I am Sean Campbell, co-author (with my brother) of the DCI Morton series. Five years ago on St Patrick's Day I bet that I could write a book in 90 days. By May 4th it was done, and Dead on Demand was the result.

In the five years since then we've written four more DCI Morton novels, hit the charts multiple times, and earned nine Kindle AllStar bonuses (which are given to the 'most read' books in Kindle Unlimited). We're now full-time authors.

As I don't want to sell books to Redditors, I'm making FOUR of my books free for you guys. I'd love to make the fifth one free too, but I'm not quite that generous.

Dead on Demand is free all time time. viewbook.at/DeadonDemand

The Patient Killer is free today viewBook.at/ThePatientKiller

Cleaver Square is free from May 7th to May 11th viewbook.at/CleaverSquare

Ten Guilty Men is free from May 10th to May 14th viewbook.at/TenGuiltyMen

My apologies for the need to stagger the freebies. I have to work around our 90 day rolling Select commitment to Amazon. Feel free to use RemindMe to nab them as they become available.

Oh, and if you've got questions for Dan in particular, post 'em anyway, and I'll get you an answer.

My Proof: https://twitter.com/DCIMorton/status/860106668667011072 https://www.facebook.com/DCIMorton/

EDIT - 22:00 GMT: Thank you for all the questions so far. Keep 'em coming. I'm offline overnight, but I will respond to each and every one of you tomorrow morning.

EDIT - 05:00 GMT: Back, all caught up. Shout via PM if I missed you.

Comments: 142 • Responses: 71  • Date: 

Twobishopmate8 karma

Hi Sean. Do you think the situation has changed a lot since you published your first eBook, or do you feel like if you had made that bet today you could get to achieve the same popularity even nowadays?

Did you have a job beforehand that you quit for this? Are actually filthy rich, or just able to live off it?

Sean_Campbell15 karma


It's changed. There were about half a million Kindle books back then. Now there are four and a half million.

Back then free / 99p was a big deal. It was new. Now it's pretty saturated. I think new authors have it harder than I do. They've got a bigger hill to climb in a more a crowded market with fewer levers (like price) to rely on.

Previous jobs.. I've done quite a bit. I was a tour guide, made (rubbish) Drupal websites during Uni, and even worked as an event photographer for a while. That paid my way through Uni.

I became a consultant after Uni working for a major publishing company (on the non-fiction side) doing big data analysis to try and upsell our customers. I can't be too specific about that because much of it was proprietary. I learned a lot about the publishing industry from the inside, and met some truly incredibly people.

Then there was a stint doing Software-as-a-Service Project Management.

Unfortunately I was balancing everything - studying and jobs - with looking after my Mum who is disabled. She's bed-bound, and requires full-time care. Writing was just one thing I could fit in around her hectic care schedule. I'm really lucky that it became a career.

I'm not filthy rich. Do you want the actual numbers? I'd have to go double check. But it's enough for two of us to live on (Dan and I split everything).

EmperorKira9 karma

As someone who looks after my mum, who thankfully is not bed bound, good on you to look after her. It's tough but you'll do anything for them.

Sean_Campbell7 karma

Needs must, right? Though it's coming up for ten years, and frankly I'm not sure I can do it forever.

How's it going for you?

EmperorKira5 karma

Mum had a TBI in July so it's relatively new. Worst part was that it was some cunt that did it to her so we got the legal action too. It's fine most of the time cos she can act normal inside the house mostly. Not allowed outside. But sometimes it hits you like a punch to the gut.

Sean_Campbell7 karma


That's really tough. You've got to juggle all these new needs, the legal action (and PI claims can be god-damned stressful at the best of times), and it's all going to get to you every now and again. Sometimes you just feel like you can't carry on, but you have to. I wish I could say it gets easier.

I'd love to say 'don't forget to carve time out for yourself' too but I know that's easier said than done.

If you ever need to talk just give me a shout, K?

EmperorKira3 karma

Thanks dude. Yeah its tough, especially trying to carve time for myself feels selfish even if its probably not. And thanks for the gold too, made my day :)

Sean_Campbell6 karma

It's not selfish at all. Your Mum matters. So do you. And you're welcome.

Twobishopmate2 karma

As a software engineer that'd love to make it a career, I can relate! Thanks for the extensive response.

I'm not filthy rich. Do you want the actual numbers? I'd have to go double check. But it's enough for two of us to live on (Dan and I split everything).

Yeah, I'd love to if you're fine with it.

Sean_Campbell12 karma

Well I did say Ask Me Anything so why not. For the tax year that just ended we had a gross revenue of £59,909.87. After costs we netted £52,683.76. After personal taxes (NI, income tax, student loan) and split two ways, that comes out to just about doable (but of course it doesn't come with a pension, healthcare, company car, etc).

It's not a steady gig. Income is heavily new-release dependent and there's a huge difference between #200 in store and #50 in Kindle Store so there's never any guarantee it'll last. It's much like any self employment/ freelancing gig: the good times have to pay for the bad.

Twobishopmate2 karma

That's very interesting and kind of what I expected, thanks for sharing the numbers!

Sean_Campbell4 karma

No problem.

WalterWhiteman17 karma

What advice do you have for those of us who would like to self publish in the future who don't have previous experience publishing?

Sean_Campbell6 karma

Gimme half an hour - this won't be a short post.

Sean_Campbell15 karma

Books are products. Authors like to think of books as something mythical, ephemeral, even special. They’re not. They’re products, at least as far as a publisher is concerned, and when you’re the publisher, you’ve got to sell product.

We can breakdown the ‘book’ into its constituent parts:

Intrinsic elements:

• The plot

• The prose

• The characters

Extrinsic elements:

• The cover

• The blurb

• The sales copy

• The formatting

• The overall presentation including minor elements like the author’s backstory

That’s it. Your product is words. Make them count.

Your books is the combination of these elements, hopefully edited and polished to perfection, and then uploaded to Amazon.

When you sell product, you usually have to think about manufacturing, warehousing, distribution channels for physically moving product, and set up retail partnerships, negotiate contracts, and all that malarkey.

While it is possible to get involved with that if you’re printing a small off-set run of paperbacks/ hardbacks, it is generally much simpler for self-publishers. If you’re one of the handful of people looking to print thousands of copies of your book, and then get them into stores, this guide is NOT for you. Physical inventory is exceptionally risky, and I would urge anyone considering that route to think very carefully about how the numbers stack up (in particular the storage costs incurred for keeping thousands of books in a warehouse ready to ship via Ingram’s or Gardner’s)

Let’s assume you’re not thinking about off-set runs. That doesn’t preclude doing print, but it means you’ll probably be using Print-On-Demand technology for print, with the bulk of your volume coming from eBooks rather than paper.

I can’t tell you what your product is or should be. I can tell you that there are market segments with vastly more readers. While nobody has the aggregate numbers for all retailers in all markets (because retailers, especially Amazon, are notoriously secretive with their data), we can look at scraped data from AuthorEarnings (source http://authorearnings.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/genre- units.png ) to see that the genre breakdown is roughly as follows:

Romance – 39%

Mystery – 9% Thriller & Suspense – 14%

SciFi & Fatnasy – 15%

Literary – 7%

Everything else – 16%

It’s obvious where the money is. Even if you bracket ‘Mystery, Thriller and Suspense’ into one huge category, it’s only a distant second on 23% to romance’s 39%. That doesn’t mean we should all rush out and write romance, but if you’re considering multiple projects and one of them is in a bigger market then it logically follows that you should pursue the 39% over the 9%.

If you’re not writing in one of the big genre fiction buckets, you’ll probably struggle. If you’re straddling the lines between genres, you’ll probably struggle. Selling is first and foremost about your product. We all know there are books people want to read, and books people don’t want to read (or aren’t willing to pay for). As a writer, that hurts. But forget that because right now you’ve got your publisher hat on, and should be thinking ‘yes, I do want a slice of the big market, not a small one’.

