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.

James Brooke, John Williamson, and a free offer

James Brooke, John Williamson, and a free offer

Recently, I’ve written about the Williamson Papers and how much I would like to see them get a wider readership. The first book in the trilogy, The White Rajah, costs just £3.99 on Kindle (or you can read it free if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited).

The White Rajah started life as a story about the real-life James Brooke of Borneo. In the mid-19th century he ruled the country of Sarawak as his own personal fiefdom and was known as the White Rajah. I invented the character of John Williamson (the name of Brooke’s real-life interpreter) as a narrator but eventually I realised that the story was just as much about the fictional Williamson as it was about Brooke. Williamson becomes the moral centre of the story, watching as Brooke’s dream of an innocent Eden meets the reality of the politics of the region and the complexities of colonial rule.

It’s not for everyone but you might find you love it if you give it a go. Committing to £3.99 and, more importantly, a first-person novel written in a mid-19th century voice is a lot to ask of people who have no reason to trust me to tell a good story. (One major publisher turned it down on the grounds that it was too ‘difficult’ for a first novel from an unknown writer and recommended that I start with something more commercial, which is why there are now seven James Burke books.) But I have a suggestion that may make it easier for you.

Years after I wrote The White Rajah, I was invited to add a short story to a collection put together by the Historical Writers’ Association (Victoriana). I wrote a story from the world of The White Rajah, which serves as a lovely introduction to John Williamson’s story. And from 10th to 14th April you can get it absolutely FREE as one of the four stories by different authors that make up Tales of Empire.

So there you are: log into Amazon using THIS LINK between 10 April and 14 April and get a free short introduction to John Williamson and James Brooke. And if you like it, you can buy The White Rajah then.

Thank you.

Fighting my way through 1812

Fighting my way through 1812

I’m never quite sure which posts I write are going to attract a lot of interest and which are going to be passed over. Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about India and while my mini essay on the Red Fort got a fair amount of attention, others were less popular. I do post occasionally on the joys, or otherwise, of writing. Again, some of these grab attention (at least by my standards) and some don’t. I think this week might be a good time to write about writing, though. Let’s hope you enjoy it.

Like, I imagine, almost all writers, it’s important to me that people read my books. Books are much more likely to be read if they are part of a series and if people can remember the last one you wrote, so there is pressure to turn out the next one.

I write two book series: Galbraith & Pole, which is Urban Fantasy, and James Burke, which is about the adventures of a British spy in Napoleonic times. I really enjoy writing Galbraith & Pole but, with just three books published, that series is yet to establish itself while the seven James Burke books, though hardly bestsellers, have a growing readership. The last book I published, Monsters in the Mist, was a Galbraith & Pole novel, so I really need to get on and write something about James Burke. The problem is finding a historical incident to write the next book around.

The first six James Burke books

Someone on Twitter has been suggesting for a while that I should send Burke to North America to fight in the War of 1812, so I am now busy reading about that conflict. It’s a scrappy little war, much beloved of re-enactors, partly, I think, because many of the battles were quite small and can be re-fought with the sorts of numbers that a re-enactor regiment may well be able to put into the field. I’m learning about native American tribes, and US militia regiments, and desperate fights in tiny long-lost villages (many now buried under 20th century cities). It’s a new world to me and I’m worried that I may make some terrible historical errors, but I am beginning to feel the outlines of a plot. It’s early days and I may yet fail to pull it together. If I can’t, then at least I’ll have learned a lot about a fairly pointless war, best known in this country because of the British burning down the White House. The Americans love talking about it because it is one of their founding myths and they just gloss over the fact that they didn’t achieve any of their war aims. They did beat the British at New Orleans though, although unbeknownst to both sides, the war was over by then.

Fingers crossed that I can find a story that can make some sort of sense out of so many fascinating but disparate incidents. I warn you now that it might be some time. Meanwhile can I recommend that you try out Galbraith & Pole? Or the Williamson Papers, which (being just a trilogy) will never benefit from the series effect. (I wrote about them last week and it would be lovely if you read them.)

Back to 1812 and the Canadian snows. Enjoy your week.


The picture at the top of the post shows British, Canadian and Mohawk fighters in action at the Battle of Chateauguay in 1813 (by Henri Julien, 1852 – 1908).

