Archive for the ‘Publishing’ Category

Recently a friend of my mum’s asked me for some advice on self-publishing his book. Some time around bashing out the tenth paragraph of my email and suggesting we should perhaps meet up to discuss it all in more detail, I realised I have quite a lot to say on the matter.

I’m not going to tell you to run a spell-checker, or do a thorough proof-read. That’s pretty obvious, right? But here are some of the less obvious things I have learned through four years and two novels worth of self publishing.

1) Set Your Expectations

The first – and rather brutal – thing to acknowledge, is that no one cares about your book except you. I know, I know, you’ve spent the past ten years labouring over your magnum opus, and it’s precious and delicate and magical as a new born baby, and if you ever thought about it at all, you probably figured something along the lines of, “Build it and they will come,” right?

Unfortunately, that is not the case. In my experience, they will only come if you drag them kicking and screaming, and maybe leave them a breadcrumb trail of freebies, blog tours and guest posts.

Most of the books you sell – whether paperbacks or ebooks – are likely to be to people you know.

The paperbacks I’ve sold are mostly either to people I know or via stalls at fairs/festivals. Ie, in person rather than via shops (online or brick). Very few people are willing to take a punt on a self published book by someone they don’t know – even if the ebook is £1. Even if it’s free! They certainly won’t fork out £8 on a paperback without a lot of persuasion.

You may be thinking, “But paperbacks are cheap! I rarely pay more than £3.99 for a paperback from Amazon.”

Mass produced paperbacks are – or can be – cheap. Your self-published run of 50 or 100 is not. By the time you’ve recouped your manufacturing and handling fees and allowed yourself a couple of quid profit/remuneration for the years of hard work you’ve put into your book, you’re unlikely to be selling a paperback for less than £8 (though obviously this depends on the length of the book and what publishing package you use).

You may have more luck expanding your audience with ebooks. The major advantages are:

  • customers can try before they buy with a free sample
  • ebooks have no production costs, so can be sold far cheaper for the same – or greater – profit
  • there are no postage costs
  • they can even be returned if they turn out to be drivel, making people more likely to take a chance.

The disadvantage is that ebooks are very easy to forget about. I am a kindle owner. I read quite a lot of ebooks – but not half as many as I download samples of. Most of the samples I download I never even open. Why? Usually I forget all about it immediately. By the time I get around to noticing that new book on my shelf I’ve forgotten what it was or where it came from or why I thought it might be interesting. I’m also very busy. When I finally have time to sit down and read I often have a clear idea of what I want to read next, and don’t feel like giving some unknown thing of dubious provenance a chance.

Conclusion: do a print and ebook version, but be aware of their respective markets.

2) Have a Marketing Plan

I read this exact piece of advice prior to publishing Darklands. “A what??” I thought. I’m a web designer by day; novelist by night. At no point does marketing enter into my job description or skill set!

Reader, I did not have a marketing plan.

After publishing Darklands and rapidly realising the truth of point 1, I belatedly tried to scrabble some marketing efforts together. It was a bit pitiful.

I’m still pitiful when it comes to marketing. I squirm from self promotion. I’m embarrassed to impose myself on nice, busy people who have far better things to do than take any notice of me. It all just seems so… uncouth.

But it IS necessary so, like me, you’re going to have to knuckle down and do your best – however pitiful that may be. Since I am a self-confessed dunce when it comes to marketing, I won’t attempt to advise you how. Instead, check out the optimistically titled 89 book marketing ideas that will change your life or many other online resources.

3) Get Reviews

Reviews are vital, and objective reviews from people you don’t know are vitallerer 😉

The best reviews to have are from organisations rather than individuals. ‘Organisation’ in this context might just mean a bored teenager with a book blog. But the important thing is that when quoting the lovely review you recieved, you get to attribute it to ‘Ace Books Weekly’ rather than to ‘Julie from Slough.’ I think you can see which sounds more impressive.

