Confessing my fear: failing as an author

Happy Halloween, dear readers! As you’ll already be aware, this month on Aussie Owned and Read we’re talking fears. I’ve already blogged about a couple of mine previously — during our 2014 Haunting Halloween blog hop, I shared a scary (and true) story of the last time took part in a seance, and talked about […]

via Fear of failing as a writer — Aussie Writers

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Elements of a Great Story – Pacing

Look, you guys! I’m over at Aussie Owned today, talking pacing in stories … and recommending two of my favourite books. ❤

Aussie Writers

This month on Aussie Owned we’re looking at the elements of a great story. I chose pacing because it’s one of my favourite elements of story, and one I have struggled with from time to time — particularly when I was a wee baby writer working on my first novel. (I liked to overshare about the day-to-day of my characters’ lives, you guys. No, I loved it. I was still getting to know them, and that’s fine in a first draft — but some of those scenes had to go because, ye gods, they were boring.)

Pacing is, simply, how fast the story unfolds. The “right” pacing varies depending on the requirements of your story. Some stories take you along like you’re old friends going for a stroll along the beach, slowly immersing you in events until you’re invested (before probably sucking the sand out from under you or…

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Advertising Strategies: a Work-in-Progress

Maze

Source: Shutterstock

As of maybe six months ago, I’m a fully independent or self-published author, what is sometimes referred to as an “author-publisher“. I like that term, because it conveys the sense that self-publishing is more than just banging out words and then sending them out into the world, all naked and unprepared. There are things one needs to consider, things a publisher usually does. Two of those are editing and book design, and I’ve blogged about those before.

The other thing that a publisher does to a greater or lesser extent (at least, if you’re lucky and they are any good) is advertise your book. In the case of small or independent presses, you may have a small or non-existent presence in bricks-and-mortar stores, so you can’t rely on people stumbling across your work by accident. That’s where advertising comes in.

I’m still feeling my way through the morass, trying to find strategies that work for me and my books. I thought it might be helpful to others (and for my own future reference) to catalogue some of them here.

Book blitzes

These are generally organised to try and raise a bit of word-of-mouth attention when a book first comes out; kind bloggers share promotional content. Sometimes they result in a few adds to peoples’ Goodreads shelves, but I haven’t noticed a huge number of sales as a result. Maybe I’m just not doing them right! Certainly, I wouldn’t do a blog tour with customised posts, as I don’t think the time invested would be worth it. But I would do a book blitz for each of my future releases. Every book deserves a birthday party. 😉

NetGalley listings

Publishers will usually list books on NetGalley, which is a site that allows reviewers to apply for free ebook copies of books in exchange for an honest review. It’s a lot of reviewers’ bread and butter. But it’s expensive to have a NetGalley account, so, for an independent author, it’s generally more cost-efficient to buy in on a co-op such as this one. I had a three-month co-op when Isla’s Inheritance and Isla’s Oath came out (I had each book up for about six weeks), and a one-month co-op for Lucid Dreaming. I got a bump in the number of reviews on sites like Goodreads, but, like a blitz, this is about word of mouth rather than direct sales.

Facebook advertising

I saw a tweet that described Facebook advertising as being as effective as setting your money on fire. The metaphor probably works better in countries where the money is made of paper, but still, it’s not too far off. I have tested a handful of ads and have seen no return. These days, the only thing I’d pay to advertise on Facebook would be occasional posts on my author page; Facebook throttles visibility of page posts so that not everyone who likes the page will see them. If you pay them money (the extortionists that they are), they will share the post more widely. In terms of impressions, this is quite effective … but I’d reserve it for significant updates, such as book releases.

Free book promotions

This has been my most recent effort, and also my most successful to date. Because it is my most recent, I’m going to go into a bit more detail, with some numbers. (This does feel a tiny bit like airing dirty laundry, but if you promise not to oggle my underthings I think we can all ignore that!)

I made the Isla’s Inheritance ebook permafree (ie I have no plans to set a price for it again), and advertised it via the “Buy a Series Post” option at Freebooksy. They have a significant market reach and people loooove free stuff. When I previously advertised a sale of my erotica novella (*cough*), I had a ton of downloads, so I knew it worked.

In the first two weeks after the promo ran, I had almost 5000 downloads on Amazon and a handful at the other sites. Isla’s Inheritance made it to #2 on Amazon US for free Paranormal & Urban Fantasy (as I write this, it’s sitting at 233).

Isla's Inheritance free ranking

There haven’t been a huge number of reviews as a result, but there have been consistent sales on books two and three in the series. I didn’t expect that people who downloaded the book would buy the sequels so quickly, but on the first day of the promo I had four sales of Isla’s Oath and one of Melpomene’s Daughter — suggesting that there were at least four people who read it straight away and liked it enough to keep reading. (If you were one of those people: thank you!)

