It’s publication day for Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow tomorrow. When asked how I feel about publication day, I often say I’m nervo-cited – a mixture of nerves and excitement – but this time I’m far more nervous than excited and kind of thinking I’d like to hibernate for the day.
This is my seventeenth book but, as nine of my titles are re-issues, it’s actually my twenty-sixth publication day so you’d think I’d be used to it by now and not be fazed at all. Not the case. If anything, I think it gets harder and this one is the ‘worst’ yet.
I always knew that publication of this particular book would be a toughie because it’s the last book in a six-book series and there are so many readers out there who absolutely don’t want the series to end. Seeing comments on social media about being sad that the series is ending and how reading the last book will be bittersweet is exceptionally flattering, but it brings with it guilt and pressure.
I feel guilty that I’ve ended the series. I stand by it being the right thing to do, but I feel like the mean adult who has taken the toys away from the lovely children!
And I feel the pressure of wrapping up a six-book series in a way that satisfies, thrills and delights. Having said that, I’ve felt that pressure all along with each new book declared by many as ‘better than the last’. Part of my reason for ending the series at six was to end on a high note and not stay too long at that party, but there’s always been the fear that the next book would be the one that stayed too long. Would readers think book six was that one?
Early copies of the book go onto a site called NetGalley which is meant to be for genuine book bloggers/ reviewers/ influencers with a big platform of followers who get a free copy of the book in return for an honest review which will hopefully entice their following to make a purchase. Unfortunately this system massively gets abused and there are readers on there who grab free books without a second thought as to whether the book/ author/ genre is actually right for them. But that’s a separate story.
When used properly, NetGalley reviews give the author and publisher a sense of how well the book is going to be received on actual publication day and it should also give them some great early reviews to use in promotion.
There are always negative reviews in there – we can’t all like the same thing – but I’ve had more negative reviews than usual for Christmas Miracles. It has been so frustrating as they’re nearly all from readers who claim not to have realised this was the last book in the series and this is the first one of the series (and often the first one of mine) they’ve read. Personally, I think the parts of the blurb I’ve popped in capitals here would be a bit of a clue that it’s the last in the series: Jessica Redland WELCOMES YOU BACK to Hedgehog Hollow this Christmas FOR THE FINAL TIME IN THIS SERIES for a heartfelt story of love, family, friendship… but that’s obviously not clue enough.
Several of these negative reviews comment on there being a lot of characters and how confusing it was to keep track of everyone and their back stories. Of course it is! You need to have read the whole series to gradually meet everyone and get to know their stories. This cast wasn’t there from the first chapter of book 1. They have steadily grown.
In the main, I’ve been able to ignore these reviews because this is not a standalone book and I certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone diving in at this point because it won’t make sense. It isn’t meant to. But over the weekend, I read a review (also from someone who hadn’t read any of the other books) that floored me…
It began with these words: “In the acknowledgements, the author says she is a “pantser” when it comes to writing, and girl…. I can tell.” Ouch! Clearly written by someone who has no idea what pantser means or an understanding that it’s not an inferior approach to writing. I got the full meaning of her comment here – that I’d just slapped down any old rubbish and had no idea what I was doing.
She writes, “I have never really understood when people write super mean book reviews but I honestly wish I hadn’t wasted my time on this book” and then guess what happens? She goes on to be that person who writes a “super mean book review” with a horrendous 1-star 550-word rant including one of the meanest comments ever: “Color me shocked when I realized this author has published 17 books and this is the 6th in this series… I am in complete shock that even one book like this got published, let alone 6.” This is really personal now. I get that she didn’t like the story and I completely understand why she’d be confused when she hadn’t read the others, but to suggest I can’t write and should never have had 17 books published! There’s no need for that.
Her closing words are: ““Miracles” is a bold word to use in your title when you made fictional characters just to give them horribly traumatic life experiences. I see no miracles in this fictional world, only pain, like the pain I feel when I realize I spent 5 hours of my life on this. Do not recommend.”
Wow! She certainly didn’t hold back on how much she hated the book. And me!
One of the key objections in the main body of the rant – which I haven’t shared because of spoilers – is the subject matter. I write about life and life can throw some tough blows. Across this series, there have been a number of difficult issues explored and they are alluded to in the final book along with the issues handled in that instalment, but this reader lists them all as though they all happened in one book. So I do know that part of the reason she hated it so much was that she hadn’t read the rest of the series and I keep telling myself that, but I just struggle to understand why someone can be so nasty … especially when they’ve declared that they can’t understand why people do this either!
Life’s too short to read a book that you’re not enjoying. You don’t need to invest ‘5 hours of my life’ on a book you hate, that you’re not following, whose subject matter you aren’t enjoying. Shut down the Kindle and accept it wasn’t for you. You haven’t paid for it. Nobody has forced you to read it. Walk away.
I know I should take that advice and walk away from this review and, in other circumstances, I’d probably lick my wounds and do that, but I’m struggling this time because I’m a bit stressed and rundown at the minute. I tend to get problems with my eyes when that happens and the worst-case scenario is that I get conjunctivitis which I have right now. It’s a virus and, although stress doesn’t cause a virus, the body is more likely to pick one up when a person’s rundown so this is my body telling me I need to take care of me a bit more – something I’m not very good at. In the great scheme of things, conjunctivitis is nothing compared to what many people are facing so I can’t really complain, but I think it has made me more sensitive to the Negative Normans and more worried about publication day tomorrow as a result.
I don’t shy away from tough storylines and, while there are loads of readers who love that about my books, there will always be something that somebody doesn’t like. Many of my regular advance readers have given superb reviews and commented that, although the storyline was tough, I’ve tackled it with my usual sensitivity. But a couple of my regular readers who have loved the series so far have said they haven’t liked this book as much as the others, with some even giving negative ratings because one of the topics I’ve covered is an uncomfortable one. Yes, it is, but it is not uncommon so I have included it. I also don’t give any specific detail. Having a couple of big fans of the series drop a couple of marks for that reason is adding to the nervousness around tomorrow.
As I can’t get away with hibernating – far too much work to do – I’ll smile and face tomorrow but my stomach will be churning all day, far more than usual.
