London Book Fair 2013

This week the London Book Fair takes place in London’s Earl Court exhibition centre. It’s one of the biggest events in the writing calendar for British authors. I went along to find out what it was all about. In this blog I’ll cover What is the London Book Fair?, What resources were there for authors? Why did I go? And What did I get out of it?

What is the London Book Fair?

The London Book Fair is huge. It features 3 days of focussed business around the buying, production, marketing and selling of books. Now, I’m an author, so you’d think there wouldn’t be too much in it for me. What do I know about publishers selling books to distributors? And what interest have I in new grades of ink being sold to printing companies?

That’s exactly what I thought before I went. The London Book Fair isn’t an opportunity to sell books as an author to either fans or agents or publishers, so why go? Why spend £30 and take a day of my annual leave to attend an industry event?

Why did I go?

Before I went, I was unsure about attending, because of the industry focus. But I was encouraged by 3 people:

  • My friend Yvonne, who went last year. Word of mouth and personal endorsement is important for me, especially as it means giving up a day of my annual holiday entitlement. I have to know I’m getting value for money.
  • Lucy Hay of http://www.bang2write.com / @bang2write who told me it was a great way to connect with industry professionals, especially on the side closest to the author.
  • And finally http://www.diymfa.com. Not specifically. Gabriela, who runs the author support website, has been blogging recently about authors acting like authors. That means forgetting about whether our books are published, or even finished, and starting to act as if we’re already part of the industry. After all, if not now, when? Being an author isn’t just about writing words, it’s about doing all the things that authors do: talking about our work, improving our craft, attending industry events and so on.

What resources were there for authors?

This year, the London Book Fair, or LBF as it’s called when you’re there, opened up to the people most vital to the whole industry: authors. After all, we’re the people who create the content in the first place. While wandering around I heard many people – printers, agents, marketing people – commenting that this was the first year that the LBF had properly focussed on authors. So what did we get?

First, there were 250 free seminars. Not all of them were focused on authors – for example, there were seminars on How To Get Into Publishing, on legal issues like Tackling Copyright Infringement or on technical marketing topics like Delivering ePub3 Titles to Support your Direct-to-Consumer Strategy. All very industry focused.

Us authors, on the other hand, got some quite well focused seminars, mostly aimed at self publishing, which was a major theme running through the event. Here’s a sample of the author seminars on day one:

  • Book cover design workshop
  • The author journey
  • How to get a literary agent
  • Ask the editor
  • Book marketing workshop and
  • Self publishing 101

For those new to writing and who aim to publish, there was plenty to keep us involved. Remember, too, that this was only day one. I’m not going to days two or three due to work requirements, but the seminars continue, with topics like:

  • Helping readers discover your books workshop
  • Children’s book editing surgery
  • Key skills for success as a hybrid author
  • The author as entrepreneur
  • Introduction to KDP and CreateSpace (Amazon’s digital and print self-publishing platforms)
  • Making the right choices as a self-publishing author and
  • Super Q&A with industry experts

In amongst all of this are technical seminars for people in the industry and interviews with published authors like Lionel Shriver.

What did I get out of it?

I think I’m only just starting to digest what I got out of it, and no doubt I’ll blog in more detail about some of content as I reflect on it, or start researching. Immediate information for fellow authors:

 

  • The Alliance of Independent Authors

As it says on the tin, this is a support organisation for people who choose to publish independently. The website is here:

http://allianceindependentauthors.org/

The seminar leader took the audience through a coaching session, where we were all asked to write down answers to the following prompts and learning points:

Being an author means taking enormous risks. What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? How did you handle it? How did it turn out?

What’s the biggest risk you need to take with your current writing project?

What are the three issues with your current writing project where you feel most out of your comfort zone? These could be connected with the kind of story or characterisation, or on technical issues like formatting, editing, self publishing, marketing or selling it.

Any self published book actually needs a team of people behind it, and we have to consider ourselves Creative Directors. We can’t do everything. We need to enlist people to help. For example, to proof read, to design a cover, to help with marketing, to copy edit, and so on.

What’s the budget for your book? To get it done properly, rather than chucking any old rubbish onto Kindle, etc., we should probably aim for around £1000. That’s right: even these days where we can self publish for free, we still need to invest in our product to do it properly.

Copy editors are essential and should charge around £20/hr. A typical spend for a book being copy edited starts at £500.

Who is your audience? Where do you find them? How will you get your book to them or in their awareness? You can’t market your book to everyone.

 

  • How to find a literary agent

This was a broad ranging discussion between 2 agents and someone who runs a marketing company aimed at self-published authors. Here are my tweets from the session storified:

http://storify.com/astrotomato/what-agents-are-looking-for-lbf13?utm_campaign=&awesm=sfy.co_r4eG&utm_content=storify-pingback&utm_source=t.co&utm_medium=sfy.co-twitter

Apart from the tweets in the Storify link above, agents said:

Chick lit is getting less attention from publishers

Straight vampire stories have passed their current peak

Psychological thrillers continue to sell well and are of interest

Scifi authors should know that military SF, steampunk and cyberpunk are selling well

 

Those are some of the technical things I got out of it. But the real gain comes on the personal level.