Within the first two weeks, the promotion had paid for itself with sales on the other books. It’s the first time a promotion has done that for me, so I’m pretty pumped.

There are a few caveats, however. The first is that obviously I didn’t make a penny off those 5000 copies of Isla’s Inheritance; this means that, in order for me to even break even on the trilogy, sales on the other two books have to cover not only their own production costs but those of the first books as well. For this reason, I wouldn’t personally make a book permafree that didn’t have sequels available — because, while I don’t expect to be rolling around in piles of money, I’d at least like to imagine I might recoup my expenses at some point. 😉

The other caveat is that there hasn’t been much, if any, cross-pollination to my other book, Lucid Dreaming. I expect that if people finish the trilogy and enjoy it, and they decide that they’d like to see what my adult (rather than young adult) book is like, that might happen … but it will be slower.

What next?

Now that the sales bump from the Freebooksy promotion has more or less worn off, I’ve decided my next experiment will be with Goodreads advertising. I read a really interesting blog post by Lindsay Buroker on how she made it work for her, and I’m keen to give it a try. Goodreads has a big advantage over Facebook in that at least we know the people on there are readers to start with.

Wish me luck!

If you’re an author-publisher, have you tried different forms of advertising? What has worked for you? What hasn’t?  I’d love to hear about it!


Isla1_Front_smlDo you also like free things?

The Isla’s Inheritance ebook is available free from the following retailers:

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Australia

Barnes & Noble

iBooks

Kobo

Smashwords


Ten examples of how the English language is trolling us

Regular readers of my blog will know that my full-time job is as an editor. You’d think that I’d be fully across all the various, ugly, beautiful permutations of English and its stupid-arse spelling.

You’d be wrong.

What brought this to my attention most recently is that in my latest manuscript I spelled “lightning” wrong. Like, every single time. My finger itches to put an e in there, but noooooooo, that would be the verb meaning to make something lighter. As in, “The lightning is lightening the sky.”

Because obviously.

Eyebrow Doctor

Now, to be fair, since I don’t work for the BOM, I don’t read about lightning in my job very much — so it isn’t something I’ve had trained out of me. But still, I did want to pull my hair out a little bit.

Here are some other examples of the ways that English is trolling us:

Alter / altar. One is the verb meaning “to change”; the other is a sacred table or platform at which religious offerings are made.

Baited / bated. One is describing something with bait (such as worms) attached. The other means “restrained” (with relation to breathing) — so the phrase “with bated breath” means with held breath, not with a mouthful of raw prawns. On behalf of all those romance heroines out there, I think we can say that’s a relief.

Blonde / blond. I gather this one is the fault of French, which has gendered adjectives. There, blonde is feminine and blond is masculine. In English, that’s sorta kinda true, but the application varies; my former publishing house’s convention was that “blond” was the adjective that describes hair colour and “a blonde” is a woman with blond hair.

Compliment / complement. The first is a nice thing someone says about you; the second has a bunch of meanings but generally relates to something that completes a thing or makes it perfect.

Climatic / climactic. One relates to weather; the other is the, er, climax of something. I have seen the wrong one used. Who knew weather could be so exciting?

Discreet / discrete. The first is wise, prudent or judicious; the second is detached or distinct. (I still have to look this one up every time.)

Exercise / exorcise. The first is physical activity and the second is to drive out an evil spirit — possibly in response to having seen me exercise! (Scary stuff.)

Grizzly / grisly. The first is something grey or a type of bear (but not a type of bare!). The second is something gruesome.

A sanction can be both authoritative permission and a provision of a law that enacts a penalty for disobedience — so two things that are OPPOSITE to one another. And in my dictionary, at least, as a verb it always means to approve or ratify something — so sentences such as “the UN sanctioned X country for breaching Resolution 1234” are actually saying that the UN approved the country’s actions rather than punishing it. Oh, UN, you so crazy.

Storey / story. One is a floor of a building; the other is a tale we tell ourselves. (This one’s not for US readers, who I gather use “story” for both…?)

So, all of that being the case, how do you avoid your writing being full of hilariously climaxing environments and buildings where each floor is a tale (but not a tail) of wonder (but not wander)? The answer is at once deceptively simple and also a lifelong job:

  • Read a lot
  • Own (and use) a current-edition dictionary of the specific English variant you’re using
  • Proofread your work (I noticed an incorrect “it’s” when I proofread this blog post — gah!)
  • Proofread it again (I did)
  • Have someone else proofread your work — copy editors are worth their weight (not wait) in gold
  • Make a list of words you know you get confused, and then double-check their usage whenever you see (not sea) them

What’s your favourite pair of words that are usually mixed up? Are they about meeting the principled principal? Having dessert in the desert? Eliciting illicit activity? I need (not knead) to know now!

