Friday, January 31, 2014

Letters to the Editor

After a trip to the UK which ended with a (possibly) successful trip to both the library and the local bookstore, I was feeling rather chipper about the whole indie publishing malarky.  So when I stopped by the local supermarket to pick up a Chai Tea Latte from a well known coffee shop, I was pretty excited to find a magazine about writing.  I hadn't come across anything like it in Cyprus, so I quickly snapped up my copy.

I sat down with said tea in hand and started devouring the magazine as if I was on a treasure hunt for the last piece of publishing advice ever written.  This magazine is full of helpful articles, and I have already read two excellent examples with regards to creating suspense and the plotting of a novel.  Maybe they will even make a planner out of me yet.  But what struck me most were the letters from the readers/writers.  One in particular struck a cord, and it went something like this.

Dear Editor,
I have been writing for over fifteen years now and I am frustrated at my lack of success.
My first novel was accepted by an agent.  They kept the novel for nine months and we began the editing process.  Unfortunately this novel was not picked up by a publisher and eventually the agent stopped representing me.  My second book was also picked up, this time by a different agent.  The sample chapters were requested by several publishers but after a search for a publisher lasting over a year, the agent decided that they would no longer be able to represent me.
I have since written six other books, all of which are full length novels and each of these books have been seen by both an agent and/or publisher.  Sadly, to date I have not been able to secure a deal to publish my work, although every publisher had something positive to say about my work.

Your magazine keeps me inspired and I will keep trying.
Yours faithfully......................

The first thing that struck me was the dedication that this writer has shown.  To span a period of fifteen years and eight books and still have nothing published for his/her efforts shows a level of commitment that many writers fail to achieve.  To sit down night after night and wrestle out words takes some strength mentally, especially when you have returned home from the day job, the kids are screaming and there is food to cook, and soap operas there to tempt you into laziness.  So credit where it is due and hats off to somebody who keeps trying to fulfil their dreams.  But the response from the editor was less enthralling.  It goes something like this.

Well done!  Great effort.  Keep plugging away and I am sure one day you will find a publisher!

Whilst this is indeed positive and encouraging, it fails to provide any other option for this dedicated writer.  I admit that I did not have the will to continue the search for an agent in the hope that one day a publisher would pick up my work.  After The Loss of Deference was turned down (and I have said before how it was rightly turned down because it needed a big edit prior to publication) I moved abroad, a fact I felt only made the search harder.  This is when I stumbled across self publishing, purely by chance one day when I was wondering how on earth I might still be able to follow my writing dreams.  I decided to give it a go, and it was this act of publication that spurred me on to write the rest of my books.  It is also through this process that I have learnt the value of editing, good cover design, and the valuable art of patience.  And a big part of this reason is the openness of the indie author community.

Now this writer in the above example clearly has a talent, and it would seem an endless amount of patience already.  To be picked up by agents and read by publishers on a number of occasions means there is some substance to her written work.  But there are now many options available to her in order that she might see her work in print, but nobody thought to point this out.  There are no barriers to publishing anymore, given a little bit of time and effort.  Self publishing is not a modern day replica of a vanity press, and neither should it be seen as such. 

Self publishing has launched many careers, and for the breakout stars like John Locke and Hugh Howey, there are hundreds more who are able to make a living out of their written work thanks to self publishing.  There are also the rest of us who are publishing and growing and working on their craft, and picking up the odd cheque along the way.  Being an indie author is for many a choice rather than a second option, and because the community is supportive of the 'competition' (because we all understand that another author does not equal competition) we help each other out and the word spreads, helping to connect writers with a group of readers who love what they have found.

Had I have known about the options to self publish at the very start of my journey, I admit that it is likely that I would have considered it a lesser, perhaps poorer option than getting a publisher through an agent and seeing my book on the shelves in W.H. Smith or Waterstones.  But that's because I was conditioned to believe that it was their way or the highway.  That there was only one correct way to publication, right?  Perhaps ten or fifteen years ago that was the case, and that the other options were the various faces of vanity publishing.  But publishing is a different world now, and it is a world that extends past the borders of London and NewYork. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

5 Mistakes that will Doom any Self Published Books

5 Mistakes That Will Doom Any Self-Published Book

I originally came across this article on Blue Ink Review and you can read it there in it's entirety.    In self publishing it is always easy to make mistakes, especially at the beginning.  I am no different.  I released The Loss of Deference with a substandard cover that had no relation to the genre, and the number of typos that got through to the final copy was like some sort of depressing treasure hunt that lead to me hitting the unpublish button and undertaking another edit.

As an indie author you have to be prepared to learn on your feet, and one of the best things you can do in my humble opinion is be prepared to acknowledge once you have made a mistake.  And say thanks to the person who is pointing it out.  No one likes an author who throws a strop with a well meaning reader/reviewer.

So over on Blue Ink Reviews Guest Blogger Paul Goat Allen is trying to show us that some of these mistakes are avoidable.  So wise up writers and check out this article that will no doubt improve the quality of your books.

