eBook Aggregators – A fun guide

best-news-aggregator-apps-700pxWhat a fun weekend I’ve had, trying to ‘Purge hidden corruption’ in my book files using the ‘Nuclear method’ to avoid any AutoVetter errors.  If you have no idea what I’ve just said, then you’ve not had the pleasure of uploading your book to an aggregator.  You haven’t lived.

Why am I doing this?  I blame Joanna Penn, the queen of self-publishing, who made such a convincing argument for making your eBooks available on Google Play.  After all, it’s the app that comes pre-loaded on most android phones these days, and, like it or not, more and more people are now reading on their phones, so it’s a market we’d be foolish to ignore.  Moreover, I don’t know if you know this, but Google is like, a really big search engine, so having your books on their app is probably going to give you a bit of an edge in that regard.  Having said that, this could go the same way as my Wattpad experiment, i.e. a complete anticlimax, but isn’t it better to have a ‘presence’ (or rather, an omnipresence!) than restricting yourself to Amazon?  The biggest cost is my time and the thrill of finding out how much patience I have with with filling out forms and thinking up new passwords.

Up until now, I didn’t know how to get my books on Google Play.  And this is where the aggregators come into it.  Most indie authors are familiar with the most popular aggregator, Smashwords, which distributes your eBook to stores like Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Apple, to name a few.  And anyone who has tried to upload their book file will be aware of how frustrating it is when the conversion results fall foul of the style guide and come back with a list of illegible offences, written in obscure computer speak.  I made the mistake of updating a perfectly good book that I had for sale on Smashwords and I haven’t been able to pass the conversion tests since.  Until today my friends, when I ‘went nuclear’ and cleared my files of all formatting, before re-formatting them and basically doing the equivalent of clearing out a tool shed and putting everything back in again.  And it worked!  But guess what?  Smashwords don’t deal with Google.  Would I have the patience to continue with this crazy dream?!

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According to Joanna Penn, Publish Drive, a relatively new company based in Hungary, is the best option for reaching the most markets.  Prounoun also deal with Google Play, but I decided to copy Joanna, because she’s probably done all the research and why inflict more pain on myself!  However, I’ve recently come across quite a few articles claiming that Google Books is awash with pirated books.  So, yep.  But, the irony there is that people often claim piracy can be reduced by making your book available across more platforms and on various formats (Nook, Kobo etc.)  Not all readers have Kindles, so it seems like common sense to make your book available as widely as possible.  In my own case, I’ve kept my first novel exclusive with Amazon on KDP and so it’s available to read for free on Kindle Unlimited (Amazon’s subscription service).  My second novel and my free short story are available everywhere (or at least they will be once Smashword’s affiliates get my shiney new version in the next few days).

As Joanna pointed out, there are huge markets globally like India and China, and with a little effort, your books can be available for download across the world, rather than just focusing on America and the UK.  There are other aggregators too, like Draft2Digital, so it’s really up to you who you choose which one is right for you.  Yet, as we all know, there’s a lot more to it than just hitting publish and waiting for the money to roll in.  It’s not always easy or viable to promote in all of these markets, but I guess a good place to start is by setting up links on your website and varying your links on social media to include stores other than Amazon.   Since producing paperback versions of my book with CreateSpace, I see how important it is to give your readers the opportunity to buy your books in whatever format suits them.  Just make yourself a strong cup bucket of coffee before trying any of this yourself at home.

My books are now available at the following stores:

Apple ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ OverDrive ~ Scribd 

THE DEFINITIVE SELF-PUBLISHING CHECKLIST ~ For People Who Aren’t Very Organised and are absolute beginners.

The definitive

You just hit publish, right?  That’s what all the articles say.  Any idiot can upload a book in minutes.  And yes, I suppose any idiot can, but it takes a very informed, dedicated, professional and talented individual to upload a book that people will want to read.  A recent Facebook post from a first-time author seeking advice made me realise how long I’ve been doing this self-publishing thang and how I’ve kind of taken for granted that everyone has ‘the knowledge’.  There are so many blogs, articles and how-to books on the subject, and yet authors can still struggle with the basics.  The first author asked what she should be doing in the run up to her launch and another suggested that while there is a lot of information out there, it’s almost overwhelming.  Where do you start?  Where does it end??  So in an effort to share said knowledge, I’m writing a blog with an impossibly long title, which will (hopefully) be filled with all of the essentials, while trying not to bombard you with too much scary stuff.

  1. Make a publishing schedule.  promo-calendar      So you’ve typed those blessed words, THE END and you’re mooching around the Kindle Direct Publishing website wondering where the publish button is.  Whoa there Tex, what’s your rush?  You’ve skipped the bajillion steps between finishing your manuscript and sending it out into the world for people to read.  So roll back your wagon and follow step number one – create a publishing schedule.  In my opinion, you’re going to need at least six months to get everything done before your book goes live, so first things first, DO NOT RUSH.  This is not a race, unless you’re hoping to win a medal for the person least prepared to publish a book.

2. Polish your prose.  Has your book been edited?  Proof-read?  Again, don’t rush out there and get the first editor you find on Fiverr.  There are so many ‘professionals’ who are feeding off the self-publishing industry, so you want to find someone who has a proven track record.  A great place to find all of the professionals you’re going to need is Indie Author Alliance Services Directory.  At the very least, get some Beta readers whose opinions you trust and respect.  It nigh on impossible to view your work objectively, so you need other eyes to see the things you cannot.