Pleased Doctor


Why I chose not to self-publish before, and why I’ve done it now

Back in 2013, I blogged about the four reasons I chose to publish the Isla’s Inheritance trilogy through a small press rather than to self-publish. To summarise:

  • I wanted someone else to edit my book
  • I wanted someone else to do all of the other things that are required when publishing a book (cover design, typesetting, etc)
  • at the time, Amazon’s royalty payments to Australians involved sending cheques in US dollars; I wanted someone to electronically transfer me royalties
  • and because, in all honesty, I felt like it would give me a sense of validation.

And then, in October last year, I blogged about the reasons I was no longer with said small press. I suppose in hindsight I could have saved myself a lot of stress if I’d just self-published in the first instance, but I gained so much valuable experience in releasing the three books through Turquoise Morning Press that I don’t regret the decision.

In the four months since then (wut?!), I’ve self-published not one but four books. To be frank, that was an utterly insane decision, but I was already locked into the release date for Lucid Dreaming, which I’d decided to self-publish in the meantime, and I wanted to get the Isla’s Inheritance trilogy back on the market as soon as I could. I was just lucky my designer could work to those timeframes.

Now I’m out the other side I can finally think and breathe again. So how do those four reasons stack up?

Editing 

Obviously, with the trilogy, I got the external editing I was after. But I re-read and re-proofed each book myself as well, before self-publishing; I didn’t just upload them as they were, because there were a few tiny stylistic things I wanted to change. Normally it’s impossible to edit — even to copy edit — your own work, but when you take a several-year gap between finalising them and re-reading them it is a lot easier to be objective.

For Lucid Dreaming, several awesome friends critiqued it for me, and then I paid for it to be edited by a professional editor who is also a good friend. This was money well spent.

Cover and design

I paid for all four books to be professionally designed by another good friend. This was also money well spent. I can slap together a teaser or a meme just fine, but the finer points of cover design completely escape me, and there’s no doubt that all four book covers are beautiful and have a similarity of appearance that ties them together.

I expect I could learn how to do paperback and ebook layouts (though not the Smashwords table of contents procedure — I tried to read the instructions and my brain turned to mush). But the value to my mental health and stress levels of having someone who gets how it’s done and can apply a theme to the entire book was immense.

As for how to navigate Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords and Createspace, I managed to muddle through. Practice makes perfect, and by now I’ve had a lot of practice!

Amazon royalty payments

Now that Amazon Australia exists, Amazon pays via direct deposit. Hallelujah!

Validation

Well, this is a tricky one, isn’t it? I’ve read some excellent blogs by authors much more successful than me, in which they say that no matter how successful you are, there’s always someone doing better than you. Once the heady rush of having a three-book deal wore off, I found that I spent a lot of time qualifying my success to people. They’d be gleeful and I’d be self-effacing. So I guess in a way I never got the validation I was after.

The upside and the way forward

There are definitely perks to self-publishing, most of which won’t be a surprise to anyone. Being able to control the various design decisions mean that I adore all four of my covers, rather than having to compromise on and have less input into ones designed at someone else’s expense. Live sales reports are a mixed blessing (and can be downright depressing unless you’re a smash hit), but there are advantages there if you want to test out different forms of advertising to see what sales effect they have.

So, after all that, would I publish with a small press again? No, I wouldn’t. Although self-publishing the way I want to, with more professionalism than I can bring to bear, costs money, I’d rather do that. Small presses are a mixed bag, and the Amazon-dominated market is unkind to them. (It’s what killed TMP.)

Would I publish via traditional publishing, were the opportunity to present itself? Yes, because they can offer something I can’t get via self-publishing: market reach. The idea of being a hybrid author (one that does both traditional and self-publishing) has a huge amount of appeal to me.

Have you tried multiple avenues for publishing your books? Which worked best for you?


 

Isla3_Front_smlMelpomene’s Daughter, the final book in the Isla’s Inheritance trilogy, is once again available at all good (and some evil) online book retailers. You can find the buy links for it, and the rest of the series, here.

Isla struggles to embrace her fae nature while preserving her humanity in the final, exciting instalment of the Isla’s Inheritance trilogy.

Isla has spent months persuading the Canberra fae that she isn’t a tyrant like her mother, trying to prove that—despite her mixed blood—she’s human, not a monster. That she’s one of them, not one of the high fae who enslaved them.

But a vision of a fresh-dug grave warns that someone is going to die.

When the Old World fae once again move against her family, seeking revenge for old wrongs, Isla will stop at nothing to keep those she loves safe. She just wants to be left alone. But to win that right for herself, her family and all Australian fae, she must cross the oceans and take the fight to the country of her birth.