By Guest Blogger Paul Goat Allen

I’ve read and reviewed enough books to know that self-published authors make common blunders that absolutely ruin the reading experience for me. These are giant red flags – ear-piercing alarms – warning me of an imminent bad read.

Consider this a public service announcement. Because as a reviewer, I want you, the self-published author, to bring your best; hit me with your best shot, to quote an old Pat Benatar tune. I want nothing more than to be blown away by a self-published novel and to shout about it from the rooftops for the whole world to hear.

Trust me on this: the last thing a professional book reviewer wants is to end up with a self-published novel filled with errors.

Listed below, in order of importance, are five mistakes that – in my humble opinion – will doom any self-published book.

1. Typographical and grammatical errors
Learn your craft, writers. Spelling and punctuation errors are the biggest red flags of all. If you can’t spell words that most fifth graders would know and you don’t understand how to use commas, chances are good that you probably shouldn’t be writing a book.
That’s not to say that a bad speller can’t be a fantastic novelist. It says he or she should’ve let a professional editor and/or proofreader correct it before publishing.

So now make sure you head over to the full article and read the rest of his advice regarding genre, cover, and when and where you should be boasting about your work. 


Friday, January 24, 2014

Homeward bound

Today I am in the process of packing my bag for a quick trip to the UK to catch up with my folks.  But there are some important bookish type tasks that also need completing whilst I am there.  So this list is as follows.

  • Check new copies of Identity X
I decided to get an order of six or seven (can't remember) copies of Identity X.  But this is interesting because I have always been a fan of matt covers and have just tested out there new option to order covers in this format.  I think it will look a lot better than shiny!!

  • Gift a book to the local book shop
I decided that the best way of getting a local book shop to stock my book was to just give them a copy or two.  I am really hoping that they like the free copy and chose to keep me around, but in the meantime it will just be nice to give back something to my 'local' book store.

  • Have a meeting with my designer
This sounds a bit high brow, but actually she is one of my oldest friends so it'll be a good gossip and catching up session with a hefty dose of design chat thrown in.  We will be working on the Psychophilia cover, and I might also test the water for the next book too!  Might as well be prepared!

  • Get new video camera
When I got married in August last year I decided to order a video camera for people to use at the wedding so that we could get some video footage.  The camera arrived at my Mum's house a week after the wedding, in another country.  So it has been sat there waiting for me ever since. 

  • Start a video blog?
And this leads me to the question of the day.  Really don't know if this is a good idea or not.  I'm not sure I am much of a actress, but I keep seeing interesting video blogs about bookish topics and it makes me wonder if I should be giving it a go.  I keep reading Facebook is dying and that less and less people engage and I have noticed a decline in my views.  Maybe I just got less interesting, but I don't think so. 

So, I'll be checking in in the middle of next week.  You might still find me on Twitter, snapping pictures of Warwick, Heathrow, and Starbucks Chai Tea Latte from time to time, and maybe a snap or two of the 'business lunch'.  You can find me on Twitter HERE and see what I get up to.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Baby names

Finding a title for my books is always a bit of a tough call.  I come up with lists and ideas and there is always something that I am uncertain about, and always something that doesn't seem quite right.  The only title that I have ever come up with and stuck to was the first book I wrote, The Loss of Deference. As an indie author, I get used to working on my own, and not really having a big team around me.  But sometimes you just need a bit of extra help, right?

When it came to Escaping Life there were at least ten other contenders that had the potential to make the final cut, and in the end I gave the final decision to my husband.  Entrusting him with such power seemed to enlighten something in him, and he has become a title providing machine ever since.  As soon as he gets the hint of a new book in the works, like a lion who suddenly spots a gazelle he wants a full breakdown of plot, characters, and to know the thematic threads which run through the novel and then he goes into overdrive, throwing titles at me sometimes before my eyes have even opened, or my head has lifted from my pillow.

So when I started writing during NaNo last year he was keen to listen to the plot, keen to point out it's flaws (another great help), and find out who the hero was going to be.  I came up with a working title, Omega, which he was obviously pleased about because it is Greek and so is he, and he feels like some of his superior/first/birthplace of civilisation might have rubbed off on me.  But although I could envisage the title on the cover in an elaborate mix of Greek and English characters, there was something that started to niggle at me.  I was starting to go off the idea almost as soon as I came up with it.  So then I checked Amazon, and found irrespective of my feelings about Omega as a title, there is already a book with that title doing pretty well on Amazon.  So I scratched it off the list and came up with another one.  The Winter.

Another perk of having a husband as interested in my publishing career as I have is that I no longer need to check my sales because he does it for me.  And by that I mean that he checks it at least three times a day.  I am sure this is because I promised him an Aston Martin when I make my first million.  So last night when he popped over to KDP to check the days sales, he found something he wasn't expecting. 

"What's this?" he said, looking over at me as if he had just found a message direct from George Clooney in my inbox.

"It's Omega," I said.  "I changed the title." 

