The Opposite of Popular

The online home of alleged author Victoria Leybourne


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All the news that’s fit to type

Hello blogfriends!

Like pretty much everyone in my life, you haven’t heard from me for a while, so it’s probably time for an update. Here, in no particular order, is what’s going on with me.

The Murano Glass Slipper is being edited!

the title "the murano glass slipper" against a blue watercolour background

I kind of can’t believe this, actually. As you guys have heard me bleat repeatedly on this very blog, there were THREE WHOLE YEARS between me beginning the first draft of The Rose and the Mask and its publication. I started writing The Murano Glass Slipper (a companion novel) on the March 20 this year and now, five months later, the messy “forcing ideas out of my brain and onto the page” stage is over and the process of preparing it for publication has begun. I’m hoping to release it this Autumn, although (like last time) I’m reluctant to fix a date until I’m quite a bit further along with the edit. I’m pretty hopeless at evaluating my own work so I honestly have no way of knowing how good or bad the hunk of words I sent into cyberspace last week is, or long it might take me to fix it up based on my editor’s suggestions.

Honestly, I’m very excited to have finished this quickly and it’s making me feel a little more hopeful that I might one day be able to make my living as a writer (although it’s worth noting that some of the most successful indie authors are putting out a book a month or even more, a feat that still makes me go “HOOOOOOWWW????” every time I think about it). But my number one concern is still to produce a book that people will enjoy reading, and I’ll delay the release as long as I have to to make that happen.

What’s interesting is that having The Rose and the Mask out there (and doing better than I ever really expected it to in terms of both sales and reader response) has made it a lot easier to get out of my own way and just keep writing The Murano Glass Slipper. Knowing that people want to read what I write is incredible, honestly, and has preempted a lot of the “this is terrible and I am terrible and everything is terrible” spiralling that I went through last time. But it also feels like a responsibility. There’s such a lot of hard work (and sheer luck) that goes into getting someone to pick up a book and like it enough to come back for more, and the idea of disappointing those readers is very scary. But I suppose that’s a good problem to have.

The Rose and the Mask is five months old!

Well, five-and-a-half, really. And, guys, it’s been a wild ride. I’m really glad I was doing a better job of updating this blog around the release, actually, because it’s been really helpful to remind myself, on “bad” days, how much better the book did than I was expecting. I mean, in this post from March 11, I said that I’d had a combined 57 paperback and ebook sales and the equivalent of 37 read-throughs on Kindle Unlimited (I explained what KU is in that post if you’re confused) and described that as “better than I expected, not as good as I hoped”. I think I was assuming that it would be all downhill from there. But, as you can see from this graph…

Graph shows total sales (ebook+paperback) plus what I call “full read equivalents”, i.e. the number of pages read in KU that day divided by the number of pages in the book)

…the book actually peaked in early April. (I think I figured out that that one really good spike was down to heavy promotion on a similar book that day – while my book was in the “Customers also bought…” section of that book’s page on Amazon.) Since then, though, I have experienced the expected slide. That’s been mostly okay. I mean, it’s widely acknowledged that that’s what happens after a book’s release, unless you keep releasing more books in the same series (which is why those wizards I mentioned earlier release so often). I could perhaps have slowed the decline by running a promotion of some kind, but I really wanted to save most of the promo options I haven’t used until I release the second book and have two books to promote at once. I won’t pretend it doesn’t sometimes suck to see the book’s Amazon rank falling (which means it gets seen by fewer people, which means fewer sales and so on in a disheartening ouroboros), but it really has done a lot better than I expected it to.

And then there’s reader reaction. If you were lurking around these parts before the release, you’ll know that’s what I was most worried about. I put a lot into this book (not always the right stuff, which is why it took so long, but, like, a lot) and I was really worried that nobody would like it. That fear turned out to be unfounded, which is amazing. A little scary, like I said above, but amazing. Also, spending five months knowing that at least one person that day (on average) has bought/borrowed and presumably read the book has made it a lot easier to cope with the idea of some of them not liking it.

While I’m being honest, though, here is a weird thing that I hope will go away one day: I am still very squirmy about the book in everyday life. Most people know I write, but only my very best friends know what the book is called and how to find it. And sometimes I will randomly think about a line or scene from it and feel overwhelmed with embarrassment about how awful it suddenly seems – even though, broadly speaking, I’m still proud of it. I certainly can’t bring myself to sit down and read it. It’s a shame, in a way: I’m actually probably the one person in the world who would get most excited about a Beauty and the Beast retelling set in Venice (which is why I wrote one), but I’m also the only person with cause to feel embarrassed about its existence.

Harder, better, faster, stronger

gif from bruce almighty: jim carrey types furiously, grimacing

I want to circle back and talk a bit about writing The Murano Glass Slipper, because almost nothing about that process has made it onto the blog. That is, of course, because I’ve been busy actually writing instead of just talking about writing. I don’t think the causation there is what it sounds like – that is, I don’t think I’ve been getting more writing done because I’ve been talking about it less. I’ve just had less to say about it (and been less keen to focus on something else) because it’s been going relatively well.