3. Hire a designer.  Again, you’re going to need time to find a good cover designer and depending on their work load, you might have to wait a few months in a queue, so best to get in early.  Again, look for examples of their work.  Don’t worry if you are on a budget, there are plenty of websites that offer pre-made covers that are really good value and you simply add your name and title.  The Creative Penn is a great resource for self-publishing and offers a handy list of tried and tested book cover designers.  This is just one list however, there are lots of designers out there and a great way of finding them is finding covers you like and checking out who designed them.

4. The Blurb.  You know, there are two sides to every cover and the back can be just as important as the front.  The blurb.  This is often the last thing authors think about and run up a quick summary in a ‘that’ll do’ kind of approach.  Do not do this.  Think about it, when you’re buying a book online or in a store, the cover is the first thing to catch your eye, but the very next thing you do is turn it over to see what it’s about.  This is your moment to hook the reader.  A few carefully-worded sentences are all that stands between them popping your book in their basket or placing it back on the shelf.  Spend time studying blurbs in your genre, Google ‘blurb writing’ and keep refining what you’ve written until you’re satisfied with it.  It’s not a summary and should be written in the same style as your novel.  As author Susan Kaye Quinn explains on The Bestseller Experiement podcast, ‘a blurb is flash fiction, only you don’t end it‘.  Write a killer blurb, or you’ll only have your shelf to blame (sorry!)

5. Formatting.  Before you can upload your book to Amazon or Smashwords, you’re going to need to format it.  You could pay someone to do this for you, but if I can manage it, I’m pretty sure you can to.  Everything you need to know is in this post by Catherine Ryan Howard  on Writing.ie. It’s pretty old, but I’ve yet to find a more user-friendly, dedicated formatting article that explains things as well as this.

The big question, should you publish a paperback version, is something you need to decide for yourself.  Kindle Direct Publishing have made it easier than ever to do this, and as soon as you upload your eBook files, it asks you if you want to make a print version.  In my opinion, you have nothing to lose but the time it takes to configure your cover (or pay your designer to do this).  My print sales are relatively low, but it’s good to give your readers the option.

6. Pre-order.  You know you can put your book on Amazon for pre-order, meaning that people can see your book before you launch (yay marketing!) and also order it ahead of time.  This will give your sales a bump on launch day and it also means that you can start promoting your book earlier and creating a buzz, while you’re still doing all of the finishing touches behind the scenes.  Confession:  I did not do this.  I was in too much of a rush.  So is this a case of do as I say and not as I do?  Well, yes I suppose it is, but only because I want you to benefit from my mistakes.

7. Reviews.  Reviews (1)If you are a new author, you will most definitely need the help of book reviewers/bloggers to review your book.  Now is the time to start approaching them, as the most popular ones work to very tight schedules that can be booked months in advance.  You’re probably starting to see that six months isn’t very long at all!  But how do you find book bloggers?  Easy, just type #bookbloggers into Twitter or Facebook or any social media platform and follow the links from there. The Indie View also provide an extensive list of bloggers, so if you’re still baffled by blogs, start there.

My best advice is to treat this like your typical manuscript submission process – find bloggers that are interested in your genre and contact them according to their book review policies.  You can get more information on how to approach book bloggers here.  Advance Reader Copies (or ARC’s as they’re known in the business) are essential if you want to have some reviews on your book’s page when you launch, so as soon as you have completed your edits and finalised your cover, start sending these out.  As a self-publisher, I only sent eBooks for review and used the preview file from my Kindle publishing page, so I could send reviewers a .mobi version.

There is also the hugely popular NetGalley where readers can request your book for free.  This is quite an expensive option and it’s difficult to say if you will hit your target audience here (as opposed to approaching reviewers personally), but if you can afford it, it’s definitely a powerful promotional tool.

8. Author platform.  If you haven’t already created an online presence for yourself, now would be a good time to start.  Yes, it can be time-consuming to set up and to maintain, but not only do you need a profile that people can connect with, you also need a profile so you can interact with other people.  The best way to get people interested in you is if you show interest in them.  Blogging is a great way to let people know who you are, what you’re interested in and what you’ve got coming up.  ‘But nobody cares!’ I hear you cry.  Well, you can start driving traffic to your blog from your Twitter account and Facebook.  While there is no way of calculating how much your online activity will result in increased sales, it’s definitely the best way to connect with readers and other people in the industry, which can lead to further opportunities for you and your writing.  If you come from a marketing background, you’ll have heard of The Rule of 7, which basically means that a prospective customer needs to see  your product at least 7 times before deciding to buy, so being active online can only help!

9. Price.  I have never given my book away for free.  Ever.  It’s just not something I would endorse – you might get lots of downloads but chances are that most of those people might never even read your book.  I also subscribe to the wacky notion that people deserve to get paid for their work.  The prevailing wisdom is that £2.99 is the average price for an eBook.  It might not seem like very much, but you get to keep 70% of your royalties.  It’s really up to you to decide what price you want to retail your novel at and the beauty of being a self-publisher means that you can change your pricing and experiment with what works best.

10. Promotion – As with your ARC’s, you need to start booking promo spots as far in advance as possible.  Book bloggers host author interviews and guest posts and there are lots of online eZines where you can submit articles (with links to your new release).  It’s also worth trying traditional media, like local newspapers or radio stations that might be interested in  your story.  As for advertising online – most ad sites require that your book has a minimum number of reviews, so you might have to wait a while for that, but you can run a Facebook ad or a Goodreads giveaway to create some hype around your launch.  (Caveat:  Goodreads giveaways are for print books only.  They are going to introduce an eBook version, but it will not be free, unlike the paperback giveaway).