Obviously disappointed with the removal of Greekness, he seemed distinctly less impressed by the new offering.  But I trust his judgement because he came up with both Identity X and Psychophilia, titles which I love.  I am not sure The Winter will make it through to final publication, but I look forward to the endless stream of ideas set to rain upon me in the next few weeks now that there is a new challenge ahead.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Back to the drawing board

Today I sit on the precipice of what is for me as an indie author, always the worst moment in writing a book from concept to completion.  The very beginning of the first edit.

This is the moment when you realise (hopefully) that halfway through the book somebody's name changed, that a certain character just disappeared from the plot altogether, and that at times it is doubtful I know what constitutes a full sentence.  This is also the moment when it is necessary to ask myself this one question; What the hell is this book about?

For me, the whole point of a novel is for something to happen.  For something to change.  That may sound simplistic, but I have heard many new writers asking for advice about plot lines and this is one of the most fundamental elements to planning a good plot.  Your protagonist, hero, bad guy, whoever it is you are writing about must undergo some sort of change, must experience the unexpected and the dreadful, so that by the end of the book he/she, and we as the readers, have learnt something.

I, like 309,020 others, signed up for NaNoWriMo2013 and wrote myself silly during November.  I put aside Psychophilia, the book that I was writing at the time to get stuck into the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month.  I hate to fail, and so I tapped away like crazy and got the manuscript finished with a couple of days spare. 

In the author community I have already started seeing some of the other manuscripts written during this time (Hugh Howey, Sand) come to publication.  So I feel quite sorry for my sad little file just sat there waiting patiently for me to give it some attention.  But by the end of NaNoWriMo2013 I was feeling completely skinned alive (see my post here) and needed to take a break.  The manuscript and I had fallen out.  I felt like because I had worked so tightly to a schedule, some of the fun had been ripped out of the writing process.  In all honesty I would have probably written the same number of words had I not been signed up for NaNoWriMo, but somehow the constant word counting and feeling like it was a race to the end, left me feeling a bit high and dry.

So now as I sit here looking at this very manuscript, the cursor blinking at me furiously to make a start, I am even doubting if the plot needs some fundamental changes.  Should I shift the survivors underground?  If I do, their whole lifestyle needs changing.  Should I work more on their clothes?  Where would they even come from?  And I am certain that Anthony Grayson becomes somebody else by chapter five.  So for me it is back to the drawing board.  Not just an edit, but a full overhaul.  The is going to be a long job.

There are some tough weeks ahead..........

Knowledge is Power

I was one of the weirdo students at school that seemed to bridge the gap between different subjects.  I wasn't a science geek.  I wasn't the best in English.  I did pretty well in music, and got a decent grade in art.  I was an all-rounder, so to speak.  This is not me trying to sound like a smart arse, rather me saying there wasn't anywhere that I particularly excelled. 

Then there are other students who are simply geniuses in one particular area.  Some will put this knowledge to good use and become the experts of the next generation, and some use it for more antagonistic purposes.  A good example would be the unceremonious war that broke out between two such boys at my school.  Genius One, let's call him, was a mathematical whizz, and will surely one day re-enter my consciousness when he is named as the scientist who disproved Einstein's theory of Relativity.  The other, Genius Two, was the boy who will no doubt go on to create the super computer upon which Genius One will succeed.  But when Genius Two used his knowledge of computer coding to produce a website that went viral (at least at school), a website dedicated to mocking Genius One for an unfortunate physical disability, we all witnessed first hand how the idea that Knowledge is Power, doesn't necessarily mean that knowledge is good. 

But then there are some kids who are just good at everything. These are the all round smart arses who have their finger on every button.  Currently this image below (courtesy of Buzzfeed) is doing the rounds on the internet and shows how a student called Sairam Gudiseva managed to interweave an intricate essay about renowned physicist Niels Bohr to include the lyrics of a Rick Astley classic. 

Whilst this amused me a great deal, one of the Facebook comments about it for me was even better.  At the University of Oklahoma, Dr. Schambaugh from the School of Chemical Engineering enjoyed perplexing his students with abstract and complicated exam questions.  The final exam question for May of 1997 in his Momentum, Heat and Mass Transfer II class was: "Is hell exothermic or endothermic? Support your answer with proof."  Here is one student's answer.

"First, We postulate that if souls exist, then they must have some mass. If they do, then a mole of souls can also have a mass. So, at what rate are souls moving into hell and at what rate are souls leaving? I think we can safely assume that once a soul gets to hell, it will not leave.
Therefore, no souls are leaving. As for souls entering hell, let's look at the different religions that exist in the world today. Some of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, then you will go to hell. Since there are more than one of these religions and people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all people and souls go to hell. With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in hell to increase exponentially.
Now, we look at the rate of change in volume in hell. Boyle's Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in hell to stay the same, the ratio of the mass of souls and volume needs to stay constant. Two options exist:
If hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter hell, then the temperature and pressure in hell will increase until all hell breaks loose.
If hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until hell freezes over.
So which is it? If we accept the quote given to me by Theresa Manyan during Freshman year, "that it will be a cold night in hell before I sleep with you" and take into account the fact that I still have NOT succeeded in having sexual relations with her, then Option 2 cannot be true...Thus, hell is exothermic."
The student, Tim Graham, got the only A.

