Friday, 23 December 2011

The thoughts of Mrs Scrooge

And so the year ends, and what a year it has been for me in my writing career (I use that word very loosely). I have joined the e-book revolution, publishing my own books, and even buying a Kindle, and I have to say I've read more in the 4 weeks I've had my Kindle than I've done in a long time. I leave 2012 with a thousand or so people who know my name who did not know it this time last year, but alas that does not mean I can afford a mammoth turkey and all the trimmings because most of those downloads have been freebies. But I have learnt some valuable lessons which will be shaping how I do things in 2012, and these are;

1. Don't believe the hype about 'Kindle Millionaires'.

I think Santa Clause is more genuine than the likes of Amanda Hocking and her pals who 'without any effort' have sold millions of Kindle books. Think about it. How are you going to sell millions of books if no-one knows your name? Readers are unreliable, we all are. We download books, we start them, we discard them, promising ourselves we'll go back, then life gets in the way and you've forgotten about it. But miraculously, all the people who bought Ms Hocking's books, have faithfully finished them, shared them with friends who've also spread the word blah blah blah. I'm sorry to be cynical but I suspect Ms Hocking and her cohorts have agents guiding them in the right direction, thinking up clever marketing plans and making the world think they're more popular than they actually are and it starts a snowball effect. It's been going on in the music industry for years, 'indie' bands who rocket to the top of the chart, who at first seem cool and self-guided but in reality it turns out they are backed by a massive major label who have carefully orchestrated their image and they're actually about as indie as Take That. Without doubt, I have certainly sold more e-books that I ever had hard copies, but my only chance of ever becoming a millionaire is by finding an agent and publisher who will lavish thousands of pounds worth of marketing on me. Which brings me onto;

2. Just because an agent reads your whole manuscript, it doesn't mean they're going to like it.

I was so excited when an agent (I'm not naming names) twice requested my new novel 'Never Forget' (out April 2012 folks), firstly for one of her readers to puruse and secondly for the lady herself. I spent a couple of months boring my friends, without getting carried away with myself, secretly planning what I would do with an advance, should I get one. Only for her to send me an email saying she wouldn't be taking it on because apparently the dialogue wasn't authentic. It's gone to another agent who has kindly ignored me completely, so I've given up the ghost and I'm going to publish it myself. If you're wondering what it's about, it's about two women who meet on the Titanic as it's sinking, and one steals the other's baby and keeps him, bringing him up as her own, and the other woman sets about trying to get her son back.

3. Don't rely on Twitter

As an indie author you're told to use social networking to promote your work, and I say that that's a complete load of nonsense. Like in point 1, you need a band of loyal followers who will retweet your tweets and share your information with their followers and so on and so forth. This is no disrespect to any of my author friends on Twitter, but not one of them have ever retweeted anything about one of my books, except for the writer Mhairi Simpson (@AMhairiSimpson) who kindly retweeted a tweet I did about my UK book store. Other than that, nothing. As usual, the traditional pubbed authors all stick together, promoting each other and ignoring those of us who need a helping hand. My advice is use Twitter by all means, but don't expect it to make you famous, you still need to actually persuade people to read your books and I've yet to figure that one out (as a way of making money anyway).

So as you can see 2011 hasn't been entirely successful for me, there have been a lot of ups and downs and even now, I am toying with the idea of giving up writing. So much rejection does make you question your abilities, then again, I did do my birth chart the other day and it did say that because my house is in something or the other, I am likely to acheive success posthumously. So that's it, I'm going to become famous when I'm dead. Typical!!

Anyway, on that light note. I'd like to wish everyone a lovely Christmas and I hope for all my struggling author friends, 2012 brings them success. As soon as I discover the secret to being discovered, I will share it with you.

It'ssssss Christmasssssssssssssssss

Monday, 24 October 2011

My new cover!!!

This is the actual cover of my new book 'The Line of Passion'! - the previous one didn't have the title!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

How Important is Cover Art?

left: Summerset - not popular?

Now, call me conceited, but I consider Summerset, my first
novel, to be my magnum opus. It was the first proper grown up novel I wrote,
and even several novels later, I think the themes covered in it are
interesting. The beautiful heroine who falls in love with the bookish
schoolteacher, even though the handsome local laird is mad for her, plus all
the historical, sectarian stuff etc. I thought when I published Summerset on
Smashwords, it would prove to be a hit and would be downloaded to the extent
that the others have. But I was wrong. The day I put it on, nothing happened,
not one download for 2 days, before someone took the plunge. Compare this to
Only You and Mad About the Boy, which were put on the site and were downloaded
within seconds. I for one, do not know what makes the cover art for these two
more attractive than Summerset, but it would seem there is something about them
that draws the eye. Maybe it's the genre I right in. I write about glamorous
women leading glamourous lives, so to put sexy types in their halter-neck
dresses on the front, it tells the reader what they're getting. To me, so does
the cover of Summerset. The young girl is innocent and dark haired, like Lou, my
heroine. Seeing as half the novel charts her life from the age of 14-16,I was
hardly going to put some foxy middle aged momma on the cover.