There are counterarguments of course. It’s easier to be a big fish in a small pond than it is to swim with the sharks in the big cats. If your product or presentation is off, you’ll sink more quickly in a busy, fiercely-competitive genre like romance than you would if you wrote for a smaller niche.

This game is about volume. You have to sell a lot of books to make a living. And it’s a terribly insecure living at that. You don’t get a monthly paycheque (unless you get to the point where you can vest your IP in a LTD company, pay yourself a salary, and then draw the rest as dividend payments). You will have good months and bad months. Release months will carry you through the winter – if you don’t blow the excess in the false belief that the only way is up. And don’t forget the stuff you’ll be paying for yourself that you would have included in a more typical career (read: a pension, health benefits, a company car, etc).

It’s up to you how to proceed, but my advice here is straightforward: write what people want to read, write it in a way that is compelling and effortlessly readable, and keep it coming out at a consistent pace.

If your book is great, your job as a publisher is easier. Everything starts and ends with having a book someone out there is willing to pay for. The three intrinsic elements matter. Personally, I think readers will forgive lacklustre prose but lacklustre plotting and cardboard cut-out characters are mortal sins. You need compelling, hooky, must-read-more story if you want to succeed. Curiosity is your biggest friend. You have to make the reader want the answer.

Every single chapter must answer a question, and then ask two more. Keep them on the edge of their seat, dying to know who killed the victim, which man our heroine will choose, how they’ll escape from the intergalactic empire’s death squad, and you’ll find readers race through your books and then demand more.

More importantly, follow expectations. In romance omitting a ‘Happily Ever After’ ending is a mortal sin. In Crime, failing to identify the killer is equally off-putting (and some will hate any book where justice isn’t totally served too). You have to balance giving readers what they want with avoiding cookie-cutter storylines. It’s OK to deviate, but do it for a reason. Think about how GRRM kills major characters. That would be a bad move for many authors, but he did it to show nobody is safe (though I’m sure you’ll spot the plot armour later on as he whittles down his absurdly-large cast). You need great characters. The big money is in series not because series are inherently better, but because people like to read more about their favourite characters. People will keep coming back time and time again for the right characters, the right universe. Your characters are your intellectual property. Craft them lovingly, write down everything you need, and keep them interesting. A little light in the dark, a little dark in the light. Everyone has secrets, desires, needs. Feed your readers characters who are as interesting as your plot is.

How do you get there? How do you know you’ve got a good story, great characters? You need a process. Ideally you want your own a-team of editors, but that may not be a financial reality for many.

So here’s what I’d do if you can’t simply hire in:

Step 1: Find your critique partner(s). Everyone needs one or two friends who they don’t mind showing their dirty laundry to. Fellow authors can be wonderful at spotting big picture issues, repetition, and cookie-cutter clichés. But make sure you trust them. Bad advice can be worse than no advice. You want to read the advice, put it aside, and come back to it after the sting has gone. Writing is hard, the book is your baby, but from the moment the first draft is done you need to be Mr or Mrs Publisher, and that means taking a long hard look at what you’re doing wrong, not patting yourself on the back for what you’re getting right.

Step 2: Find beta readers. You want real readers who can tell you if you’re hopefully-polished second draft works AS A STORY. You are NOT asking them to edit your grammar. They might point out typos, but this isn’t their jobs.

Step 3: Pay for copyediting. Good copyeditors are worth their weight in gold. Do not skimp here,

Step 4: Pay for proofreading of the FINISHED book (ideally AFTER typesetting because you can introduce new errors at that stage without meaning to).

Sean_Campbell11 karma

...(2) ... At this point we should be relatively happy with our intrinsic product.

I’m going to pause here before I move onto the extrinsic elements to talk about The Long Term Plan. If you’re in this business for a career, writing one great book isn’t enough. You need to know where you’re going next. Series are king.

If I were starting today, I’d definitely write a series. Plan it out. Work out how your world will be built. How many books could you write? Is it a finite story? What spin-off potential is there? How long do they take to produce? What’s your financial outlay for production, and how quickly do you hope to recoup that (costs are upfront, royalties won’t roll in for 2 months after publication!).

Making a living from twenty books is easier than making a living from one. There is a huge leap in income going from two to three books, and another huge leap from three to four. How will you get through the relatively dry patch to get to the sustainable income stage? Can you afford a ‘dead’ month without running out of money?

I’ll discuss pricing in a later reply (yes, there's more!), but your Long Term Plan needs to consider whether or not you’ll be pursuing a loss-leader strategy by pricing book one at free or 99p. It’s a common tactic. It works.

Don’t look at one book in isolation. Don’t think that higher prices automatically = more income. Income is a product of royalty per copy multiplied by volume. Lower prices mean more volume (generally). You need to test how your books do and find that sweet spot for yourself. Longer books often do better at low prices while being enrolled in Kindle Unlimited (because borrows are paid per page, and the per page rate is not dependent on your retail list price).

Exercise #1: Write out your Long Term Plan. Start with a simple word doc, and write down what you want to achieve, and then plot out how you think you might get there. Get messy – this isn’t a business proposal to show round. It’s for your eyes only. Commit to a schedule, even if you need to revise it later. You cannot dip your toes in the water here. Being a full-time author means committing 100%. You will have to take a deep breath and leap head-first into uncharted waters.

Write down your budget. How much can you spend? It’s OK to say ‘nothing’ (but it will make it harder!). How quickly do you hope to get any money you spend back? Is there a critical failure point if you don’t make it right out of the gate? How long will you give yourself before you evaluate how you’re doing?

Write down milestones – finish draft 1 by X, build my website by Y. Break down the huge project of ‘writing and publishing a book’ into the little bitty tasks that have to get done. Write down any pre-requisites so you order those tasks logically (e.g. formatting must come AFTER editing, and the final artwork for print will need to be adjusted for width to fit the page count of the formatted print-ready manuscript so your spine is in the right place).

Think about the resiliency of your plan. Series are great, but if book one tanks then it can the whole series down with it. Writing two series (or more) can mitigate the downswings that are inevitable in this market.

Think about your corporate structure. Are you going to be a sole trader? Are you forming a company? It is worth talking to a tax/ legal professional to make sure you’re getting the best deal from a tax perspective, that you’re covering the bases vis-à-vis any copyright registration requirements in your country, and that you’ve got a way of ensuring you avoid libel, copyright infringement or otherwise unlawful content. I strongly recommend a libel reading service and publisher’s liability insurance. Libel cases can easily run up fifty thousand pounds or more in costs, and you do not want to be on the hook for that.

Try and avoid the temptation to set goals which are not in your control. Goals like “Sell 100,000 books” are not goals, but wishes. You cannot control readers. You can control you. Stick to goals like “write 3000 words per day or edit the same” which is more than doable if you’re genuinely full time – sit in front of the computer AND OPEN YOUR MANUSCRIPT! The number of people who claim to be writing for 8 hours a day but produce next to nothing is mindboggling.

You have to treat it like work. Set a routine, keep to it, and eventually it’ll become second nature. Close temptations like facebook when you’re trying to write. There’s a time and a place, and it isn’t when you’ve got writing to do. It’s hard. People think we sit around doing nothing, and the realty is writing a book is as much work as any other job.

Writing thousands of words takes dedication. You may find it encouraging to log your daily word count, and use that data to estimate your completion date (by dividing your target word count minus words so far by your daily average to date).

Sean_Campbell9 karma


OK. Back to ‘extrinsic factors’. This is everything that makes up your product EXCEPT for the words inside the book. It’s how your cover looks, it’s your sales copy in your ads, it’s your sales page presentation.

We know what you’re selling. Hopefully you’ve drilled down to work out EXACTLY where your book should be in the stores by drilling down to find the right subcategories. You’re not just a Mystery, Thriller and Suspense author, you’re a British Police Procedural Crime novelist.

Define your books carefully. You must hit the expectations associated with the labels you apply. If it isn’t a sheep, don’t call it a sheep.

From there you need to start thinking about who your customer is.

