Thursday, 29 August 2013

Amazon the giant

I know how I feel about Amazon - I'm going to embrace it and all of the opportunities it provides for self publishing. However, it's important to gain a balanced perspective on this giant, so we can make informed decisions how best to use our time, energy and money when it comes to putting a self published book out there.

We know Amazon holds the lion's share of the eBook market, but is this good or bad for authors?

There are views that suggest Amazon is short changing us and here's why:

They have the monopoly so whether we like their policies or not, we don't have the audience or the financing to go elsewhere.

Under Amazon's various imprints, they've priced eBooks significantly lower than Traditionals ever could, thus securing their position as the eBook's gatekeeper.

In light of the above, have we gone from stuffy publishing houses telling us what is good to read, to Amazon allowing the market to be swamped with the good, the bad and the ugly - even spam - book covers with no content?

99p for a book is a ridiculously low price and has been described as Amazon's fast-food pricing model - a pound for a burger at Maccy Ds that takes five to ten minutes to make verses a pound for a book which took years...! Is that price point doing us, as authors, a massive disservice?

Just throwing these thoughts out there. What is important to remember, is that at any time you can change the price of your book (higher or lower), remove your book from sale and even sell it elsewhere without any contractual obligations to Amazon. So in that respect, it's a very flexible platform to work with. As with most things in life, you get too involved in the politics and soon the enjoyment is sucked right out of you. I'm keeping an open mind for now.

And Amazon still struggles in print publishing - not that they care as digi is their "thing" - but swings and roundabouts people. At the moment, there appears to be room for everybody.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The Traditional Publisher's weakness

A little word today on the Traditional Publisher's weakness:

It's interesting to read about the transformation of the publishing industry over the last few years. One thing I am picking up over and over is where there are weaknesses in the traditional publishing model, we, as writers, can exploit them and turn things on their head to make them work for us.

An example of this is the Trad's lack lustre approach to the digital age and the potential it holds. While we all long for a traditional book deal with that giant advance (although don't forget, you don't start earning royalties until the advance is paid back through book sales), the way to build a brand for ourselves and create a catalogue of our published work is to go down the self publishing route first - specifically with eBooks where the financial outlay and risk is minimal.

And why wouldn't we, when the potential to earn more and keep the investment running over a longer period of time with a digital rights contract with Amazon is readily available to us? It's a steady and predictable revenue stream to base our future writing endeavours on.

But, as with anything, for all the love we may have for Amazon in redefining the publishing model, sadly it does have its weak points too. We'll look at some of these in my next post.

Monday, 26 August 2013

An injection of realism in your writing life

I read an article at the weekend that really resonated with me and my writing life. It was about self publishing and how it won't replace traditional publishing, but it might supplement and influence it. The pros for self publishing in the article got me thinking. 

In life, as sad as this is, people are only deemed a success if they are rolling around in money. You can apply this principle to anything. For a writer, it means they are only a success when they are selling lots of books.

I'm certainly not saying don't have ambition, but creative minds need to be realistic - and everybody has to start from somewhere. Self publishing is a solid platform to take that leap of faith.

Personally speaking, I have changed my mindset a lot since I first started out. I had to do this in order to be productive, otherwise I would have given up writing a long time ago. Rather than thinking I must make loads of money immediately, I like to know my thoughts and ideas are out there in the world for anybody to receive at any moment. Thinking like this helps keep me focused and motivated. There is potential and that's all that matters. Right now, I view self publishing as a conclusion to my writing projects.

I know I won't always think like this. As humans we always want more out of something. Eventually I will want to have a giant internet following and eventually I will want to be traditionally published... but that will be the next chapter and the next one after that.

Little steps.

Self publishing is enticing because readers can get your book while you're still passionate about it. If you have amassed a decent sized internet following who are interested in what you're working on, then away you go. That's why it's so important to have a blog and social network. In contrast, the traditional publishing model puts money up front (the advance) and then sets about trying to build an audience for a book that's already created.

Whilst being published traditionally is great for the ego - how fabulous would it be to say "Headline are publishing my book in the Spring" - the risk that goes with it is greater as you're placed precariously in other people's hands. For me, control is quite important at this stage of my writing career.

