Networking or making friends? Ever increasing circles.

Networking or making friends? Ever increasing circles.

One of the nicest things about my writing and publishing journey is the connections I have made with others.

Just when the process of marketing my book is becoming underwhelming (when only 3 people have read my blog and my clever tweet has passed unnoticed) someone really nice pops up and lifts my spirits. Just yesterday for example, a fellow author who I met on twitter helped me out with my ‘smiley faces’ (emojis – yes I know that now. I really was that ignorant when I entered this brave new world). The same gentleman has offered his assistance with my webpage (when I have girded my loins in preparation for that task). I have also traded pictures, gossip and book reads (“you read mine and I’ll read yours”- that sort of thing), discussed variations in landscape, language and weather between the UK and Canada, followed no end of interesting blogs and shared the experience of publishing a book with others following a similar path. I have connected and interacted (awful word) with countless colourful new characters, some of whose traits may appear in future novels.

As a marketing and networking experience I can’t tell you (yet) if my efforts to create a ‘media presence’ have had any success. But I have made friends, so regardless of sales figure outcome, it has been worthwhile. The downside if there is one, is that you do get drawn in. The distraction factor is massive. I am no longer sure if I am marketing or just being nosy. Furthering my knowledge or chatting to friends. I might simply be procrastinating. And then there is that disturbing comparison thing. I think you know what I mean: “Their blog page looks better than mine.” “They’ve got so many followers.” “Now that looks like a well thought through marketing campaign” (as opposed to my vague and confused meanderings). I try to fight it, but I don’t always win. I am naturally competitive. Character flaw number ? (does anyone who has been reading my blog since the beginning recall the tally? If not, please do some revision.)

This week’s motto: Learn, don’t envy.

A reminder to myself to put in the work. It would be easier if I knew exactly what I was supposed to be working on. Three new books in progress; the sequel to A Bed of Barley Straw, a brand new romance, and a shorter work of fiction. Launch and marketing for A Bed of Barley Straw is high on my priority list. Meanwhile, the farm accounts are in disarray, housework is nagging and the dogs need a walk.

But I’m busy blogging. And when I’ve finished here I probably ought to check in on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads and Amazon. Ho hum.

What a journey it has been!

What a journey it has been!

The book is nearly there. About to be released. Final interior approved. Ticked off, achieved.

I found one typo in the final proof, and stressed over-much about whether I ought to go back for yet another round of changes. For $79, on a book that has yet to sell a single copy. I can’t of course, but that error is troubling me. I have promised myself that the first $79 dollars of profit (if I’m so lucky) can pay for the correction. And in the meantime, a prize to the first person to locate the surplus ‘was’.

I am excited, terrified and knackered. Not by the writing or editing, but by the terrible thought of releasing the book to the world and having to market it. Marketing is exhausting, and uncomfortably needy. My inner voice is screaming “read it or don’t, I couldn’t care less.”  But there is a subversive whisper. “All that effort for a book that nobody knows exists. Bit of a waste of time wasn’t it?”

I am not yet convinced that Twitter is a useful platform. Interesting and quirky, if you are not trying to sell something. Possibly hugely productive for established VIPs, who have ??million followers awaiting their every tweet. Less so if you have to strive endlessly to get so much as a favourite, and haven’t even mentioned the name of your book yet (about to be remedied with the title of this post!)

My twitter feeds me endless plugs for books. I have registered the titles of two of them, and they were written by authors I have chatted with. I flick past the others carelessly, and I do not want to insult my small but friendly band of followers by plugging away relentlessly in every tweet. I will have to think of something. Original thought is sadly lacking at present, all used up my attempts to tweet something clever.

Next stage – I await a physical copy proof in the post. Can’t wait to see it and hope against hope that I love it when we meet.

I need to crank up my Goodreads and Facebook presence. Some progress made, I have accounts with both! And a page, work-in-progress, for the book. I do believe that lovers of romance will enjoy my book. The story is good, and I should know I wrote it. Plus, I must have read it close to twenty times. I know how it starts, develops and ends, and it still makes me smile.