And now that you have your own platform, why not run a giveaway on your own blog?  Use Rafflecopter, the gold standard for managing giveaways and I promise, it’s easy to set up and use.  If your book is part of Kindle select (which is absolutely worth doing) meaning that your book is sold exclusively on Amazon, you can start preparing your kindle countdown deal which you will be able to run 3 months after you first publish.  At that point, you can make your book available for 99p (while retaining your 70% royalty rate) and give  your sales another boost.

So there you have it, 10 practical ways you can prepare for your book launch.  HOWEVER, if you’re reading this and you’ve scheduled your launch for tomorrow and haven’t done any or all of these steps – fear not!  You have two choices here:  go ahead with your launch and try to do all of these steps in hindsight or just postpone it.  Trust me, unless you’ve done a fantastic job of promoting the launch of  your book online, no-one will even notice.  I remember when I published my debut novel, I sat at home all day, staring at the screen and wondering when the sales figures would start increasing.  Seriously!  That’s what I did.  And  you know what?  Nothing happened!  I had a handful of sales, but to my disappointment, the Internet didn’t stop what it was doing and congratulate me on publishing my book.  Do you have any idea how many books are self-published every day on Amazon?  Someone self-publishes a book every 5 minutes!  The best chance you can give your book is to follow all (or most!) of these preparations ahead of time.

Final piece of advice, try not to get sucked into the marketing vortex to such an extent that you delay starting your next book.  The best way to sell your first book is to write a second.

Best of luck!  You’ve written a novel, now go publish it.

Reviews – The Sequel

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My previous post about reviews (The Good, The Bad and the Ugly) was all about garnering reviews without annoying people or driving yourself crazy. However, I think this subject deserves a sequel, because asking for something and getting it are two entirely different things.  I recently received a 1 star review on Amazon which read like this:

THIS ITEM HAS NOT ARRIVED ON MY KINDLE, ALTHOUGH THE MONEY HAS BEEN TAKEN FROM MY ACCOUNT !!!!

*deep breaths*  Now I know that I have been a part of the movement which encourages readers to leave reviews, so I guess this was some kind of Amazonian karma, but I was kind of hoping for reader reviews.  Seeing my ratings go down because of a technical glitch in the downloading process suddenly brought it home to me; my book is now a product. It’s no longer the organic, living, breathing story that I painstakingly translated to paper (well, screen). It has now become something that shoppers add to their cart, along with a whole pile of other miscellaneous items.  All you have to do is look at the person’s buying history to see that your book entered their lives somewhere between an eyeshadow palette and an inflatable swimming pool. So when they leave a review, they are reviewing a product, just like any other. And lets face it, most people are motivated to leave a review when they’re either really happy with something or really unhappy. All of those in-betweeners tend not to leave reviews at all.

Yet, while Amazon is a marketplace, Goodreads is a platform purely for readers, or as they put it themselves, ‘a free website for booklovers’.  None of your brow wow palettes or Avery address labels here!  Goodreads is a place for people to share their reading lists, so despite the constant battle to feed the hungry Amazon algorithms with more reviews, I really appreciate the ratings from Goodreads readers, which can offer a more balanced picture of how my books are being received.  I have 125 ratings on GR which average out to 4 stars, so whenever I get a scathing review, I just remind myself of that and get on with my day.

In my last post I spoke about book bloggers who sometimes felt harassed by authors when it came to writing honest reviews of their books, especially if those reviews were negative.  It would appear that some authors think it’s best practice to pester someone into reading their book and then argue with them if they didn’t like it.  Not exactly the way to ingratiate yourself to the book blogging community! It’s an unusual relationship because, for the most part, authors don’t usually get the opportunity to engage with their readers and to be honest, this is probably a good thing. Unless someone is contacting you specifically to say how much they enjoyed your book (which is a magical moment and one to be savoured) the golden rule is simple; DO NOT ENGAGE! However, when you send your book to a blogger for review, there is a teeny tiny connection there and for some, it’s enough to make some authors disregard the golden rule.

But the fact is, not everyone (and by everyone I mean even people you’ve given a free book to) is going to love your book. Believe me, I know how it feels to have spent years working on something, only to have some randomer trash it as though it were nothing. All of that effort, slaving over every sentence, every decision… it hurts. But this is all a part of it. The life cycle of a book includes having readers that just won’t get it. And as an author, you have got to make peace with that.  *keep breathing!*  What does strike me as odd though is the amount of authors who see 3 Stars as a negative.  To me, 3 Stars says average, which, in the grand scheme of things is quite good actually.  On Goodreads, 3 Stars means ‘I liked it’.  Great!  I’m happy with that.  To be honest, as a reader myself, I give a lot of books 3 Stars and only edge up to 4 when I’ve been really moved by the story.  5 is for pure perfection.

In the week that saw book blogger bashing become an online sport, lots of people made some interesting contributions to the whole discussion around reviews.  I read one comment that suggested authors need to ‘disengage’ with their book once it has been published and let readers have their opinions. Another said that if you can’t handle negative reviews, don’t publish your book and just give it to your mother to read!  It is difficult to switch off from your work and at times, it’s hard not to take the criticism personally.  But they’re right – if you’re trying to avoid criticism, you’re in the wrong profession.  Using your voice, however you choose to express it, is more important than making people like you.  They might not like your book, but that’s not your business.  Your business is to write.

