Swimming The Atlantic Naked – Barbara Silkstone Investigates.

Day Fourteen

“Two is the beginning of the end.”

For anyone unfamiliar, it’s the iconic opening to Peter Pan. One of the great opening lines of children’s literature. And Wendy, of course, is one of the great female leads of twentieth century children’s fiction.

“Two is the beginning of the end” is also the opening line to a non-fiction WIP I occasionally get a chance to nudge along, called “Childhood: the Highest Stage of Evolution.”

I mention it for two reasons. First to remind MWi visitors that this blog is about all books, not just fiction books, and I’ll be hosting some guest non-fiction writers over the summer to explain how their craft differs from that of writing fiction.

Secondly because, as regulars will have realized, childhood and the world’s children are a passion of mine every bit as much as my passion for books and writing. And there’s nothing I like more than to combine them.

But curiously this post isn’t about children and childhood in literature. It’s about crossing the pond. The great Atlantic divide.

Regulars will know that while I’m classed as part of the “UK indie” scene I actually live in beautiful West Africa, in a mudstone hut with a rusting corrugated iron roof. No running water, no flushing toilet, and intermittent electricity. And when I’m not working on the next novel or writing this blog I’m to be found in local schools and clinics, because children and babies are my passion.

What’s this got to do with the trans-Atlantic divide and Peter Pan?

Very simply, the more books I sell, the more I can do for the children here. But despite successful UK sales we have been unable to “cross the pond.”

When I first asked our green room guest Barbara Silkstone to come and join us for the penultimate Girls Just Wanna Have Fun blogfest (which was supposed to run through June, but now seems to want to carry on through July) I was going to use Barbara as an excuse to devote an entire blog to the most famous fictional girl of all.

No, not Hermione Granger. Someone even more famous than Hermione: the one and only Alice.

The Alice, of Wonderland and Looking Glass fame. That’s the “real” Alice, Alice Liddell, on the right. nothing like the dizzy blonde Disney version. Just another example of the gatekeepers altering our precious stories to suit their own needs.

I had a lovely idea of a blog exploring surrealism in literature and how it led to the surrealist movement in art, and how art and literature have benefited one another through the ages. But that’s for another time.

Salvador Dali's Alice

What’s Barbara Silkstone got to do with Alice?

Just that Barbara wrote a great take on the classic Alice theme in her book, The Secret Diary of Alice in Wonderland, Age 42 and Three-Quarters, which managed an impressive four and three quarters review rating (out of five) from the highly estemeed reviewer Red Adept. No mean feat. And it sells great in the US, but has barely been noticed in the UK. Barbara’s other book, the Adventures of a Love Investigator, 527 Naked Men & One Woman has been similarly successful one one side of the Atlantic but not the other.

Why? Why don’t e-books cross the pond easily? Paper seems to manage. You can’t move in the average UK book store for American mega-sellers. Or perhaps that’s the point? It’s only the mega-sellers with their Big Six mega-hype machines behind them that manage it.

If so, why? It’s not a one way process. We can’t seem to sell well there, and they don’t do so well here.

Yet in theory we speak and write the same language. So what’s going on?

Barbara and I discussed the matter at some length over virtual coffee and cookies / tea and biscuits, and after many hours of exhaustive deliberation came to a unanimous conclusion. We haven’t a clue.

So, given Barbara had written her autobiography (disguised as a  novel to protect innocent third parties) about naked investigators and is obviously obsessed with all things nude / naked / naturist (what’s the betting if I tag those words my visitor numbers will go sky high?!) I offered to take all my clothes off if she would launch an investigation into the trans-Atlantic divide.

Barbara Silkstone

Needless to say she ran a mile. Obviously she had heard about the luminous birth mark on my dic – dichotomy. Now there’s a great alternative word for divide!  The trans-Atlantic dichotomy.

So eventually we compromised. I agreed to keep my clothes on if Barbara investigated.  The report was meant to go live to coincide with July 4, but as is usual here at MWi, the best laid plans…

Here’s Barbara.

Celebrating our US Independence Day or Please Take Us Back…

A British friend of mine was fond of saying that Yanks fought so hard to get away from the Brits only to turn around and pursue all things British. “You can’t get back to us fast enough!” he laughed.

 It’s true. As a Kindle author and terminal Anglophile I couldn’t wait to offer my eBooks in the UK. Now as I sit back and watch my sales I wonder if we aren’t two countries separated by one online shopping system. We almost all agree that it’s much harder to sell your books across the pond… no matter what shore you’re sitting on.

I follow the discussions from both continents and note with surprise the differences in sales for “visiting” authors. Top Sellers here in the US have a tough time getting noticed in the UK. And the flip-side is just as befuddling. Take Catch Your Death by Louise Voss and Mark Edwards. It’s the #1 Thriller in the UK and doesn’t make the Thriller list in the US. It can’t be a matter of taste or genre as John Locke seems to be able to straddle the pond with ease. He’s a best-selling author around the globe. So it must be how we approach marketing. John is big proponent of making fan/friends via Twitter.

Newbie British Kindle author JA Clement and I shared a chat. She’s learning the ropes as her novel, On Dark Shores: The Lady   was released on Kindle in March.

JA:  Why should it be that sales are better locally? There are gaps in our use of language which may irritate or confuse the reader, perhaps – and larger gaps in the two cultures. For instance, using the hard-sell marketing tactics which seem to be acceptable in the US will vex UK readers, the flipside of which is that I’d guess UK marketing must seem a bit half-hearted and diffident to US readers.