Friday, January 17, 2014

What is the best eBook price?

Most of us at one point have bought a new car.  Now I am no petrol head, but I do appreciate a nice car, and have been known to browse the pages of Autotrader during an imaginary spending spree.  When faced with a list that has the likes of Range Rover, Aston Martin, and Jaguar, I can't help but take a look.  So lets just imagine I am about to drop a stack of cash for an Aston Martin DB9.  There are two almost identical models on Autotrader today.  One is selling for £31,500, and the other.........£850.  The automatic assumption is that this is either a mistake or a scam.  The price feels inherently wrong.  It's easy to tell, and nobody would go for the cheaper option. 

But what about if the cheaper option was only $0.99 cheaper, and the differences we were talking about are only a dollar or a pound here and there?

When I first started self publishing it was 2012.  One of the first names I heard about was John Locke, and whilst being in the indie publishing news for all the wrong reasons, he was also fairly famous for making a lot of cash by pricing his books at $0.99.  It seemed to be the sweet spot as far as pricing went, with lots of excitable eReader owners going crazy for bargains.  But since the early days when self publishing was still fairly new, it has now grown into a well known and acceptable route for a writer to publication.  And therefore a great route for a reader to get their books.  But readers have certain expectations.  They don't want to fill their eReaders with nonsense that is badly written or badly edited. 

So how do they distinguish between a good eBook, and one that's, let's just say, not so good?  The cover, the Look Inside function on Amazon, and reviews, are all ways in which a reader can take a decision.  But there is also another way, one that has much more to do with reader psychology than any tried and tested method, and that is price.

According to Smashwords, who analysed 11 months’ worth of sales  ($12 million, 120,000 eBooks sold), the $0.99 price slot was no longer the best level at which to price your books.  It seems that most books were at priced at $2.99, but yet those priced at $3.99 sold more copies.  It also seemed that the $1.99 price tag was a complete waste of time.  One commentator even suggested that for a writer to price their book at $1.99 would suggest that not only do they not possess good business sense, but also that they are probably not a very good writer.

Escaping Life is at the time of going to press, priced at, yes you guessed it, $1.99.

So why did I do this?  Because I know I'm a terrible writer and have to shift my books at a bargain price?  You'd hope not.  I simply decided to try three different prices for my three different titles.  $0.99, $1.99, and $2.99.  Which sold the best?  The Loss of Deference at $0.99.  Second best?   Identity X at $2.99.  Coming in last therefore would be Escaping Life, (except for a one month outlier post promo period) lost in the apparent black hole of $1.99.

But it is also true that most books are priced at $2.99 (according to Smashwords) so there is a potential for bias.  If the most successful titles are priced at $2.99, then there is an obvious potential for skewing the results.  If you have ten outliers in that price range who all sell 10,000 books in a few months, this price point can and will obviously come out top in a simple look at averages.

My intention when pricing my book at $1.99 was in the hope of attracting more readers.  I thought the price might attract somebody looking for a bargain and told myself not to be greedy for a 70% Amazon royalty at $2.99.  But it seems to be a mistake.  It looks like not only am I doing myself out of profit, I am also turning off readers because they assume what I done writ is a bit, well, shite.  The price point of $0.99 is well received as a promotion, a short term offer of which people can take advantage.  But if you want to appear as an author of work worth a readers attention, it appears that first of all we as authors need to know our own value, before we expect readers to recognise it for us.

So I'm going to up my prices as a bit of an experiment.  The results will definitely be skewed this month because I had an ENT promotion and the sales were unusually high.  I have adjusted the price of two of my books to $3.99, the apparent new perfect price, and will wait to see what happens by this time next month.

I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

More advice for writers, but not from me

I have come to believe that Facebook is one of those places that writers hang out in when they are either;
  1. Lying to themselves that they are networking
  2. Lying to themselves that they are researching
  3. Lying to themselves that there isn't so much editing left to do
  4. Have ran out of ideas
Ok, I know I am exaggerating, but this morning I was practicing excuse number three.  I was telling myself that the fifty pages left of Psychophilia can wait a few minutes or a few hours depending on how engrossed I get.  But there is a point to Facebook that reveals itself in various forms of cool stuff every now and again.
There are days when my newsfeed, and I'm sorry Facebook buddies, is simply full of shite.  I can scroll down to story after story and find nothing that interests me.  But today, TODAY, was something else.  You guys have obviously been taking the funny pills again because you have liked and shared and posted some pretty funny stuff.  Just for fun, and in the spirit of sharing some of the giggles, which even as I post it again now doesn't seem quite as funny (maybe I was the one taking the funny pills), I replicate one of the said funny images for you here.
But on a more serious note, Facebook is also the place where I came across author John Green.  In case you haven't heard about him he is a writer who almost became a priest but instead became a book reviewer and wrote for New York Times Book Review before writing his own book and then starting a video blog diary called vlogbrothers for which he covers just about every topic known to man.  The lack of punctuation in this last sentence is not because I went on an editing holiday.  John Green's videos do not have any punctuation.  He is the most entertaining and yet simultaneously exhausting person I have ever had the pleasure to watch.  He is also a fantastic author.  Check out The Fault in Our Stars.
John Green