Conversely, you cannot remain blind to constructive criticism that can actually help you grow and improve as a writer.  There is a MAJOR difference between critical reviews and just plain bad reviews. And as an author, you can feel it. When someone reviews your book criticially, pointing out weaker sections or parts that didn’t work, you find yourself reluctantly nodding along and thinking, ‘Yep, I need to work on that.’ When you read a bad review, you just feel like shit. Reviews like, ‘This book is crap’, I mean really, where do you go with that? Nowhere – fast! I’m learning to let these kinds of review go. There’s a radio DJ here in Ireland called Larry Gogan who has been running the ‘Just a minute quiz’ for millennia. When a contestant is diabolically useless at the quiz and gets all the answers wrong, he has a catchphrase. ‘They didn’t suit you,‘ he’d say, with all of the kindness of an understanding grandparent. That’s how I try to see bad reviews now – my book didn’t suit them, and they didn’t suit my book.

When you publish your books, they go on a journey and will find their way to the right audience as well as a few wrong ones along the way.  I’ve been able to form this new outlook because of all of the positive reviews I’ve had from readers who have really connected with the characters and enjoyed the story. So I know my books suits a lot of people, but they don’t suit everybody and that’s got to be okay. As authors, the most important lesson we were never taught at author school was that, once you hit publish, your book becomes a product that people either like or don’t like. Like a vaccuum cleaner on amazon, people will have opinions about it that have nothing to do with you – it’s their experience of the book.  And you have to respect their right to express their opinions, whether you agree with them or not.

Joanne Harris, my go-to author on all things… authory, created the hashtag #TenThingsAboutReviews.  If you’re looking for ways to deal with bad reviews, I would strongly recommend you check it out.  And remember, negative reviews aren’t always bad.  For one thing, it means your book is selling and sometimes, it can offer you a valuable insight into what readers want more of (or less of, as the case may be!).  Use it as market research for your next book, but if there is nothing to take away from a review, leave it behind.

*Update*  Since writing this post, I’ve come to another conclusion: Reviews are for readers, not for authors.  Perhaps what people write in their reviews is simply none of our business because it’s not directed at us.  Think about it, when you review a book, you consider your audience to be other readers – potential readers of the book and those that have already read it.  I wouldn’t imagine for one second that the author is ever going to read my opinion of their book, or that it would matter to them one jot.  So maybe we shouldn’t be reading them at all!  I know there are authors who don’t, so at least this gives us an alternative to ‘start growing elephant skin and stop moaning!’  

You can check out my books (and my lovely reviews!) on Amazon

20 Questions ~ Chapter 4

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In this episode of 20 questions, I’m delighted to introduce the ‘powerhouse’ that is Lorna Sixsmith (a name that, according to my friend Google, is derived from her occupation as a shoe-smith!  Is there anything this woman can’t do?!).  Lorna has combined her two passions – farming and writing, to create a series of books that offer a tongue-in-cheek view of life on the farm.  Take it away Lorna!

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Lorna looking quite pleased, just having published her third book!

1. Hemingway famously said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Where the hell do you find the motivation to stick at it?

Having a deadline is a great motivator and I give myself one every year by launching a book at the Ploughing Championships. It means July and August are crazy! I do write better though when there is a deadline looming.

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2. Which would you prefer: monetary success or literary acclaim?

Monetary success please! I make more money per copy sold via my website or to gift shops than selling the “Nielsen” route so money over status please.

3. How do people typically respond when you say you’re a writer?
I don’t tend to say it that often to be honest, maybe it’s because I’m self-published and I’m still a bit self-conscious about it. I was at an event recently and introduced myself to a guy at lunch as ‘a farmer who writes a bit’. I got a lovely response then, as not only had he read my books but he was able to quote a couple of lines from my last one!

4. Social media – love or hate?
Love – it was a blog post that inspired my first book.

5. What would you classify as a ‘bad review’?
Someone who didn’t “get” my book but having said that, this happened to me recently with a review in a national newspaper and it kinda made me feel that I was now a “real author” as I’d got my first bad review. In hindsight, it was fine and intrigued people to buy it.

6. What’s the worst review you have ever given a book?
If I think a book is terrible, I don’t finish it and hence, don’t review it. I’m loath to give a book less than 3 stars although I have given the occasional 2 star review.

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7. Your publisher asks you to write a sequel to your very successful debut, but you never planned on writing one and you’ve left those characters behind. Do you (a) Write it and be glad that ANYONE is asking you to write more books? (b) Write it, but spend the whole time in an almighty huff about the whole affair, taking your anger out on your characters by killing them all off – swerving the possibility of a trilogy? (c) Refuse to sell out and walk away with your integrity intact, but your bank balance in a shambles?
A but probably with a bit of B in that I’d kill off the annoying characters. But then I’d reward myself by writing what I want to write for the next decade.

8. What book do you wish you’d written?
I love historical fiction that’s quite dark so I think it would have to be Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Loved it.

9. If you could ask your favourite author a question, what would it be?
I’d love to ask Donal Ryan if writing such dark stories affects his mood. I can’t see how they don’t and wonder how he can leave them behind at the office.

10. Which is your favourite part of the publishing process?
Publishing is always such a busy time and I always intend to have the books printed at least two weeks before the Ploughing Championships so I can get them into bookshops in time for the press coverage. It’s getting easier though and the two Irish wholesalers, Argosy and Easons, both took the new book in straightaway this year. My favourite part has to be taking delivery of the books and sending out some to shops and wholesalers straightaway. Oh, and reviews, good ones hopefully.

11. What’s the biggest lie you’ve ever told a potential publisher?
I’m my own publisher but I do tell untruths to myself such as “I promise to be more organised next year”.