Long time followers of my blog may remember the trials of Becoming An Author. What was really great about the book fair was hearing the Alliance of Independent Authors go through all those questions that I’ve already asked myself: take risks, write outside your comfort zone, involve other people in your writing project, and so on. It was validation – maybe even linked into confirmation basis – that I’ve been doing the right things, by and large. I still need to save up £500-£700 to have my books copy edited, but that’s just a finance issue, not because of any resistance on my part.

Hearing authors ask agents questions that were similar to my own experience was also gratifying. I think the one that made my heart leap was this:

If an agent says they loved your book, and you’ve been through some re-writes on it for them, and they ultimately don’t pick you up because they can’t sell it to publishing marketing departments, should you believe them?

This is exactly the experience I’ve been through. “Loved the book, was on a knife edge about picking it up, but can’t sell it to publishers as they’re all asking for 50 Shades of Grey derivatives.” The agents responded thus:

Yes, the agent is telling the truth. We get lots of books that are brilliant, that are worthy of publishing, from excellent writers, where we genuinely can’t sell them because of the marketing departments of publishers.

The agents went on to talk about this in more depth, covering their own frustration with publishers who have become more risk averse and profit focused. There was discussion about the rapidity of self publishing and the sluggishness of the traditional industry to change, and how both needed to learn from the other. Self-publishers need to avoid the temptation to rush to publication, with a suggestion to focus more on improving story quality, design and marketing plans first. While traditional publishing needs to try more new books, across different genres, even if there’s no ‘obvious’ market.

And above all, I got to see the look on other authors’ faces when they listened to the agents. I got to hear the questions they were asking, and mark my own progress as an author against them: ahead of 90% of them, but behind the odd one who had sold more than 500 copies of their books and were making a small income from them.

Would I recommend attending the London Book Fair to other authors? Absolutely. There were some logistical issues that need sorting for next year, giving author events more space and quieter venues, but that aside, any self-respecting author should make a bee-line for the event when it rolls around in 2014.

Free Robocop fan fiction

Howdy groovers,

on this week’s blog I’m giving away part one of a Robocop fan fiction story I wrote last year.

Go to my store to download A Dollar Badly Spent, Part One: Bixby’s Story.

Hope you enjoy it. If there’s any interest I’ll publish the second part in a couple of months’ time.

astro, x

Writing updates

Good day.

I’m covering a number of different topics in this blogpost: updates on my writing projects, updates on me as an author, updates on applications to agents. And whatever else crosses my mind.

Writing projects updates

  • planetfall

Well, book one is published! I still owe a huge debt to the cover designer @moviessimple.

The feedback has been phenomenal, too, with really good reviews from customers on Twitter, the Facebook page I created for the book, and reviews on Amazon.

The reviews really help: every time I publicise the book with a genuine reader review, it helps sell another copy. Reader feedback is key to growing the buzz around the book. You read this kind of thing from other authors and artists, saying how grateful they feel to their readers or fans, and now I know from their point of view how it feels. I am indebted to the readers who have taken a risk with my book, and who have felt motivated to write a review. Thanks to each and every one of them.

planetfall book 2: Children of Fall is coming along well, when I have time to write (I’m now back in full time employment). I’m up to 70,000 pages, and finding that my early predictions are bearing out: this is going to be a big book. It will come in somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 words. A typical book is around 70,0000-100,000 words long. At the moment I’m not prepared to edit it to fit into a 100,000 word size. The story needs to live and explore its universe. Once I have a full first draft, I’ll see what’s needed and what’s extraneous and kill my darlings appropriately.

The story is getting good feedback from my writing circle, too, and they are nothing if not honestly critical. They’ll rip something to shreds if it’s not up to standard, as well they should. That’s what critique is for.

  • Robocop fanfic

Some longer time readers of my blog might remember that I wrote some fanfic last year while I was unemployed. What was supposed to be a 1000 word piece on Robocop turned into a ~35,000 word novella. It’s still very raw and unfinished, with half developed characters and some plot lines that just fizzle out. I’ve been thinking recently of resurrecting it and finishing it to a reasonable standard (not highly polished) and making it available as a free ebook download. Just for fun, you understand. More news as and when.

Updates on applications to agents

  • Backpackers

Before Christmas I undertook some significant rewrites of Backpackers, following some very positive feedback from agents. I’ve sent it to 23 agents so far. Of those, about 7 sent personal responses saying that they really liked it, but that their agency was listing different kinds of stories at the moment, or that as much as they liked it, they couldn’t see where it fit into the current market.

I met an agent in October last year, who confirmed that if agents give a personal response beyond a standard reply, that it means you’ve got something good.

Emboldened by these responses, I re-wrote part of Backpackers following a lengthy response from one particular agent. The re-writes were to make the story more commercially acceptable. The character Jack Wolf has been boosted from a bit part in one chapter to being one of the two loci of the story (the other being Cath). He now starts and ends the book, and the thrust of the narrative is about him trying to find the backpacker, Cath Pearson.  This meant re-writing the first 2 chapters almost entirely, a later chapter where Cath originally met Jack (now it’s her 2nd time, completely ditching the character John, and re-writing the final chapter.

I remember about two years ago a good friend, whose mother is a successful author, asked me how I would feel if I had to re-write a story to meet market expectations, and move it away from what I wanted it to be. My answer then was the same as my approach to the re-writes: The story I want is on my laptop’s hard drive saved in a previous version. No one can change that or take it away. What happens to it after that, to make it commercially acceptable, doesn’t matter. After all, a piece of writing only becomes a book when it forms a bridge between author and reader. And if the story needs to adapt so it reaches readers, then that’s fine by me.

