Category Archives: Self-publishing

Your book has been published – is there any point in having a website?

A new author asked me recently whether I thought it would be worth her while to set up a website. ‘I like the thought of having a platform out there, but obviously if nobody is going to look at it then there’s no point…’

I would ask, is there any point in NOT having a website? It doesn’t cost anything and with platforms like this one (wordpress) it isn’t difficult to set one up, even for someone as technically challenged as me.

Your website is like your shop window. You can point people towards it via your social networking profiles, email signatures, business cards and any other promos you can think of, such as bookmarks, and show them what you do.

You can install ‘buy now’ buttons, so they can instantly order your book from you if they like what they see (but be careful not to undercut amazon on price, or they’ll delist it).

The job of writing the text and adding images is entirely pleasurable if you love writing – and I’m guessing you must, as you’ve actually managed to complete a whole novel.

You’re trying to convey a sense of you as the author – your style, as well as the style of your book. You want your website visitors to know, from reading your site, what kind of reading experience they might expect to find in your books.

The content you choose to include will also probably reflect the kind of books you write. For example, I’ve got a fair amount of personal information on my website’s ‘About’ page, because I share my own experiences in my non-fiction, and write in a personal kind of voice.

In the separate area on my site for my children’s books, the content and voice is aimed at younger readers, including a second ‘About’ page with different information on.

Screen Shot 2018-03-06 at 17.08.25

 

Just as with the content and voice of the text, the visual style of your blog should have the same feel as your books. A romantic novelist, for example, needs a style that’s completely different from a lit fic writer.

Setting up your own website makes keeping it updated really easy – you’re not having to send a batch of updates to a web designer every couple of weeks or months – and it evolves like any other kind of creative work.

As well as being a shop window for you and your work, your website can be a hub for all your networks. You can add links to your blog, if you have one, to your social media profiles and also a sign-up button to your mailing list (I use mailchimp for mine – definitely worth checking out).

If you’re new to all this, it can feel daunting setting up a website, but remember no one can see anything until you press ‘publish.’ Even then, you can just publish to a few people if you like, and get their feedback first, rather than going public straight away. So play around and enjoy it!

Rather like when your book is published, when you publish your website it won’t suddenly mean gazillions of people are flocking to read it. For almost everyone, it’s a slow build. But you don’t need gazillions of people to like your work.

If you can get a couple of hundred people who like it enough to tell their friends, with any luck that could set the snowball rolling, and your readership will begin to grow.

So friends, if you liked this post, please tweet, fb or share it. The buttons are all here below, for your convenience!

 

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You’ve finished writing your book – what now?

I get a fair few emails from people who have completed their first novel and want some advice on how to get it published. It’s really time consuming to keep repeating the same things, so I’ve decided to put my thoughts in a blog post – then all I’ll have to do when I reply is send them the link!

The first thing to say is ‘Well done!’ Seriously. I mean it. Writing a novel is a huge undertaking. People who’ve never tried it have no idea how hard it is, and a lot of people who do try find they can’t go the distance.

Having said that, make sure you actually have finished it.  Getting the story down is only the start. Once you’ve completed your first draft, you need to redraft and keep redrafting until the book is as good as you can possibly make it.

I’m not going to go into the issues with redrafting here, because it would take too long, and I’ve already written about crafting your novel at some length in my book Happy Writing: Beat your blocks, be published and find your flowwhere you can find loads of tips and advice.

When you’ve written your novel, crafted it, got it as good as you can get it, then you have three choices:

  1. Decide not to publish
  2. Try to find a traditional publisher
  3. Publish it yourself.

You’ll have discovered, having reached this stage, that publication isn’t the only point in writing a book. The process itself is intensely challenging, and intensely rewarding. That’s another thing that people who have never written a novel may not understand.

So although publication is certainly an option, it isn’t the only reason why you might decide to write and keep writing.

Option 2 is still the route most new authors want to start with, and I think that’s a good idea, unless you’re writing something you know you can find readers for yourself.

There are no short cuts that I’m aware of. Most major publishers will only read agented manuscripts, so you need to check out agents’ websites and look carefully at which books and authors they represent, or check out authors writing the same kind of story as you, and find out who their agent is.

When you’ve got 4-6 agents who seem like a possible fit, contact them, following their guidelines for new submissions. Some prefer email, some letters. Keep it brief, don’t big yourself up – ‘My book’s better than Harry Potter and I’m going to be bigger than JK Rowling!’ (Somebody actually wrote exactly that in their covering letter when I worked for a reading agency).