Just the elusive customer to track down then. Final push, ultimate effort, fingers crossed. Meet me on Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads – I will be there – soon!

Blurb – strange word, strange process

Blurb – strange word, strange process

Blurb. It is not a word that rolls easily off of the tongue. Nor is it a process that flows from the mind. The definition in my Oxford Reference Dictionary:

Blurb n. descriptive or commendatory matter, especially a description of a book printed on its jacket. (Said to have originated in 1907 by G.Burgess, American humourist, in a comic book jacket embellished with a drawing of pulchritudinous young lady whom he facetiously dubbed Miss Blinda Blurb.)

Pulchritudinous! Now that is a word. Maybe I could use it in the blurb for my sequel (when I have looked it up… [definition: (literary) beautiful]).

I can’t, of course, because my blurb must use its maximum-200-word potential to good effect. Grab the reader, sum up the flavour of my book, entice you to hit the ‘buy’ button in the few brief seconds spent reading it. Using words that require definition would possibly deflect from that purpose.

CreateSpace’s explanation of my blurb:

The Book Description displays on your book’s detail page and in your eStore. This Book Description is a marketable synopsis of the main plotlines or key messages in your book. In conjunction with being commercially appealing and written with the main marketable theme in mind, it should also be a clear representation of what your target audience will receive upon purchase of your book.

Easy then? No, it isn’t. I read some very good advice recently; that you should complete the blurb for your book early on in the writing process. Long before the book is finished. That, as with your manuscript, you should take the time to read it, re-read it and read it again, throughout the process. Amending and improving as you go. Live with the words for a while, sharpen the phrasing. I didn’t do any of that, of course. I handed the job of writing my blurb over to the CreateSpace marketing team. And then I changed it. I showed it to the PR-employed Eldest Daughter, who changed it some more.  So it now bears little resemblance to the original blurb, created by the marketing team, which I had paid for. My feeling was that they had revealed too much of the story line. Hinted at secrets which unfolded within the chapters and should wait to be discovered by the reader.

If you are a writer, you are the person that knows your book best. Every twist, turn and development is there because you imagined it, constructed it and wrote it down. Consequently you, and you alone, are the person best equipped to write the blurb for your book. By all means, let other’s proof read it and consider suggested changes. Run it past anyone you know with experience in relevant fields – friends who buy books in your genre, mates who work in marketing or PR, librarians or bookworms…the list goes on. Then go with your gut and follow your instincts. Opinions are great and should be listened to, but they are only opinions. And you are allowed to have your own. Keep the faith when five different people are telling you five different things. You can work it out you know.

I hope that my blurb (partial view above) is “descriptive or commendatory matter”. That it is “commercially appealing” and “a clear representation of what my target audience will receive upon purchase of my book”. But that’s a hell of a lot to fit in to maximum-200-words. Time will tell if the words entice complete strangers to put their faith in me and spend their hard-earned money.

I hope that they do, but I hope even more that when they have, they really enjoy the book.

Rookie mistakes and pickled eggs – an original title

Rookie mistakes and pickled eggs – an original title

Catastrophe this week!

Well, ‘catastrophe’ might be stretching it a bit. Small, self-publishing hiccup (which felt catastrophic at the time) is more realistic.

I read Derek Haines’ blog on self-publishing ( Derek talks a lot of sense, which it isn’t always easy to hear. I keep reading him because he speaks the truth, and despite the fact that his words never fail to lead me ever deeper into the digital marketing swamp.

Anyway, I digress. The particular post I am referring to suggested that it was worth publishing on Smashwords in addition to Amazon. Smashwords publishes e-books in a format which is accessible to users who do not have Kindle. At least that is the gist of it, I think. There were actually a lot of technical words and ‘format’ types described, which passed over my head without causing my brain to take note. So I hope I have summarised correctly. I am digressing again. I blame it on twitter, I am no longer able to concentrate on any line of thought for more than 20 seconds.