I remember thinking, towards the end of writing The Rose and the Mask, that I had learned a lot that would help me to make a better, more efficient job of writing the next book. I’ve been surprised by how true that was. I honestly couldn’t tell you how many drafts TRatM went through, and most of them were complete do-overs rather than refinements of the drafts that went before them. MGS went through three drafts. The first one was about 50,000 words, written in just a few weeks thanks to the plan I forced myself to make. The second one was a refinement of the first, but I more or less abandoned it at around 25,000 words when I decided, reluctantly, that I needed to make some big-ish changes to the plot to strengthen the motivation of one of the main characters. The final one refined what I could keep from the first and second drafts while adding the new scenes that were necessary to make this new plot idea work. I also had to spend a lot of time writing transitions between scenes, which is something I tend to skip over at first.

Obviously, I could stand to skip the “writing 25k of a new draft and then scrapping it to change the plot” part of this, but I’m delighted that that only happened once instead of over and over again like it did last time. Learning to plan, even imperfectly, has changed my life! I definitely want – and need – to get better at it. It would be nice to be able to anticipate problems like weak character motivation before finding myself 25k into a limp draft. And I’ve also discovered what seems to be a natural weakness for me around three-quarters of the way through a plot, where the end is in sight but I can’t figure out how to get there in a suitably tension-building way. But I’ve come a long way already, and that’s pretty cool.

Another thing that seems to have happened is that I’ve let go of the idea of writing as something I do for fun. Again, this is kind of a shame. Writing was an incredibly important hobby for me during my teens and my time at university and I got a lot out of it – making friends in the fanfiction community, building a skill that I felt good about, and just generally losing myself in imagining characters and stories. But I have always wanted to be a professional writer, and I’ve always known that eventually I’d have to sacrifice writing-the-hobby in order to be able to take writing-the-job seriously.

This hasn’t been a smooth transition (let me refer you to the THREE WHOLE YEARS thing again) but I finally feel like I’m finding the right balance. Some bits of writing are fun. For example, with MGS, I really enjoyed thinking of ways to twist the Cinderella story, and coming up with two characters who are completely different to Faustina and Benedetto in TRatM but still (hopefully) likeable and interesting. And some scenes (like this one that I shared a while back) are genuinely enjoyable to write, and flow out of me pretty painlessly. I also (despite the aforementioned squirminess) really like having written. Completing a big writing project feels awesome. But part of the reason that finishing feels awesome is that actually doing it takes a lot of work. Not just cherrypicking fun scenes to write. Not just playing with ideas and characters. Sitting down at the computer for hours on end, even when you don’t feel like it, even when you’re bored and tired and not exactly fizzing with inspiration for how you can fix a really tedious plot hole you’ve just discovered. Work. And this time, I really just did the work. I let myself feel bored and tired and uninspired and then I told myself, “So what? Get back to work.”

I feel nervous about this. Even though I know most of it was wasted time (at least in terms of producing stuff), part of me is worried that I actually need three years to write a half-decent book and that nothing I did this quickly can possibly be any good. But my anxiety has cried wolf too many times now, and I know I have to push past it to get anything done. Maybe that’s what “trust the process” means, although that’s hard for me because I don’t feel like I have a process yet. And, like I said above, it’s not like I’m going to keep rushing it out if it turns out that the editing process needs a little more time than I planned for.

 

Thanks for reading this mammoth post. I guess after such a big gap I wanted to make sure I was offering value! And thanks for coming with me on this writing journey. It’s nice to have your company 🙂

the title "the murano glass slipper" against a blue watercolour background


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First peek – The Murano Glass Slipper

Today I’m excited to share one of my favourite scenes from The Murano Glass Slipper: A Cinderella retelling, the sequel to to The Rose and the Mask and my permanent answer to the question “what are you doing tonight?” Of course, it hasn’t passed the eagle eyes of my lovely editor yet, but I hope you enjoy it 🙂

the title "the murano glass slipper" against a blue watercolour background

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That’s it, I’m burning my pants.

Time for a status update!

 

The Rose and the Mask is doing… pretty great, actually. I mean, not by, like, industry standards. I won’t be troubling the bestseller lists, and I’m still not in any danger of earning any sort of wage for the time I spent on it. But, well, what I said back when I was setting goals for 2017 was that I wasn’t going to make any regarding sales because they’d probably be dismal and I wouldn’t make back the money I spent on editing and marketing. I’m excited to announce that the book is now in profit! (Or will be at the end of May, which is when I’ll start actually receiving ebook royalties.)

Obviously this is what I hoped for, but I was not sure at all that it would happen, so this is great!

