How Do You Track Your Word Count? (And Other Things)

Do not adjust your sets. This really is a new blog post. Yes, new material has appeared on this blog. Be gone, tumbleweeds!

I have been MIA because the last six weeks or so have been crazy. I had three university assignments due on the same day, followed by, oh, you know, 100,000 words or so of a book, followed by an exam that I basically had 24 hours to cram for. (Fun fact: my exam was on the history of the book so I was able to throw in loads of stuff about e-books, and I wrote about Celebration, Florida, for one of my assignments.)

Credit: Kathryn English, Blackstone Publishing

In the midst of all that I also wrote a piece about a real life cruise ship murder for the Irish Times, won an award and, needless to say, watched all of 13 Reasons Why because my motto is No Netflix Left Behind even when you don’t have time to sleep and even if the show is utterly rage-inducing on multiple levels. Side note: roll on Master of None this coming Friday. (I think MON is one of the great televisual shows ever made.)

What else have I been up to, I pretend to hear you ask?

Happy Birthday, Distress Signals

Distress Signals, my serial-killer-on-a-cruise-ship-thriller (nautical noir, we’re calling it) was first published a year ago yesterday, which means it’s been a year since the actual craziest week of my life. You and I can relive all the excitement here.

Credit: Hazel Gaynor

The twelve months since have been tough, trying to write a second novel while also doing a full-time degree and being constantly distracted by the shiny stuff of publication (and, ahem, Netflix), but they have also had so many exciting and happy moments. My launch, getting shortlisted for Crime Novel of the Year at the Irish Book Awards, finding that one of my favourite bookstores in the world, the Barnes and Noble at Dr Philips in Orlando – where I wiled away many a blissfully happy hour – had DS in stock. (This was seriously, like, the BEST.)

I must say a big THANK YOU to everyone who read, reviewed and recommended Distress Signals to their friends and followers. You are all lovely and deserve to drink only good coffee, never instant. To celebrate, my lovely American publishers have slashed the price of Distress Signals‘ digital edition to just $0.99 – its RRP is $9.99 – but only for a limited time. So if you haven’t read it yet, you live in the States and you’d read an e-book, quick, go! Or if you know someone else who fits that criteria who you think might be interested, tell them! More exclamation marks!

While I was typing this, something ah-maze-ZING happened: Distress Signals slipped into the No. 1 spot on Barnes and Nobles’ NOOK bookstore. In other words, it became the top selling NOOK book. Whaaa…? I may have to frame this.

Distress Signals can be purchased for sofa-change from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and Kobo USA, among others.

Events

For some reason May is like peak events over here. I have three coming up: I’m doing a Marketing and Publicity Workshop with Peter O’Connell for Publishing Ireland next week, May 11 (suitable for both publishing professionals and writers), then I’ll be on the Twists and Turns panel at Crimefest, Bristol, on May 18, and finally I’ll be taking part in the How To Get Published Day at Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, as part of the International Literature Festival: Dublin on May 20. For more information on any or all of these, go to my Events page and click on the relevant image.

I’m also going to London next week to hit a few stationery shops, Foyles and Hotel Chocolat, but that’s really just an event on my personal calendar…

Book 2

You guys, as a Youtuber might say, we are almost there. In a couple of weeks, Book 2 will be done*. (Can I just give you some unsolicited advice? If you are an aspiring writer who dreams of getting a book deal, here’s what you need to do the second you type THE END on the submission draft of the book you hope will get you published: open a new document, type CHAPTER ONE and start the book after that. Don’t wait, because if your dreams come true, there’ll be lots of shiny exciting fun stuff that will distract you and your deadlines will crumble to dust.) I can’t wait to tell you about it, share the title, show you the cover, etc. but I can’t do any of that just yet. What I can say is:

  • It’s another standalone thriller
  • It’s due for publication early next year
  • It’s set on dry land and that dry land is Dublin, but water does feature.

*Ready for copyediting.

Book 3 (and How Do YOU Track Your Word Count?)