Writing about Britain’s Age of Empire

I’ve been posting a lot about India over the past few weeks. I think people are getting a bit bored of it by now. (Let me know if I’m wrong. I have several hundred more photos to share.)

Part of the reason for writing is just that, having finally made it to the sub-continent, I was blown away by it and wanted to share some of my experiences. Another reason, though, is the hope that you might be drawn in to want to read more of my writing about India, but this time looking at my historical novels. I’ve mentioned a few times that my personal favourite of my books is Cawnpore, a story set during the events of 1857, usually referred to in England as the Indian Mutiny. It’s one of a trilogy of books that looks again at the glory days of the British Empire and asks if they were as glorious as many people like to think. They’re far from revisionist history and they are full of excitement and battles, love and betrayal. But they are, I hope, a bit more nuanced than a lot of novels set in the Age of Empire.

I knew when I wrote them that they would never have the commercial appeal of my books about James Burke, cheerfully putting the damn French in their place half a century or so earlier. But it has always saddened me that, though they’ve had some lovely reviews, the Williamson Papers (as the trilogy is called) have ever had the readership I like to think they deserve. So here is an unashamed plug for the books. They are each just £3.99 on Kindle, so you can buy the whole series for less than £12. That’s got to be exceptional value for money.

The Williamson Papers

[NB There are major spoilers here, so don’t read on if you don’t want any idea of how things end.]

The first book of the Williamson Papers is The White Rajah. It introduces us to John Williamson, a young man who runs away from farming life in Devon to go to sea in search of adventure. He finds it when he becomes the companion of James Brooke, the first White Rajah of Sarawak.

James Brooke is an amazing figure. (I’ve written about his real-life history HERE.) Brooke arrives in Sarawak (in Borneo) in 1839 and is made ruler by Muda Hassim, the Bendahara of Brunei. He starts with nothing but the most liberal and humane of intentions, yet goes on to preside over a massacre so terrible that it leads to protests half a world away in London. It’s a fascinating story of how the high ideals of some Europeans produced such terrible outcomes when applied to other peoples’ countries.

WHY READ IT? It’s got pirates and headhunters and battles and loads of excitement. This is the background for a story about a good man who ends up doing terrible things and how this affects the man who loves him. There’s a lesson for today in the story about good and evil in the mid-19th century.

In Cawnpore, Williamson leaves Borneo, unable to live with what he has seen. He sails for India and takes up a post with the East India Company. He is sent to Cawnpore, where he finds himself at the centre of the events that will lead to the siege of the city and a massacre of Europeans unprecedented during colonial rule in the subcontinent. As with The White Rajah, the background to the story is closely based on real historical events. Williamson, ever the outsider, flits between the Indian and European camps, passing himself off as an Indian amongst the sepoys (something that we know Europeans managed to do during the Mutiny). Again, Williamson struggles to reconcile his own liberal principles and the realities of colonial life. This time it is the Europeans who are (in Cawnpore, at least) on the losing side. Williamson becomes one of a handful of people to survive the siege and its bloody aftermath. The experience marks him, though. He has watched his Indian friends massacre women and children without mercy and then been rescued by European soldiers who strike back with awful savagery. Once again he turns his back on a European colony, this time to return to England, where he hopes at last to find peace.

WHY READ IT? The siege of Cawnpore is one of those bits of colonial history that we have decided to forget about but it’s an amazing story – even if nobody involved comes out of it looking good. This lets you top up your historical knowledge and enjoy a good read at the same time. And I can’t help thinking that if more people had known anything about the history of the region, some recent foreign policy adventures might have been given a bit more thought.

Although Cawnpore is my personal favourite, some people prefer Back Home, which brings the cycle back to England. It’s on a much smaller scale than the others, with most of the action set in London’s Seven Dials, but it features the same themes. Williamson finds a country he hardly recognises. Industrialisation at home and military expansion abroad have made Britain into a dynamic political and economic power that dominates the world. Yet Williamson finds the same divide between the poor and the rich that he saw in the Far East. A friend from his youth has tried to escape his poverty by entering a life of crime in the slums of London. Faced with threats of war with France and concern about Communist terrorists, the government needs to smash a foreign plot – and if they can’t find a real foreign plot, they’re quite happy to invent one. Williamson’s friend is caught in the machinations of a Secret Service determined to prove him an enemy agent and, in his attempts to help him escape, Williamson is once again caught between the machinations of the powerful and the resistance of the powerless.