Even better than that, though, is that readers have been contacting me to say how much they’ve enjoyed the book, which is just AMAZING. As you’ll know if you’ve been following this blog for a while, I basically spent 2014-16 screaming “THIS BOOK IS TRASH AND SO AM I” into an unfeeling void, so hearing from total strangers that they liked it feels wonderful.

Overall, I’m really pleased with how this went. Of course, I’m also worried that this is the best things will ever get and it’s all downhill from here, but I’m hoping to reach a point where ridiculous, overblown anxiety is just sort of background noise to me and I’m still able to get on with things 😛

a photograph of the paperback version of the rose and the mask

Speaking of getting on with things, you might be wondering why the title of this post refers to pants, and specifically the burning thereof. This is to do with The Murano Glass Slipper, which is the Cinderella retelling sequel to The Rose and the Mask.

About a year into writing TRatM (with, though I didn’t know it, another two years of writing it ahead of me), I decided that I was Not Allowed to start writing another book until I had a full, detailed plan in place. Up until then, I’d always thought of myself as a “pantser”, which is a term some writers use to describe someone who writes without a plan, i.e. “by the seat of their pants”. I thought making a plan would be impossibly tedious, and take all the fun out of writing. I thought what kept me writing was my desire to “find out”, organically, what would happen next. I think this came from writing fanfiction, which I used to do one ~1500 word chapter at a time, as the whim took me. This was a lot of fun, although I think it’s worth noting that I started about five times as many fanfiction stories as I finished, because I wrote myself into a lot of corners.

However, with TRatM, it just wasn’t fun anymore. I’d invested so much time in it that not finishing didn’t seem like an option – and neither did throwing away tens of thousands of carefully-arranged words to dig myself out of a plot hole. Of course, in the end, that’s exactly what I had to do (more than once, actually), but not before I’d wasted a lot of time feeling crappy about it and trying to come up with another solution.

So, this time, with The Murano Glass Slipper, I’m working from a scene-by-scene plan. And… it’s going pretty well, in that I’ve written 40,000 words in three weeks. That’s half the word count I’m shooting for.

screenshot from Scrivener showing a half-full progress bar towards an 80k word count

This is faster than I’ve ever written anything in my life. This is NaNoWriMo speed, which I’ve always thought was unattainable for me. Frankly, I’m having a bit of trouble believing it, and am wondering if I just spaced out and pasted, like, half of TRatM in there or something.

I mean, there are a bunch of caveats to this. Firstly, since this is my first time plotting a novel before writing it, I don’t think I did a very good job. It starts veeerrrry sloooooooowly, so I’m probably going to end up cutting out or heavily rewriting a lot of the early scenes. And all of this writing is incredibly rough. I’ve been concentrating hard on just getting words down, so I haven’t been back to fix anything, and I’ve left a lot of things like “[???]” where I need to do some research and “[stuck]” where I couldn’t be bothered to figure out what should happen between one part of a scene and another and just left it. Honestly, I’m a bit nervous about going back and looking at what I’ve written, because I don’t think it’s going to feel very good.

However, even taking all of that into account, if I can get all the way to the end of the book at this pace, or even close to it (I’ve had a few days off work, so it’s unlikely I’ll be quite this fast in the next few weeks), that will be pretty amazing. Working from a finished draft, no matter how crappy, is so much easier than trying to find the words to fill a blank screen. And, honestly, I don’t miss that feeling of “finding out” what’s going to happen at all. There’s still been plenty to figure out about my characters’ personalities, how they talk to one another – and that’s the stuff I really like doing. I can’t believe I resisted plotting for this long. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to being a “pantser” – certainly not for writing of this length.

Feel free to remind me I said all of this in a couple of months’ time, when I’m complaining about how hard rewriting my terrible first draft is 😛


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Goodreads Giveaways – some thoughts and graphs

I know it’s been a while since I did one of the “HELP I DON’T KNOW HOW TO BE ALIVE” posts you’ve come to love and expect from me. Don’t panic, that doesn’t mean I’ve got any better at adulting, it’s just that… I don’t know, I’m sufficiently absorbed by writing and publishing stuff not to care that much right now? Which is the next best thing, I think.

Anyway, speaking of publishing, another thing I promised to come back to in my Self-Publishing To Do List was Goodreads Giveaways. I have now run two of them, and am therefore full of OPINIONS that might be of interest to fellow indie authors. Here they are.

I’ll start by saying that I absolutely recommend running a Goodreads giveaway. The only cost to the author/publisher is that of sending out the book(s) to the winner(s), and the amount of visibility you get for that price compares really favourably to just about every other kind of advertising I can think of. For more details, keep reading! Important note: all of this refers to giving away physical, paper copies of your books. Goodreads also offers ebook giveaways, which I don’t know much about except that they cost a lot of money.

