Selling my books

I’ve been taking part in #HistFicMay where historical fiction authors are invited to answer one question a day about their work. Yesterday’s question was: ‘How do you advertise your book?’

I’d been thinking about blogging about marketing for a while and this question, the day before my weekly blog post, has rather focussed my mind.

I’m self-published, so all the sales efforts for my books are down to me. The bad news is that this takes a ridiculous amount of time and energy. The good news is that (having originally been published by a small press) I know that an indie author will do a better job selling their books themselves than most publishers will do for the vast majority of their writers.

So what do I do?

Let’s start with what I don’t do. I don’t advertise. Historical fiction that isn’t Tudors or Regency Romance is a bit of a niche market. Unless a major publisher takes me up and decides to promote me heavily, I’m never going to sell thousands of books. (That’s why so many writers hold out for publishing deals, hoping against hope that they will be one of the lucky dozen or so that their publisher chooses to put serious money behind.)

About 80% of my sales are on Kindle and most of my books are just £3.99 so any significant advertising campaign is unlikely to pay for itself. I used to work in adverting and an insignificant advertising campaign is simply a waste of money. (Something I’ve confirmed by dipping a toe into Facebook and Amazon adverts.)

Social media

I do make an effort with social media. I post regularly on Twitter (I’m still not calling it X) and I have an author page on Facebook. I have an account on Bluesky too, but, sadly, the platform never really took off.

I don’t expect someone will see a tweet and rush to buy one of my books. I’m hoping that my social media efforts will drive people to my blog. (Well, you’re here, so presumably it works sometimes.) Then, with luck, you might explore my website and buy a book.

The website you’re on right now

I’ve put a fair amount of effort into my website, so I hope it sells the odd book. I’ve trialled selling directly (look at the bottom of my landing page) but so far with zero interest. This is largely my own fault because I’ve downplayed the offer in case it doesn’t work out on a practical level and I end up annoying a lot of readers and maybe losing money. Still, the offer is there so do feel free to take it up.

The main thing I do on the website is blog. I’m pretty religious about blogging every Friday. I enjoy it, which is a good thing because it takes quite a lot of time. Some blog posts get hundreds of viewers (over 450 when I reviewed Ridley Scott’s Napoleon, for example) while others pass almost unnoticed. I’ve looked for patterns so that I can just concentrate on the things that people will read but there honestly don’t seem to be any. It would help if I got feedback from people commenting on my posts, but generally they don’t. I just shout into the void and hope somebody is listening.

Free offers

I do run the odd Kindle giveaway. Many people speak highly of these and they have the advantage they don’t cost anything. The result can be one of my books appearing briefly in the bestseller list except that, given that they are free, I don’t feel that they have genuinely been ‘sold’. I’m not even sure that they have been read. I am certain I am not alone in having books on my Kindle that I picked up because they were free and have never got around to opening.

What I do find depressing is that even when people do read free books, they seem reluctant to review them. Surely that’s the implicit deal between the author and the person they give the free copy to? I do post a line or two on Amazon for every free book that I read unless I really can’t think of something kind to say about it and that’s rare. It would be nice if everybody else took the same approach.

Still, free offers cost nothing and can do no harm, so why not?

The best way to sell

What I have discovered is that the best way to sell a book is to write another one in the series. At the moment, I’m trying to write another adventure for James Burke. Unfortunately, I find myself spending more and more time procrastinating with tweeting and Facebooking and, dare I say it, writing this.

Going forward

I keep saying that I’m going to cut down on my blogging and, reading over what I’ve just written, I think I really have to make an effort to do so. So I will continue to blog on Fridays but maybe not every Friday and the posts might be dug out from years ago when most of you weren’t reading it anyway or may be just some pretty pictures or a few words of wisdom. It’s quite likely that shorter posts will be more appreciated. And I will be cutting down on Twitter. I’m sticking with #HistFicMay until the end of the month but after that I’m going to try to have some tweet-free days each week. I already hardly tweet on weekends and I think I’ll cut out Wednesdays too. That way I might even get a book written.

Tell me I’m wrong

I know that there are people who will say that I’m taking a negative attitude and that I really should make more effort to sell, rather than less. You may be right. I’m happy to be persuaded.

Feel free to respond to this blog and I’ll take all your comments on board. After all, if many of you do reply it will prove that I’m not screaming into the void at all.

Prove me wrong.

A scandal at court

Regular readers will know that I spend a lot of time at Marble Hill House where Henrietta Howard lived from 1734 until her death in 1767. Marble Hill became the centre of a circle of some of the leading writers of the day, including Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift and John Gay, who wrote the Beggars’ Opera.

John Gay’s portrait hangs in Marble Hill alongside a painting of King George II and one of the Duchess of Queensbury.

A tale of political mischief-making links the three paintings and a musical that I went to see last week.

Following the success of The Beggar’s Opera in 1728, John Gay wrote a sequel, Polly. However, Walpole, the prime minister, was scandalised by the satirical attacks on him in The Beggar’s Opera and persuaded the Lord Chamberlain to ban Polly as a filthy and libellous work. Gay responded by having the play published by subscription in 1729, an exercise that proved very popular.

Of course, subscribing to the play was a way of expressing disapproval of the Prime Minister.

