What I Learned from my Book Launch

Last week I launched my first independently published book, a collection of 12 short stories with diary extracts, taking you on my journey from unpublished writer to debut novelist. As you will have gathered from this masterly description, although it was my first self published book, it was not my first published book. My teen novel, Victoria’s Victorian Victory, was released last year by Rainy Day Reads Publishing. The thing with this, though, is that they launched the book. I let everyone know on social media, but that was the end of my role really. With my new book, is was all down to me. Perhaps because of that, I staged a rather elaborate launch across all of my platforms. Some things I got very right, some things I got a little wrong. As you know, I always like to share my experiences so other writers can use them. So here’s what I learned:


You will have to give away quite a few paperbacks.

I staged paperback as well as eBook giveaways across all of my social media sites. I also sent one out to each of my market research team. Doing so created a buzz on the day, with lots of people entering the competitions. Over 4000 people saw my post on twitter alone. Having said that, many of these will be giveaway accounts. It’s a good idea to exclude these if you want someone to win the book who really wants it. If you’re not bothered about that and just want the publicity then it’s a great tool.

Sending out paperbacks also keeps the momentum going. As everyone starts to receive their free paperbacks they will likely post about it on their social media for you. They may also give you a great review.


Make sure you get the book absolutely right.

If you’re going to make a big fuss on your launch day, you need to make sure the book is worth fussing over. People will be quick to spot all hype with no substance. Make sure the eBook and paperback are both the best you can make them. It’s a good idea to get a proof of the paperback sent to you beforehand to check if you can. This really pays off though. I’ve had a lot of great comments on the quality of my paperback in particular.


Have some advance reviews to share. This tells people, not only that your book is now available to buy, but why they should buy it. I only had a couple, and I shared them the day after the launch, but they made a big difference.


Use videos to get more views. People on social media like videos. They are more personal, they get to see and hear you, and they still have a certain novelty about them. The two videos I posted to Instagram, one telling everyone what was happening, the other doing a short reading from the new book, got more interaction than any of the other things I posted that day. I also did a Facebook live session. I’ll be honest, not many people tuned in for that and it was slightly off-putting. I think I did it too early in the day. However, I needn’t have worried- lots of people have watched it on playback. However, next time I do a live video I may try it on Instagram. Instagram sends out a notification to all your followers that you are live. So we will see if that works better.


Don’t expect huge sales straight away. Unless you’re spending a lot of money on advertising, these things take time. They build like a snowball. For now, lots of people on social media are hearing how great my new book is. Some bought it straight away. More will follow. Interestingly, I’ve also seen an increase of sales for my novel. I guess if people like one book then they are more likely to buy the other.


As always, I hope you find that helpful, and please feel free to add your experiences in the comments.

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New Book Cover Reveal!

If you follow this blog or my social media, you’re probably aware that I’ll be releasing my very own short story collection in October. So obviously I’ve been working very hard getting it right for you, and the cover is finally ready for the big reveal! (Though newsletter subscribers have already seen it…) Anyway, here it is:

And the back:

There’s all sorts of great giveaways, readings and events planned for release day, so make sure you’re following me on Instagram and/or Twitter (username for both is @abiwriting), or signed up to my newsletter, so as not to miss out!

Moving Experiences

“It’s exhausting moving house,” I remarked to hubby this evening. And indeed, I really think it is the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done. Even more so than getting married. It’s not just the packing, lugging about and unpacking of innumerable boxes. In fact, the moving day itself was the easiest of the lot. Several family members came to help, and by 7:00 we were all sat outside in the sunshine eating the most enormous Indian takeaway you have ever seen.

No, the next day, wherein we had to go back to the old house and get it cleaned up for the new occupier, was by far worse. Is there anything more dismal than a house with all your furniture and belongings moved out of it? And is it just me who suddenly realises that they really ought to have vacuumed under the bed and behind the fridge semi-occasionally? I was never more embarrassed when my mother and father in law removed these particular items and revealed what was underneath. I fleetingly resolved to spend less time reading and writing and more time on housework. I say fleetingly because I’m now starting to think it would be easier just to never move house ever again.

Anyway, once the old house was ready to hand over, it was time to concentrate on the new one. A few new items of furniture being needed, we set forth to IKEA, and five hours and four trolleys later we congratulated ourselves in having remembered everything. We subsequently discovered that our new dining room table came in two boxes, of which we only had the second one. So we had to go again, which somehow ended up being another five hours and a further two trolleys. I think we have almost everything now…

IKEA is a delightful place, but it does pall when all the muscles in your feet ache. And then when you get home you still have to assemble the furniture. Hubby is complaining of ‘Allen key arm.’ But I was very good and didn’t get upset when he made a mistake with the console table and left four little holes evenly spaced all along the front.