Book three?! I know, right? How did we even get here? Well, that’s what I’ll be doing this summer: writing the first draft of my third thriller. I have an idea that I’m really, really excited about, as my writing friends will testify to because I’ve been blabbing about it— I mean, um, testing it out on them for months now.

One thing I really want to do is obsessively track my word count. I want to be able to say exactly how long it took me to write this novel. So, tell me: how do you track your word count? I was hoping to use Prolifiko after I read this fascinating article in The Guardian about how long – exactly – it took Wyl Menmuir to write his Booker-longlisted novel, but when I went to look at the app it wasn’t what I was expecting. (And you have to do a five day writing ‘challenge’ to unlock access. Um, no.) Have you used it? Are there alternatives? Any good apps? Or do you rely on spreadsheets, etc?

Let me know in the comments below because I really want something good I can use going forward. Any one who leaves a suggestion/comment on this topic will be entered into a draw for a prize that will probably consist of (a) a signed book, (b) something caffeinated, probably and (c) stationery so I have an excuse to buy some fancy stuff in London. (If you don’t track your word count at all it’s okay to leave a comment saying that. That counts as an entry.)

So, to recap:

  • Sherlock lives— I mean, this blog does
  • Distress Signals is discounted to $0.99 for a limited time – tell your friends!
  • Tell me how you track your word count/novel progress. You might win something…

I just sent out a newsletter. Have you signed up to receive my sporadic musings, eh? You should, if I do say so myself. 

Why is My Book Still 99c? A Smashwords-Shaped Headache

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Back in July, I decided to lower the price of my e-book Mousetrapped, which has always been $2.99, to 99c for a limited time. The idea was that with the first chapter of Backpacked now stuck at the end of it and with its 99c price-tag enticing, presumably, more people to buy it, it would help me sell more copies of Backpacked when it came out. I planned on only doing this for 2-4 weeks, depending on how well it went, before returning it to $2.99 in time for Backpacked‘s release.

How many times have I used this picture? Any excuse. Thanks, Chris!

But if you pop over to Amazon’s Kindle store this morning, you’ll see that Mousetrapped is still 99c, and it’s the middle of September.

And Smashwords are the reason why.

Before we go any further, let me just say that this is not a rant against Smashwords. I don’t make unreasonable demands of the self-publishing services I use – unlike *coughcough* some other self-publishers we know – and only blame myself for the situation I’m in. I’m telling you about it today so you know what might happen when you lower your book’s price, so you can take it into consideration before you do any price-changing. That’s all.

Let’s go back to the end of July. Mousetrapped‘s e-book is for sale on Amazon’s Kindle store and, through Smashwords, Barnes and Noble’s Nook store, Sony’s e-book store, Diesel, Kobo and Smashwords.com. Your e-book has to be the same price everywhere – if it’s not, it’s not fair to the retailers OR the customers who’ll buy your books from them – and so one morning, I changed the price of Mousetrapped to 99c on Smashwords and immediately afterwards, went over to Amazon KDP to do the same thing.

Within hours my book was 99c on all Amazon sites, and within days, everywhere else too. Simples.

Flash-forward three weeks or so, when I decide to put the price back up. Again, I go to Smashwords and change the price to $2.99, and then to Amazon KDP where I do the same.

But apart from Smashwords.com, the price didn’t change anywhere. It remained at 99c. I was expecting the retailers Smashwords distributes to to take a while, but when Amazon, which you deal with directly via Amazon KDP, didn’t change, I e-mailed them to find out why.

They told me they had to offer the e-book at the lowest price it was available for anywhere, and it was 99c on Barnes and Noble. Therefore, it had to stay 99c on Amazon’s Kindle store.

I went to Smashwords and unpublished my book. I only sell a tiny fraction of my books from there anyway, so I wasn’t worried about a loss of revenue or anything – the most important thing was getting my book back up to $2.99 on the Kindle store.

A few days later I checked B&N; Mousetrapped was gone. Woo-hoo! I went and re-published my book again at $2.99, and again Amazon failed to increase it. I e-mailed them (again) and this time they told me they couldn’t do it because my book was 99c on Kobo.

