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My guest this week says she can ignore just about any distraction and write – except if she can hear music. But she also can’t write a character until she has found the perfect song as a vehicle for their personality, back story and secrets. Her debut novel fits rather well with this blog for another reason too – it’s the story of the world’s most reincarnated man, with all the troubles – past and present – that that implies. She is Candace Austin and she’s on the Red Blog with her Undercover Soundtrack.
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I’ve had a question from Samantha Warren, who saw me at the Get Read conference, where publishing journalist Porter Anderson was interviewing me for a session on reaching readers. Some of the discussion was about balancing all the demands in our lives – social media and promotion versus the writing and production of books. In reply, I waved a notebook that I use to keep myself organised, not to mention sane.
Samantha has emailed: First, where did you get that fabulous notebook? Second, how do you organize your to-do list using the notebook? I have post-its everywhere! Any advice you might have for a disorganised amateur would be greatly appreciated.
First things first. The notebook was a freebie at the London Book Fair 2011; a dummy book with blank pages produced by print company CPI Books to advertise their services. They’d probably be pleased to know it’s standing up well to daily use.
Post ideas for this blog (that’s another one crossed off… crossing off is incredibly satisfying, so you must do this)
Consultancy enquiries and bookings, with dates
Events checklist – I refer to this if I have a reading or an event, to make sure I take everything I need. It includes printout of speech or prompts on notecards; backup on Kindle; copies of my books; Moo cards; pens for signing (my handwriting is so dreadful that my signature only looks right in cheap Bic biros….); camera.
WIP reading lists – each book gets a separate page: The Mountains Novel; The Venice Novel; The Flying Novel. That one’s just hatched, after a conversation I had with a gentleman who came to a signing and wanted to talk about My Memories of a Future Life.
WIP launch notes – again, one page for each book, including bloggers who’ve expressed an interest, reviewers, Twitter folks and websites on related subjects who are worth approaching.
Blog and website tweaks – I’m always thinking of improvements I could make to this blog, my writer website and The Red Blog. Fiddling with websites is a great way to fritter away your hours, so I wait until I’ve got a purposeful list, then work my way through it. And cross things off.
Special projects – when I redesigned the cover of Nail Your Novel I made a special page for all the fiddly jobs I’d have to do, such as redesign the livery on the blog, websites I needed to update.
Style guide for the Nail Your Novel print books – as the books are a series, they need to follow a consistent format. Crossheads (including their spacing), title page, copyright page and so on are uniform in all the titles. So that I don’t have to open the previous book and pick through the typesetting menus, I wrote out a house style page.
Which brings me to ….
When I ran an editorial department I had a big ledger that was a schedule for the entire imprint’s output. Every stage of a book’s production process was listed so that nothing got missed: Copy commissioned; art department briefed; interior design approved; copy in; copy edited; 1st proof; 2nd proof etc. When you have 30 titles on the go at once, you utterly believe in systems.
If you’re not self-publishing you won’t need this, but if you are, you might find it useful. I don’t tend to chart the writing stages (eg first draft, beat sheet, edit, beta readers etc), but I do list the publishing nitty gritty. This is just a selection:
- Cover finalised
- Proper images bought (it’s easy to let watermarked roughs slip through on a PDF because you get used to looking at them)
- Book on Kindle
- Book on Kobo
- Book on Smashwords
- Spine finalised
- Index done
- Page numbers taken off prelims for book interior (title pages etc shouldn’t have folios)
- Back cover copy written
- Back cover fully designed.
I also keep track of other places I need to update once the book is published:
- Recent Releases page
- What’s Next page
- website images and headers
- teasers inside the other books
- Amazon author pages
- group blogs I need to inform etc.
So that’s my to-do book. Is there nothing a blogger won’t post about? Here are my writing scarves.
EXCITING NEWS! A while ago, The Guardian Newspaper asked readers to nominate their favourite self-published books. Out of 3200 authors, they featured 34 that were featuring frequently – and My Memories of a Future Life was one of them!
I was so thrilled to see my book made the list, so I’d like to say enormous, heartfelt thank-yous to everyone who took the trouble to nominate me. I’m still grinning.
In the meantime, tell me: how do you keep track of your to-do list? Share in the comments!