So where am I now?

I sent the re-written Backpackers back to that most friendly agent. She kindly re-read it and wrote back saying she was still on a knife edge about whether she should pick it up or not. Ultimately, she went with market conditions: there just doesn’t appear to be the demand from sellers (not necessarily readers) for the story type in Backpackers, so she passed on it.

Obviously in one sense, that’s hugely disappointing: to be so close to the next step to publication, only to have it pulled away. But I was struck by her email: “You can write,” she said, “and please immediately send me anything else you write in future.”

I might not have hit the bullseye this time, but I have an open invitation to submit work in future. And that’s ultimately good news.

  • planetfall

Following the really positive response to planetfall from readers, I’m wondering if perhaps the book is a little better than I think it is (it’s my first novel and full of technical problems). So I am having a second round of sending it to agents. I only ever sent it to 10 agents anyway, and perhaps should have persevered a little more. planetfall never got the level of positive response that Backpackers has, but I did get personal emails from agents saying they liked it and that (beware, deja vu alert) that type of story is missing from the current market. Which worked against it, of course, because sellers weren’t looking for those kinds of stories…zzzzzz. Sounds familiar :-/

I have told agents that I’ve already published the book, and have pointed out the marketing I’ve undertaken, and the reader reviews that it’s gained. In that, I think I’ve changed my approach to agents. I am treating the submission query as a business pitch: here is some product, it has some traction with the market, there is a marketing profile around it, it has already sold a few copies. I’m not sure what response that approach will get, but I think it’s worth trying different approaches beyond the “Here’s my book, please like it!”* that I was using in my first round of submissions.  (*not actual text, professional authors, don’t worry.)

Updates on me, the author

You might have noticed the last few blogs having a slight change: confidence. I am no longer someone who writes books, I now consider myself an author. I hadn’t quite conceptualised it that way until I read a recent DIYMFA newsletter.

It’s a subtle shift in thinking to an outside, but I think inside it suggests quite a radical shift.

My self identity now includes an acceptance that I am an author. This is what I am, this is what I do, this is what I will continue to be.

That means that I will prioritise writing before other things, in the same way that for 40+hours per week I have to prioritise work because I am also a sustainable development professional. I love doing that kind of work, it helps make the world a better place and it pays for my food and home. If being an author could do that to a level where I could survive, I would take the chance. (I already took a huge chance in taking redundancy from a well paid job in 2011 so I can write constantly for a year and improve my writing skills. That risk, that chance, paid off. I made it into an opportunity, the fruits of which are outlined above.)

Because I now think of myself as an author, I’ve started thinking of doing things that I never previously considered. For instance, I will be going to the London Book Fair this year. So what? Anyone can go, you pay £30, you attend. But this is different. Previously I’d considered it was for industry professionals only. Now. Now I consider myself an industry professional, and that I deserve to be there. It’s the attitude change that’s important.

I’ve started running promotions as an author for planetfall, too. The recent competition I ran to give away copies of the book was successful, and got me good feedback. People have said they can’t wait for the sequel. There is a sense of expectation on me as an author, which means I need to respond by being an author who delivers.

Creating community

A few blogs ago I said I would write a blog about creating community, and how important it is as an author. I don’t have time to do that at the moment, so in the meantime the best thing I can do is point writers and authors to DIYMFA’s online resources for building community:

http://diymfa.com/category/community

And remember, the best community you can have is joining a writing circle where you regularly take your work and receive critical feedback on it. Re-writing with external feedback is crucial to improving our writing skills and the work we produce.

As ever, I’d love to hear what you’re up to with your writing. You can contact me on Twitter at @astrotomato or by email on astrotomato@gmail.com Just say “Hi astro” if you like.

A bientot,

astro x

Customer reviews for Planetfall

Tonight I put out the call: “Have you read Planetfall? What did you think?”

Two readers came back with comments, one on Twitter and one on the book’s Facebook page.  Here’s what they had to say:

The first review was on Twitter, and straight to the point!

Planetfall is bloody brilliant

Planetfall first customer review

Phew! It’s always good to know that a reader likes your book. But what about the other readers? Here’s some more feedback, this one from one of the lucky competition winners:

Competition winner's review of planetfall

Competition winner’s review of planetfall

As you can read, they “loved it” and thought it was “great writing”. This is the point where my head starts to explode. But fear not dear reader – hopefully soon there’ll be a magazine review which totally demolishes it to bring balance back!

I probed a little with this competition winner, to find our what they specifically liked. They mentioned the main character and the pacing of the book:

Strong female protagonist

What was your favourite part of Planetfall?

I’m relieved that the main character, Kate, has come across so well. I put a lot of effort into writing Kate, and it was very important to me to have a strong female protagonist; science fiction is often lacking in these.

One of the early criticisms of initial drafts of the book was its slow start: the opening chapter was slow and cinematic and atmospheric. But of course readers need a hook and action. I’m really happy that the reader has said that they “loved right from the first page there was action”.

