Posts Tagged ‘self publishing’

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.
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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.

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.

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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

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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.

I’ve been at this self publishing lark over 18 months now, and let me tell you, it is a hard slog. The greatest obstacle to overcome is the anonymity/indifference double-whammy. It often seems that no one wants to take a chance on an unknown author’s first book. Maybe you can’t blame them. Reading time is precious, and you don’t want to waste it on a stinker. But it’s a bit of a catch 22 if no one will read you cuz you have hardly any reviews, but no one will review you cuz… no one will read you :-S

With that in mind, I have decided to share a bit of Indie Love in the hope that it will help out those like me who are struggling to make a name for themselves. I don’t have half as much time as I’d like for reading, and consequently I am very picky. I haven’t read and loved that many self-published books, but from now on I’m going to share with you those I have.

Dear Bob and Sue, by Matt and Karen Smith

Dear Bob and Sue by Matt and Karen Smith

Dear Bob and Sue, by Matt and Karen Smith

In Dear Bob and Sue the authors, a 50-ish married couple from Seattle, decide to take a year off and visit every national park in America. The book takes the form of a series of emails from them to their titular friends back home. It is a delightfully simple concept, and works very well. The casual tone is fresh and involving. The warm, honest portrayal of their marriage is as entertaining as the anecdotes about the parks they visit.

It is an unassuming book, with many recognisable situations and laugh out loud moments. By the end I felt that I knew Karen and Matt quite well. Matt, the humorous grump (a male archetype I am quite familiar with!) constantly grumbling about… well, essentially other people living on the same planet as him. He also displays a nice sense of irony and a flair for the absurd (I particularly enjoyed him naming nuts in the style of Best in Show‘s Harlan Pepper, “Pea-nut, hazel nut, cashew nut, macadamia nut, pine nut, wal-nut, pistachio nut, red pistachio nut…” to Karen’s mortification.)

Karen frequently pretends not to know him, and has a steely determination of her own,

The ranger replied to Karen slowly, as if talking to a ten year old, “You need to remember that it will take two to three times longer to hike back up than it will to hike down.” Karen decided right then we would do the six mile hike in two hours, or die trying.

Bison in Yellowstone National Park

Up close and personal with a huge bison in Yellowstone National Park (no, I wasn’t using a zoom!)

The book serves as a great taster for America’s many and diverse national parks. They describe hikes, recommend restaurants and tours – and sometimes cocktails.

I had the good fortune in 2011 to visit Yellowstone and Glacier. Both were wonderful, and I’d love to get back to America to visit more of their wilderness areas. Thanks to Karen and Matt I now have a few locations ear-marked.

Dear Bob and Sue is a travelogue and a warmly humorous portrait of a marriage. It is not the kind of book you devour in one sitting, but is very enjoyable to dip in and out of. I thoroughly recommend it.

You can learn more about Karen’s terror of squirrels and Matt’s hatred of caves on amazon, facebook, and dearbobandsue.com.

*****

Please note, I am not looking for manuscripts to be submitted to me for review. As stated above, I don’t have as much reading time as I’d like, and am very particular about what I read. This is just an occasional feature I will do when the mood strikes me.

Stepping stonesI first published Darklands as an eBook at the end of August 2011 (followed by a paperback in April 2012). I had always intended to do a round up of my first year in self publishing – the highs, the lows, the financial realities – but somehow, never found the time. So this is more like my first 14 months in publishing. I hope it might be useful or of interest to other writers looking at self publishing and wondering what to expect.

On the whole, I’d say I am pretty happy with how things have gone. But I would also say that I have severely readjusted my expectations from the beginning of the year. Reader feedback has been excellent, but sales have nevertheless been … s-l-o-w.

I have been extremely conservative about outlaying any money for services – possibly even too conservative (you have to speculate to accumulate, right?) This is mostly due to my paranonia about being fleeced by cynical snake oil merchants looking to milk the hopeful-writer cash cow…

I had no costs associated with the actual book production. My sister proof-read; my partner did the cover design; I did all the formatting and layout. Nor were there any production costs for publishing the paperback, or for the ISBN (though there are costs now that I want to edit the paperback. More on that below).

Even so, income has not exceeded outgoings, and I find I am out of pocket at the end of this first year.

The highs

Darklands has received seven reviews on Amazon.co.uk, all five star; four ratings on Goodreads, average 4.5 stars. I have visited a secondary school to talk to the students about writing and self publishing. I have done three radio interviews on different local stations. I’ve done four interviews for book sites, and have a guest post coming up in December for the Speculative Salon. And last weekend I encountered my first fan! An unknown (and it must be admitted, rather drunk) bloke accosted me in the pub to tell me how much he had enjoyed Darklands (which he had read to his daughters). Awesome.

