The Opposite of Popular

The online home of alleged author Victoria Leybourne


3 Comments

Things that are happening

Hello! How are we all? Is it just me, or has it been February for a good couple of decades now? I’m cold and sad and I miss daylight.

HOWEVER.

Things are happening. Book things.

Here they are, in no particular order.

Covers!

Yes, I know, I have a problem. I have to say, though, I’m pretty pleased with these:

the cover for the rose and the mask: a man and woman stand together. The Man's face is obscured but the woman is staring straight out of the picture, holding a mask. red rose petals sweep over the bottom of the cover, and the title and author name are picked out in gold. The cover for the murano glass slipper. A man and a woman in historical clothing dance together. Blue petals sweep over the bottom of the cover, and the title and author name are picked out in gold.

They’re an evolution of the ones I showed you in this post, which I decided just weren’t quite right. I liked the images, but wasn’t quite happy with how I’d used them. These just look a bit more professional, I think – plus they coordinate with each other a little better.

Brief but mostly-relevant digression: I recently saw this chart (definitely click that link if you’re an artist or creator of any kind! I found it really thought-provoking). It’s really about visual art, but I think it applies to other kinds, too. Basically, it explains that, as your ability to produce good art improves at a slightly different rate to your ability to evaluate art, there will be times when you can create better than you evaluate (where you think “Wow! I’m amazing at this!”) and times where you evaluate better than you create (“Wow, this sucks…”). This certainly explains a lot about writing for me (like how I can feel worse about my writing while being sure I’m getting better) but it probably also plays into my feelings about my own cover designs.

I have far, far less experience as a cover designer (or a designer of anything) than I have as a writer, and I learned everything I know about graphic design by fumbling around in Photoshop until things somehow look a bit better. I only have a very vague idea of what good design is supposed to look like. So, when I produce something that looks half-decent, I feel great about it, and will all but drag people over to the screen like “Come and see this AMAZING THING I made.” Conversely, I actually know quite a lot about writing (some of that English Literature degree must have sunk in), so my ability to evaluate literature is probably better than my ability to create it. So I often feel pretty terrible about my ability as a writer – even though I’m much better at that than designing covers.

The obvious conclusion to this is that I should really pay someone else to design my covers, but I’m a) chronically short of ££ and b) deeply stubborn, so that’s not on the cards for now.

Moving on…

Retailers!

If you’ve been following along here for a while, you’ll know that I originally released my two books exclusively on Amazon. This was in order to join the Kindle Unlimited program, where your books are available for people to borrow with their KU subscriptions and you get paid a small amount (around $0.004, four-tenths of a US cent) for every page they read. Your books have to be Amazon-exclusive to be eligible. For a while, I was doing pretty well on KU – in fact, I’d guess that a good half of my earnings from the books have come from those page-reads. But I was starting to get uncomfortable about relying solely on one retailer for that income – especially when there’s very little transparency about how KU works.

So, I’ve pulled the books out of the program. They’re still available to buy on Amazon, of course, just not to borrow. And they’re now also available on Apple’s iBooks, Kobo and Google Play. (I’m working on Barnes & Noble, too, but I’ve run into some issues getting an account set up.) If you want to see how they look in those stores, all the links are on my author website, which I just revamped again. The old layout didn’t really have space for all the retailer links.  That’s proving to be one of the challenges of “going wide” (the term a lot of indie authors use to describe using all major retailers instead of just Amazon), actually: it’s difficult to manage all the links. If you’re an author struggling with this problem, by the way, I recommend this WordPress plugin!

I started the process of “going wide”, uploading the books to all the different stores, on the 3rd, and the books went live pretty quickly. So far, I have to say, I haven’t made a single sale on any of these new retailers. That’s not terribly surprising, since I haven’t done anything to let people know they’re there, but you often get a surprise sale or two on Amazon before you even know a book’s gone live, so I guess I was secretly hoping for that to happen! I have, however, had a few more sales than normal on Amazon, which is interesting. One theory about KU is that it “cannibalises” your sales – that is, people borrow your book when they would otherwise have bought it (which generally nets you less money, depending on the sale price).

Overall, this could well prove to be a mistake – especially when so much of my income was previously coming from KU. Then again, both sales and reads had dwindled down to virtually nothing, so I didn’t have that much to lose. In fact, it seemed like a good idea to try it now, with these two fading books, before deciding what to do with my next release. And there is some good news…

Promotions!