The comments about Kate are reflected by another reader who compared the book to Iain M. Banks’ work. The first comment comes from their experience part way through the book:

Customer feedback6

Then a little further in in which they compare it to Iain M. Banks (nice! thanks):

Customer feedback5

And finally after finishing the book:

Tweets about planetfall

A series of tweets about planetfall

That final comment is great, “More please” and chimes with the reader further above who asked for more.

After five years of writing the book – and indeed, as the first book I ever wrote – this is a huge relief. I remember when I finished the first draft, and somewhere on Twitter is a tweet proclaiming it. And now I’ve had my first reader reviews I feel like I’ve finally completed a journey with it from decision to write, developing as a writer, finishing the book, having initial drafts proof read, making amendments, beefing up certain characters, re-writing the opening chapters endlessly… The end of a journey, and a happy one at that.

If you’ve read Planetfall: All Fall Down and have a review, I’d love to hear it – good, bad, indifferent, I don’t mind. Please let me know what you thought of it.

astro x

Competition winners

A few weeks ago I ran my first ever competition to promote Planetfall: All Fall Down. I put up two signed copies of the book.

Not to be falsely humble, but as a self published author with no commercial backing or significant public profile , I knew that there was a risk no one would enter.

I am, therefore, hugely pleased to say that I had four entries to the competition to win the two books. And because I was so relieved, and because the number of entries was just a couple more than the number of books available, I’ve decided to award all entrants with a signed copy.

So congratulations to:

  • Martin in Neath
  • Paul in Huddersfield
  • Carolyn in Leicester, and
  • Holly in Chingford.

They’ve all won a signed copy of the paperback, which *cough cough* is available from Lulu through my store with a 15% discount for the next few weeks. Well done to all of them.

The correct answers to the quiz questions were:

1. All Fall Down is set on a desert planet, where there are important minerals in the sand. Which famous science fiction book (and later film) was set on a desert planet devoid of water and full of giant worms? – DUNE by FRANK HERBERT

2. All Fall Down is available in paperback and as an e-book. Which platform/website is each available from? (Hint: check my Store.) – KINDLE and LULU.COM

3. The final question is actually just a question from you: what was your book of 2012? I’ll collate the competition entries and produce a list of favourite books from you all. There’s no right or wrong answer, I’m just looking to share reading tips!

The books recommended by our lucky winners are:

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Walking Home by Simon Armitage

Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson, and

Will We Ever Speak Dolphin? by Mick O’Hare

I hope the winners enjoy the book!

astro x

How to self publish

I recently published my first novel on Kindle and paperback. And between 2010 and early 2012 I published two shorter books, Ayla’s Journey (a dark and surreal illustrated children’s book) and Dark Things (short dystopian stories, some of them flash fiction). This experience has led me to giving advice to other authors about self publishing, which I thought would be useful sharing with a wider audience. So here we go – an Idiot’s Guide to Self Publishing.

Part one – Preparing your text

1. Make sure you have a complete text you want to publish. By complete, I mean it’s been properly proof read for spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, punctuation and formatting. There are a number of ways of achieving this. Read it yourself in different formats: I recommend printing it, going somewhere different to your usual writing environment, taking a red pen with you, and running the nib of the pen over the paper as you read. You will pick up different problems to reading on the screen (which if you only edit on paper, you must also do). Then ask someone else to read it. You should be doing this anyway – texts that want to be published are as much a product of the writer’s imagination as they are of the reader’s. So have a couple of friends read the text, and ask them to circle all of those errors, as well as give critical feedback on the story, its characters, those all important opening paragraphs, page and couple of pages, and how satisfying the conclusion is.

We’re not quite finished with the text. A few little prescriptive things:

a) Font. You might have a favourite font that you use. But is it readable once printed? If you’re going to publish as an ebook only this isn’t so important, because you can change the font on your device. But if you’re publishing to paper you need to choose your font. There’s a good guide to choosing fonts on the self-pub.net website. I would avoid Times New Roman (it looks amateurish in print), and stick to a font like Book Antiqua or Bookman Old Style (note the hint in the font title).

b) Page layout. For this section we need to pick up a book and open it to the first chapter. I’d like you to look at how paragraphs are laid out. Note that the first paragraph of a section is aligned with the page margin, while subsequent paragraphs are indented, like this:

First paragraph in line with margin.

Subsequent paragraphs start indented.

This is industry standard, and you must also follow it. This might mean re-formatting your entire book. Sorry, it’s necessary if you want to be taken seriously.

c) Section breaks. Some writers like to put an asterisk or other symbol between sections within a chapter. The standard is to use a single line break. It’s up to you. Most texts will look better with a single line break, unless your text is in a particular style (like a Gothic horror) and the symbol adds something to the atmosphere.

d) Font size and line spacing. Tricky. On ebooks you can adjust it on the device, so there’s not much to worry about. In a print book there’s only one way to tell if your print size and line spacing look good on paper: print and be damned. That means going right through this process, ordering a copy of your book and seeing how it looks. For guidance, I’d advise 1.5 line spacing and a font size of around 11. However you should also check the typesetting information in printed books you own, which sometimes describe the font and size.

2. Still here? Now you need a cover design. Some people are lucky enough to know artists and designers who they can ask to create book covers. There are also freelance book cover designers (find them through internet search engines).

If you’re creating an ebook, you will need your cover image prepared.