I suppose it depends what the reader’s buying criteria are. If it’s word of mouth, maybe it’s logical that it will be more prevalent on the author’s home ground because the normal buying “hooks” ie local author, place the book is set in, shared experience etc will be more powerful when local, and there will be more stuff the reader just doesn’t know about in books set in another country. Having recently visited America for the first time I have just realised what a huge gap of knowledge there is between us; I went to a restaurant and had to ask what grits were, and how breakfast potatoes were cooked, and what a cornpone was (and am still not convinced that that isn’t a rude word. It sounds like it’s a rude word to me!). I discovered that I was just as lost in an American menu as I am in a Lebanese or Moroccan or Polish or Cuban one, which was unexpected. In the UK we have so many American TV programs that you assume that it’s all pretty much the same, but that’s FAR from true! And your MacDonalds kick the ass of ours!

Thank you JA!  Yes… grits are one of the truly confusing American dishes. But spotted dick is not easily understood, either.

I questioned Ali Cooper whose Girl on the Swing  has been a consistent winner in both stores.

Ali: Two weeks ago, I’d have given you a completely different answer. For the first time in thousands of sales in the US someone has criticised my book for spelling and grammar. I suspect the commercial end of literary/general fiction sells well in its away market because it has less colloquialisms to form a language barrier. My second novel, Cave, contains more local slang and I’m finding it much harder to market in US than in UK. I think spending time on the forums in the different markets makes a big difference. Finally, if you factor in the number of Brit readers who have ereaders compared to the number of US readers who do that may account for some of the sales difference.

UK people are completely seduced by a) a bargain and b) a ‘properly published’ author. So if someone who has already been trad published sells their books for under £1 then most times over here they’ll do very well. And I think this is another point that keeps getting overlooked in the blogs: Several of the people heralded as indie leaders have already been trad published. They’re not showing what an indie can do, they’re showing what a previously trad author can do. Their books have already been ‘approved’ and that’s why they started getting good sales in the first place.

Thank you, Ali
Time to make a stop at the Princess of Upbeat: DeeDee Scott author of so many fun books….and the incredibly helpful blog ~   The Writers Guide to ePublishing 

DeeDee:   I think what is just way beyond superfab exciting is that, for the first time, thanks to Amazon’s US and UK presence, Indie Epubbed Authors from both sides of the pond are having these A-mazing conversations & learning how to build bridges & join our reader & fan bases!

I luuuvvv that thanks to fantabulous blogs & grogs like Mark’s blog and my grog The WG2E – The Writer’s Guide to Epublishing – http://thewritersguidetoepublishing.com we are discussing our target audiences & how to build those audiences on an international scale.

Sibel Hodge

And not only are we talking, we’re then taking action! For example, UK Kindle Superstar Author Sibel Hodge & I are now placing excerpts of each other’s books in our own books to target each other’s fan bases which we know are very similar.  How super savvy is that?! And fun too!!! Plus, a great way to pay it forward!!!

Thank you DeeDee for that fantastic idea!

Here’s Karen Cantwell, a best-selling author in the US.

I’ll never forget when I sold my first book in the UK.  I got so excited, I posted it on Facebook and Twitter, and I sent out a huge email to friends and family.  Sales were slow there after that first one.  They trickled in – one here, one (a few days later) there.  These days, I average 5 sales a day for my first Barbara Marr book, Take the Monkeys and Run and  two sales a day for my newest release, Citizen Insane.  

I’m  not on any bestsellers lists, but I’m happy for the sales since I do absolutely NO marketing of my books in the UK AT ALL.  I’ve been told it’s frowned upon, so I’ve stayed away from it, and work to keep my US sales up.  Would I love to be selling Barbara Marr Mysteries by the truckload to our friends across the pond?  You bet!  Like you, Barbara, I’m a huge Anglophile, and I dream of one day traveling there and bumping into some person who will ask with abundant enthusiasm, “Are you THE Karen Cantwell?  The one who write those HILARIOUS books?  I nearly peed my pants I laughed so hard!”  Okay.  I said it was a dream.

So I guess to boil things down, I would say that I treasure every UK sale and I treasure every UK review even more, but I don’t actively promote and that I’m open to any new ideas for finding new readers there that wouldn’t offend.

Thank you Karen!

Goodness, this has been fun. It reminds me of the early days of trying to establish my Adventures of a Love Investigator, 527 Naked Men & One Woman. I sent the men out from our virtual US shores and had them swim the Atlantic to make a grand entrance on the other side of the virtual pond. I am still waiting for them to return. Ladies of the UK… you’ve had my naked men long enough.

Thanks for that, Barbara.

Worth briefly mentioning our experience with Sugar & Spice. Although Louise and Mark (see previous post) are fast threatening our crown we are still, just, the biggest selling indie e-book authors on Kindle UK, with over 75,000 sales behind us. Yet almost none are from the US.

We’ve been to #2 in the Kindle UK charts on no less than three occasions. After nine months we’re still in the Kindle UK top 50, out of three quarter million titles. Yet our position in the Kindle US charts is too embarrassing to mention. As for B&N… I haven’t dared look, but guessing we’re still in single figures.