Despite the lack of sales there, so far I’m very impressed with Canadian retailer Kobo. (Here’s the link to their self-publishing arm.) While I’m very glad of the work Amazon did in opening up ebook publishing to indies, there’s no getting away from the fact that Amazon is so huge that any individual author is just an ant on the pavement to them. Most of us aren’t even ants. We’re like… microorganisms. They just don’t know we’re there. In practical terms, this means that there’s pretty much nothing you can do to make your book more visible on Amazon: most promotion is driven by algorithms, and those will only push a book if it’s already selling.

Kobo, on the other hand, offers promotions that you can actually submit your book for. If accepted, you either pay (usually not much) or agree to let Kobo keep a larger share of the takings for the duration of the sale. I applied for one of these almost immediately, just to see how it worked – and got accepted! The Murano Glass Slipper will be reduced to $3.99 (Canadian)/$2.99 (US) on Kobo from Feb 15 to 19. In return for including it on a sale page and an email (note: I’m not totally sure if the book will be in the email or if it will just advertise the promo as a whole), Kobo will take an extra 10% of my royalties. Since, at the moment, I’m getting a whole 70% of nothing on Kobo, this definitely seems worth doing!

I’m pretty excited to see how this turns out. In fact, until a few days ago, this was the biggest news I needed to share with you.

But then

BUT THEN

Okay, have you guys heard of Bookbub? Basically, it’s a place to find ebook deals. You sign up, choose the genres you’re interested in and, every day, you get emailed a selection of free and discounted books in your genres. You can also browse deals on the site.

That’s from a reader’s perspective. From a writer or publisher’s perspective, it’s a highly sought-after promotion opportunity. See, there are tons of newsletters you can pay to advertise a discounted book in, but most of them don’t produce a positive return on investment. That is, the newsletter doesn’t sell enough copies of a book for the royalties to cover what the author spent on the promo. People still book these promos, hoping that they’ll make their money back on other books in the same series, or benefit from increased visibility when the book goes back to full price, but that kind of freaks me out. I don’t mind taking the occasional calculated risk, but I can’t bring myself to spend money on a promo that I know won’t make a profit. That’s why I chickened out of running a 99c promo on The Rose and the Mask when The Murano Glass Slipper came out, the way I originally planned to: because I couldn’t afford to advertise it.

Bookbub is different. Bookbub has a huge, highly-engaged audience, and almost always produces positive ROI. It’s also incredibly competitive to get into. They’re very selective about the books they promote, which makes them more popular with readers, which means that they can afford to be more selective. Getting an all-territories Bookbub promo (US, UK, Canada, India, and Australia) has been known to make an author’s career, and many people submit their books endlessly in hope of getting one.

You’re probably guessing at where this is going, so let me head you off at the pass: I did not get an all-territories Bookbub. HOWEVER. I did get an “International” one, which includes all the countries above except the US. This is a much smaller audience: the number of subscribers to Historical Romance, the genre I applied for, is quoted as 1,330,000+ in the US, compared to 300,000+ internationally. But still, I mean… Yay!

The Bookbub promo is for The Rose and the Mask, and will go out on Feb 26. The book will be reduced to 99p in the UK, 99c in Australia and Canada, and ₹65 in India. Apparently, the average number of sales for one of these promos is 440 which… I mean… wow. It’s sold 575 copies (admittedly, at full price) over the last year, so to sell that many in a day is just unimaginable. Also? It’s sold virtually squat outside the US. This has always puzzled me. I mean, I get that the US is the biggest market for English-language ebooks. But I’m British. My writing is, I think, overwhelmingly British. I kind of expected it to appeal to British people. And yet, it’s made almost no impression over here. I think that’s largely because the US store has something the UK one doesn’t: the option to run pay-per-click ads. I think those really helped me to find an audience early on, whereas there was nothing I could really do to promote to UK readers. Maybe this Bookbub will turn things around!

Of course, I wouldn’t be me if good news didn’t freak me out a bit. All along, I think I’ve been a little afraid of these books being read by too many people. It’s an imposter syndrome thing: the more people read them, the more chance there is that someone will (metaphorically) stand up, point and me and yell “She’s not a real writer!” Because I’m not, really. I’m just some twerp with a keyboard. This fear is also not totally unfounded, since writers often find that running discount promos on their books leads to a flurry of bad reviews – perhaps because the promo tempts people into reading books they otherwise wouldn’t have chosen.