Isla must prove she really is Melpomene’s daughter after all.


NaNoWriMo — the next steps

The folks at Grammarly sent me this infographic to share last month, but I decided that the last thing people who are trying to write almost 2000 words a day need is pressure to edit when they should just be drafting. Still, there are some decent (albeit basic/fundamental) tips here, and now that the pressure is off, the graphic is worth a look at to remind you of some of the things that you should be looking out for on a proofread.

Here are my basic tips for NaNo participants now that the November frenzy is over.

  • Finish writing the manuscript. Just because you got to 50k, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re done. (The average novel is closer to twice that length. Here’s a handy link with recommended word counts for different genres.) And if you didn’t “win” NaNo and didn’t finish your manuscript, that doesn’t mean you should give up. A slow writer is still a writer. I know. I couldn’t win NaNo without a time machine, but I’ve still finished five novels.
  • Leave the manuscript for a few weeks (or as long as you can stand it) before coming back to look at it with fresh eyes.
  • Re-read the manuscript. Do a structural edit and re-write as needed to deal with the bigger plot problems. Copy edit afterwards (but also as you go if you’re like me and can’t let a comma splice be).
  • Send it to your beta readers/critique partners.
  • Review their suggestions and incorporate them as necessary/appropriate.
  • Repeat the previous three steps until you’re done.

DO NOT IMMEDIATELY SEND YOUR NOVEMBER 2015 MANUSCRIPT TO AN AGENT OR PUBLISHER, OR SELF-PUBLISH IT WITH A COVER YOU MADE IN WORD ART.

That is a NaNo no-no. :p

Five Mistakes To Avoid in Your NaNoWriMo Novel Infographic


I think I’ve become a sports person (sort of)

Now there’s a blog post title I never thought I’d write. But hear me out.

A week and a half ago I got a sporting injury. I know it’s a sporting injury, because the very nice young physiotherapist I went to see called it that. And it certainly sounds like a sporting injury; see, I got a calf strain, which is something I usually associate with rugged footballers who have no necks, and whose thighs are as wide around as my car.

How did I achieve this thing? Me, whose usual idea of a strenuous physical activity is lifting a hardcover novel? (Hey, those suckers are heavy.)

I was doing a warm-up at karate.

I never thought I’d be a karate person. But, after it was recommended to a friend’s son to help him work on his coordination, she and I decided to enrol our two boys. A colleague recommended his old school, GKR, because it is friendly and low contact.

By the end of the second Saturday morning watching my boy get all this perfectly good exercise while I sat on an uncomfortable chair, I decided to sign up as well. It took a huge act of will; the class I go to is quite large, and has a mix of adults and kids. I am incredibly unfit, and hate embarrassing myself in front of strangers. Or, well, anyone. But the sensei is kind, encouraging and funny (sadly, he’s also married 😉 ), and I figured, what have I got to lose? Other than more weight than I need and a lifetime of awkwardness, I mean?

Hells yes.

Here are some reasons why karate is working for me

In-built babysitting

My son is six. If I joined a gym, I’d need to organise babysitting for him (or spend money on a crèche), all of which is expensive and requires more organisation than I have brain cells spare for. We have a gym near work, but finding the time to actually go at lunch when we’re so busy has proven difficult. Also, I hate having to shower at work afterwards. Communal showers: ugh.

Whereas at karate, the boy and I are in the same dojo. We can exercise in the same class, each at our own pace. And afterwards I can drive us home to our bathroom. It’s the best of all worlds!

Exercise

Because I hear it’s good for you?

I do feel like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in my gi, but after a few months I can see changes in my musculature, and I have more endurance than I used to. After I tore my calf muscle I actually cried at the idea of having to take a break. Also because I was sore. But still, how pathetic/awesome is that? I’ve never felt that way about exercise before.

Get rid of the hat, add glasses, and this is basically me.

Get rid of the hat, add glasses, and this is basically me.

Meeting new people

Although I have lots of close friends that I’ve met on-line, my circle of real-life friends is small. Close, but small. I’m an introvert, and doing karate has forced me to chat to strangers. Some of them I could see myself becoming friends with. Others I can oggle at a distance. It’s great.

Research

Fight scenes, my friend. Fight scenes. I now know how to throw a punch or …er, kick … a kick. I’m not very good at the latter, because I’m still working on my balance, but I spend a lot of time watching talented black-belts demonstrate, and I know what it’s meant to look like. That means I can describe it. It’s fantastic! Last weekend I missed a women’s self-defence workshop they were running because I couldn’t walk very well, but next time they offer it I’ll definitely go along to that as well. My characters will benefit, for sure!

Do you do a martial art? Have you tried acquiring a new physical skill later in life? Leave a comment, so I don’t feel so alone!