So what’s the experience of you guys? Have any of you found a magic formula to cross the pond? Or any thoughts on why indie books are struggling while paper appears not to?

I leave you with this wonderful cover from Barbara’s next book, Wendy And The Lost Boys, to link the Peter Pan quote at the beginning. (I know how important it is to some of you that collars and cuffs match!) Check out Barbara Silkstone’s site for more details on this. It’s not due for release until August, but the cover alone is worth making a date for.

  1. Mark, I feel as if I’m running behind the cart screaming… you forgot me!
    There are no links to my books. Not UK or US. Perhaps you did left the links off in a moment of indecision? Which side of the pond to favor? UK links or US links?

    BTW… nice shot of my naked men. Those are my guys.. I’d recognize them anywhere.

    • Miriam
    • July 10th, 2011

    I know the language barrier very well, ha ha! When Spook, Elo and I are writing collabs on Protagonize, there’s often an awkward moment for Spook and I after Elo’s written something, since we have to ask what she means – and vice versa! I remember her telling me that in America boys didn’t wear ‘jumpers’, that was just for little girls. I dunno, that made me laugh. It was one that never occurred to me, though now I come to think of it I’ve only ever seen ‘sweater’ used in American books. Tell me, what is a grit? Seriously? They mention them in books all the time and I have no idea…

    • Truth is, Ms Miriam, that the Americans speak a language even *they* don’t understand. I reckon they just make it up as they go along.

      Grits are apparently some sort of food. Best not ask. They also eat, wait for it, biscuits with gravy. They think crisps are chips and think proper chips are French fries. They eat hush puppies.

      They don’t understand that math is not a word and it should be maths. They can’t spell colour, have sneaked a silent ‘c’ into Connecticut and think it’s okay to pronounce Kansas as Kansas but Arkansas as ‘Arkansaw’.

      Even worse, they reverse our rule on words like licence and license or practise and practice.

      It’s pointless trying to understand them. Just humour / humor them and maybe they’ll learn proper English one day. 🙂

      • You forget our regional differences; lots of northeasterners and westerners don’t know about grits (it’s mostly a southern thing). Growing up out west, I thought hushpuppies were shoes. However, democracy means majority-rule and there’s lots more Yanks than Brits, so you guys drive on the wrong side of the street, not us.

      • Well you do have to remember that the United Stattes of America is a HUGE Country. So where you have country boundries we have State boundries… those western states are bigger than some countries..

        Anywho Miriam mentioned tha one difference in reading that poped out in my head when youtalked about language barrier. I’m still struggling to understnad their school system (and think it might very well be better than ours). At least I know USA Grade -1 = UK Year. And for those tests they take I’m so horrible at remembering the letters I have to call them OWLS and NEWTS after Harry Potter (and I’m still not sure which is which). *grin*

        As to crossing the pond. It will get easier. I’m sure of it. as people expand their networks beyond the gates of their own countries via the internet, bounderies are bound to break down. Afterall here I am on the East Coast of the US, and good friends with Miriam and Spook. I’m still not sure how my 30 somthing year old self ended up being friends with two UK teens. But, I’m not complaining. Not at All!

        :} Cathryn Leigh

        • Certainly aware of the size and e-reading population, which is why we over here are desperate to find a way in over there!

          You’re right, Spook and Miriam are marvellous. Spook will be back here next week sometime with a follow-up to her Mary-Sue post, and Miriam here again later in the month.

        • Miriam
        • July 14th, 2011

        Yeah, I’ll totally be back this month… :/ Ha ha!
        I don’t understand why they have to be different. It’s ENGLISH, right? From ENGLAND? I know most of the *ahem* misspellings were deliberate to make themselves more separate from us Brits, but it’s just confusing! I can’t remember practice/practise any of the time, without American books confusing me.
        I should just get a dictionary for when I’m reading, seriously. Half the time I just guess what they’re talking about and carry on.

        @Elo – OWLs are GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education) and NEWTs are A-Levels. If that’s how you remember it, then there you go 😀

  2. This month I have already sold 100 copies of Wearing the Cape on Amazon.com. Amazon.uk.co? 2.

    • For those unfamilar George’s book Wearing the Cape is a novel about a late-teen kick-ass gal superhero, and despite being written in American is rather good.

      Give the genre it’s no surprise you have better sales in the US than UK, but even so the dividing figure is huge.

  3. This is just a superfab dialog to begin!

    Thanks sooo very much for including me, Mark and Barbara! And thanks too for the wonderful WG2E shout-out!

    We all have sooo much to share and learn from each other and our real numbers and real experiences!

    • A pleasure to have you here DD!

      If you check the MWi archives for the Summer Book Club you’ll find we’re experimenting with a give-away anthology of works by a group of authors on both sides of the pond that will hopefully raise all our profiles along the way.

      Just one of many ideas we’re exploring on how to bridge the divide.

      • Mark, I just heard from Mark Edward Hall – a US author. His anthology is selling like crazy in the UK and Germany. And yet anthologies traditionally don’t do well in the US. I wonder if that’s yet another difference in reading tastes.