But, still. This is exciting, and I’m excited for it. And now this blog post has swallowed my entire morning, so I’d better go. I’ll be back soon – hopefully with good news!

Advertisements


1 Comment

Belated New Year Post

Happy new year, blog pals!

I can’t quite believe we’re in a whole other year already. 2017 went incredibly fast for me, probably because I barely looked up from my computer. If I wasn’t hovering over The Rose and the Mask, being incredibly NERVOCITOUS (NERVOUS and EXCITED but mostly NERVOUS) about its release, I was writing The Murano Glass SlipperOr hovering over that, being faintly dismayed. Or, at the end of the year, quickly squeezing in about two-thirds of a draft of my still-untitled royal romance. I know I did some things that weren’t writing-related, like going to work, and spending time with people I love, and briefly nipping over to Disneyland Paris, but mostly it was writing. I think I’m okay with that.

Speaking of which, I seem to remember setting some goals at the beginning of the year. Let’s see how I did…

(Paraphrasing some of these, because apparently I never write a sentence on this blog when a paragraph will do.)

Finish the edits on The Rose and the Mask

I sure did! All the way back in January.

Attempt some pre-release marketing activities, such as approaching book review blogs to offer them advance copies.

Uh… huh. I mean, yes, I did do this – there was a spreadsheet and everything. It didn’t really work, though. But I did at least learn more about what does and doesn’t work in book marketing.

Release the kraken book!

Yes! On March 3. In retrospect, March and April were the most exciting part of the year. The book did really well considering my inexperience and general newness – though I guess I didn’t realise how well until Book 2 faceplanted in November. But, back in the spring, I got to watch sales coming in and even got some really encouraging messages and emails from readers, and the warm-fuzziness of that did a lot to carry me through the rest of the year.

Write the sequel!

Yes, and this is an area where I think I can be proud of myself – in spite of the disappointment over The Murano Glass Slipper‘s poor sales. I bungled the release, no question about that, but I honestly think the writing is my best work so far, and I’m delighted with how quickly I managed to get it done. Last year, I wrote, “I want to aim to finish it by the end of 2017. That’s ambitious, given how long [The Rose and the Mask] has taken me“. That was a fair point – The Rose and the Mask took me three years. The Murano Glass Slipper took eight months from planning to publication, and I’m certain it’s a better book. And all I intended to do was to end the year with it ready for editing. So, yes, I’m pretty pleased about this one.

Write 52 blog posts.

Ha. Haha. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. No.

I just did a quick count, and I think I managed 22 blog posts in 2017. To be honest, that’s more than I thought. This goal was an evolution of my resolution the year before to blog once a week, which I almost did, though I had weeks where I felt like blogging a lot and weeks where I didn’t feel like it at all, so I thought, in 2017, I’d try for an average of once a week instead. But another thing about 2016 is that I often wrote a blog post when I wanted to feel productive, but really didn’t feel like working on my book. What I’ve figured out since then is that there is no such thing as “not feeling like it” for professional authors. If you don’t want all your books to take three years to write, you crush all your “not feeling like it” into a trash cube like the robots in Wall-E, and then you sit on that cube and write a bloody chapter. So.

I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t feel too bad about this one, in view of how well I did in other areas. I still like my blog, and I still want to share my writing and publish experiences here, but it has to be secondary to the actual writing and publishing.

Right. Let’s set some goals for 2018!

Writing:

  • Finish the as-yet-untitled royal romance. And title it, I guess.
  • Write a short prequel novella to the royal romance. I am excited for this, because I’ve got some ideas for it, but I’m a little nervous because I have no idea if I can write a short romance novella. The royal novel is going to end up 20,000 words longer than I originally planned. So this should be an interesting challenge.
  • Write another novel. I almost want to say two novels, because of how well I’m doing with the royal romance so far. But that might be pushing it, so perhaps I’ll say that, by the end of the year, I’d like to have finished two novels and the novella, and be at least planning another novel.
  • I’d also like, by the end of this year, to have a better grasp of my own novel-writing process, so that I can more reliably plan some kind of production schedule. But that might be more of an ongoing development thing than a goal.