A huge thank you to the wonderful Boldwood authors who have been so supportive and encouraging during my wobble. You are superstars.
To anyone who is going to be reading Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow this week (or listening to it from 20th September – slight delay on the audio version), I hope you love the story as much as I do. I’m very proud of this end to the series and, despite the negative comments from some, I wouldn’t change a word of it. It’s the story that Fizz and Samantha needed to tell and I’m honoured to be that conduit for telling it. I already know that a couple of readers have resonated with some of the subjects explored and have found it immensely cathartic.
I’m off to the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) Conference tomorrow. I attended a couple of virtual ones during the pandemic but the last time I went to one in real life was four years ago when it was held in Leeds and look who I met!
They say don’t meet your heroes but not in this case as Jill Mansell was just as lovely as her books. I, however, was a gibbering fan-girly wreck and was actually shaking at the photo opp! I couldn’t believe it when I spotted her nearby and was far too nervous to approach her myself, despite a couple of glasses of wine inside me, so I asked the RNA Chair if she could introduce us!
I fell in love with romance books after reading one of Jill’s. I’d never read anything in this genre and a friend loaned me Millie’s Fling on holiday and I loved how fun and romantic it was and how it left me with the warm and fuzzies. I devoured all her books after that and, for the past twelve years or so, have annually purchased her new release on hardback and have a Jill shelf in my office.
I’m really looking forward to the conference this year for several reasons:
Being my fourth conference, I know what to expect. It’s actually at the same place as my second one so I’m even familiar with the venue
I’ve been an RNA member for a decade and know so many more people now so (hopefully) won’t have that startled rabbit situation. Or hopefully not!
I’ve taken a much more relaxed approach to which sessions I’ll attend. In previous years, I’ve chosen something for every time slot which can make for an exhausting experience. This year, I’ve allowed myself some downtime
I’ll have a chance to meet several Boldwood authors who I’ve never met in person which will be lovely
I’ll get to meet several of the participants from the RNA Learning workshop I ran in March and I’m really excited to hear how their writing has progressed since then
I won’t be having any publisher 1:1 appointments (more on this shortly)
I feel very differently about my writing
Let me explain those last couple of points…
Four years ago at that 2017 conference, I was in a dark place with my writing. I was a struggling indie selling a handful of books a week and fearing I might have to give up writing as I couldn’t keep investing all the time (alongside a demanding FT day job) with no pay-off.
A valuable part of the conference programme is the feedback slots available with industry professionals (editors and agents). I managed to secure four of these – all with editors – where I pitched a brand new manuscript called Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye.
My manuscript wasn’t complete which actually resulted in Editor D reprimanding, saying it was very unprofessional of me. Ouch! I understood what she was saying as you would never submit to a publisher when an MS is incomplete but the annual timing of the conference means that this may sometimes be the case and it’s not a requirement of the sessions to have a complete MS. Also, the humiliation to be told off by someone half my age! I felt like I was back at school!
Anyway, despite the telling off, all four editors wanted to see the full MS which gave me a massive dilemma because Editors A and B wanted it to be a light-hearted romcom and Editors C and D wanted a deeper more emotional women’s fiction story. With the MS being unfinished, I faced a decision around what direction to take it in because whichever I chose was going to rule two of them out.
While confusing, this was a very happy dilemma to have, especially for someone feeling so down about their writing. My biggest takeaway was that four editors wanted the full MS. Surely one of them would want to take me on.
Editor A asked me to submit one of my indie books in the meantime. As she wanted the romcom approach, I sent her a lighter story (what is now Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop) and a more emotional story (what is now All You Need is Love). The rejection was positive but still a rejection: you write well with a lovely style. However, I’m afraid I don’t think any of these are quite right for our list at this time. I would be happy to take a look at a new idea in due course though should you wish to submit to us again.
I decided not to submit to Editor B. She’d been the least enthusiastic, I couldn’t see us working together and she wanted a romcom which, by this point, I knew wasn’t what I wanted to write and, in finishing the story, I’d stuck to my gut feel that I wanted to write more emotional stories.
I was really proud of my finished MS and had high hopes for Editors C and D who’d wanted the emotional story.
From Editor C: …think you have an interesting premise. However, after careful consideration, we don’t feel that Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye is quite right for us. Your writing is great, and there is huge warmth and emotion in your narrative. All of the women’s stories are hugely poignant, but because there were three of them, it felt at times like there wasn’t quite enough space for each story, including the tragic events before the book begins, to be fully explored. The women’s fiction market is so tricky at the moment, and what we tend to be looking for at the moment are in-depth emotional stories with a tight scope, or high-concept stories that can be pitched in a single line. I’m afraid that Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye didn’t quite hit the mark for me.
As rejections go, it was a positive one and I tried to hang onto the lovely comments about my writing which is always hard when it’s ultimately a no. I was encouraged to submit other stories so I sent the original version of All You Need is Love to them too and had another rejection: Again, there is a lovely warmth to your writing and the situations your characters find themselves in are incredibly sympathetic, but I’m afraid that this isn’t one for [us]… As you know, the women’s fiction market is so difficult at the moment, and I don’t think that we could reach a bigger audience for you than you have managed yourself. Again what is missing for me is that specific, focused concept that we could use to hook readers in with a single line. For me there were again quite a lot of characters introduced in the early chapters and I felt this did make it difficult to keep track of them all and to work out whose stories were the main focus of the book.
While I was asked to think of them again for future books, it was clear to me that I didn’t write what they wanted so I couldn’t bring myself to court further rejection and closed that door.
Which just left Editor D. Despite her telling me off, I had a feeling that she was going to be the one. She wasn’t: It was such a pleasure to meet you at the RNA conference in July and I’ve looked forward to reading your submission. I absolutely loved diving back into the world you’ve conjured here and the changes you made to the manuscript have really improved the pace and tension which is great. There was a clear improvement from the MS I read back in July. Sadly though, as the story went on I struggled to empathise with the characters as much as I wanted to. Rather than being invested in their journeys I felt they lacked the necessary depth and layers, I wanted to see more of their emotions and feelings on the page. In such a competitive book market we have to ensure we feel passionate about the book and characters and sadly I just couldn’t find myself getting lost in Alison or Karen’s story as I couldn’t connect with them. In terms of next step I recommend looking at how you can weave more depth into the characters, offering readers different layers to uncover from them all.