There is an excellent, thorough list on Indie View of book bloggers who accept self published books. It’s a hard slog sifting through them all for appropriate people to approach; and most of the time you will be rejected (by rejected I mean, ignored). But persevere. There likely are people who will give your book a chance, and every review helps your credibility massively.

For advice on how to approach reviewers, see this post on Empty Mirror.

If you’ve got a budget to throw at the problem, then check out this Alliance of Indepent Authors post (but also see point 5).

The really important thing about reviews is being able to quote them on your book jacket or inside cover as well as any online listings – you know, like a real book. But in order to do that you need to be getting those reviews prior to publication, which means querying reviewers months prior to publication.

4) Set a Release Date

When I had finally really definitely totally finished Darklands, and sweated over MS Word and checked all the formatting and corrected all the glitches, I couldn’t wait to finally get it out there. I hit publish, and the next morning it was available to buy. But… no one knew, because I hadn’t forewarned them. Of course, I posted about it as soon as it was out there. But guess what? Other people were busy doing their usual Saturday morning things: grocery shopping, taking the kids swimming, cleaning the car, walking the dogs. No doubt many of the people who saw my posts were very happy for me – but that doesn’t necessarily mean they were going to drop everything and go check out my book!

Set a release date. Build anticipation. Allow people to pre-order. That way when the book becomes available you will get a number of sales right away – and that means your Amazon ranking is going to be as good as it possibly can be right away – and that means you are going to appear higher up any relevant search results – which *may* boost sales, and will certainly help your credibility.

I’m not actually certain whether the option to pre-order was available when I published Darklands. If it was I disregarded it in my giddy excitement to get my first book published. Or maybe I thought, “I can’t set a release date. I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to sort out all these goddamn formatting wierdnesses…”

However long you think it’s going to take – it’s probably going to take twice that long (see point 7). If you want to be really thorough, get your book all ready first. Do the formatting. Check the preview copies. Iron out the errors. Only when you’re happy that it’s all ready to go do you set the publication date.

Then start drumming up interest.

5) Spend your Money Wisely

So you’re self-publishing your book. A lot of people want your money. A LOT. They are hungry vultures circling tasty, meaty you.

You absolutely do not need to spend £1000s or even £100s on expert help, guidance, services or materials. You don’t need to order 1000 copies of your book and have boxes of it sitting in your garage like a stubborn toothache for the rest of your life. You don’t need to buy a professional sounding publication package that actually doesn’t give you anything you couldn’t have done yourself anyway.

Don’t spend anything without researching who you’re giving your money to, exactly what you’re getting in return – and most importantly, what the rest of the internet says about their services. There are many excellent online resources who keep an eye on the scams and schemes that exist purely to profit from your naivety. Check out Writer Beware or David Gaughran for starters.

Print on Demand may be a far better option than buying 1000 copies of your book up front. I use UK based company, Feed A Read. In all honesty, their website is glitchy and often frustrating, but any queries I raise get replied to within a day or two, and if I can’t do what I need to via the website, then they’ll allow me to email any necessary files direct. The resulting books are good quality, they don’t charge for unnecessary fluff services,* they’re supported by the Arts Council of England, and just generally don’t seem especially evil. That’s as glowing a recommendation as you’re likely to get.

* Well, you could count the distribution package as unnecessary fluff. I paid £80 for Darklands to be available to proper bookshops through normal distribution channels as well as to Amazon. Of course, that’s only useful if you’ve persuaded any bookshops to stock your book – and for some reason can’t supply them with copies yourself.

I know you want the distribution package, cuz that makes your book proper! But I’ve decided to forego it for Kikimora. I really didn’t feel the benefit. And Feed A Read have introduced a new, more economical service now whereby they can sell the book through Amazon Marketplace. This seems a much more worthwhile deal – though I’ll know more once I’m actually using it.