I was convinced to try running a giveaway on Goodreads by this post by Catherine Ryan Howard. I strongly suggest reading it if you’re thinking of running one yourself but I’ll give a quick summary here for the link-shy. Basically, Catherine dissects the information that Goodreads provides about running giveaways. Goodreads’ approach is that the purpose of a giveaway is to get readers to post reviews of your book on their site, and therefore encourages authors to give away “as many copies as you can afford” because “(t)he more copies you give away, the more reviews you’re likely to get”. Catherine points out that, according to Goodreads’ own figures, only 60% of giveaway winners post reviews, and that it can actually be a lot less than that. Rather than reviews, she argues that the aim of a Goodreads giveaway should be to get your book seen by as many people as possible, and that (as I also discovered) it’s a really cost-effective way to do that.

Armed with that information, here’s what I did.

Giveaway #1

In the run-up to the release of The Rose and the Mask, my main focus was on making people aware a) that it existed and b) that it was going to be released on March 3, because I wanted it to have as big a launch as possible. (I actually have my doubts now about how important this was, but that’s fodder for another post.) Since Catherine argues that week-long giveaways are most effective, I was thinking of running two of those a week apart – giveaways of the same book have to be at least a week apart – during February to maximise exposure.

What stopped me was the fact that you’re expected to send out the giveaway prizes within two weeks of the end of the giveaway. (It says 2-3 weeks in some places, but I definitely got at least one email that said 2 weeks so I think it’s worth erring on the side of caution.) I actually didn’t have access to paperback copies of the book until… well, actually I think I got my finished copies (as opposed to the proofon March 3, which would have been a problem for the first of those two hypothetical giveaways.

Instead, I set up a giveaway to run from February 9 to March 3. There was no special significance to the choice of Feb 9 – I think it was just a week after I set the giveaway up. Because, I hope you’re taking notes, you have to set a giveaway up at least a week in advance.

However, the choice to have the giveaway end on March 3 (release day) was deliberate, based on the graph Catherine cites, which shows a big spike in interest in the book at the beginning of the giveaway and an even bigger one at the end. And, like I said, I was really keen to get as much attention as possible focused on the book on its release day.

Happily, my graph ended up looking pretty much like the example one:

graph showing a big spike in readers

You’ll notice I said “spike in interest in the book”, not entries. That’s because these daily figures Goodreads gives you show people adding it to their “shelves”, not entering the competition. Shelving a book basically means adding it to a list – most often a “to-read” list – so basically it’s an expression of interest in the book. When you go to enter a giveaway on Goodreads, there’s an option (checked by default, but people can uncheck it) to add the book to your “to-read” list. Based on my observations, slightly fewer than half of the people who enter will leave that box checked. That was consistent throughout, so this graph still gives a good idea of how many people entered on each day, relatively speaking. However, it’s the “to-reads” that we’re really interested in. Every time someone on Goodreads adds a book to their “to-read” shelf, that action appears in their friends’ newsfeeds – like “liking” something on Facebook.

screenshot of the page for the first giveaway

As you can see, the final number of entries was 1,966 – which blew my mind, actually, because the night before it ended I was pretty much just crossing my fingers that it would edge over the 1,000 mark. That means that 1,966 people (at least) heard about the book, and about half of those heard about it on release day. That’s decent advertising reach for the cost of one paperback – especially when around half of those people now have the book on their virtual shelves, where they can be reminded about it later.

Of course, if one giveaway is good, two must be better, right? Let us move on to…

Giveaway #2

Giveaway #2 started on March 17, with the aim of getting a spike on the day the Disney Beauty and the Beast came out. Mostly because I wasn’t organised enough to have it end then. I made it a shorter one this time, ending on the 25th – the thinking being that this would give people less time to forget to buy it after they entered!

I’ll be honest, I had high hopes for the second giveaway. See, one of the best things about Goodreads giveaways is that, when one starts, everyone who has that book on their “to-read” shelf gets an email about it. And that was over 900 people at the time my second giveaway began. Of course, that email says “enter this giveaway” not “buy this book”, which is obviously what I’d write if I were emailing those 900 people myself, but, once again, that’s a pretty good bit of marketing for the price of sending out that one paperback.

In practice… results were mixed. I mean, I’m pretty sure a lot of people got and reacted to that email, because the giveaway got a LOT of entries on the first day. I can’t remember how many, and apparently I didn’t take the screenshots I thought I did, but it certainly got to 1,000 within a day or two. Also, a much lower proportion of those entries brought accompanying “to-read” adds – presumably because many of those people had already added it to their list the last time.

With that strong start, at least entry-wise, I was expecting this giveaway to outstrip the first one. It… did not.

a screenshot from the second giveaway showing showing 1842 entries

Here’s how the “added to shelves” graph looks with the second giveaway:

a graph showing the same peaks as last time, plus two much smaller ones at the beginning and end of the second giveaway

As you can see, the second one didn’t produce nearly such impressive spikes of people adding the book to their to-read list. My only theory about this is that a lot of giveaway entries come from people who regularly browse the giveaway section and pretty much see every giveaway – so they entered my second one, but had already added the book to their “to-read” list if they were going to.