This floored me. The feedback I’d received from readers of other books suggested that getting lost in the characters’ stories was a strength of mine and that I could write emotion well. Obviously this was just one person’s opinion but, in my dark place, this told me that the things I thought were positives weren’t. And it broke me. I wasn’t invited to submit anything else either. Door closed.
By early December 2018, a couple more submissions I’d made of Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye came back as rejections and I felt so lost. The voices of doubt in my mind were having a field day:
You can’t write
No wonder you’ve barely sold any indie books
All those thousands of hours were a right waste of time
It’s time to give up and accept it’s never going to happen for you
You’re fooling yourself that you have talent
And so it went on. Just when I was feeling at my absolute lowest, Amazon rank-stripped me. An automated email accused me of engaging in dodgy activities to manipulate sales or pages read on my bestselling book (what is now New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms) in the USA. It was absurd. In the timeframe this wrongdoing was alleged to have taken place, I’d sold one eBook in that market and had the equivalent of one eBook read on Kindle Unlimited. If I was going to manipulate sales, surely logic would say I’d have sold more than two books!
Rank-stripping means that the book disappears. It has no ranking so it has no visibility. The only way a reader can find the book is by specifically searching on the title. Ironic, really, that the book at the time was called Searching for Steven and the only way he could be found was by literally searching for him! And not just in the USA where I was accused of naughtiness. This was all markets!
Naturally, I protested and asked for more clarity on what I was meant to have done. Cue an automated response telling me that no more information would be given and accusing me of still engaging in said untoward activity and that if I didn’t stop it, all my books would be removed from the site! What?!
So I protested, which just triggered another auto-response. There were four bot responses in total, each more threatening than the one before.
My Christmas was ruined that year. I was barely selling anything anyway but this pretty much took everything from me and left the fear that I’d be removed from sale completely. I’d been wondering if I needed to give up and it seemed Amazon agreed too and were potentially going to make it happen, whether I wanted it or not.
It took two months for them to reinstate the book. No apology. No explanation. Two weeks later, the exact same thing happened to the same book. Argh!
In January 2019, I saw an advert for a new publisher called Boldwood Books opening for submissions on 1st February and I felt drawn to them. One more try. And if it was a no, it might just be the time to throw in the towel.
Reader, they said yes.
And the book that lacked emotion, lacked depth, had no concept, had too many characters with whom there was no connection became my first release through Boldwood Books in September 2019 under the new title The Secret to Happiness. It has sold more than 70,000 copies across all formats, has been an international Top 10 bestseller and, at the time of writing, has over 3,600 reviews on Amazon alone, 93% of them positive.
For any aspiring authors out there, please do take some learnings from my experiences:
Keep believing in yourself and keep going. While I felt like giving up on so many occasions, I knew I never could. If, like me, stories burn inside you, then keep writing them
You need a lot of patience. Getting traditionally published is about landing the right MS on the right person’s desk at the right time. That’s a lot of stars to align and it doesn’t happen that often … but it can. Hang on in there. If you’re going down the indie route, you still need patience as there’s a lot you need to learn and do to get your book visible and it will take time
Reading is subjective and what one editor passes on, another may love. What is one reader’s scathing 1-star review is another’s favourite book
And on that note, I’ll share with you a 1-star review I’ve just spotted for The Secret to Happiness. An Amazon user in March this year declared that it was “written for children… predictable and long and drawn out. Utterly disappointed” The same reviewer gave a 5-star review to a pair of flat shoelaces!
And my latest for the same book is oozing with meanness: “Oh dear… Drivel. Embarrassingly bad dialogue. Tedious plot and poorly constructed characters. I had the unfortunate experience of the audiobook which added a further eye-rolling level of dreariness”.Honestly, is there any need to be so nasty? So the book wasn’t for her but this audiobook is actually free on Audible Plus so I can pretty much guarantee she has listened to it because it was free so it’s not like she’s even spent any money on it. A 5-star review from her has gone to some fabric dye. Classic.
But that’s fine because that’s their opinion and a huge number of readers disagree. So do my publishers. And so do I!
I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and, even though I was devastated at the rejections from Editors C and D, I’m so grateful that it was a no from them because I couldn’t imagine being in a happier place than Boldwood Books. It’s my home.
I’m off to do my packing for the conference now. Hubby has been to fill the car with fuel and has returned with some emergency biscuits. I need to get them off my desk and into my suitcase as the temptation to break into them is already strong!
I have two publication anniversaries. I have 23rd May which is the day that my debut novella was published and today – 3rd June – when my debut novel was published, both seven years ago. I tend to think of today as being my proper publishing anniversary as the novella snuck in last minute as a prequel to my debut series and the big build was for the publication of Searching for Steven (now New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms) on 3rd June 2015.
I sometimes do reflective posts to celebrate key milestones and these usually involve me talking about my journey to publication and the struggle of the first five years as a published author. Today, I am going to be reflective but in a different way. I want to look at some of the changes that I’ve noticed in the publishing industry during those seven years. I emphasise the use of the words ‘I’ve noticed’ as this isn’t some deep research piece; it’s my observations.
I’ll start with some of the really positive changes/initiatives I’ve seen…
INCREASE IN AUDIO POPULARITY
It’s widely reported that audiobooks have had a massive surge in popularity over recent years. I’m not going to quote facts and figures at you but, believe me, we’re talking enormous. The pandemic helped but they were already on an upward trajectory.
Audiobooks have made reading accessible to a much wider audience and I love hearing from listeners as to when/where they listen as it’s so varied – while out walking (with or without a dog), driving, when struggling to sleep at night, while doing household tasks like ironing or cooking – as well as those who love audio because reading is a challenge due to chronic illness, eyesight, arthritis or any number of other health issues.
One of the (huge number of) wonderful things about my publisher, Boldwood Books, is that they don’t wait until a certain amount of time has passed or a certain level of sales are attained before an audiobook will be considered. It’s part of the multi-format offering right from the start, meaning all preferences are catered for from publication day.
