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Archive for category Book marketing
Last week I spoke at the New Generation Publishing summit and this thorniest of questions came up: how do you strike a balance between writing books and working on marketing and sales?
We had good examples of two extremes. In the marketing-gone-mad corner, we had debut author Toni Jenkins. She cheerfully confessed that when her first book launched she went to the mattresses, working until late every night, identifying possible audiences, writing emails introducing herself, following up leads. She added that her mentors at NGP, while applauding her energy, reminded her not to lose sight of her writing.
In the other corner, the ‘just-leave-me-alone-to-write’ department, we had staunch representation too. NGP director Daniel Cooke told me he has too many authors who can’t be persuaded to consider marketing at all. Joel Friedlander had a good piece about this recently by Judith Brile – is your plan for success ‘I just want to write my books’?
Clearly neither situation is ideal.
Whether we go it alone or have the backing of publishers or PR agencies, we need to accept that we have to be our books’ ambassadors. But not only is marketing a separate job that takes time to learn, we can’t easily measure what works. (This remains an eternal conundrum even for experienced marketers.) Small wonder that we either get marketing frenzy (like Toni) or cover our ears (Daniel’s authors).
If you’re writing, it’s easy to measure results. More words added to your manuscript, more scenes feeling ‘right’, more research done.
With marketing, you don’t know if you’re wasting a whole heap of time. Some activities give measurable results, but a lot more don’t. Marketing is about presence as much as sales – your Facebook adverts, social media activity, newsletters, guest blogging may not always ring the cash registers. Your shot-in-the-dark letters to book bloggers or other persons of influence might not get a reply, but they might still make an impression. They let people know that you exist; that you produce.
The rewards of marketing are long-long-longterm. Like adopting a healthy lifestyle, the most significant benefits aren’t instant, they’re cumulative. Stick at it, over months and years, and you start to see that people know of you, they’ve heard of your books. (Then you can get embarrassed when they introduce themselves to you at events, and you rack your brains in case they’re a Facebook friend or devoted blog commenter you can’t remember, ahem.)
And the converse of that is …. If you don’t do it, your book launch is like a tree that falls over in a wood with no one to hear.
Time for both
So we must make time for both marketing AND writing.
And we must make sure that one doesn’t swallow the other (barring exceptional circumstances like a book launch, or the final push to polish a book for press).
But so many possibilities…
The trouble is, marketing could drive us bonkers with possibilities. Every week I trip over several new wonderful things I could consider. To evaluate them takes time – and I might end up discarding them because they won’t reach my audience. This is why we get so overwhelmed, because we could do this 24/7 and never, ever get to the end of it. Then we enter a panic cycle of thinking we’re not doing enough, or not doing the right things, or everyone is somewhere we’re not.
But it’s possible to develop a sensible approach.
This is mine. It has two principles.
1 A formal list. Each Friday, I make a to-do list for the next week. It includes the marketing tasks I’ve decided are worth doing, balanced with my writing, editing and mentoring commitments. (This also allows you to audit how much time you’re spending in the marketing and writing camps.)
2 Obey the list. Do not do any task unless you’ve added it to your list. Have you stumbled across a Brilliant New Thing? Do not do it this week if your dance card is already full. That great new gimmick, website, social media platform, hot books blogger will still be there in seven days’ time. It will not leave the planet. So whenever you read about a new wonderful opportunity, resist the urge to do it immediately. Unless it has an urgent deadline – eg a competition – put it on the list for next week. You already have a plan for this week. Continue with that. And remember: you’re working on long-term presence as well as short-term sales.
It’s actually bleeding obvious, isn’t it? Again, I’m going to use the comparison with diets. Diets work if you stick to the rules. They don’t if you don’t. And the great thing about this marketing/writing diet is that you’re allowed as much cake as you like.
And the other part of the plan, of course, is to have a solid writing process that leaves you free to create. So allow me to discreetly mention Nail Your Novel, a system I developed from the questions I’m most commonly asked by writers, and still use now, with many books behind me. Even more audaciously, allow me to suggest that Nail Your Novel trio make groovy gifts for other scribblers you know.
Have you hit on a plan to balance marketing and writing? Let’s discuss!
book marketing, how to find time to write, how to manage time as a writer, how to market a book, how to use social media successfully, Joel Friedlander, Judith Brile, New Generation Publishing, social media for authors
Where do you find the books you want to read? There are theories galore about how authors and publishers should advertise, use categories, keywords etc. But I often find myself a bit bemused by them.
Because I don’t buy books that way. These theories seem to describe a behaviour that I simply don’t recognise. But I do buy books. All the time. So where am I discovering them?
I don’t expect this post will set the world of book marketing alight. But I hope to illuminate some less acknowledged processes. And I’m curious to know what you do, so I hope you’ll join in at the end.
I’ve never bought a book that I’ve seen on a Facebook advert. Yes, I know that advertising is there to remind you a book exists, not necessarily to grab your £££ immediately. I know that adverts have to be seen a certain number of times before they get noticed. And that they work in conjunction with other forms of exposure.
But Facebook has never managed to show me book adverts that I find appealing. This must mean I’m giving it some very wrong signals. (How many other readers are giving the wrong signals, I wonder?)