6) Get the Formatting Right

It’s vital to create as good an impression as possible with your self published book – whether ebook or paperback. Take care with your formatting. Don’t rely on changing fonts and sizes manually; use styles. Styles allow you to name a particular kind of text within your document (ie, basic text, chapter heading, first paragraph) and apply rules to it, including font, size, margins, line-spacing, etc. It is then easy to change any of those rules as it becomes necessary – and believe me, you will try various changes before you settle on the best for your book.

For example, your ebook will most likely want to use a basic sans-serif font (though most e-readers allow readers to change this themselves), but your print book would more likely use a serif font (such as Times New Roman). When you see the production costs for your print book, you might start thinking, “Damn, do I really need it to be double spaced? How big does that text look once I’ve resized the document to the exact dimensions specified by the printer? Maybe it’s too big, maybe it’s too small. How about those chapter headings? They look better not bold, after all…”

Using styles, these changes are easy to make and undo to trial different looks and layouts until you get it right.

But there is a caveat! One I fell foul of with Darklands, and I could not understand until I noticed the same thing happening with Kikimora.

If your writing process is anything like mine, by the time you have a completed manuscript some areas of its text will have been copied and pasted from different documents many times. The document format may have changed from say Open Office to Word. This leaves you in danger of formatting glitches.

Say during the writing process your basic text was set to 12pt Verdana. You copied a section from another document (a previous version of your manuscript, perhaps) and pasted it in to the master copy. The other document was also using 12pt Verdana, so all is good, right?

Maybe not. Make sure that any passages you copy in get your ‘basic text’ style applied, and don’t rely on manual styling. Otherwise, you might find when you change it all to Times New Roman those random pasted passages are still Verdana – and the only people who’ll notice are your first readers. Eek.

Word processing packages can be ever so ‘helpful’ when it comes to retaining text formating from one document to another. Get in the habit of manually stripping formatting any time you paste text in, and then ensuring your custom styles are applied. If your word processing package doesn’t make it easy, then a simple way round it is to copy any text into notepad and from there into your master document. Any formating rules will be lost, and it will take on the rules in your master document, as you want it to.

7) Take your Time

None of this stuff is difficult, but it is astonishingly time consuming. Factor this in when thinking about release dates. If your writing activities are time-limited (cuz you also have a full-time job, family commitments, some kind of life), then I wouldn’t even set a release date until you have already done ALL of this.

For example, I work *almost* full time. The only time I have for writing and writerly activities is Thursday and Friday afternoons – and occasional Saturdays if I can be let off family commitments. I finished the final edit of Kikimora in August. Since then my writing afternoons have been spent:

  • querying reviewers
  • researching publication requirements for my various platforms
  • formatting the manuscript
  • proofing the cover design

That’s it. Three months has passed. Kikimora the ebook is released tomorrow. I submitted, proofed and accepted the final files for my print book today – so it still won’t be available for some weeks (In retrospect I should have been more organised and got both out together. This is something I’ve learnt very recently as I’m going through the process. I would have pushed it all back, but didn’t want to risk ending up the wrong side of Christmas!)


So those are some of the things I wish I’d known when I set out. What things have you learned the hard way whilst publishing your own books? I hope my experiences help, and wish you all the very best of luck.

I’m thrilled to reveal Kikimora’s cover design, courtesy of Uncut ID, and to announce the ebook is now available for pre-order.

Kikimora by Emma Woodcock

As mentioned previously, it’s an ebook-first soft launch, to be followed by paperback in a few weeks (hopefully before Christmas!)

The first reviews are also in.

I’m really pleased with the cover design. It’s just what I had in mind: a cold, blue, snow-laden forest, and something mysterious lurking within…

This post from two years ago shows that I already then knew exactly what I wanted!

I hope you like it too. Let me know your thoughts in the comments?

For the past few months I’ve been hard at work completing a final edit of Kikimora. I’ve now made the last checks for continuity, spelling, grammar, formatting, etc…

Guys, it’s done.