A positive initiative within audio is the Audible Plus programme. Launched in the UK in July 2021, this is a catalogue of over 7,500 titles which are free to Audible subscribers. I will admit that I had a moment of panic when Boldwood contacted me to say that six of my titles were going into Audible Plus, especially when I only had eleven books out at that time meaning we were giving more than half away for free. It has, however, turned out brilliantly because I regularly get messages from readers or see reviews stating that the listener wouldn’t have picked my books but decided to give one a try as it was free and they became hooked, finishing the rest of the series – or even my whole audio collection – using their credits.
The six titles of mine are shown in the graphic below and it includes the first of the Hedgehog Hollow series and the first two of the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series, acting as great hooks into the rest of those two series.
AUDIOBOOKS AVAILABLE ON STREAMING SERVICES
The way people listen to music has changed a lot over the past decade. I’ll admit that I’m old school and still buy CDs although I need to change that because all I do is upload them onto my Mac and listen to them there. We own a CD player but it’s old and past its best and I got a pre-loved car recently and it doesn’t have one so I don’t really have anywhere to play them!
Anyway, streaming services are where it is for music but did you know that you can also listen to audiobooks this way? It’s not promoted by Spotify or other providers because, while a CD is naturally broken down into tracks, a book isn’t. Boldwood use a company called Zebrulation who carve up the audiobook into three-minute tracks to fit the streaming model. If somebody has subscribed to a streaming service and is listening to a streamed book that way, they won’t notice any difference to listening to it on Audible. However, if they’re listening to a free version with adverts, they’ll have 3-4 tracks and then an advert. The advert break may come mid-sentence so it’s not the ideal listening experience but it’s another format which some will love.
The author gets paid, even if the listener is using a free streaming service.
RETAILERS WORKING WITH INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS
Historically, if you were with an independent publisher, you had pretty much zero chance of getting into a bookshop or supermarket as they would only deal with the big publishers. If an author has the confidence to approach their local indie bookshop, WH Smith or Waterstones, they might be able to convince them to stock copies of their books and even host a signing event but this various massively from shop to shop. Some are very receptive and some aren’t.
Recently, there has been some evidence of supermarkets and chain retailers trialling books from smaller publishers. The Works have been leaders in this. They’ve had a programme with Boldwood since spring 2020. It stalled at the beginning as we went into lockdown when the first books were meant to go into store, and it had a hesitant re-start but it’s back on track and I’m very thrilled to have had six books into The Works so far. Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow has gone into shops very recently and readers may still find copies of New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow loitering on the shelves if they’ve been placed high, low or behind other books.
This week it’s half-term and I went through to Monks Cross, a retail park on the outskirts of York, with my daughter. That’s where our nearest Asda is and I can’t resist looking at the books any time I’m in a supermarket (not very often as hubby does the food shopping). I was delighted to see Boldwood author Erin Litteken’s The Memory Keeper of Kyiv in there. It’s the only Boldwood book to go into Asda so far but it’s a fantastic start and huge congratulations to Erin.
Another Boldwood author is going into Sainsbury’s but I can’t say who yet as it’s not my news to share but hopefully that will also pave the way for others. And there’s some other exciting news involving a high street retailer which will also hopefully be a success. (Apologies for being cryptic but it’s also not my news to share but fingers crossed it will be one day).
These are all really exciting developments in publishing since I’ve become a published author, but now I move onto the not so positive trends…
READERS EXPECTING BOOKS TO BE FREE
Oh my goodness, where do I start on this? Let’s go for two myths:
Myth 1 – Authors are rich: Even if someone is not a reader, they’ll have heard of certain authors because their books have been so entrenched in popular culture and often made into films/TV series, such as J K Rowling, E L James, Stephen King, Dan Brown and so on. And, of course, the more recent publishing phenomenon Richard Osman. These authors are right at the top of their game and their bank balances will reflect that.
But for most authors, it is a struggle to make money from publishing. Many still have a day job around which they write. For my first five years as a published author, I had a demanding full-time day job and wrote on evenings and weekends. My writing goal was to earn enough to leave the day job. I’m very thankful that I have been able to afford to write full-time for the past two years … for now. This is in jeopardy for many authors because of the alarming trends I’m going to discuss but let us address that other myth first.
Myth 2 – Authors are not ‘real’ authors if they want to make money: Excuse my abbreviated swearing but WTF? This is currently all over Twitter and BookTok and I can’t quite believe what I’m seeing. I can’t help thinking that this absurd attitude is a way of justifying the blatant theft of books which I’m going to come to a moment.
There is some kind of crazy attitude towards the creative arts that it’s all about the creative just wanting their words/music/art to be out there in the public domain for the benefit of the people because that is reward enough for us. Again, I say WTF!!!!
When I’m asked for writing tips, one of the ones I give is Don’t become an author because you hope to make lots of money. Write because there’s a story burning inside you that you have to tell. The reason I say this is because most authors don’t make much money so if you’re in it hoping to be the next top-of-their-game millionaire, then that’s not a good enough motivation as you will invest a gazillion hours and very likely not even earn a tenth of minimum wage for that effort. But it does NOT mean you should expect to earn nothing from your writing. We still need to put food on the table and pay the bills! A real author is someone who has written a book which has been published. And they deserve to be paid for it.
So, with those two myths laid out bare, what terrifying trends have I seen in my seven years as a published author?
Trend 1 – Readers who’ll ONLY buy ebooks when they’re on a free promotion
I’d like to think that it goes without saying that if an ebook is free to you the reader, the author makes nothing from it. There’s not some clever loophole here. ‘Selling’ it for free means zero income for that ebook. As an aside, an ebook for 99p generates very little income too. For an indie author, they will receive 35% of this amount from Amazon i.e. 35p. I don’t know the exact amount from other sales platforms but it will be similar. This percentage rises to 70% if the ebook is £1.99 and above so the author needs to sell four ebooks at 99p to earn the same as one book at £1.99. For those with publishers, the figures will vary slightly depending on the deal the publisher has negotiated but it’s a similar principle.