I’ve certainly bought books by people I know on Facebook, but not because of adverts. I’ve bought because of meaningful contact – chatting to them, or an interview. More on that later.
I don’t browse for books on Goodreads. I go there AFTER I’ve read a book, to keep the karma going with a review, when (ahem) time allows. (For the last few months it hasn’t. I’ll be rectifying that soon.)
Bargain book newsletter services
BookBub et al. I know these are smart sales tools, but they’ve always seemed rather superfluous to me as a reader. First, I don’t buy books because they’re bargains. I don’t find a book more appealing because it’s on special offer. I want the right book.
Second, these newsletters are selling ebooks, and I’m one of those throwbacks who likes a solid version. To have, to hold and to keep. To remind me, by its bulk on the shelf, to give it attention. But I do use Kindle samples to check books out, so it wouldn’t be totally useless to me.
Still, they are popular and effective for authors, so I thought I’d better evaluate them properly. What gems might I find by subscribing as a reader? An excellent article by the Alliance of Independent Authors compared them in terms of value for advertisers, and rated BookBub, Fussy Librarian and Bargain Booksy top. Fussy Librarian got a special mention because it wasn’t just promoting bargains.
I subscribed to Fussy Librarian as a reader, asking for news of literary fiction. After two months of emails, I can report they – or the authors who advertise with them – are not remotely fussy about what they categorise as literary fiction.
And this is a problem when you shop in this category. It’s easy for us all to agree what’s meant by categories such as crime, thriller, romance, paranormal or YA. But literary? The term gets put on everything that might not fit in the other boxes (and so, in Fussyland, it seems to mean cross-genre or two timelines). Here’s a post where I attempt my own definition of literary, in case you haven’t had enough. Meanwhile, several writers I know avoid the term altogether because they’ve learned their readers are put off by it.
But Fussy Librarian isn’t everything. I decided to try BookBub, the grandaddy of book email lists. And here’s where I was surprised. I have seen a few titles that I’m keen to know more about, so it will be interesting to see if my buying habits change as a result of BookBub.
So how do I discover books?
My sources are:
- Newspaper review pages and the London Review of Books
- Publishers’ lists (because of The Undercover Soundtrack, publishers send me their catalogues and I invite authors whose work appeals to me. What’s The Undercover Soundtrack? Sleeve notes here)
- Recommendations from friends and my bookseller friend Peter Snell (our radio show, So You Want To Be A Writer, is here)
- Blogs – the Literary Hub and David Abrams’s blog The Quivering Pen, which has interviews and a regular feature of upcoming titles. If you have a blog that showcases upcoming titles that correspond to my idea of literary, do let me know.
- Amazon’s ‘people who bought this bought that’ algorithm. I could wander in there for hours.
- Oxfam bookshops – a great way to find books everyone else has forgotten about. Especially non-fiction. Yes, I know that’s dodgy because the author doesn’t get a royalty. But often these are books that aren’t available anywhere else or I’d never have known to search for them.
- For research, I use Library Thing – this is the only time I search for books by categories, tags and all that labelling, because I’m shopping for something specific. But my pleasure reading is all surprise finds.
My favourite way to discover books
This has to be blogposts or interviews. I’m most likely to go hunting for a book if I’ve enjoyed the writer’s company in another piece of prose. I’ll check their reviews too, obviously. If I read a really thoughtful review, I’ll often want to know more about the reviewer – especially if they have a book of their own.
This means, therefore, that I’m a lot more influenced by gut feeling about the writer’s curiosities, thought processes and delivery. I’ll follow a good voice into any genre. I don’t read fantasy but I love Jack Vance. I don’t read crime but I love Barbara Vine and Dorothy L Sayers. I’m wary of horror, but I’ve been joyously sucked into the latest by Josh Malerman (who is coming up next week on The Undercover Soundtrack … that’s another place where I find glorious reads).
In short, I seek the quality that categories can’t measure. And this possibly means that if you’re a writer whose distinctive strength is nuance, your best marketing tool is an interview, a personal essay or a well-turned review.
Anyway, this isn’t a post that provides theses or theories, it’s a post of open-ended enquiry. Not a ‘how-to’; more of a ‘how-we’.
What are the last 5 books you bought?
Let’s examine our book discovery habits. How did you find the last five books you bought? You don’t have to have read them yet. I want to see how you met them. And I hope you’ll teach me some new shopping tips.
Here are mine
A personal essay: I read this post and so I bought this. The piece is hardly about the book at all, but I feel I’ve been shown a piece of the author’s soul. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
Search by category + friend recommendation: This one’s for research. I was looking for accounts of bereavement and Library Thing did its thing. I haven’t read a Didion before, but she’s a favourite of a friend of mine. The irony in the title made it irresistible. Joan Didion – The Year of Magical Thinking.
A friend: Another friend this time. He said: ‘You’ll like this. It’s weird and it really stays with you. I don’t know why. It just does.’ The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Lucky find in an Oxfam bookshop: I would never have thought to search for this. But there it was in a display. A sane biography of the teenage idol I’ve never grown out of. Under The Ivy. The Life and Music of Kate Bush by Graeme Thomson.
