I wrote 64 blog posts altogether last year. Some, obviously, were about my books; some were reviews of other people’s books; some were serious essays on historical themes; some were mostly photos of Wales and one (which will come as no surprise to those who know me) was about tango. But what did people read?
Of the top ten blog posts, four were book reviews. But of the ten least read, three were book reviews. That suggests that a lot of my blogs were book reviews but of the 64 posts, only 11 were reviews. That’s quite a lot, but not nearly as many as made the top and bottom ten. Here’s a thought that might interest authors. (I just put it out there as a possibility.) My regular readers aren’t that interested in reviews (and I suspect that goes for readers of lots of blogs) but reviews get read if, besides my mentioning them on social media, the authors make a fuss too. If that’s true, step forward Gilli Allan, Jennie Ensor and C C Humphreys, shameless (and effective) self-publicists all.
Two of the most popular posts of the year were historical pieces. One was about the history behind the film Edge of the World. I had hoped that Edge of the World would generate lots of interest in The White Rajah as both the book and the film are based on the life of James Brooke in Borneo. Sadly, Edge of the World was one of the many 2021 movies to go straight to DVD as cinemas around the world closed because of Covid and The White Rajah will have to wait for a place in the best seller lists. The other (and easily the most read blog post of the year) was about the sensitivities surrounding the words we use to describe the events of 1857 in India. Was the bloodshed that features in my book, Cawnpore, a mutiny, a rebellion or a war of independence?
Posts on Indian history have always been popular, so you can expect to see more in 2022. Other treats will include my wife’s ‘Journal of the Plague Years’ which will provide a handy reminder of exactly how limited our lives were on each day that our Prime Minister was having a party. It’s interesting to see, though, how it all looked at the time. For example, two years ago, with the country about to be plunged into crisis, there is no mention at all of any concerns about a potential plague. Let’s see how that unfolds.
What about you? What would you like to see me write about? Let me know. After all, as I was told as a child, “Those who don’t ask, don’t get.”
I’m pretty well all blogged out this week. Besides my own blog, I’ve been writing on those of several other generous authors who have given me space so that I can encourage people to buy Burke in the Peninsula.
Those of you who have been following me through the year will know that that I’ve been busy with the relaunch of the three existing Burke books before getting this one out. It’s been a new experience for me, this venture into self-publication. Emotionally, and in terms of my development as an author (if there is such a thing), it’s been worthwhile. The books that I have published under my own imprint (Big Red) are all doing better than the ones that were left with a traditional publisher.
It’s been hard work, though. Authors always complain that their publishers don’t give them promotional support. Now I’m my own publisher I’ve learned quickly that promotional support is expensive. I’ve read advice that you should start with trivial sums and see what happens and I can tell you that what happens is absolutely nothing. It may be that I interpreted “trivial” too literally, but I’m not about to put down more money with no evidence that ads on Facebook or Amazon are ever going to pay for themselves.
In the past I’ve given talks at bookshops, book clubs, book fairs, and even a Victorian event where most of the audience turned up in costume.
This year, though, talks are off (though if you work for a college that has an educational exemption, feel free to get in touch).
So if I can’t advertise my books and I can’t talk to people about them, what have I done?
I’ve blogged (on my own blogs and anyone else who’ll have me), I’ve tweaked my website, I’ve posted on Facebook and I’ve worked Twitter for all it’s worth. Does this have any effect? Well, as I’ve said, the books that I’m putting all this effort into are doing noticeably better than those left with a regular publisher. Sales, though, are disappointing – partly because, though you might think that the covid crisis would make people read more, it seems to be having the opposite effect. Many people find it hard to settle with a book. Netflix’s share price gives a fair indication of where people are turning for entertainment.
I’ve read suggestions that I need to make my blogs more focused on action points, which I guess means trying to get you to buy the books. Looking back, I’m delighted to see how many people read blog posts that are about my books and who might, I suppose, go on to buy them. (Given that hundreds of people read the blog posts every week and rather fewer buy the books, I’m not sure that that works, but perhaps you haven’t all got round to hitting Amazon yet.) I can’t help feeling, though, that people do like to read posts that are not primarily about selling my books – like the one on the dangers of using contemporary paintings in historical research or my instant summary of the British invasion of Buenos Aires in 1806.
