The Opposite of Popular

The online home of alleged author Victoria Leybourne


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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!

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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.


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The Murano Glass Slipper releases on November 3!

AAAAAAHHH! Sorry, I mean, HIIIII!

So… things have been happening. Book-related things. I’ll go into it in a minute but, first of all, the big news: The Murano Glass Slipper is almost ready to go! Barring any last-minute disasters, it will be available in both ebook and paperback on Friday, November 3.

Here’s the cover and blurb:

the cover of "the murano glass slipper: a cinderella retelling" by victoria leybourne. A watercolour image of a glass slipper surrounded by pink and blue flowers, on a dark blue background.

Chiara has always dreamed of finding love. With her family on the brink of financial ruin, though, it’s money she really needs. What she gets is Leandra, a seasoned con artist who makes an unconventional fairy godmother. Leandra has a plan, and Chiara’s just desperate enough to go along with it.

Occasionally-charming Domenico isn’t quite a prince. He’s an English earl living a secret, quiet life in Venice, at least until he makes an ill-considered bet with Giacomo Casanova. Now Domenico has a second false identity to maintain, as well as a glass slipper to find. With all that to deal with, he needs to avoid distractions—like the irresistible stranger he keeps running into. The only problem is, he’s falling in love with her.

Dancing with Domenico is the best feeling Chiara’s ever had and, as Carnevale draws to a close, she realises she’s found the man of her dreams. Now all she has to do is break his heart…

If you’ve been lurking around these parts for a while, you might remember a post I made before The Rose and the Mask came out explaining how people could support the launch if they wanted to. I won’t repeat the whole thing here, but I’ll summarise. (Note: this is only for people who particularly want to help me because they love me or my writing or are just generally kind and wonderful. I don’t expect any of this from anyone!)

Reviews: If you know me personally, please don’t review the book! (Explanation here, but basically it can get me into trouble!) If you only know me through my writing, e.g. reading this blog or The Rose and the Mask, that’s different – though, of course, I don’t want you to rate or review the book dishonestly! But, if you do read it, it’s certainly true that ratings and reviews help to sell books, so it would be very nice of you to leave one on Amazon or Goodreads, if you’d like to.

Buying the book: If we are friends and you would like to read the book, I do not expect you to buy one! Let me know and I’ll give you a copy. However, I know some of you are lovely and will buy one anyway and want to know how to do that in the most useful way. (Thank you!) The answer is that it’s probably best to buy the ebook, and as soon after the release as you can. However, I’m pretty proud of the paperback (they’re more work to design) and am always thrilled when someone buys one. So, please just choose whichever you’d prefer!

Thank you ❤

An assortment of other thoughts:

I’m pretty pleased with how the cover came out! This is pretty much how I pictured the cover of this book as I was done designing the one for The Rose and the Mask, but at one point I was certain I’d never find or be able to make a watercolour image of a glass slipper. So I spent ages trying out new ideas for both covers (they’re interconnected stories, so they need to match!) but none of them really worked. In the end, I found this watercolour stock image of a regular shoe and messed with the transparency and… yeah. I guess the test will be whether or not it sells, but I feel like it at least looks pretty?

I ended up rewriting an entire subplot. Last time I posted, I had just sent the book off for its first edit. After that, I came up with a way to make the ending much stronger (good news) but it required removing and replacing an entire subplot (not good news). It all sort of came to me at once, and I was able to write out a detailed plan for that new subplot and how it would feed into the new and improved ending, and that made it relatively easy to add what turned out to be 18,000 words at this late stage. So that was good. Ideally, though, I’d have had that idea before having a bunch of now-removed words edited. Or even, you know, before I wrote those words. But I’m new to the world of book-planning, so I guess some teething problems were to be expected. And I’m so happy with how those changes worked out. Whenever I have an epiphany like that, it always seems incredible to me that I ever wrote the thing the original way when the new version is so much better.