If you’re publishing on paper only, you can use the self publishing site to create a book cover.

3. We’re still in preparation mode aren’t we? So let’s go back to your book text because there’s a few things it needs: legal information, acknowledgements, copyright notice, contact information and page numbers.

a) For the legal information, simply copy the text from the front of an already printed book. I advise slightly amending any wording that isn’t about legal things to make it your own, but as a minimum you want to say something like: “Copyright © Your Name 2013 The right of Your Name to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her/him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.”

b) Acknowledgements are those thank yous that you want to give to whoever helped you write the book or encouraged you along the way. You don’t have to put them in. You might have noticed that they’re sometimes at the end of the book (my preference) instead of the start. It’s up to you if you include them.

c) Copyright information. You’ve already shown your copyright in the legal information. Now you need to say how and when your text can be copied, re-distributed, transmitted and so on. You’ll find this in the legal information text in the front of most books. Like I said, I recommend just copying the text from a book – you should notice that they’re pretty standard paragraphs across different publishing houses.

d) Contact information: these days being a self-published author is all about building an audience, and that means people need to be able to contact you. You don’t have to, of course, it’s simply advised. There are a number of ways to achieve this. Set up an email account specifically for your writing (do not use your own email address), set up a Twitter account, Google+ or Facebook page, or create a blog which has feedback options.

e) Page numbers. If you’re not sure how to insert these into your document, you can either click on the Help option inside your word processor, or in most word processors, you can use a drop down menu called something like “Insert” or “Edit”, and then an option like “Fields” or “Special”. In OpenOffice go Insert > Fields, and in Microsoft Word go Insert > Page Numbers. These instructions work for PCs; I don’t know much about Macs, sorry.

4. We’re still in preparation mode. We’ve done a lot to the text and the contents, and we’ve started thinking about the cover. You might have made a lot of changes. If so, rest your text for a week or so, come back to it with fresh eyes, and read it through again with a red pen. Self publishing is all about polishing and polishing and polishing. Now make a cup of tea, you deserve it.

Part two – Registering with self publishing sites

1. This is probably the bit most want to know about. You’ve heard of other people self publishing, but you’re not sure how you do it yourself. Let’s manage your expectations right now: this is going to take a while. You can save your progress and come back to it, if you’re pressed for time. Just be prepared for this to be easy, even while it’s time consuming and laborious.

2. We’re going to use Amazon as our self publishing site. Once you’re up to speed with using Amazon, you can use other sites, like Lulu or Nook or Google Books. So, go here https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/signin and create a user profile. This site is called “Kindle Direct Publishing” or KDP. It’s going to be your central resource for getting an ebook out.

3. Now you need to set up a different user profile on a different site for the print version of your book, so go here: https://www.createspace.com/ This is called CreateSpace. If you have a central Amazon account, you should find that the KDP and CreateSpace accounts are automatically linked together.

4. Later, you can register on Lulu.com for print and ebook if you want. I prefer Lulu for printed books, because the book creation process is a little easier to use. But for the moment, let’s concentrate on the Amazon facilities.

5. Go back to Kindle Direct Publishing or KDP. Once you’ve registered, you should see a screen like this:

Image

To start the process of publishing your ebook, click on that yellow button “Add new title”.

Step three – Creating your ebook

1. Click on that button! You’re taken to a page which is headed by Your book, and then there’s probably a box underneath about enrolling your book in something called KDP Select. Ignore this for now, you can come back to it later.

2. Start filling in the details for your book. That’s how easy it is: you’re just filling in boxes. But now comes a tricky part. You’ve been asked for a Description. This is the short paragraph that people will read when your ebook is listed on Amazon, which should grab their attention. Rather than spending hours trying to think what to write, go to a successful book’s page, say Life of Pi, read the text, and adapt the style to suit your own book.

For example, the Life of Pi text says this:

One boy, one boat, one tiger …After the tragic sinking of a cargo ship, a solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild, blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a zebra (with a broken leg), a female orang-utan and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger. The scene is set for one of the most extraordinary and best-loved works of fiction in recent years.

To adapt this for your book, break it down into the elements, and include your own book’s details. So let’s assume you’ve written a book about a family at war over several generations.

One family, three generations, one deadly secret. [See how we get a quick description with very short elements.]

When Arthur graduates from college he expects a bright future. [Now we have a male lead, and we have something to gain and lose: a bright future.]

But his attempts to leave behind his working class background bring him into conflict with his parents. His struggle to move on with his life brings out a secret hidden by his grandparents, which threatens to tear apart the entire family. [Now we have a problem establishing, conflict, and a hint at the consequences.]

Spanning three generations, Arthur’s Kitchen Sink explores the tensions at the heart of every family and how love can tear us apart.

Anyway, you get the idea. Use the hook, give us the context and then create the conflict and what’s at stake for your character. Then finally place the book in its genre: scifi, fantasy, literary fiction, thriller, etc.

3. When you get to section 2. Verify Your Publishing Rights, you should click the following:

a) This is not a public domain work… Most authors will use this option. It means the work is yours and belongs to you.

b) This is a public domain work… If you’ve taken works that are out of copyright you have to choose this option. For example, some people collect old versions of The Brothers Grimm stories originally published in the 1800s and now out of copyright, and publish them as collections.