So when this guy speaks, I tend to open an ear, stop scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed and take a look.  Today I came across a link to some of his wise words about the art of being a writer.  We often hear about how to market ourselves, how to write a good blog that keeps people interested (if anybody knows......), how not to spam people with book links etc etc.  But what about advice on how to just enjoy what we do.  In his own words, because I can't say it any better, here is John Green's advice.

Every single day, I get emails from aspiring writers asking my advice about how to become a writer, and here is the only advice I can give: Don’t make stuff because you want to make money — it will never make you enough money. And don’t make stuff because you want to get famous — because you will never feel famous enough. Make gifts for people — and work hard on making those gifts in the hope that those people will notice and like the gifts.
Maybe they will notice how hard you worked, and maybe they won’t — and if they don’t notice, I know it’s frustrating. But, ultimately, that doesn’t change anything — because your responsibility is not to the people you’re making the gift for, but to the gift itself.
The post I wrote on Monday was all about sales and figures, and to date on this blog it has been the most well received post, getting the most hits and the most positive feedback comments in various places I have pimped it out.  We all want to sell, right.  Well that's true, and I can't deny that I hope one day writing brings in enough cash that I can do it full time.  Ok, full time and legitimately, without feeling guilty or hungry.  But I didn't write any of these books with a £ or a $ sign in my eyes.  I wrote them because I believed in them, and when I look back at the pages in them now I see chapters of my life and different emotions peppering the plot and characters that I know come straight from me.    
People sometimes say that writers are closed people.  But I disagree.  I think writers are some of the most open people in the world, because we bleed our hearts and souls into the words and stories we write.  And John Green is right when he calls the end result a gift.
So I am turning off Facebook for a while and going back to the editing so that I may continue with the current gift in progress.  But this gift is not just to readers, but to myself.  I'll leave you with the last post I saw on Facebook before switching off.  I guess it couldn't be more suitable.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Eighteen months post publication

There have been many things that I have been impressed about as a member of the indie publishing community, but there is one thing that really stands out, and that is the willingness that people have to share data, including personal stats and sales data in order to help another writer.

Last Friday I mentioned to a fellow author in a Facebook group that I had noticed a degree of consistency in recent months with regards to my sales.  This was in response to another author referring to his own sales, and commenting how they didn't really seem to be coming very quickly or with any regularity.  They asked if I had a blog post regarding my sales.  I didn't.  So I have done one.  Here it is.

The following data is the real data straight from my KDP account.  This post is all about my first book, The Loss of Deference.  I published this book at the end of May 2012, so I am now 18 months post first ever publication.  When I think of it like that, it doesn't seem possible that it is only 18 months ago, and so much seems to have happened since then.  Since publishing this book I have written and published two others, I have a manuscript close to publication in the second quarter of 2014, and another first draft that seems to lend itself to serial release sat in a drawer waiting for my attention.  Sometimes I beat myself up a bit when I see other self publishing authors who claim to go from blank page to a finished publication in two months straight, and that one or two releases a year isn't enough, and wonder how it takes me eight months from concept to publication.  But I guess when I put it like that, I haven't done too badly for 18 months.  Anyway, I digress.  Back to the point of this article.

Let's just cut straight to the chase.  I promised you figures, right?  Honest figures.  I am not sensitive or too proud to announce that my writing career has not yet made me a gazillionaire, so this is book one, year one, in bare, unadulterated, at times depressing figurative form.

The table above is everything that happened with The Loss of Deference in the first eighteen months.  What I sold, and what I gave away.  I have left out borrows, because whilst they happen and there are a few throughout the months, I didn't find that it particularly added anything to the overall picture.
So let's just leave that to sink in for a moment.  I feel a bit like I have just shown you my credit card statement with a few of the zero's wiped off the record!  But that is the nuts and bolts of what went down so far.  In total, during the first eighteen months I sold 540 copies of The Loss of Deference on the .com and Amazon sites combined, of which 80% of those sales were from the .com site.  I also gave away 8,094 copies, of which 90% were from the .com Amazon site.  There were sales on most of the other domains of Amazon too, but in terms of seeing the greater picture that information was also irrelevant. 
So what do I take from this?  This morning I heard about another indie author who chose to reveal her stats, and lets just say they didn't look anything like this.  She had sold 10,000 books in the first couple of months, and whilst I love a happy success story, there is something about her story that doesn't fit the typical indie blueprint.  I think what I have sold in the first year when The Loss of Deference was a debut title, and for the first six months a single title, is a bit closer to the norm.  When I think back to months four and five now, and when I remember the excitement of hitting double figures in December 2012, it has been a great journey so far.  And the first cheque for £258 will never be forgotten.  It didn't pay my aforementioned credit card bill, but it felt damn good.
You can see that I have used the Select promotion with Amazon a few times throughout the last 18 months.  During these promotions I tried different techniques.  For the promotions in the figure above I tried emailing every single site/person/sockpuppet twitter account I could find in order to advertise my free book.  It was early days and I was new, so you can forgive me a bit of spamming, right?  It took me hours during every one of those promo periods, each of which was either 2 or 3 days in length to keep up with the social media element of the promotion, and in the end it didn't really amount in any huge impact or great benefit to overall downloads.  Spamming doesn't work after all!

