They’re Not Always Right, You’re Not Always Wrong

ReaderWe all need advice, a helping hand, a guide. And that’s when we can turn to someone with more experience, who’s been there and done it, so that, hopefully, we can avoid the common mistakes and pitfalls.

Whether you’re just starting out, or already seasoned in publishing, there’s always more to learn. Technology and the internet changes so rapidly, and strategies that worked yesterday, don’t always work today. As authors, we can never stop learning and adapting. But with that, comes the feeling that we’re still inexperienced, still naive, just stumbling blindly along the path, and it can be all too easy to follow those ahead of you, blindly, assuming they know exactly where they’re going.

These people, and their advice, aren’t difficult to find. There are countless podcasts and blogs and books covering just about every aspect of writing, publishing, and book marketing you can imagine, and even some that you hadn’t yet thought of.

For the most part, they know exactly where they’re going, and you can happily follow them. But it’s worth bearing in mind that sometimes, their destination might be different to yours, or, even if it’s the same destination, their route might be different to the one you wanted to take. And occassionally, you’ll meet one of those people who speak with absolute assuredness, but they’re actually completely lost.

So, how can you tell the difference? How do you know when to follow, and when to make your own path?

For one, trust your instincts. Will they always be right? No. But if you stay true to yourself, and to the kind of author you want to be, you can’t go too far wrong.

And second, don’t be scared to make mistakes. We all do. All the experts have too. And we learn far more, and far quicker from our own mistakes than we do from other people’s. No one has a flawless journey, there will be roadblocks and detours, dead ends and circular routes, but if you remember where you want to go, you can find your way back.

Always stay open to advice, to trying new things, to being persuaded and changing your mind. Always. But listen to your gut too. You’re a lot smarter than you realise.

Warts and All (Why You Should be Real with Your Readers)

BooksWe’ve all experienced it: posting something on social media, and receiving a comment along the lines of ‘great pic, check out my profile’. Sometimes it’s painfully clear that they’ve not read your post, or even looked at the image, they’ve simply addressed you because of your hashtags and content. It’s not engaging, it’s not interesting, and it certainly doesn’t inspire you to check out their content, let alone buy their services or products.

And the reason is simple: people like to be treated as people. They like to be spoken to as a person, by a person. And you are a person, don’t let that get lost under marketing.

Imagine meeting someone for the first time, and the conversation going like this:

“Hello, it’s nice to meet you.”
“Buy my book.”
“Oh, so you’re an author are you?”
“Buy my book.”
“That must be an interesting job.”
“Buy my book.”

You’d give up on that pretty quickly, wouldn’t you? It’s annoying, it’s intrusive, and it shows your readers one thing; that you don’t care about them.

When I was young, the only way I could find out about my idols was interviews in magazines. But we live in an amazing time now that we can chat with the people we admire. They’re no longer out of reach, so far above us on their pedestals that they can neither hear nor see us. It’s amazing for fans, but it’s amazing for writers too. We can connect with our readers, and engage with them on a friendship-like level.

I know a lot of writers struggle with what to post on social media. Set your rules. Whether that be no pictures of my children, no pictures to identify where I live. That’s fine, we all have a right to our privacy and security. But beyond that, go for it. Show your readers who you are. Show them you doing yoga in the morning. I bet some of your readers do yoga too. Show them you walking your dog. I bet several of them have dogs. Show them you browsing books in a library, finding a charity shop bargain, eating fish and chips from the wrapper, your favourite reading chair, a miserable rainy afternoon, your huge coffee mug, your fluffy slippers, your secret chocolate stash. These are the things your readers will relate to.

Show yourself as someone they want to be friends with.

Because, if they like you, if they’re interested in you, when you say, “by the way, I have a new book out if you want to take a look”, they actually will. And it’s not hard, there’s no big secret. All you have to do is be your own wonderful self.

Lessons I Learnt from Writing my First Book Series

BooksComing to the end of my first series, and starting on my second got me thinking about what I wanted to do differently. About the mistakes I made, and the lessons I learnt.

Start Your Series Bible While You’re Plotting

I definitely learnt this the hard way. I started my series bible while I was writing book 3. I’ve never finished it. I spent much of my writing time flicking through the previous books looking up character names and fact checking. Having my series bible would have been so much easier.

You won’t remember side character names, or which side of your main character’s nose has the scar, or what they ate for breakfast that morning. Start your series bible right at the beginning, and keep it up to date throughout.

Plot Subsequent Books Before Writing the First

One word: foreshadowing. I had a lot of happy accidents with my first series, but it would have been great to have been able to purposefully place things that would be used in subsequent books. It links them together (and makes you look clever).

Knowing how the series ends before you start writing it allows you to place hints and little reveals along the way. It keeps you focussed, and keeps your characters focussed, and just makes for a tighter, more coherent series.

Release in Quick Succession (no one cares about an unfinished series)

Marketing your books is tough when your series is unfinished. There’s so much I’ve put off until the last book’s released. And I really feel for those quick readers, the ones reading a book a day, unable to complete the story. I worry that I might lose them in the wait between books. Many readers won’t even start a series until it’s finished.