What’s brilliant about free promo books is that it allows you to try an author who isn’t known to you with no financial investment. If you don’t like the book/their style, then you haven’t lost anything other than the bit of time it has taken you to read it (or partially read it if you ditch it). I personally don’t ‘buy’ many free books but I have occasionally taken advantage of a free offer and have discovered a few new-to-me and debut authors this way.
Another great thing about a free promo is grabbing a backlist book from an author you love. Perhaps you discovered that author after they’d released several books and it would be a huge financial outlay to grab their entire back catalogue in one go but this gives you the chance to acquire the one you’ve missed while paying for others.
But there is a worrying trend of readers who will ONLY buy books when they’re free. I’ve seen comments on Facebook groups specifically asking which books are free at the moment and, while not a problem in itself – who doesn’t love a bargain? – it’s the accompanying comments suggesting ways of always getting free books (some of which I’m going to cover as separate trends) and discussions about how books should be free all the time.
When I was an indie author, I put several of my books on a free promotion over time and I justified to myself that giving them away for free – particularly a first in series – would hopefully generate additional sales (and therefore income) as the readers who had them for free would love my books/be hooked in. I found no discernible difference in sales. Why? I’ll never know for definite but there is a school of thought that, because there’s no lengthy buying decision and no investment in a free book, the ‘purchase’ will often just sit on a Kindle and never be read. Eek!
Since joining Boldwood, I’ve had a few free offers but they’ve had more success. In August 2020, we offered Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes for free as a specific promotion plan to lead-in to follow-on book Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café being published a month later. I believe it generated some interest for Starry Skies … although it also gathered me a handful of negative reviews for Carly’s Cupcakes from people who didn’t like this type of book (but had grabbed it for free) and people who thought it was too early for Christmas (but still grabbed it for free!)
Apple’s Free Book of the Week programme has been successful for me. I’ve had Making Wishes at Bay View (book 1 in the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay Series) and Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow (book 1 in the Hedgehog Hollow series) in this programme and they have both generated good sales for the rest of the series, particularly for the Hedgehog Hollow one. The author makes no money from the free book but hopefully gains new readers who buy the others in the series (and maybe even a backlist).
I absolutely do advocate taking advantage of free offers and 99p promotions but if a reader never pays for a book, they aren’t supporting their favourite authors because those authors aren’t making any money from this and, as already stated, myth 2 is crap! We can’t survive on air!
Trend 2 – Pirate Sites
Downloading a book from a pirate site is theft and there’s no justification for it. It’s also very dangerous as some of these pirate sites aren’t even legitimate because they’re about grabbing your details and/or giving users a virus.
Encouraging users to get free books from pirate sites is something I’ve seen on social media with regular users justifying their use through myth 1: Authors are rich and they can afford it. Even if we all were, that still doesn’t justify stealing from us.
Another ‘justification’ is I’m skint and can’t afford books. So the solution is to steal them? Wow! I completely understand that finances are tight for so many, especially this year with the hideous hike in, well, absolutely everything! But theft isn’t the answer because finances are tight for many authors too and pirate sites are making them even tighter. So many authors have to stop writing because they can’t afford to continue. For those who don’t have the income, there’s this amazing facility called a library. I appreciate that libraries can only stock a small proportion of books written but ebooks are very accessible through a number of library routes – readers don’t have to physically go into a library. And the author gets paid. It’s not much (11p or thereabouts) but it’s roughly on par with how much they’d earn on the sale of a paperback and it does add up.
Trend 3 – Only getting ebooks from NetGalley but not being an influencer
NetGalley “connects publishers with reviewers, librarians, booksellers, media, and educators who discover new books on NetGalley and recommend them to their audiences” (NetGalley’s website). The idea is that, in advance of the publication date, a publisher will provide a copy of an ebook for free to those in an influential position who have an audience/following and can give an early review to create a buzz about the book and hopefully generate pre-orders or sales on/just after publication.
Where NetGalley is properly used, it’s brilliant. Each book my publisher releases goes onto NetGalley and embarks on a blog tour on publication date. The reviewers/bloggers on the tour get hold of the ebook through the site and share their thoughts on a pre-agreed date on the tour. Some influencers not on the tour will also get hold of it and share their reviews.
But so will a stack of other readers who don’t have that influence. They use NetGalley as a source of perpetually free books. They need to leave a review on NetGalley’s website to keep their feedback rating high (which is what publishers look at when approving who can get books) and that’s the bare minimum some will do. Many barely even manage that, leaving a generic sentence which suggests they haven’t even read the book. Last year, I spotted a very generic short NG review which sounded familiar. I noticed that the same reviewer had shared that exact review for my previous release and a bit of wider checking revealed a stack of author friends who had the exact same generic review from them too. Perhaps they read them and this was just a bit of lazy reviewing, perhaps they didn’t, but it didn’t benefit the authors in any way.
I am very grateful to the readers who use NG properly – the ones who leave a spoiler-free review specific to that book (doesn’t have to be long but does need to be specific) and who have a platform to share this. Sadly, there are far too many who abuse this system. If a reader cannot say hand on heart that they meet the description in the quote at the start of this section, then they are not supporting their favourite authors because they are getting all that author’s releases for free and, as already stated, we can’t survive on air. And if we have no income, we can’t keep writing.
Trend 4 – Returning ebooks for free after reading them
This is the most alarming trend which actually makes me feel physically sick. It started around March when several videos went viral on BookTok (on TikTok) with an ‘awesome hack’ – that you can buy an ebook on Kindle and, after you’ve read it, return it for a no-question refund. Authors started reporting phenomenal increases in returns and some are even now in a negative balance with Amazon because, even though Amazon are giving the reader a refund, they’re charging the author for the return.
I received my royalties statement for March this week and it was significantly lower than the statements for the previous few months – roughly a 20% dip. This could be coincidence and I write this having not yet spoken to my publisher about it but I can’t help feeling it’s a bit too much of a coincidence for that dip not to be the result of returns.
Just because Amazon’s returns policy makes this possible, does it make this right? A hundred per cent not! Why? Because it’s THEFT.
