectly previously, now you will be able to see steps 1 to 7 correctly...

The steps included:

1. Go to the Contact Us form:
2. Select your issue under "How can we help?"
3. Choose the subcategory that best describes the reason for your contact.
4. You'll see a "Phone" option under the section "How would you like to contact us?"
5. Under "Phone," click "Call us."
6. Under "Talk with KDP Customer Service," enter your contact number and country or region.
7. Choose "Call Me" or "Call Me in 5 Minutes," and be ready to provide your account information when we call. 

Yeah, I got as far as three. None of the topics under How can we help were remotely linked to my issue, so I selected book details and How do I change my book details? Nowhere under that subcategory was there an option saying phone or How would you like to contact us

So, I sent a miffy reply telling them to call me and including my number.

You could watch your entire life go by trying to get customer service from KDP. Amazon is worth almost $135 billion, yet they can't build a website. Rather backs up the theory that this is deliberate and that they're trying their very best to become a company that filters customer service requests out the back door. They can't genuinely be this bad, can they?

Anyway, I'll post an update if I ever get to talk to someone. 

Meanwhile, if anyone knows how to get around this and request a call back, I'd be grateful. 

UPDATE: So, a very nice man from Amazon did call me after I sent the e-mail. Worked out that there is a call back button on the website, but it's well hidden.

If I had chosen Moving from CreateSpace to KDP, I would have seen it immediately:

But because I chose Book details, I should then have guessed that I needed to click one of the additional links below, rather than looking to the right, where you'd logically expect it to appear.

Really unhelpful web design.

Anyway, the guy went off to talk through my problem with colleagues. He admitted the problem was a definite issue, but there was nothing KDP could do about it at the moment. Hopefully in the future.

Well, that was worth it.

Two days to get to talk to somebody, to get nothing done.

What's that IngramSpark - pick me, pick me?

Tuesday 23 July 2019

The Children of Lir on Pre-order

My novel, The Children of Lir, is now available for pre-order on Kindle.

The official release date is August 15th. Any pre-order sales count on launch day and help to push it up the sales ranking. If you would like it in e-format, please do pre-order. Unfortunately, Amazon doesn't allow pre-order of print books, so that will be available after launch.

A curse that lasted 900 years, a legend that lasted forever.

From the Iron Age of Ireland to the dawn of Christianity, this epic retelling traverses the realms of magic and sorcery. From the fort of Fionnachaidh to the watery wastes of Sruth na Maoile, it tells of the downfall of an ancient race and the children caught in its wake.

Grieving for the loss of his wife, King Lir marries her younger sister, Aoife. Jealous of her husband’s children she calls on the power of the Aos Sí and their Phantom Queen, making a bargain that will cost her life.

The children, turned to swans, are cast out upon the waves in an adventure that sees empires rise and fall as centuries pass. Eventually, they must choose between the world they once knew and a future they do not understand.

Sunday 21 July 2019


Recently discovered the YouTube channel of this incredible time-lapse artist, Drawholic. I'm absolutely mesmerised. As one blogger put it, a 'Prismacolor pencil savant.' So many incredible pictures, so perfectly drawn. I have trouble with stick figures, so this just blows me away. Follow the channel for more.

Saturday 20 July 2019

The First Word

Well, it feels like an age since I wrote anything new. I've been busy preparing my next two releases, The Children of Lir (August 15th) and Secure the Shadow (TBC). Cover reveal on that second one coming soon.

All that proofing left little time for new endeavours, and the longer you're away from writing, the harder it is to get back to. I've also been torn between two separate story concepts, both of which had their merits, but I've finally settled on another stab at historical fiction. 

This one is a heck of a challenge, though. The Children of Lir was tough, but the characters were entirely fictional and the reading around them brief. This time, it's even further back in history, but the characters are historical and the reading around them almost as weighty as Rosy Hours. The books are academic and expensive, and the gaps numerous. I've just spent two days trying to work out viable dates for known family members to have lived and died. Trying to slot them all into a workable timeframe. Still not quite there.

As usual with historical fiction, I'm taking time to go through the resources, make notes and watch documentaries. I'm slowly starting to feel a bit more confident and, as with The Children of Lir, it's one of those stories that seems to be all laid out. Political intrigue, power politics and a smattering of natural disasters. I'm just hoping I can cram it all into one volume. 

I'm just over the first thousand words at the moment, which is nothing. A story can shrivel up and die in the first ten to twenty thousand. I'll report back in a while, but hopefully it's a goer. It feels really nice to be back at the page with a sense of purpose. Too long a hiatus and you start to fear you can never write again. 