Also, avoid mentioning that your mum/friends/children love your stories so they must be good. Of course your mum/friends/children love your stories – they love you!

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If you want to take a punt at approaching publishers direct, find books similar to yours and check out their publishers’ websites. They may say they accept un-agented manuscripts and, if so, make sure you follow their submissions guidelines.

The wheels move exceeding slow in traditional publishing, so don’t be surprised if you have to wait weeks for a response. It’s also incredibly competitive, so don’t feel too disheartened if you can’t get any takers.

That would once have been the end of the road for your novel but now we’ve got Option 3 – self-publishing. My advice if you’re considering this route is to check out the Alliance of Independent Authors – they have a fantastic blog and, for members, a really  useful fb group where you can always find people who know the answers to any questions you may have concerning any aspect of the self-publishing process.

Again, I’ve written about the various routes to publication in Happy Writing, so I won’t go into it at any more length here.

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Happy Writing – it’s all here!

Whichever route you take, you’ll have to learn how to use social media and be willing to get out there and promote yourself and your book. Also, whichever route you take, you’re very unlikely to be able to give up the day job and earn your living from writing.

Nobody ever believes this, but it’s a fact. Check out the last authors earnings survey by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society – bearing in mind it was compiled in 2014, and things have gone on getting worse since then. Read this clear and honest article by author Dawn Finch on her own experiences – and the comments from other authors at the end.

Most authors have to supplement their income from books by doing some teaching, editing, mentoring or a different kind of work that isn’t related to writing at all.

There’s one other thing people sometimes ask me – do I have any contacts that might be helpful to them? I personally probably don’t but anyway, I obviously wouldn’t want to recommend someone’s book without having first read it, and I simply don’t have time to read manuscripts for people I don’t know.

I used to work for a reading agency, Cornerstones, but I gave it up for precisely that reason – reading manuscripts takes a long time, and writing appraisals even longer. If you’re a new author,  please don’t ask authors you’ve never met to do this work for nothing. It’s simply not a reasonable request.

An agency like Cornerstones will do a brilliant job of that for you and, if they spot publishing potential in your manuscript, they can help you try to find an agent. But obviously it will cost you.

So there it is! Well done, good luck, and I hope I’ve been able to be helpful. In my next post, I’ll address another question people often email me about – whether writers need a blog or website and how to set one up.

Have you got any experiences or advice you’d like to share with someone who has just finished writing their book? 

A therapist for the non-writing writer

Writing. It’s amazing. It can help us to

  • explore and gain mastery in our inner worlds of emotion and imagination
  • develop, organise and share our ideas
  • satisfy our natural yearning to create beautiful objects
  • make our own entertainment and never get bored

The way children learn to write at school completely ignores all these wonderful benefits and that’s why, ten years ago, I wrote my children’s book, How to be a Brilliant Writer focusing not just on the nuts and bolts of how to do it, but also why you might want to, and what writing can do for you.

I knew I’d want to write some books for adults about writing one day too, because I’m a bit of a maven – when I’ve found something great, I just have to share it.

In the spirit of the maven, I'm sharing the fab book I first found the word in
In the spirit of the maven, I’m sharing the fab book I first found the word in

After Writing in the House of Dreams last year, which is about dreams as much as writing, I started work on a new book just about writing, no dreams – writing as a hobby, a spiritual path, a career – the psychology, the process, the question of publication – a distilling down of what I’ve learned from a lifetime of writing and twenty three years of being published. I called it When a Writer Isn’t Writing: How to Beat Your Blocks, Be Published and Find Your Flow.

I didn’t offer the manuscript to my agent or traditional publishers, but decided instead to go straight to self-publishing. The main reason was that I wanted to get a second book out fairly quickly after Writing in the House of Dreams, as I thought two books on different aspects of the same theme might support each other in the market – if someone read one and liked it, they might take a punt on the other.

Writing my book about writing was relatively easy because I’d been thinking about it for several years before I sat down to start. Sending the manuscript out to beta readers – which is really important when a book isn’t going to go through the traditional agent+publishers vetting process – also felt unchallenging, because I was confident in the material.

Working with the editor and then the designer felt like part of the creative process of the book, so I enjoyed that too, but then I had to get to grips with some promotion and pre-publicity, and that certainly didn’t feel like part of the creative process to me.