  4. Trying to leave the UK/US part out of it, I’m trying to think what makes a book readable and therefore successful. And two of the most important points are identifying with the main characters and picturing the settings. Now, if both are part of your own culture then the author doesn’t have to work so hard at the descriptions because, either we (the readers) have stereotypes we can slot into place for the characters, or we know the geographical locations (or ones very similar) and can instantly visualise the scenes. But if these things are alien (sorry!) to us then, unless they’re very carefully described, we just can’t picture or identify with what’s going on.
    I wonder whether my book, The Girl on the Swing, does well in different markets because it’s full of imagery and description. That also explains why Cave is not doing so well because it does include a few vivid scenes down caves and readers say they are scared it will give them claustrophobia!

    Ali Cooper

    • Some interesting ideas, Ali.

      As one of our experiments we literally rewrote our UK best-seller for the US market, relocating it in New York state, with American police procedures, etc, and of course American spellings.

      Both are on Amazon on both sides of the Atlantic. Bizarrely we sell more of the American edition in the UK than we do in the US!

    • Pj Schott
    • July 10th, 2011

    Barbara Silkstone, DeeDee Scott, Sibel Hodge and three of my favorite authors. And WG2E (DeeDee Scott & Tonya Kappes) is one of the best blogs ever. THANK YOU for this great read today.

  5. Great post! And the differences between languages are so funny (er, what are jumpers in the US, or should I go Google that?)

    The problem is that pitching an ad for your audience is a bit of an art-form at the best of times and if you write an ad aimed at what would be a YA audience in the UK and then find that your text is thought more appropriate to older readers in the US, the ad won’t be so finely targeted there. It is as de-tuning to your finely-tuned prose as it would be if I was trying to write an ad in Italian – I know what the words mean but the implications can escape me.
    Imho, anyhow.

    PS – UK writers – Grits is/are like porridge but made from corn; only you don’t eat it with jam it but as a carb with the meal (not ideal with scrambed egg but some of the herby variants sound intriguing); “biscuits” are like plain scones but eaten as a savoury side dish rather than with clotted cream and jam and a cup of Earl Grey, and if anyone offers you a basket of puppies, they’re not referring to a collection of small dogs but some cinnamon doughnuts…. the list is endless!

    • Thanks JA.

      The ad-pitching is a really interesting point.

      I increasingly struggle with these thoughts when I blog. As my readership has expanded globally I find myself constantly having to stop and think about the words I use and references I make. As for spellings…

      And now we face the same debate with our book content. We launch our new crime thriller series at the end of this month. Originally we set it in Manchester, one of the Uk’s biggest cities. But it became clear that the rest of the world have only ever heard of Manchester in terms of Manchester United football club (that’s soccer to you guys in America).

      We figured to have any chance of an international audience without readers expecting football references we’d be better off sticking with London.

  6. JAC, You did a fine job of translating our menus. However, grits are lovely with eggs…but sunnyside up eggs. You mish it all together with gobs of butter. On the other hand our biscuits are lacking. Any sane person knows clotted cream should be used as often as possible and on as many items. To NOT put clotted cream on biscuits should be illegal in all of the United States. And then there’s the whole tea-thing. I can see why we Yanks are having a hard time being reassimilated. Be patient with us… we are just a big basket of puppies.

    • Since I moved out to West Africa sunnyside up eggs, clotted cream and a decent cup of tea have become distant memories. Thanks for reminding me what I’m missing!

  7. Mark Williams International :
    Some interesting ideas, Ali.
    As one of our experiments we literally rewrote our UK best-seller for the US market, relocating it in New York state, with American police procedures, etc, and of course American spellings.
    Both are on Amazon on both sides of the Atlantic. Bizarrely we sell more of the American edition in the UK than we do in the US!

    Haha! Then I can only suggest that, whilst (while 🙂 ) set in NY it was still seen through English eyes!

    • That’s certainly a possibility, but then we would have expected feedback to that effect. But the sales just don’t seem to happen in the first place for American readers to react pro or con.

  8. Mark, that is really interesting. Can you elaborate on how you changed to American police procedures? How long did it take to do the research? Did you watch a lot of Law and Order? Are the editions labeled so readers can tell the difference? I’d love to read Sugar and Spice in the American version. I was enthralled with what I now learn is one of two versions. Hmm… a mystery. You guys are full of surprises.

    • It was a pure experiment. We had lots of US reactions to the UK version saying they struggled with parts of the story. Including Red Adept, who bizarrely seemed to have marked us down for using a British slang term for a sex offender (“nonce”) that left US readers struggling.

      Given we had the story in place and it was a fast-paced thriller about a universal theme of a mother’s serach for justice for her murdered daughter, we figured American / British cultural differences would not be an issue beyond the mechanics of police procedures, legal system, etc.

      Research was pretty easy, mainly because in the UK we are inundated constantly with US film, TV and books so we probably know the US legal system as well as you guys.

      And therein lies one of the issues, I think. When we have a successful film or TV series here you guys invariably remake it with US settings, actors, etc.

      The US edition is simply called Sugar & Spice: US Edition.

  9. I loved this disucssion, because I am an American but my book is a combination of Brits and Americans because the cruise ship I worked on had British officers and of course my husband and co-author who I met there was Scottish. But I am finding I sell over 30 copies in the US for every one in Britian. I did sell one in Germany the other day. Our author page evern has Ray in a kilt. So thanks for addressing what I was wondering about. If anyone has any UK promotion ideas let me know.
    Cara Bertoia

    • Thanks for joining us Cara.

      That’s a big difference in sales.

      The Amazon.de site is another problem all together. A potentially significant market but unreasonable of us to expect the Germans to read English. Translation is one area where the legacy boys still have the advantage.

