The Opposite of Popular

The online home of alleged author Victoria Leybourne


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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 🙂

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


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First peek – The Murano Glass Slipper

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

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

Continue reading


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That’s it, I’m burning my pants.

Time for a status update!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Goodreads Giveaways – some thoughts and graphs

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

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

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

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

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

Giveaway #1

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

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

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

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

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

graph showing a big spike in readers

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

screenshot of the page for the first giveaway

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

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

Giveaway #2

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

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

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

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

a screenshot from the second giveaway showing showing 1842 entries

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

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

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

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

Did the giveaways translate into sales?

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

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

Tips

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

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

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