I enjoy writing random essays on the history behind some of my novels and even more random discussions of totally off topic things like tango. The fact that I do enjoy it is one of the main reasons that I have kept going for several years now producing a blog post practically every week. In fact, many weeks I do a book review as well, so that’s well over 60 blog posts every year, sometimes with a couple of weeks off over Christmas and maybe a week away in the summer. I probably write well over 50,000 words a year this way – or much more than half of a book.
Experience has shown that blog posts only get read if you draw people’s attention to them through social media. In my case, my main social media effort is through Twitter. I used to hate Twitter but, over the years, I have made virtual friends there who I would really miss if I abandoned the platform.
So both blogging and tweeting give me some satisfaction, but what I have learned over the past few months is that self-publishing is time consuming and writing those blogs is time consuming too. Twitter shouldn’t be time consuming but I like to engage with people rather than just tweet and run and that means breaking off from what I am doing several times a day and that cuts into productive time quite a lot too. The result is that, looking back, I see that while I have published a new book and republished old ones, and contributed to a new short story collection, organised covers, checked on sales, responded to reader queries, blogged every week and chatted to folks on Twitter, what I haven’t done is written any books to publish in the future.
I feel that now is perhaps the time to take a small step back from all this promotional effort. I’ve noticed that when covid first struck readership of my blog dropped off. (Back to what I just said about reading and Netflix.) With people relaxing after the end of the initial lockdown, my readership recovered. Now, as we get more nervous, it’s beginning to drop again. So perhaps this would be a good time to recycle some old posts from my previous ‘Blogger’ blog. Most of you won’t have read them and I suspect that, even if you did, you have probably forgotten them by now.
I’ll be cutting back a bit on Twitter too. I’ll still post, but not quite as often.
I have some writing-related projects I’ll be able to put more time into and I can work on my tango. We haven’t made a video since May and I’d like to do another. I’ll be able to visit Wales without climbing to the top of a hill so I can update the website. It will be fun. And when I get bored, I’ll come back. (Not that I’ll ever really be away.)
And now, in the spirit of my more relaxed approach to the blog, here are some photos from a summer that, when all is said and done, had some lovely bits.
The Action Point
Do you like exciting stories set during the Napoleonic Wars? (Like Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe stories?)
Do you like stories about British spies confounding the country’s enemies? (Like Ian Fleming’s Bond?)
Do you like war stories?
Do you like Napoleonic history?
Do you like strong, sexy heroines?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘Yes’, then why aren’t you already reading Burke in the Peninsula?
It’s real history – but not like you learned it at school.
Every New Year I like to start by looking back at the blog posts that have been most popular in the previous year. It’s always interesting for me, because it usually throws up something unexpected and at least some readers like it because it highlights things that they may have missed. (Links take you to the original post.)
First off, though, a huge thank you to all of you who have made this the best year yet for this blog. It’s lovely to know that so many of you read it and (presumably at least some of you) enjoy it. I’m getting more comments on posts, too, which is always nice. Do please drop a line in the ‘Comments’ box if anything you see has particularly interested, entertained or even annoyed you.
Like a lot of bloggers, I often suspect that blogging does very little to sell my books. Not many of my posts are straightforward plugs for my work so I was surprised (and very pleased) that the most read of my posts last year was the announcement of my latest book, Dark Magic. Over a thousand of you read that post and some of you even went on to buy the book. Thank you all so much. (http://tomwilliamsauthor.co.uk/exciting-news-well-exciting-for-me-anyway/)
The second most widely read post this year was my review of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s book, The Victorians, which I think by now must have been read by almost as many people as read the book. (It was not a best-seller.) There were a lot of reviews of this book in the newspapers, but most just made fun of it or mocked Rees-Mogg because he wasn’t a real historian. I agree that it’s not a good book, but I think it is a book that deserves to be taken seriously and I have tried to do so. Rees-Mogg and his friends just won a huge election victory. Perhaps it’s time to stop pointing and laughing and start trying to discover what drives them. If you don’t have time to read the book (and I honestly don’t blame you) then it might be worth having a quick look at my review.
I’m always uncertain about putting in stuff that’s just about me. There is no reason at all why anyone should want to see my holiday photographs – yet posts like this are sometimes surprisingly popular (except when they aren’t). My trip to Spain and Portugal near the beginning of the year was ostensibly historical research and I wrote several blogs posts about the Lines of Torres Vedras, which are full of solidly good information for anyone interested in this aspect of the Peninsular War. It was my first post about this trip, though, which attracted the most readers and this is basically just very pretty pictures of some beautiful Spanish towns.