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12. If money were no object, where would be your ideal place to write?
I’d love to renovate a derelict house on our farm, it’s very high up and only accessible with a jeep or tractor as it’s along a rough lane. It’s a fine two-storey house so a room in it with a wood burning stove would be perfect.

13. Do you think readers still value books in the same way?
I think so. I have a fan in Co. Donegal who texted me yesterday to say she has finished my new book and wants to know when next one will be out! High praise indeed from someone who loves books.

14. What genre are your books and do you find genres restrictive?
Mine are farming with humour but yet have practical tips regarding love and marriage too. A total mixture.

15. Do you have any unpublished books, buried at the bottom of the garden and doomed never to see the light of day?
No, but I have plans for about ten books – just have to decide which one is next.

16. What was your favourite childhood book?
Oh, I can’t choose just one. I devoured Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, some classics such as Little Women. Charlotte’s Web was a particular favourite though.

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17. Do you have any other hidden talents you’d like to brag about?
Feeding calves!

18. Book launches: all fur coat and no knickers or a valuable rite of passage?
I had my first book launch with my third book and was terrified there was going to be empty seats as knew people might intend to be there but would be in another area of the Ploughing Championships. It was fine but I do hate that kind of thing. I love attending other people’s book launches though.

19. What did you dream about last night?
I can’t remember last night’s dream but I recently had a terrifying nightmare which was a mixture of Gone, Divergent and the Hunger Games. I’ve been reading my daughter’s books and chatting about them with her and I think Gone pushed me over the edge.

20. What would you like your epitaph to be?
She blogged.

 

You can get Lorna’s books, including the latest ‘An Ideal Farm Husband’ on her website or Amazon, and you can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.

 

 

Cover Story

A recent trend of wrapping books in unassuming brown paper and jotting down the merest of hints as to what lies underneath is sweeping the nation’s bookshops and book-clubs.  I love this idea, because covers can often be misleading, distracting or ill-fitting.  The old adage of judging books by their covers exists precisely because this is what we do.  How much simpler it would be if all books could be wrapped in plain paper, but then we would miss out on the one opportunity to create a visual representation of what lies between the covers.

Being a self-publisher, one has the blessing/curse of choosing one’s own cover (not sure why I’ve slipped into the third person, but there we are).  It can actually be a really exciting, creative process, but when budget is a concern, there are limitations.  This usually means hiring a graphic designer who will give your cover the professional edge, but being on the poor man’s plan means doing a lot of the work yourself.  Nothing new there then.  So for my debut novel, I had eleventy-thousand ideas for the cover and bombarded my designer with images, patterns, frames, fonts… the list was endless.  In a bid to give me what I wanted instead of what I needed, she tried to incorporate as many of my ideas as possible and did a great job of blending them.  However, in hindsight, I realise that she should have said STOP!  In capitals!  Book covers are meant to be clear – telling the reader, at a glance, what to expect.  While I do like my cover, after a few years in this industry, I can see that I made some newbie mistakes.

So it’s time for change and a re-branding of my first novel, The Cross Of Santiago.  Similar to Outlander, this novel has two timelines with characters’ lives intertwining throughout.  And like Diana Gabaldon, I also struggle to come up with a condensed description of what this book is about.  As she herself said: “I’m still trying to figure out what the heck you call books that nobody can describe.”  It covers so many genres from historical fiction, to romance, fantasy, mystery and general fiction.  So instead I’m going to leave it up to one of my readers, The Bearded Bookworm, to describe it!

The Cross of Santiago is a historical fiction / romance novel set mainly in Galway, Ireland. It follows the stories of several characters from 2010 as well as slipping back further in time to the 16th century.
In 2010 we follow the stories of Amanda, a young women who was orphaned as a child and longs to know more about her biological family and Xavier, a Spanish man who has by chance become involved in an around the world yacht race which will finish in Galway.
After having no contact with her biological family following her parents deaths at a young age Amanda out of the blue receives contact from a law firm informing her that her aunt has died and left her a medal in her will. After experiencing flashbacks during a hypnotherapy session it becomes clear that this medal may be even more important than simply being the only remaining connection to her biological family.
Why does she keep having dreams of drowning? What exactly is the medal and how did her aunt come to have it in her possession? Are her visions representative of her inner emotions or are they memories of a previous life? And more importantly, what does the mysterious Spaniard Xavier have to do with it all?

Again, with time and experience, I have come to realise that the title, ‘The Cross Of Santiago’ doesn’t really mean very much to people.  I imagine most people have heard of the Camino de Santiago – a pilgrimage across northern Spain – and perhaps that association is a bit misleading.  I had thought of changing it before, but I assumed that once you published a book, you couldn’t change it.  Currently I am of the mind that you can do whatever the hell you want!  And what I want is for my novel to reach the audience it was meant for, and it’s my job to make sure that happens.  Besides, most novels have entirely different covers for different markets and various editions and I think that after three years, my novel deserves a new jacket too.  So after much thought and consultation, I am giving my novel a new title, THE HEIRLOOM.  It’s evocative, intriguing and after all, the entire plot revolves around the mysterious heirloom itself.

The changes haven’t been finalised yet, but having all the patience of a gnat, I just had to share it with you!  It all began with this beautiful shot – as soon as I saw it I knew that it was my new cover.