I’m not the fastest writer, and I’ve managed to get the time it takes to produce a book, from plotting to release, down to around six to nine months, but I’d like to get it down even more. Pre-plotting all the books is a good start, allowing me to jump into writing book 2 the second book 1 goes off to betas.

Retain Your Beta Readers (but accept that you’ll likely lose some)

Picking up new beta readers part way through a series brings its own issues: do you send them the previous books and wait that much longer while they read them all, or get their opinion of it as a standalone? It could give an interesting perspective, but where do you find beta readers happy to read a random book from the middle of a series they don’t know?

Far better to recruit a good number at the start, understanding that you’re likely to lose some along the way, and keep hold of them throughout. After all, good beta readers are like gold dust, and you should be keeping them close regardless.

Outsource What You Can (and use the same suppliers)

Writing and publishing a whole series is a huge undertaking, and if you are aiming to publish in rapid succession, there’s a load of stuff you can outsource to save yourself the time and effort: editing, proofreading, formatting, blurb writing, cover design, marketing. Of course, we don’t all have endless budgets for this, so outsource what you can’t do yourself.

With a series, consistency is key. You want loyal readers to know at a glance which books are in the same series. Just as you wouldn’t change the main character’s name after book 2, where you can, use the same suppliers. You know what you’re getting, and, hopefully, there won’t be any surprises to deal with.

Meeting my Monster

EditingI like shiny things. I’m always getting distracted by them when I’m meant to be doing something else. And new story ideas are the shiniest things of all.

I’ve always enjoyed first drafts the most. I’m a recent convert to plotting, and I still leave enough wriggle room for my characters to chuck in a few curveballs to surprise me. First drafts are exciting and mysterious, they take you on unexpected adventures. They are, for me, the epitome of creativity.

Editing, on the other hand, is a beast. It’s the monster under my bed. I’ve never enjoyed it. It’s tweaking, and touching up. It’s dabs of paint rather than the sweeping strokes of the first draft. I know plenty of authors who love editing, but for me it’s a chore.

What makes it worse, even more monstrous, is the time between finishing writing and starting editing. It’s commonly given advice to wait before editing your new manuscript, to let it settle, so that you can approach it with a little distance and fresh eyes.

In that time, be it a month, a week, or just a few days, the self doubt creeps in. What if my story is worse than I remember? What if it’s not even salvageable? Or the equally terrifying possibility of it being the best thing ever written. It’s a Schrödinger’s cat.

Of course, once I start editing, it’s never as bad as I feared. And a few chapters in, I even start to enjoy it. It’s just hard to pluck up the courage to start, to face it, to answer those questions.

It’s like hearing a scratching in your closet at night.

5 Ways to Market your Book that Don’t Feel Dirty

BooksI know a lot of writers that are scared of marketing their book, worried about annoying people, or coming across as rude. I know others that are confused by it, and don’t know where to start. I even know writers who refuse to do any marketing because they believe it to be evil in all of its forms.

I’ve thought all of these things myself, at one time or another. Somehow, marketing feels completely at odds with the creative act of writing a book. It feels like marketing it – thinking of the book as a product, thinking of yourself as a brand – somehow sullies it, turns it from a labour of love into something dirty, something to be hard sold to unwilling consumers.

I made the decision to complete a book marketing course, and it was the best decision I made. I was able to completely change my mindset. Because I learnt to market books properly without turning beloved readers into faceless customers.

But if you’re still uncomfortable with the concept, there are some ways to get your work out there that barely feel like marketing at all.

  1. Put yourself out there. Get yourself a presence online. Join social networks. Go to local literary festivals and conventions. Talk to people, make friends and connections. Just be your wonderful self.
  2. Start a conversation. Talk about what interests you, what you’re reading, the movies you like, music, fashion, gardening. Ask people questions, be interested in them. And when they ask what you do, tell them you’re an author. And when they ask what you’ve written, tell them. They’re asking because they’re already interested, there’s no need to hard sell.
  3. Club together. Submit your book to a group promotion. These are always happening, so find one for your genre (or a mixed genre promotion), and the platform you use (BookFunnel, Instafreebie, Kindle Unlimited, Amazon countdown deal), and join in. There are lots of Facebook groups set up solely to organise group promos. When you promote the promo, you’re not saying “Buy my book! Buy my book!”, you’re simply saying “Hey, check out all these great books, why not grab a few?”
  4. Pay it forward. If you find it hard to push your own book, why not push someone else’s? Share other authors’ posts, and many will share yours too. Or reach out to them and organise a swap. Just bear in mind point No 2 above; don’t turn your social media page into a stream of book promos.
  5. Remember that you’re a reader too. Book marketing 101 is to know your ideal reader, and to be where they are. There are genre reading groups on the social networks. Join in. Chat about the books you love too. ALWAYS check the group’s rules on self promo before posting a link to your own book. Or, if you feel uncomfortable pushing your own work, just make friends, and tell them about your book when they ask.