Are they men or women (hint, they’re probably women)?

Are they young or old (hint, they’re probably 45+)?

Do they prefer print or eBooks?

How much do they spend?

Where do they find their books?

How often do they buy a book?

The big ‘win’ are power readers. There is a small but very voracious segment of readers who steamroller through dozens of books a month. They tend to buy and read an author’s entire back-catalogue if they find an author they like.

Exercise #2: Pretend to be your ideal reader. Work out how you would find books like yours. What websites are you visiting? Where are you getting your recommendations?

Look at Goodreads. Find books like yours, and see who is reviewing them. See what they like and don’t like by reading some of their reviews. Some of them will mention explicitly where they find those books. If they don’t, google search the competition and see where they advertise.

Try reverse image searching a cover to see all the places it has turned up. Make notes – if the ad venue is working for the competition, it might be worth testing it for yourself.

Packaging: Cover Considerations Now we know what we’re selling, and who we’re selling it to, we need to know how to package it.

The ‘packaging’ is primarily the cover and the blurb. These MUST be on-point. If your blurb is boring, or your cover amateurish, you will find it much harder to sell.

Exercise #3: Look at the covers of successful books in your genre. Save copies of them into a folder or word document. Analyse what elements are common. Look at what colours are being used. Take note of the font choices. Consider how large the text is. Put each cover into a graphics editor and turn them into greyscale (so they appear as they would on an eInk kindle). Make them smaller to simulate the thumbnail and product page sizes. Are they easily legible? Do they have one focal point to draw the eye? Are they painted or photo manipulations? Follow the trends. Your cover must convey the genre and mood of your book. Branding is key here. A scattergun of uncoordinated covers will not see the same cross-sales as carefully curated and consistent branding. Your books MUST look like they belong together on a book shelf. Readers need to be able to look at the cover and know, instantly, what you’re peddling. You name recognition – “oh, that’s the latest so-and-so novel!” Your cover is a marketing tool. No more, no less.

I highly recommend working with your artist to split test your cover.

You want to try various iterations, place adverts wherever your readers are, and measure which covers get the best response based on ‘click through rate’ to a landing page (where you’ve got all the buy links, the blurb, your embedded kindle sample, and the opportunity to join your mailing list). Make your testing work for you by also making it part of ad strategy.

There are limitations to split testing blurbs – and the big one is cost. Making lots of cover variants is EXPENSIVE, even for basic stock manipulation. For full-blown illustration, you’d be nuts to try split-testing more than one or two alternate designs because you won’t recoup the added cost. Be sensible, but do try to split test at least your first book because book 1 is always a cold sell, and readers will be more forgiving of suboptimal covers when they’re returning readers who are already committed.

Remember that covers are a SALES TOOL not (just) a ‘beautiful thing’. There are beautiful covers about which DO NOT WORK because the text is illegible, because there are too many elements so the reader doesn’t know where to look, because it’s indistinct at thumbnail.

Always, always, always follow the numbers. Your gut cannot be trusted until you’ve proved you know what you’re doing, and you won’t know if you’re doing it right until you get the numbers to verify it. Do NOT ask a dozen friends with no artistic or marketing experience to evaluate covers. Their feedback is often worse than useless.

Want a quick guide? Can you tick off everything on my cover design checklist?

  1. I can read the title and author name at thumbnail.

  2. The cover looks good at all sizes.

  3. There is one focal point for the eye to be drawn to.

  4. My books (if more than one) share a uniform branded look (where appropriate).

  5. My book cover design ‘fits’ with the bestselling books in my subgenre.

  6. I have picked an appropriate colour scheme.

  7. My cover does not violate retailer rules on overt violence (e.g. guns if you wish to use Amazon Marketing Services) or nudity.

  8. I have licensed the art through lawful means (work for hire commission, licensing, use of stock photos or your own photos).

  9. I can tell my books apart from each other at a glance (“Oh, I’ve got the blue one, but I don’t have the red one”).

  10. I meet all of the current requirements on size, DPI, and file formats as required for each of the stores I’m listing my books in.


Sean_Campbell11 karma


The split-testing methodology applies just as much to blurbs. You should be writing dozens of blurbs (because they don’t take long, and it’s a skill you will need to hone to perfection), iteratively making small changes, and testing the CTR until you refine it to the point it practically sings.

Ask for help if you need to. A fresh perspective can help. Writing sales copy is a different skill to writing fiction.

Your blurb must introduce the protagonist, and immediately show us what challenge they face. Who are they, and what do they want? Make us want to find out if they get it.

Exercise #4: Go write ten new blurbs. Make some of them short, and some of them long. Switch around the order. Try new things. Then use ads to work out which ones work. Ditch the under-performers, and create a second batch based on the best-performing blurbs.

Keep going until you’re happy. Note your CTR %s – these will become your benchmark against which all future blurb performance will be measured. The better your copy, the more effective yours ads will become.

You want to be able to acquire readers as cheaply as possible. Good copy, great images, and proper targeting will keep your Cost-Per-Acquisition (the money it costs to acquire one new reader by advertising) low.

What you want to do it look at how many books you’re selling, how much you make per book on average (based on your split of sales to borrows as per prior royalty reports) and thus calculate how much a reader is worth to you. This value number is your ‘Lifetime Value’.

If your ‘Lifetime Value’ is more than your ‘Cost-Per-Acquisition’ then you can reliably turn ads now into more money later.

Don’t forget to factor in any tax offset you’ll get, and don’t ignore the escalating tax burden as your income grows (and definitely don’t ignore the reporting requirements that may kick in at higher incomes – e.g. the UK’s VAT threshold).

Exercise #5: Look at your books. What’s the sale ratio? i.e. if I sell 100 of book 1, how many of book 2 do I sell? Ideally you want 100%, but that’s not going to happen because some readers will drop off, some will start somewhere other than book one, and some just won’t like you enough to buy another one of your books. That doesn’t matter. Expect a lot fewer returning readers to convert from freeloads to fans (because people take anything when it’s free, have not prequalified their interest by committing real money, and probably a backlog of freebies that would last them decades).

Are readers returning? If you’re selling one book, but they’re not coming back then you have to look again at the package above because chances are at least one element is off (even if it’s just “I waited too long between releases”).


Sean_Campbell8 karma


The product page is your most important sales tool. It combines your blurb, cover, title, and price with a whole host of other elements. Let’s take a top to bottom look at an Amazon product page.

Go look at ANY Kindle page.

What nabs your attention straight away? For me it’s the cover. It’s the dominant visual element, and it’s displayed here at much-larger-than-thumbnail size so those smaller details start to come through.

Then there’s the title and series info, the review average and count, thirteen different formats.

Most readers will glance at the review average. I think the average and volume are most important than the content of any reviews. People do not wade through hundreds of reviews to make a decision especially for cheaper books. Some will click on the cover for a look inside sample. Most will scan down to read one or two reviews, and then either request a sample or hit Buy Now if they’re interested.

Just so we don’t miss any elements, let’s list them:

  1. The title

  2. The series name (immediately after the title)

  3. The author name (in blue, under the title)

  4. A visual indicator of the average demarcated in half-star increments (which makes this 4.3 look like a 4.5).

  5. A space in the top right for any reported Quality Issues (hint, you don't want this!)

  6. The number of formats with tabs to switch and a quick indication on price

  7. The cover (which clicks through to Look Inside)

  8. A play button for an Audible Narration sample if you have an audiobook

  9. The length (taken from the linked print version if there is one)

  10. Information on word wise, Enhanced Typesetting, and Page Flip, plus device availability.

  11. The buy box on the right, with a checkbox to add audio.

  12. Series information.

  13. The “also boughts” which will send some readers elsewhere, but also act as an indicator of the kind of book that you’re looking at (just like a shelf in a bookstore group by genre!)

  14. Editorial reviews

  15. The text-heavy product details section (format, file size, publisher, language, ASIN, text-to-speech, x-ray, word wise (again), screen reader, enhanced typesetting (again), average review inc visual info (again), and finally store rank and categories ranks.