We'll explore more of the pros and cons as this series on Self Publishing progresses.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Self publishing controls

Writing a book and publishing it yourself gives you something that not many occupations can - at the end of it you hold a physical manifestation of your hard work in your hands. All of those hours, all of those emotions and all of those words come together to leave a tangible mark.

As we've discussed, the appeal of self publishing are the controls you, the writer and creator, can exercise over your book. You can decide on a title, how much to sell it for, what it will look like, when it will be published and how you will market and sell it.

Do invest in an Editor because if nothing else, they will tighten up your writing, plot, characters and story line and let you know if you have a good idea - and how that good idea could become a great idea. Don't give up if the initial feedback results in more revising. It almost certainly will. However, this doesn't mean you aren't ready for publication and never will be. Do those revisions to create the best book you possibly can FOR YOU - but don't be so quick to give up your autonomy.

Maintaining the book's integrity is something we all worry about. I have an idea for this. Put the first few chapters up on story sharing websites. Gain an audience first through the numerous social media channels to see what people think. After all, they will be the people who buy your book when you eventually put it out there.

Digital printing and print-on-demand has paved the way for quick and economical book distribution not only for your readers, but for you as well. The elimination of financial exposure means you can experiment with marketing throughout the product cycle.

Don't rush to publication. I think I did with my debut. The problem was I didn't know what I wanted. I took so long to write the damn thing, I couldn't wait to get it out there so I could move on to the next one. I didn't realise I was doing everything in reverse. I didn't do my homework. I ended up with substandard editing, an ok book cover and a doomed price. It could have been so much better. And it will be - because we owe it to ourselves.

Self publishing isn't a last resort. Self publishing is a choice. I love having the freedom to experiment, to correct experiments that didn't work out and to push myself to make it better next time. Writing and publishing is a journey. I consider my debut an investment in my education.

Within days your book can be in the hands of your readers and within days you can see if anyone is buying it.

Unlike Trads, we are willing to share information about everything - pricing, formatting, marketing tips and tricks. There is a community feel to the way the industry has evolved. The Trads have shrunk but the freelancing market is brimming with experts to help us.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

From last resort to a successful trend

I'm not going to consider myself properly published yet because my debut novel was put on a print-on-demand server and assigned an ISBN. I've only recently discovered this - and understood it.

I can't wait to start over and self publish my saga and this is why:

Every part of the creative process is within my control and because the playing field is level - everyone has the same resources to sell their book thanks to the Internet - the factors needed to succeed (passion and persistence) are within my power.

Publishing houses used to have monopoly over everything, but now we have an up surge of freelancing professionals to help us create amazing books, social media exists where you can build your own community free of charge and we don't have to take huge financial risks.

The physical book format that we know and love is evolving, stretching and changing. So is the way in which we read a story. Apps, eBooks and reading devices no bigger than your palm bring about the ability to share, discuss and interact with content.

It's so exciting... and who knows what's coming next!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Self publishing musings

I've been reading a lot about self publishing in preparation for this blog series. Today's post is a collection of facts, observations and musings that have sparked my interest.

People worry about pricing their eBooks at 99p because it seems too cheap, but think about it this way: If successful authors are selling their books at £9.99 and you are selling your books at 99p and still making a profit, you don't have anything to prove. Rather, those successful authors have to prove they are ten times better than you!

Wouldn't it be exciting if your book was downloaded somewhere in the world every minute?

Amazon's royalty rates are as follows: 70% if your cover price is between £1.98 and £6.60 and 35% if you price either higher or lower. More on this debate to come...

For many authors, the time spent writing and researching a book is disproportionate to the time we actually spend packaging it and marketing it. So... write the best book you can write, get it edited to make it better, get it proofread to eliminate typos, have a professional design the cover, convert into an eBook, promote and market - and then start all over again on your next.

Traditional Publishers are still behaving as if they have the monopoly. What they do is punish both their providers (the authors) and their end users (the readers) by offering limited creative, financial and other terms to authors, and not fully embracing the digital market to give the readers choice.

As authors and writers we know how easy it is to publish something, but many people are still in awe of authors.