Life is full of decisions and some of those turn out well and some of them not so much. You go to the cinema to watch a film and sometimes you love it and sometimes you hate it but you won’t get your money back if it’s the latter. You buy a CD and you listen to it and don’t like it but you have to suck it up. You buy a dress and wear it out but you decide it’s not really you/you didn’t feel comfortable in it so it hangs in your wardrobe and you don’t wear it again. I have so many clothes like that! Or you go out for a meal and there was nothing technically wrong with it but it just wan’t to your taste. You don’t get your money back. So why would someone read a book and think that it’s okay to return it after they’ve consumed it just because they didn’t love it? Or, perhaps even worse, they did enjoy it but they decided to get their money back anyway because the policy allows it.
This has to stop. I barely slept last night and my stomach is in knots today worrying about this and what this means for the future of publishing because if this continues, all the authors whose income predominantly comes from ebook sales are absolutely screwed. I truly hope that the publishers will get together and address this as individual authors – even the big names – have no chance of tackling the might of Zon.
Any time an author has gone onto TikTok/BookTok or Twitter to challenge this, there’s a vicious pile-on giving the author abuse for being so entitled to think that they have a right to expect to be paid for their work – myth 2 – or the usual myth 1 suggestion that all authors are rich and can afford it.
I will just emphasise at this point that this is nothing to do with borrowing books on programmes like Kindle Unlimited, Prime Reading. These are legitimate borrowing programmes where you return a book when you’ve read it. The author gets paid for the number of pages read providing it exceeds a certain percentage. These are great programmes and thank you to anyone participating. I’m talking about buying an ebook outside of these programmes, reading it (or a significant part of it) and returning it for a refund. This is stealing. The reader has consumed the product and needs to pay for it.
The returns policy should be for legitimate returns – when an ebook has been re-issued and a duplicate has been bought in error (Kindle won’t let you buy an eBook twice but if it has been re-issued by a publisher who has acquired the rights or an indie author who has their rights back, it will be a new record on Amazon although the blurb should always say it’s a re-issue) or a ‘fat-finger’ purchase where the mistake has been realised and the ebook returned without reading it.
THE CHANGING APPROACH TO BOOK REVIEWS
Trend 5 – Leaving a negative review and tagging the author in on social media
As an author, I’m realistic. I’d love for everyone to love everything I write but that’s not going to happen. Some authors avoid reading their reviews because the negative ones hurt too much. I do read all mine and I’d like to say it gets easier to take the negative ones but they still make my stomach churn and fill me with doubt about my ability as an author when I read about how much readers hate my characters/plot/writing style/me. Okay, so they don’t specifically say they hate me but some of them are so vicious that they do feel very personal.
But this isn’t about negative reviews. This is specifically about tagging authors in them. There is a growing trend of sharing a negative review on Twitter or on Instagram and either directly tagging the author into it or using a hashtag with the author’s name which they’ll find if they’re following their own hashtag in order to thank people for any kind comments.
Why? Why would someone do this? There was a really great post about this on the blog of independent bookseller Tea Leaves and Reads recently. You can read the blog post here. Author Stephen Cox summarises this growing tagging trend with this brilliant quote: “It’s generally not done because a) they’ll see it anyway and b) if you think my baby is ugly, you are entitled to your opinion. You’re not really entitled to come to my house and shout YOUR BABY IS UGLY through the letterbox”. This! This absolutely sums it up.
Like many of my characters, I try to be kind and see the best in people and I find myself feeling sorry for these individuals. What must be going on in their lives to make them feel it’s okay to tag an author into a review to tell them how crap they think the book is? Does it make them somehow feel better about something in their life if they put someone else down? I’ve been tagged in and hashtagged into negative reviews and it floored me because it comes out of the blue. When I participate in a blog tour or I look at my reviews, I’m always prepared that there may be something negative. When someone tags me, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect it to be for a positive reason. I’m not saying readers can’t express their negative views on a book. Just don’t tag the author in. Pretty please. It’s mean and there’s plenty that’s mean and unpleasant already in the world without doing that.
Trend 6 – Reviewers who tell the author how they should have written the story
All reviewers have a different approach and there is no right or wrong way to write a review. As an author, I love reading reviews where the reader shares what they particularly loved about the story, how it made them feel and whether anything personally resonates with them. Spoiler-free of course! But that doesn’t mean that’s how reviews need to be written.
Recently, I’ve noticed a trend in reviews where the reader shares their opinion on what they think the characters should have done. This typically is full of spoilers too. I’m going to use a fictional example here to illustrate the point:
I really enjoyed this book but Amber wound me up. She should have told Pete about her doubts about being ready for a second baby. The indecision was ridiculous. Pete should also have been honest with Amber about being made redundant instead of trying to find a new job first because she could then have told him about her worries. Natalie shouldn’t have been so forgiving when her ex came back and revealed that he couldn’t cope with receiving his cancer diagnosis and had needed some space. If he really loved her, he’d have told her instead of disappearing for a month and they’d have worked through it together...
And so it goes on.
The thing about fiction is that (a) it’s fiction – a story made up by the author – but (b) it’s reflective of real life and in real life we all have personality quirks/flaws and occasionally make poor decisions. If the two couples in this fictional example had sat down and addressed their concerns immediately, where would the story be?What conflict would there be? The book would be a couple of chapters long and incredibly boring.
I do find myself very bewildered about this type of review because, aside from appearing to tell the author how their fictional characters should have behaved, it is full of spoilers which is not the point of a review. I understand reviewers saying that they struggle to warm to a character because of certain behaviours but this bold declaration that the behaviours were wrong is a little strange.
So there you have it. My rather long guide through some amazing developments in publishing since I became a published author seven years ago and some scary trends too which bewilder me and break my heart. I am blessed to have found some amazing readers and listeners who are so supportive of my writing, regularly engage with me, promote my work to others. I’m so very grateful to each and every one of them for their part in enabling me to continue to write full-time. But a 20% decrease in earnings is frightening and I just pray that those who are engaged in the ‘books for free’ trends think about the impact this will have on the publishing world. If a reader never pays for any books (or never borrows them from a library or legitimate subscription service through which the author gets paid), the author won’t have any money, the author won’t be able to afford to write any more books and there will be no books left to have for free.
I’m off to paint the bathroom now. It is, after all, a bank holiday weekend which means DIY doesn’t it? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these trends whether you’re an author or reader. Perhaps you’ve noticed others I haven’t mentioned.