During the September 2013 promotion, the best to date in terms of number of downloads I decided to contact only Pixel of Ink and Ereader News Today to advertise my free book.  I was lucky that ENT picked it up and I saw at least 50% of the downloads occur after the advert went out in an email.  Oh, the excitement of seeing the numbers rocket up that time!  There is no doubt in my mind that this advertisement was to thank for the increase in downloads.  This was a four day promo period.  I was a bit disappointed afterwards as there wasn't much of a sales bump, and because of this I decided to pull my books from Select, thinking that perhaps it just wasn't worth it.  Freebie-scmeebie, I thought.  But I had one Select day left so I decided, what the hell and threw in my last promo day at the end of the year just to use it up.  I gave away 185 copies and afterwards sold more than that during the same month, and since then the sales have been steady for the next two months.  Currently in January I have sold 27 to date.  I have just scheduled a free day for tomorrow as well, and will wait to see if another little push cannot keep this run going.  Yep, I'm still in Select at the moment.
The other thing that happened in September was the release of my third book.  Sales for which have definitely been better in the first few months than in comparison with The Loss of Deference.  I cannot help but assume that a greater number of books kind of acts like a greater sized fishing net and pulls in a larger number of eyes, which in turn results in all round greater interest and sales numbers.
So to date I believe that giving away my books has definitely been the catalyst for the majority of my sales, and I also think that the release of further titles has had a positive impact.  Advertising is important, and the best result for me personally has been when using Ereader News Today, which is likely due to their huge target audience (Facebook 467,019 Likes when I just checked).  The fact that 80% of the sales are in the US is no great surprise when you consider the size of the country, but the lack of impact that the advertising to date has had on UK sales, even with ENT, definitely means there is a gap in the market for the advertising of such events.  Guess I need to find out where that is.  So if you are at the beginning of your journey and feeling disappointed in only selling a few books here and there, just remember that sales take time to occur.  We can't all be selling 10,000 in a couple of months, as nice as it would be.  I started off with very few sales, and whilst they are still not great by any standard, I do feel that there has been a consistent and steady improvement.  If I made the same increases by this time next year I would be more than satisfied.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Literature in Hawaii

Back in November last year, Jill Engledow, a British writer based in Hawaii appeared on my blog in order to introduce her new book.  The Island Decides is set in Maui in the 1960s, and follows a young mother's plight to reclaim her lost child.  I was taken by Jill's story, and by the idea of life on what is known by most as a tropical holiday paradise.  So I was excited when she agreed to come back and tell us more about the world of books and literature of Hawaii.  Over to Jill.

On a plane to Paris a couple of years ago, I discovered that Hawaii is not as famous as we who live here like to think. To my amazement, the Frenchwoman sitting next to me had never even heard of Hawaii. So for those who also are unfamiliar with these lovely isles, allow me to introduce them.

Hawaii is a chain of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, stretching some 1,500 miles from the ancient, almost submerged original islands in the northwest to the largest, newest and still-erupting Hawaii Island at the southeastern end. These islands grew from a “hotspot” under the Pacific tectonic plate, which sends a plume of molten magma from deep within the planet to build new land in long-lasting, spectacular but gentle eruptions. Because the plate moves very slowly to the northwest, older islands are carried away from the hotspot and gradually dissolve into the sea. Six of the newer islands at the southeastern end are populated. 

That’s the geological background of islands that are farther from other landmasses than any place on earth. Today, Hawaii is the 50th state in the United States of America (and the birthplace of President Barack Obama), a place many Americans dream of visiting, a tourist mecca attracting people from around the world. 
I live on Maui, the second-newest island, still bearing the marks of volcanic eruptions less than 600 years ago and still potentially live, since 600 years is nothing in the life of a volcano. Maui is a place of great natural glamour, a “Goldilocks” island that is not too big, not too small, not too hot, not too cold. It has miles of beautiful beaches, an amazing geological feature we call the “crater” at the top of the volcano that makes up the eastern end of the island, a wealth of talent among its people, and gorgeous views anywhere you look. Obviously, I am proud to live here, but it’s not just me. The island slogan is Maui No Ka Oi: Maui is the best. And Maui is regularly named the “best island in the world” by various travel magazines.  