Anyway, it's not for me to explain why this is. But it has
made me look at cover art in general, and I have tosay that when browsing
through indie books, I do find it quite off putting when I see someone has used
a stock photograph and done nothing with photoshop to make it even look
remotely different. Or else they use really tacky typeface, or keep the standard of title at the top, name of author in tiny letters at the
bottom right of the page. Rightly or wrongly, this straight away looks amateurish
and says to me the book inside will be the same - which I'm sure it won't be.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not for a moment saying my covers are brilliant,
because they're not and I would love nothing more to have a big budget and pay
someone to make them look like all the other books in bookstores, but I'm not
at that point at the moment, but I suppose, because I did Graphic Design at
college, I do have a little idea of using themes and colours and if you look at
my books you'll see that there is little variation. This gives the books
branding – another thing that seems to appeal to readers; maybe it's the
feeling of familiarity that does it, you know what you're getting.

It would seem that if you're going to pay out for anything,
then an artist to make your book look snazzy seems to be the most important
thing. Editing and proofreading, of course, are mega important, but to an
extent you can train yourself to edit and can always get someone else to
proofread. But where covers are concerned it would seem you need an outside eye
to interpret your book and make it sellable to the public

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Hello! Is there anybody out there?!

I remember in distant times gone by (well, 3 years ago) when I published Summerset, how I somehow blindly thought that now my book was out in the public domain, that millions of people would be drawn to it and I would be an overnight sensation. Why I thought this, I’m not even sure. Yes, I think it’s a good book, but it isn’t that good, and how would someone like me, with no media profile, be sought out by eager book buyers? I very quickly learned that after badgering friends and family to buy a copy, I suddenly had no audience. This was in the days before the UK was introduced to Kindle, and I thought selling books meant hard copies sold in a book shop. In the UK most book shops, either independent or big chain, won’t touch a self-published book. They still have the stigma and the inaccurate linkage to vanity publishing – poorly edited, badly written stories so obscure no one would be remotely interested. I looked on in awe as I made friends over ‘the Pond’ and discovered that self-pubbed authors in America are allowed into book stores and on local radio shows. Even now that would be unheard of in Britain.

Then I discovered the discussion boards on Amazon. People would post, asking for recommendations. If someone was looking for a romance set in wartime, I would innocently chat to them and mention Summerset, leaving it up to them if they wanted to pursue it further. But slowly, over time, the discussion boards became over-run with other authors, plugging books in categories that had nothing to do with their genre. The same books would have glowing reviews from ‘readers’ who had never reviewed another thing, and suddenly I got lumped in with these ‘trolls’, and after receiving some abuse and a 2 star review from someone, who clearly hadn’t even read the book, (that isn’t vanity, I don’t mind 2 star reviews, but don’t just quote the blurb in the review, say something that proves you’ve read it), I withdrew from the discussion boards and just plugged away, relying on friends passing on my books, or else donating books to second hand shops in the hope someone would read it and pursue my other books.

Now things have changed dramatically. I have discovered Smashwords and Kindle, and in just over a week, my five books have received over 400 downloads on Smashwords alone. Okay, most of these are freebies, but I don’t care about that, I could never have afforded to print out 400 hard copies and donate them to second hand shops. With very little promotion, these books have been sought out and bought or downloaded and for that I’m very grateful. But when I went back onto the Amazon discussion boards, I discovered that authors are now banned from promoting their work full stop. This seems a little unfair to me. Yes the trolls who advertised their cyberpunk, shoot ‘em up novel in a thread where someone’s looking for a book similar to Downton Abbey, deserve to be banned. But should all authors be treated the same? Surely Amazon is awash with advertisements from the big publishers. Log onto any book page and you’ll see recommendations, supposedly because of what you’ve browsed, but uncannily, always a book from a mainstream publisher.

Surely the public have got the sense to just scroll over the trolls, if they’re not interested in what they’ve got to say. Or why not have an Indie Author discussion thread? Then if people are looking for something a little bit different, they can take a look, if not, they can stick to the other threads. Increasingly Amazon are making huge profits from Kindle books, surely they could afford the authors who are bringing them thousands of pounds, a little advertising space and a chance to let the world know what they’ve published.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Why publishers have shot themselves in the foot by selling their souls to 'Sleb Culture'

For many years I have been a member of an online reviewing forum. You know the sort of thing, authors upload chapters for other authors to read and review etc. Within days of joining and being bombarded with countless Harry Potter and Twilight imitations, I suddenly had the utmost sympathy for publishers and literary agents. To be faced, day in, day out with people hoping to make millions by becoming the next JK Rowling or Stephanie Meyer (even though the originals are both young, healthy and have at least another 40 years of writing in them), must be a soul destroying prospect. I have actually found the site quite useful in that often you need a stranger's eye cast upon your work for you to realise where you're going wrong, and the changes they suggest do enhance your story. But there are a small minority who refuse to accept that they need help with punctuation, spelling, grammar, structuring etc etc and when criticism is given, will deliberately seek out your story and write a scathing, free-will review, just to be spiteful.