I still think it was worthwhile running both giveaways, but I’ll admit to being disappointed by the second one!

Did the giveaways translate into sales?

Short answer: I don’t know. There’s no direct way to track it. But I’ve been doing okay for sales (updates to come) and, anecdotally, I think I’ve had a proportionally higher number of ratings on Goodreads than you’d normally expect, which leads me to think that an above-average number of my readers are serious Goodreads users… which maaaaybe means that they heard about it on Goodreads as a result of the giveaway.

If you’re thinking this all sounds a bit wishy-washy, you’re right… but that’s kind of what marketing an indie book is all about, just trying things and hoping for the best. And I maintain that it was good value for money compared to other advertising options.

Tips

I haunted the giveaway lists quite a lot during my giveaways, especially the first one, to see how they were doing compared to others. It was a bit pathetic, but I did pick up a few juicy tips:

  • You can save a lot on postage (especially internationally) by having books shipped directly from a retailer to the winner, rather than ordering them yourself and then shipping them out. Assuming your book is print-on-demand, the only reason not to do this would be if you want to offer a signed book, but I wouldn’t recommend that. I didn’t see signed books generating more interest than unsigned ones, and I’m dubious about the value readers would place on a signature from an author they don’t even know they like yet.
  • Another thing that doesn’t seem to make a difference to the number of entries is the number of copies offered in the giveaway. I saw people giving away 10-15 copies (which is what Goodreads suggests) and not getting any more entries than giveaways that only offered one. If you’re after reviews at any cost, this is fine (although there are probably still better ways to spend your money), but if you’re focused on the exposure like I was, one at a time is fine.
  • Think carefully about your copy – by which I mean the text you can add to the giveaway. When you go to create a giveaway, Goodreads suggests something along the lines of “Enter now to win a copy of [Book Title]”. I was really surprised by how many people were actually using it! All that information is actually on the giveaway, so it’s a real waste not to use that text space for something else. I used my “mini blurb”, which is a very short piece of text that I also use as a kind of “headline” above the full blurb on Amazon. That shows “above the fold” on the giveaway (by which I mean that you don’t have to click “view details” to see it). However, you can actually add quite a lot more after that, so I went ahead and included the rest of the blurb too. I probably could have done better than that if I was better at writing copy, but I’m sure it was better than what Goodreads suggested.

Welp, this has been yet another unexpectedly huge post, but hopefully it will help someone! I’d love to hear your thoughts on Goodreads giveaways in the comments 🙂


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The Rose and the Mask releases March 3! (And how you can help if you’d like to.)

That’s right, folks, I set a date! The Rose and the Mask: A Beauty and the Beast Retelling will be all kinds of purchasable one month from today!

theroseandthemasksidebar2

goodreads-badge

Here’s the blurb:

Faustina is a beauty and a thief, not necessarily in that order. She doesn’t believe in magic, just luck, and hers has run out. The last thing she needs is to get roped into a ridiculous revenge plot by her brother—especially when that brother is Giacomo Casanova, Venice’s most notorious libertine.

Benedetto Bellini has never been particularly lucky. The fact that he’s under a beastly curse proves that. Now he’s got a second problem, one that’s washed up on his island in its undergarments and attempted to steal his silverware. He finds Faustina intriguing and infuriating in equal measure. And, thanks to the curse, he’s stuck with her.

Faustina doesn’t know what to make of the sweet, shy and deeply irritating man holding her captive. Does he have something sinister in mind, or is he just trying to keep her safe? And why won’t he take off his mask?

Are you excited? I’m excited. Also nervous and scared. BUT ALSO EXCITED.

I’ve had loads of support and help from some truly excellent people in creating this book, and some of those excellent people have also asked how they can help with the release. If this sounds like you, please keep reading! (I mean, keep reading either way, if you want! But please remember that this is specifically for people who’ve said they want to help me – I certainly don’t feel entitled to any of this.)

Reviews

I’ll get the trickiest bit out of the way first: If you know me personally, please don’t rate or review the book on Amazon, Goodreads or similar. While a part of me would love for all my friends and relations to shower the book with five-star ratings (and, if you were thinking of doing that, that’s very kind of you!), there are a couple of reasons why it’s a bad idea:

  • One, I really want to approach this whole thing professionally and ethically, and have people buy the book (if they buy it at all) on merit. If someone buys the book based on a glowing review by someone who loves me, I’d feel we’d tricked them – even though all the motives of those involved would have been good.
  • And two, on a more pragmatic level… Amazon’s systems (and Amazon owns Goodreads) are terrifyingly clever and will quite possibly figure out that you know me, which could lead to sanctions, because having people who know you review your book is against their rules. And being sanctioned by Amazon would be Bad News, especially when (at least to start with) it’s my only sales outlet!