Smashwords has a fine, clear website. Lots of easy-to-find instructions on how to self-publish, which are sorely lacking on CreateSpace. Also advice and general tips about writing your book, designing a cover, and selecting a title.

My title has been in place for some months now. My cover is signed off, my edited manuscript (with the name of the book featured on every page) was returned to CreateSpace for final publication over a week ago. It took me ages to come up with the title. I bounced various options off of friends, Googled phrases and meanings. Changed it, changed it back, and requested feedback from my editor. What I should have done, and didn’t, was search my title in Amazon. Under the books department. Rookie mistake.

Smashwords told me to do this, and I must admit my heart froze over momentarily. I delayed following their instructions for a full twenty-four hours before grasping the nettle and typing in the search. Hey presto! Fourteen other books with the same title as mine. Several of them in the same genre, which is not entirely surprising. It could have been worse. Smashwords tell me that if you use the words ‘star’ and ‘wars’ anywhere in your title, you are likely to return forty thousand items on any search. But fourteen books, on my primary selling platform, is not good enough.

CreateSpace told me that it wasn’t a great idea, to share your title with fourteen other authors. I think I knew that already, but I wanted to debate the issue with someone who knew what they were talking about. It briefly occurred to me that if one of the other books bearing ‘my title’ was exceptionally good it could even be a bonus. Readers might stumble across me on their search for something better and buy my book by accident. This is obviously a foolish form of marketing, although I believe China has used it to good effect. Given that the most recently published books appear at the bottom of the search, I imagine most readers would be worn out by the time they had scrolled down to number seven on the list.

Solution to my hiccup is a title change, of course. Back to the drawing board. Further costs involved I would imagine, because both my cover design and editing services with CreateSpace have been completed and closed. I will end up paying that $75 dollars after all, but maybe it was worth holding off. Maybe it still is, in case there is something else I have failed to do.

The sting in the tale of this story, is that I have now discovered that every title you can think of has already been written by someone else. Search any random words in Amazon books, and you will see what I mean. Forget proverbs, sayings, idioms. They have all been done before. My searches became increasingly outlandish, I even typed ‘Pickled Eggs’ in a moment of madness – no direct hits! But I don’t think I can call my book that.

Mother and I were shouting random phrases that came out of the telly throughout the evening. The best phrase of the night? Wolf Hall’s original use of English swear words in a configuration never heard before, but very, very funny.

One reassuring fact was that the working title of my work-in-progress sequel only returned one hit, and that was a gardening book written in 1954. Maybe I am growing wiser, or perchance I simply struck upon beginners luck.

The book almost has a new title. I’m bouncing it off of friends and family, Googling phrases and meanings, asking my editor for feedback. And I’ve searched it in Amazon Books – no direct hits. Yes!

I’m twittering, and I know it

I’m twittering, and I know it

As suggested, by almost everyone I read who self-publishes and blogs, I bit the bullet and created a Twitter account.

Twitter, I discover, is frantic, scatty, insane. And slightly scary. But wow, who knew? (You lot obviously, because you’ve been tweeting for years). It is a miracle to me that, in an instant, I am linked to people from all over the world and all walks of life.

I am stalking the followers of other authors, and following them (as advised by my marketing research). How very un-English and rude. Every emerging author is doing exactly the same, so we are basically following each other. Trying to flog our books within a continuously growing loop of writers trying to flog theirs. Not that it isn’t great to be in touch with them, because it is. I have identified with their problems, discussed potential names for a racehorse with a very nice man in Australia, and ‘met’ lots of interesting people.

I am thrilled and excited every time I get a follow-back. Checking my follower numbers obsessively. Even more delighted when I gain an unsolicited follower, even though many of these have been from other authors, or people trying to sell me dietary advice, lifestyle coaching and beauty/fashion tips. How did they know I needed all of those things? I receive numerous affirmative, life enhancing quotes to guide me through my day. So many of them that I positively float to bed of a night, buoyed up on a glorious cloud of self-belief. And aren’t pets sweet?

