Tag Archives: self-publishing

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?

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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

I do this every year!

Several people have contacted me recently to say they were missing my posts here in the House of Dreams and ask why I haven’t been blogging. Thank-you, bless you – you know who you are. It’s lovely to be missed 🙂

I always plan to blog throughout the summer but let’s face it, I go off the radar every year because when it’s fine I want to be at the beach. There are three reasons why this year’s break has been longer than usual.

Swimming selfie in Tiree
Swimming selfie in Tiree
  1. The weather’s been amazing, and I’ve had a total of five glorious weeks out and about with my little tent, mostly with no internet or mobile connection.
  2. Before I set off on my travels, I was working with a branding and marketing consultant to try and create a more unified web presence, instead of having a children’s author site and this completely different area for dreams, workshops and writing books. I was holding off until it was up and running, but that’s taking much longer than I hoped and I’ve been missing blogging, so I’m back!
  3. I’ve been super-busy doing last-minute things for Writing in the House of Dreams such as checking proofs, ordering copies, setting up a  Writing in the House of Dreams – the Book page here on the blog and sorting out some publicity before publication day on October 15th.

Yes, it’s that close – five weeks, and that means five posts to publication. What will be in these countdown posts? Dreams! Because I really do ‘write in the House of Dreams,’ I get guidance in my dream-life for all my work, and I’m going to tell you five dreams that have helped me overcome various anxieties I had about self-publishing and really come to love it.

This post is just to say ‘Hello – I’m back – is anyone there?’ My normal posting day is Wednesday, so come back tomorrow for the first of my five pre-publication posts and read about the dream that helped me focus on the money side of self-publishing.

 

I’m giving you four stars, amazon

amazon ****

I’m giving you four stars, amazon. You lose that elusive fifth one because of your  absolute resistance to removing malicious or inaccurate customer reviews, such as the one that appeared in amazon UK on my bullying book for children which called victims ‘pansies’ and said they should get in with the cool kids by smoking and doing whatever it takes.

Or the one you’re currently refusing to take down on the same book in amazon US, which slanders me as an authority on bullying by stating that I advise bullied children to hit back.

Surely this is slander?
Surely this is slander?

But notwithstanding such a serious shortcoming, here’s why this author still thinks you deserve four stars.

* You make all my books readily available

High Street booksellers are great at selling children’s fiction, but before you arrived, I wrote eight fantastically well-reviewed children’s self-help books which proved impossible for them to sell. If they stocked them, they didn’t know where to display them.

There wasn’t such a thing in the UK as a children’s self-help section, indeed in most shops, there wasn’t much children’s non-fiction at all, except school-type books and a handful of tired-looking hard-backs about animals.

Thanks to you, most of my self-help books are still in print and selling well, and they’re finding their way into the hands of children who need them, which is why I wrote them.

* You keep my out-of-print books available too

This is even more important nowadays because the modern publishing world can be brutal, with books going out of print within a few months if they fail to reach their projected sales.

It’s hard to write a book. Not just in terms of work, but in terms of emotional commitment. So it’s simply heart-breaking if the book you’ve taken years to write and months to sell, and then waited eighteen months to see in print, disappears without trace before it’s even had a proper chance, to make way for ever more celebrity memoirs and novelty books.

* You make it possible for me to write what I want to write

When I was first published, authors were barely aware of ‘the market’ at all. Now the decision to publish is made by marketing people who will not even have read the book, so there’s not much point writing anything that hasn’t got a strong ‘hook’ and pound signs all around it.

But what if you want to write the books you want to write, and would be happy with moderate sales so long as you could pay your bills? My most frequent feedback from publishers recently is that the book is ‘too niche for the market’ or ‘too niche to achieve bulk sales.’

This is especially hard when they’re really positive about the quality of the book, like with my most recent submission, which has so far not secured a contract: ‘this is a very fine novel, so subtle, yet sharply observed’, ‘a sensitive subject, delicately and carefully handled’, ‘compelling’, ‘highly readable’, ‘the writing is very strong.’

I would be in despair at this stage if it wasn’t for your kindle and createspace, amazon, which mean that even the most ‘niche’ book can at least find some readers, rather than ending up a typescript on a shelf.

*  You make it easy for me to find any niche or out-of-print book I want to read for research 

I used to rely on the library service years ago. My little local branch sought out all sorts of obscure books on dreaming and psychology for me, but it took a long time and wasn’t always successful. Now, thanks to you, I can get any book I want, delivered to my house the very next day.

I still love High Street booksellers, of course – all authors do. High Street booksellers love and know about books – they are people like us. Whereas you, amazon, love and know about money. I deplore the fact that you don’t pay your fair share of taxes; I’m dismayed by your recently well-publicised poor working conditions.

I hate your attempts to force publishers to accept deep discounting by removing their books from your catalogue, although I don’t think it’s much different from what all the major retailers do.

But I personally forgive you all this, because in a traditional publishing environment that has become increasingly difficult for a non-fiction, non-bestselling, niche author to survive in, you make a creative career feel possible.

How do you feel about amazon and the huge online booksellers? Love, hate… or a bit of both?

 

 

 

When this happens you know you’re on the right track!

The first book I kindled, just to get a sense of what was involved, was my out-of-print parenting book, ‘When your Child is Bullied.’ I up-dated the text, gave it a new title and sent it to draft2digital, who formatted it and made it available on various platforms. I found a designer for the cover on the budget services site, fiverr, and it cost me literally a fiver.

My first adventure in self-publishing
My first adventure in self-publishing

But that was a book I wrote seventeen years ago, it had been published by three mainstream publishers and translated into half a dozen languages, so all I really wanted to do was make it still available for parents struggling to support a bullied child.