We have also done seven trips to the recycling centre with all the resulting cardboard from said furniture and the boxes. However, we love our little tiny house and are finally starting to get organised. I’ve arranged my new bookshelves by colour. And I’ve finally even found time to write a blog post.

What To Do Before You Publish Your Book

There’s nothing that feels flatter than sending your hard work out into the world, only to realise that your audience is either indifferent, or worse, nonexistent. The problem is, many authors make the mistake of thinking that it’s enough to develop a small social media following and then do one or two posts about their book release immediately before or during publication. But in fact, only a very small percentage of your social media followers will rush out and buy your book. There are just so many authors out there, only a millionaire could buy every book advertised on their social media the moment it’s released. So you need to build excitement for your book and show people why they need to read it. Here’s a few suggestions on how to do this:

1) Grow an email list. Please, if you’re releasing books that are barely making a ripple in the sea of social media, put your pen down and create a smaller pond. Yes, it takes time away from writing. You may have to release your book a few months later. But it’s worth it. People on your email list are far more likely to buy your book than people on your social media.

2) Get your audience involved. Ask your email list and/or social media to help you name a character, choose a title, or critique a blurb. Readers will enjoy a book they feel they’ve had a part in making so much more.

3) Release regular updates. As parts of your book become finalised, such as the cover, keep your audience informed of its progress. This not only keeps everyone updated and creates anticipation, it gives people multiple opportunities to see that you have a book coming out.

4) Get advance reviews. I really regret not doing this for Victoria’s Victorian Victory. I meant to, just a weird combination of circumstances meant I couldn’t. But what that means is you have to wait for reviews until after your release day. Which means you can’t tell everyone what great things others are saying about the book to build excitement on the release day itself. And those who do buy your book that day will likely take a week or two to read and review it. By that time, most people have forgotten about your book release. Harsh, but true.

5) Do a blog tour. This is something I did do. Ask a few bloggers you know to host you on their sites. I had five or six guest blog posts lined up, and the lovely ladies who published them for me kindly staggered them to go out every two days leading up to my book release. It got me a lot of great exposure.

6) Send out a press release. It doesn’t cost anything to email a press release to your local paper, but it may result in some great free advertising if they take up the story. And if they don’t, what have you lost?

I hope those are some helpful suggestions. Remember, releasing a book is a big, exciting thing. Treat every book you publish as special. Make a fuss. Because if you don’t, no one else will.

How To Write A Cover Letter


 If you’re looking to be traditionally or independently published then one of the most important things you will ever write is your cover letter. It can make the difference between an agent/publisher reading your submission straight away or mentally consigning it to the bottom of the pile. A bad cover letter may mean your submission doesn’t even get read. This may seem unfair, but from their point of view, if you can’t write a good letter, how can you have written a good book? 
 So how do we get your submission to the top of the slush pile? 

1. Research. Spend some time on the publisher/agents website to familiarize yourself with what they are looking for. Always follow their submission guidelines. And always start your letter with their personal name. 

2. Remember they’re busy. Three, or at the most four, paragraphs should be ample. Include only relevant details. 

3. Be professional. Know exactly what you’re offering them. Be confident, but don’t brag. 

4. Check for mistakes. A cover letter with grammar, punctuation and/or spelling errors raises serious forebodings in the mind of an agent or publisher. They are now pretty confident they can expect the same from your manuscript excerpt. This is most off-putting when they’ve asked for a polished piece of writing. 

 So, now we know how to say it, what exactly are we going to say? This is the layout I’ve found works: 

 In paragraph one briefly summarise your story in one or two sentences. This is what I put for my book, Victoria’s Victorian Victory- 

 ‘When their Pa dies, only fourteen year old Victoria realises that, in an age of industrial and agricultural revolution, new possibilities are emerging not only for farmers but for females. She hatches a bold plan to run the farm herself with the help of her mother and two sisters, in the process learning much more than just how to run a successful business.’

 In paragraph two mention relevant details such as style, word count and target audience. I also like to put on something about why I’ve chosen to submit to that person in particular. Again, here is an excerpt from my cover letter-

 ‘The book is written in short, snappy chapters, each one followed by an excerpt from Victoria’s private diary, giving her very personal view of events. She experiences loss and grief, loneliness, complicated friendships, her first crush and family life on a whole new level. So the story is relevant to young people today, even though set in Victorian times. It encourages hard work and entrepreneurialism and will appeal to fans of Berlie Doherty’s Far From Home and Jacqueline Wilson’s Opal Plumstead and Hetty Feather. It’s around 36,000 words.’