  16. About the author

  17. Also boughts (again)

  18. Customer reviews sorted by ‘most helpful’ with a search box included on the right

That’s a lot of data on one page. You control most of it. The title is yours, the series name is yours, the pen name is yours. You can control the quality – and respond quickly if you get a Kindle Quality Notice.

You control the formats, the cover, the audio availability, the length. You control the series info (albeit with a manual delay for Amazon to set it up for you).

You can choose which, if any, editorial reviews to include.

The author bio is yours. Every field that is made available to you should be filled, and that needs to be on every region’s AuthorCentral so that all stores display the same information.

What you can’t control are reader reviews, review averages, sales (and therefore sales rank) or also boughts. You shouldn’t be ignoring them because they’re going to tell you how well your efforts have been received, but you shouldn’t be fretting over them directly. Worry about the factors that go into your book (the input process) rather than results that follow (the output process). You can’t make everyone love you. You can do your damndest to write the best book you can, package it well, and put it in front of the right readers.

By now you should have a battle-proven blurb, and a kick-ass cover that you know turns browsers into shoppers. If not follow the exercises, and keep trying 'til you're happy.


Sean_Campbell7 karma


I'm going to keep this one short and sweet because I've written almost 10% of a book in this one reply for free. It's only here - when you've got a good book to sell targeted with laser focus and packaged to appeal - that you should think about marketing.

There are multiple options: 1. Inherent advantages like price and Kindle Unlimited. Cheaper products move more. KU can push thousands of extremely-voracious readers your way.

  1. PPC. Facebook and Amazon Marketing Services. They can be a money pit or your biggest friend. Find niches, bid cheap. e.g. pick other books that are on the rise and piggyback them. People bid high for ads on the big names, but low on people like me (and I still get a lot of traffic).

  2. Book Promo sites.

At this point I'm going to leave you with my own launch marketing plan to emulate if you want...

My approach is pretty simple: acquire new readers for less than they generate in royalties (either sales or KU reads). For the business nerds it's a simple Cost-Per-Acquisition vs Lifetime Value balancing act. Right now I have four books of which three are paid and one is permafree. If a reader BUYS all 4, I generate royalties of approximately £1.68 in total based on a free/0.99/1.99/0.99 pricing structure. With my next book I will be going to free/0.99/1.99/1.99/1.99 eventually for a total royalty of £3.67. This is still very affordable, and will be offset for returning readers by a loyalty discount/launch price of £0.99 on the 5th book.

On the other hand a KU reader is worth about £6 and change for 4 KU books (and the permafree) so Kindle Unlimited subscribers are more valuable to my bottom line than sales. KU has become an enormous proportion of my past royalties especially when I have hit the Kindle All Star lists (which I've now done 9 times).

The gist of my launch plan is simple: I'm giving away the whole library except for Missing Persons which will be £0.99. That's five books for 99p for those patient enough to wait a few days.

Dead on Demand is ALWAYS free.

The Patient Killer will be free from May 4th to May 8th.

Cleaver Square will be free from May 7th to May 11th.

Ten Guilty Men will be free from May 10th to May 14th.

Missing Persons will be £0.99 from when the preorder goes live 'til at least 2 weeks after launch

This is aimed at maximising volume rather than revenue. I've said repeatedly that I'd rather take a small amount from a lot of readers than a lot from a few. There is little risk of total saturation is commercial genre fiction, and I am looking at the very long term rather than this month or year. Each launch is about building on that returning reader base so next time is even bigger. My aim is to push 200,000 copies in May (combined free/paid).

Of course this approach only works if you tell people about it. I will be advertising heavily from yesterday onward ramping up to peak ad on release week (around May 4th). This is going to begin with a moderate push on Dead on Demand in April/ May.

So far my confirmed ads for Dead on Demand look like this:

March 26th - Snickslist

March 28th - ReadCheaply

April 1st – BookBasset

April 2nd – BookSends Book of the Day

April 2nd - ManyBooks

April 14th – eBookDealoftheDay

April 14 - eBookSoda

April 15th – GenrePulse

April 17th - RiffleSelect

April 27th - DigitalBookSpot

April 29th – KUFAds @KUForum

April 30th – Kindle Nation Daily FBH

April 31st – eReaderIQ

May 1st – ChoosyBookworm

May 1st - RobinReads

May 1st – Fussy Librarian

May 1st – FreeBooksy

May 1st – It’s Write Now

May 1st – JustKindleeBooks

May 1st – eReaderNation

May 1st – AwesomeGang

May 1st - GoodKindles

May 2nd – eBookBetty

May 2nd – PeopleReads Freebie of the Day

May 3rd - Booktastik

May 4th – eBookHounds

May 4th - FKBT

Submitted for free: BookHippo, eReadercafe, OHFB, Armadillo eBooks, Free99Books, eBookSaurus, eBookLister.net, ReadFree.ly

Not a bad selection. Dead on Demand has been widely publicised already and it's nearly five years since publication so the returns on this are not as strong as a first-ever free run, but they're still worthwhile.

I'd have loved to add a BookBub here... but I'm running at about 1 in 4 submissions being successful with them, and they declined on this occasion so we'll be pinning our BookBub hopes on TPK (with a fallback of offering them Cleaver Square once more if they turn down TPK).

After the Dead on Demand free run, I'm moving onto the first ever free run of The Patient Killer between May 4th and May 8th. Virgin free runs are always the most effective so my main push is going to be concentrated here:

May 4th – FreeBooksy

May 4th - GenrePulse

May 4th – DailyFreeBooks.com

May 4th – BookBongo

May 4th – BargainBookHunter

May 4th - PixelScroll

May 4th – Dailyfreebooks.co.uk

May 4th – BookGorilla

May 4th – ReadingDeals

May 4th - Lendle

May 4th - KindleBookReview

May 5th – BookScream

May 5th - BookAdrenaline

May 5th – Kboards Bargain Kindle Books Highlight

May 5th - OHFB

May 6th – RobinReads

May 6th – eReaderIQ

May 6th – TheFussyLibrarian

May 6th – eBookBetty (aka BettyBookFreak)

May 6th – eReaderIQ

May 6th – eBookSoda

May 6th – FKBT Featured Book

May 6th – Kindle Nation Daily FBA Sponsorship (top billing)

May 7th – eBookHounds

May 7th - BookRunes

May 8th - BookLemur

Booked but pending scheduling: BooksButterfly (4-8th May), FreeDiscountedBooks.com, eBooksaurus.

Requested via free submission: BookHippo, BookSlice, eBooksHabit, ICraveFreebies, BookCircle

Again, not bad so far. BookBub, ENT, BookSends, ManyBooks, Snickslist, AskDavid and DigitalBookSpot booking windows aren't open yet so I'll be making those requests in the coming days. I'll also be doing the rounds on dozens of smaller free-to-submit sites to pad out that side of things.

There will then be free runs, albeit less heavily advertised, for Cleaver Square and Ten Guilty Men. These will, by necessity, be much smaller. Many of the above sites have a repeat-promo rule (most commonly '1 feature per 30 days') which precludes submitting CS/TGM to the likes of BookBub, ENT, eReaderIQ, ManyBooks,BookSends etc. This is a major downside to doing multiple free runs in a cluster.

For now the Cleaver Square ads look like this:

May 7th – Fussy Librarian

May 7th – MyBookCave

May 7th - FreeBooksy

May 7th - FKBT

May 8th – KindleNationDaily FBH

May 11th - GenrePulse

There are a few requested/ pending as well: BookHippo (free), and a few small free-to-submit sites. I'll be adding CS' free run to Snickslist, DigitalBookSpot, and AskDavid in due course, but this is going to largely be an organic run so it'll be interesting to see the # downloads this achieves vs TPK.