If you only know me through my writing (for instance, following this blog), that’s different – though, of course, I still don’t want you to rate or review the book dishonestly! But, if you do read it and enjoy it, it’s certainly true that good ratings and reviews help to sell books, so it would be very nice of you to leave one!

(Incidentally, I’m currently giving out advance review copies of the book. If you like the sound of The Rose and the Mask and are happy to write a review, I’d love to send you one. Get in touch here or comment below! Note: both Amazon and Goodreads say that you should clearly note in a review that you received an ARC – people usually say something like “I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review”. For the reasons I mention above, it’s really important that you do that if you take an ARC.)

Buying the book

Okay, so, to be clear… if we are friends and you would like to read my book, I will obviously just give you a copy. You’re not expected to buy one!

However, I know some of you are planning to buy it anyway, and want to know how to do that in the most helpful way. The answer is that I’m not really sure, because the Ways of Amazon are strange and mysterious. However, it almost certainly helps to get a lot of sales at once – and particularly close to the release, because that pushes it up New Release lists and basically suggests to Amazon that people might want to buy it so it shouldn’t be immediately buried. I think. So – while every sale is wonderful and lovely and counts – they might count a little more on or around the release day.

Then there’s the matter of format – ebook or paperback. From a practical perspective, an ebook sale is probably better for me. I get more of the royalties, though it costs the buyer much less. And, since (as I mentioned in my last post) the vast majority of self-published authors’ sales are in ebook, it’s more helpful to get a sales rank bump on that than the paperback. Buuuuut… I really like the idea of paper copies sitting on people’s shelves. Also, I spent ages formatting the inside of the paperback and designing the back cover, neither of which you’ll be able to see in the ebook. So I’m going to say, buy whichever one you’d rather buy!

Other than that…

Honestly, your support and encouragement are amazing and all I really want from you, so thank you ❤ (Unless anyone wants to volunteer to read Amazon and Goodreads reviews for me after the release, because that’s a month away and I’m already terrified. But excited!)


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A Self-Publishing To Do List

adventuresinselfpublishing

Here it is: the list of things I’m doing, book-wise! I’m sharing it partly because I know some of you are curious about all the Very Important Tasks I’ve been muttering about, and partly for anyone else considering self-publishing. But please, note that I mean everything I say in this and future posts about it in a “this is what I’m doing, follow along to see if it works!” sort of way, not a “do this, it’s a good idea” sort of way.

Bold headings are things I’m planning to do individual posts about later. I’ll come back and add links!

Oh, and one last thing: this list sort of starts at the “I have a finished, polished manuscript” stage. See the rest of this blog for the roundabout, tear-soaked route I took to get there.

Okay, let’s do this!

Professional Editing

Plenty of self-published authors skip this step, which is either a pragmatic allocation of resources or the beginning of a literary apocalypse, depending on whom you ask. I’ve seen knock-down, drag-out fights about it in indie author communities. (Then again, some of those communities would have a knock-down, drag-out fight over, like, Coke vs Pepsi, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.)

The issue is that editing is expensive, by most people’s standards (as it should be, when you’re paying for hours of someone’s skilled work), and it’s very, very possible for a self-published book to sell only a handful of copies, meaning that you never make the investment back. On the other hand, a professionally-presented book stands a better chance of attracting readers, and getting good reviews that attract other readers. Like a lot of things on this list, it’s a gamble. [Update: here is a post about that.]

Originally, I wasn’t intending to get The Rose and the Mask professionally edited. Given my fiscal situation (which might conservatively be described as “LOLarious”), I just didn’t think it was a sensible use of money. In the end, what changed my mind was looking back at the amount of work I’d put into it. I spent years of my life drafting and re-drafting this book and agonising over the tiniest of details (again, see the rest of this blog). After all that, the idea of readers dismissing it as slapdash because of whatever typos and plot inconsistencies I was inevitably missing was just too horrifying.

As it turned out, hiring an editor was the right choice for me—and an amazing experience. Yes, my editor caught a bunch of mistakes and inconsistencies that I’m glad will never reach paying readers, but I also learned a lot from the experience that I can use to write an even better book next time, right out of the gate.

Choosing Sales Channels

This is where it all starts to become a lot less writery and a lot more businessy. (Those are technical terms, keep up.) You’re choosing where you want your book to be available. The obvious answer is “EVERYWHERE!!!” but there’s a little more nuance to it than that.

With ebooks, the primary sales channels are Amazon (Kindle), Google Play (for Android Devices), Apple iBooks (for iPhones etc) Barnes and Noble (for Nook devices) and Kobo (for Kobo devices). Unless my extensive forum- and blog-lurking has led me astray, most self-published authors make the vast majority of their sales on Amazon.