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Ta-dah!  Do let me know what you think 🙂  As I said, the kerning has to be finished and a few other bits and bobs, but hopefully this new cover and title will be live very soon.  I was chatting about this with fellow Indie Author Heather Wardell and she pointed out that the only concern would be readers buying the same book twice!  However, the clever people at Amazon have already thought of this and there is an option to publish my new cover as a second edition, which I think sounds rather fancy.  So it’s a win-win 🙂

You can now buy The Heirloom in paperback or eBook 

new heirloom1+1 Amazon (Paperback)Kindle ~ KoboNook ~ Scribd 

 

One Born Every 5 Minutes

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Idiots?  No, books on Amazon.  Apparently there’s an idiot born every minute, which unfortunately seems about right, but this blog is about publishing.  So with a mountain of new books being published by both Indie authors and traditional publishers every few minutes, how can you get your book noticed?

There’s nothing like typing the words ‘The End’ to get you all hot and bothered about publishers, bestsellers and writing acceptance speeches (*gushes* I really wasn’t expecting this!)  As a committed self-publishing author-entrepreneur, I do sometimes fantasize about life with a traditional publishing deal.  Would I be better off?  Or is it a case of ‘Is glas iad na cnoic, i bhfad uainn’ an old Irish saying meaning  ‘faraway hills are green’.

A recent article by Dougal Shaw for BBC News explores the current state of self-publishing and finds that, while it is a hard road, it can be just as successful for the author (if not more so) than getting that holy grail of a traditional publishing deal.  It’s true that Indie Authors have to be a lot more creative with their marketing strategy and their use of social media when it comes to peddling their wares, but the fact is that even if you’ve signed up with a publisher, the marketing will largely be left up to you.  Publishers tend to budget their marketing spend in such a way that sees them putting their money behind one or two ‘sure things’, gambling that the profit made on those books will pay for the other 99%.  At the end of the day, the best person to sell your book is you.  You have a much greater vested interest in its success and getting it in front of as many readers as possible.  A good example of how author platforms can work for self-publishers is Andy Weir’s book The Martian, which has since been made into an Oscar nominated movie.  The story was originally published chapter by chapter on his blog for free.  Now that’s a gamble, but a gamble that paid off.

How about earnings?  Traditionally published authors can expect to earn an average of 10% royalties on their books.  Self-published authors can earn up to 70% royalties, which sounds much more interesting, but there are several factors to take into account.  Indie Authors generally charge less for their books, as low as 99p for eBooks.  The flip side to this is that people are more willing to take a chance on a cheap eBook, thereby boosting sales.  However, you have to consider the cost to the author in producing the book, which brings me onto my next point.

The old belief that traditionally published books are better because they’ve been professionally vetted no longer rings true.  Indie authors are hiring professional designers and editors, so really, they are on a level par.  The only difference is that self-published authors bear the cost of all this outsourcing, so while traditionally published authors are totting up how much they’ll make on their advance, Indie authors have to make a lot of sales just to break even.  Then again, the beauty of self-publishing means you are always in control of your sale price and distribution, so you can run a Kindle Countdown sale for your book to boost sales or even make it available for free for limited periods (which I don’t agree with, but that’s a whole other conversation!)  The point is, you have far more control, so even a year or two after the book has been released, you can still drive sales with promotions and giveaways.

So, will I self-publish or start the long and frustrating process of sending out manuscripts?  Well, therein lies my next point.  Once my book has been edited, a cover designed and a marketing campaign put in place, I am ready to rock if I decide to self-publish.  With a traditional publishing deal, I first have to go through the submissions process, which can leave you waiting for anything up to six months for a response.  All of that time, your book is sitting on your computer, going nowhere.  If it does get accepted, it could be another year before the publisher decides to release it.  Now, you could say I should use that time to write my fourth novel (gulp), but it is a long time to wait for your baby to be born into the literary world.  I suppose I’ve become quite spoilt in terms of making all of the decisions about my book.  Self-publishing is a control freak’s paradise!

Regardless of all these pros and cons, there is still that sense of validation for an author who gets signed by a traditional publishing house.  It would be hypocritical of me to say otherwise, but when you get down to the nuts and bolts of getting your book ‘out there’, both options have their merits.  For so long the underdog and oftentimes dismissed as vanity publishing, self-publishing is now an equally viable choice when it comes to getting your book to market.  And if validation is the cherry on top, consider the validation of readers who decided to pick up your book, regardless of who published it, and leave wonderful reviews on Goodreads or Amazon.  Whichever path you choose (or whichever path chooses you!) you’ve got to be willing to learn the business and find a happy compromise between writing and promotion.

Things I’ve Learned About Writing… 15 of them!

typewriter-801921_960_720 Having reached the ‘Thank God the first draft is over’ stage of novel number three, (number four if you count my first unpublished manuscript) I feel I  have come to understand a lot about the writing process and what works for me.  Not content to sit here and keep all this useless valuable information to myself, I’m gifting it to the world!

