Category Archives: Self-publishing

Publish and promote… a 5 point plan and a piece of advice

My new book, 70 Ways to Bullyproof Yourself, is out this month and I’ve been busy promoting.

childrensbullyingbook

It’s hard work and, as far as I can see, there are no quick, easy short cuts. But the more you do it, the less challenging it feels, and I’ve actually come to enjoy it. Here’s the 5 point plan that works for me.

1  Choose a good launch date for the particular book

I chose September for 70 Ways to Bullyproof Yourself because lots of parents and children are concerned about bullying at the start of a new school year. I thought that would be a good angle for articles and social media updates around the launch, with the added bonus of Anti Bullying Week coming up soon after for another flurry of promoting in November.

Hashtag #bullying !

2  Try to get some reviews

I always email local magazines and newspapers when I’ve got a new book coming out, offering to send them a review copy. Uptake on this one hasn’t been as good as usual, but influential book blogs are probably even more important these days, and the book got a great review from Pippa Goodhart in Awfully Big Reviews, which is full of great quotables that I can use in twitter and facebook.

Two other influential bloggers, Minerva Reads and Books for Topics have have told me their reviews will be posted around Anti Bullying Week.

Only Peters Booksellers customers get to see what the awesome librarians who review for them have to say, but I think this book must have fared all right because I’ve had several orders already.

3  Pitch some articles 

I got an article in the September issue of  Devon Life – we didn’t even discuss a fee because they let me include the cover and book details, so it was a win-win – they could view it as a free article, and I as a free one-page ad.

backtoschoolbullyingarticle

But as with reviews, blogs can be as influential as magazines these days, so I wrote  articles for The Alliance of Independent Authors blog and my lovely cover designer Rachel Lawston’s blog and did an interview with Authors Electric.

It’s all very time consuming, but I find that pitching and writing articles is a really good way of focusing my ideas about what the book is actually about and why people should read it – the process helps me find the so-called elevator pitch.

4  Get some bookmarks and fliers

Rachel offers promotional bits and pieces such as this as part of her cover design package, which is wonderful because she can create everything to fit the book’s branding. Everything carries my website address, so it’s like handing out a business card really.

bullyingbooks

 

5  Organise some events

I almost always have a launch party to celebrate the publication of a new book, because it feels important to me to celebrate and you can add photos and updates to the buzz you’re trying to build in your social networks, but I just haven’t had time with 70 Ways to Bullyproof Yourself.

I’ll usually try to do arrange some author talks in my local libraries, bookshops and festivals around launch time too, but that hasn’t happened – same problem. It’s partly because I’m still doing my free-range writing tour to celebrate Free-Range Writing: 75 Forays for the Wild Writer’s Soul – talks and workshops throughout the year just wherever I happen to be (the next ones are in Cheltenham on Sunday September 30th, Launceston on October 10th and Bath on Friday October 19th)

A piece of advice

That brings me to my personal piece of advice for other inde authors around launch time – and most traditionally published authors, come to that, since publishers usually expect you to do most of the promoting yourself.

Make a list of all the possible things you could do, such as publications you could approach for a review or articles you could pitch around the subject, but don’t expect yourself to be able to do it all.

Be able, after a month or two, to ditch the list or cut it right back to anything you still quite fancy doing – I’ve got a few publications that have expressed interest in articles, for example, but I won’t be pitching to new ones.

Promoting a book is stressful and you need to look after yourself, and part of that, for a writer, is looking after your writing.

After several months of focusing on trying to get these two 70 Ways books noticed, I’m  letting that be one of my low level background activities and switching my attention back towards starting some new writing projects.

What have I missed in my 5 point plan? New ideas for promoting my next book would be most welcome!

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Organising an indie author book tour

When I published my latest book, Free-range writing: 75 Forays for the Wild Writer’s Soul, I decided to celebrate it with some author talks and workshops, as I always do with a new book.