Publishing:

  • Relaunch The Rose and the Mask and The Murano Glass Slipper. I’m planning to release them on other retailers once my exclusive contract with Amazon runs out, which gives me scope to try a few different marketing techniques. How much I’ll be able to do depends on a bunch of factors (budget and my inexperience at scheduling any kind of coordinated promotion being two big ones) but I want to make a bit of a fuss of the books and just see if that helps at all. It won’t make up for the bungled launch but… anyway, let’s see what happens.
  • Publish the royal romance and its prequel. Do not mess up the launch. I realise there are a few details missing here, but I’m working on it.
  • Towards the end of the year, once I have a good number of books out, I’d also like to start working on some kind of promotional schedule – although, as above, that’s not really a goal. I guess I just want to finish 2018 feeling as though I’m working to some kind of plan, rather than just fumbling around.

Phew. I’m tired just from making this list! Back to work, I guess…

Thanks so much for all your support in 2017. I hope 2018 is a fantastic year for you, whatever you plan to do.


Leave a comment

Shiny newness, and other updates.

Hello again! A few more updates for you…

Sales

I really don’t want this to be exclusively a “complaining about publishing” blog, but I have to admit that morale is still pretty low around here. I really thought (and this is my own naivety, or arrogance, or whatever) that the relative success of The Rose and the Mask meant that The Murano Glass Slipper would do well too. And it… really hasn’t. The Rose and the Mask was in profit after a month. The Murano Glass Slipper is a month-and-a-half old and still very much in the red, even though I spent less on it than the first one.

In fact, releasing this whole new book has barely made a difference to my earnings from writing at all. Look at this:

graph showing a steady decline in earnings after a peak in April, mitigated only slightly by a small increase in November

This is from a tool called Book Report. The blue area is earnings from Kindle Unlimited and the red is royalties. You can see the release of Book 1 in March, the peak in April, then the steady decline I talked about before. November’s new release is not much more than a blip 😦

I really hope I’m not coming off like I think I’m entitled to more sales or something. I really don’t think that! I was very lucky that The Rose and the Mask did as well as it did, and I’m still very lucky (and feel it) when anyone chooses to read either of the books now. Writing a book doesn’t entitle you to readers, no matter how hard you try or how much you want success.

I just… I wish I could be happier without success. I wish the thing I wanted most of all wasn’t something so fleeting and that no amount of hard work can guarantee me. I’ve had jobs that offered security and money and good prospects, and I tried to want them, but they made me feel like I was disintegrating from the inside out. Writing is all I want to do, and all I’m really good at, so I broke every rule I’ve ever been taught and I tried it. It was a stupid thing to do but, for a few months in the Spring, I thought I was getting away with it.

The new book

The thing is, I’ll keep writing forever, no matter what. And, in better news, I really think I’m getting better at it. Specifically, I’m getting a better feel for what is and isn’t working in a story, and I’m able to act on that quickly, instead of writing another 20,000 words on top of a shaky foundation and having to axe the lot. I might even be developing a process. It’s not the one I’d choose, necessarily, but still.

I said in my last post that I’d got up to 40,000 words on the contemporary royal romance (still untitled!) that I’m working on. I ended up getting to 48,000 before noticing that it was becoming harder to get motivated, which usually means that I’ve uncovered a problem in my work. In this case, the problem wasn’t one big thing, but rather that I now had quite a long list of small-but-significant changes I wanted to make to the scenes I’d already written, and it was becoming difficult to keep them all straight in my head as I wrote new scenes. Plus, it was making me feel like the whole thing was a Mess In Need Of Fixing, which is bad for morale. So, for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been working on a second draft. 80-90% of it is copy-pasted straight from the first draft, but I’ve ironed out some of the inconsistencies and other flaws that were niggling at me.

For a few days, I was quite annoyed to be working on this new draft. I’d been really hoping to get all the way through a draft before going back to fix things. But then I remembered feeling the same way with The Murano Glass Slipper, after starting a new draft at about the same point. And I remembered not doing that with The Rose and the Mask, and having that “axing tens of thousands of words” thing happen a lot, for three years. And that I really think MGS is a better book than RatM, even though writing it didn’t cause me anywhere near as much grief. And then I thought, hey, maybe this is just the way I write books. And maybe fighting what might be my natural process is a just a good way of creating a lot of stress without creating a lot of book.