However, let's not forget that telling a story is hard. Getting the perfect blend of description, emotion, character creation, setting, atmosphere etc etc with words is still a very clever art.

Is "self" publishing just user generated content or does it have more purpose and value? Do you see YouTube as content, or as independent film making?

You can get lost in the debate surrounding the nature and meaning of "publishing" - vanity, self, indie, trade... We make our living by selling words, but it seems we can't agree! The task of educating ourselves and the ordinary layman is endless. Don't go there unless you have to. As Humpty Dumpty told Alice, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean."

Self publishing gives you three fundamental handles on your book efforts - price, control and speed.

There's never been a better time to be a novelist, but along with this liberation comes great responsibility. Authors have more to understand and more roles to take on.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Self publishing for starters

Back in October 2011 I started to realise that the Publishing Industry was changing in a very significant way and people didn’t really know about it. I wrote a series of posts at that time over on my website, where I talked about my book publishing experiences thus far. I remember it being a steep learning curve, and I guess in many respects, it still is. In this day and age, authors have to be all-rounders capable of anything and everything (see my post The 10 Jobs of a Modern Day Writer). It’s also a journey encompassing just about every emotion you can imagine.

Check out these posts:

The Real Deal - I talk about the differences between publishing with a Traditional verses an Independent.

Luxuries and Publicists – An example to illustrate the points I was making in The Real Deal, and posing the question “Publisher or Publicist?”

Publishing Revolution – Amazon verses traditional publishing houses as eBooks outsell paperbacks for the first time on Amazon.

Embracing Amazon – Amazon is actively plugging the gaps left open by Traditionals and smashing the stigma of self / vanity publishing.

What Will 2012 Bring? – An industry in turmoil with the spoils there for the taking, if we writers keep an open mind and embrace change.

So a couple of years on and eBooks are still going strong. There’s never been a better time to realise this market’s awesome potential and self publish your way to success.

Here are some pointers to start you off:

Find your price point - lots of authors are building their platform / online presence by keeping the price of their books between 99p and £2.99. Remember what I said in this post - I could make the same profit by selling my book directly with Amazon for 99p, as I am right now going through an Indie Publisher and selling it for £12.99!

Write great content - goes without saying. There's a lot of trash out there, people trying to make a quick buck by writing crap. Don't be one of them! Be the authority on your subject matter.

Understand metadata - I'm still getting to grips with metadata and search engine optimisation (SEO) but here's a post I wrote a while back to give you a basic understanding. You want to ensure your book is top of those search engines especially Google's.

Have a hook - with all the books online, you need to stand out from the crowd. Why should someone read your book over other books in the same genre?

Integrate online - don't just create your author platform and then sit back and wait for things to get started. You need to be blogging, tweeting, facebooking, Google+ing, Pinning, Instagramming, StumblingUpon daily to keep your digital presence alive. This is how you reach a worldwide audience with just a few clicks and you build your fan base slowly but surely.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Why should you self publish?

So far we've covered building your author platform and your brand, all the different elements you could include to reach a worldwide audience and how to get the best out of the tools available to you. We've also looked at how to be a better novelist - writing a great book to launch - and the publishing journey today and how it's changed to being mostly virtual.

Today I'm going to give you ten reasons why you should consider publishing your own books. This kicks off my new blog series "Self Publishing". Over the coming weeks and months, we're going to look at self publishing in depth and I'll have case studies, debates and useful advice to help you make an informed decision about this type of publishing. Five years ago, this would have been frowned upon - "vanity, vanity" - but not any more. In fact, if you dream about an amazing publishing deal with a traditional publishing house, self publishing your book first and drumming up sales into the thousands could prove incredibly resourceful.

Why self publish?

1) You can publish a book freely without the depressing submission and rejection merry-go-round.

2) Online marketing tools give you instant access to a worldwide marketplace.

3) There's the potential to earn a lot of money.

4) There's the potential to fulfill your writing ambitions.

5) Respectable authors are doing it.

6) Cuts out lots of middle men who all want a cut - agents / publishers / distribution channels.

7) Yes, marketing is hard work but you are in control of the experiments.