And the Ten Guilty Men ads look like this: May 10th - KindleNationDaily

I've submitted this to BookHippo as well (though obviously I don't expect all of the submissions to be successful!). Again this will be added to DigitalBookSpot, Snickslist and AskDavid in due course (given that $7 total for the three always yields a solid return on freebies). I won't be pushing this any further as I think my efforts are best placed on CS (as the 'most liked' book) and TPK (as the virgin free run with the best chance of a top spot in the rankings).

On top of the venue-ads, I'll be running Amazon Marketing Services and Facebook PPC campaigns. Both will use the 'one line hook' approach we started with Dead on Demand five years ago ('What would drive you to murder?') but we'll be running a few new copy variants which we'll be split-testing during April before the big run.

So far the best performers are as follows:

Dead on Demand - What would drive you to murder? / Murder by Proxy. / Who would you kill if you knew you'd get away with it?

Cleaver Square - Save a child or catch a killer?

Ten Guilty Men - Jail an innocent, or let a killer go free?

The Patient Killer - Most people deserve to live. Some deserve to die.

Missing Persons - What's a girl to do when her man disappears without a trace?

My approach with AMS is both simple and effective. I book AMS ads on books which have had a BookBub in my genre in the last week and piggyback their ad. These are often less-well-known books so the bid can be as low as $0.02. Compare that to the $0.60 you'd need to spend to advertise on Val McDermid's books, and it's obvious why picking low-competition keywords is the way to go.

This will be combined with an extensive ARC campaign. I'm not shy about giving copies away in return for an honest review. I don't mind fronting print copies for book clubs, known bloggers and the like. It's not a huge part of my strategy but I hope to get a handful of first-week reviews so the sales page doesn't look totally empty. I'm not using NetGalley or anything, just offering copies on social media.

On the social media side I'll be hitting up twitter with the usual hashtag game (#FreeKindleBook, #CrimeFiction, #NewRelease, #Bookgiveaway, #Mustread, #Booklovers, #KindleFreebies, #BookPlug, #BookBlast, #Amreading, #Mysteries, #Crime, #Murder, #UKCBC, #Thriller, #etc), and taking part in a few of the RT groups as well. I'll be busy on facebook via my own pages, cross posts to pages run by friends, and through a small launch event. I'll also be hitting up Reddit where I am a regular contributor to r/writing among other subreddits.

Before all that happens I'll be prepping social media imagery, a full media kit, press releases, updating the website, social media profiles, Amazon author profile, forum signatures etc, and refreshing the earlier books with new backmatter (and fixing a couple of typos while I'm at it).

This will all be capped off with our own mailing list, our Amazon Followers notification, and, hopefully, a BookBub New Release Notification for Missing Persons.

And if you got this far, ffs go buy my books! :)

kajnbagoat3 karma

Dude you're awesome. I'm goin to buy the one which you recommend first. I have some ideas on thrillers. I always start writing and end up drifting the story line I chose.

Sean_Campbell3 karma

Grab today's free one (The Patient Killer). The first four are free at various times this month (see my OP) so if you like 'em, grab the rest.

Thrillers can be quite hard. I like outlining for thrillers and mysteries so everything stays where it should. Russell Blake's "Outlining Made Easy" method is excellent. russellblake.com/outlining-made-simple/

KINGKONinG2 karma

Damn you sure do love to write, thanks for being so thorough with your responses

Sean_Campbell3 karma

No problem. I'm nothing if not thorough. I'm heading offline in a couple of hours, but I'll come back in the morning to answer any outstanding questions (and I'm always available via pm/email for anyone late to the party / for follow-ups).

GodOfAllAtheists3 karma

I have three short stories on Amazon Kindle. I've had little success in selling them, although I have done well when giving them away and have garnered a few positive reviews. I haven't really promoted them, other than through my blog, which has become dormant over the last few months.

Any advice on promotion?

Sean_Campbell9 karma

Shorts are a hard sell. Part of that is that people prefer longer works. The other is price. You're competing with a hell of a lot of full length novels priced at the minimum $0.99 (including me - sorry!).

Financially shorts tend to do better on the trad pub side by selling to magazines (usually for ~$500 a pop). I'd also be tempted to try submitting to Kindle Singles if you're in their 5-30k length requirement (https://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?&docId=1000700491).

Otherwise I'm really sorry but I don't know much about selling shorts. I use a variety of advertising platforms, and most of them are geared to full-length novels. The only advice I can offer is pretty generic: find your demographics, work out who your target audience is, and go to them. Provide them with an irresistible value proposition (bundling shorts into an anthology if you need to/ feel it is appropriate) and keep producing content until the world can't ignore you any longer.

Good luck!

TopOsprey2 karma

Hi, what's the pay like for an author your size? Is it full time career pay or just hobby pay?

Sean_Campbell3 karma

It's enough to pay the bills. It's not 'fuck you' money (yet). I've posted the actual numbers for last year in a reply above so people have an accurate idea of what a midlist indie makes.

iwas99x1 karma

So no Yachts yet?

Sean_Campbell1 karma

Nah. Maybe Hugh Howey will let me steal his? Probably not though.

iwas99x1 karma

Hugh Grant? Hugh Jackman?

Sean_Campbell1 karma

Grant. I met him in a tapas bar called Tendido Cero in Brompton once. I gather he's a bit of a regular there.

iwas99x1 karma

If I met him I couldn't help but ask why he messed up a good thing with Elizabeth Hurley.

Sean_Campbell1 karma

She's gorgeous, isn't she? 51 and still a stunner.

iwas99x2 karma

Mr. Campbell, what grammar mistakes do you often make that your editor corrects you on?

Sean_Campbell2 karma

It's not grammar but I have an annoying habit of writing 'draw' when I mean 'drawer'. I have no idea why that is. I is well smat really.

iwas99x2 karma

Mr. Campbell, what novel genres do you want to author in the future?

Sean_Campbell2 karma

I've got a sci-fi story on the back-burner that will be coming out under a pen name in eighteen months or so.

arneas_dorn2 karma

I'm curious as to why the pen name instead of just publishing under the existing name? Isn't having more absolute total recognition more valuable and easier than trying to establish essentially two social media identities/marketing entities?

Sean_Campbell2 karma

Branding. The cross-over between some genres is nonexistent. It depends on the genre. I don't think the typical murder mystery reader has much in common.

It also allows me to have multiple independent revenue streams which smooths out the ups and downs without influencing each other. I want non-Morton books to stand on their own (and this one is probably a solo project).

tinksaid2 karma

You left out the fifth title! I downloaded "Missing Persons" earlier today & have already devoured a few chapters. It's an unusual setting & seems authentic. Did you spend anytime on canal boats for research?

Sean_Campbell5 karma


That was deliberate. I can't give away the fifth book (if I give away everything, I've got nothing left to sell, and my bills can't be paid in goodwill!). I'm not here to hard-sell Redditors so I'm only mentioning the free books in my OP today.

Thank you for picking up Missing Persons, though! I'm glad you're enjoying it so far. Yes, we spent some time with a lovely chap called Brian going up and down the Grand Union. If you look carefully at the cover, the cat sitting on the roof is Fabby. She belongs to Brian, and she really does climb in and out of the water by clawing her way up an old pair of jeans.

kajnbagoat2 karma

What's your advise to budding writers?

Who do you give your books to read after you finish the final draft?

What according to you should be the essence of storytelling?

And can you tell me which quote this is from " The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think but to give you questions to think upon". It's from a fiction fantasy novel. One of my favourites.

Sean_Campbell2 karma

The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think but to give you questions to think upon

That's a u/mistborn quote.

My advice is simple: write, write more, and use whatever feedback you get to keep improving. If you're looking to trade publish then throw everything you've got into it. If you're looking to self-publish, the same applies.

My drafts go out to a couple of author-friends who alpha read for me. I use their advice to streamline it before my editorial team get a crack at it. Once we're almost-there, I have a libel read, send things to the typesetter, and then proofread it all once more to catch for any newly-introduced errors.

kajnbagoat1 karma

That's by Hoid Wit from Age of Kings. One of my favourite books. Glad you know it.