Over to you. Where do you discover most of your books? On line, by browsing in a shop? How did you discover the last 5 books you bought and what were they? Any opinions on FB adverts and bargain book newsletters like Bookbub? Your favourite tip for book shopping?
Amazon categories, categories, Curtis Sittenfeld, David Abrams, defining literary fiction, Facebook advertising for authors, genre, Graeme Thomson, how readers use BookBub, how readers use Fussy Librarian, Josh Malerman, Kate Bush, Library Thing, London Review of Books, Stephanie Gangi, tags, The Literary Hub
Social media are an inextricable part of author life these days – and for some, the value seems dubious. Writers might flog themselves to blog, tweet until they turn blue, but months in, the magic hasn’t happened. Where are the book deals, the viral quantities of fame? Is it worth all the trouble?
I am here to tell you it is. But you may be looking at the wrong things, or have mistaken expectations. Social media have been an absolute transforming force for me, and if the channels were closed tomorrow I’d be howling for their return. So I thought I’d quantify the ways I’ve found it so worthwhile.
Quick background. I’ve been on social media since 2009. My major haunts are Twitter @Roz_Morris and Facebook. And I blog, obvs. I probably get most of my results from those platforms as they’re where I’m most consistently active, but I also have profiles in the outer reaches of Linked In, G+, Pinterest and Tumblr (see my sidebar).
Building useful contacts
Networking is, of course, the number one aim. Like all professionals, we make our luck by bumping into the right person. Unless you’re born into a clan of literati, you have to build your own black book. Before social media, that came mainly from real-time encounters – book launches, writing groups, courses, conferences. Now we can strike up relationships without being on a guest list. On the internet, a cat can look at a queen (and will probably be photographed doing so).
And it’s much easier to keep our contacts warm. Quick DMs, text messages, Facebook posts are much less effort than letters, emails or – gulp – face-to-face coffee. Indeed, as most of us perform better on the page than at a party, written encounters probably allow us to be more genuine.
But Roz, you might say. What about the numbers? We might have thousands of friends and followers, and thousands we befriend and follow. Setting aside the times we might use social media just because the contact is fun, is it working for our careers? In that clamour, is anyone actually getting anywhere?
I can only speak for myself, of course. But I know this: my career under my own byline has been entirely generated from social media (if that sentence makes no sense, here’s an explanation). Because I blog, tweet etc, I have sold enough books to make it worth writing more; been offered paying jobs, speaking gigs, editing work and spots on online courses; found supporters among influential figures in the writing and publishing world. And I’ve met fantastic people who have become more than colleagues.
Social media work. But for most of us, the results are best measured in annular rings, not by weeks or months. But look back several years and you start to see a big change.
(Of course, much comes down to how you use it. What to blog about? This post has some ideas.)
But there are other benefits too, and you don’t have to wait for them to mature.
Social media helps create a work environment
Non-freelances ask me how I stay motivated if I don’t go to an office. I think they imagine I’m running amok watching Breaking Bad or surfing eBay or strolling to the shops or idling away an afternoon with my horse. Personally I’m too much of an obsessive to skive, but if you are too tempted by the distractions of home, social media can create a circle of colleagues to keep you accountable. On Facebook and Twitter, if you look, there are plenty of writers sharing their milestones or their to-do lists. They just finished a draft. Got edits back. Wrote or approved a press release. Signed up for a course. It’s like mini-Nanowrimo community, except you can use it year-round, 24/7.
If you know how to set up lists on Twitter and Facebook, you can assemble a posse of virtual team-mates whose work ethic will spur you to achieve. (And then make a separate list of people to hobnob with in downtime.)
Social media are a tool for book research
Somewhere, one of your contacts (or perhaps more than one) can verify a snippet of research or point you to a trustworthy source. Of course, you might also get misinformed nonsense, but hopefully you’ll have enough contacts for a reality check.
Social media are a resource for reliable advice on publishing, whether traditional or indie
Thanks to social media, the author corps 2016 is a savvy beast. We’re more clued up about fair book deals. We have our eyes open about the pitfalls and pleasures of the many publishing routes. We have access to fantastic watchdogs like Victoria Strauss, the Alliance of Independent Authors. Other terrific places for advice are Joel Friedlander’s The Book Designer and Jane Friedman – generous, knowledgeable professionals who are raising the general level of publishing knowledge for everyone’s benefit.
But there are so many platforms…
Well you don’t have to do all of them. Which platforms should you choose? I only know what works for me, so put these questions to social media expert Adam Waters in this edition of my radio show.
Although social media might seem ephemeral, they are actually permanent. Years on, you might feel a twitch on a thread, and hook a new person.
Over to you. What social media platforms do you like? How do you use them? What works for you and what doesn’t? If you look back over the long term, what have social media helped you accomplish? Any questions? Let’s consult the hive mind.
I know email newsletters are the holy grail of marketing and building an audience. I fully accept that we need to nudge people to sign up. I know we need to use calls to action, and not be afraid to say ‘here’s my book and here’s where to buy it’ or ‘this offer will end soon’.