In true difficult-second-album stylee, this one’s been a bit of a slog. I thought it would be easier the second time around! I thought: I know what I’m doing now. I know the pitfalls to avoid. I know how to motivate myself. I know how stories veer off track, and how to steer them back. And I’m doing something much simpler and shorter!*

Yeah well, apparently I don’t know Jack…

There have been setbacks aplenty; some personal, some professional (as in the job that actually pays me…) and some writing related. But finally the Is are all dotted; the Ts are crossed, and Kikimora is ready to go out into the world and seek her fortune. You can read the final, expanded version of the opening chapter here.

sunlight on water

A shady pool, as beloved by Rusalkas

I expect to publish Kikimora at the end of October. As with Darklands I’ll do a soft-launch first of ebook only, followed by a paperback within a month or so (before Christmas!) Currently I’m putting together some review copies, and my design consultant is working on the cover design – check back soon for a sneak peak!

To all those who’ve stuck with me, thanks for your patience. I hope you’ll enjoy the results.

* Kikimora has actually turned out exactly the same length as Darklands :-/

Emma Woodcock with SFX

Holding the wining entry

We still haven’t recieved our subscription copy of SFX (containing my winning short story entry, The Big Guy), but found a copy in the shop this afternoon. I did my customary startled-bunny-in-car-headlights pose while trying not to look too smug. Really, given my usual form, we’re just lucky my eyes are open.

Whatever my face says, I really am chuffed to bits. In the side column on the right are some very kind words from judge Darren Shan:

“All of the stories were well written, but this one tugged at my heartstrings. It masterfully pulled me in, intriguing me with its mysterious opening, before gradually revealing what is truly happening, and leaving me with a sense of great pity for the main character by the end. It’s very difficult to do all that in such a short story, to pack in true surprise and emotion, so as strong as the other entries were, this was the clear stand-out for me. I’ll never think of the Big Guy in quite the same way again…”

Coming from such a successful and well respected author, that really means a lot. Did I mention I was chuffed? I’m really quite chuffed.

Winner of SFX short zombie story competition, The Big Guy by Emma Woodcock

Winner of SFX short zombie story competition, The Big Guy by Emma Woodcock

Every day approximately seven zillion squillion books are self published. And the world takes absolutely no notice, assuming they are all rubbish. No doubt some of them are. Others, while not rubbish, are likely flawed. But there are also perfectly decent books which are self published.

Why are they self published if they’re so good? There can be a variety of reasons. A publisher invests a deal of time and money into every title they publish. They have their own agendas and criteria to meet, and simply being ‘good’ isn’t necessarily enough. Maybe it’s good, but they can’t see a large market. Maybe it’s good, but similar to titles they already produce. Maybe it’s good, but currently unfashionable. Maybe it’s good – really good – but just not quite as good as those other ten titles that they have decided to publish.

Some authors claim they self publish by choice; they retain control over every stage of the process, and reap far greater profits. Personally I find this doubtful. Sure, you make a greater profit on each sale – but only if people are buying your book. 70% of nothing is still nothing.

The self published author’s greatest challenges are visibility and credibility. No one knows or cares about their book. The only people they can persuade to read it are likely to be friends and family (certainly early on in the process). They would love for a real, objective reviewer to read and blog about it, but without some initial credibility there is little reason for such a person to take a chance on it.

This is where you can help. Those handful of reviews the book manages to garner in its early months are vital. The bottom line is that the more reviews a book receives the greater its credibility. Unquestionably.

But not all reviews are equal. While any review is better than none (yes, even a one star review), there are things you can do which make your review really valuable to the author, and things which make it … less so.

You have the best intentions. You want to help out the author; you certainly don’t want to upset or offend them. So you go write them that review. Here are the top three pitfalls to avoid.

1) Five Stars

range of reviews

Range of reviews on Amazon for The Golem and Djinni by Helene Wecker

You may think the greatest favour you can do the author is to award the book five stars (assuming five is the maximum on whatever platform you are reviewing). Unfortunately nothing screams ‘Self published author with only friends for reviewers’ like a very small number of reviews all awarding five stars.