I miss blogging! I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go back to doing weekly blog posts like I did last year – not when I’m as keen as I am to maintain and improve my speed at writing books. It’s a shame, though, because I keep thinking of things I want to talk about and just not having the time to write them. Hopefully I’ll be able to do it at least a little more once I have a clearer idea of what I’m doing (if that ever happens!).

 

 

That’s all for now! Thanks for reading 🙂


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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!

me in a dinosaur mask. or maybe it's a dragon.


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I’m writing a retelling of Beauty and the Beast set in Venice.

Screw it. Today I’m going to tell you about Faustina.

Faustina is the novel I’m working on. I’ve been saying all along that I probably won’t call it Faustina when I publish it, but I’ve been calling it that for a long time now and I’m not sure how well I’ll be able to get another title to stick. Especially now that I’ve designed and become attached to this cover.

The cover for Faustina: a woman wearing a gold Venetian mask and a coy smile.

Faustina is a loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast set in 18th Century Venice, against the backdrop of Carnevale, because masks and historical costumes are pretty and also I went to Venice last year and saw a lot of masks and then became a dinosaur.

me in a dinosaur mask. or maybe it's a dragon.

NB: there are no dinosaurs in this story. Please believe me when I say that I would have shoehorned one in if I possibly could. Actually, looking that this picture again, I think that might be a dragon and now I’m questioning everything.

I’ve been writing retellings of Beauty and the Beast for over ten years now. (Beauty and the Beast was an obsession for me throughout my teen years. I could probably dissect that in another post.) I keep meaning to stop, but I think I’ve become that guy in Amelie who paints a new copy of the same painting every year because he can’t get it quite right.

I really want this to be the time I get it right, which is probably the problem.

The heroine is Faustina Casanova, younger sister of Giacomo Casanova, who is famous for having sex with everyone. I read Giacomo’s Wikipedia page and was really fascinated by some of the crap that he got away with, like hiding spikes in Bibles to escape from prison and pretending to be magic. (It’s okay, wiki-haters, I also bought his big-ass book.) I really wanted to write a heroine who was essentially a con-artist, falling into one scrape after another in the pursuit of an easy life and always coming out on top, but only just.

That reminded me of maybe the second or third retelling I started writing back in my teens, where the Beauty character was a thief whose father sent her into the mysterious, magical castle to steal something. I’ve always liked that as a twist, although I never finished that story, because it gives the Beast something to push back against. What I mean is, in Beauty and the Beast, Beauty dislikes the Beast because he’s scary-looking and keeping her prisoner, but the Beast just adores Beauty from the beginning. I used to eat that Beast-angst up with a spoon back when I thought the height of romance was having someone who was so desperate for you to love them that they would just stop eating and wait for death if you left them (this actually happens in the fairytale) but now that one-sidedness feels both deeply problematic and also kind of dull. But giving the Beast just as much reason to be mad at Beauty as she has to be mad at him, THEN trapping them in a castle together… that appeals to me.

Anyway, that’s how Faustina, the Beauty, came to be. Giacomo Casanova loses a lot of money in a game of cards to a reclusive, mask-wearing figure, and sends his criminally-minded sister to get it back. Throw in a curse that may or may not exist, some arguments and some kissing, and you’ve got what I’ve been tearing my hair out over for the last year.

I think, if I weren’t writing this, I would want to read it. Hopefully some other people will, too.

I actually started this post because I wanted to post an excerpt from the book but this has been way too much of a build-up for that so I’m just going to close with this picture of a cat I watched from the window of my Venice hotel room. (Update: there’s an excerpt here!)

a cat in venice

On the internet, a cat is worth a thousand words.

PS: If Faustina sounds like something you would enjoy reading, here are some things you could do:

  1. Comment and tell me. You might stop a tiny piece of my soul from dying!

  2. Subscribe to and/or revisit my blog to see future excerpts! (Warning: you will also see posts about things like buying an absurd number of candles or revisiting my childhood diaries.) The subscribe box is in the sidebar to your right.

  3. Join my mailing list. I don’t spam (in fact, so far I have sent precisely 0 emails, so I can say that with utmost confidence) but I will let you know when I’m close to publishing the book.