8) Technology and social media is there to be exploited - and most of it is FREE.

9) Any contracts with Amazon / Lulu / Smashwords are for as long as you want and there's no pressure to earn back the advance that you would normally get with a traditional pub. house.

10) If you're dedicated and you hang in there with marketing, you'll earn more over time (higher percentage of royalties on a like for like digital rights contract) than you would with a traditional.

We'll go into each of these points in a lot more detail as the series progresses.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Running with the moon by Jonny Bealby

When it comes to travelogues, I find it hard to find one that hasn't overdone it on the description, and when you don't know the place very well, too much description loses me. To have just the right amount of description to keep the reader's attention and engage them in your adventure is a very tricky art. What Jonny does so brilliantly in this story is mix a perfect blend of emotion, beautiful honesty, energy, courage, adventure and dare I say, spirituality into the narrative. For me, he strikes a chord and there are moments in the book where I applaud the prose and only hope I can be as good some day. I mean, the whole thing is edited to perfection, but those particular sections are extra extra special. Page 209 is a great example of this when Jonny finally reaches Cape Town.

This is the first travelogue I've read cover to cover and boy what an adventure. Makes me wish I had the guts to jump on a motorbike and ride down one side of Africa and back up the other. I love Africa, it's in my blood having contracted adventure tours there for a good eight years. This book was recommended to me by a friend who now works for Jonny over at Wild Frontiers. From the way he was describing it to me, I knew I was going to enjoy it. We all face crossroads in life and it's how we deal with the fallout of change that shapes our future. This is at the heart of Running with the moon. What also resonated with me from a travel perspective was the bits of Africa he travelled through which I didn't know very well, I came to know better, and the bits I did know, it brought back wonderful memories. The description of Lake Tana hotel in Tana, Ethiopia on pages 294 and 295 - I stayed there in December 2007 and it's still exactly the same!

If you love Africa and you love an adventure coupled with beautiful prose, this is definitely a must read. I am sure I'll be reading it over and over. 

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The Publishing Journey series - in conclusion

A final word on The Publishing Journey as we wrap up this series -

As I've been working through the posts, it's become obvious to me that the publishing journey - from book proposal to post launch exposure and everything in between - is a completely different beast to how I remember when I first started out at the age of 15.

If you aren't venturing down the traditional route - and even if you do - at some point you will need to embrace and learn about the virtual book marketing techniques available to you as a promoter of your own work. This series is packed with good ideas to kick start your publicity and branding - and I've been learning along the way too!

I'm going to squeeze in some last minute marketing advice for you before we get into all things self publishing next week ...

Like most of you reading this, marketing is something I've plunged into head first with no prior knowledge, but thankfully I'm picking up tips and tricks and helpful advice all the time.

Here are 10 pitfalls to avoid when marketing your book and how to stay on the straight and narrow:

1) Don't try to aim for everyone
You have written for a specific genre so stick to it

2) Don't bet on consumer rationality
Research suggests that emotion plays a big part in purchase decisions so market to your audience's whims. Don't be square with your strategy. Think outside the box

3) Don't take market research as the be all and end all
Interpret the data at face value and don't try to read between the lines - that could cost you

4) Don't get seduced by new, exciting marketing methods
Stick to what works whilst evaluating what might

5) Don't advertise your aspirations
You are setting yourself up for a mighty fall by inviting your potential readers to catch you out. Live by them and set the tone for you and your writing that way

6) Don't follow the leader
Focus on your individual hook because that's what makes your story unique. If you try and copy someone else's style or idea and it doesn't work, you are proving to your audience that you will never be as good

7) Don't create a big marketing team
What's that saying? "Too many cooks spoil the broth". I can't afford a big team of people to help me market my work which is just as well because the best committee is a committee of one

8) Don't starve your budget
Tricky because I have no budget, but every writer must somehow get their message out. For now I'm using free social media and the internet. That's as good a starting point as any...