Less than a week ago, I reported that the third book in the Hedgehog Hollow series – Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow – had passed a whopping 1,500 reviews/ratings milestone over on Amazon. It’s gone a bit beyond that now:
A little while before that I’d reported that book 1 – Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow – had passed 2,000. It has also exceeded that since:
The hedgehogs have been waiting for book 2 – New Arrivals atHedgehog Hollow – to meet another milestone so they could have a big party and celebrate milestones for all three.
And yesterday book 2 reached it, passing the 2,500 mark. Woo hoo! Go hedgehogs go!
New Arrivals only came out in January so that milestone has been reached in a little over five months but Family Secrets was only published six weeks ago today and is already storming towards the 2,000 mark.
I’d been surprised when New Arrivals gathered more reviews than Finding Love as I’d have thought that readers would have read the series in order and, as there’s an inevitability that some readers won’t love it, the numbers of reviews would dip with each book. However, with the rate that Family Secrets is gathering reviews, I don’t think it will be long before it has the most.
I do read all my reviews and I know that several readers say they loved book 2 or book 3 and will go back to read the one(s) they missed so that could account for some disparity. Or perhaps a reader who reads two or three back to back only leaves a review for the latest? I guess I’ll never get to the bottom of it.
What’s interesting is that for my ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series, book 1 – Making Wishes at Bay View – has the most reviews/ratings but book 4 – Coming Home to Seashell Cottage – isn’t far behind … but that both supports and contradicts my theory above!
There was a time with the Hedgehog Hollow series when it seemed that the love for the hedgehogs got stronger with each book. While Family Secrets is still storming ahead with a whopping 83% 5-star ratings/reviews, the other two are pretty much equal. Both of them have an accidental 1-star rating where the review talks about how much the reader has loved it, one for HH1 even saying ‘one of my favourite books of late’ but the reader has managed to click on the 1-star instead of the 5-star rating which is a shame.
There are some cutting reviews for all three books, especially the 1-star for HH1 entitled ‘total waste of time’ but I do find it easier to cope with those these days. It certainly helps looking at all the hedgehog love. I remind myself it’s just one person’s opinion and you can’t please all the people all of the time. And I also remind myself that negative comments say more about the reviewer and perhaps what’s going on in their life at that time than they do about me.
With so many gorgeous reviews/ratings and so much excitement about the fourth book in the series – A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow – my biggest concern right now is not a handful of negative comments. It’s whether book 4 can measure up to the high bar set by the previous books, particularly Family Secrets. I’m meant to be writing it at the moment and I’ll admit to procrastinating massively on getting going because of THE FEAR! What if it isn’t good enough? What if there’s this huge build-up to the cliffhanger reveal and all the excitement about the release (and a long wait) and readers are disappointed?
I have this 2-star review for Family Secrets: I couldn’t be bothered to finish this. The first two books in this series were fine, but the author is now trying to stretch the theme too far – rather boring. Ouch! 96% of readers disagree so I’m not unduly concerned about these comments but what I fear is these sorts of comments for book 4 onwards. I completely disagree with them. I am not stretching a theme too far. There is a setting and there are stories to tell and I have lots of great stories in mind … but what if the unexpected twists and turns of Family Secrets was the peak and it’s downhill from there? Argh!
One of my favourite films is A Cinderella Story. From 2004 and starring Hilary Duff, it’s a modern-day reimagining of the Cinderella story as you can probably guess from the title and it’s fabulous. The main character is called Sam and her dad used to run a sports-themed diner. When he died, Sam’s ‘wicked stepmother’ took it over and refurbished. She redecorated it pink and made the staff wear roller boots. Near the climax in the film, a door slams and something falls off the wall revealing the baseball-themed quote Sam’s dad had up there: Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game”. I love that!
This quote is in my mind as I approach writing book 4 and I’m pushing aside that 2-star review. It’s partly the reason why I have decided to do a really intensive blitz of the book next week as I’ve been spending too much time thinking and worrying and not getting the words down on the paper. I do have a great story to tell. It’s different from book 3’s story but all the stories are different otherwise I would accept the ‘rather boring’ accusation. I also have an amazing editor who will help knock it into shape so we’re bringing out a great book that doesn’t disappoint the hedgehog fans.
Tell you what, if writing a book was as simple as having an idea and getting it down on the page, my job would be so easy. It’s the thinking and worrying that causes the problems. But I absolutely love what I do and, although I could do without THE FEAR, I would choose it with the fear rather than not do it at all. Which brings us to another quote: Feel the fear and do it anyway!
I have the rest of the week to get organised and do the research I need to do to enable me to get my head down for next Monday and write. No way am I expecting to write a full book in a week but I’m certainly going to give it a good go!
Hope you have a fabulous week and thank you for all the amazing love and support for this series. I really appreciate all the lovely reviews, the comments on social media, the recommendations, and the direct messages I’ve had from so many lovely readers. They’re such a boost.
I’ve been a bit obsessed with checking my reviews/ratings for book 2 in the Hedgehog Hollow series – New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollows – for two reasons:
They have accumulated at a rate I’ve never seen before on any of my books
There weren’t any 1 or 2-star ratings among them and I was intrigued as to how many I’d get before I received my first
The book was released on Thursday 7th January so it is day 19 now. After only a week, I was astonished to have gathered 100 ratings/reviews. Only two of those were 3-star which, although classed as ‘negative’ on Amazon doesn’t unduly concern me. Readers use the ratings differently and for some this is a case of enjoying a book but not having your socks blown off by it.
I hadn’t expected to get to 100 without any 1 or 2-star ratings/reviews so, once I did, figured it would only be a matter of time before that happened. This is not me being negative; it’s an inevitability that not everyone likes the same thing and there will always be those who don’t enjoy what an author writes and shares that feedback through negative reviews/ratings.
The number passed 200. Then 300. Still no 1 or 2-star ratings/reviews. Surely there was no way I’d get to 400. But I did. This afternoon, I got a screen shot at 402 reviews with no 1 or 2-star ratings/reviews. I’m a bit gutted as I’ve just realised that my screen shot doesn’t actually tally and it says 402 ratings at the top but 399 in the breakdown box but I did refresh it later and it was showing 402 in both boxes but I didn’t take another screen shot as I hadn’t realised it had been incorrect before.