      As ereaders become more popular in Europe it may well be worth investing in a reliable translation, but can’t see it yet.

      • Dear Mark,
        That is so funny because I just sold two in Germany in the last two days. I had noticed that some German blogs had picked up some of our roulette articles. I am pretty new to this. But I love the conversation. If anyone ever wants a story for an anthology I would love to contribute. In fact are people having luck with publishing free stories to promote their book?
        Cara B

  10. Super fab post Barbara, DeeDee, Mark, Karen, and all. And thanks for the lovely shout out!

    I wish I had the magic answer for crossing the pond in sales. It’s beyond bizarre that some books do so well in US and not UK, and vice versa.

    My sales are probably two thirds US, one third UK. I’m consistently in the top 100 genre categories in both countries, though. My romantic comedies seem to sell better in UK than my chick lit mysteries for some reason. I do market in both countries, and being a Brit my novels do contain more Brticisms, but it seems the US readers don’t mind this.

    Hmmm…the grits sounds a bit yucky, actually! But you’re right, Spotted Dick – what the hell?

  11. Problem is that though I’m still at the beginning and so every week that my sales go up is a bonus, they’re better in the UK. Why is that a problem? Because the US just has more people and more ereaders, so even if I sell a copy of On Dark Shores to every single ereader owner in the UK, that’s still going to be about a twentieth of the potential UK market.

    Must admit, I quite like the idea of a marketing swap. Mine’s a bit niche so it might be difficult for me but maybe for other people, to find a book of similar genre in the other country and then both of you plug both books on your own side of the Atlantic – well it would be an interesting way to see whether it’s the pitching of the ads or whether actually the books don’t come across as well, always.
    It’s a thought, anyhow.

    • Marketing swapping is a great way of at least getting the message out. One thing’s for sure – if a reader doesn’t know the book exists they can’t even think of buying it.

      Best done by linking up with authors in very similar genre. Putting links at the end of one another’s books is a great way of making it easy for the reader. If the reader enjoyed your book they’re likely to take notice of what you recommend.

      The important thing is to be familar with, and happy with, the other person’s work before you do. Recommending a book which is actually dreadful is a sure way to alienate your own readers.

    • gerrymccullough
    • July 11th, 2011

    Another fascinating blog, Mark. I love Barbara Silkstone, a very funny writer. Great blog, Barbara.
    About the UK/USA divide, so far I’ve found that I sell almost identical numbers on both sides of the Atlantic. I think this is because Americans (so they say) love everything Irish, and my book Belfast Girls, being set in Ireland, has a head start with American readers, while in the UK it has the advantage of being local.
    But this is just a guess. So many things about selling/promoting books remains guesswork – isn’t this frustrating? I’m trying Twitter recently, and so far it seems to be working – i.e. my sales are increasing. And of course a good many of my followers are American, so there’s another possible reason for Belfast Girls selling there. Facebook has worked well for me also and again many of my friends / fans are from the USA.

    • Gerry, Belfast Girls is such a great book. I’m so glad it continues to do well in the US. Do you think that any of the initial connections from “old” Authonomy have helped balance sales between the UK and the US?

      I hope I made that clear. It’s 6 am in Florida and my brain refuses to wake up.

    • Lovely to see you here again, Gerry.

      I think you’re absolutely spot on about the Irish element playing a big part in your balanced sales, and of course the title shouts out the link to casual browsers.

      Are any other Irish writers experiencing a similar sales lift?

  12. I’m American. I live in the UK (and have done for 5 years). My books are written mostly in American, but liberally sprinkled with Britishisms. Because I luuurve them.

    It’s only my first month. Heck, it hasn’t been two weeks. I don’t know the breakdown on Smashwords, but I’ve sold four times as many books on Amazon US as Amazon UK. (I do know I have fans in, bizarrely enough, Argentina and Finland.)

    I couldn’t tell you why. If there’s anyone who should be able to bridge the gap, it would be an American living in the UK (or vice versa). And yet, no such luck. Yet. 😉

    • Shea, That’s the interesting / confusing part. My book The Secret Diary of Alice in Wonderland is a romantic comedy thriller. An American woman gets involved with a British con man. I based Nigel’s speech patterns and mannerisms on someone I knew there. I would think both UK and US would enjoy the Fish Called Wanda comedic delivery. It’s well received… by a handful of people in the UK and yet consistently stays high in the ranks in the US. I guess it falls back on marketing. How and to whom in the UK?

    • Lovely to see you here again too, Shea!

      Your start off sounds very promising. Far better than when we started out! Looks like you made a good decision building up a social platform before the book was out.

  13. Thanks for the nice article. I’ve read and enjoyed Barbara Silkstone’s books.
    I have yet to figure out how to sell books in the U.K., but that’s okay. I’ve had nice comments from a few U.K. readers that have bought my books. If a new way to market opened up, I’d be interested. For now, though, I’m content to focus on my U.S. sales.

    • Hopefully between us all we may come up with some great new idea to cross the pond together.

      One idea I’ve been pondering is a web-site called simply Crossing the Pond or some such, aimed at introducing top-selling books on side of the Atantic to the audience on the other.

      One of the big failings of Amazon at the moment is that there’s no cross-reference between am.com and am.co.uk. Without deliberately connecting to am.com I have absolutely no idea what might be at the top of the charts in the US, and ditto for US readers having no idea what’s hot in the UK.