I posted quite a lot of book reviews last year. (I’ll post a list next week if you’re interested.) My blog isn’t really a book blog and reviews can pass by without much notice. The number of readers seems to depend at least in part on how much effort authors who are reviewed poured into spreading the word. So hats off to Rebecca Jenkins, whose book The Duke’s Agent drew most interest of all my 2019 reviews, except Mr Rees-Mogg, who is really a special case. (The review was actually published at the very end of 2018, but I’m letting it sneak in as I doubt it got a lot of readers in December.)
Next up was the first straightforwardly historical blog post. I always think of these posts as being the backbone of the blog, so I’m surprised that we’ve had to wait to #5 (I hope you’re keeping count) for this. Published in June, on the anniversary of the start of the siege, this is a brief summary of the events during the Indian Mutiny that are the background to my book, Cawnpore.
#6 was a guest post by Penny Hampson, writing about how Jane Austen’s ideas of what constitutes a Regency Romance differ quite sharply from what readers expect of a Regency Romance nowadays. It’s an interesting essay by someone who clearly understands the subject. (As she writes Regency Romance herself, that’s probably a good thing.)
Posts about Waterloo are always popular and this year was no exception. On Waterloo weekend I posted a short discussion of why we get so excited about this battle more than 200 years later. And the number of readers showed that we do, indeed, still get excited about it.
Still on the subject of Waterloo, I wrote a piece about Apsley House, the home of the Duke of Wellington. The house was built as a ‘Waterloo Palace’ commemorating and celebrating British victory at the battle. I like to think of the essay as being a piece on the semiotics of architecture, but I’m happy if you just enjoy the pictures.
#9 is another guest post. I do like hosting visiting authors who bring a touch of variety to the blog and, in Karen King’s case, a lot of readers attracted by her account of her writing career. Karen’s approach is nothing if not professional and her account of her career is inspirational.
The Year Ahead
So there we are: another year with a variety of blog posts and me with no idea (until now) which ones were going to be the most successful. I’ll try to keep up the same mix. I have my first guest post of 2020 already lined up and, given how popular travelogues seem to be I’ll maybe post my photos from a trip to York and Leeds. (Leeds now hosts the National Armouries, so look out for lots of pictures of swords. Really. Lots.)
If there is anything you would particularly like me to write about, please mention it in the ‘Comments’ below, or use the ‘Contact‘ form.
Thank you for your company in 2019 and I look forward to the blogging year ahead.
I like to start the New Year by looking back at the blog posts of the previous twelve months to see which ones were most popular. This year we can sort the top half dozen on some sort of geographical basis. (Links take you to the original blog posts.)
The most popular blog post of 2018 was a complete surprise to me. Antoine Vanner (whose own blog, at https://dawlishchronicles.com/dawlish-blog/, I highly recommend) suggested that I write something about Indian history and the 1857 revolt. I had written a piece on this before I moved my blog to WordPress, so I decided that I would reprint the old post – British India to 1857: The Rise and Fall of the East India Company. This duly appeared in October and readership since then has been quite remarkable. It is now the most widely post on my blog by some margin. I will definitely be writing more about India in the near future.
I wrote a lot about battle of Waterloo in 2018. It was one of these posts that was the second most popular in the year. It wasn’t one of the posts about the battle itself, but a rather drier piece about why Napoleon was heading for Brussels in the first place. Was it a pointless campaign by a man who had failed to come to terms with the realities of his situation, or could it have changed the course of European history? You’ll have to read the blog to find out.
Blogs about the battle itself were understandably popular. My pieces on the use of cavalry and the fight for Hougoumont were particularly well read, but one thing I learned in 2018 is that any post that mentions Napoleon and Waterloo is pretty well guaranteed a good readership.
Sculpture at Tintagel. Photo by Mary Anne Warde
I like to feature guest posts from time to time and these are often popular. Mary Anne Yarde’s contribution on King Arthur featured a lovely sculpture from Tintagel.
Last year my beloved and I got very involved in English Heritage’s plans for a park near our house. This ended up with us both learning much more about 18th century gardening than we had ever imagined possible. It resulted in a blog post on how a king’s mistress’s garden had morphed into a modern park and how we should treat the result. (It may also have contributed to some modifications to English Heritage’s plans, which I hope was a good thing.)
Malvern Festival of Military History. (I’m the one on the left)
In October I was very pleased to be invited to be a speaker at the Malvern Festival of military history. I was one of the panel talking about turning historical fact into fiction and this resulted in a few blog posts on the business of writing historical fiction. They weren’t quite as popular as Waterloo, but they did get a gratifying number of readers, especially the one about how much research actually goes into a historical novel.