4. Now you need to upload your book cover. Fortunately we covered this in Part one – Preparation, and you have a file ready. Make sure it’s saved as a .jpg. Once you’ve uploaded your image, you should see it appear on the page behind the upload box. Now just click the little [x] in the top corner to get rid of the upload box.

5. Upload your book file! You can upload a .doc, but I recommend something first. Open your word processor and then open your book file. Now we’re going to save it as a different file format. If you’re not used to doing this, it’s really easy, and here’s the step by step guide:

a) Open your file

b) Click on the File menu

c) Click Save As (note: do not click “Save”, you must click “Save as”).

d) Now you have the save window on your screen. Look near the bottom and just below your file’s title is an option saying “Save file as type:”. Click on the little arrow on this box.

e) Go through the file formats and click on HTML or HTM. Now click SAVE.

f) When you upload your book, look for the .html version. It makes the file conversion a but easier for KDP.

6. Now you’ve uploaded your book you can preview it online. Finished? Almost there. Click Save & Continue.

7. Now we’re into pricing. This requires a little bit of thought.

a) Click Worldwide rights.

b) Choose the 70% royalty rate if the book is your original creation. If it’s a collection of other out-of-copyright works, then click the 35% royalty rate.

c) Choose your prices. KDP gives you minimum prices. It’s up to you what you choose, but some advice first. If you have no audience, no public profile, no previously published works or reputation, setting a price at book store levels will work against you. Try setting a price of USD $3.50, and click the boxes for the other territories saying “Set price automatically based on US price.”

8. Done that? At the bottom is a little box you need to check saying you’ve read the Terms and Conditions. Click it and press Save & Publish.

9. Well done! You think you’ve published your book. Not quite. First Amazon needs to check that you’re not publishing porn or anything illegal. If all is well, within 24 hours you’ll receive an email telling you that your book is now available for sale. You’re a published author! Brilliant. That’s the end, right. Right? Well, it could be. Or it could be time for…

Step four – Marketing your book

1. First we need to understand “marketing”. If you think it means “advertising” you need to read this. If you know what it means properly you can skip forward.

2. Marketing is about making your product visible, attractive, interesting, desirable and of forming a connection with your potential audience and purchaser. Advertising is a part of that, of course. If it helps, imagine you’re in a physical market, surrounded by market stalls, each selling foods and clothes and consumer goods. There are hundreds of them. How do you know which stalls even exist? Which stall do you choose? Do you even know what you’re there to buy? Now consider it from the market stall holder’s point of view. You’re selling clothes, but everyone else is selling similar clothes. How do you make yours stand out? Even worse, your stall is stuck down in a corner behind 100 other stalls. This is where marketing comes in.

3. First you need people to be aware of your product. We do through that different forms of advertising. This can mean using Twitter, Google+ or Facebook, or through more advanced measures like having our books reviewed in magazines or by well known new book blogs.

4. So people have followed the direction signs and are looking at your stall (your book). Now you need to create and maintain their interest. This is where the product description and the cover image help. People are a sucker for a pretty picture. That’s not cynical, it’s just true. Many decisions to buy a book are based on the cover. But they also want a book that’s suitable for them. If it says “scifi” on the cover, you’ll hook the scifi fans and lose the romantic fiction fans. That’s fine. Know your audience and market to them. The book description you put into KDP when you were creating your book helps here. What else helps? Well they’re on your page, and they’ll want to read reviews to see what other people though. Never underestimate the power of social recommendation. It is not acceptable to write your own reviews. But you do need 1 or 2 to start you. Go back to the friends who read your book and ask them to write a quick review.

5. By the way, we’re following the classic marketing model called AIDA here. It would be worth your while reading the Wikipedia page about it.

6. You have their awareness, you’ve grabbed their interest, and you’ve created some desire. Now you need them to commit and buy. Price is important here. Your readers need to feel they’re not risking too much money for what is still an unknown quantity. But you don’t want to appear cheap either. That’s why we’ve set the book at USD$3, above minimum but not greedy. I’m no marketing expert, so from here on in I advise using a search engine to look up ideas on marketing your self published book.

7. A final comment. Be prepared for the amount of work marketing needs. You need a presence on Twitter where you’ll find a large community of indie authors. You need to advertise it constantly – one tweet on Twitter won’t do it. One post on Google+ won’t don’t do it. It needs several per day over the course of several months. It needs time and commitment if you want it to sell.

That’s it. Well done, you’re finally a published author. You’ve taken your first step into a wider world. I promised to include details on CreateSpace and publishing to printed books. That information will appear here in the next couple of weeks when I have some spare time, so check back in early February.

If you have any tips to share or want this blog post updated with extra information, then please leave a comment below, and I’ll look into editing and improving it.

astrotomato

To promote the launch of my first novel “Planetfall: All Fall Down” I am giving away two copies of the paperback in a competition.

All Fall Down is the first book in a trilogy. All Commander Kate Leland wants is to be promoted to General. When it’s handed to her on a plate in return for investigating the death of a scientist, she is plunged into self doubt. Is she up to the job? And why doesn’t the scientist’s death appear to be as simple as she was told? Before she knows it, General Leland is plunged into a race against time to save a planet and prevent a war. But is she up to the task?