        • barbara silkstone
        • July 11th, 2011

        Two things.
        1. Your idea of a combined site is excellent. One of the frustrating things about the current system is that if a US buyer tries to look at the UK Kindle site there are roadblocks saying … for UK buyers only and vice-versa. We were essentially separated just after birth. I can understand it’s necessary from a business POV for accounting etc… but it’s … like being back in Catholic schools. Boys on one side and girls on the other and NO holding hands.

        2. I am soooo intrigued with you using the US tv shows and the fact that you’ve written Sugar and Spice in “two languages.” I’m going to buy the American version and see how it differs. I loved the UK original version.

        I almost exclusively watch BBC for mysteries. I seek them out. We have a BBC channel. I do however love the Law & Order series especially Special Victims. That is a very character driven series. As far as tv mysteries go… in my humble opinion the difference is that most BBC mysteries are cozies, Gothic, with loads of atmosphere. Our US tv crime shows are gritty and big city settings. If the characters weren’t so likeable, I’d personally not watch them. What British shows have we tried to adapt? I know there are a few that are London based, but I tend not to like them. Maybe it’s just the desperate Anglophile in me… looking for your lovely scenery.

  14. And I do it all twice! 🙂

  15. @Barbara – yes, please buy it and double our US sales this month! Okay, not quite that bad, but feels it sometimes.

    You’re right, British crime is often far too “cosy / cozy”. Hard to stay awake through.

    Most recent adaption I’ve heard of is Life On Mars / Ashes To Ashes, but you guys seems adept at rewriting just about anything to suit the American way. Including our history. Need I mention Enigma?

    Even poor Harry Potter had to become the Sorcerer’s Stone instead of the Philosopher’s Stone.

    • barbara silkstone
    • July 11th, 2011

    Right there! You accidentally hit a nail on its head. 🙂
    You understood me to be saying British crime is far too cozy. You agreed with a statement I don’t think I made. Too funny! I was actually saying I preferred the cozy to the gritty US style. I always stay awake to see the British criminal apprehended and escourted out of the church yard or the country estate. The settings in the US series are too “mean-streets.” I want to take a shower after watching some of them. 🙂

    • I just love agreeing with statements people don’t think they made. I guess better than disagreeing with statements people did make but don’t think they should have!

      One thing US TV crime has that most UK crime TV doesn’t is glamour. And big budgets, too. Also, as I’ve explored elsewhere, UK TV is invariably a one-writer show, whereas collaborative writing seems the norm in the US.

      Criminals being escorted outside from the churchyard or country estate are sadly far too common for my tastes, but if that’s what people like to watch / read, then good luck to them.

    • gerrymccullough
    • July 11th, 2011

    Barbara, thanks so much for your kind comment about Belfast Girls.
    Yes, I think I made a lot of good friends on Authonomy from all over the world, and undoubtedly some of them bought my book and boosted its Amazon.com sales. However, I know for a fact that many people who said on Authonomy that they would buy my book if it were published were lying in their teeth, and never did buy it.
    Mark, I was once told that using the word ‘Belfast’ rather than ‘Irish’ in my title was ‘shooting myself in the foot.’ Thank goodness it doesn’t seem to have been true – well as far as I know – maybe I lost a lot of possible sales because of it!
    Publicity is, and remains, a complete mystery to me. What works, and what doesn’t work?

    • Re: title. I think for many in mainland UK who remember “The Troubles”, the name Belfast will forever be associated with those tragic events. We were bombarded daily with negative images on TV and in newspapers and those images will never fully fade.

      I think sales marketing works at two levels. Word of mouth and impulse. The latter becomes significant in the higher echelons of the charts where most buyers will be looking. When we were in the top five we were getting sales out of all proportion to our marketing, suggesting people were buying what was hot.

      But ultimately word of mouth counts most. A recommendation from someone who has read and enjoyed a book is by far the best ambassador, and that’s where social media really comes into play. The more connected you are with your readers and potential readers the better.

    • kapstudent
    • July 11th, 2011

    Well, this post has really de-mystified why it’s so hard for Americans to sell in the UK. My book, The Time Baroness, takes place mostly in the UK, as my heroine time-travels back to around Jane Austen’s England to explore and generally get into trouble. But I’m an American, and so is my heroine, so there’s plenty of language trip-ups for both me and her!
    Anyway, sales are zipping along pretty well in the US, but really slog in the UK. It was very helpful to learn that the Brits don’t appreciate aggressive marketing, so I won’t try.
    So, thanks for this, and all hail to Barb Silkstone’s Secret Diary of Alice in Wonderland…if you haven’t read it, it’s about time.
    P.S. I’m Georgina Young-Ellis – my log in name is a rather old one I created long ago for a class I was teaching.

    • Thanks, Georgina.

      From what’s been said variously above I think it fair to say aggressive marketing doesn’t work well anywhere. We’re trying to sell books, not vacuum cleaners.

      The key is getting the book noticed by readers so they will take a second look, but if you do that by screaming “BUY MY BOOK!” they’ll probably do exactly the opposite.

      No question that, with selling e-books, social media is the key, and promoting one another is the best way of working social media. It’s called social for a reason.

      If I see a hard-sell blog interview all about how good *the author* thinks the book is I rarely hang around to read the rest. But if the interview approach is interesting I sometimes end up buying a book I would not normally buy.