Thanks for responding. Got few more questions Mr.Sean.

What's your favourite genre of novels or books?

What's the best book of yours would you advise me to read first?

Sean_Campbell1 karma

I love scifi. There's nothing like losing yourself in an alternate reality for a few hours. Of course I'm a huge crime fiction junkie too (though right now it's crime tv/ streaming as it's a little easier on my schedule; Billions is awesome).

If you're looking for something a little slower, a little nuanced, go for Cleaver Square (which will be free on Sunday). If you're after fast paced, forensic, and, dare I say it, a little clever, then try The Patient Killer (which is free today).

kajnbagoat1 karma

I'm a doctor so I think I wil go for The Patient Killer. Sounds intriguing.

Sean_Campbell2 karma

Hah. You'll either love it or hate it then.

iwas99x2 karma

Mr. Campbell how often are you on Reddit and what are your favorite subreddits?

Sean_Campbell2 karma

Too often. I browse R/writing a lot (and get downvoted plenty!). I quite like the chilled vibe at r/casualconversation too. And r/AskReddit is always fun.

I lurk over at PCMR and r/battlestations too.

iwas99x2 karma

Hello Mr. Campbell, could you write a novel with Brexit being a big part of the plot?

Sean_Campbell2 karma

I could. I actually started a comedy about the Isle of Wight going independent five years back. I think it might divide opinion though, and that would probably be commercial suicide.

iwas99x1 karma

What about involving a Yorkshire Terrier in a book plot then?

Sean_Campbell1 karma

I can offer you a small cat on a canal boat. How's that?

iwas99x1 karma

Okay deal. But how will the cat stay in the boat? Cats can be wirey when not asleep.

Sean_Campbell1 karma

She doesn't. She jumps in the water to swim around. The cat in question is called Fabby. She belongs to a guy called Brian who lives on the Grand Union.

He was kind enough to take Dan and I on a tour for research purposes so we put Fabby in Missing Persons, and snuck her onto the cover too.

songwind1 karma

Luckily, childhood singing has taught me that the cat will always come back.

Sean_Campbell2 karma

the cat will always come back

The cat came back, he just wouldn't stay away.

iwas99x2 karma

Mr.Campbell, how do you promote and Advertise your books?

Sean_Campbell1 karma


See https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/6975wr/iama_selfpublished_author_who_has_sold_over/dh4ih27/ for my intro to promotion.

I use a permafree strategy. It's entirely soft-sell. I give away 1 (or more) books, and hope people like them enough to buy the rest. I do some advertising but not much. It's mainly organic traffic, and is largely a function of Amazon's Also-Bought system.

iwas99x2 karma

Mr. Campbell,how many hours a day do you spend writing?

Sean_Campbell2 karma

I work 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. Ish. Not all of that is writing. The non-writing side of being a self-publisher takes up about half my time.

iwas99x1 karma

Mr. Campbell, have you ever too many characters in a story that you neglect a character or 2 within the book by accident in later chapters?

Sean_Campbell1 karma

In first drafts, sure. But I have a whole team now who are paid to catch that sort of things (though ultimately it's my responsibility anyway) so hopefully not too often.

In retrospect I'd have written Dead on Demand with fewer characters. There's always something a writer would change later on, and that goes double for debuts.

iwas99x1 karma

Mr. Campbell, best book review subreddits?

Sean_Campbell1 karma

Tbh the only subreddit I read reviews on is r/books (but I try not to post as I don't want to interfere in a reader-driven space).

From where I'm sitting reviews are really meant for others readers, not writers.

iwas99x1 karma

Mr. Campbell, did your ancestors' often camp with a bell?

Sean_Campbell1 karma

Not often as far as I know. I can trace my family tree back several generations, and they were all glass merchants from Belfast back then (though my great-Granddad moved to Dublin).

iwas99x1 karma

Mr. Campbell, how awesome was/is Sherlock Holmes?

Sean_Campbell1 karma

Very. The Reichenbach Falls happened exactly 126 years ago today on May 4th 1891. Our pub date choice isn't mere coincidence!


iwas99x1 karma

Mr. Campbell, what fun American English words would you like to sein use more in the UK?

Sean_Campbell1 karma

I quite like the word lagniappe. And free stuff is always boss.

iwas99x1 karma

Sounds French. What words like amusement, apartments, elevator, gas station?

Sean_Campbell1 karma

See I hate the phrase gas station. Petrol is a bloody liquid!

Lift beats elevator in my book too. It's shorter.

And it's New Orleans so still American, just French-American.

shadow9091 karma

Hi sean. I've been working on a novel for a couple of years now and want to self publish on Amazon. Is copyrighting or trademarking necessary for self publishing? And do you have any advice for a story being expanded into a trilogy?

Sean_Campbell2 karma

Hello mate,

If you're in a Berne Convention country you already own the copyright to anything you write. If you're asking about copyright registration in the USA, I can't advise you because I'm not a US attorney. My understanding is that registration offers enhanced damages, and that it's cheap, but I can only offer the standard 'get a lawyer' advice.

Trademarks are another one for a lawyer. Most authors do not use trademarks. Generally the rule, at least here in the UK, is that single books are not trademarkable but series names are in theory (assuming they're unique). I don't use trademarks in fiction as I don't think the benefit is worth the cost, and there are other detective shows using the name 'Morton' now so I'd have a challenge to enforce the mark (and enforcement is obligatory - it's a blunt tool).

vault1141 karma

top book? i want to read it.

Sean_Campbell2 karma

Of all time? I'm going to have to say Brothers Karamazov. I love how it's semi-biographical.

If you're looking for something more recent Timothy Zahn's Thrawn is well worth a read (and every bit as good as the old Hand of Thrawn Trilogy).

Dan (who is peering over my shoulder laughing at everything I type) asked me to add his favourite for consideration too: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

vault1141 karma

thank you my dude.

Sean_Campbell1 karma

No prob.

Chiefbutterbean1 karma

That's cool I recently read Brothers Karamazov and loved it. Russian Classics have quite often an unique humor that I like.

Sean_Campbell1 karma

Good man! Dostoyevsky is incredible. I wish I spoke Russian so I could read the original.

therealgodfarter1 karma

Mr Campbell, what is your very best life advice?

Sean_Campbell2 karma

Work hard, play harder, buy my books.

ClassicPervert1 karma

What's better than cooking while listening to opera full blast?

Sean_Campbell1 karma

Cooking, but pairing it with nice whisky and sharing it with people you love. I did a pretty kick-ass whisky tasting night a few months back in an attempt to be proper mature. I totally wasn't doing it to try and impress a woman.

Here's the menu:

HIGHLANDS: Cold-smoked salmon selection with infusions of beetroot, single malt whisky and honey, champagne and orange. Paired with horseradish cream and acipenser gueldenstaedtii golden osietra caviar. Paired with Balblair 21 Year Old Macphail Collection.

CAMPBELTOWN: Pancetta-sautéed scallops served with vanilla-infused butternut squash puree, and truffled beurre blanc. Paired with Glen Scotia 24 Year Old Pearls of Scotland Selection, Cask #36 Bottle #7.

SPEYSIDE: Chateaubriand beef fillet wellington served with celeriac puree and 40 year old port jus. Paired with Mortlach 1996 20 Year Old Cask 193 Bottle #169.

Pan-seared fresh foie gras entier served on buttered brioche with lingonberry jam. Paired with Glentaucher 1996 20 Year Old.

Duck confit Paired with Tamnavullin 27 Year Old, and Glen Farclas 28 Year Old whiskies.

LOWLANDS Vanilla pannacotta and civet coffee
Paired with Port Dundas 1988 27 Year Old Sovereign Collection.

ISLANDS Charcuterie and cheeseboard selection including smoked venison and reindeer Paired with Arran 1996 20 Year Old Particular & Tobermory 20 Year Old.

ISLAY: English Stilton and homemade chocolate selection Paired with Ardberg Supernova 2015 Committee Release.