That is not the natural pattern of reviewing. Go check out any mainstream, popular book. It will have 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 star reviews. It will have a range, maybe a bell curve, with most of the reviews clustering around four or five stars. Even a work of renowned genius does not garner uniformly five star reviews. It doesn’t garner uniform reviews at all. People have different opinions about it, and they don’t all think they’d better give it the same number of stars as the last person, so that they don’t look stingy.

Keep it realistic. Honestly.

2) I don’t usually read this genre…

‘I don’t normally read sci-fi/children’s books/romances, but this had me captivated from the beginning.’ You might think you’re saying, ‘Read this! It’s brilliant! Even if you think you don’t like the genre. Honest. It’s fantastic.’ But what you’re actually saying is, ‘The only reason I read this book is because the author is a friend, and asked me to.’

3) Boris has done a fantastic job

So the author is your brother, your old school pal, your work colleague. Maybe you don’t know anyone else who’s written a book. It’s pretty cool, right? Referring to the author by their first name subtley lets the world know that you personally know them. You, by association, are pretty cool too.

Or not. Again, what you are really saying is, ‘I only read this book because I know the author.’ It might be true, but it damages their credibility.

Similarly, if you happen to have the same surname as the author, maybe this is the one circumstance where ‘any review at all’ is NOT better than none :-S

If you can avoid those three pitfalls then your review could really help your author pal. So that’s what not to do. But what should you do?

Be honest

I know you don’t want to offend Boris, and really he has done awfully well, and you’re proud of him, but that bit in the middle with the elephant and the volcano didn’t entirely make sense, did it? The plot got a bit confusing around the time the mermen turned up through the oceanic rift, and come to think of it, the comedy sidekick otter was actually a bit irritating.

It’s okay to say that. I know you don’t believe me, so I’m going to say it again:

It’s okay to criticise your friend’s book!

Say that it’s interesting, say that it’s funny, say that you enjoyed it* – just don’t be afraid to also say, “But…” And don’t be afraid to deduct stars accordingly. Your author pal will thank you in the long run. Hopefully, if they have a bit of realism about their situation, they will thank you immediately.

Your friend has most likely spent years writing their book. They’ve put off social events, missed playing with the kids, maybe they’ve taken time off work, with the accompanying loss in earnings. They are serious about writing books and making a success of it. Patting them on the head and saying, ‘well done, that’s brilliant’ doesn’t help them. If there are areas they need to improve on then tell them. They want to get it right. They want to improve. But if no one tells them where they’re going wrong, how will they ever get better? Meanwhile, they are sitting scratching their heads, thinking, ‘if my book is so damn fantastic, how come I’ve only sold 20 copies..?’

In conclusion, you can help your author pal with their two main problems of visibility and credibility. You help with their visibility simply by writing any review at all. You can help with their credibility by reviewing their book as though it was written by someone you don’t know; by being honest, by pointing out flaws.

With a small range of honest reviews their book stands a far greater chance of being taken seriously by other readers and reviewers than if it only has a handful of glowing, five star reviews.

On behalf of all self publishing authors, thank you for taking the time to read this – and for every review you write for self published authors. It really does help.

Other authors, do you agree with this article? What would you add to the list of review pitfalls?

* assuming those things are true.

So the promotion is finished, the stats are in. Let’s see how I did.

As discussed last week, I ran the promotion for three days over the bank holiday weekend: friday to sunday. I submitted details of my free book promotion to 16 sites – almost all of which said in their blurb that they ‘may’ feature your book – or, of course, you could buy guaranteed promotion for a small fee of generally $5-15. I elected not to buy any guaranteed promotion, but to see what I could actually get for free.

I'm a featured author at Freebooksy

Of those 16 sites, as far as I’m aware only FreeBooksy did feature Darklands, and I’m pretty sure I have them to thank for a large percentage of my total downloads.