Back Home ends with Williamson back in Devon where he started out in The White Rajah. But will he finally find happiness there?

Read the book and find out.

Loot! Look what our ancestors brought back from India.

When we were in India last month, we kept seeing signs in the various historical sites we visited suggesting that a lot of good stuff had been taken by the British in the 19th century and was now tucked away in various London museums. Back home, we decided to go to one of these London museums and see what we could find.

The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A to its many friends) has a collection celebrating the arts of South Asia (that’s India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) which it claims is “recognised as one of the largest and most important in the world”.

The amount of material on display is limited, but it is very beautiful. According to Wikipedia, the V&A is “the world’s largest museum of applied arts, decorative arts and design”, so I suppose I should not have been surprised at that beauty seems to be the main consideration in organising the display.

It looks very pretty but this assemblage of objects lacks any coherence

The V&A claims that their collection reflects “the rich heritage of South Asia and its complex history of global trade, immigration and colonial rule”. Sadly, I could see little evidence of this. For example, there are some illustrations from the 16th century Akbarnama, a volume commissioned by Akbar, arguably the greatest of the Mughal emperors, to celebrate his rule. The sumptuous pictures are shown without any of the text.

Akbar Receiving an Ambassador

In fairness to the V&A, they were probably removed from the book when it was “acquired” by the Commissioner of Oudh in 1859-62. I did like that “acquired”. The annexation of Oudh (or Avadh, as the pesky Indians of the time called it) was one of the precipitating factors in the Indian Mutiny. The Commissioner’s acquisition might reasonably be described as “loot”. The V&A rather shies away from that detail. To add insult to injury, one of the five pages on display is in a completely separate display case where, presumably, the curators felt that it looked prettier alongside other pictures rather than sitting with the other four where it logically belongs.

There are some important examples of Indian culture, like this picture of details of the decoration inside the Taj Mahal – all the more interesting because it shows parts of the upper galleries which are not visible to the public. Even here, though, the detail sits alone unsupported by even a photograph of the famous tomb. There is an example of how gemstones are fitted into marble – a key element of the Taj’s decoration – but, again, this is in a separate display with nothing linking the two.

Drawing showing detail of decoration in the Taj Mahal

A photograph I took at the Taj Mahal.

A significant amount of the display space isn’t even, strictly speaking, Indian art. Presumably it is the V&A’s interest in the “complex history of global trade, immigration and colonial rule” that accounts for so many items that have been made specifically for the export trade, like the Fremlin carpet, made around 1640 and incorporating the coats of arms of William Fremlin, an official of the East India Company. The label tells me that it would have been used as a table covering in England, rather than being put on the floor, which is interesting but tells us nothing about how carpets were used in India. (Hung on walls and used as curtains as well as, presumably, on the floor, since you ask.)

The Fremlin carpet

Outside the main room is a corridor where Hindu, Jain, Muslim and pagan religious images again make an attractive display. Time periods, geographical location, and faiths all mingle in Victorian confusion. They’re lovely to look at but tell you little about the cultures that gave rise to them.

I’ve never been a great believer in returning items to the countries they came from, but looking at this distinctively colonial approach to display here, I think of all those notices about Indian artefacts that vanished to England and I wonder if I should change my mind.

What do you think?

A Word from our Sponsor

After most of a lifetime of wanting to visit India, I’m happy to write about it for ages. But the reason for posting these pieces on my blog is to encourage people to read my book, Cawnpore, set during the Indian Mutiny/War of Independence of 1857. People who’ve read it have been very nice about it, but not nearly enough people have read it. I have kept the Kindle price at just £3.99 so as to make it easily affordable. Buy it and let me know what you think.

Here’s the LINK.

A taste of India

A taste of India

I’m back from three weeks in India. We went out with an Indian friend who has been talking about us visiting the country together for around 20 years. Finally we all decided that we’re not getting any younger and if we were going to do it, we should do it now.

It was a fantastic experience, visiting her family in Bombay (Mumbai) and then doing the tourist bit: Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Jodhpur. If you’re not good, I’ll make you look at all of my 500+ photographs.

