The Opposite of Popular

The online home of alleged author Victoria Leybourne

Scrooge McDuck diving into a pile of gold coins


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All that glitters

Hey, you guys, remember how one of my goals for this year was to write 52 blog posts, which I changed from specifically one per week last year because I thought it would be more achievable?

Please join me in ROFLing vigorously.

a llama rolling around on the ground

source: Giphy

I don’t feel too bad about it, because I think there’s an argument to be made that last year I was kind of using blogging as an excuse to procrastinate on writing my book. (As in “Gosh, I’d just LOVE to do the work I’ve been avoiding all day by finding pointless things to do around the house, but I’ve got a blog post to write! Too bad, so sad.”) But I really do enjoy blogging and the regular posts were finally starting to give this blog some momentum, so it kind of sucks to have lost that.

HOWEVER. I am here now. HELLO! HOW ARE YOU? THE YELLING IS BECAUSE I’M EXCITED TO BE HERE. And also because I have LEARNED SOMETHING ABOUT WRITING!

Okay, so the last time I updated you guys about The Murano Glass Slipper, I was working on expanding the 50k draft I wrote shockingly fast into one that was longer and made more sense. About a week and a half ago I was 25k into that second draft and… well, hating every second of it, basically. Which was really disappointing after how exciting the first draft was. But then I had what I think is a bit of a breakthrough.

Basically, I think I’m too afraid of deleting scenes. I have this idea that written words are Precious and Must Be Preserved because Writing Is Hard. With the MGS draft I was working on (as with lots of drafts of The Rose and the Mask), I found that I was expending a lot of effort to try and prop up parts of the story that… actually weren’t that good. I was working on this one scene in particular and just found myself thinking “This is SO. BORING.” My character was in a scene and she had no real motivation to do anything (relatable, but not great storytelling). And the thing is, I had ideas for what would give her that motivation, but I kept kicking them away because they’d involve rewriting other scenes.

But then, I thought: “Tory, you wrote all 50,000 of those words in a month. Maybe not all of them are solid gold.”

Scrooge McDuck diving into a pile of gold coins

Pictured: not my writing source: Giphy

This is a very sensible thought, and probably one you have already had several times while reading this. But I’d never looked at it that way before. My approach so far has been to cheerfully write a scene at a reasonable pace, and then spend endless, weary, miserable months trying to wedge it into a scrambled mess of a manuscript until my will is finally broken and I delete it – and painlessly write another one. It has only now occurred to me that I can just skip that middle section altogether.

So, am I starting again from scratch? No. There are several scenes from the first draft that I really love, and that are worth polishing up for the final version. And there are plenty more that will be replaced by very similar scenes – scenes that will be easier to write because I’ve written these first scenes. The plan now is to write another 50,000 words in the next month. I’m hoping that, combined with the parts of the first draft I want to keep, this will get me most of the way there! I definitely want this book published by the end of the year, and I’m even hopeful about getting it out sometime in the autumn.

I’m feeling good about this, I think. I’ve got a brand new scene-by-scene plan that blows the old plan out of the water, and that should help keep me going. I’m not certain I can do 50k in a month again, because I’m not feeling that nervous energy that forced me onwards last time – plus, last time I had a few days off work, which really helped, whereas this time I’m actually going to be super-busy at work and probably really tired when I get home. But I’m excited to give it my best shot anyway. Watch this space!

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the disneyland paris castle at sunset


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Hey Tory, where have you been?

Thanks for asking.

Well, in a physical sense, I was just in Disneyland Paris for almost a week. It was awesome and I am suuuuuuuper tired. Here’s a few random photos from my phone. There are probably better ones!

the disneyland paris castle at sunset

me on the teacup ride

me and carl in raincoats

Mostly the weather was great, but briefly it really, really wasn’t

a man elaborately carves characters from aladdin into watermelons

This guy is almost certainly better at melons than you

I also bought this truly excellent souvenir:

a real clock shaped like cogsworth from beauty and the beast

The pendulum actually swings!

 

Of course, a few days in Disneyland doesn’t really explain why I haven’t updated my blog in over a month. But that’s good news, I think: I’ve actually been really busy with The Murano Glass Slipper, which seems to be going pretty well! I’ve definitely hit a few snags and, now that I’m trying to refine what I’ve written it doesn’t feel like I’ve been as productive as it did when I wrote 50k words in under a month, but it’s still pretty exciting. Hopefully I’ll have something new to share with you soon. For now, I think I need a nap…


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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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Self-Published Authors: Should you have your book professionally edited?

adventures in self publishing - victoria leybourne

When I posted my Self-Publishing To Do List, I promised to come back and write about some of the things on that list in a little more detail. I think editing is a good place to start—it’s likely to be one of the biggest expenses involved in getting your book to market, and it’s certainly something I gave a lot of thought to.

Of course, the first question is… Should you have your book edited at all? Honestly, I can’t tell you that. It’s a topic I see brought up and vigorously fought over among indie authors all the time, and there are good points to be made on both sides.

The case for editing

Most arguments in favour of editing boil down to professionalism. For some people, it’s about competing on a level playing field with traditional publishers: their books are professionally-edited, ours should be too.

It’s also about long-term strategy—it’s all very well grabbing sales with your great cover and snappy blurb but, goes the argument, if your actual book is riddled with grammar mistakes and plot inconsistencies, those readers won’t come back next time. And there’s a good chance they’ll leave bad reviews to warn away others. It’s about respect for readers, too—doing everything you can to make sure your book delivers on the promises made by your marketing.

