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

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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.

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.