Here's an introductory bit, subject to tinkering:

It is only now that I can no longer write that I wish to tell my story. Not the story of small things, of how I liked my hair braided as a child, nor the story of holy things, such as the temple hymns which caused the earth to tremble. Simply my story. The story of who I am, who I once was, and everything there between.

My hands, once supple, are clawed and caked in clay. The bones never truly mended. As I try to press the stylus against its soft bed, they fail me. Instead of the clean lines and arrows of my thoughts, only deep gashes appear. Incomprehensible scars, malformed and incomplete. I collect the stories of other people beneath my nails. The silt of generations who drank from those waters, drowned in them, and made love beside the flowing depths of the Euphrates. 

Palil used to draw back in disgust when I laid out my slabs of clay. He never appreciated them for what they truly were: the bones of time itself. To him, it was a mess. To me, it was beautiful. The remnants of bold warriors mingled with the tears of widows and lovers. I write my stories on those who have gone before.

Beside my wrecked attempt is another tablet. This one baked by a thousand days of Akkadian sun. The stylus left its mark firm and unapologetic, pressed by the hand of a man who forged both words and empires. 

My father, Sargon the Great.

When I look upon his writing, I feel a thousand snakes coil within. Yet, even as they bite, their poison tastes sweet. Everything wrong in him was wrong in me, and all his strength was mine to inherit. He gifted me an empire, but could not protect it from the enemy within. 

As the weather turns wet and my bones shriek mercy, I wonder what he would have thought to see the devastation his children wrought upon themselves. If he could have his life again, might he have taken more care? 

When I ask that question of myself, it cannot be answered.

My end draws near. I am old, but it is not age that comes to claim me. As I sit, waiting, I am not afraid of what is to come. Without my hands, without the ability to even write my name, there is nothing left for me in this world. I have said all that I needed to say, to all who mattered. I spoke words of love, of vengeance, even of regret. Yet I have never spoken to myself. Never truly heard the story as I wished to tell it. And now, only the walls remain to hear me.

So, walls, built of the same simple clay as my tablets, dried by the same sun that hardened my father’s words all those years past, will you listen now? In this small space between midnight and dawn, will you accept the last of my breath? Will you hear my history as it was – entirely?

Then I shall tell it.

Friday 19 July 2019

Tales From The Hanged Man

Really like this guy. His story is heavily influenced by David Southwell's Hookland.

If you want more Hookland, check out Twitter,  and my novel Creeper's Cottage.

Thursday 18 July 2019

#FolkloreThursday Video

Just a reminder that every Thursday is #FolkloreThursday over on Twitter. If you love myths and legends, get on over there. You can find out more on their website, and find out how it all began in my interview with them.

Wednesday 17 July 2019

Musical Interlude: Kennedy Thompson

I've watched this cover of You Are The Reason so many times. Outstanding rendition on a beautifully weathered piano.

Tuesday 16 July 2019

Spiral Dance

Lovely surprise in the post box yesterday. 

A lovely lady called Adrienne K Piggott dropped me a line via my page a while back, saying how much she was looking forward to the release of The Children of Lir on 15th August. Like me, she loves the legend, and had released it as a track with her band, Spiral Dance. 

She was kind enough to send me a copy, all the way from Australia.

I love it when art attracts art. 

You can find their album, Land and Legend, here, and their website here.


Monday 15 July 2019

The Nothing Girl

Picked this up in a massive promotional haul from Audible. I was reading through the blurbs and it intrigued me:

Getting a life isn't always easy. And hanging on to it is even harder...

Known as 'The Nothing Girl' because of her severe stutter and chronically low self-confidence, Jenny Dove is only just prevented from ending it all by the sudden appearance of Thomas, a mystical golden horse only she can see. Under his guidance, Jenny unexpectedly acquires a husband - the charming and chaotic Russell Checkland - and for her, nothing will ever be the same again.

With over-protective relatives on one hand and the world's most erratic spouse on the other, Jenny needs to become Someone. And fast!

It was the bit about the golden horse which piqued my interest. It just sounded rather unlike anything I'd read recently. Plus, the cover is very nice.

This one took a little bit of getting into for me. Mostly because I don't suffer from a lack of confidence, so it was hard to warm to the character initially. I was more of the Russell Checkland camp of 'get a grip.' I'm also not really a major romance fan and, although it was a melange of mystery and romance, it was very much the latter by the end. I think the only contemporary romantic novel I ever kept on my shelf was Chloe by Freya North. I just really liked that book, though I can't place exactly what it was about it. Must have been Mr. and Mrs. Andrews.

As with Chloe, this one was very quintessentially British in its delivery, and narration. It's a book where desirable women are beautiful and slim, men call their wives 'wife', and all that rather heteronormative stuff that goes on in mainstream romance. It's definitely not bad, it just isn't me. 