Something that’s harder to measure in sales is this: having your work edited can make you a better writer. I know I learned an awful lot from my editor that I can use to write better books in the future.

The case against

Basically, editing costs a lot of money.

Editing should cost a lot of money, because you’re buying hours of a skilled person’s time. But, well, I personally am nearly five years out of university and only last year started making anything noticeably above minimum wage from my (non-writing) work, so I don’t necessarily think of myself as being in an “employing people” sort of place.

Arguments against editing tend to be about… I’m going to say “agility”. The less time and money you spend on developing a product, the less money it has to make to be profitable. It also leaves you free to go after market trends, to try things out and drop them quickly if they don’t work. There are authors doing very well putting out a book every month or two (or maybe even more than that), with minimal investment but at minimal cost, and making a fortune on volume. Some readers probably are turned off by the lack of editing—but those authors reach so many people that it doesn’t matter if they lose a few.

There’s also a school of thought that readers don’t notice most of the errors an editor would catch, or don’t care about them if they do. I don’t think that’s true. What I think is that these agile writers are very fast and very clever, and figure out very quickly how to self-edit to a level that their audience is happy with. That’s not an option if you haven’t met your audience yet.

So… should you do it?

Ultimately, it depends what your goals for self-publishing are, and what your strengths are as a writer. If you’re just publishing for bragging rights, you probably don’t need to spend the money—but maybe you’d brag harder if you knew your book was better. If you’re aiming to make a profit, maybe you’ll want to speculate to accumulate—or maybe you know you’re fast and savvy enough for the agile approach.

Me, I know I’m not agile. The Rose and the Mask took three years to write. I’m aiming to get the sequel done in less than one, but that’s still slow by indie standards—and glacial to those agile writers.

There was probably also an emotional level to the decision for me. As it went further and further over-schedule, TRatM became a labour of love on which I’m definitely never going to make a return on my investment of time. After all that, the idea of someone thinking it was just something I threw together, on the basis of mistakes that an editor would have caught, was unacceptable to me.

Next time*, I’ll talk about what the actual editing process was like for me. (Spoiler: hard work but sort of awesome.)

 

* Maybe not literally the next time I post, this blog is run entirely according to whim.

belle and the beast dance in a room full of candles


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I saw Beauty and the Beast and I have THOUGHTS

Firstly: HERE BE SPOILERS.

Guys, I am so serious, if you haven’t seen the new Beauty and the Beast movie yet and you think spoilers might, well, spoil it for you, DO NOT READ THIS POST. I do not want that on my conscience. I’m going to count to five and then I want you gone, okay? Ready?

One…

Two…

Three…

Four…

FIVE.

the cartoon Beast yells at belle to get out of the west wing

GET OUUUUUUUUUT

Continue reading


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Better than I expected, not as good as I hoped…

Honestly, this sums up a lot of things in my life! But of course, as usual, I’m talking about The Rose and the Mask – specifically, its first week as an actual, real-life published book!

So, how has that first week been? Well…

Expectation: my kind and supportive friends and family would buy it, and almost no one else.

Hope: ONE MILLION SALES!!!

dr evil from austin powers

Alright, I guess I was a little more restrained than that, but I had all these little scenarios in my head that were, um, less than realistic.

Reality: Okay, well, I probably won’t keep posting the figures (mostly because it’ll get embarrassing and a little sad sooner or later) but here’s how they’re looking right now.

Paperback sales: 21

Ebook sales: 36

Kindle Unlimited Page Reads: 15,187 (equal to about 37 full read-throughs of the book)

(For those of you not in the know: Kindle Unlimited is a subscription service where people pay monthly and can read as many KU-enrolled books as they want – sort of like Netflix for books. Authors/publishers get paid based on how many pages were read. You don’t find out how many people read how much of a book, though, so that 15,000ish could be 37 full reads or it could be 150 people reading 100 pages each, or anything else.)

I definitely don’t have 21+36+37 friends and relations. Not even close. Sooo… expectation exceeded. And honestly, I’m really pleased! And so grateful to the people that bought and/or read it! But… well, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you’ll know that I’m never proud of anything I do when there’s the option to feel bad about not doing it better instead. 🙄

But, onwards and upwards! Here’s what I’ve got going on at the moment… you know, besides endlessly refreshing the sales stats.

  • I made a Twitter thread suggesting some better ways they could have introduced a gay character in the new Beauty and the Beast movie, in response to the somewhat underwhelming revelation about Lefou.
  • I’ve put together a tentative plan for getting The Murano Glass Slipper – the sequel to The Rose and the Mask – written, and maybe even published, by the end of the year. That’s VERY ambitious, given that The Rose and the Mask took three years, but I feel like I learned a lot from that process. Mostly, that I should NEVER EVER EVER NOT EVER start writing a book without working out a scene-by-scene plan first. So I’m working on that at the moment. It’s going… okay? I think?
  • There are SO MANY blog posts I want to write. Some about writing The Rose and the Mask, some about the self-publishing process. Hopefully once the nervous excitement about the book being published wears off, I’ll be able to concentrate a bit better. Or at least stop wasting time agonising over the stupid stats! Please feel free to tut disapprovingly at me if you don’t see any of those posts soon. I deserve it.