Imagine being a publisher or agent and having to deal with people like this day in day out. I rather imagine these people to be like those X-Factor contestants who clearly can't sing, but when told by the judges they're never going to make it, start waggling their finger, giving it attitude and telling them that their family love to hear them sing. Yes, your family, who love you and think it's amazing you can belt out Hero when you've had a few; or you've managed to string a few words together and write a story that sort of makes sense. I would hate to have to be the one to break the bad news to people like this and I guess it is people like these who have caused agents to create a 'slush pile' that barely gets looked at.

I have no problem with agents. They do a worthwhile job, and there is no doubt, without one on board it is really hard to get the support you need to make it as an author. Putting your book on Kindle and hoping the world spots it and you become a millionaire is all well and good, but the hard reality is that you need promotion and unless you're very wealthy, most of us indies cannot afford that and are reliant on social media to spread the word. My problem is with publishers, and now they're whinging that things like Kindle and sites like Smashwords are taking away their bread and butter, and look set to 'ruin publishing forever'. Well, I have no sympathy for them whatsoever.

Years ago, when I first ventured forth with a (very badly written) novel, thinking it would be published, I had the option to either send it to an agent or to one of the many publishers who still considered unsolicited manuscripts. Quite rightly I got turned down, shoved my MS away and got on with things like going to University and getting a job. Ten years later I tried once more (novel slightly better written),and was astounded to discover that the mainstream publishers are now only accepting manuscripts from agents. Of course, I can see their point. They were trying to save money and to employ someone to go through the slush pile would cost a lot (although some might say an undergraduate on work experience would know if a book was readable or not), so it's easier to use the services of an agent to weed out the wheat from the chaff.

All fine and dandy, but then suddenly, in came the celebrities. In the UK, all starting off with Katie Price and her ghost-written novels, closely followed by Kerry Katona. Now joined by Martine McCutcheon, Colleen Nolan, Sharon Osbourne, Fern Britton, Penny Smith etc. Whilst the last five have all penned their novels themselves, I have personally known people to read novels by them and remark upon how badly written they are. (Don't believe me, check out the 2 and 3 star reviews for McCutcheon and Smith on amazon). Novels have become part of a brand, like perfume, calendars and clothing; and publishers - tempted by the lure of filthy lucre - have bought right into it.

All this would be fine, if the money raised by people inexplicably buying books by said celebrities, was then ploughed into nurturing new talent. The royalties from one Katie Price novel would pay for two graduates to sit sifting through a slush pile. But no, the doors are still closed to new writers and agents are so overwhelmed without Rowling and Meyer copycats that they too have no choice but to become over-choosy, often only picking novels that have been professionally edited to read in their entirety. Now publishers are sticking out their bottom lips and sulking because people have taken matters into their own hands and joined the Kindle revolution. Unfortunately, the X-Factor types are out there, publishing books that quite rightly should never see the light of day. But if someone has paid 99p for said novel, they won't feel so bad about just deleting it from their Kindle. How many of us have got iPhones or an iPod Touch and downloaded loads of free or cheap apps with the attitude that if they're crap we'll just get rid of them and won't have lost much? When I set up my reviewing website, I received self-published books that were so well-written, so engaging - and yes, edited perfectly, that it was a travesty that a publisher overlooked them in favour of some vacuous wannabe off the telly.

No doubt over the coming years, publishers will pull themselves out of their current mire and create some sort ofstranglehold on the industry, which prevents indie authors from publishing on Kindle and Smashwords. But I suggest when this does happen, they use it to publish decent quality fiction, not just celebrity tittle tattle aimed at selling units and nothing else.

I know, in writing this, I've probably jeopardised any chance I ever had of getting a mainstream deal, and I'll be accused of snobbery. After all, a friend once said to me that regardless whether or not Katie Price writes her books, it gets young girls who might not normally pick up a book, to start reading. This is of course true, andgood luck to the celebrities who are stretching out their fifteen minutes by trying to become authors. But proper writing is a long-honed craft whichmany people start in childhood and don't properly perfect until middle-age.It is also worrying that, if they were alive today, Jane Austen would need to get her tits out on Big Brother to be able to sell a few copies of Pride and Prejudice, and Emily Bronte would probably have to expose her inner torment on the Jeremy Kyle Show before a publisher would even deign to look at Wuthering Heights.