JA_FRW_CVR_EBOOK_CVR copy

In publication week, I did both a talk and a free-range writing workshop at Looe Literary Festival. I got subsequent bookings for talks at the Liskeard bookshop and Totnes Library, and for workshops at Launceston Library and the Penzance Literary Festival.

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We launched at Looe

But this time I didn’t want to just stick to my local area – the theme of the book sparked the idea in me that I’d like to go free-ranging around the UK.

I live in Cornwall but I go away a lot for visits to family and friends, meetings and events, and my plan was simply to try and fix up free-range writing workshops in places I was already planning to visit. That way, I could spread my tour across the year and it would be both low stress and light on expenses.

I emailed independent bookshops, libraries and festivals in various parts of the country I often visit; then I waited to hear back. But although I sent out exactly the same proposal as I’d sent out locally, none of the bookshops and libraries outside my area got back to me, except the completely excellent Orkney Library, which is up for an event next time I’m there. (Shout out to Orkney Library for recently celebrating reaching over 50,000 followers on twitter. Be there or be square!)

Orkney library's famous balls
Orkney Library’s famous balls

I thought my little tour was dead in the water, but then it gradually dawned on me that bookshop and library events are almost always either local authors or else ones with a high profile nationally.

So I wouldn’t be able to get events outside the South West in the normal way, by approaching bookshops and libraries – I would have to approach it from a completely different angle. I had to stop asking myself, ‘What would a publicity department do?’ and, for my independently published books, start thinking like an inde.

So here’s my first tip: Think like an inde

I was booked to teach a workshop in Peterborough for Writing Magazine in April, planning to stay with my sister-in-law in Stamford afterwards, but my first enquiry to the library there had gone unanswered and I’d had a no from the bookshop. However, the bookshop owner had kindly taken the time to suggest I contact the Arts Centre.

Why hadn’t I thought of that? Because I was in traditional book-tour mode, looking for hosting in bookshops and libraries, and not thinking like an inde. I booked a meeting room in the Stamford Arts Centre, sent them a poster to put up on their noticeboard and put the word out via social media.

I decided not to pay for advertising, because then I would have to charge more for places, and I already had to cover room hire. I braced myself for the possibility that I might only get one or two bookings, if I got any at all, and that would leave me out of pocket.

But the workshop was fully booked. Fourteen lovely local writers round the table, and a thoroughly enjoyable session. I’m hoping to provide another workshop there, on a different theme, next time I’m in the area.

I was elated! I set about finding meeting rooms in other towns I would be visiting later in the year. I searched ‘meeting rooms’, but soon became disheartened, because even the smallest ones were really expensive to hire. The world of meeting rooms wasn’t geared up to serve private events for small independents like me.

Tip two: Think like an author

I was ready to give up again when it occurred to me to try a different tack: writing workshops aren’t business meetings – there’s no corporate budget. What’s more, numbers are small and writers aren’t generally known for their high spending power. I searched again, this time not for meeting rooms but for writing groups in the towns I was going to, in order to find out where they held their meetings.

I found that writers’ groups were meeting in cafes and community buildings, pubs and Quaker houses, all at much lower prices than business meeting rooms, and I booked myself some rooms in Cheltenham and Bath, to tie in with my next two trips up-country. Here are the posters.

Cheltenham

Manvers Street Baptist Church

It’s still scary, because what if no-one comes? But I get a real buzz from teaching these workshops, so I’ll be tweeting and posting on facebook, and hoping for the best.

This approach might not work for all indie authors, but I haven’t got any bestselling ambitions or desire for fame. With all my writing books, articles, blogs and workshops, besides needing to pay my bills, my main aim is to create and participate in communities of readers and writers, and my free-range writing tour is helping me to take that further.

I’ll be looking for venues in Oxford and London soon – does anyone know any cheap, writerly rooms in those cities?

In the meantime, if  you live near Bath or Cheltenham, do check out my upcoming free-range writing workshops in those cities, and please tell your writing friends! 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

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.

IMG_0017

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