Amazon have been at the forefront of the self-publishing movement for some time now, basically leaving all the other retailers scrambling to keep up with what they offer. For example, they are (as far as I know) the only retailer that incentivises authors to publish with them exclusively. By enrolling an ebook in their “KDP Select” program, authors agree not to make it available anywhere else (on a 90-day rolling contract) in return for certain privileges. The most notable of these is that the book will be included in Kindle Unlimited, where subscribers can read them for free – but the author gets paid depending on the number of pages read. It’s also rumoured that Select books get preferential treatment in terms of visibility on the site, but (again, as far as I know) that hasn’t been proven.

Essentially, then, your choice is mostly whether to enrol in Select or to use Amazon plus all the other channels (which indie authors tend to refer to as “going wide”).

If you want to make a physical, paper copy of your book available, there are choices to make there, too. Although, in my opinion, the stakes are less “where will I make more money?” and more “where will I find less stress?” Most self-publishers sell only a very tiny number of paperbacks, even the ones that are doing well in ebook. That’s basically a price thing: self-published books are usually sold on a “print on demand” basis. That means that—instead of a large number of copies being ordered at a bulk discount and stored somewhere until they’re sold—individual copies of your book will be printed to fulfil individual orders. But printing books one at a time is expensive, and that’s reflected in the retail cost of a self-published paperback, which, in turn, is reflected in the sales figures.

Offering a paperback for sale, therefore, is mostly a vanity exercise. It has a couple of practical upsides—for instance, Amazon will show the Kindle price as a “saving” on the paperback price—but those are only maybe worth the investment of time (and money, if you use any professional design or formatting services). But a lot of writers (including me!) want to see and touch a physical copy of their book, so that it feels real. And, if that’s why you’re doing it, you can probably take your businessy hat off for this one.

There are really only two main players for print-on-demand: Amazon (again) with their CreateSpace, and IngramSpark. Honestly, I can’t see much of a difference between them, so you’re in the wrong place for a detailed comparison. Since I plan to enrol The Rose and the Mask in KDP Select, I’m also going to use CreateSpace, thus centring everything on Amazon for the time being.

Formatting

While I actually think Amazon (primarily) have made self-publishing remarkably straightforward, there is, regrettably, slightly more to it than just uploading your manuscript straight to your Kindle Direct Publishing account. Your book needs special formatting—and it’s different for ebook and paperback versions.

Ebooks—and I’m thinking mostly of Kindle books, because I’m most familiar with them, but I think it’s the same for the other formats—actually don’t want much formatting at all. You can’t choose the fonts, you can’t number the pages (because ebooks don’t have pages) and so on. What you actually want is a complete absence of formatting—save for bold, italics and underlines, if you use them. And that’s actually a lot harder than you’d think, especially if you use Microsoft Word. Word is so clever that it often cycles right around to stupid, and what looks to you like plain, unformatted text is actually all kinds of complicated under the hood, and somehow contrives to look spectacularly crap on a Kindle.

Paperback formatting, however, is at the other end of the spectrum. The print-on-demand printer will print your book exactly as you provide it to them, which means you have to perfect every detail yourself. That means styling the fonts, making sure the words don’t break up across lines in a way you don’t like, that there are no pages with just one word on them, that the page numbers start and finish where they’re supposed to, that the table of contents has all the right page numbers on it, that the margins are the right size and none of the text disappears into the binding… Excuse me while I breathe into this paper bag.

Formatting is another thing that you can (and many authors do) pay a professional to do for you. Having read the above, you might think it’s worth it. Personally, I feel like I should be able to do it myself, so I’m going to—no matter how many inventive new expletives I come up with in the process.

Cover design

My guess would be that this is the thing self-published authors are most likely to pay a professional to do. I mean, there’s no connection between being able to write a book and being any good at art or graphic design. And, while a lack of editing might get you bad reviews, or lose you sales at the “download a sample” stage, a bad cover will stop readers from even clicking through to learn more about your book.

Again, though, this is something I feel I should be able to do, so—out of a combination of stubbornness and lack of funds—I did it myself. Those of you who’ve been here a while will have seen me make several different ones, each time thinking I’ve finished the job, only to redo it a few months later. Here’s the latest one, hot off the… well, fresh out of Photoshop.

the cover for

Honestly, I like it and feel good about using it, but I’m sure a professional could have come up with something much better, both visually and in terms of appeal to my target readers. This is definitely a case of “do as I say, not as I do”… if you’ve got the cash.

Marketing copy

Most obviously, you need a blurb—but this also includes any other writing you might use to sell your book. So, an author bio, your Amazon description, any additional writing for your website, stuff like that.

I’ve said that a lot of things are “the worst”, but writing a blurb is the woooooorrrrrrsssssst. I honestly thought that knocking out a few paragraphs about a book I know inside out would be easy, but it was horrible. You have so little time to catch someone’s attention, so you have to keep it brief, which is where knowing what you’re writing about very intimately is actually extremely unhelpful. And striking a balance between teasing people with your best plot points and giving away the entire story is very tricky, too.