But a lot of email marketing now seems to overstep the mark. And some particularly odious tactics are being taught as techniques for success.
I’ve been provoked to write this because I’ve been sent a rather tempting offer – to promote a course on email marketing, for which I’d get a 75% affiliate fee. Very generous, but … I loathe many of the tactics they teach. I can’t promote a course that teaches them. Not even for 75%.
Are there any email marketing tactics you’d like to see outlawed? Here are my top three.
Bullying pop-ups on websites
I go to a website and I’ve barely spent a second there before a pop-up nags me to sign up. A great big banner, difficult to banish, that stops me seeing anything else. People, if I can’t read your stuff, I don’t know whether I want to invite you to my inbox. Please, let me mooch around and get to know you at my own pace. It’s like being accosted by a pushy shop assistant. Yes, I know your purpose is to sell things, I’m not using you as a free museum. But before I know if I want anything, I need to look. Really look.
Sometimes these pop-ups have a ‘don’t show this again’ option. Often, they have the memory of a goldfish because clicking them makes no difference. And they even pounce on you if you’re already subscribed.
Hysterical chain of build-up emails
I know we get excited when we’ve got a launch. And we want to make the most of it. Cover reveal, early-bird review copies, paperback release etc. I don’t see anything wrong with emailing about those because they’re tangible new phases. And it’s fair enough to warn people that a special offer is about to close.
But some people send a blizzard of emails just for the sake of buzz. Watch out, an email will be coming. Then: the offer is nearly ready to send to you, are you excited? (No, I’m not.) Then: tomorrow an email is coming. It’s me again, don’t forget I’ve got a thing and I don’t want you to miss it.
Our inboxes need to lose weight. We don’t need the extra flab of empty nagging.
Prodding when you don’t respond to an offer or call to action.
‘I just wanted to make sure you didn’t miss this offer/release/crowdfunding campaign/ because I was worried that I hadn’t heard from you and I was worried that my email might accidentally have fallen into your spam folder or been forgotten or been deleted by your mischievous nephew or your arch-rival who wants to see your career collapse in tatters.’
No you didn’t. You’ve got an add-on that snitches when people don’t jump at the first email. That’s just nasty.
But do these tactics work?
I’ve seen the arguments. Pop-ups apparently get more subscriptions even though nobody ever welcomes them. Email nagging gets more sales or click-throughs, even if they’re deleted immediately because it’s the number of exposures that does the magic. But does it work, long term? What has it cost you in terms of your relationship with the reader? One of the functions of an email newsletter is to build trust, isn’t it?
The principles aren’t bad. I’m sure these tactics could be used persuasively and with grace, rather than to alienate. So let’s brainstorm – what do you respond to in email newsletters? What do you like? What makes you unsubscribe – and indeed, subscribe?
Oh, and mine is here. (Winning smile.)
Following my post about not talking about novels I’m writing, I’ve had this question:
I am a new author (just signed) and I am struggling with how to share parts of the story to entice readers while also protecting its integrity. Any suggestions?
Don’t be a tease
My first question is this. How far off publication are you?
If it’s more than a couple of months, you might be wasting time by giving specific details about the book. Internet shoppers are slaves to impulse. They want to buy instantly. There’s no shortage of shiny new stuff to keep their £££s busy. If you can’t offer an instant purchase or pre-order, they’ll go somewhere else and who knows if they’ll remember they even considered your book? And if you flirt with them too often without following through, you’ll wear out their interest. Don’t waste your shots.
Be discreet about the book until you have readership
If you’re starting to blog, don’t feel pressured to talk about the book. Everyone’s doing that anyway. Think of blogging as a conversation opener, like any other part of social media. Talk about other material you’re interested in, things you have in common with the people you hope will be your readers – themes, locations, historical periods if appropriate, other books that have been influential. Go out and find like-minded souls in Facebook groups, Twitter, Linked In groups, Google + communities. Comment on posts at other blogs.
You could put a progress thermometer on your blog sidebar with the status of your books. This would let people know you’re writing and help the title become familiar for them.
Ready for my close-up
If you’re close to publication, you can start your dance of the seven veils. Aim to generate intrigue. Here’s what I do, and what I’ve noticed seems effective for the writers in my blogosphere.
Cover and visuals
Readers love to see the evolution of a cover. (Writers do too, to learn!) This is one of your chief opportunities to attract attention and you can get several blogposts out of it, whether you’re indie or traditionally published. Talk about how you fixed on a design concept, any wrong turnings you took (I’ve got a humdinger here as I nearly loused up my second novel with an unsuitable jacket. But it gave me a great yarn for my blog.)
Some authors create mood boards on Pinterest for their work in progress. Or they lay a quote from their book over a picture, like an advert, and put it on Pinterest. This is enormously satisfying, and Pinterest is certainly a phenomenon. Does it lead to book sales? Who knows. I doubt that people go to Pinterest looking for a book to read. But they do look for stuff to share, and if your picture has wide appeal it might get spread around. Again, does that get it to people who might want to know about your book? Who knows. We’re venturing into the haphazard, unmeasurable realm of advertising here. do it if it satisfies you, but don’t let it become more important than spreading the word… in words.