It was lovely to finally see the country that I’d written about back in 2011 with my book, Cawnpore, set during the war of 1857. It was strange writing a book set in a country I had never seen but, of course, the India of 1857 was very different from the India of today. I relied on accounts of the country by Victorian visitors. (I was writing from the viewpoint of a European living there, so the way that people like Fanny Parks saw the country was particularly useful.) We didn’t go to the city that the British knew at the time as Cawnpore. It’s called Kanpur now and almost all traces of the events of 1857 are gone. We did see some of the famous sites from back then: the Red Fort in Delhi and the fort at Agra (just along the river from the Taj Mahal).

In the Red Fort there are the barrack blocks built by the British on the ruins of some of the Moghul palace, which suffered very badly when Delhi was retaken. And in Agra there are the tiny airless rooms built into one of the corridors dating from when the British ran the province from there. There’s the grave of John Russell Colvin, the Lieutenant-Governor of the North-West Province, who died in the fort (of cholera) in 1857 and whose dying wish was to be buried there.

1857 was a long time ago and, certainly for most Indians, hardly a burning source of resentment. If anyone wants to badmouth the British, they are most likely to complain about Partition and the damage that did to their country.

In fact, the way that Indians feel about the British seems conflicted. Staying at the Cricket Club of India in Bombay, or visiting the Yacht Club there, I felt closer to the England of the 1950s than I ever do in London.

Cricket Club of India

Yacht Club

For many Indians, speaking English seems a crucial part of middle-class identity. There are adverts for private schools everywhere and most of these stress that education will be provided in English.

You can see why Prime Minister Modi sees de-colonialisation as unfinished business. Seventy-five years after India achieved independence, he is anxious to see the relationship with Britain defined in a more 21st century context.

Modi (with a white beard) presenting modern India

1857 is now celebrated as India’s First War of Independence, with characters like Nana Sahib (who led the Indian forces in Cawnpore) given the sort of uncritical acclaim that the British used to give their military leaders who might, with the wisdom of hindsight, be seen as having had a problematic approach to the way they treated their enemies.

Nana Sahib’s sword on display in the Red Fort

In reality, the events of 1857 were complex. Decades of mismanagement by the British had led to a burning resentment of their rule from many elements in Indian society and, once revolt had broken out amongst soldiers serving the British, it spread to encompass the old rulers of India and ordinary Moslems and Hindus who saw their religion under threat They were joined by people with grudges to settle and many prisoners, released by the mob in the early days of the revolt, who simply saw the chance to profit from the unrest. Violence and massacres by the rebels led to retaliation on an almost unimaginable scale from the British. It is a story from which nobody comes out well, although there was extraordinary courage and heroism demonstrated on both side.

The amazing thing is that after 1857 the British continued to rule in India for almost 100 years. Indians even volunteered in large numbers to defend Britain during the First World War.

Memorial tablet to men from Jodhpur who died in WW1

Indians believed that the British had promised independence if Indians went to fight in France. After the war, with no prospect of independence, Indian attitudes hardened. In response, the British introduced repressive legislation allowing them to imprison independence activists with no proper judicial process. Inevitably the Black Bills (as the legislation came to be known) led to protests and one such peaceful protest resulted in troops firing on an unarmed crowd with hundreds of casualties. (The precise number of dead is unknown.) This event, which came to be known as the Amritsar Massacre, is thought by many to have marked a turning point in the fight for independence.

India finally achieved independence on 15 August 1947.


Although it has a fraction of the readership of my James Burke series, Cawnpore is the book I am most proud of. It’s told from the point of view of John Williamson, a British official in the East India Company’s administration, running India on behalf of the Crown. Williamson is from a working class background and does not fit in well with the men he works alongside. He is happier making friends in the court of the local Indian ruler and immerses himself in the culture and the language. When war breaks out in 1857, he finds himself caught between two camps. As he tries to find a way out of his dilemma, the war becomes more vicious and the bodies begin to pile up.

It’s a story with no heroes and I can see why it will never be as popular as the straightforwardly swashbuckling adventures of Burke, my Napoleonic Wars hero. Even so, I stand by it as the best thing I’ve written. It’s an absurdly cheap £3.99 on Kindle. I’d be very grateful if you could read it.