The lows, the reality checks and the nitty gritty

I’ve sent out review requests to over 20 book bloggers (all hand picked as likely candidates, and sent personal messages). Seven of those I contacted back in 2011 replied sounding positive, but only two actually reviewed Darklands (Thanks, Bookstack and Hey Tara!) Of the 13 I’ve contacted this year NONE have responded except by automated reply. I wonder at this difference. Are book bloggers just becoming so saturated by review requests that they don’t have the time/inclination to respond? Are my emails getting caught in spam folders (and is it possible my surname helps with that?!)?

I’ve sent out info packs to four local libraries. None have responded to me; and I can guess from checking the County library catalogue that none have ordered Darklands. I’ve written to my old school. As yet I’ve had no written response, but I did bump into the librarian a couple of weeks back, who expressed great interest, and promised to get back to me. I’ve written to my two local branchs of Waterstones, but again had no response. Maybe I’d have better luck in person – or at least, someone who’s a better salesperson than me might…

Over this first year I have sold a little over one hundred books – about two thirds eBooks to one third paperbacks (I don’t have a definite figure, because paperbacks I’ve sold through Amazon or other wholesalers don’t appear in any figures I have access to … until they do – which happens twice a year, and hasn’t yet! That said, I can hazard a guess at how many paperbacks Amazon has sold just from keeping an eye on the sales rank). My royalties vary between £1 and £3.

I’ve so far paid £470 in book related expenses. I’ve received back £270. I am currently owed £40, $17 and €4 by retailers (I’m not sure I will ever see the dollars or euros, due to the threshholds it is necessary to accrue before Amazon will make payments).

So what costs did I encounter, given that I’ve been so parsimonious?

In initial publishing excitement I spent £20 on Facebook ads the day the eBook came out (A complete waste of money. It didn’t even have any reviews yet. No one bought it except people I know). I bought 40 paperbacks, most of which I’ve sold (six still pending payment). I paid £88 to my publisher, Feedaread, for the distribution package which makes Darklands available to Amazon. I’ve also just paid them £39 for the privilege of producing a new cover (I had been intending to tweak a couple of things inside the book as well – mainly regarding the Kikimora preview at the end. But that would have set me back an additional £39! Eagle-eyed readers will note that the price was £29 when I discussed it a few weeks back. It’s gone up. Sigh) I’ve paid £25 to book a stall at a Christmas market in Derby. I’ve had smaller incidental costs, such as display stands and stamps (I’m not even counting the petrol I use driving to radio interviews, school visits, delivering books to the bookshop, etc). It all adds up.

One hundred books in a year doesn’t sound much, does it? I had certainly expected and hoped to move more than that when I set out on this endeavour. But I underestimated many things about this process – not least how vastly over-saturated the young adult fiction market is, and therefore how competitive; how precise your marketing has to be (clue: mine hasn’t been so far).

One area I’m feeling increasingly uncertain about is whether Darklands really is young adult, or ‘middle grade’ (whatever the hell that is). I originally envisaged it as for 12-14 year olds, but several parents have told me their ten year olds read and enjoyed it. I just read this post on the difference between middle grade and young adult, but I can’t say I feel much wiser. A year ago I hadn’t the slightest notion that it would matter one way or another. I read books for any age group if they appeal to me, and always have. I’m coming to realise that it matters very much. But this subject deserves a whole blog post of its own, so I may return to it in future.

What are the lessons to be learned here?

Firstly, for all my social networking, tweeting, blogging, commenting on other people’s blogs – apparently I’m still rubbish at e-marketing. My best selling day was at Celebrating Cromford, standing at a stall – I’m hoping to replicate that success at the Derby Christmas market.

I’m still hoping to generate some word of mouth. I need to get the book out to more people. Those who read it like it, but most of the world is competely unaware of its existence. A bigger problem seems to be those who do know of its existence, but are indifferent. I think my new cover design (when it finally arrives. FeedaRead have been SO slow and awkward about the alteration) will help with this. The new cover looks slicker, more professional, and more enticing.

I really really need to get more reviews*. I’d also rather like it if they weren’t all five stars! It makes people suspicious – like my mum wrote them all (in fact I forbade my sisters from leaving reviews on Amazon, as I didn’t think it would project too professional an image to have reviews by people with the same surname as me!)

But how to get more reviews? There’s a polite suggestion at the end of the book that a review would be great. But I’m not going to harass my readers to leave reviews if it’s not the kind of thing they do, or they are uncomfortable about it. As discussed above, I’m currently having no luck interesting book bloggers. Maybe I should contact them all again, just to politely enquire if they received my initial email? But if people aren’t interested I don’t want to nag them. Indie authors have a bad enough name already. I don’t want to be annoying.