Friday started fairly slow, but suddenly began to gather pace around 3 o’clock – presumably when FreeBooksy’s email alert came out (I had subscribed to many of the sites I submitted to, but somehow neglected that one. However, I did get an email from them at 4.30 advising me that my book was featured on the site). For the next several hours my download stats jumped by about 100 every hour.

I had intended to keep a close eye on precisely how it all panned out. However, a family emergency saw me instead having to suddenly go spend the weekend with my poorly mum, with only my laptop and intermittant internet access :-/

In any case, there wasn’t much to see after that. At six pm friday my downloads stood at around 300. At 9pm, 600. By 9am the next morning I was very close to 1000. But it all tailed off from there. My tally for the three days is 1135.

The vast majority of that total came from Amazon.com, which I am very pleased about. Although I have several excellent reviews on Amazon.co.uk, I have so far failed to make the slightest impact on the US site. I also had several downloads from other territories which I wouldn’t necessarily have expected to reach at all. Breakdown below:

US UK Germany Italy Canada Japan
1095 115 13 1 6 5

 

I estimate that my own efforts via Twitter, Facebook and generally being chatty and personable to anyone I met online over the weekend resulted in between 100-200 downloads.

My conclusion? If I run free days again I will pay for some promotion. I think I was lucky to get the freeBooksy promotion, and without it this would have been a bit of a wash out. It’s a lot of trouble to go to for possibly only 100 downloads. The promotional ads for these sites are not expensive, typically between $5-15. Extrapolating from my miniscule sample size of one, my best guess is that you could expect perhaps 1000 downloads per promotional site feature.

I wonder how many of those downloads will ever get read? I know from my own behaviour that I will often grab a free book while I can, without even reading any reviews or the sample. I will skim the description, and if it sounds even vaguely intriguing, I’ll have it. Then it sits on my kindle untouched until I happen to find myself with some time to kill and no current book. I generally read through a few samples/free books, scrapping them for not being good enough/not being my thing – until either I find one to settle with and read, or just weary of the whole proceses and go do something else.

So I know there’s a good chance that many of those downloads will never be looked at again. But I have no idea how many. From those that do get read I should hopefully get some new reviews. They may not all be good reviews, of course, but that’s all part of the process. I guess it will take weeks or even months to see what I reap from this promotion. All I can tell you right now is that four more people have added Darklands to their lists on Goodreads.

I’d be interested to hear what experiences others have had with their KDP Select free days. Similar to mine, or vastly different? Did you pay for adverts or just try to go it alone? And did you ultimately reap the increased reviews/eventual sales you were hoping for?

A proud moment today. My old school requested a signed copy of Darklands for the school library.

When I was young I wanted to be lots of things: a pirate, James Bond, a mad scientist with sticky up white hair, Tarzan, a painter, an explorer… I also kind of liked writing stories. But I remember quite distinctly at the age of 13 realising that writing was the one; the real one. That’s what I was going to do with my life.

And I have, more or less. It doesn’t yet pay the bills, so something else has to, but I have been writing stories on and off for over quarter of a century. It takes me a while, and if something isn’t quite working I set it aside for a year or two. Or ten.

But I got there in the end, publishing my first novel, Darklands, in 2011.

When my old school requested a signed copy it made me think of the time in Mr Hannam’s English class when the idea took hold in my mind that I would be a writer. I don’t recall specifically what sparked it; but I knew that I loved words; I loved stories. And whatever magic made printed words sweep you up and take you on incredible journeys – I wanted to do that.

As an indie author it’s easy to get demoralised and to feel that you’re shouting into a void, but today I’ll take a moment to feel proud. I made a decision at the age of 13; I worked towards it in my spare time, I persevered when I felt discouraged, I made sacrifices of time and earnings – and 25 years later I achieved what I’d set out to. I published my first novel.

Signed copy of Darklands going to Anthony Gell School

Signed copy of Darklands going to Anthony Gell School