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You’ve seen this week’s Undercover Soundtrack? I want to tell you how I met its author, Dave Newell.
He emailed me out of the blue because he’d run across a comment of mine on a blog written by Nathan Bransford. It was a post about the difficulty of self-publishing literary fiction, and Dave – whose work is indelibly literary – was asking if I knew where those readers hung out on line.
The funny thing is, I left that comment more than two years ago. When I look at it I was talking about episode 2 of My Memories of a Future Life, which had just gone live. Oh, nervous days – I probably wrote it in the hope that it would lead ME to a secret vast land of literary readers. (It didn’t; I should probably work on that.) Probably no one else took much notice, and so it stayed there, falling under new comments and posts, sedimenting into the substrata of the ever-renewing, multiplying internet. Then two years on, Dave Newell typed a few words into Google and it led him there.
We struck up a conversation. I don’t know that I was much help with his problem, though we had fun talking. But I did offer him a guest spot on The Undercover Soundtrack, which I’m very glad he took. Especially as I then had an email from a fan of the series who told me how excited he was to discover this author. (I’m sure there were other converts too, only they didn’t email me to share.)
So does this story have a bigger payoff? Does it end with a hardback deal, an Amazon landslide, a red carpet? Actually no. But it does end with a special reader, who was charmed by a post by someone he’d never heard of. As Dave Newell leaped on a random comment by someone he’d never heard of, which had been made by someone visiting a blog hoping to find likeminded folk. A chain of strangers finding they have kindred interests; that’s rather nice.
Author platforms are also on my mind because this week I was a guest speaker at an online author marketing conference called Get Read. A message we heard constantly was that platforming is a long game, and we might feel like we’re getting nowhere, giving so much of ourselves and wondering if anyone notices. This episode reminds me to keep the faith.
It also reminds me that platforming is full of contradictions. That for all its widewidewide reach, it operates at a micro scale, person to person. That our blurts on websites and social media seem trivial but are actually eternal, and might be summoned to the top of a search by the right Google spell (just like bad party photos). The take-home point of my GetRead session was this: be yourself and stay gregarious. Anything you write might find a new reader, an ally, or a friend.
It’s a bit of a different post this week, but I’d love to discuss this question. Has someone found you because of a comment, post or a tweet you’d long forgotten? Have you followed a trail and made a worthwhile contact?
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I’ll leave the story to that post, but briefly, I saw an interview on the Writers & Artists Yearbook website, responded to it, and seem to have woken them up to the fact that indie authors are rather more advanced than they hitherto thought.
Even better (and this isn’t in the post) Bloomsbury then asked me to call them. They’d had a rummage through my blogs and wanted me to write for their website and newsletter. (Wow. Big smiles at NYN HQ.)
So W&A – the bible for creatives in the UK – is expanding its coverage of self-publishing as a serious and respectable option. But I detected they’re a tad nervous about it. The editor I spoke to asked if I ‘minded’ writing about self-publishing. That suggests he’s encountering more negative attitudes than positive. No matter. They’re responding to what’s happening in the creative world.
I also have to relish a sense of a circle closing. Years ago, when I was a beginner querying agents and publishers, W&A was my route map for what seemed an audacious and mostly impossible dream. When I wrote the querying section of Nail Your Novel, I recommended using them. Now, thanks to a tweet that alerted me to their post, and a tweet I sent to them, I’ve flipped to the other side and they’re introducing me to their audience. In our online, endlessly connected world, new opportunities might be only a tweet away.
In other news, tomorrow I’m skyping into the Grub Street arts centre in Boston as a guest expert in a seminar on creative book marketing so you’ll get a proper post from me about our discussions. And next Saturday, I’m on a panel at Stoke Newington Literary Festival in north London, talking about multimedia self-publishing. Both those opportunities sprang from relationships made completely on social media. In fact, everything has. Before that, I was an invisible editor and a concealed ghost.
So tell me – what opportunities have come to you from social media? And what tips would you give to help people make the best of it? (Oh, and here’s the Independent Authors Alliance post, in case you’re curious about the W&A Incident… )
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Everyone’s writing prediction posts right now. I wouldn’t have dared, except the website On Fiction Writing asked what I thought might happen in the industry in the next five years.