      Sibel Hodge has a great approach to author interviews, and also Prue Batten over at Mesmered.

      But the best way to sell is by recommendation from other readers, as Georgina showed with her great plug for Barbara’s Alice.

  16. Sorry I’m joining the party rather late. Moved house over the weekend and just got my internet back on. I’m a Vice Versa to Shea. I live in the US, 10 years now, but am a Brit. My books are set in Norfolk, England where I grew up but when I wrote the 1st one there was no way of getting it to the UK public so I wrote it for the American public. The 2nd book, however I tried to keep more to English words than American words.

    It is doing fairly well in the UK but nowhere near like the US. I do get comments in my UK reviews about the Americanisms being grating, so I’ve decided to keep the language fairly generic in my future novels. That, however doesn’t solve the spelling and punctuation issues.

    I think one of the major differences in sale, is the fact that Kindle has not even been out a year in the UK and so readership is much more limited than the US. Over time the sales should increase as more and more Brits buy kindles. Here’s hoping, anyway.

    Great discussion, Mark

    • Thanks, Alison. Important to remember how new the UK market is, you’re right there.

      For everyone else, Alison had great success getting herself up and running using free e-books as a marketing strategy, and will be joining us on MWi to reveal why, counter-intuitive though it may seem, giving book away gratis can actually boost your real sales.

  17. I have obviously come way to late to this party. I have lots to say, since I’ve been published on both sides of the pond, and I have other friends who have too. I think what starts in the UK can build to the point where the US has to take note, but they’re always going to be afraid you’re too smarty-pants for us.

    But not if you’re Swedish. There’s a new writing team vying to take on Stieg Larssen’s cloak–male/female team like you and Saffi. So I think you should change your name to Sven DeFjiord or something and you’ll be gold.

    • Yes, Anne. Where’ve you been?! 🙂

      I think you’re right – we just have to be patient and eventually the other side will get to notice us.

      I rather like the idea of going Swedish. Socker Och Krydda has a certain gravitas. My hair’s long enough now that if I dyed it blonde I could possibly pass for Scandinavian from a distance. Wouldn’t take long with find and replace to change London to Stockholm. And I just love Sven DeFjiord.

      David Gaughran, do you think we could pass muster?

  18. Hi, I left a post awhile ago that said I had made some sales in Germany I thought I knew why but now I was just informed that I was chosen as Tripatini’s read of the week. The New York Times called Tripatini Facebook for travelers. It really is a huge site. I made myself a travel expert on cruises. So netoworking in that way really helped me.
    So now I’m not sure if it was the blog or this, I also have sold more paperbacks.
    So if anyone has a moment please go to Tripatini.com. I am really new at this so I am very excited. Thanks for letting the newbie speak.
    Thanks Cara B

    • Thanks for the update Cara. It’s always great to know where sales / hits are coming from.

      When we started out we didn’t keep a detailed record of that sort of thing. Big mistake.

      Also lots of people were kind enough to give us leg-ups, mentions, reviews and guest posts when we were complete unknowns. Again, we never kept track properly. Never occured to us at the time. Grateful, of course, but never expected to be where we are now.

      Would love to go back and be able to thank them all individually, and maybe return the favour with their own projects..

      To those of you just embarking on this voyage, I strongly recommend you keep note of everyone and every site / blog / reviewer that supports you as you get started.

      And in the immortal words of Catherine Ryan Hyde, pay it forward, and do the same for someone else.

  19. Okay, my series books – all sixty of them – have been published by Harlequin so I have a built in following who buy the trilogy I re-published this year as an eBook on Amazon. My sales in the US are great, but I don’t hit the top spots the way I do in the UK.

    Maybe it’s because I get reviews on Amazon.com from people warning their fellow Americans not to buy my books because I “cannot spell”. (Because Harlequin allow all their authors to write in their own tongue” – whichever version of English that happens to be. And use their own standard quote marks – which in the UK happens to be single quotes.) A lot of them seem to think I’m Australian, too, which I find puzzling since I’ve never set a book there.

    I do joke about this, but if the first time they read an unfamiliar spelling they are thrown out of the book and the perception amongst readers is that I’m alien, not part of their culture, they are never going to take me to their hearts.

    I love load of US authors. One of my favs is Susan Elizabeth Phillips, but I can’t see books about American Football stars ever really catching alight here. Some of the jokes just don’t translate unless you are v. savvy about the sport. I’m trying to turn my friends on to Barbara O’Neal, too. And my daughter and I both love Janet Evanovitch, but even Nora Roberts struggles over here.

    It’s a big challenge but I’m loving some of the creative stuff you’re doing. I hope it works for you.

    • Liz, thanks for joining us.

      American spellings… It’s such a dilemma. When we announced we were going to issue a US-spelling version fo Sugar & Spice the reaction on Kindleboards was overwhelmingly negative. That we were being patronising, and American readers like enjoying foreign cultures, etc.

      Yet the negative comments from Americans who were just confused by the British legal system, with barristers in wigs and arcane terminology from medieval times, indifferent to the totally unfamilar locations (if Manchester is a mystery to them, what chance Milton Keynes?), and blaming us for bad editing for spelling colour with a ‘u’ were too frequent to be ignored. So we gave them the choice of two.

