Writing update – marketing and editing

Finishing the first draft of a book is difficult. Doing it while trying to write a marketing plan for another book raises the stakes. Doing those while holding down a full time job puts it all in peril. And doing all of that while selling, buying and moving house and becoming a first-time father puts us in high stakes drama mode. So here I am – Planetfall 2 draft finished, a marketing plan for Sympathy for the Devil in development, bedrooms full of unpacked boxes and a 2 week old daughter in my arms.

One of the first lessons we learn as authors is that we have to make space for writing. We all do that differently. Some of us grab the spaces between other things and scribble like mad. Some of us eschew television or social engagements. Some of us rise early and dedicate an hour or so before our ‘normal’ day begins. And some of us may give ourselves two hours every Saturday and Sunday alone in a cafe to catch up on our writing. Whatever our approach, we do it because it’s important. Writing needs space, it needs dedication, and it needs its own time free from other distractions.

That lesson is even more important when a baby comes along. Babies don’t care about our approach to grabbing time for writing. Those two hours we normally have? Gone in bringing up baby’s wind. The social engagements we eschewed are no longer an option while we catch up with just 20 minutes of writing in-between changing nappies, putting the washing on, tidying up the kitchen and cooking a meal.

I’ve carried on writing throughout this tumultuous period and it’s been difficult and it’s also been necessary. Ever since 2008 I’ve planned my writing time, and now that’s really paying off with the following writing updates:

UPDATE – Planetfall 2: Children of Fall

I finished the first draft of PF2 in early June, amid a rush of writing as moving and birth date approached. I was really pleased with the first draft. It was structured and planned in much more detail than previous books, which meant when I came to write, I could rattle off a 5000-word chapter in a couple of days.

The first draft has already been to a beta-reader, and I now have an extensive list of re-writes. The most significant re-write will be around returning lead character Kate Leland, whose character I haven’t quite nailed. Returning characters are a little more difficult to get right, I think. I last wrote Kate in 2011, and in-between wrote Backpackers and Sympathy for the Devil. PF2 is also set 12 years later, and there needs to be clear character progression between the two books. Kate needs to ‘feel like’ Kate from All Fall Down, and she also needs to feel like she’s matured, and changed in response to her personal history. A returning reader should be able to tell they’re back with her and also recognise and ‘allow’ her to be and feel slightly different.

I’ve just completed my own read through of the first draft. The second half of the book I’m very happy with. The first half, or at least Kate’s first four chapters are going to be completely scrapped so that I can get her storyline and character right. There’s also work to do in bringing out the other returning characters who are only present in light brush-strokes at the moment (Djembe, Daoud). And there are character relationship issues between new characters (Swan, Stendahl) which need strengthening and made deeper.

Children of Fall was originally slated for a Christmas 2015 release. I think this is now looking unlikely. Even if I get a second draft written by October, I’ll still need to go through a 3rd and 4th draft and then let the book rest for a month or two before I can contemplate a final draft. Perhaps May 2016 would be more realistic?

By the way, I maintain a Facebook page for Planetfall, on which I also share news about science fictions films, books and other media. Please Like it for updates: https://www.facebook.com/planetfalltrilogy – when Sympathy and the next PF book are published, there’ll be exclusive competitions on the page.

UPDATE – Sympathy for the Devil

To fill the release schedule left empty by Planetfall 2, I’ve got Sympathy for the Devil almost ready for publication. I was disappointed not to find representation for this book. Based on feedback from agents I know the quality of the book is at the right level for ‘formal’ publication. Unfortunately the book is satire, and the agents who sent personal responses (as opposed to template responses) said that publishing houses rarely pick up satire. This means it’s not worth their while putting effort into representation. Their time is money, and if there’s very little chance of publication, their time is wasted. I understand this, we all need an income. I’m also disappointed – it would be nice to have the book’s quality validated by industry recognition.