  1. Your first book will probably be a bit shit.  That’s okay – it would be far more disconcerting if  your first attempt was your magnum opus (that’s Latin for ‘get the posh ice-cream out – I’ve just written a bestseller!’).  You will often hear writing referred to as a ‘craft’ and as such, you are doing an apprenticeship.  Get yourself down to the library – yes, the library – and find some really good books about writing novels, from arcs to POV’s, characterisation to pacing.  The only way to get better is to keep writing and not get too upset when you have to put that first manuscript in a file called ‘Why world?  Why?’ or as I labelled mine ‘That’s the end of this writing malarkey!’
  2. READ.  This is not optional.  Just like artists study the great masters, you have to study the great authors.  The trick is not to compare yourself to them.  That’s the quickest way to end your writing career.   As the poet Jane Kenyon said —“Read good books, have good sentences in your ears.”
  3. There is no ‘one way’ to write a novel.  Some people have mood boards with photos of their characters and settings, along with floor to ceiling post-it note maps, all tied together with a lattice-work of red thread.  Personally, I like to just sit at the computer and write.  ‘It’s all in here!’ I assure people as I tap my head.  Then I like to really ramp up the tension by doing things the hard way, like writing chapters out of sequence, creating different timelines and then frantically trying to match them all up at the end.  Bliss.
  4. Define your idea of success.  This is really important – in all areas of life.  In this age, I think we all suffer to some extent from the ‘nothing is ever good enough’ bug.  We are constantly bombarded with other peoples’ amazing success and so our own expectations keep shifting, as we are always looking for the next thing and the next.  When I started writing, I just wanted to write a book that I was proud of and that readers would enjoy.  My goals have grown and changed since then, but my idea of success hasn’t.
  5. Staring out the window is writing.  It just is.  Taking a bath.  Going for a walk.  Reading a book.  It’s all writing – so give yourself permission to spend time away from the screen.
  6. I used to think that your ‘writer’s voice’ was important.  I probably blogged about it (see point number 8).  Now I realise that a writer’s voice is the last thing you want to hear when reading a book.  I want the writer to be invisible.  I want the book to feel like a lost story I just happened to pick up by accident.  In other words,  good writing shouldn’t sound like writing.
  7. I like to write ideas down as I get them – preferably on random pieces of paper I will spend the next 48 hours searching for in the bin, while my lovely ‘writer’s notebook’ lies idle and pristine in some far-off corner of the house.
  8. There are an infinite number of bloggers online telling you how to write.  ‘100 ways to write that snogging scene’.  ‘150 ways to beat writer’s block.’   After a while, you realise that you would be better served spending your time reading the back of a cereal box.  (Who doesn’t love a good word maze?!) What’s worse is, you waste valuable writing time trying to learn a load of rules you’ll probably figure out for yourself anyway.  Unless it’s an established author that you admire handing out this advice (who’s at least on novel three!) – ignore it.
  9. I edit as I go along.  There I said it.
  10. Give yourself permission to write a terrible first draft.  I once heard it said that a first draft is telling yourself the story, so just let it be that.  A rudimentary ‘he said she said’ gawky-looking manuscript that will, after much love and attention (and unhealthy dollops of frustration) turn into a beautiful swan.
  11. If you ever want to get those odd jobs around the house that you’ve been putting off for years finished – start writing a book.
  12. Adapt or die.  Well, you probably won’t die, but in this highly competitive space it’s always good to be able to adapt your writing plans.  You may not get the publisher you wanted, or you might get an agent you hadn’t foreseen.  Maybe you’ll end up writing children’s books instead of crime.  Allow yourself to be open to opportunities, but that doesn’t mean you should write something you don’t love.  If you don’t love it, what’s the point?
  13. Connect.  Whether you are self-published or traditionally published, you are the best person to promote your writing and the best way to do that is to connect with your audience, peers and industry professionals.  Even though Twitter and Facebook are the MORTAL ENEMIES of your writing time, they are a vital tool when it comes to marketing your book.
  14. If you write – call yourself a writer.  Simples.
  15. Creating a book out of nothing is a kind of alchemy.  Enjoy the magic!  Writing is the best thing in the world because you get to tell a story that is uniquely yours, and in a way that nobody else could.  Write it, because no-one else can.

You can buy my novels in eBook and Paperbook format here:

Amazon UK : Amazon US : Barnes & Noble : Kobo : iTunes : Easons

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The Mysterious Bakery On The Rue de Paris (6)

The Cinderella Complex

 

The Cinderella Complex is defined as an unconscious desire to be taken care of by others.  And let’s face it, we all have times in our lives when we feel like that, which is perfectly okay.  But pinning all of your hopes on being rescued by someone or something outside of yourself won’t really get you very far in life (unless you are in fact Cinderella).  For the rest of us though, we have to become our own champion and make our own dreams come true.  The following article, in which I compare waiting for Mr. Right in our personal lives to waiting for Mr. Write in our professional writing career, features on Books By Women.

 

The Cinderella Complex – Waiting For Mr. Write

March 6, 2016 | By | Reply

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Go on, admit it. We’ve all day-dreamed about being the writing world’s equivalent to Kate Moss and being spotted in an airport (although, I’m not sure how likely it is that an author would be spotted in an airport).  But let’s face it, unlike Kate Moss, most of us have to work at being discovered and believing anything else is, well, a fairy tale.

The Cinderella Complex, a term first coined by Colette Dowling in her ground-breaking book of the same name, describes women’s hidden fear of independence. However, I don’t agree that this is purely a ‘woman’s issue’. Men are equally guilty of hoping someone else will swoop in and give them their happy ending.  (Ahem.) For years however, it was women who were encouraged to place all of their hopes and dreams on the arrival of Mr. Right, who would magically make all said dreams come true.

Read the full article on Books By Women here.

 

 

 

 

The Art Of Seduction

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There are three types of writers in this world:

  1. Those that drag out the story for so long that you start to lose interest and begin thinking of all the other books you could be sleeping with reading.
  2.  Those that race to the finish – so just when you start to get into it, it’s all over,  leaving you feeling short-changed.
  3. Those that get the balance just right – creating enough tension and complexity to hold our interest until the very end and perhaps leave us wanting more.

Having just completed the NaNoWrimo challenge in November 2015, I now have a wordcount of just over 50,000, which puts me in the 2nd category.  While January is traditionally the time when we are told to shed bulk, I am once again bucking the trends and hoping to pile on pages as I attempt to ‘beef out’ my novel, without adding any lard!  And therein lies the rub; how do you tease out your novel, without affecting the pace or losing the reader’s interest?