I am talking in hastags. My children are rolling their eyes. Tense, daring, clever, addictive and frequently amusing. That’s Twitter, not me. I wish. In my dreams that would be a review of my book (with ‘raunchy’ thrown in for good measure). I’m sure Twitter is raunchy too but I’ve almost managed to avoid that so far. I say almost, because one author I’ve been tracking (who will remain nameless here) seems to have a lot of followers using their dicks as avatars. The modern form of flashing, without the cold draft? Or possibly a character statement summed up in a simple image?

Guiltily, I have un-followed three people. A character who’s tweets were too radical for me, a girl who was younger than her picture lead me to believe (I don’t want to be accused of pedalling smut to children) and a woman who’s constant tweets about her migraine were giving me a headache. Heartless, I know, but she’d had this migraine for three days and it hadn’t stopped her tweeting 30 second updates, or watching #CBB (Celebrity Big Brother, not Children’s TV, which is what I initially thought).  I made sure they had a billion followers before I un-followed them, because I would really hate to cause offence or trauma. Especially to the underage girl, who was apparently having severe parent trouble. That un-follow gave me a sleepless night, I wanted to write her a letter explaining that my un-follow was not personal.

I live in fear of re-tweeting something offensive or extremist because the message was attached to a cute picture. I tweeted a complaint to the Guardian when they failed to include the arrival of the contraceptive pill, on a timeline which did include the invention of the bra. Too late, I discovered that you can only see part of the image on your screen until you click on it. The contraceptive pill was clearly, plainly there. I tweeted an apology.

I am told I need a website and a Facebook and a Goodreads account. But I’m not entirely sure I can cope with further technological experiences at the moment. And my phone is already permanently glued to my face.

No one said there would be questions…

No one said there would be questions…

I don’t know what it is about questionnaires, but they strike me illiterate. Maybe it’s because they resemble an exam paper (I have never been good at exams). Or job applications, where you have to answer hypothetical questions, and list your strengths and weaknesses.  Real questions are fine – like who was Prime Minister in 1973? That’s easy, you either know it or you don’t. And if you don’t you can look it up.

Question: “What aspects of your writing are unique and define you as an author?” Well, hell, I don’t know. You tell me (please).

Question: “Who do you envision purchasing and reading your book?” Honest answer? “No one really” or “I would”. I haven’t got that far with my ‘envisioning’. A few friends and family? A couple of other people if I’m lucky. “All women who like romance.” (CreateSpace example of the wrong answer: “All women who like cooking” – well it isn’t quite the same).

“Describe your target audience by factors such as age group, interest, education, gender, etc.” Sorry, I’m way out of my depth now. Is ‘education’ relevant to chick-lit romance? (That’s a question I’m asking – not one of theirs). I really don’t know the answer, maybe you do. Gender! Yes I know the answer to that (I can’t think of any men who read romances.) But the questions keep getting harder: “Describe the specific tone, themes, and mood you would like your book to convey.”

Surely, if I was able to write the book, I can come up with answers to these? Apparently not. Everything I’m typing in the answer boxes reads like hyperbole. I haven’t thought this through. I simply had a story I wanted to tell, so I wrote it down.

I am a typical, self-depreciating English woman. It goes against my nature to laud my own skills or blow my own trumpet. It has dawned on me that I will have to learn these traits if I do want to sell the book.

To the question “Describe any specific design ideas for the interior of your book.” I actually answered “None really. Clear and simple.” (I was getting weary by then). But I worked out later when I looked at examples, that I actually had quite a lot of opinions on the interior of my book. I possibly should have done more research. And viewed the examples before I wrote the answer. It’s that impatience thing again.

Similar problem with the cover for the book, and questions for the editor. My ideas for the cover were completely rubbish. But I didn’t know that until I saw it mocked up; and then I started looking at covers I liked and worked out what I wanted to achieve. Three steps forwards and two steps back. Every time.