You can see what I came up with over on the book’s website, if you can’t read it on the back cover above. My best tip would be to make a list of the key things you think are appealing about your book (in my case, that it’s a Beauty and the Beast retelling, that the heroine is a thief, that her brother is Giacomo Casanova, that the setting is 18th century Venice and that the hero and heroine are trapped together by a curse) and then concentrate your efforts very firmly on conveying that as succinctly and intriguingly as you can. But honestly, I did that and it was still a giant headache, so what do I know?

Marketing

Nobody knows the secret to selling a large number of self-published books. People are doing it, but no one really knows how—or, if they do, they’re wisely keeping quiet about it because, once everyone knows and is doing it, it won’t work anymore.

However, there are plenty of things that might work. Here are some of the ideas I want to try:

A blog tour. Well, sort of. A blog tour is where, over a set period of time, your book is featured on a bunch of different blogs. Those blog posts could be a “cover reveal”, an excerpt from the book, an author interview or a review of your book by the blog owner. You can pay companies to organise one of these for you, and they’ll guarantee a certain number of posts from their “network”. I’m trying to organise my own by choosing and emailing bloggers directly. [Update: this did not go that well.)

A Goodreads giveaway. Goodreads offer two kinds of giveaway: ebook (which you have to pay a not-inconsiderable fee to do) and paperback (which are free apart from the cost of sending out the books). I’m not hugely interested in paying to give my work away for free but the paperback ones seem to attract a decent amount of attention so I’m excited to give one of those a try. [Update: I did!)

Paid advertising. Again, my budget can sort of be described with a sad trombone noise, so I’ll have to be very careful about this. But I like the idea of advertising on one or two popular romance blogs. Amazon have also just introduced pay-per-click ads, which I guess is kind of like the big publishers paying chain stores to include their books in promotions.

So, there you have it: an overview of what I’ve been up to for the last few weeks and will continue to be up to, into and generally all over until the release. Like I said above, I’m planning to expand on all of this in more posts, as well as update you on how all of this works out. It’s a learning experience, let’s put it that way!

a water colour mask on a background of a watercolour painting of a galaxy, with gold text


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Updates!

So I freed myself from the obligation to write a post a week and then failed to post at all for over three weeks. I’m sure you’re all shocked. Shocked.

The good news is that I wasn’t just catching up on Netflix and sneezing, although that adequately describes the weekend I’ve just had. (Remember this post about how comprehensively I fail to cope with the common cold? It was exactly like that.) I also DID MY SECOND EDITS! Actually, now that I look at my last post, I see that I hadn’t quite finished the big First Edits then, so, uh, I finished those first! But then, a couple of weeks later, also the second ones!

And then the Best Editor Ever (TM) took a look at them with me, and we hashed out a few final details, and now… THE BOOK IS DONE! AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!

Oh! Oh! Oh! I also re-named it. Again. Yeah, I know, I didn’t even let you recover from the first shock before laying that second one on you. Your minds must be blown.

While I’m starting to think that I might be a maybe-kinda-sorta-okay writer, I yield to no one on the subject of my crappiness as a a… titler? Titelist? Titleatrix? (Probably not titleatrix.) I’m really, really bad at titling things. And I certainly wasn’t attached to “Venetian Masks”, it was just the best I’d been able to come up with after taking an alarming nearly-three-years to think about it. Ideally a title should be a) clever and intriguing and b) attractive to your target readers, and “Venetian Masks” was pretty “meh” on both fronts. When my editor suggested changing it, I decided to learn from those years of failure and give up on a) (I honestly believe I could write another bloody novel before thinking of a clever title for this one) and focus my efforts on b). And I decided to go with The Rose and the Mask. Final answer.

a water colour mask on a background of a watercolour painting of a galaxy, with gold text

It’s not very clever but, as a fan of Beauty and the Beast retellings, if I heard of a book called The Rose and the Mask I would at least check it out to see if it was BatB-related. (Or possibly The Phantom of the Opera-related, but I’d guess there’s an overlap between those fandoms.) And that’s pretty much exactly the effect I’m going for. So, The Rose and the Mask it is!

I’m so excited to have got to this stage, because there were oh-so-many times when I thought I wouldn’t. As for what’s next… well, to give you the short version, there are some pre-release marketing activities I want to try, and a lot of very complicated formatting things to do that will probably make me invent some new swearwords. (For the long version, stay tuned – I’m going to share my To Do list and some detailed posts about the self-publishing process in future posts.)

And then… publication! I’m 95% sure when the release date will be, but don’t want to share it here until I’m 100%. It’ll be early March, though, so stand ye ready! (Oh, and do feel free to join my mailing list over on the book’s website! :D)