I waited a few days until it had been about 10 days after I unpublished, but my book was still available – and still 99c – on Kobo. I decided to try a different tack, and republished it on Smashwords (at $2.99) but through their Distribution Channel Manager, opted out of Kobo entirely.

But last time I checked – which was while I was writing this, at 7.30pm, Sunday September 11th – Mousetrapped is still on Kobo, and it’s still 99c. It’s now been almost a month since I went to return my price to $2.99 and I still haven’t managed to do it.

And this is about more than how many books I sell, or my plans for promoting a new book. It’s about my income. On a very bad month, I’d sell 500 copies of Mousetrapped at $2.99. Presuming that all of those come in at the 70% rate (which most of them normally do), that’s an income of approximately $1,045. At 99c, Mousetrapped sells around 1,100 copies a month which at the 35% royalty rate – which is all it gets priced at 99c – that’s an income of approximately $381. I make my living mostly from selling these books, so being down $664 a month is not something that goes unnoticed by my wallet.

I don’t think that Smashwords are doing anything unreasonable here – presumably updating their third party retailers takes time. I get that. But if I’d known how much trouble it was going to be to get my price back up, I would never have done it in the first place.

And what really annoys me is that this is all being held up by an e-book retailer that has managed to sell just 13 copies of my book, a book that has sold about 7,000 copies from the Kindle store.

Not to mention how quickly everyone managed to lower my price – funnily enough, that seemed to happen without any delay at all.

UPDATE: Thanks to helpful advice in the comments section, I have now e-mailed Kobo as of 3.25pm GMT on Monday September 12th, and asked them to remove my book from their store. I gave them all the relevant information and sent it from my catherineryanhoward.com e-mail address, so there should be no question about whether or not I’m the author. Let’s see what happens…

UPDATE 2: [Wednesday 14th September] Angela at Smashwords e-mails me to say that she has contacted Kobo on my behalf re: the price change. She also advises me (as Mark did below) not to unpublish my book just to expedite a change, and to re-publish it, which I’ve now done. The book is $2.99, but still 99c on Kobo.

UPDATE 3: [Thursday 15th September] Mousetrapped is now the euro equivalent of $2.99 on Kobo. Kobo has a help desk system where you track “requests” and since the request I personally submitted 3 days ago hasn’t even been assigned to a customer service operator yet, I have to conclude that the price change is either a) a response to Smashwords contacting them or b) finally, a reflection of the change I made. I’m inclined to believe it’s (a). The thing is, Mousetrapped shouldn’t be on Kobo at all anymore because I’ve opted out of its distribution channel and, subsequently, unpublished it – and I’m going to leave it unpublished on Smashwords for the moment. It’s great that Smashwords responded to me (eventually) and that Kobo responded to them, but what’s the point of having an “Edit book details” if the editing doesn’t take affect without a follow-up e-mail? I just don’t think a few hundred sales out of 8,000+ is worth this kind of effort. Yesterday Lulu announced that they now have a free MS Word doc-to-Epub converter, and will distribute to Barnes and Noble and Apple’s iBooks – the only two retailers where I sell anything significant through Smashwords. I’ve published Backpacked with them and I’ll see how it goes. If that works out, I’m going to re-think my strategy re: my e-books and who I publish them with. I want to offer the broadest range of editions possible and reach as many readers as possible, but I also want to have enough control to make changes to my books if need be.

UPDATE 4: [Thursday 15th September at 8pm] SUCCESS!!! A month after this headache began, Mousetrapped is finally back up to $2.99 on Amazon.com! You’ve got to love Amazon KDP; I republished after I saw the increased price on Kobo this morning and only a few hours later, it’s back up to $2.99.

UPDATE 5: [Sunday 18th September at 10pm] I just got an e-mail from Raylene at Smashwords in response to the message I sent them about my 99c/$2.99 problem, which I can see from their response was sent by me on 2nd September. That means that Angela could not have been responding to the same message. What was she responding to? This blog post, I think. Hmm.

Things I want you to know: my new book, Backpacked, is out now; I’m offering 25% off my formatting services until the end of this week and if you want to buy Mousetrapped for sofa change, now is your chance