I asked the editor for feedback on the title of the book. Working title “Circle of Trust”, alternative options “Mistrust” and “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”. Having already asked the six friends who had proof read the book, I received two votes for each. Which wasn’t very helpful. By the time I received my editor’s feedback the cover had been signed off and approved. I will get this process right, next time. (Ps. the book is called ‘Once Bitten, Twice Shy’)

One last comment about the dreaded questionnaire. When CreateSpace say “this page times out after 30 minutes” and “you may want to type and save your answers elsewhere”, it is good advice. The final question asks for a synopsis of your book, with as much detail as you can muster. Needless to say I couldn’t run that off in the 4 minutes I had remaining. Back to the drawing board. And learn some patience!

Setting my manuscript free (or sending it off to school)

Setting my manuscript free (or sending it off to school)

I did some more research, but Amazon CreateSpace was an easy choice for me. I felt a certain loyalty towards them, it was, after all, a programme about Amazon that got me writing in the first place. And if I wanted a broad platform to launch my book, it doesn’t come much broader than the mighty Amazon. A double edged sword, possibly. On the one hand giving me the potential to reach corners of the world I have barely even heard of, on the other I would be pitching my book against millions of others. Scatter the seeds wide, and hope a few take hold? Or cultivate a small patch of ground and nurture the seed along. I don’t know the answer to that yet, maybe future blogs will be able to share.

Several people asked me if I had considered pitching to a traditional publisher first. It did enter my mind, but you hear so many stories about manuscript rejection. I had visions of a single rejection stopping me in my tracks. My manuscript languishing in archive files for eternity (or until the computer died, and unnecessary backed up files were not transferred to its replacement).

So I opened a CreateSpace account. A rather cranky website, CreateSpace, I have to say. Given who you are affiliated with. Navigation is tricky and often not clear. And I was slightly surprised to be dealing directly with the USA. Scheduling calls for Eastern Standard Time, and suffering a lag on telephone conversations. Despite the fact that we talk the same language, guys, somehow we don’t quite do we? “Thank you for reaching out to us…” is definitely not a British English phrase. Having said that, the advisors were brilliant. No question was too stupid, each and every one of them has been polite, helpful and efficient. That is worth a lot, so thank you people. (And I’m sure there were several of my English phrases that they found slightly odd, not to mention my general vagueness!)

I checked my document for a final time, painstakingly changed all my asterisk passage breaks to fleurons and uploaded the manuscript. Then I found and read the guidelines on how to make your document ready for upload, and learnt that passage breaks should be indicated with asterisks. So I sent them a message, put the asterisks back and uploaded again. This has rather been the tale of my entire experience so far. In every task I do, I locate the information about how I should have done it after the job is done. I’m not a patient person (another character flaw), but guidance or tick-boxes which appear automatically on the site would have been very helpful. You have to search and dig for everything. My advice here would be to make sure you find the guidance for each and every stage – it is there if you look hard enough.

When I first started writing, the plan was to create an e-book without any financial outlay. But as the process went along and I did further research I realised this wasn’t the route for me. Possibly I could do it with a third or fourth book, but I definitely needed assistance this first time round. I didn’t have a clue about layout or font. No idea where to begin designing a book cover. And I liked my book enough to want a physical copy. Of course there are plenty of people out there offering their services in this regard; book cover designers, proof readers, copy-editors. I am sure that many of them provide a better, more specific service than CreateSpace can via long distance communication and the constraints of budget. Again, this is something I would definitely look in to further with a future book. But it cannot be argued that the editing package which CreateSpace offered me was ridiculously good value. The fact that it was a ‘package’ enabled me to see exactly what I would be spending, without the embarrassment of getting quotes from individuals or companies, and then working out that I couldn’t afford them.

My lack of experience and impatience (again) led me to purchase a CreateSpace editing package. I’m not saying this is the best way to go, but for me this time it provided the easy option. For those of you who are looking to do this yourselves, I purchased the ‘Editing Package’ (two rounds), ‘Marketing Copy Essentials’, and ‘Custom Cover Premier’ (two cover concepts).

Tune in next time to see if I made the right choices, and how I got on with the dreaded questionnaire!