The Duchess of Queensbury (a close friend of Henrietta Howard) was a member of the Court and no fan of Walpole. She also had a wicked sense of humour. She approached the king (who had appointed Walpole) and asked him to subscribe. George (who was not terribly bright) did so.

When Queen Caroline (the brains of the outfit) found out, she was furious. The Duchess was exiled from the court. She doesn’t seem to have cared. She moved into a house just across the river from Marble Hill and she and Henrietta Howard remained great friends.

There’s a video version of this post on TikTok:

A Word From Our Sponsor

All this took place about 60 years before we first meet James Burke fighting in the West Indies (in Burke in the Land of Silver). In many ways, the world of Henrietta Howard was very different from the world of James Burke but anyone with an interest in the Long 18th Century (yes. historians really call it that) might well enjoy James Burke. Why not give him a go?

Malmaison: a home fit for an Empress

In Burke and the Pimpernel Affair, Burke visits the Empress Josephine at her home at Malmaison. Until I started researching the story, I had no idea that Malmaison still existed and is a short bus ride from the centre of Paris. Back then, I couldn’t go to see it because of covid. Fortunately, there is an excellent virtual tour available online but I really wanted to see the place for myself and last month I was finally able to visit.

It’s a beautiful house, lovingly restored to show what it was like when Josephine lived there.

This was her bedroom and the bed where she died in May 1814. It’s rather splendid.

She actually had another, more liveable, bedroom for regular use but this one (designed in 1812 and restored by Napoleon III) was her “formal” bedroom. I wish I had seen it before I wrote the book because I’ve created an imaginary bedroom on the ground floor and this one would have been much more fun.

Visiting Malmaison gives you a strong idea of what Josephine was like. I enjoyed the billiards room.

Billiards rooms always seem a very masculine place (often explicitly so in English stately homes) but the billiards room at Malmaison was just across the hall from the dining room and apparently Josphine enjoyed a game of billiards after dinner.

Although Malmaison was her personal property, Napoleon spent a lot of time there and clearly had a hand in a lot of the décor. There is a recurring tent motif, with walls covered in fabric. The Emperor wanted to feel that he was out campaigning even when he was quietly at home with his wife. This was particularly obvious in the council chamber where he would often meet with his ministers.

Napoleon was a voracious reader — he even had a travelling library in the coach he took on campaign — and leading off the council chamber was a large library with a hidden staircase that led directly to his first floor apartment.

There are an awful lot paintings of Josephine on display in Malmaison. I notice her feet peeking out from under some of her dresses. I think she might have been especially proud of her feet which, judging from some shoes on display, were particularly small and narrow.

She was fond of shoes, buying an immense number. She spent out on dresses, too, though probably not very many like this one.

Josephine is buried with her children in a church nearby.

It’s such a shame that Ridley Scott’s terrible film of Napoleon’s life did not make more of Josephine. At one point, Napoleon appointed her Regent of France and she seems to have been a remarkable woman. It was a great pleasure to visit her home.

Buy the book!

Burke and the Pimpernel Affair is huge fun, featuring thrilling gaolbreaks, fun with the Empress Josephine and a surprising amount of historical fact hidden away in Burke’s most outrageous adventure. Buy it for just £3.99 on Kindle or £9.50 in paperback.

If you want to explore more of the places Burke visited in the book, have a look at last week’s blog post: In Paris with James Burke.

In Paris with James Burke

I really enjoyed writing Burke and the Pimpernel Affair. It’s a straightforward spy story with more than a nod to Baroness Orczy’s hero, freeing French prisoners from Paris gaols.

Much of the story revolves round the Conciergerie which was the main prison during the Terror and which still housed prisoners under Napoleon. I’d often seen the building from outside without knowing what it was and I looked forward to visiting it while I was working on the book. Then came covid and visits to Paris were postponed indefinitely. Even when the city was open to tourists again, buildings like the Conciergerie remained closed and my research all had to be done online. Now I have finally made it over to France to see the places I had written about. It was great fun!

This is the Conciergerie.

It used to combine court buildings and a prison. The courts are still there but most of the cells have been lost in the extensive remodelling the place went through in the 19th century. Some remain as museum pieces.

The palace complex (the Conciergerie was originally a royal palace) includes the chapel of Sainte Chapelle. At the time Burke was there, it was used as a library. Now it has been restored as an astonishingly beautiful church.

The main entrance to the building was up a grand flight of steps which a wounded Burke flees down after the escape has not entirely gone to plan. Here it is.

Sadly, there was no car waiting to whisk him away.

(You can see a video of this scene at

It was lovely to visit the real site of Burke’s fictitious adventures. I went to Malmaison as well, but that will have to wait till next week.

Buy the book!

Burke and the Pimpernel Affair is huge fun, featuring thrilling gaolbreaks, fun with the Empress Josephine and a surprising amount of historical fact hidden away in Burke’s most outrageous adventure. Buy it for just £3.99 on Kindle or £9.50 in paperback.

A Very Short Blog Post

It’s late in the day to be posting my Friday offering, but I’ve got an excuse. This was earlier today.

It’s been an exciting few days, following in Burke’s footsteps from Burke and the Pimpernel Affair. There’ll be a long post about it next week, but right now I’m tired and off to bed. Enjoy your weekend!