Stories about your stories
What made you write your book? Most of us could pinpoint an experience or a twinkling idea that set us on the path. Work out your origin story – it’s an excellent way to reach out to new readers while remaining discreet. On the blog for My Memories of a Future Life I’ve got a section called Glimpses . And on Lifeform Three it’s Origins.
There are more ideas in this post – keep your stories about your stories.
Should you post excerpts?
I’m cautious about excerpts. Either they spoil a carefully laid surprise or they look bonkers because the reader doesn’t have the context. But there are certain excerpts that a browsing reader would expect to find, and I’m happy to post those. On my novel pages I’ve got the first page and the page 99 test.
Once the launch party’s over
There will come a time when you can’t squeeze much more out of the launch. Know when to draw back. Now your blog isn’t about an agenda, it’s back to conversation – your personality, little snatches of life. It’s giving people your company, not your campaign. Indeed, this is where you’ll be glad you established this from the start.
Here are two different approaches: Chris Hill has a mix of author interviews, thoughts on reading and writing. Or this more visual group blog (right) from Joni Rodgers, Colleen Thompson and Dr Kathryn Peterson. And so we go back to the start, until another book is ready.
Thanks for the bird pic TheRealBrute
Have you had to grapple with this issue? How much do you share about a book in progress? How far in advance do you talk about the content? What’s worked for you and what hasn’t? Let’s discuss!
blogging, blogging about your book, book excerpts, book launch, Boxing The Octopus, Chris Hill, Colleen Thompson, David Penny, Dr Kathryn Peterson, how to blog about your book, Joni Rodgers, mood boards for your book, using Pinterest as an author
The sales problem
This time last year a main concern was how indies were feeling the pinch with dwindling sales. Did we think it could get worse?
Oh but it has. There are even more books for sale. Subscription services like Kindle Unlimited are changing the way readers perceive value. Authors who don’t enrol their books seem to get less exposure in the magic Amazon algorithms.
Does that mean it might be better to hold out for a book deal? Well, there are pros and cons, and the points I wrote last year still stand.
So what of traditional publishing?
Were we hoping that traditional publishing might enter a new era of enlightenment, with transparent, fair deals and true author-publisher partnership? Well it hasn’t happened yet. Publishers are feeling the squeeze too much to be generous and forward looking, or to embrace new methods of working. Authors still have to scrabble hard to avoid the contract traps of rights grabs, reversion clauses that never revert and discount sales that don’t qualify for a proper royalty.
A traditional deal might get you kudos or help with marketing, but this is often shortlived. Unless you strike lucky, it may not be as good as you could drum up yourself. I have a traditionally published author friend whose first book series won awards. His second series launched recently, and the only publicity was a tiny mention in the Sunday Times.
With a traditional deal, you’ll get editorial services (of course). But a lot of corners are being cut. Publishers are slimming their departments and farming the work out to freelances. Or maybe they’re not even doing that. Over Christmas I was talking to an editor friend who this year proof-read a batch of books for paperback release. They were already out in hardback, so this was supposed to be a just-in-case read. In book after book, she found appalling errors – inane grammar, impenetrable sentences, stupid inaccuracies and plot improbabilities. These weren’t unpublished manuscripts, remember; they were books that had been through the process.
I do, of course, know several authors who are happy with their publishers. All of them have one thing in common; without exception, they never tried self-publishing.
I’ve only just realised this as I write and it’s quite startling.
Let’s examine the comparison from other angles. I also know several authors who self-published first, then got book deals – and felt they were much better off as indies. Some of them halted the process, gave back the advance, and reassembled their indie publishing team. That’s still not looking good for traditional publishing. Let’s try to give it a better crack: I know several traditionally published authors who ventured into self-publishing … and decided they were happier without the extra burden.
Let’s examine that.
Ultimately: what do you want?
‘I want an old-style publishing deal because I just want to write…’
It’s probably unfashionable to say this, but many authors still hope for the old-style deal. There is undeniable satisfaction in having a book accepted. Also, you don’t have to learn the mysterious processes necessary to produce a book. And as for marketing…..
Hold it there. Whether you get a book deal or not, you will have to be your book’s ambassador. Always. Indeed, if your book is a serious contender for a publisher’s list, one of the things you’ll be judged on is your online reach. If you haven’t built one, you’ll be urged to start. The publishing deal will not let you ‘just write in peace’. You have to be a marketer as well as a writer, no matter which path you choose. The part that you can offload, if you wish, is the book production. Does this illuminate where the traditional publisher’s guaranteed contribution is?
‘I want top production values, with as much or as little control as I choose…’
It’s never been so easy to hire top production skills. And if you haven’t gathered your own team of professionals, assisted self-publishing is now a good option. In the past, many operators have been rogues, taking advantage of the inexperienced and starry eyed with overpriced and substandard services, sneaky rights grabs and unsuitable marketing efforts. (See here for a post about spotting unscrupulous publishing ‘deal’s and other scams. ) Some of them are still stinkers. But in 2015 I began to notice genuine contenders. These are like plugging your book into a well-run production department, with sales teams who’ll give you a fair crack in the bookshops. Some of them have a quality bar, so they’re halfway between a curated imprint and a self-publishing service. Qualifying for their list means you get that stamp of approval. (I’m building a list of assisted self-publishers I’d recommend, so contact me and I’ll introduce you to some good folks.)
