Writing, Waiting & Wondering

This blog will be reporting me for neglect before too long but I assure you I’ve not flown off on my broomstick to pastures new and green.

witch

However, I do feel like I’m in limbo land at the moment. After the build up to launching  The Siren and Other Strange Tales;  – all the editing, formatting, checking and double checking – once it was over I felt rather flat and a bit lost.

feeling flat

Then the reality of marketing and promoting set in. There were sites where I needed to upload/update the book’s details; social media to manage, guest blogs to write. I understand that I need a fan base, a platform from which to launch my wares but I struggle to find creative, diverse and subtle ways of saying ‘just buy the bloody book will ya?’

Somehow through it all this Blog got put to one side.

Following on from The Siren’s launch I drafted a plan for loosing my first novel ‘The Weave’  into the world. I had approached a few agents, more in hope than expectation, all of whom said thanks but no thanks. Then I had one more try and the synopsis and first three chapters duly landed on the agent’s desk. I forgot about it until I got an email asking to see the whole mss. I sat looking at the email, my mouth so far agape I began to drool on the keyboard. Now this might not seem like much but for me who has never had a foot over the threshold of trad. publishing, it seemed like a huge step forward.

But then the spanner hit the works. Do I go ahead with my own publishing plan anyway? Do I commission the cover? Do I send review copies out? What if (wild imagining here) the agent wants to represent me, everything will change, won’t it? And at that point, just as my ancient PC does when I give it too much to consider and organise, I froze; hung up; went into stasis and will not unfreeze I suspect until I have a reply from the agent.

In an effort to  break loose I began book number 2 set in the 13th century. I got about a quarter way through the first draft and then lost the plot…literally. I am back to my old nemesis – I know what the beginning and the ending are going to be like but what happens in between…??? I may have mentioned it in earlier posts I have a disc full of novel sandwiches without their filling. I am determined that this one will not join them and have decided to take a break from it for a wee while. Instead I am researching and pitching some magazine articles just for a change of scene.

So there’s a quick update for those of you wondering whether I’m away travelling on my time machine. I would say watch this space but I won’t because it may only be a blank screen.

Oh and did I mention that I’ve quit smoking, the cartilage in my right knee has gone awol  so I need a new knee and I’ve acquired a gorgeous seven-month old Alsatian/Husky dog called Petra?

To Market, To Market, To Sell a New Book

I’m back from a whistle-stop tour down the East Yorkshire coast where, with copies of my book about the coast “Close to the Edge” in hand and hope in my heart, I did the rounds of libraries, museums, indie bookshops, tourist offices and (thanks to a brill idea from photographer June Berridge) the large caravan parks.

It was an enjoyable if exhausting experience with lots of learning points to reflect on. So here goes.

1. You can’t prepare soon enough for your marketing activities. I had a rather fixed idea that it would be better to see people in person (and I still think so) but with that wonderful thing hindsight, I should have at least dropped an e-mail to some of the people I wished to meet. As it was, several were on holiday so I made double work for myself in having to contact them on my return. However, I’ve still managed to get the book into the three relevant libraries. I donated a copy to each of them (received with thanks in these austere times) and they will appear in the local history section. Note to self: in future go direct to the Library Acquisitions person based in local council offices.

2. Be as clear as possible about who will be likely to buy the book and think “out of the box”. June’s idea of the caravan sites, packed with tourists was a brilliant one and I was able to leave wodges of leaflets and sell some copies at those I visited.

3. Places that sell books are not likely to appreciate any promo that says “available from Amazon” on it. Doh! I made the mistake of having some flyers printed featuring the front cover of the book with just that written on it. Only the caravan parks were willing to accept them. It’s obvious now I come to think of it but the original purpose of the flyers was a different one which leads me to…

4. I had intended to use the flyers as mini-posters believing that the local supermarkets and visitor centres would let me post them on their notice boards. However, they turned out to be more useful as ‘grab and go’ leaflets so the large box of drawing pins and a wodge of blutack were redundant.

5. Be aware of the space that some potential outlets have for displaying books. The tourist offices I visited were small with little shelf space. However, I have been able to do a “sale or return” deal with one of the larger ones but even so, they don’t want to stock more than a half dozen. They take 10% of the sale price by the way.