Onwards and upwards though! I’ve been extremely fortunate in working with a talented artist and now have cover art for the book. The design ethic is a departure from my previous book covers (Planetfall is a deliberate mix of scifi art and graphic design, Backpackers was self-designed with help on the lettering from Whitefire Designs), and I’ll be revealing some of the artwork on here in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, I’m waiting to get my new home wired up for broadband before I start any significant work on marketing the book. Before that I’m writing a proper marketing plan. This is a first for me – previously I’ve used marketing plan templates and taken bits and bobs from them as tips. This time I’m raising my game and putting together a proper action plan. Once it’s prepared I’ll share it for other writers to crib.

That’s all for now. I hope you’re writing is going well. Drop me a line here on  Twitter @astrotomato if you want to chat about any #amwriting issues.

astro x

London Author Fair 2014

I was pleased to attend the inaugural London Author Fair yesterday. It’s a great indication, I think, of how far the publishing industry has come in supporting its lifeblood: authors.

The fair was structured around a day of seminars and workshops, covering everything from digital publishing, through cover design, what literary agents do, and how the distribution industry works. There were representatives from Kobo, Nook, Blurb, Amazon (Kindle, Createspace) and a host of other providers in the new publishing industry.

And let’s acknowledge that straight away.

The publishing isn’t going through change. It has changed. Traditionally published (ie, physical) books now account for 80% of total sales. Go back 10 years and that was 100%. 1 in 5 books now sold is digital.

And the industry, I think, is adapting incredibly well. I say that because I look at the music business, which utterly failed to respond to digital music formats in the 90s. Arguably, large parts of the music business are still struggling with digital, although the last few years have seen significant improvements, with the likes of Google Music, Spotify and other streaming services starting to drive the market.

Publishing has long been the preserve of a few lucky people. Musicians can gig anywhere – busking, bar gigs, small venues in focused regions. No such audience for the author, who traditionally could get published by getting snapped up by an agent, or going to enormous expense and vanity publishing.

Now an author can cut out the entire middle bit of the industry and go from writer to publishing on their laptop.

And so back to the London Author Fair. Most of the seminars were focused entirely on this. And the technical content (as mentioned above, like cover design) was matched by this strong message: authors may no longer need agents or publishers, but that means they too need to adapt.

Authors have to think of themselves differently now. No longer the tortured artist slaving over a typewriter.

An author is now a business person.

That puts us right in the realm of showbusiness. We might have a book to show off, but no one ever made (much) money by simply showing up or showing off. No, people make money by accepting that the money from ‘show’ comes from tying it to ‘business’. Now that might be anathema for some, it might be uncomfortable or alien to others. But this message needs to go out strongly and be repeated by all authors now entering the market:

An author creates (writes) a product (a book) and is responsible for taking it to a market (a set of readers who like that kind of book).

There is no way to escape this.

I was pleased that this message came through in the seminars at the London Author Fair. We are the CEO of our own small businesses. Like any businesses, as CEO we might not be good at marketing, we may be weaker on finance, we may have started in logistics and now have responsibility for the art department. But as CEO we don’t have to do all of those things, we simply have to accept responsibility for ensuring they are done.

This is an important distinction. All of us authors are responsible for producing one thing: the story. It’s then up to us to find out how to run the rest of our business. That will mean employing others. Employment might be on a temporary basis: hiring someone to design a book cover, contracting a professional editor, perhaps even asking a friend to upload a manuscript to Kindle and do the tech-y things. More successful authors, those who earn millions, have researchers and publicists and managers, all employed from their income. They get it. They understand that to be successful they need to be business-like. And we need to get it to.

That’s the challenge I took away from the London Author Fair 2014: think like a business. Act like a business. Market your product. Find your product’s niche in the market and exploit it. Have a marketing plan. Look after the finances. And if the market doesn’t want the product, go back to the drawing board, do some research, find out what it does like, be humble, and create content that fits a niche.

It’s a hard lesson to learn. It’s an essential lesson to learn. And I think the London Author Fair 2014 did a great job of showing the publishing industry has woken up to authors, and of pushing that challenge back to us. I’m taking it on board. And to my fellow authors, I challenge you to take it on board, too.

As ever, good luck with your writing, and I’m happy to hear everyone’s thoughts.

astro x

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.