Weaving together different plot threads set in cyberspace, on the surface of a desert planet, and in an underground colony, the first book in the planetfall series is scifi in the space opera…

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Competition time

To promote the launch of my first novel “Planetfall: All Fall Down” I am giving away two copies of the paperback in a competition.

All Fall Down is the first book in a trilogy. All Commander Kate Leland wants is to be promoted to General. When it’s handed to her on a plate in return for investigating the death of a scientist, she is plunged into self doubt. Is she up to the job? And why doesn’t the scientist’s death appear to be as simple as she was told? Before she knows it, General Leland is plunged into a race against time to save a planet and prevent a war. But is she up to the task?

Planetfall_cover_final

planetfall cover art

Weaving together different plot threads set in cyberspace, on the surface of a desert planet, and in an underground colony, the first book in the planetfall series is scifi in the space opera mould. It also mixes in a government conspiracy which readers of Tom Clancy or Matthew Reilly would appreciate.

Competition

To win one of the two copies up for grabs, simply answer the three questions below. Send responses either as a reply to this post (I won’t approve the posts until after the competition closes, so that your answers aren’t shown to others), as a Direct Message on Twitter @astrotomato or to my email address astrotomato@gmail.com

Questions:

1. All Fall Down is set on a desert planet, where there are important minerals in the sand. Which famous science fiction book (and later film) was set on a desert planet devoid of water and full of giant worms?

2. All Fall Down is available in paperback and as an e-book. Which platform/website is each available from? (Hint: check my Store.)

3. The final question is actually just a question from you: what was your book of 2012? I’ll collate the competition entries and produce a list of favourite books from you all. There’s no right or wrong answer, I’m just looking to share reading tips!

The competition opens GMT 21:00 on Friday 18 January 2013 and closes at GMT 21:00 on Friday 25 January. All entrants must answer the three questions. I will pick the winner, and my decision is final, even if it’s rubbish. UK addresses only for this competition. Family is barred from entry to avoid claims of nepotism. Entries will be put into a hat and pulled out in the dark. The winners will be announced on this blog if they agree to having their names published.

Good luck, astro x

The Next Big Thing Bloghop

This blog is part of the “next big thing bloghop”. It’s a self interview format, which anyone can use. Within the self interview, we amateur authors are supposed to also tip some up and coming authors’ blogs for other people to visit.

The point of course is so one writer can raise awareness of another writer and so on. (I’ll blog separately about building community soon. This is a key component of getting writing.)

 The interview

  • What is the title of your book?

It’s full title is planetfall: All Fall Down. I’m quite particular about “planetfall” being all in lowercase, although for convenience I write it with a capital P when I advertise the book. Why am I particular? It’s both a visual aesthetic thing and a quotation thing. If you look at “Planetfall”, the word looks unbalanced. There’s that capital P and it looks really heavy over on the left, with the thin t, f and ls afterwards. If you write “planetfall” you reduce the weight of the left hand, and also get a nice symmetry with the down stroke of the p and up stroke of the ls at the end. The other reason is because “planetfall” was a word I pulled from the middle of a sentence and realised was a useful double entendre for the story series.

  • Where did the idea for the book come from?

The idea for the book came from a writing exercise I set myself in 2007. I wanted to write a first person perspective piece that was full of restrained emotion and was no longer than one side of A4. That original piece was about a Mexican man who had been a soldier at the Alamo, or some other Mexico-American conflict in the 19th century. In the original exercise he was talking to his young son about what it meant to be a man and what it meant to be a soldier.  He was also teaching his son to shave, but to leave his moustache as it was the “mark of a man”.

From there, I wondered what it would be like to be the son, and to look back on that moment. The poignancy of the following exercise intrigued me. Somehow that grew into an expansive idea about a soldier in the middle of an enormous war, and his humanity gradually breaking down.

  • What genre does your book fall under?

It’s scifi, and more specifically space opera.

  • Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I sent the book to several agencies, and had some very good feedback on it. A few wrote back and said they liked it, that it had a “big scifi feel” that was “missing from the current market”. Unfortunately this worked against it. Agents are conditioned by publishers and sellers to be risk averse. Sellers go to publishers asking for books similar to what sold well last season. Publishers go to agents looking for the next big thing that was like the last big thing. And so a market becomes risk averse.

Because planetfall is my first novel, and I essentially taught myself to write novels using it, I’m not as confident with the writing quality as maybe I should be (I certainly think my 2nd novel, Backpackers, has better writing, and planetfall book 2’s writing is better yet). I was always happy to self publish this novel, though I won’t be as happy if I end up self publishing Backpackers.

  • What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movies rendition?

The main character, Kate, is about 36 years old, with red hair. Maybe Jewel Staite, who played Kaylee in Firefly & Serenity, would be a good choice. Daoud needs to be someone with north African or Middle Eastern looks, who’s thin. I can’t think of anyone useful right now. I know I would want Chiwetel Ejiofor for the character Djembe, though.

  • How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Years. I think I finished my first draft in early 2011, which was 3.5 years after I started. I thought that was it, and it didn’t need any changes! I’d edited it as I went along, so I’d re-written, chopped out sections, included new bits and so on. But I soon learned why more experience authors talked about being on their second, third, fifth, tenth draft.