When the focus lifts from writing to sales, my interest always dips, and with this book I began to sabotage my promotional efforts by thinking ‘what’s the point anyway?’ which made it even harder to feel motivated.

One of the things that got me thinking that way was that my experience with Writing in the House of Dreams had been mixed. I had struggled to find my elevator pitch, because that book straddled two areas of interest, dream-working and writing, so it didn’t fit neatly into either. (My thanks again to Susan Price, who described the book perfectly in her review of it, and so helped me reframe how I describe it myself)

Not having a clear enough concept, all my efforts to get some pre-publicity for it hadn’t achieved very much, and had felt like a waste of good writing time.

I was on the point of deciding to just press publish and let When a Writer Isn’t Writing sink or swim without a shout, when I had this dream:

I’m thinking about my app Get Writing! and I see that the tasks could be represented by people sitting on a wall, and you could click any one, and they would all take you to a writing task. Just writing, so you could click with confidence, knowing what you were going to get.

When a Writer Isn’t Writing is like that, which means it will be easier to pitch and sell than Writing in the House of Dreams. That book could take a writer places they don’t want to go, but When a Writer Isn’t Writing only takes them into writing. 

This dream gave me the energy and confidence to stop messing around and do some promoting, and I managed to place articles in Mslexia and The Author. Mslexia have subsequently approached me to ask if I’d like them to feature the book in their October competition. Er… yes please!

There will be reviews on the book analyst and awfullybigreviews, which I’ll link to here when they go up (if you’re a book blogger and would like a review copy, please get in touch!) I’m also organising a launch party in September.

It’s been a tough couple of months, not because self-publishing, writing press releases, pitching articles and organising events is hard and horrible work – I actually quite enjoy it – but because it takes up so much head-space that it stops you getting stuck into new writing.

My daily dose of writing – every stage from pondering and note-taking to drafting and redrafting – is what normally keeps me feeling happy and grounded. Writing isn’t just amazing – it’s addictive.

A non writing writer is a monster courting insanity | Franz Kafka

Dreams are my therapist when not writing makes me feel a bit crazy – what helps you?

Impatience is a form of resistance

Sometimes, I look fondly back on my early days as an author, when the whole job was simply writing books, and the wheels moved very slowly indeed.

The act of writing was slower because, in the days of typewriters, even a minor change such as choosing a different name for a character could be a long-winded redrafting task, searching through reams of paper armed with a tippex brush.

When the manuscript was finally finished and neatly packaged up, it made its leisurely way to the agent or publisher via the Royal Mail, and some weeks later, their response would eventually come back.

 

In those days, I was blissfully unaware of sales figures and marketing, publicity and self-promotion, and I certainly didn’t have anything at all to do with the publishing process.

In many ways, being an author twenty years ago was far less stressful, but there are lots of things I love about being an author now:

  • Word processing has made every stage of writing much easier and quicker. It means I can make manuscripts that look brilliant and are a pleasure to work on from the earliest outline to the final draft.
  • The internet means I can have frequent contact with readers who follow my blogs or read my books. Their feedback and ideas are both encouraging and inspiring to me.
  • Self-publishing means I don’t have to have unsold manuscripts languishing on my shelves, out of print books consigned to obscurity or projects I want to work on having to be abandoned because they’re unlikely to find a mainstream publisher.

The only problem is that, while I positively enjoy all the opportunities this new way of being an author presents, there’s an awful lot on my to-do list, and if I have to take unexpected time out because of illness, as has happened recently, things can quickly get out of hand.

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On my to-do list right now, I’ve got:

  • redraft my YA novel Drift from editor’s suggestions
  • ditto my next adult non-fiction When a Writer Isn’t Writing
  • write design and cover brief for Drift and When a Writer for designer
  • redraft my iPhone and iPad app Get Writing! following testers’ suggestions
  • plan my workshop for the home educated group
  • write my commissioned article for The Author
  • pitch further mag articles in time for the September launches of Drift and When a Writer
  • write blog articles for writinginthehouseofdreams and girlsheartbooks
  • write my guest blog article for Val Andrews’ Art For Happiness blog
  • write the new children’s fantasy novel that I’ve had in outline since New Year

All those years ago when I started out, and everything seemed so slow, I had a postit on my study wall to remind me, ‘Impatience is a form of resistance.’