So I’m trying to embrace it. I read everything I’d written on the new book and it actually seemed pretty good, which is always a relief, and I’m confident that the changes are making it better. It’s a little tedious, and I’m hoping to be done with the redrafting and back to work on new scenes too, but hopefully doing this will make writing the second half feel as natural and fun as the first half did.

Some new covers

Finally, if you’re a long-time reader, you know that I went through a completely unnecessary number of iterations of the cover for The Rose and the Mask, starting long before it was ready for publication. Well, I’m at it again. I really like the current covers for both books, and I do think the RatM one was at least moderately successful, in that people have said they were drawn to it because the cover was pretty. But they don’t signal genre very clearly – you don’t look at them and immediately think “Oh, it’s this kind of book”. So I wanted to see if a cover that says “buy me if you like fairytale romance!” would help. Here’s what I came up with:

a new cover for the rose and the mask. a woman holding a mask stares out at the viewer while embracing a man whose face isn't visible

 

a new cover for the murano glass slipper. A couple dance together under a full moon, staring lovingly into one another's eyes

I’m pretty pleased with them, because they’re much better than anything I’ve been able to do in Photoshop with actual photos before. And I do think they say “romance”.

As for whether they’ve actually helped… I don’t know. Sales were dismal before I changed them (a week or so ago) and they still are, but Amazon has had reporting issues, plus apparently this is a bad time of year for ebook sales (they don’t make good presents) so it’s probably too soon to judge. I’m open to hearing any feedback about them, though! I’ll probably trial them until the end of January or February, and then either change them back or keep them and make paperback covers to match.

 


2 Comments

Post-Mortem

 

I’ve tried to make this blog an honest account of what self-publishing is like. So I guess I should tell you that, honestly, this launch has not gone very well.

I didn’t really know what to expect, but I guess I sort of assumed that it would do as well as the last one, if not a little better. And it hasn’t. Between 3-7 March, The Rose and the Mask sold 29 ebooks, 19 paperbacks and had 8303 page reads in KindleUnlimited, which works out to ~20 full read-throughs. Between 3-7 November (the matching dates make comparisons nice and easy, so at least there’s that!) The Murano Glass Slipper has sold 18 ebooks, 7 paperbacks and had 1854 page reads in KU, or ~5 full read-throughs. So… yeah. Lower numbers, is what I’m saying.

This is not a complaint, by the way. It’s incredibly difficult to sell any copies of a self-published book without a huge platform and/or lots of marketing ££, so I was lucky the first time – and I’ve still been relatively lucky this time! Being dismayed by this would be like finding £20 down the back of the sofa and then being dismayed to only find another £5 there the next time you looked. (Or something – look, I save my best writing for the books.) But I guess it’s fair to say that this is a bit of a bummer.

If you’re here to learn from my fails, I have some theories about what made the difference. Here they are, in no particular order:

1) The movie factor. The Disney Beauty and the Beast remake came out around the same time I released The Rose and the Mask, a Beauty and the Beast retelling. Readers were almost certainly more in the mood for a BatB story than they might otherwise have been. Short of planning my books around upcoming movie releases (it was a semi-coincidence last time), there is not really anything I can do about this.

2) The preorder factor. Ugggggggh. Okay, so, when you publish an ebook on Amazon, you have the option to set it to go on preorder. A page goes live for it, and people can order it, and then at midnight on your release date those people get charged and the book is delivered to their device. It also becomes available to buy normally at that point.

There is a huge drawback to doing this, which is that your book gets an Amazon sales rank while it’s in preorder. And that sales rank will be bad, because not as many people will buy a preorder as a live book. And it will stay bad even if lots of people buy the book on release day, because the ranks are partly based on history. And that’s bad because your rank determines how much Amazon pushes your book to other customers – whether it appears in top 100 genre lists and so on. This probably isn’t making much sense to anyone who hasn’t been following indie author chatter for years, so apologies for that. Basically, preorders can negatively affect a book’s visibility after release, which can negatively affect sales. They’re worth it to some authors in some circumstances, but generally not a great idea.