Obviously writers can’t be oblivious to what’s going on in publishing, but if you look at what’s changed in the past two years, do we have a hope of predicting anything with accuracy? Anyway, who would trust the predictions of anyone who makes things up for a living? Worlds, economies, social movements roll out of our imagination to suit whatever story we want to tell. (And I see they put my interview next to a novel called The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. Adorable cover anyway.)
The only certainties I can predict – for myself and for other writers in 2013 – are these.
- I will need to weigh up several new social media environment and decide if they’re worth the effort. I will need to remind myself that once upon a time I was scornful of Twitter, Facebook and even – gasp – blogging.
- I’ll need to embrace at least one new platform for publishing, on a device that I don’t see the need for. I will have to remind myself that putting Nail Your Novel on Kindle turned out to be a brilliant move.
- I’ll never decide what’s worthwhile unless I have help – which I will probably find by firing off a tweet or a Facebook post to all you guys.
- I’ll get stuck on the novel I’m writing, and when I think all is irretrievably lost the answer will fall effortlessly onto the page. (I talk about writer’s block in my interview, in case you’re wrestling too.)
- I’ll discover several writers whose work contains such insight, I will not know how I did without them (I talk about favourite writers too)
Predictions aside, I’m also talking about self-publishing, publishers developing new roles as partners for indies, finding readers – and ghostwriting. Do join me there and if you’re in a predictive frame of mind, leave a comment here with conjectures, projections and outright fabrications and fantasies for writers in 2013.
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Do you tweet? If you do, you must have your rules of dos and don’ts. If you’re so new to tweeting that it gets you in a flap, you might find my suggestions useful. Or you might want to hop over and tell me they’re insane, rather like the advice some publishers are giving authors who are tweeting for the first time… Join the conversation at Authors Electric…
Thanks for the pic James G Milles
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Last year, the only plans I had as 2010 clicked to 11 were to finish my troublesome novel Life Form 3 and get it agented. Continue the blog and my consultancy and nurture ideas for my next novels. I did those, but I also find myself looking back at some self-publishing ventures that were not, in 2010, even a twinkle in my champagne glass.
Writers used to work in isolation. Now we are a community of experts and explorers. We show the way when we can and we cheer each other on.
Not only can we spread knowledge, we can change attitudes. One of the quantum changes of 2011 has been that we now accept quality authors can publish without being chosen for it. That’s not to say ‘traditional publishing’ is dead – just that we now have extra options for reaching readers.
To everyone who is part of this, I raise a glass. Its predictions for 2012 are inscrutable, of course. The only plans I can be bothered to make in any detail are creative. But going on previous form there will be exciting things I cannot imagine right now.
And may it be the same for you. Happy new year.
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Everyone who’s reading it is telling me on emails, Facebook, Twitter and in reviews where they think the story is going, what crumbs they’re following and what their hopes for it are.
This is so interesting. The size of print novels was largely dictated by the economics of production and distribution, which meant it didn’t pay to release fiction that was too long, or too short, or even serialised. But the Kindle has none of these constraints, and it can connect through social networks too. Through Kindle, people can gather around campfires and enjoy stories as a communal experience and it will only get better. It’s going to be so exciting to see what new storytelling forms we get in the next few years.
Anyway, around our own little campfire, Part The Second has arrived. For .co.uk click here and .com find it here. To listen to a free audio trailer of episode 1 (35 minutes), go here.
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Yesterday Laura Pauling asked me about my decision to self-publish My Memories of a Future Life. She also had another question:
‘Now that you have fiction you’re promoting, will you be blogging about topics other than writing? Kristen Lamb, who blogs about social media and platform building, said recently that bloggers shouldn’t be blogging about writing to find their readers.’
Laura, you’ve nailed perhaps the most difficult question for writer/bloggers. Most of us start blogging and find – hey presto – we’ve got lots of readers who are writers.
But not all our writer/readers will like our fiction, because everyone’s tastes are individual. And we hope that far more people are going to buy our books than just other people who write. Because although the blogosphere may seem infinite to us, it’s only a tiny grain of the reading world.