With that background, I’d like to share some suggestions for those who want to read about Hawaii. The islands have a long history of storytelling. The Polynesian people who first arrived here nearly 2,000 years ago believed fervently in the power of the word, and though they never developed writing, they memorized long, subtle, elaborate chants to preserve their history, tell of their chiefs’ adventures and praise the beauty of the land.
When Christian missionaries arrived in 1820, their first task was to create an alphabet, and within a few decades Hawaii had one of the most literate populations on the planet. They filled thousands of newspaper pages, putting ancient stories into writing. At last, that work is being digitized and translated into English, bringing a long-lost literature to the modern world. One great saga, of journeys undertaken by the little sister of the volcano goddess Pele, is The Epic Tale of Hiiakaikapoliopele. This illustrated book is pricey but precious, a collector’s item indeed. But there are plenty of Hawaii-themed books for regular readers.
A contemporary look at the skills and knowledge of the native people of Hawaii is in Voices of Wisdom: Hawaiian EldersSpeak, by MJ Harden, who interviewed highly accomplished elders, tapping wisdom passed down through generations. The beautifully written book is illustrated with equally beautiful black-and-white photos.
James Michener, an early master of the multigenerational saga, lived in Hawaii for years and wrote the fabulous book called Hawaii. I first read this when I was a youngster, and I remember sitting in the car waiting for my mother to buy groceries, reading the incredible first section that describes the Islands’ fiery rise from the ocean. Though I myself had seen amazing recent eruptions, it still boggled the imagination to think that the supermarket and its asphalt parking lot were built upon that fiery base. Michener’s version of Hawaii history is fiction, but I think it is true to the spirit and the general trend of Hawaii history over many generations. This classic is now available for the Kindle.

The American artist Georgia O’Keeffe visited Hana, a remote and beautiful area on Maui, in 1938. She stayed with a family whose daughter, now an old woman, has written a memoir of that visit, illustrated with paintings O’Keeffe did while in Hawaii. 

My own writing has been nonfiction until recently, mostly appealing to regional readers who know and love the Islands. Now I’ve ventured into fiction with The Island Decides, a tale of a young mother who “finds herself” when she travels to Maui to reclaim her lost child. I specialize in writing about the history of Hawaii (The Island Decides is set in 1971, which probably qualifies as history for younger people), and future novels will draw on the knowledge I’ve accumulated writing about Hawaii’s past. 

There are many other books about this beautiful place, including some by famous early visitors such as Mark Twain, Jack London and Isabella Bird. More are on the way, with a lively set of self-publishers on Maui alone; mysteries set in the Islands are particularly popular. If the books I have mentioned pique your interest, perhaps you’ll want to read more--or even come for a visit.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

When your local bookstore is 3000 miles away

My first memory of going to the bookstore was at school.  One of the teachers ran a weekly book club for which you could buy tokens to save up to buy books.  Now that same teacher may have been infamous for throwing a desk across the classroom - I kid you not - but I wasn't going to let a small thing like reputation stand in my way.  I bought my tokens every week, and every few weeks happily handed them over in exchange for a new book.  After this, and perhaps because of the teachers reputation, my mum got me into the local library, a place I went routinely right up until leaving my home town.  This was the time when I exchanged my residency in the fiction section for the biochemistry section at university.  It was definitely a lot less enticing. 

After moving to Cyprus my local book store became a lot less personal, too.  Whilst there is a great section for foreign literature, knowing that 95% of the books are not for me.......well that's just depressing.  I don't mind reading in Greek, and do so when I find something that doesn't look too difficult.  But reading fiction in Greek is only any good if I want to read a book every couple of months, or every three to four if I am being honest.  But also, other than being slow, it dramatically increases the changes of me speaking and writing in Greeklish rather than English, and as far as I heard, they were not looking for scriptwriters for Shirley Valentine take two.  Therefore when it came to books, Amazon, and the post office became my best friends. 

I love Amazon, I really do.  If it wasn't for Amazon I would most likely have five manuscripts sat in a cupboard rather than be published, and have way less access to the books I want to read.   But there is one element with which it just cannot compete.  The local bookstore.

There is something magical about that small shop on the corner full of books where you can go and browse.  I miss the idea that there is an independent bookstore just down the road where I can pop in and get them to order me a book that I can't find elsewhere.  Every shopper can benefit from an assistant who genuinely loves books, and who can make recommendations based on something other than your previous purchases or Kindle content.  I regularly do interviews on line and on other blogs, but I remember meeting an author in the flesh as a child and being amazed that the person who actually-wrote-the-book was standing in front of me and was signing my copy.  Such experiences brought me closer to my love of reading and the world of books.  But yet independent bookstores are suffering, and in 2012 The Booksellers Association reported a fall in the number of independent bookstores for the sixth year running, whereas Amazon reported a record number of sales.  Independent bookstores and independent authors seem to me to have something in common, and yet we barely have a relationship.