So how will my publishing adventure develop in 2013? I think the christmas market will be a good indicator of how well I can capture the public imagination. If you can’t sell children’s books the last weekend before christmas there’s probably not much hope! I’m also planning to publish Kikimora at some point in the new year (no, not summer 2012, like it says at the end of Darklands :-S). How will having two titles affect my marketing approach? How much smoother might Kikimora’s publication go, with all the Darklands lessons already under my belt?

In many ways, self publishing Darklands was completely a test; a proof of concept. I have been writing stories my whole life, but I had no idea whether I was actually any good at it, or if it was all just a silly dream. Self publishing has shown me that people enjoy reading my book; that it stands up as a story, that I can construct a proper plot that holds attention and keeps people guessing. I wasn’t sure of any of this 15 months ago – which is one reason I was so loathe to outlay any money up front.

But I suspect I have been thinking like an amateur, acting like an amateur, and selling myself short.

If I want to actually make this writing thing work and make any kind of real impact in the wider world then I suspect money will need to be spent on some kind of marketing and promotion (no, not facebook ads!)

Another area of complete ignorance for me to investigate. Woot.

Stick with me, and we’ll see how this indie publishing adventure pans out 🙂

* A recent post on a popular book blog said the author was happy to read self published books – so long as they had at least 50 reviews on Amazon, and 30 reviews from Goodreads friends!

Upper Class Twit of the Year

Monty Python’s Upper Class Twit of the Year

I’ve been using Twitter for around a year now. Before opening my account I was a bit sniffy about it. I didn’t see the point. I didn’t see how it was different to a facebook status update (except shorter). It seemed a lot like shouting at strangers. But eventually I thought I’d give it a go anyway.

Although I soon realised that it works quite differently to facebook, and puts you in contact with a whole other bunch of people, for the most part it fulfilled the role I had expected. Namely, it gobbles up hours of my time in fairly useless browsing around, humourous links, daft pictures of cats, etc.

And don’t even get me started on the few twits I follow who drown everyone eles’s tweets in gallons of spammy bleh. Why don’t I un-follow them? Cuz every now and then they post something really useful! Also, such people generally seem to have around 20,000 followers, which makes me think, maybe they’re doing it right? Maybe it’s me who’s doing it wrong..?

Despite these frustrations, every now and again, Twitter really proves its worth.

Back in February, a convoluted trail of retweets led to my bf texting me at work (I only had a regular kind of mobile phone at the time), “Call this phone number NOW and be on the radio!” Ten minutes later I was chatting live on BBC Radio Three Counties to Ronnie Barbour about Darklands – which directly led to a spike in sales.

Last week, Ian Skye of BBC Radio Derby found me on Twitter and invited me onto his mid-morning show to talk about writing. The next day I went into the studio along with Tony Spencer, another Derby author and raconteur. We were live in the studio for almost an hour, chatting about writing, self-publishing and other topics between songs, weather and the usual radio stuff.

Having three in the conversation made it a far less daunting or nerve racking experience than my previous radio outings, and Ian was great at putting us both at our ease.

It’s too early to say yet whether I’ll see a similar sales spike from this radio outing. But these were both great promotional opportunities, which came about purely through Twitter. Hoewever, I’ve been having far less success with other areas of Twitter recently.

Since I did pretty well selling paperbacks at Celebrating Cromford, I want to visit some christmas fairs and markets over the next two months to sell Darklands. I’m not at all sure how successful it will be, so it seems a good idea to share the costs and efforts by joining forces with another seller.

I’ve been using Twitter to try and network with likely comrades for the past couple of weeks. I tagged local arts organisations and recieved plenty of retweets – but I didn’t make a single contact for stall sharing.

Having met Tony Spencer at Radio Derby, we’re now planning to join forces to sell at christmas fairs – which not only makes it less of a gamble financially, but if no one comes to our stall, at least I’ll have someone to regale me with tales of horse surgery, motorbike racing, emigrating to France, and all the other stuff he has up his sleeves (seriously, listen to the interview. The guy’s a goldmine of anecdotes!)

You can still hear the show on iPlayer, until Thursday 18 October. We’re introduced about 14 mins in. Ian talks to Tony first, and then more to me later on. I haven’t listened back to it myself yet. I suppose I should, but I find it quite excruciating listening to myself talk :-/

Following a recent reassessment of Darklands’ cover, my designer has come up with a new wraparound cover which I am HUGELY excited about! The changes are kind of minor, but the effect is major. You can see Darklands’ new cover here.