9) Don't expect your marketing efforts to work immediately
It takes time to build a brand. Credibility grows through consistency. Plan plan plan and stick to your plan

10) Don't get stage fright
Now it's time to execute those plans and find out what works and what doesn't


And here's a novel tip for free advertising overseas:

Write a message in the front of your book linking back to a promotional piece about your story on your website or blog. If you travel a lot or know someone who does, give them a copy of your book to leave in a well trafficked area like a cafe, hotel reception or even on public transport. Get them to take a pic of your book in-country and "social media" it, then you could post their pic and words back to your website or blog and keep an area dedicated to this ongoing promotion.

Wouldn't it be amazing to see your book travel all around the world!!!

Monday, 5 August 2013

Networking tips

I promised a blog post on the daunting subject of networking so here we go. I'm hopefully going to show you that it isn't as scary as it sounds...

I know for a fact many writers are the shy, retiring type (like me). We don't want to talk to people. All we want to do is be left alone to write. Our creative space only has room for one!

But, here's a thought - what if you're already talking with fellow writers through Facebook and Twitter? And hey presto, guess what, you're networking.

My first word of advice - don't think of it as networking. Don't think of it as what can I do / what do I have do for this person for them to like me and connect with me. And turning it on its head, don't go into the relationship with the selfish motive of what can I get out of this, either.

Think of it as socialising with friends - meaningful sharing of ideas, sharing books and articles you've read and interesting industry advice. Who wants a shallow, negative relationship anyway?
Seek out the people you admire and invest in them. After all, you get out what you put in. And people will reciprocate. The idea is to surround yourself with those friends who will motivate you and keep you sane on the rocky road of a freelancer.
I love giving something back through my blog. Put yourself out there with your writing and pretty soon you'll be attracting like-minded people. It really is as simple as that - and once again I say Hallelujah to the Twittersphere!

Not only did networking uncover the real world of publishing to me, but it found me my agent, who in turn found me my publisher. I also made some good friends and held some lively debates at the events I attended. This is why it's so important to throw yourself out there every now and then. You never know who you're going to meet and what will happen.

Go on, go for it!

Here is a splash of my favourite networking tips:
  • Understand the other person's needs ahead of your own
  • It's not about quantity, but quality - find the right people
  • Proactively seek out people who you want to connect with
  • Offer praise first, then request help / advice later
  • Keep the initial contact short
  • Introduce people - this is my absolute favourite bizarrely enough. If I'm in a crowded room with too many people to talk to, I pair people off so I can talk to the one person I need to make contact with. Don't be a drifter moving from group to group. Sparkle, shine and hold your own
  • Make a point to follow up - hold my hands up, I'm rubbish at this
  • Exchange business cards and jot down one thing about that person on the back so you remember them!

Friday, 2 August 2013

Your book's exposure

Something I never capitalised on with my debut novel - because I was learning how the Publishing industry had changed and adapting - was maximising its exposure at the time of release. Looking back now, I would definitely have a solid marketing strategy in place before the launch date based on the advice I've been sharing in The Publishing Journey blog series.

We spend so much time plotting and writing a book, editing, re-writing, editing, re-writing so it seems criminal that the hype will probably only last for a couple of months after all of that hard work.

Marketing yourself and your book/s has to be scheduled into your writing week unless you can afford to pay someone to do it for you. It's a hell of a lot of work but will ensure you do your work justice and get it in front of as many people as possible on a regular basis.

The point is to keep networking - making new friends / contacts / potential readers and sharing your experiences as a writer. Therefore it stands to reason, much the same as the build up to your book launch, your long term marketing strategy should include some or all of the following:
  • Competitions
  • Giveaways - Goodreads is an excellent starting point
  • Blog tours
  • Make sure your book is advertised in your social media profile sections and on your website
  • Work on getting as many reviews as you can. Offer incentives. Share these reviews
  • Schedule interviews and save them as podcasts
  • Visit in person or use Skype if your audience is further afield to talk with book groups and writing circles
  • Talk at writing conferences
  • Enter your book into competitions for published authors
You know, this does take up a huge amount of your time and could completely overrun any time you have for writing, so don't pressure yourself to do all of these things at once. Pick one from the list and see how you get on. Maybe give yourself two months to accomplish it. If it doesn't work out or you didn't find it useful, pick another and try over. As I so often say, it's all about finding what works for you.

I'll have some tips for networking in my next post.