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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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.

 


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Personal Best

Well, there’s no good news on the sales front for The Murano Glass Slipper, unfortunately. It’s still, you know, fine. I’m not devastated or anything. In fact, I’ve now had a few really sweet comments about it that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Which, let’s be honest, is a big part of what I’m in this game for. But the sales are still so, so much worse than they were for the first book and, somehow, worse even than my most pessimistic estimates. It’s bad, guys.

I’m trying to be positive about it, to think that there’s a chance that it could take off at any time but, really, I’m gutted. I’m managing not to spiral too much, but I know the thoughts are there, at the back of my mind: am I just terrible at this? Is the first book so bad that people will never, ever read anything I write again? How could I ever be so arrogant as to think I had a chance as a writer?

There is some good news, though. My current project, an as-yet-untitled contemporary royal romance (not Meghan-and-Harry-related, although I’m hoping they’ll have put people in the mood for it!), is going pretty well. I posted before about how putting together a detailed plan before starting to write made a huge difference to my productivity last time. This time, I’m working from a plan again, but I changed up the method a bit. Rather than plotting scene-by-scene, I actually wrote out the entire thing as one 12,000-word outline. The idea was that, hopefully, this would make it easier for me to spot any plot holes–because I’m looking at the whole plot at once instead of one scene at a time. So far, so good–although it’s normally around the two-thirds mark that the plot holes really make themselves known, and I’m not there yet.

Actually, the real headline here is my output. In the post I linked above, I was excited about having written 40,000 words in three weeks. As of yesterday, I’d written 40,000 words on the new book in 17 days. Sooo… that’s good.

There are some mitigating factors. For instance, I’m writing this one in first person, which I’ve always found a bit easier to do. And I’m sure a large chunk of this 40k won’t make it into the book, because I’m over halfway to my target word count but not yet halfway through the outline, so I’m pretty confident that the beginning needs a trim.

But, overall, I’m excited. This is a personal best for me and a huge improvement on how I used to write. It feels like I’m training my writing muscles and making them stronger–which is strength I’ll need, if I’m going to make a success of this someday.

Meanwhile, I suppose the disappointment with MGS means that I’m building resilience, and I’ll need that too. Onwards and upwards, I guess!


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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.


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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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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 🙂