The breakthrough in having subsequent drafts was sending the manuscript to a well known scifi agent, John Jarrold. He was kind enough to write me a long email about what I’d submitted to him, even though the material wasn’t up to publication scratch, and I will forever think kindly of him for it. His feedback made me go back to the first draft and start making some improvements to meet what he said. And that made me think more and more and more…

  • Give a one-sentence synopsis of your novel

“Military Intelligence is called in to investigate the death of a scientist, but can they uncover a plot to make first contact and start a war before it’s too late?”

  • What other works would compare to your story?

I’m so out of touch with scifi that I have no idea. I spend most of my reading time on literary fiction or New Scientist. However, I would hope that people would recognise its influences, which I happily make apparent: Dan Simmons, Iain M. Banks, George Lucas, Ray Bradbury and Frank Herbert.

  • Who or What inspired you to write this book?

I had always wanted to write, and in my teens I wrote some horror short stories. I even won a school award. But I gave up. In my mid-30s I came across two thought exercises when going through some life coaching: (1) “Imagine you’re on your death bed. Who’s there, what do you want to tell them you did in life, how should they feel about your passing?” and (2) “Imagine you have to write your own obituary. What is it going to say?” As you can see, they’re very similar, and what they both have in common is making you think about your life from the end, looking back.

After thinking about those questions, I realised that one of the things I wanted to say was, “Yes, I wrote that novel I’d always wanted to write.” And that of course leads to the question, “When did I write it? When I was dying? Not possible. When I was old and infirm? Not likely. When I was bringing up kids? No time. Well, when? Ah, the best time is now.”

  • What else might pique the reader’s interest?

planetfall: All Fall Down is the start of a trilogy. The story in book 1 – that of a scientist dying, and General Kate Leland slowly discovering a plot to start a war – is a mash of cyberpunk, space opera, thriller, murder mystery and psychedelia. It features the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. The main character is female, and there is a strong female minor character who plays a much larger role later on (and I have 6 books drafted out for her which I’ll never get round to writing!) I like writing about lead female characters. I think it comes from always playing the female character in computer games. Maybe it’s a repressed form of transvestisism. Female readers are getting back to me and saying they love Kate and Sophie, the supporting character.

Book 1, All Fall Down, is really more of a prequel, as the story I originally wanted to tell starts in book 2. But I couldn’t tell the story of book 2 without setting out the background story. All Fall Down goes quite odd in parts where it’s strongly influenced by William Gibson.

  • Who is your “Next Big Thing”?

Now it’s my time to tag writers that I feel could be “The Next Big Thing”.

There are three authors I want to push, though two have no significant online presence as far as I know. (And they’ll probably never see this, either, but please remember their names.) The third has a massive presence which is also very useful for writers.

Tara Basi – he writes dark science fiction, urban fantasy and satirical radio plays. He’s been a big influence on my writing in the last year, and I was fortunate enough to edit his book “Blocks” in early 2012.

Peng Shepherd – like Tara, I met Peng on a writing course at London’s City University. For me, she’s this generation’s Haruki Murakami. She has a ‘plain’ way of writing, that’s full of atmosphere and magical realism. She’s gone to study a Master of Fine Arts in New York, and is currently editing her first novel. She’ll be on best seller lists by 2025, I guarantee it. Read one of her stories: Free Cake.

Lucy V Hay – Lucy runs the writer and scriptwriter support site, Bang2Write. It’s chockful of useful articles, and her Twitter feed (@ Bang2write) is essential for up and coming authors and scriptwriters. She also has a book out, currently in German only as far as I can tell, called Bauchentscheidung. It’s Young Adult Fiction.

I hope you enjoyed this “Next Big Thing” blog. If you’re a writer and it’s helped you, then please copy the format and put your own answers in. Drop a link in my blog reply area so that I can have a read!

As usual, good luck with your own writing projects.

astro x

Debut novel launches on Kindle and paperback

Today is a proud day! Today I finally published my debut novel All Fall Down, the first book in the planetfall series.

I started this book (originally just called “planetfall”) in September 2007, and finished the final final final final final final draft in August 2012.

Writing my first novel has been one of the most rewarding and satisfying experiences of my life. Let’s not beat around the bush: it is hard to write a novel. If it looks easy to anyone, if it looks like it’s just scribbling a few words down when inspiration strikes, then I can only suggest looking harder.

Writing a novel is hard work. At every sentence on every page in every chapter across the whole book, you have to bear in mind how it affects every other sentence on every other page in every other chapter across the whole book. You have to invent people and their lives and hopes and contradictions and life histories and families and let them live inside you and interact with each other. There are rooms to describe, worlds to invent, references to embed, colours and sounds and smells to be aware of. And all of this – for most of us who write – against the background of going to a normal day job, shopping, cleaning the house, trying to have a life, pay the bills and keep up with our own reading and watching movies and so on.

There are harder things, to be sure. Bringing up children is no doubt harder and more rewarding. But that’s not to dismiss the dedication needed to create a book and the world and people and stories inside it. It is akin to a child being created. And like all children, it must at some point be let go to fend for itself.

And so to my debut novel. Planetfall: All Fall Down, my first novel, is now available on Kindle and paperback. There are links in my store, or follow one of the links in the text above.

Good luck with your own writing projects. And if you have a minute available, please visit the Kindle page and “like” the book, even if you don’t download it. I’m told if it reaches 50 likes, that it will be promoted on Amazon’s new books email to thousands of customers. Thank you.