There were no blogs on tango this year. They used to be very popular, but as more people began reading the blog regularly, presumably for the history, there was less interest in random posts on tango, so I stopped writing them. I miss them a bit, though. If anybody wants me to revive some of the old ones – or maybe even write some new – I’ll have a look at it.
A Word from Our Sponsor
Obviously I wrote a lot of blog posts last year (I lost count somewhere over sixty). What I didn’t write in 2018 was any actual books. In fact I did finish a couple of novels, which Endeavour has said they will consider publishing this year (2019). Understandably, they were not anxious to commit themselves publication until they knew that they had sold some copies of the six novels that I have out with them already (see my-books/). Fortunately, my royalty cheque (yay!) suggests that they may well decide to go ahead. I mention this because, like lots of other writers, I’ve noticed that my books are available on many websites which do not pay me or my publisher. That’s stealing. It’s not just that it’s wrong, but it can make the difference between a publisher deciding that it’s worth going ahead and putting my next books out there or not. I like having my novels professionally published because I think that a publisher probably does it better than I do and is able to market them much more effectively than me. If I can’t find a publisher, I probably won’t write any more books – and this goes for a lot of other writers too. So if you like books by independent authors or authors being published by small presses, please do go out and buy them. All of mine are available in paperback for £6 or less and the e-books are even cheaper.
At the beginning of every year I like to take a look back over the past 12 months of blog posts to see which ones have been most popular. I’ve blogged slightly more often than usual this year, so there were a total of 61 posts.
I’ve been blogging for years with Blogger, but the statistics on that site are, to put it mildly, suspect and I’ve just changed to WordPress. (If you’re not already reading this on the new site, do have a look at tomwilliamsauthor.co.uk.) With any lucks,I’ll have a better idea of what’s going on in future, but, for now, I don’t quote the actual number of page views that I get. I think the ranking gives a good feel for what people are and aren’t interested in, though. It also gives you a chance to see if there were any particularly popular blog posts that you have missed out on. All of the links lead back to the original posts, so they are easy to find.
The Top Twenty blog posts are dominated by Napoleon, Wellington (sadly, definitely in that order) and the Waterloo campaign. These posts take the first, sixth, eighth, thirteenth, fourteenth and seventeenth slots. I can take a hint. There will be more about Napoleon soon.
Napoleon crossing the Alps – Jacques-Louis David
The second most widely read post of the year was about Fort Belan. I think it caught the attention of people who were as intrigued as me as to why there should be a miniature fort dating from the 18th century apparently guarding the north coast of Wales. It’s a fascinating place and I was pleased to be able to draw it to more people’s attention.
One of the joys of having your own blog is the opportunity to sound off about aspects of this whole writing business which are exercising your imagination or indignation at the time. I often feel guilty about publishing these because they seem so self-indulgent, but they are also particularly popular – if only with other writers. My grumpy old complaints about trends in modern publishing was worthy of the great Ed Reardon, but it was also the third most read post of the year.
I think this is the first year that my blog has ever got caught up in a political controversy, albeit a very small one and with a significant historical element. There are plans afoot to restore a local park to reflect the original 18th-century plantings there. It is upset a lot of my neighbours and raises interesting questions about what history is exactly, and how historical sites fit into the community of which they are a part. My contribution to the debate was the fourth most read post of the year.
National heritage or local amenity?
Book reviews always attract interest. I’m not a book blogger, but I did carry rather more reviews than usual this year – one of the reasons why there was an unusually high number of posts – and these did get a lot of readers, particularly my review of the excellent Woman in the Shadows by Carol McGrath and Bernard Cornwell’s Fools and Mortals.
Posts on tango and life in Argentina are not, perhaps, as popular as they once were, but they tend to keep getting read by people over months and years, so you can expect them to continue to pop up occasionally.
For much of the year there were very few posts directly promoting my own books, mainly because they were not available outside of North America from summer onwards while I changed publishers. Now that they are all being republished (by Endeavour Press) I have been writing rather more about my work and encouraging people to buy them. Sadly, none of these posts make it into the Top Twenty. Fortunately, I enjoy writing a weekly blog, but, if you enjoy reading it, it would be much appreciated if you would buy one or two of the books. Few British authors actually starve in garrets these days, but many of them work quite hard for ridiculously small financial rewards. If you like a blog (not just mine) please show your appreciation by buying some of the author’s work. Thank you.