I knew all that. HOWEVER. In the couple of weeks before the release, I was hearing that Amazon were taking much longer than usual to approve newly-uploaded books. Like, days instead of hours. Authors were waiting for their books to go live with no indication of when that might happen. I didn’t want that to happen to The Murano Glass Slipper. Partly because I’d lined stuff up – a Goodreads giveaway* that started on the 3rd, plus announcing that release date everywhere) but mostly, to be honest, because I was nervous about the release date and didn’t think I’d be able to handle an unspecified number of days of aaaahhh where the heck is my book??? So I hatched myself a little scheme. A preorder would guarantee that the book went live on the 3rd. The shortest amount of time a preorder can run for is four days, but Amazon were apparently taking multiple days to approve things, soooo… if I set the preorder up four days before, they might not approve it until like one day before, right? Minimal time for the rank to erode, maximum results! Also, I’d read that the rank didn’t actually appear until the preorder got its first sale – and if I didn’t tell anyone about the preorder, no one would preorder it, so it might not be a problem at all.

So, naturally, the preorder went live within hours… and got a sale almost immediately. It is weird not to be pleased by a sale. I mean, I was pleased. Someone was that excited to buy the book! That’s awesome, and I am genuinely grateful to and appreciative of this person. Since the rank thing had happened, I started running some AMS ads on the book (I’ll have to explain that another time so this post doesn’t get out of hand) and ended up with 6 preorders. And it is SO exciting that that many people were interested enough in the book to preorder it. If this was you, thank you.

But… putting it up for preorder was the wrong call, on my part. The Rose and the Mask ranked at 14,039 on release (March 3), rising steadily over the next month to around 4k, and didn’t dip below 20k until late June. The Murano Glass Slipper was mostly around 100k during the preorder period, went to 20,984 on release day and has mostly been around 40-50k since then. It hasn’t made it onto any of the genre top 100 lists the way the last one did, so basically it’s virtually undiscoverable, as far as I can tell. Oops.

3) The series factorThe Rose and the Mask and The Murano Glass Slipper are only a series in a loose sense. Each one is a self-contained romance story and they feature different main characters. They do share secondary characters and a setting, and the main characters from the first make an appearance in the second, but you can read either of them without reading the other. But they’re linked as a series on Amazon, which means that, when you go to the page for The Murano Glass Slipper, it’s marked as Book 2, and The Rose and the Mask is pointed out as Book 1. I’m seeing a modest uptick in sales and reads for The Rose and the Mask, which could well be people seeing The Murano Glass Slipper and thinking it looks good, but deciding to read Book 1 first.

This makes sense, and I expected it. In fact, one piece of wisdom you hear a lot as an indie writer is that the best way to sell a book is to write the next one. There will always be more people who’ve read Book 1 than Book 2. But around 2000 people** have already read Book 1, and I guess I hoped more of them would come back for Book 2. Was Book 1 not good enough for people to want more? Was it fine, but the premise of Book 2 is just not that interesting to people who liked Book 1? (E.g. do people who buy Beauty and the Beast retellings then go looking for more BatB retellings, and skip Cinderella ones?) Or is it just that there was too big a gap between the releases, and I didn’t do a good enough job of getting people who would have liked to read Book 2 to sign up to my mailing list or follow me on social media to find out when it was available? Actually, it’s probably a mixture of these.

 

So, there you have it. It’s too early to declare the book a miserable flop, though of course that’s what my inner drama queen is shouting from her fainting couch. I’m still hopeful that things will pick up. The book could still follow a similar trajectory to the first one, which went quiet for a bit after release before abruptly taking off a week or two later, peaking about a month after release and falling at a respectable rate. (There’s a graph in this post.) Or maybe this one is a flop. That happens. I’m a little sad about it, because I actually think it’s a better book than the first one, but there’s nothing I can do about it – except learn from it. That’s what I’m trying to do. And if someone else can learn from my mistakes, that’s even better! I’m already working on my next book, which is not part of this series – although it might be the beginning of a new series, depending on how it goes. And I’m super-excited to write it. I think that’s the most important thing, really.

 

*By the way, if you’d like to enter that giveaway, here it is.

**This is an estimated number – most of these were KU readers, and you don’t know whether 100 KU pagereads is one person reading 100 pages or 100 people reading a page each.


2 Comments

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 🙂


4 Comments

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 🙂

a giant lizard reading a book


5 Comments

Ebooks might be changing writing and I’m okay with that

a giant lizard reading a book

Pro tip: the correct stock photo choice is always the one that inexplicably contains some kind of giant lizard.