When  writing my new book can’t seem to get off the bottom of the list, I still have to remind myself of that today.

Money from self-publishing – it’s not just about how many books you sell

Just after I self-published Writing in the House of Dreams I blogged about my financial outlay in Self-publishing: What are the actual costs? Five months on, I thought you might like a progress report.

I initially registered the book in the amazon Select programme, which meant I couldn’t publish through any competing outlets for at least 90 days. The benefit of Select is that you can offer your book either free or on a sliding scale of reduced rates in a promotion which, while not making you any money, should make your book more visible and improve its amazon sales ranking.

I didn’t realise that you could only do one promotion in the 90 day period, and I don’t think the one I did really achieved anything for my book, so I wouldn’t personally enrol a book in the Select programme again.

As soon as the 90 day period was up, I took Writing in the House of Dreams out of the programme and made it available as an ebook via all the major online retailers, including Nook and apple, as well as amazon.

I’m thinking of publishing the paperback through Ingram Spark as well as Createspace (which is part of amazon), though I haven’t investigated whether amazon allow this (does anyone out there know?) I’m happy with the quality of the paperback, but apparently some bookshops are reluctant to sell books published by amazon. Happily, I have had orders from several independents as well as book wholesalers Bertram’s and Gardner’s.

Sales have been slow, and that hasn’t come as a surprise because the very reason the book didn’t secure a traditional deal was that publishers deemed writing about dreams as a creative resource rather than from the psychological angle ‘too niche to achieve bulk sales.’

But I’ve had some wonderful emails from readers and a big boost in demand for workshops, which my agent predicted would happen. The book includes lots of writing exercises I use in my general writing workshops, not just the ones which involve working with dreams.

I’ve also hand-sold a fair number of copies through events and workshops. All in all, I’ve recovered less than half my costs through book sales so far, but I’ve had enough extra workshop bookings on the back of it to make up the difference several times over, as well as an article on creative image-work for authors in the next edition of Mslexia.

This reflects the fiscal facts of being traditionally published, because very few authors indeed can make a living from royalties these days. Most have to supplement their income from books with some kind of day job, or spin-off work on the back of their books, such as teaching and speaking engagements.

I’m hoping sales will gradually build, through workshops and word of mouth, but I don’t want to annoy my twitter and facebook followers by over-promoting, so my strategy now is to bring out a second much more mainstream book on writing as soon as possible. If readers enjoy either one of these two books, maybe they might take a punt on the other.

Writing and dreams
Writing and dreams
Just writing - no dreams!
Just writing – no dreams!

This second book is called When a Writer Isn’t Writing: How to beat Your Blocks and Find Your FlowI’m going straight to self-publishing with it because

  1. it’s much quicker – I can bring the book out in September this year
  2. I can create a brand look with Writing in the House of Dreams
  3. I will only need to sell a fraction of the number of copies to make the same amount of money as I would if the book was traditionally published, and i have plenty of opportunities for hand-selling at writing events and workshops

Speaking of workshops, check out these pics from last week’s residential at The Writing Retreat in beautiful Lamorna, where I was invited to speak and teach a session on writing dialogue. Good times!

Rosemerryn - The Writers' Retreat
Rosemerryn – The Writing Retreat
Writing dialogue round the table at Rosemerryn
Writing dialogue round the table at Rosemerryn

What are the most important things?

I loved Abi Burlingham’s post Diary of 2014 so I’m shamelessly nicking the idea for the House of Dreams.

At the turning of the New Year, I always look back and take stock of the old, as well as focusing my goals for the year to come. In day-to-day life, it can sometimes feel like work is the most important thing, but when I look back, I can clearly see it isn’t.

So here are my highlights of 2014.

January

I started the year with a new experiment – two Saturday workshops, ‘Writing the New Year In’ and ‘Under the Ice: Writing in the Chilly Heart of Winter.’ I always enjoy bringing people round my kitchen table to write, and eating together in the middle of a whole day’s writing turned out to be icing on the cake.

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I’ll definitely be offering more Saturday workshops in 2015.

February

I met up with lots of writing friends at the Scattered Authors Conference in Peterborough. Peterborough’s a long way from Cornwall but the drive took me within a hop skip and a jump of Oxford, so I stopped off on the way home to spend the afternoon with my younger daughter.

Wittenham Clumps
Wittenham Clumps

 

We had the most delightful evening walk on Wittenham Clumps and supper in a riverside pub.