In mainstream publishing, authors get noticed by writing and talking about their novels’ subjects and issues in big-circulation media. This is where a traditional publishing deal can be really worthwhile. They will punt you in front of readers you can’t reach on your own. This is what publicists do as well, although there’s one area where bona fide publishers are still ahead – because many reviewers simply won’t look at self-publishers.
If this is starting to sound waffly and generalised, then it is. Every book needs a different sales approach. You have to identify where your specific readers are likely to be, and then reach out to them. I can’t tell you how to do that for your book; all I can do is tell you what I’m going to do for My Memories of a Future Life.
My biggest problem is that it isn’t a genre novel. If it was supernatural, paranormal, historical, sci fi et al I could trot over to the lovely collectives who review those books, find the forums and spread the word that way. I could review books myself, talk about other novels in my genre that I like. But instead I have a contemporary, offbeat story about a lost soul trying to find where she belongs. It should be a story anyone could read, but I need a better target than that.
I have a platform, but as Laura has pointed out, it’s about writing. And I like to keep it that way. You may indulge me with the odd splurge like this (and really it’s still about publishing) but one thing I’ve learned from many years in magazines is that readers want you for a certain thing, not for others. Here is where you want fighting talk about writing – and here is where I want to write it. If I want to write arty farty pieces about kick-ass pianos (which I had to learn about for my novel) that doesn’t belong here unless I make a useful writing point out of it. (Although that book did teach me a few hefty lessons about writing, and I hope you won’t mind me sharing them from time to time.)
Similarly, on my Twitter account @DirtyWhiteCandy you want writing advice. I’m not going to dilute that either. (UPDATE 2014: now @Roz_Morris. DirtyWhiteCandy was a naive blogging handle which I eventually dropped )
So here’s my marketing plan for spreading the word without annoying you all. If you’re in this position, you might find it helpful too.
- A parallel Twitter account – @ByRozMorris. I’ll use that account to chat about my fiction, but also about subjects that inspired me to write the book – stage hypnotists, memory tricks, illusionists, mysterious injuries, music and, of course, kick-ass pianos. (UPDATE 2014: it was too much trouble so I closed it!)
- Blogging at other venues with a wider remit. I’ve been invited to be a regular guest blogger at Kindle Authors UK, a collective of professional UK authors branching out with independent projects that are too edgy, bent and challenging for mainstream publishers. Watch out for me on the 20th of each month – but drop in there at any time and you’ll find a lot of pro writers with exciting indie projects. (UPDATE 2014: I also had to stop that because of workload!) I’m also blogging at Women Writers, who have invited me to talk about any subject close to my heart and link it loosely with my book (UPDATE 2014: see previous update!). I’ll signpost these guest spots with short introduction pieces here, as I usually do, but if they’re not your cup of tea they won’t be clogging up your inbox.
- Creating a website for My Memories of a Future Life. Behind these walls I’ve been constructing a parallel world of the red piano, which I’ll be opening soon. I’ll post material there that’s specific to the book, for those who are curious. (UPDATE 2014: this became The Undercover Soundtrack… still very much alive.)
All books have to find their audience, and this is how I’m going to find the readers for mine. But without intending to, I’ve already been building curiosity for it – I mention it in Nail Your Novel and I’ve been getting inquiries from people who want to buy it.
But I do have a big secret weapon to send it into the Kindlesphere with a bang. It’s either a really good idea or a totally dumb one. But hey, you only live once. Or maybe more than once… I’ll be revealing that in a couple of weeks…
Have you solved this problem of developing a platform for your novels? I’d love to know what you’re doing. Especially if there’s anywhere you can suggest that I should introduce myself! Share in the comments!
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I post 4 to 5 useful writing links per day… and other stuffMy Tweets
- 2 interviews about teaching and writing – Venice, BBC Radio London September 30, 2015
- How to write well in a language that isn’t your mother tongue September 26, 2015
- ‘Even the bed is forgetting you’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, AJ Waines September 23, 2015
- Venice masterclass snapshots: 4 hidden enablers for your story September 20, 2015
- How should you credit your editor? Advice from a former publisher September 13, 2015
- ‘Freedom and life force’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Christine Tsen September 9, 2015
- Writers, stay true to your standards. Long night of the literary soul September 6, 2015
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