ClassicPervert1 karma

You definitely sound like a writer

What I really wanna know, though, is did you smell her knickers?

Sean_Campbell1 karma

Alas no. I did get a massive hangover. Does that count for anything?

ClassicPervert1 karma

But you're famous!

You should have girls begging to let their little Glen Farclas toots up yer nose while rubbing you

Sean_Campbell1 karma

Christ I knew Reddit was kinky as fuck, but next you'll be telling me R/GlenFarclasToots is a thing. Bet they'd love that brand association.

J. & G. Grant, please don't sue me.

agirlcalledba1 karma

Why for you did you feel self publishing rather than trad routes was the right way for your book?

Sean_Campbell1 karma

For the most part it was because trade publishing is very short term. It's all about pushing lots of print in the first few weeks, and then moving onto the next book. That's wonderful if you sell well out of the gate, but if you're not an instant success then chances are you won't get much promo love or a second book deal.

Contrast that with self-publishing where a book can be a slow burn. My first month with Dead on Demand sold 65 copies. If that had been trad published, it'd have died then.

But in the 5 years since it's been downloaded over 500,000 times for free, and that's been the catalyst for 100k+ of book 2.

No trade publisher would ever have tried that sort of strategy. Low prices can work for self-publishers who are lean, data-aware, and willing to work hard. It doesn't work for big publishers with London offices, oodles of staff on payroll, and pension liabilities.

To compound the point I knew - as a lawyer - that copyright is for life plus seventy years. Think about that gamble: a week or two in the spotlight versus an entire lifetime of eBook sales for me, and a legacy to leave behind too. I may not make as much year one (or two or ten), but the lifetime income has the potential to be hundreds of times greater.

Plus this way I'm free to control my own destiny. My rights, my marketing plan, my responsibility. I can write at a speed to suit me and my readers, and price sensibly (because at $2.99 on Kindle I can make $2 - twice as much as a trade paperback!). Now the challenge to trade authors isn't "be better than me" but "be 5x better than me" and that's a huge ask.

It also means no 15% to agents, full awareness of my subsidiary rights (audio, translations, etc) which I might have had to include in any deal. I sidestep basket accounting. I don't have to deal with remainders/ returns. I get paid monthly two months in arrears rather than bi-annually six months in arrears. And I don't have to deal with the months/ years it takes to actually get a good deal in the first place (which is never a guaranteed thing).

Trade works for the very tippy-top of the author world nicely. They're still king in print. But they're not on Kindle, and Kindle is a huge - and growing - market.

What would you choose? A long shot at short term success with middlemen keeping most of the money? Or a slow burn that actually gives you a chance at living off your books?

agirlcalledba1 karma

Thanks that's a great answer. I am about to start a PhD that's part research to write a part non fiction book... kind of a true crime but with artistic licence with the focus on race. This I see as my "lit" endeavour but I have so many more books I want to write and am just waiting to get started on. I wrote my first book when I was 8 lol. I'm 32 now and just about think I'm starting to write stuff other people will read beyond the odd article. I know you outlined in this AMA a lot of the PR you have planned for your next book... what is your PR budget and do you think your industry contacts helped you in that area?

Sean_Campbell1 karma

There are some wonderful PR types in the trade world, but none of that translates directly to self-publishing.

At a publishing house you're focused on print sales, and that means wholesale. It means having your brochure of new books divided into front and backlist. It means real-world adverts on subways and bus shelters. It means blurbs from other authors (which in my experience do not materially impact conversion unless it's a huge name).

They want to sell to book buyers at chains. They spend a lot of time wooing those store buyers, paying for coop placements so the books are faceout instead of spine out, or even more coop for the front table displays. It's a world of mutual purchases which muddy the numbers. It's about warehousing, print run sizes, deep discount negotiations, and which books among your catalogue you really want to push this month (hint: they can never push them all).

I want to sell direct to readers. The levers that move eBooks are pretty simple: visibility and quality. The right content, the right packaging, and the right audience are all that matters. There are a lot of great websites that aim to connect readers to books (e.g. BookBub, eReader News Today, Free Kindle Books and Tips etc), and this sort of targeted audience is invaluable. If you can get people to visit a website then you can get people to visit a book sales page.

The ads are just the spark. You need enough people to check out your books that:

  1. They come back and buy more. This comes down to giving readers what they want at a price they want to pay.

  2. They tell other people about the book. I like to think of this as a viral vector ratio. If everyone tells one other person then you've got a theoretical 1:1 ratio, and the book will continue spreading forever by word of mouth. In theory. But they won't all buy. The 1 is going to be an 'average' (so it could be one guy tells a hundred people and 99 tell nobody) and there will be bottlenecks in groups (Jane tells Sally, Sally tells John, John tells Jane a second time) so you need more than the theoretical 1:1 to get that perfect organic growth a la Harry Potter or 50 Shades.

If you can't get organic growth that way you need more 'seed' readers giving you a try to get a reasonable sales total AND/OR you need more content so you make more sales per reader. A thousand core fans is often spouted as the magic number (but it's arbitrary bs) but you can imagine how much 1000 people can contribute to that critical mass and put you in the Zeitgeist.

We didn't spend much on ads in Y1-3. We now aim to spend about 5% of the previous year's revenue. That's a budget of £3000 or $5000 for this year. That buys us a couple of BookBubs, some quality artwork and ad materials, and a bunch of smaller ad site placements plus some PPC action on facebook and Amazon Marketing Services. We could scale up. There are people spending £10,000 a month on PPC and winning. We're not there yet, and I'm not sure I want to be dealing with that sort of cashflow to be brutally honest. We're lean, and I like it that way.

I would say that non-fic is a different beast. There are less indie success stories on the non-fic side, and it's still a niche/lower volume market compared to fictional crime. Print still dominates among many non-fic readers so the trade route has a great deal of merit, particularly on the lit/ creative non-fic end which you're targeting.

If I were you I'd go see if I can find a dozen books like yours already on sale and see how many are indie, what they're doing right, where they're priced, how they're advertising, and then work out a guestimate at how much you might make going it alone so you've got that info to hand if/when you walk to publishers. As a PhD candidate you've got a platform. You're an expert (or about to be one) and that street cred should translate to some visibility.

agirlcalledba1 karma

I really really appreciate the time you've taken to answer me, thank you. You have been so helpful and also kind of confirmed what I thought... the PhD book will probably work better in print, but the fictional crime ones I have planned would work better Self published online, possibly. Seriously, thank you! Advice from someone like you is worth so much. The PR thing is what daunts me the most definitely. Well done for your successes and here's to many more!

Sean_Campbell2 karma

No problem. Feel free to shoot me a pm in the future if (when!) you have any more questions. It's never too early to think about getting a website up (registering your [pen] name as a dot com domain early is wise before someone else has it!). That's one of the things I wish I'd done years ago. I never realised quite how common my name was until after I was published.

I'd also recommend checking out ThePassiveVoice blog, Joe Konrath's early posts (a bit dated but not wrong) and Kboards Writers Cafe.

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[deleted]2 karma


Sean_Campbell4 karma

I think you may have just asked the AutoMod the question, but oh well.

I'm the tie-breaker. Dan and I don't argue much, but we can't have one vote each when we do otherwise we'd go 'round in circles all day. The flipside of that is that any fuckups are on me.

The workload split has evolved over time. Dan was sixteen when we started (I think there's still a photo of baby-faced Dan floating around his Amazon profile if you want to go embarrass him) so he was more ideas then while I handled almost all the business side of things.

Since then Dan has wanted to do a bit more on the business side. He's helped split-test ad copy, set up advertising campaigns, and has taken a few stints in charge of our social media presence (linked to in the OP).

In terms of practicalities we use Dropbox to sync versions to both our desktops, and we use strict version controls to make sure we're always on the same page. Track changes and comments are a god-send (and our editorial team use the same methods which keeps everything clean; Word is pretty standard in the industry, and while it doesn't have the bells and whistles of Scrivener, it is straightforward and everyone knows at least the basics).