6. Check opening times! I would have saved myself time and the price of several lattes, if I’d checked earlier for some of places I wanted to visit.

7. Have some sort of ‘pitch’ ready. I’m really uncomfortable trying to sell anything and found myself gabbling away to some poor soul that I cornered. After the first day, it went a bit smoother and by the last day I had it down pat. I wish I’d thought out what to say sooner. Be upfront about price and not apologetic and squirmy. The price is the price – take it or leave it…in the nicest possible way.

8. Listen to what potential buyers/stockists say to you. I picked up quickly on the fact that although the book covers the whole East Yorkshire coastline, the buyers/stockists wanted to know specifically whether the contents covered their specific town/village and was able to adjust what I said to them accordingly. I also found that they were able to suggest other places and people to contact that I wasn’t aware of (see 1 above) so I came back with a load of new contacts. I also learned more about stockists’ buying process and how that works.

9. This is a point I’ve read a zillion times elsewhere – it’s the cover that counts. Even if you’re doing the whole publishing shebang on a shoestring I would suggest that the biggest and best investment to make is in the cover. My cover features a photo of Spurn Point which spreads across front and back and drew a lot of positive comments – I think because it’s quite striking and a bit intriguing. But it’s the cover that buyers/stockists look at first, last and in between. They’ll riffle the pages a bit but they always come back to the cover.

Photo of Spurn Point - adapted for the cover

Photo of Spurn Point – adapted for the cover

10. Finally, if, like me, you have to travel around to do your marketing bit, have a good friend with a comfy sofa where you can flop out at night.

E-Day for “Close to the Edge – Tales from the Holderness Coast”

Tomorrow the Kindle version of my history/travel book becomes available on Amazon. The Paperback is already out and some lovely people have bought it – more than I anticipated since I don’t really get into the marketing swing until 10 August when I’m back in the UK.

I thought I’d share some of the marketing ideas that I’ve put together and the responses I’ve had to them -bear in mind that this is a non-fiction book and likely to have a limited audience.

1. I’ve had A5 posters made of the cover. I spent ages agonising over the size of these – naturally I thought the bigger the better. However, the posters are going to library, museum, visitor centre and supermarket notice boards in the towns and villages down the coast that feature in the book. The decision about size was taken on the basis that there is always pressure for space and it’s far easier to remove a large poster to make more space.

2. I’ve been fortunate enough to have articles published in a number of regional magazines and I approached the editors to see whether they would review the book. As all have agreed to do so a copy is winging its way to each of them.

3. I’ve used social media to a limited extent mainly because I don’t want to put folk into a catatonic state as I rabbit on. Creative1 publishing – the company that formatted the e-book has offered to do a number of tweets about it for me and of course I use this blog, Facebook and Twitter. In addition I’ve uploaded a number of the photos from the book as well as some that didn’t make it to Pinterest – www.pinterest.com/sheila0661/close-to-the-edge and I’ll be adding to the Board over the next few weeks.

First Spurn Lighthouse later used for storing explosives.

First Spurn Lighthouse later used for storing explosives.


4. I’ve approached the local radio station to see whether they would be interested in running a short piece as well. So far, the air waves are silent.

5. I now regularly follow some of the local newspapers to pick up any snippets of news relating to the area I’ve written about. This enables me to contribute to any debate or news item on-line without overtly touting the book.

I find, like many independent publishers/authors, that marketing is just not my thing. I shrink from banging on too much about The Book and don’t find it easy to “naturally” mention it in both on-line and direct conversations. When I’m back in the UK I’m going to a couple of independent bookshops in the area to see whether they would take the book on and that fills me with some trepidation too…and I’m not normally what you might describe as a shrinking violet. I can’t quite put my finger on why this is just yet so I’ve tried to adopt the attitude – “if you don’t ask – you’ll never get”. I also keep asking myself – “What’s the worst that could happen?” and have (perversely) rather pleasurable moments thinking up the most horrifying answers. It helps to soothe the fears.

So this is where I’m at right now. Saturday 1 August is E-Day for “Close to the Edge – Tales from the Holderness Coast” – it’s also Yorkshire Day so it seems fitting. Breath is baited!