I don’t know what all the cool kids were doing as teenagers in the noughties but I was pretty much just hanging out on fanfiction.net. For those of you who had friends and went outdoors as adolescents, fanfiction is what it sounds like: stories written by fans, based on characters and settings from their favourite books, movies and so on. Fanfiction is often posted one “chapter” at a time and therefore written quite episodically. I put “chapter” in quotes because the most popular stories tended not to have the kind of chapters you’d recognise from books. Through trial and error I found that around 1500-2000 words was the optimum chapter length to get people to come back for the next one and, more importantly, to leave complimentary comments – the sweet, sweet nectar that my teenage soul fed upon. And each of those 1500-2000 word chapters had to contain an interesting plot development and a reason to come back next time.

Writing that down, it sounds exhausting. Not a lot of novels change the scene every 2000 words – novelists tend to linger dreamily over things like scene-setting and appropriate pacing. But it was actually a lot of fun. Whenever I felt like writing, I would re-read my last chapter, pick up where I left off, write until I got bored (luckily, usually around the right word count) and then post it.

As a reader, too, I loved having stories broken down into those bitesized chunks. Absurdly short chapters were irritating to keep clicking through but unusually long ones quickly exceeded my attention span. Curiously, if I liked the look of a story that was already finished, I would happily sit and read the whole thing in one go, but I still couldn’t concentrate on a chapter that was too long.

I’m telling you all this because an author on a forum I frequent – the excellent Daniel R Marvello – recently posted a link to an article by in the Guardian: Ebooks are changing the way we read, and the way novelists write. Very short summary: ebooks have caused people to read less attentively and therefore to write more simply. I would throw fanfiction and other forms of online writing (blog posts, Buzzfeed) into that mix too.

Actually, fanfiction has influenced the world of publishing pretty directly. Fifty Shades of Grey started life as a Twilight fanfic and hasn’t changed much. Anna Todd’s One Direction fanfiction After has attracted high-profile book and movie deals. There are other examples but these are possibly the biggest.

I don’t know if there really has been a quantifiable change in writing styles. I’m not sure how you’d go about proving it, although I dimly recall an activity we did with newspapers at school that involved counting words per sentence and showed that The Sun had a reading age of seven (although rather more topless women than a seven-year-old is likely to be interested in). But if it is true, I’m okay with it.

As a reader, I’m inattentive. I like to have the scene set for me but I skip big, dense paragraphs of description. I like creative use of language and expanding my vocabulary but I don’t want to be stumbling over the sesquipedalian (!) every few sentences. “Good” writing is important to me, but I don’t think good has to mean “fancy”. I have a degree in Literature and now I don’t want reading to feel like hard work anymore. And that feeling is magnified when I read an ebook. I can lose a whole day curled up with a paperback, enjoying the lulls in a story as much as the climaxes, but my expectations of anything I read on a screen are the same as they always were of fanfiction: grab my attention, and keep grabbing it, because otherwise it will wander off.

As a writer, I generally live by the Elmore Leonard quote “I leave out the parts that people skip”. If you were to compare the current draft of Faustina to one of my fanfiction stories, I’d like to think that you’d find it a bit less choppy and more richly (if briefly) described, but still pretty skimmable. One of my many, many worries about this novel is that it won’t be “booky” enough – I learned to write by writing fanfiction and I feel like that has influenced my writing. But, if this is really the way the tide is turning, perhaps that’s a good thing.

In terms of the bigger picture, I imagine that serious literary types are wringing their hands over the death of writing as an art. Indeed, the Guardian article links to one (note: that article is well over 3000 words long and hell yes I skimmed it). I’m not going to try and tackle that on an intellectual level, because I’m writing this at 1AM and I don’t really want to, but what I will say is that writing is evolving all the time. We don’t write like Chaucer any more, or Shakespeare, or Dickens. They were of their time, as everyone is. They’re still perfectly readable today (Chaucer might be a bad example) but they’re best understood in context. Today’s context is connectedness and distractions and shareable content and I don’t see what’s wrong with that influencing the way we write. More importantly, one of the great things about the indie marketplace is that you can write whatever and however you want and people can decide whether or not to read it. As long as there are writers and readers who favour denser, more literary writing, it won’t go anywhere. And if that style of writing ever does fade away, that’s okay too. It’ll be in good company.