On the upside, Jenny is a strong character, there's a poisoning plot and a donkey.

It's sometimes good to read things you wouldn't normally, because stories can surprise you, and I ended up enjoying this a lot more than I thought I would at the start. Listened to it for about four hours straight on a bus up to Gisenyi the other week. 

I think if you like quirky, British romance with a twist of mild peril, this may well be for you.

Saturday 13 July 2019

Time for Tea

I love both tea and coffee, and I'm fortunate enough to live in a country that produces both. My friend manages a tea estate in northern Rwanda and took me on a tour at the weekend. Fascinating to see how something is made when mostly I just add hot water and don't think about it.

Monday 8 July 2019

Classic Gothic

A little reading list on the evolution of Gothic fiction. There's a good article on The Origins of the Gothic Novel here:

Gothic fiction began as a sophisticated joke. Horace Walpole first applied the word ‘Gothic’ to a novel in the subtitle – ‘A Gothic Story’ – of The Castle of Otranto, published in 1764. When he used the word it meant something like ‘barbarous’, as well as ‘deriving from the Middle Ages’. Walpole pretended that the story itself was an antique relic, providing a preface in which a translator claims to have discovered the tale, published in Italian in 1529, ‘in the library of an ancient catholic family in the north of England’. The story itself, ‘founded on truth’, was written three or four centuries earlier still (Preface). Some readers were duly deceived by this fiction and aggrieved when it was revealed to be a modern ‘fake’.

The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe
Publication date: 1791

An early Gothic novel which inspired Austen's Northanger Abbey. It is a spooky tail of a young woman in a desolate forest in a remote region. An atmospheric story of romance and tragedy. 

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Publication date: 1823

A story exploring emotional abuse and revenge, posing the question: do the actions of others justify our actions against them. In a time when physical ugliness was said to be an outward sign of the ugliness of the spirit, here a beautiful soul is gradually deformed to match the character's outward appearance.  

The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe
Publication date: 1842

This is an extremely short story, but one that made a lasting impression on writers to come. A dark and mysterious dinner party with a sinister guest.


The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Publication date: 1910

A novel not dissimilar to Frankenstein in that the villain's personality is apparently moulded by public reaction to his deformity, so he dresses as the Red Death from Poe's work above. I read this in 2008, before I started this blog, so no review. But I did write a prequel.

I was prompted to write this list because, whilst reading Frankenstein, I began to wonder about the timeline. I'm always surprised Poe's work is so old, and Leroux's work not as old as it feels. The genre does span a significant time frame. What are your favourite Gothic novels?

Saturday 6 July 2019

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

After Bertrand Russell's inclusion of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in A History of Western Philosophy, I decided to pick up a copy. It's one of those classics I'm familiar with but have never read:

Narrator Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) presents an uncanny performance of Mary Shelley's timeless gothic novel, an epic battle between man and monster at its greatest literary pitch. In trying to create life, the young student Victor Frankenstein unleashes forces beyond his control, setting into motion a long and tragic chain of events that brings Victor to the very brink of madness. How he tries to destroy his creation, as it destroys everything Victor loves, is a powerful story of love, friendship, scientific hubris, and horror.

It was very well narrated by Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey and Beauty and the Beast fame, and I couldn't help imagining young Victor as Harry Treadway and the monster as Rory Kinnear from their roles in Penny Dreadful.

Penny Dreadful Wiki
When I was in college, I was a big fan of romantic poetry. I read a lot of Byron and Shelley, and in parts, especially early on in the book, thought I heard his influence, though none can say for certain. I saw their portraits once at the National Portrait Gallery in London. 

Shelley, Byron, Shelley
It was one of those novels that made me realise the passage of time and how my tastes have changed. I loved, and still do, the drama and imagery of Shelley's The Cloud, and Byron's Incantation and Darkness, but over the course of an entire novel, the 'woe is me,' gets a little harder to embrace. Really difficult moral dilemma - does mistreatment forgive the course of one's conscious actions - but I think we're just used to reading it in subtler forms nowadays, or perhaps more realistic. Not to say someone like Stuart was akin to a monster, but it's an example of the same dilemma played in modern times. It's how we frame the problem of cause and effect in a contemporary setting.

I'm glad I read it, though I feel, as with many classics, the idea has overtaken the original work. Elements such as the morality of providing the monster with a bride, which have since played out in Bride of Frankenstein and Penny Dreadful. Like most good Gothic novels, there's usually an untold story within a story lurking somewhere within the shadows.

It was true to genre and I enjoyed it, though, as with Lady Chatterley's Lover, I think it's difficult to fully appreciate how shocking the book was in its day.