Close to the Edge? Close to Meltdown!

Long time no write! Since my last post I’ve been eagerly awaiting a verdict from the publisher about my book Close to the Edge. Finally, after getting all excited and talking turkey with the publisher, I get it kicked back with a comment that as they’re going to publish another book about East Yorkshire, they don’t want to take on a second one until sales figures are in. Did it really have to take eight weeks for them to tell me this? So after a week sticking pins in my voodoo doll, I’ve recovered my equilibrium and am on the move with the first version of the book – a Kindle version.

The Holderness Coast in days of yore

The Holderness Coast in days of yore

The book has a great selection of images both old and new (you’ll probably have to magnify this one to see it clearly) and I’ve learned that copyright is a minefield even for items that are over the prescribed time limits. I’ve spent so much time trying to track down owners, owners relatives, owners best friends and owners dog called Poochie that I’m beginning to think it isn’t worth the candle to include anything other than my own images. Still, ’tis done now as best I could.

I’ll by posting some of the images that didn’t make it into the book over on Pinterest – look for the Board called Close to the Edgeand over the next few weeks I’ll add to it. I’m also going to be making a few short clips for youtube so watch out for those as well.

So lots of final details to deal with whilst at the same time, I’m pressing on with a selection of spooky short stories – four written and three to go…oh and of course celebrating the anniversary of my first year in France (any excuse for a party). Suffice it to say I came, I saw and was conquered. It’s definitely home now.

Seductive Synopses

Something from the motivational conference I attended earlier this week must have snuck into one of the spare rooms in my brain because I have shifted some work this week. For the first time ever I chose to put writing above the day job so I got a real feel for what life might be like if I ever give up the day job.

In line with my policy of trying to get a couple of articles accepted every month I have a queue of pieces all waiting in their allotted folders to be fully developed. The basic idea is there together with notes and research material. To get them all placed I sent out a half-dozen pitches and whilst I was at the conference two came back as acceptances…well one had a laconic “let me have a look” but ever the optimist I take that as a yes. Writing those two articles kept me full at it until the witching hour on Tuesday.

But the big thing this week was a nibble from a publisher and very pleasant it was too. In a rush of enthusiasm, on spec I had submitted a 150 word general summary of the book The Uncertain Coast via the publishers’ website. Just in case you’ve forgotten the Uncertain Coast is an illustrated light-touch history of the towns and villages lost to the sea on the unstable Holderness coast and of some of the people who lived in them. On Wednesday the publishers came back and asked for a full synopsis.

Yikes – this presents something of a problem. They want details of word count, how many photos/piccys, chapters and chapter summaries, markets and market sizes, hat and shoe sizes – no I made those up just to check you’re still awake. The problem is I simply don’t know. I’m about a third of the way through the research and have just the first chapter written plus two others.

I’m not great at planning out a structure, chapters and content before I’ve completed the research. When I judge I’ve got all the material I can access together, then I start to fit the pieces and the book evolves. So collecting up some emergency rations – fruit, energy bars and sport water – what? Who wrote that? My emergency rations come in the form of choccy, cashew nuts and a fruity red wine. I went into conclave with my co-author i/c photography and we knocked something into shape. I was elected to turn that something into a persuasive, seductive come-and-buy-me to the publishers.

I’m currently on version 5, weary, wordless (well almost) and most telling of all, I’ve realised that seduction is not my forte.

Y’all have a good weekend now.

And Now For Something Serious…

I attended a motivational conference yesterday run by two guys who have developed their own approach to motivating and inspiring people to be the best they can be. They have written books about their approach and whilst their methods do not include torture, bribery and blackmail (they’ve always worked for me) the books have zoomed off the shelves in numbers – although not quite Tony Robbins’ level …yet. They also provide consultancy and coaching to individuals and businesses using their motivational weapons.

I attended the event because, as a writer of mainly non-fiction, I wanted to see how the authors managed this aspect of their marketing platform and, if truth be told, now and again the motivation department does need a bit of a kick up the butt.

So here are some observations that might be useful for any of you looking to promote your book(s). With some adaptation and a bit of imagination the approach holds good for both fiction and non-fiction.