But producing the book is just the start. The problem is getting noticed and building a readership. This is why it’s such a gamble to make a business out of an art, because no one can predict what will be successful. Thought of like that, it’s not surprising that traditional publishers try to keep so much and spend so little. It’s not evil; it’s survival. Perhaps the new, sustainable way to publish will be assisted self-publishing outfits who are choosy about the books they accept, who will build a reputation for their taste and let the writer take the financial risk. Endorsement may prove to be the magic dust that money can’t buy – even if authors foot the bill. Agent-assisted self-publishing looks attractive for that reason too, even though it makes industry purists blanch. (Just so I can say ‘I told you so’, here’s a post I wrote about agent-assisted self-publishing in 2011 )
As ever, I throw the floor open to you. What are your publishing plans for 2016? Have your views changed from last year? Are you a self-publisher who’s had a traditional deal and what are your experiences comparing the two? If it’s not too late for resolutions, dare I ask if there are any you’d like to share?
advice on self-publishing, agent-publishers, assisted self-publishing, authors, how to become an author, literary agents, publishers, publishing, rogue self-publishing services, self-publishing services, should you seek a book deal, vanity press, vanity publishing, writers, writing
First of all, why?
An author name is a brand, of course, and traditional publishing has a long history of strategic pseudonymery. Names or initials might make a writer sound more exciting, more serious, more like an already famous author (JRR Tolkien and George RR Martin, anyone?). Androgynous names might do you favours if your readership is gender sensitive. A new surname might put you at a more visible part of the bookshelves or next to giants of your genre (George RR Martin again).
Even a change of nationality might send interesting signals to the reader. Earlier this year I was at an event with Sophie Schmidt, head of author relations and marketing at Epubli, and she told me that German erotica authors often choose English pseudonyms. More tea, vicar?
Multiple identities for separate markets
Deborah Swift (@Swiftstory) has published four historical novels under the name Deborah Swift, and one novel, Past Encounters, under the name Davina Blake (here’s her Undercover Soundtrack). ‘I use a pen-name for Past Encounters because it has a narrower focus, being a close study of two relationships. My publisher was not keen on me changing to a more modern genre (WWII), and rejected the book. I did not want to go through a long submission process, so I self-published to be available for the 70th anniversary of the filming of Brief Encounter and the bombing of Dresden which feature in the story. I thought Past Encounters would attract a different kind of reader, and this has proved to be the case.’
Do you always need to separate yourself so much? Maybe, maybe not. Read on.
Conflict with professional role – a tale of two doctors
Wolf Pascoe (@WolfPascoe) is an anaesthetist as well as a poet and playwright, and you might have seen the Undercover Soundtrack for his poetic memoir, Breathing For Two. ‘I decided in writing about anesthesia to use a pen name for patient confidentiality. Of course, I don’t use real patient names, and I take pains to change any identifying details, but I wanted an extra layer of security. Also, as I’m still practising, I didn’t want there to be a chance that I’d encounter a new patient who might worry I’d be writing about them in the future. And finally, I’d rather not have my hospital knowing about my writing activities — this gives me more freedom to say what I want to say about the medical establishment without fear of retribution.’
In the opposite corner, though, is Carol Cooper (@DrCarolCooper) (also an Undercover Soundtracker). Carol writes parenting books, fiction, tabloid journalism – and practises medicine – all under her real name. ‘From time to time, I’ve been advised to use a pseudonym for different types of writing. After all, I still see patients and teach medical students, so I need to be taken seriously. But my name is part of me, part of my brand. In the distant past I’ve used jokey pen names like Saffron Walden and Cherry Hinton, and written a column pseudonymously as a nurse called Rosemary Sharpe, but nowadays I want potential readers to find me.’
But these days… is there anywhere to hide?
In these superconnected times, a pseudonym is easily busted. Kristen Lamb makes some good points here about the realities of using pen names, particularly if you’re trying to keep your writing activities secret.
Basically, the internet will outsmart you. Real-life friends will innocently post pictures of you on Facebook, and even if they don’t think to tag you, Facebook’s facial recognition software will prompt them to. People who know you as two names may use the wrong one at an inappropriate moment because they didn’t know it was important to keep the distinction.
The double-named life has lighthearted challenges too. Elizabeth Spann Craig (@ElizabethSCraig) who writes three cosy mystery series, one under the pen name Riley Adams, was on a book tour and didn’t notice a bookstore employee calling out ‘Riley? Riley?’ until she was prodded by another author on the tour. Then you have to form an autograph in the alternate name: ‘My signature for the Riley Adams name is appallingly indecipherable…and I had to buy a book or two when I accidentally signed stock with the wrong name.’
Selfpublishing under more than one name = multiple accounts?
On Amazon this isn’t too tricky. KDP and CreateSpace allow you to associate your real account with any pen names you want, so all the revenues can flow to you. There’s no need to set up separate bank accounts. Kobo allows you to enter any name you like in the author field when you upload a book.