Another refresh took me up to 405 and 2 x 2-star ratings (no review) had crept in. So now there are two properly negative verdicts (alongside 20 x 3-stars) but I am absolutely thrilled to have got beyond 400 before that happened. I doubt it will happen again so thank you to the hedgehogs for capturing readers’ hearts and to everyone who has left kind words or a positive rating. This spurs me on to keep writing.
They have also reached their highest UK Kindle chart position so far at #169.
If you haven’t already downloaded New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow, the price is a bargain 99p on Apple, Kindle and Kobo so grab a bargain now.
And as the second batch of hedgehogs hit their 400 milestone, the first batch in Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow have just hit a mammoth one passing 1,000 reviews/ratings this afternoon. Woo hoo! Hurrah for those hedgehogs!
Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow joins Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes and Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café in the 1,000 Club although Carly is well on her way to 2,000 with 1,799 at the time of writing.
Thank you for the hedgehog love. And the Christmas books love. And all the love for any of my other stories.
Ask any author and they’ll probably tell you that one of the scariest things about publishing a book is waiting for those first few reviews to come in. What will readers think? Love it? Hate it? Be completely indifferent?
Reviews are exceptionally important because they are our feedback from our customers. I read every single review I receive on Amazon and positive ones absolutely make my day. They’re like a warm hug, a thank you, and a dollop of motivation rolled into one. They inspire me to keep writing.
Negative reviews…. well, I’m sure you can imagine it’s not a warm hug I get from those. Occasionally (rarely) I might pick up something constructive from a negative review that makes me think, but more often than not, it’s just an angry rant and often feels quite personal. Cue tears and reaching for the chocolate.
At the start of 2020, I had a writing goal to get 100 reviews on one of my books. At that point, I already had about 95 on the original version of New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms. When Boldwood relaunched it with a fresh edit and makeover in February, I knew it wouldn’t be long before that goal was achieved. The rest of the series – and the other books due for a makeover – all had about 30-45 reviews each so they were a little way off that goal.
What I didn’t have was a goal to get 1,000 reviews. Definitely not on my bucket list. Not a goal at all. Why? Because, just like a book of mine going into the Kindle Top 10, it felt like such an enormous impossible goal to achieve. Yet yesterday, Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes hit 1,000 reviews.
All weekend, it had hovered tantalisingly close. On Sunday night, I went to bed with it at 998. Surely it would be 1,000 by the morning given the rate at which they seemed to be coming in? I logged in on Monday and it was still 998. Then 999. Just one more needed. I couldn’t wait to grab that screen shot with a clean 1,000.
I never actually got it because, next time I refreshed my screen on the afternoon, it had jumped to 1,002. I’d done it! I’d achieved another goal that wasn’t even a goal! Woo hoo!
This morning, at the time of writing, Carly is at 1,014 reviews/ratings. 72% of these (723 of them) are 5-star and 19% (192) are 4-star. So that’s 915 out of 1,014 reviews or ratings (91%) that are positive. I’m so proud of that.
At the lower end, there’s only one actual 1-star review (plus 11 ratings) and it’s a bit mean: “The main character is ridiculous. Her sister is destroying her business, etc. etc. etc. I made it through one-third of the story and just couldn’t make it any further. When the main character has you rolling your eyes, page after page, I refuse to continue wasting my time with it.” Ouch! So it clearly wasn’t for that reader although it’s a shame she didn’t read on as she’d have found out the reason why Carly accepted Bethany’s behaviour but time is precious and why spend it reading something that you’re not enjoying?
For 2-star, there are three reviews (plus 12 ratings) and a couple of them do make me laugh because the reason for the 2-stars is: “Thinking about Christmas and it’s only September. Well, I realised that only after I bought this book…” and “Well, I think it could be worse. Thinking about Christmas and it’s only August. Well, the book will sit pretty on my wife’s shelf and not get read…” What part of a book called “Christmas at….” with a snow-laden cover including a Christmas tree and a blurb which begins “It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s December on Castle Street; the fairy lights are twinkling, snow has settled and the festive season is in full swing…” would make them think that the book is anything other than a Christmas one?
Let’s ignore those, shall we? An enormous thank you goes to Nia, my editor at Boldwood Books for the amazing editorial advice which took a good book and polished into a fabulous one which, in the space of only three months has reached 1,000 reviews.
As for the reviewers/bloggers/readers who’ve shared the book love, I am forever grateful. Please keep leaving reviews for authors whose work you love and we’ll feel those hugs, that motivation and that inspiration to keep going.
If you haven’t read Carly’s story, there are a phenomenal number of listening/reading choices:
Download the eBook on Kindle, Kobo or AppleBooks
Buy the paperback from Amazon, the Waterstones website or order it via any other good bookstore
Buy the audio CD from any of the above
Buy the large print version from any of the above, or borrow it from your library if they stock it
Download the audio CD from Audible, Kobo, SCRIBD, AppleBooks, Libra.fm, or Chirp (USA only)
Borrow the audio version from your library via the uLibrary app or Hoopla in the USA and Canada
Stream it via Spotify, Deezer, AppleMusic and YouTubeMusic
It’s the most wonderful time of the year…
It’s December on Castle Street; the fairy lights are twinkling, snow has settled and the festive season is in full swing.
For Carly, the owner of Carly’s Cupcakes, it’s the busiest time of year getting everyone’s Christmas treats ready on time. However with her clumsy sister, Bethany, as a co-worker, it’s proving a difficult task. They say you shouldn’t mix work with family. Maybe they have a point…
As Christmas approaches, Carly is also eagerly awaiting the return of her best friend to Whitsborough Bay. Liam has no idea he’s been the object of her affection since their schooldays. After years of pining after him, can Carly pluck up the courage to finally tell him how she really feels by 25th December?
Could a little festive magic make all of Carly’s wishes come true this Christmas…?
A heartwarming, short festive story of friendship and family from bestseller Jessica Redland. You can find out what happens to Carly next through exploring her best friend Tara’s story in Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café.