I still consider my local bookstore as the one that is over 3000 miles away.  Not exactly somewhere I can pop in on a day to day basis.  But I am on my way back to the UK for a few days in the next few weeks, and right after booking my plane ticket, I have sent a message to my 'local' store asking them if I can call in and give them a few free copies of Identity X.  It would be a real treat to see them on the shelf.  And whilst I am there, I might just stock up on a little bit of that magic that has been lost from the major sellers.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

New Writer, Know Thyself

A short while ago a blogger contacted me and asked me to put together an advice article for new writers.  This article first appeared on her blog, which has several very interesting advice articles for new and established writers in 'Between The Bindings'.  You can read mine below, but make sure you take a moment to stop by and visit Meghan, the Gal in the Blue Mask, too!

When Meghan first contacted me and asked me to write an advice article for new writers, I wondered what it was that I was supposed to know.  It’s tempting to try to sound important and act like I have some compelling advice that will help you write your masterpiece, snare an agent, or better yet a publisher in New York.  But the truth is that when she asked me, I didn’t really know what to tell you.

One obvious starting point is the same advice that I see repeated all over the web when new writers ask how they are supposed to become successful.  It goes something like this. 

1) Get a blog

2) Get a Facebook account

3) Write a good book

4) Tweet about said book until somebody other than your mum buys it

5) Make money and celebrate

I have seen this kind of advice time and time again.  It makes it sound like there is a twelve step program on how to write the next NYT bestseller.  Actually, it’s not bad advice, at least steps one to four.  I believe that having a blog is the best way to showcase consistency in your writing and style, and Facebook is the biggest social media platform in the world.  I have made friends in five of the seven continents through Facebook and this has definitely resulted in sales.  But the fact is this.  You probably already knew that you should do some/all of the above, and if you didn’t at the start, I bet you have read it somewhere else already.  All I gave you by writing it again were ten minutes of displacement activity for you to think about how one day you are going to become a successful writer.  As practical as the advice is, it’s kind of like an empty promise.  It doesn’t really amount to anything, or help move your dreams forward.

So instead, I wondered this.  What would I tell myself right back at the start of my journey when I wanted to become a writer?  What would the 32 year old Michelle tell the 18 year old version, other than the fact that the Jennifer Aniston haircut won’t suit me, and that going to Megadeth gigs will definitely screw up my hearing?

Well back in 1999 when I was eighteen, as well as bad hair and questionable taste in music I developed a great love of film.  Especially Sci-Fi.  So when The Matrix came out I saw it at least five times at the cinema, and at least one hundred times on DVD, re-enacting the fight scenes with anybody willing.  But in my haste to move in bullet time and work out where to buy Trinity’s boots and sunglasses, I missed the best piece of advice for my potential future as a writer.
Temet Nosce.
Know Thyself.

In The Matrix, Neo takes a trip to see The Oracle in order to find out if he is The One.  This is what she tells him.  Temet Nosce.  She informs him that nobody could tell him that he was The One, just like nobody could tell him if he was in love or not.  He would just know it. 

When I was contemplating writing the first chapter of my first book around the same time, I still didn’t know myself as a writer, or really believe that was actually what I was.  It took another seven years before wrote the full first draft, and even then I was full of doubts about whether it was any good.  I thought that because I didn’t have a degree in English Literature that real writers would think of me as an imposter.  I was pretty sure that somebody would take one look at my work and point their finger to question what the hell I thought I was doing.  Even a couple of years ago I was still mooching around advice websites asking people what they thought of this, and what they thought of that.  It was as if I was trying to make excuses and shift the responsibility for saying, this is who I am, and this is what I write.  As if I was waiting for somebody like The Oracle to tell me that I was a writer.

So, teenage Michelle, twenty four year old Michelle, and New Writer.  Listen up.  Know thyself.  Know that being a fiction writer is not about pleasing others.  You cannot work to prescription with writing like you could in your old job as a scientist.  There is no correct method to follow.  No correct story to tell.  Nobody can tell you that you wrote the wrong thing, but only if you know what it was that you wanted to write in the first place.  They can reject you, yes.  I was rejected loads of times by agents and publishers.  You can indeed be something that they are not looking for.  But they cannot tell you that you are not a writer or that you got it wrong.

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t follow other people’s advice.  Advice like reading a lot and doing endless amounts of revision of your work are really important.  But you learn this quickly.  The thing that is harder to learn is that you shouldn’t look to anywhere else for validation that you are a writer.  Know it because you do it.  Write what you want to write, what you feel.  Know that you have something to say and keep going until you have finished saying it.  I can’t promise you it will be any good, but I can promise if you keep doing it that it will get better.  We can look to the Stephen Kings of the world or the Hugh Howeys and say that’s where we want to be.  We can look at their methods and see what worked for them.  But ultimately, nobody wants to be a replica. 
Know that your skills and your talents are what will take you forwards.  To have belief in your abilities to produce something original and of merit is the best thing any new writer can remember.  Only then will you produce work that you can truly be proud of, and that in itself is an element of success.  Only once you know yourself, can you stop trying to please, or be somebody else.