Smashwords, however, can’t accommodate more than one author name on a standard account. It offers an upgrade for publishers, agents and other bodies who might want to publish more than one author. Notes are here.
What about social media?
Now this is where the double life becomes a strain.
Elizabeth Spann Craig: ‘There are only so many hours in the day for us to promote our books. After a few mistakes, including Facebook and Twitter accounts under the pen name, I decided to promote as myself. I mentioned my pseudonym and other series in my bios. On social media sites and in my newsletters, I direct readers to my website, which lists buy-links for both series.’
Deborah Swift: ‘I have two Twitter accounts and two websites. It also helps me when networking with other independent authors if I am clear that Davina Blake is an independent author, whereas Deborah Swift is not. In a sense, the boundaries are artificial, but they help me maintain a more honest relationship with my readers and with other authors.’
Wolf Pascoe: ‘Both Wolf and real-me have Facebook accounts. This is against Facebook rules. I probably should have just had an author page for Wolf, but I’ve left it that way for now. I have a regular Google account for both real me and Wolf. This is probably also against the rules. I don’t really take the rules of corporations seriously.’
A tale of two Twit(ter)s
I’ve messed about with multiple Twitter identities myself. When I launched my first novel, I decided I had to keep my fiction identity separate from the writing tutor identity. I wasn’t using a different name, but I was aware I might have two distinct audiences. This was the post where I explained the grand plan. Note the updates from 2014, when I finally decided it was too much. When I returned to just one Twitter handle for both strands of my writing life, the firmament didn’t crack.
Times change. Readers are now more interested in the real people behind author names. Might pseudonyms be less necessary or more necessary than ever? And why?
John Dugdale recently wrote in the Guardian about a decline in the use of pseudonyms. On the one hand we have Robert Galbraith very famously unmasked as JK Rowling. On the other, we have Jeanette Winterson (among others) venturing into new quarters of publishing that, in years gone by, might have been cause to launch with a new name. Today they’re flying as their undiluted selves.
Elizabeth Spann Craig: I think it depends on your motive. Some choose pen names because they’re concerned about upsetting family with their content and they want to be completely anonymous. This approach can be especially tough since discoverability depends so much on online interaction between author and reader. But I think pseudonyms can still have their uses — especially if we explore other genres and our dedicated reader base might be resistant to something strikingly different.’ (Indeed, since this interview, Elizabeth has released her first cosy zombie book as Liz Craig.)
Elizabeth again: ‘The last thing we want to do is create more work for ourselves. If we’re absolutely sure we need a pen name, and we already wrote under a different name, we can limit the social media in the pseudonym’s handle. But if you’re starting out fresh as an author and are only writing under a pen name, it will be easier to have extensive social media platforms for the name. In that case, the only problem for the author who wishes to be anonymous may be the author picture – also a vital part of online presence.’
Some writers find that a separate identity has other benefits too. Here’s Wolf Pascoe again: ‘It’s fun being Wolf. I like Wolf Pascoe as a name better than my real name. But I had a sort of reputation as a poet and playwright as real me, and starting over as Wolf writing narrative, I may have lost some career momentum. This was a drag. Also, I had originally used Wolf’s name when I started blogging, and thought it might free me up to be more open about my darkness. But enough people know about the connection between Wolf and real me that I’ve had to censor my darkness as Wolf, just as I would as real me. On the other hand, Wolf will occasionally say lighter things that I wouldn’t, so in that sense, it’s been freeing. At some point in the future, when I stop practising medicine, I’ll probably make the connection between the two names more public.’
One becomes two; two become one. Has the pseudonym ever been so fluid before now?
Thanks to my interviewees Deborah Swift, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Wolf Pascoe and Carol Cooper. And to JenFoxd for the Penguin Superman pic.
Over to you. Have you used, or considered using a pen name, or publishing under more than one name? Do you have any experiences to share or questions you’d like to put? Let’s discuss.
book marketing, ByRozMorris, Carol Cooper, Davina Blake, Deborah Swift, Elizabeth Spann Craig, facebook, genre, George RR Martin, pen names, publishing, publishing a book, Riley Adams, secret identity, selfpublishing, should you use a pen name, social media, twitter, Wolf Pascoe, writing identity
Translated editions can be a great way to reach a wider audience. But they’re expensive and risky to fund yourself. A translator has to reinterpret and rewrite your book, and that level of expertise isn’t cheap.
Sharks and scammers abound, especially as it’s hard to evaluate the results. Then how do you get the translated edition proof read? How do you market in a language you don’t speak?
For years I’ve been exploring options to get my books translated but so far I’ve had false starts. I’ll share a few cautionary tales below. But the reason I’m writing this post is because Amazon Publishing has opened up an important new opportunity. Its imprint AmazonCrossing, which publishes works in translation, has announced it’s seeking submissions from rightsholders, including indie authors (apply here).
This would be a publishing deal, of course, so much depends on whether you’re a good fit for their market as they would be making a substantial investment. But I feel it’s a significant opportunity. Here’s why.
Indie translation options
Paying a translator
A quick question on Twitter produced the following figures. London literary agent Charlotte Seymour
@Roz_Morris The standard rate is about £90 per 1000 words, if that helps!