We’ve all read a novel where the writer has obviously been told to make the story longer in order to fit some publisher’s guidelines and the story has suffered as a result.  You don’t want to just add length to your novel for the sake of it – you want to draw out the pleasure of letting your story unfold, keeping your reader entertained along the way with various diversions and sleight of hand.  I like using NaNo as a tool to get a rough draft of my story down, but in order to get the readers to fall under my spell, the real art of seduction begins now.

According to Erika Mailman’s article in The Writer, your novel should have somewhere between 6 and 11 threads (based on her research of bestselling novels).

Some beginning novelists create plots that are too straightforward, with all the attention focused on a single pending event in the book. Readers, though, prefer a little more complexity, a story that better mirrors the intricate interweavings of real life.

If you want to increase your thread count, consider some sub-plots for your secondary characters (who can often end up like minions, there to do your bidding).  Give them their own conflicts that ultimately tie in with the overall plot.  Consider your overall themes when introducing new plot threads and if done correctly, your story should feel as rich as Egyptian cotton!

One of the cardinal rules of writing is ‘show, don’t tell’.  See if there are any scenes where you’ve summarized (told) instead of dramatized (shown).  Now is the time to get back in there and write the scene almost like a screenplay.  This is an excellent opportunity to increase the allure of your book to the reader.  Unless you are writing non-fiction, there is no point in describing the action to your readers – you want them to live it and keep them wondering ‘what will happen next?’

Adding characters is another way to add to your word count, but you need to be careful not to overwhelm the reader with random people who don’t have very much to do with the plot.  It might be easier to develop a character who already exists by exploring their relationships and deepening the bond between them and the main characters.  Creating ‘bonding moments’ between characters in your novel can give the reader a chance to breath between scenes and enjoy the natural progression of these relationships.  You could also explore their character traits in more detail, focusing on their unique qualities which eventually tie in to the overall plot.

Fleshing out characters is probably the most important aspect of editing, but fleshing out the descriptions of your settings is equally important.  It’s much easier to fill in these vital pieces of information after the first draft is completed, as you can really take your time and luxuriate in your descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells of your setting.  Just be careful not to overdo it – remember that you’re not writing a travel guide!

Finally, in order to steady the pace of your novel and avoid giving it all away too soon,  you could expand upon your characters’ interior monologue.  Again, this is a clever device that allows the reader a greater insight into your character’s thought process, while keeping the pages turning.

We all want our heroes to win out in the end, but that doesn’t mean we want an easy ride.  We want to be taken to the edge, challenged, surprised and led up the garden path just long enough to make the journey worth while.

 

 

 

 

Movie Magic

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Question:  Do self-published authors really need a book trailer?  Honestly?  Probably not, but then you’d miss out on all the fun!

While their novelty may have worn off in recent times, book trailers are still a fun way to catch peoples’ attention.  Whether or not they translate into direct sales remains to be seen, so it’s probably wise to save your pennies for things like professional cover designers and editors.  But with a little thought and creativity, you can create a trailer that will offer an extra promotional tool for your book.

Being a self-publisher, you soon get used to the fact that you have to do pretty much everything yourself.  This can have varying degrees of success, depending on your skill set, but if like me you thrive on finding out how to do stuff on your own, then read on!

After extensive research on the subject (by which I mean a quick search on Google) I discovered that there are two types of trailer.  The first is similar in tone to the movie trailers we are all familiar with.

‘In a world, where bland stories are lent a certain gravitas by a booming baritone voice…’

You get the idea – it’s basically the hard sell.  These trailers introduce the genre of the book and give a brief summary of the plot.  Those of us on a lower budget could opt for stills, which can be very effective if used in the right way.  But frankly, I think these type of trailers require a professional’s touch – otherwise they can end up looking cheap and doing your promotion more harm than good.

The other type of trailer is more of a soft sell and something all the PR gurus tell us to adhere to when it comes to social media.  (i.e. Stop shouting ‘Buy My Book’ to every passing Tweep).  Rather than focusing on the book itself, you can create a trailer that allows you, as an author, to connect directly with the reader.  A good example of this is Maria Semple’s trailer for ‘Where’d You Go Bernadette’.  It’s really quite clever, because, even though she is constantly referring to her book, we don’t feel as though she is begging us to buy it.  In fact, she shows us just how hard it is to sell a book these days and with a bit of humour and self-deprecation, we end up identifying with her on a personal level.

So when it came to producing a trailer for my second novel, The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris, I decided to put myself in front of the camera.  I must admit that I was a bit nervous at the prospect and so I decided to ‘hire’ two professionals – my nieces, Charlotte and Eabha.  It all went downhill from there!

Several jokes were harmed during the making of this video – what can I say?  I’ll never make it in stand up!!  There was a script; as in I told them to ask me questions about writing, self-publishing and my upcoming novel, but thankfully Charlotte decided to rogue and the result was a trailer that had nothing to do with the book!  While I don’t think Scorsese has anything to worry about just yet, I was quite pleased with the results.

And the best part is, I was able to edit the entire thing on Movie Maker.  It’s a foolproof way to add text and music (by the enchanting Amiina) and lots of other features to make your video unique.  The only limit is your imagination.  I think the main thing to remember is to keep it brief.  I often use the expression, ‘When you’re explaining, you’re losing’, so think of it as a blurb and don’t bombard your audience with information.

So how about you?  Have you made a book trailer?  If so, why not post the link in the comments – I’d love to see them 🙂