Kikimora is still a way from finished (yes, I know, I foolishly said, ‘coming summer 2012’ in the blurb at the back of Darklands!) I’m mid second draft, doing a fair bit of reshuffling and writing a few new scenes. But I’m already thinking about the cover design as well.

Murder Ballads by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Murder Ballads by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Kikimora takes place in winter in a mountainous, forested land. I’ve had a pretty strong idea of what the cover should be for a long time: I want it icy blue and white, I want trees. And for contrast I want the title in dark pink or red. There could also perhaps be a ghostly figure amongst the trees.

The minute I thought of these things I pictured two album covers which each in their way come pretty near the mark. The first is the 1996 album, Murder Ballads by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

The second is the slightly more obscure 2004 album by Mono, Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and Sun Shined.

Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined by Mono

Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined by Mono

It’s not just that each of these images ticks the boxes outlined above; I also love the mood of mystery and unease which they evoke: the dark and lowering trees, the sense of isolation and wilderness; the dramatic effect of small flashes of red against a fairly uniform blue-white.

I particularly like those red figures on the Mono album. There’s something both jaunty and sinister about them – with their 70s hairdos, their little violins, the fact that they’re holding hands – and mostly how they bring to mind the ghostly little girls in The Shining,

“Play with us.For ever.And ever…”

Petrified Forest by Mossmottle

Petrified Forest by Mossmottle

Once I’d got the basic idea, I kept finding more images that are close to what I envision, such as this painting by Mossmottle, Petrified Forest.

So I have a really strong idea of what the design should be – but not where it’s going to come from! Once upon a time (about 20 years ago), I was pretty keen on oil painting. It’s one of those things I would love to get back to; but it’s also one of those things I’ve given up because all my free time and creative energy goes into writing.

I would love to be able to pick up my brushes and create the cover image myself, but I think this is one of those situations where I ought to know my limitations. Any skill I might once have had is bound to have atrophied through complete lack of use (I don’t think playing Draw Something a couple of times a week counts? Though tbh that accounts for the most drawing I’ve done in the past decade!)

I also used to be pretty keen on photography (though was never that great. The few good shots I got were presumably more due to luck than skill). I know somewhere I have a black and white photograph I took about 15 years ago of a stream in sunlit woods. I had it framed and it was on my wall for a long time, but of course I can’t find it now. I think an image like that, suitably abstractified and colour washed may end up being the basis of the design [late edit: I eventually found that photo, and used it here].

Or I might just ask my faithful companion and comrade in arms at Uncut ID to come up with something. He’s done me a stunner on the Darklands redesign 😀

Darklands at Scarthin Books

Emma Woodcock with Darklands at Scarthin Books

I had chance this weekend to visit Scarthin Books in Cromford. It was hugely exciting to finally see Darklands on the shelf of a proper bookshop. Of course, I blundered around the entire children’s room several times before finding it. And when I did find it I immediately percieved the problem. The spine is plain white text on a black background.

Take a look at all those other book spines, with their bright colours, interesting fonts, swirls and curlicues. If Darklands stands out at all it is only through its sheer unobtrusiveness.

When my designer (bf – who is btw a graphic designer, though with no previous experience of book cover design) and I were originally sorting out the cover we intended to do a wraparound cover (ie, the design goes all the way round the cover), but were slightly daunted by the technical aspects of getting all the measurements (mainly the spine width) exactly correct. There were so many other things jostling for my attention at the time that I just thought, ‘Sod it. This will be fine’.

And it has been, up til now. Previously I have only sold through Amazon and in person. In both those circumstances the buyer sees the front cover of the book. The spine is irrelevant.

Bf and I left Scarthin Books both saying, ‘So… do you think we should redo the cover design?’

Any revisions to the book incur a charge of £29 from FeedaRead. Looked at one way, I would need to sell 29 copies through the bookshop in order to make that a worthwhile financial decision*.

But that’s not the way I see it. At this stage of what I choose to call my writing career (voluntary work might be nearer the mark), it’s all about getting it out there, getting my name known, getting people to read the damn book! Consequently, I think this would be a worthwhile investment. It isn’t just about making the book stand out. It’s about delivering a better product.

I will also take the opportunity to put the ace review quote on the front cover, rather than the back. I might put a mugshot and some personal blurb on the back. And I think I’ll put some message about it also being available as an eBook. Cover design, like everything else about self publishing, is a learning curve.

* I am (and have been for a month or so) intending to do a piece on total costs and returns in my first year of self publishing. Keep an eye out for that if you’re interested in the financial realities of self publishing. And now I’ve finally written that post!