— Charlotte Seymour (@ce_seymour) October 18, 2015
Harvill Secker senior editor Alison Hennessey concurred
— Alison Hennessey (@crime_queen) October 18, 2015
Those are hefty sums. There are no guarantees of sales afterwards. And how do you recognise whether the translation is worth the price? I googled ‘bad translations’ and found no shortage of horror stories and warnings, such as this site.
Several authors I know have formed partnerships to produce books. This requires trust and a long-term view, but can work if you know the right person. Joanna Penn is one pioneer here, with several experiences to share.
If you are signed with a literary agent, it’s worth having a conversation about your self-published titles to see if there are any markets worth approaching.
Here’s a beware, though. A few years ago, an author friend made a translation deal, through an agent who specialised in representing indie work to foreign markets. Hurrah, I thought, and contacted her. I received an offer – only it wasn’t. It was an invitation to pay for a spot in one of her ‘catalogues’ of indie books, which she would take around the trade fairs. There were several price tiers as well, with bronze, silver and gold service, according to how much effort she would put into sales. No thanks.
Babelcube is a community where authors can meet translators. You complete a profile describing your book, including a sample for translators to use as an audition, and wait to see who’s interested – like a dating site. What’s more, they provide the author-translator agreement and distribute to online retailers.
It seems like a smart answer to the problem, although you still have to find the foreign-language proofreading professionals. But some indie authors have been very happy with their Babelcube experience.
So I tried offering Nail Your Novel. Plenty of translators had a go at the sample, and I amassed a group of Facebook friends with good enough language skills to evaluate the results. Their responses were an eye opener.
Some of the applicants had made the kind of mistakes that commonly happened with Google Translate. Was that, indeed, what they were doing, running my book through an algorithm? Others had made accurate translations, but were too literal, or muddled up their tenses, or lacked the flair and positive spirit of the original book. Many of them had solid CVs, but were probably most competent in technical translation – not the kind of work where much of the message was in the writing voice. I withdrew Nail Your Novel from Babelcube.
And here I am
So you can probably see why I’m excited about AmazonCrossing (if you’re still unconvinced, here’s a post by Porter Anderson at Writer Unboxed ). At the moment they’re seeking fiction, so I’ve sent my two novels . Here’s the submissions link again . I’m guessing they will have a hurricane of entries, and many of us won’t be a good fit. So I’m sending my novels – with everything crossed.
Meanwhile, have you had any adventures, good or bad, with translations? Any tips or advice? Share them here
Amazon Crossing, AmazonCrossing, author scams, Babelcube, how to sell books in foreign territories, how to write and publish, indie authors, literary agents, literary translators, self-publishing in translation, translation deals, translations, writing
How do you organise seven time-strapped authors to collaborate on a project? Who does what, especially the tedious jobs like proof reading? How do you decide on an image, a price, a name, a thrust for the publicity campaign, how much to spend on advertising?
Indeed, how do you get seven individuals to agree on anything?
How do you get the attention of the press – and is that worthwhile? What’s the difference between a proper promotion strategy and flinging the book into the market to fend for itself?
As you know, I’ve been taking part in a box set release with six other authors. We started work, in secret, back in November. Now, Jane Friedman has grilled us about the lessons learned in making a nice notion into an actual live product. Do come over.
author collaborations, box set, collaborating, contemporary fiction, Fix and Finish With Confidence, guest post, guest posts, how to release a box set, interview, interviews, Jane Friedman, literary fiction, Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Outside the Box: Women Writing Women, proof reading, publicity campaign, Roz Morris, self-publishing, writing
How do we label ourselves as writers? Guest spot at Dan Holloway – and the box set is available NOW!
Forgive the capitals in the title. That’s the problem of being in a group of seven, rather excited writers who’ve been working towards this moment since November. Our ebook collection, Outside The Box: Women Writing Women, went live yesterday. If you pre-ordered it, it will have arrived on your ereader. If pre-orders aren’t your thing, you can grab it right now, because it vanishes on May 24. Oh, and it’s seven full-length novels, so clear a weekend or seven.
We’re getting coverage all over the place, including the UK national press. (This is why the release is such a moment of relief and excitement.) But today I want to highlight a particularly thoughtful, searching interview put together by Dan Holloway. He’s asked tricky questions:
Is this collection a marketing idea, a political statement or both? What are our common threads (aside from the possession of two X chromosomes)? Do they help us come up with a ‘label’ for our diverse range of books? What should that label be? Do labels in fiction cause problems? What about the position of women writers in literary fiction? And, my own favourite: is it better for writers to be ambitious and fall short, or to succeed on more limited terms?
It’s a good discussion. Do come over.
And once again, this is our ensemble. And we are very excited.
Carol Cooper, Dan Holloway, ebook collection, guest post, how to write a novel, interview, Jane Davis, Jessica Bell, Joni Rodgers, Kathleen Jones, labels in writing, Orna Ross, Outside the Box: Women Writing Women, political statements, Roz Morris, Women Writers
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- I wish I’d written… three books that challenge me to raise my game October 30, 2016