‘Writing in the House of Dreams’ is different. It’s never been published before, and because I only finished the writing last year, publishing feels like a continuation of the creative process, which is about honing and refining, nurturing and developing your unique idea.

So I’ve hired an editor to look at the text and a freelance designer to create a cover, because I want the book to be as good as I can possibly make it.

But never having worked with a designer before I had too little confidence in my own ideas, and too little clarity, to be able to give her much of a steer as to what kind of cover I wanted, and when her first sample arrived I was disappointed. I had wanted my cover to be colourful and creative, and beautiful too, but this cover was grey and kind of business-like.

While I was wondering whether to just accept the cover I didn’t like because I didn’t know exactly what else to suggest, I had a birthday, and one of my daughters bought me a beautiful ceramic piece by Hilke MacIntyre that I had admired in the Fowey River Gallery. There was an information sheet with it, and out of curiosity I went to Hilke’s website.

'The Visit' by Hilke MacIntyre - my birthday present from visiting daughter and her partner
‘The Visit’ by Hilke MacIntyre – my birthday present from visiting daughter and her partner

There I found a whole page of linocuts, one of which felt exactly right for my book. I sent the link to my designer and she was very keen on designing a new cover around it. Having seen the image, she had a much better idea of what kind of things I wanted my cover to say.

So I contacted Hilke and asked if I could use the image, and we agreed terms with no difficulty at all over a friendly email chat.

When you’re in a quandary and have no idea what to do, and then life places something right at your feet like a great big arrow saying ‘Go this way!’ I reckon you can move forward confidently, knowing you’re on the right track.

Has life ever answered your question when you’ve been wondering what to do?

 

When do authors need to seek permission, and how do you go about it?

Copyright is an important protection for authors’ creative property but the rules are hard to fathom, especially in the internet age. I’ve been doing some research…

The first task I’m having to tackle in self-publishing ‘Writing in the House of Dreams’ is gaining permission to include quotations from other books.

I’ve only had to do this once before, when I wanted to use a sentence from the work of CG Jung in my book for adults about bullying. Permission was granted, but there was a fee of £40 to pay, and this was a decade ago. Other authors have approached my agent for permission to use extracts from my books and the fees we have charged have been between £75 and £150, but these were for quite sizeable chunks.

The only permission I've sought before now, for my book, 'Your Child: Bullying' back in 1998
The only permission I’ve sought before now, for my book, ‘Your Child: Bullying’ back in 1998

My dream book includes forty-seven quotations of varying lengths, so having whipped out my trusty calculator and updated the likely fees to take into account inflation I considered abandoning the idea of including quotations at all, or at least cutting the number right down.

But the quotations I’ve chosen are all wonderful and I didn’t want to lose a single one of them, so I did some research. It seemed to me that perhaps copyright laws might be less rigid now with the internet, where loads of people use quotations freely in blogs and fb pages. I asked several of the most high-profile bloggers and fb pages I follow whether they sought permission for the quotations they use, but not a single one of them replied.

So I looked up copyright permissions in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, and discovered that here in the UK you don’t need permission to quote from someone who has been dead for more than 70 years, although the cut-off time may vary in other territories. That straight away meant I could take eight of the quotations off my list. I felt encouraged!

One of the quotes I can use freely, being outside copyright (Rilke died in 1926)
One of the quotes I can use freely, being outside copyright (Rilke died in 1926)

Unfortunately, most of the rest of the information felt frustratingly vague, so I then emailed the Society of Authors with a list of questions. Since most of my quotations were very short, I thought I might not need to seek permission at all because a big issue seemed to be how much you wanted to use, and there was something called ‘fair use’ for little snippets.

I’ve since discovered that different publishers have different interpretations of the term ‘fair use’, and there’s no actual rule about how many words you want to use before you have to seek permission.

My agent advised me to seek permission for everything, even if it was only a few words, and hope that publishers would not charge me a fee for quotations that were barely more than a name-drop for their authors.

When you seek permission, you have to contact the first publisher of the book you want to quote from. I found this wasn’t always easy especially when the publisher had gone out of business or the author had died and I couldn’t easily find out who owned their copyrights. But everyone I contacted was very helpful, pointing me towards agents or in some cases individuals who might be able to grant the permissions I was seeking.

It’s felt like detective work – long-winded but rewarding. I’ve sent dozens of email enquiries, one postal enquiry where I couldn’t track down an email address and another one where the rights-holder didn’t possess a computer or use the internet.  I’ve had to fill in complicated forms for larger publishers and send  sections of my book to publishers who have wanted to vet it before granting permission for their authors’ work to be included. Sometimes I’ve had to contact separate rights-holders who hold different rights in the same work, say e-book rights or paperback rights, world rights or only certain territories.

Straightforward it is not. But so far, thirty or so rights-holders have granted my request and only six of them have charged me a fee, so it looks as if I’ll be able to include most of the quotations I want to use in ‘Writing in the House of Dreams.’

There have been unexpected bonuses in having to seek all these permissions, which initially seemed such a chore

  • because I’m a scribble-in-the-margins kind of reader rather than an organised note-taker, it’s meant flicking through some books I haven’t read for years in order to track down quotations and realising how deeply their wisdom has since affected my life
  • it’s drawn my attention to related organisations and further reading that I now want to investigate
  • it’s meant I’ve had interesting email exchanges with lots of different people, including one of my all-time dream-heroes, Patricia Garfield
  • one publisher I sought permission from has asked to see my whole MS

Have you ever had to seek or grant permissions? Can you add to my understanding of copyright?