Does it matter that a title’s been used before?

There’s no copyright on book titles. I didn’t realise that to start with and fretted that I couldn’t ever use a title that had been used before, but I can, although it’s still needs thinking about.

The easiest way to check is to do what I did yesterday – draw up a shortlist and then look each title up on the Amazon data base. I know it’s lazy, but it’s quick. Looking carefully at what comes up helps me to decide whether a previously used title could be used again. If the title has been used before, which almost all titles have, I look for various criteria:

  1. Was the previous book the same genre? I want a title for my novel: if the previous title was for non-fiction, it’s unlikely that someone looking it up would be confused.
  2. Has the title been used in the UK, or just in North America or elsewhere around the world? If it’s just in the US, for example, I wouldn’t hesitate to use the title again.
  3. Was the title previously used for a paperback, or just for an ebook? I publish in both formats, and I might still choose to use the title again, although I might slip down the priority order
  4. How long ago was the title I want used previouslyFALLOUT_Ruth Sutton-1? If it’s within the past year or two, that could be a problem. In 2014, when I was looking for a title for my novel set in and around the Windscale reactor fire in Cumbria in 1957, the title ‘Fallout’ was an obvious choice, and I really wanted it. Just three months before we went to print another novel appeared with that title, published in the UK, and I had to make the choice. In the end I decided to go ahead, but I’ve noticed that since publication we’ve had two copies returned – which I guess arose from the confusion over the title. I still think I made the right decision, though, and the cover is pretty special too. ‘Garish’ someone called it, but at least it gets noticed.

When I’ve checked all these criteria, I find that some titles don’t feel so appealing, as they have been used before many times, and quite recently. The exercise yesterday brought the list of eight possible titles down to two or three, which was helpful. Once my trusty editor returns from her hols the fateful decision will be made and possible covers will then be designed. Still on schedule for publication in November 2016.


Swanning off to Swanage

This week has been ridiculously busy, even by my standards, and the evenings seem to have been divided between music concerts (2), football matches and cricket on TV (too many hours to contemplate) and watering the veggies. After the usual scramble and frustrations of dealing with ebook publishing, eg discovering that my Mac OS x is out of date and Kindle previewer isn’t working etc, the Kindle version of ‘Fallout’ is now available, hurray. By some happy chance this week was booked for a holiday in Swanage, in a cottage without Wifi – which was not intentional but might prove a useful break from all its potential for distraction. The bag is almost packed and I’ll be off shortly.

So for seven whole days I shall leave behind the book sales, Twitter and all things digital and devote myself instead to visiting stately homes and gardens, reading, walking, and few more hours watching football, cricket and tennis too. If the weather does what is predicted I might even venture into the sea for my first sea swims of the year. Bliss.

In the meantime, if you do manage to buy, download and read ‘Fallout’ please tell me what you think, or put a review on Amazon if you can. I love to get feedback, the more detailed the better, and stuff on Amazon always helps. See you in ten days or so.

Selling books on Amazon: what’s going on?

I got a phone call: ‘Do you know someone is charging £50 for one of your novels on Amazon?’ I didn’t know whether to be flattered or horrified, so I settled for being confused. I checked on my Mac, and the information was what I expected: the Kindle versions of my books were there, front and centre, but the paperback version took another few clicks to access. I also noted that Hoad Press – that’s my own imprint – was only one of a list of sellers, some of whom were charging very odd prices. I guess that’s just Amazon punishing us small sellers for not giving them the fulfillment role which makes them lots more money than hosting other sellers.

But then I went onto the Amazon books site using my ipad and completely different windows came up. A friend who tried on her ipad got different information again. ‘Try ABEBooks’, she said. ‘They’re owned by Amazon, so they should carry your books too.’ No such luck. Hoad Press don’t exist according to them, and an odd collection of my education books appeared, some of them seriously dated. As we talked and checked these anomalies, I realised that I could spend all my time trying to sort it all out. I also understood why the number of Amazon paperback orders which was only ever a trickle has recently dried up completely. Not for the first time I reflected on the fact that I can sell ten books in ten minutes at a book group or library talk, of which I do quite a few in the Cumbria area, and make as much money as I would earn through Amazon ‘real book’ sales in several months. With my time precious, how would I rather spend it, sending off plaintive emails to Amazon and receiving stock responses back, or meeting the people who want to hand over their money to the author herself? No contest, which probably demonstrates only what an amateur I am.

When the big breakthrough comes, when Richard and Judy are singing my praises, when agents are beating a path to my door and the film rights are up for grabs, maybe then I’ll trust Amazon with ‘fulfillment’ and not even think about it. But for now, I’ll keep plugging away at selling through my website and Paypal, and doing what I enjoy – writing, talking about writing and selling to my readers direct whenever I can.

To sell or not to sell

When I published my first non-fiction books about education, many years ago, we sold through old-fashioned mail order, and directly to clients when I was working with them. Then I started writing fiction, and set up a website where customers could buy my novels as well as the non-fiction books, using Paypal. I thought we would sell more that way than any other, but that has proved to be quite mistaken. The majority of my paperback novel sales have been through retailers around Cumbria, to local people and to some of the millions of visitors to the Lake District every year who enjoy – as I do – reading about where they are. Ebook sales have been quite good, but again seasonal, with the winter time being slower than the summer, reflecting the number of people who are visiting and seeing my books on sale. We sell through Amazon, and through other bookshops that use distributors such as Neilsen, but not many compared to the actual bookshop sales.

Looking ahead, my hope is to reach more readers, within and beyond the Cumbria region, and that the larger bookshop chains will then be encouraged to stock the books. I need to publicise more, and that’s a goal for when the full trilogy is finished and out there, by early summer 2014. The publication of Part 2, Forgiven, boosted the sales of Part 1, A Good Liar, and the third one ‘Fallout’ could have the same effect. I hope so. But setting up this new WordPress blog has prompted me to consider whether I want to sell books through this website. I think not. To do so would mean an upgrade to allow me to use the site commercially, and is it worth it for the proportion of sales that have come via that route? Instead, I think I’ll use this site to blog about the writing process, use the written word to clarify my own thinking, and engage with other writers and readers too.

If people want to buy my books, they have various opportunities to do so, in both paperback and ebook form. Sales will not be spectacular, but there’s no sell-by date on historical fiction and sales should be steady year by year. Already we’re re-printing ‘A Good Liar’ as stocks of the first 1500 print run are almost finished. Word of mouth and a little local publicity seem to be working. Now if I could just persuade people to buy the books rather than lend their own copy to every friend and relation who wants to read it, that would be good!