1. The event was free; held in the conference centre of a very popular UK theme park with free entry into the park. This encouraged delegates to bring spouses/kids who hit the rides whilst the delegate attended the conference. Some delegates plus family had booked in to the hotels at the Park for the weekend – so good for theme park biz too.
Learning point– make sure sponsors and others who support you get something out of it too.

2. Publicity for the event came through social networks, especially a LInkdIn community and through word-of-mouth.
Learning point – tap your networks and those of your sponsors/supporters. If it’s free – they will come.

3. The back-of-room book sales area was well managed and spacious. All the books they had written (same book but targeted at different markets in effect) were on display as well CDs and all were offered at half the normal price (the reason will become clear later). Early sales were slow, lunch-time sales were the heaviest and after-event sales were slow because most delegates wanted to hit the rides in the theme park.
Learning point – timing is everything and white-knuckle rides will always win over book sales.

4. Although the two guys were the main speakers, they shared the platform with a couple of others as supporting acts. There were also individual and groups of clients/ex-clients giving testimonials.
Learning point – share the power and the glory; share the fame or the pain.

5. It takes good public speaking skills and confidence particularly where there is a large audience.
Learning point – practice makes perfect but if you’re truly terrified, don’t do it.

6. The whole event was videoed and delegates were asked to do short pieces to camera giving their views about the books and the conference itself. These went up on a website later that evening.
Learning point – keep the memories alive and show those that couldn’t be there what they missed.

7. The content from the main guys was short, to the point and included information about their latest book due out in September (hence the price-cutting of the books). If I had paid to attend I would have felt short-changed.
Learning point – be generous with your time and material and go easy on promotional stuff – leave that to the back-of-room sales department.

8. The atmosphere was informal, relaxed and fun but not happy-clappy. The audience was invited to participate in fun no-hassle exercises .
Learning point – interaction with the audience, whilst scary builds atmosphere, relationships and your fan base.

9. It ended mid-afternoon with plenty of time left for those rides!
Learning point – if there are other attractions/opportunities on offer give your audience time to savour them.

So those are the thoughts of this newly refreshed, reborn and highly motivated blogger and now I’m off to bed.

If You Publish, They Will Come – Ha!

I’ve been tied up with the day job this week so have had little time to blog but did catch up with my Reader items plus read a book that I wish I’d found six months ago – more of that to come.

The posts that go into my Reader have one thing in common – their authors are working their butts off getting their books in print and promoting them. My own efforts look particularly feeble by comparison. If hard work, perseverance and sheer bloody-mindedness count for anything they all deserve spectacular success.

It’s clear that being an accomplished writer is just not enough if you follow the self-publishing route. You also need to be entrepreneurial in spirit, a great salesperson not afraid to blow your own trumpet, inventive, think-on-the-hoof type, publicist and self PR and probably much more. It’s not enough to say “all I want to do is write” unless of course you’re happy for your pearls to languish unseen in the bottom of a drawer.

I suppose I was naive when I published Time for Your Life. Actually no I wasn’t naive I was just plain stoopid. I think somehow, somewhere I had this computation that the book would almost sell itself. Perhaps I have this subconscious arrogance that tells me “cream rises”. Whatever delusions I was suffering under they were put to flight with a vengeance when I read “Self-Printed – the Sane Persons Guide to Self-Publishing” by Catherine Ryan Howard (she blogs as Catherine Caffeinated). This book is an account of how she came to self-publish her own non-fiction and what worked for her in marketing and selling. She’s very clear that the book is about the way she did it and makes no claims for it to be the only way but her sales figures speak for themselves. She also is a very funny writer.

Well what an eye-opener. I think I can claim to have made every mistake possible and the really really really irritating thing is that what she writes just makes total sense if you are going to self-publish. At least it does to me…now. Grrrrrrr!

So I’m wondering if there’s some spore or virus that is released into the atmosphere when a writer is about to self-publish that unless you are really smart completely blinds you to the work that lies ahead turns your brain into a soft gooey mush and sucks out any last remnants of practicality and common sense – just for good measure.

Or is it that I have a very active self-deception gene? Please tell me I’m not alone.

Have a good weekend – I’ll be back next week.