      I think the problem for American authors coming this way is more about exposure. American culture is second nature to us. I used to read far more American writers in paper than I did British and now I find I’m reading far more American indies than I am British.

      Sometimes that’s deliberate choice. I like fast paced thrillers as opposed to the plodding police procedurals that typify the British crime writing scene (nothing wrong with them I hasten to add, just personal appeal).

      Mostly it’s about availability, price and awareness. Kindle US has been going far longer and has many more indie authors who ae getting themselves noticed.

      For those who aren’t enamoured by harlequin romance, don’t be put off visiting Liz’s site. Desite her paper success Liz runs a very personal, friendly site and welcomes questions and interaction from writers and readers alike.

      Liz, I shall be over in hopefully sunny Wales next month, to escape the worst of the West African rainy season. After nine months on the edge of the Sahara it will be a pleasant change to see the mountains and valleys again.

  20. If Anne thinks she’s late to the party, I am disgracefully rude. That said and apologies offered, I might be an odd guest that doesn’t quite fit in.

    As a writer of fantasy, I don’t have to worry about geographic likes and dislikes so much. Fantasy creates settings that are acceptable anywhere: UK, USA, Australia, West Africa, wherever. I also write in English english, not American english because that was the way we were educated in the British colonies, but again I don’t think it affects my sales one way or another.

    Like Sibel, my sales are 2/3rds USA, 1/3 UK. And yet last month was my best ever month and was 2/3rds UK and 1/3rd USA. Go figure! I am a member of KindleUsersForum (UK) and Kindleboards (USA) but I don’t think commentary on either actually improves my sales. Involvement on Amazon fantasy group both UK and USA gets better comment than KUF or Kindleboards, but I doubt it adds to sales.

    I have no idea what contributes to a good or bad week. I tend to think its Fate, Lady Luck and the whim of the reading public. One’s title being ‘featured’ on boards and blogs does seem to be a major step up for anyone but it’s not easy.

    Thus I love interviewing writers… I hope that helps them get ahead. But does anyone think that by me interviewing others, that it helps me as well? Somehow I doubt it, but as I’m essentially a voyeur I’ll continue the Big Red Chair… for indie writers on both sides of the pond. If you would like me to interview you, just contact me via http://www.pruebatten.com

    Sorry Mark…lapse in etiquette again!
    Thanks for a great discussion even though we don’t seem to providing answers to the questions, do we?

    • Thanks, Prue.

      No problem at at re interview chasing for the Big Red Chair. There are some great names among those commenting here that I’d love to see under the Mesmered spotlight . As I’ve said elsewhere in this comments column, yours is a fine example of author interviewing as it should be done.

      As a separate aside, we have Harlequin romance writer Liz Fielding with us in the comments column, above, today. For anyone unsure if they’d like a Harlequin romance or not, Liz’s book The Bride’s Baby is in the free list today on Amazon UK. A great chance to give her a try.

  21. Oh and I forgot to say that so far this month my sales in the USA have been abysmal and in the UK zilch after last month’s absolute cracker. I appear to burned out my welcome in both places. Time for a new book!

    • Mesmered, does it sound rude to say I’m so pleased you’re getting that too! Last month my sales were going up exponentially (easy enough with my numbers) and this month have crashed. Putting that down to Smashwords sale but it may be a wider phenomenon maybe?

    • Yes! Bring on the new book!

  22. JA Clement :
    Mesmered, does it sound rude to say I’m so pleased you’re getting that too! Last month my sales were going up exponentially (easy enough with my numbers) and this month have crashed. Putting that down to Smashwords sale but it may be a wider phenomenon maybe?

    I’m now seriously wondering if the EU economy crisis is riding the back of UK sales really hard. As to the USA, its puddling along in dribs and drabs and boy, can I tell you how good it is to hear YOU are struggling too! It softens the blow. What I seriously find distressing is laudable comment via email from various quarters… I so want that to translate to reviews, hence sales… people seem shy of reviewing, seeing the personal approach is best. What does one do?
    Perhaps another post is needed Mark, to tell us…

    • Those not directly connected to am.co.uk may not be aware there is a summer sale on with mainstream authors at indie prices, which has inevitably hit indie sales.

      I know lots of dedicated Kindlers who rightly refuse to pay near-paper prices for mainstream authors’ backlist e-books who have been feasting on the opportunities. And of course they’ll then have plenty of reading fodder for perhaps many months afterwards.

      Our experience is these mainstream sales bring lots of new buyers in, and indies in the top of the charts benefit from extra exposure, but those further out feel the pinch.

      Summer is traditionally a quiet time for paper books as people stop spending and prepare for their holidays, but sensibly priced ebooks ought to benefit as travellers realise they can take a dozen titles without affecting their luggage allowance.

      On reviews vs personal comments. I love when people make that extra effort to show their appreciation personally (or occasionally their dismay!), and if you’re in direct contact it’s easy to then ask them to share their views on a public platform.

      As a rule only a tiny percentage of buyers will leave a public comment. We’ve knocked up over 200 reviews on am.uk alone, but that’s only about 0.25% of buyers.

      It’s worth signing up for google alerts on your name and title to uncover little gems of reviews on sites and blogs you may never have heard of. Just this week we’ve found three glowing reviews for S&S on blogs we never knew existed, from bloggers we have had no connection with other than that they’ve read our book.

      You also might find you’re mentioned in some news site or other that you had no idea knew you or your book existed.

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