March

My birthday is in March, and I love my birthdays, however many I have. All my kids came down to Cornwall, plus their partners,  and we had a really fun few days just messing around.

My cake – fresh strawberries and cream, and very glam candles

April

In April, I finally decided enough was enough with trying to get permissions for all the quotations I wanted to use in Writing in the House of Dreams, which was a great relief.

I substituted the ones I hadn’t been able to get permission for with some quotes from older books which were out of copyright. I will never write another book with lots of quotations – I’ve blogged about it here.

I joyfully embarked upon the actual publishing process, finding an editor and a designer for the covers and layouts.

May

A trip up to London to visit my sons was definitely the highlight of May, and while I was there I stayed one night with some great friends who years ago were my editors, and had lunch the next day with writing friend, Jennie Walters.

June

Time to shake out the tent for the first camping trip of the year! I met up with some friends down at the far end of Cornwall in Treen. The last time we camped together was a couple of years ago at Scourie, on the North West coast of Scotland.

Fabulous campsite, fabulous beaches, fabulous night at the Minack, just a short walk across Porthcurno beach from the site. I also felt comparatively efficient for a change, because they forgot their tent poles!

Walking down to one of the beaches near Treen
Walking down to one of the beaches near Treen

July

July started with the Scattered Authors’ retreat at Charney Manor in Oxfordshire and finished with a glorious couple of baking hot weeks in the tent on Coll and Tiree.

Last evening on Coll - a good book and a comfy cafe. Bliss!
Last evening on Coll – a good book and a comfy cafe. Bliss!

When I’m camping on my own, I find lots of people talk to me, so it can be surprisingly sociable.

August

On up from Coll and Tiree to Orkney to stay with my older daughter and her partner, before cramming ourselves and all our camping gear into her little car and taking the ferry to Shetland.

Westsandwick beach on Yell, where we spent a few hours instead of walkingg on, because I fell down a rabbit hole and hurt my leg :(
Westsandwick beach on Yell, where we spent a few hours instead of walkingg on, because I fell down a rabbit hole and hurt my leg 😦

Baltasound in Unst, where we were camping, made the national papers for rainfall the first night we were there. But on the upside, we happened to be camping in the garden of a hostel with a warm kitchen and a big washing machine, so we had lots of tea and toast through the small hours with other campers who had also got flooded out.

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September

Home again, and a frantic time getting ready to launch Writing in the House of Dreams.

I got the covers and edits for my next children’s book, The Binding and remembered how much easier it is being published when you’re not doing everything yourself!

October

My book launch! Three of my children made it, coming down from Orkney and London, and so did my ex husband, from Brighton. Our youngest had just started a new job and unfortunately couldn’t get any time off.

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I was really grateful to have them there because launching my child-of-the-heart book into the world turned out to be really emotional.

November

Some very enjoyable promotional events for Writing in the House of Dreams, including a day in Totnes Library and an evening at View the Gallery, two of my favourite places, run by two of my favourite people.

Then there was a weekend at Daymer Bay with a dozen friends, which was brilliant, and a weekend of sacred and spiritual singing at Cullacott Manor with ace singing teacher Abbie Lathe, where we chanted by candle light for an hour or more between workshops. Magical.

Chanting by candlelight
Chanting by candlelight

December

Well, December’s all about Christmas, isn’t it? Family and friends. Looking back over my year I guess it’s pretty clear that those are, as they always have been, my most important things.

This year's tree - I'm going for the understated look!
This year’s tree – I’m going for the understated look!

When I started this post, I was intending to tell you about the highs and lows of my working year, but you already know about that if you’ve been following my blog.

The main problem in 2014 when it comes to work has been that I haven’t managed to finish the book I began writing in January When a Writer Isn’t Writing: How to beat Your Blocks and Find Your Flow because of all the new things I’ve had to get my head around with learning how to self-publish (ironic, given the subject matter!)

I’m not sorry I put so much time and effort into learning about self-publishing. I think it will free up and enable my writing from here on in, because I won’t have to be so tied to trying to please the market. I can be more adventurous.

But I feel very frustrated that I’ve only had a few months in the whole of the year when I was able to fully immerse myself in new writing.

I can’t wait to get back to it in 2015.

Thank you for visiting the House of Dreams this year. May 2015 bring you lots of happiness and new creative adventures.