Thank you family and friends (and indie bloggers who give advice so generously)

Thank you family and friends (and indie bloggers who give advice so generously)

With the manuscript finished, I thought I had done the hard bit. But no one other than me had read it yet, and the Husband kept telling me that someone else should. Scary stuff! I liked the story, but wasn’t convinced I was resilient enough to accept criticism (one of my numerous character flaws.)

Further Googling and Indie blogs (thank you, @JFBookman,, Derek Murphy @creativeindie) also informed me that traditionally published books pass through up to six rounds of editing before they go into print (and there will still be errors in them then).

CreateSpace suggested that if I was working to a budget, I should get as many friends as I could to read the manuscript and note any mistakes. Time to take my courage in my hands. As luck would have it, an annual ‘girls weekend’ was on the horizon. With half a dozen lifelong friends who have known each other since school. With sufficient wine inside me I managed to blurt “I’ve written a book, and I’m self-publishing it.” Their reaction was heart warming. Despite my self-concious apologies that it was far from high-brow literature, everyone wanted to read it. Each and every one of them was full of praise that I had even taken the task on. To be fair, we were all rather tipsy. One of my friends read a passage out loud – to much hilarity (one of the ‘naughty’ passages, this was a girls weekend after all). It was great to hear the words that I had written spoken out loud (she was a beautiful narrator!)

Five friends and my sister read the book and sent the edits back. Along with wonderful comments which made me start to believe I had actually written something worth reading. Although I had warned them that any criticism should be heavily sugared to avoid wounding me. Two of them read it twice, which was really gratifying.

Amendments made (along with a few of my own; I am still unable to work on the book without changing a word or a phrase here and there) the manuscript was finally ready to submit. Time to fully investigate my launch pad.

When the doubts creep in

When the doubts creep in

About five weeks in to my run of obsessive writing, I hit a wall. I didn’t justify my inactivity as writers block. How could I, when I wasn’t really a writer yet? I decided I was wasting my time. No one would buy the book, who on earth was I to assume I could write something worth reading? The kids asked “how’s the book going Mum?” to which I replied; “I’ve gone off the boil a bit.”

I Candy Crushed a lot. Downloaded several books on to my Kindle and lost myself in them instead. To be honest, that could very easily have been the point when the experiment came to an end. After a stretch of not writing, summer was on us, the days were too nice to be spent inside. Harvest and farm work absorbed my time. I have never had trouble finding things to do…I can easily fill a day with the washing, cleaning, walking the dogs. Book keeping, farming, conversation. I am an expert prevaricator when there is something I should be doing.

Then I gave myself a severe talking to! “Finish the book this year. You are more than half way through. If it doesn’t sell, so what? It’s a good story, better than some you’ve read. Get your ass in gear, sit down at the computer and write.

So I did. The twists and turns in the plot began meeting up. I grew fond of my characters and their lives. When a new chapter didn’t lead me on, I went back to the beginning: edited passages, changed words. It would be fair to say that some parts of this book have been changed more often than the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. But I got the book finished.

I have a new respect for authors and the work they put in!

Can I write a book?

Can I write a book?

This is how my journey began. Having recently given up my part time job (due to parents illness) and seen the youngest of my three children off to University, I ‘accidentally’ watched a programme about Amazon. The programme included a section on independent publishing. They interviewed a writer who had achieved a reasonable level of income from writing and self-publishing his work. My interest was piqued! I have always thought (who hasn’t?!) that I had a book in me. Some research into indie publishing followed. A fair amount of ‘Googling’; a look at what other self-publishers had to say. When I went to bed that night my romantic novel began to invent itself. The following morning I started typing.

I was amazed at the speed with which the words fell on to the page. I didn’t make a plan, I didn’t organise my thoughts. For three solid weeks I just typed. But despite the fact that I was now actually writing, it still felt like playing a game. I kept my ambitions to myself, and it wasn’t until the husband (perturbed by the number of hours I was spending on the computer) poked his head around the study door and asked “What are you doing? Writing a book?” that I answered “Yes!” And my book entered the world outside of my head.