PinkAbuuna1 karma

How hard is it, from your point of view, to get into the writing scene?

Sean_Campbell6 karma

The odds are stacked against you. It's an all-or-nothing industry. If you look at AuthorEarningsReport (http://authorearnings.com/report/february-2017/) you can see that full-time authors number about 20,000. Compare that to the 4.5million+ books on the Kindle store, add the thousands published daily, and you've got a lot of authors not earning pay-the-bills money.

But if you want to write then whatever I say will never persuade you otherwise. Writing is first and foremost a passion. Don't go into it thinking you'll get rich (and especially not from one book!).

Quality can sell. Genre matters (romance is still 39% of the genre fiction eBook market after all). A smart writer who commits to the business side can still make reasonable money today even without becoming a bestseller.

If you're seriously considering trying it, I'd be happy to write up a guide on what I'd do if I were starting again today (but it'll take a few days!).

fuck_prostitutes1 karma

Hi Sean.

I am actually starting to write more and have had a bit of success from article mills which I would like to transition from eventually. I would love to see a guide, even if it wasn't too detailed.

I know your probably busy but let me know if this ends up happening! Thank you!

Sean_Campbell2 karma

Just finished the first 6500 words or so - see this reply chain... #OPDelivers


arneas_dorn1 karma

If you did this guide, it would be a great service to a great many aspiring competitors... Erm... I mean, authors. Yeah.

Sean_Campbell3 karma


See this reply chain. I've pretty much just written a book for you guys on demand. Does this count as number six? It feels like it.

arneas_dorn1 karma

Having read most of it, if you packaged it and put it up for $0.99 I'd pay for it.

Sean_Campbell3 karma

Hah. Keep your 99c. Put it towards producing your next book. Or buy a random redditor's book with the money. I'm sure we'll have a few volunteers.

nekoperator1 karma

Is it worth taking a writing class if you're having difficulty getting ideas on paper?

Sean_Campbell3 karma

There's no doubt that studying can help. I assume you're already reading loads. Are you reading critically and looking at how other authors do it? If not start there. Write down the plots, the tropes, the construction, the literary devices.

Ask yourself what works in the books you don't, what doesn't, and then emulate the best bits. Give yourself permission to write badly. The pressure to do it perfectly right out of the gate is enormous, and your first short story/novel is unlikely to ever be your best. Just get something down on paper. Start with a single character, a single scene, and then build out from there.

I'd also recommend checking out a few writing books if you need a bit more hand-holding - Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is excellent.

Take whatever you manage to write and ask for feedback on it (r/DestructiveReaders is gold). Read the feedback, walk away for a day or two (because the first time it'll probably hurt) and then consider the feedback in the cold light of day. Act on anything you agree with, discard what you don't.

And then do it all over again. And again. And again. Until you're happy with what you're writing.

Practice doesn't make perfect, but it makes for improvement.

GotchaSuckaz1 karma

Hi Sean. 100,000 is a lot of sales! Congrats on everything! I was wondering if you had any advice or information to pass on to somebody like me who has been into writing my whole life but never figured out a professional angle. Let's say I write a novel. As someone with zero experience and zero knowledge of the publishing industry, zero connections, being geographically removed with nothing but the book typed up on a computer, what are my options for turning the text documents on my computer into a book (product) and making it available in the public marketplace? How does that process work?

Sean_Campbell1 karma


The easy way to self-publish is to turn your text document into a .mobi or .ePub file, and upload directly to retailers (Amazon, Nook, iBooks, GooglePlay, etc). You'll get 35%-70% of the sale price. But it's a lot of work.

See this reply above where I outlined what's involved in self-publishing successfully: https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/6975wr/iama_selfpublished_author_who_has_sold_over/dh4ih27/

On the other hand there's always the trade / commercial publishing route in which case it's usually find an agent, submit to publishers, and hopefully make a deal.

That's a whole 'nother kettle of fish, and I really recommend heading over to a dedicated forum like AbsoluteWrite to see what the traditionally-published lot are doing.

And thanks! I should point out my co-author and brother, Dan, deserves a lot of the credit too.

GotchaSuckaz1 karma

Awesome, thanks a lot for the info and the AMA!

Sean_Campbell1 karma

No problem. If you have any follow up questions just give me a shout and I'll do my best to answer (or point you in the direction of someone who does know if I don't!).

iwas99x1 karma

Mr. Campbell, who are your favorite authors ever?

Sean_Campbell1 karma

Timothy Zahn is my hero. I loved Thrawn as a kid, and I got to read his new book a couple of weeks back. The Star Wars expanded universe got me booked on reading.

I'll read pretty much anything though, especially on the non-fiction side.

iwas99x1 karma

Mr.Campbell, who or what gives you inspiration for your plots and characters?

Sean_Campbell1 karma

I trained as a barrister. Dan trained as a chef. Between us we've got most of the bases covered. We spend a lot of time drinking and plotting elaborate murders. I'm sure there's something wrong with one or both of us because they're getting steadily more brutal.

iwas99x1 karma

Mr. Campbell, what are your hobbies outside of writing?

Sean_Campbell2 karma

I love photography. I'm a sucker for late 90s Minolta glass, and I spend far more than I should when I'm not that great at it.

To be honest I'm just a tech nerd. I built my own PC (and my brothers, and my Dad's). I love playing Hearthstone, Overwatch and have been on a HoTS kick this week (for the sweet skins!).

And of course I read. A lot.

iwas99x1 karma

Mr. Campbell, will your books also be available in audiobook?

Sean_Campbell1 karma

Eventually. I'm working on it!

iwas99x1 karma

Mr. Campbell, what is your favorite James Bond film and are the books better than the movies?

Sean_Campbell1 karma

The books are darker than the movies. They're very different.

Connery was my favourite Bond so I'm going to have to say From Russia with Love.

iwas99x1 karma

Mr. Campbell, do you have any pets?

Sean_Campbell1 karma

Sadly no.

iwas99x1 karma

Mr. Campbell, have you thought about writing a rough draft of a book while drunk?

Sean_Campbell1 karma

I'm barely literate sober. But if you lot want to pay for my alcholism, I'll go crack out the whisky right now. I've got a lovely bottle of Glen Scotia Victoriana to finish.

FuzionLolliz0 karma

What was your main influence for the first one since you were so rushed on time? (Side question, what happened in your past to make you not generous enough to give the SUPER kind Reddit community the 5th one free? :D)

Sean_Campbell9 karma

Clearly I have issues. I mean how could I NOT give away my fifth book as well as ALL the others? It's like totally mean. Fuck me for wanting to pay the bills, and buy food and all. What an asshole.

Seriously though if 99c is that big a deal then go pirate it. It's not like I'm going to sue you (or am I? Am I, Rick? Am I?).

I trained as a barrister (= lawyer) so crime, procedure, etc was right in my wheelhouse. The idea of a perfect murder is just interesting. Nobody ever quite manages it, but old Edwin comes pretty close in Dead on Demand.

spineynodule0 karma

Can I borrow a hundred dollars?

Sean_Campbell5 karma

Are they Zimbabwe dollars? That's about 30 cents American, right? Sure I'll lend you it, but you'll have to cover the paypal fees, and they may just round it down to zero after their cut.

lmOldGregg-3 karma

You wanna go to a club where people wee on eachother?

Sean_Campbell10 karma

Did you just join Reddit to ask me that? I'm honoured. My first piss-club proposition. Tell me more about this mythical club. Where is it? Will you pay for my airfare? Will I be being peed on or will I be doing the peeing? Is there a first rule about piss club?

tinksaid5 karma

Got a feeling it's not mythical & Ol' Gregg's just broken the first rule.

Sean_Campbell2 karma

Does that mean we can't go? Oh no, what a terrible outcome.

googleismybestfriend1 karma

I too, would like to know the answer to this question.

Sean_Campbell4 karma

If we get enough of us interested, we can have a pissing contest.