In paragraph three tell them a few relevant details about yourself. Include previously published work, qualifications and writing courses. You can also put why you wrote the story you did. Do not include what your mother said about your manuscript, that your teacher said you could be a writer one day or that writing helps take your mind off your homicidal thoughts. (Okay, the last one may be a bit far fetched, but you get the idea!) I put this-

 ‘I’ve had short stories published in several online platforms, such as Mystery Weekly, Platform for Prose and The Flash Fiction Press. I also received a commendation in the 2016 William Soutar Writing Prize. I wrote this book because I wanted to write about ordinary people making a go of life.’

I hope that helps with writing your cover letter. Please feel free to leave any further questions in the comments. 

Growing Your Mailing List

 

 One of the most frequent pieces of marketing advice I hear, and agree with, is that you need an email list. Your email list is where the sales happen. Think of it as a sort of chain- your social media is designed to get people on your website, your website is designed to get people on your email list, your email list is where you create both fans and sales. Because of this, many authors, like myself, opt to send out a monthly newsletter. Starting your newsletter is the easy part. You can read more about how to do so effectively here. The hard part can be getting people to sign up for it. My email list is by no means large, but it’s steadily growing, so here is what I’ve found works. 

 Make it the entry criteria in a giveaway.
 My biggest sudden increase in subscribers was when I did a giveaway on Instagram. On offer was a signed copy of my book, Victoria’s Victorian Victory and the criteria for entering was to sign up for my newsletter. Of course, not everyone who signs up in the hope of winning a prize becomes an active subscriber, however I’ve only had one person from that promotion actually unsubscribe, and a good percentage are active subscribers. 

 Tell people what they’re missing. 
 Occasionally I will do a contest in my newsletter, either to win something physical, such as a notebook, or to be involved in my writing process- for example, naming a character. When I do that I make sure to let everyone know on my social media just what they’re missing out on. Even if I’m not doing a contest, I’ll still post something about what my newsletter is about that month around a week before it goes out. 

 Get other subscribers to help.
 Include some social media sharing buttons in your newsletter and ask existing subscribers to help you spread the word if they are enjoying what you have to say. This tweet by the lovely Diana Anderson Tyler got me several new subscribers:


 Diana herself uses this method in her newsletter. She frequently does giveaways in which you are asked to post something from her newsletter on your social media in order to enter. Not being privy to her stats, I can’t tell you exactly how successful this is, but I do know that it always has me sharing something from it. 

 Use a discreet sign up form on your website 
 And now on to the elephant in the room. The newsletter sign up form you see at the top of this page is relatively new, and I was dubious about it at first. I made sure it was as unobtrusive as possible, but I was still worried it was going to irritate visitors to my website. I hope it doesn’t. Because it works. 

Do you have an author newsletter? If so, how do you grow your list? If not, would you consider starting one? 

Why I’ve Decided to Self-Publish


   I’d never envisaged myself as an indie author. ‘Traditionally published or nothing,’ I would say. ‘Only mediocre authors have to publish their own work.’ So why have I decided to self-publish my own short story collection?

 The first reason is that I think recent years have proved it isn’t actually only mediocre authors who self-publish. There are a few of them out there, of course. But you know, not every book that’s traditionally published is well written. Lately, enough indie authors have secured book deals on the back of self-publishing success to demonstrate that plenty of excellent writers slip through the cracks of traditional publishing. 

 Secondly, I’ve realised I’m a bit of a control freak. I sold my last book in the sort of middle ground between traditional and self publishing by going with an independent publishing company. You get a lot more control over your book with one of these than with a traditional publisher. But I still found it hard. The final product was great, don’t get me wrong. But sitting back and letting someone else control the cover design, formatting etc was tough. I’m looking forward to having complete control over my next book. 

 Thirdly, indie authors all support each other. You become part of a great network of fellow writers. Next time you’re on Instagram take a look at the #indieauthors tag. You’ll see what I mean. 

 Finally, indie authors get to write about whatever they want. Many books never even get looked at by traditional publishers or agents simply because they feel the market isn’t right for that type of book. Or they have too many of them. If you want to be traditionally published you either have to try and guess what the market will be like in eighteen months time when you finish it, or you just have to hope you’ll get lucky. And some types of book (such as short story collections) have hardly any market at all in the traditional publishing world. Well, as an indie author that all gets taken away. You can write, and share, whatever you want. And that’s what appeals most to me about self publishing. Because creating what you feel is, after all, the essence of art. 

Using the 5 Senses


 This is the other thing that really benefitted me in Joanna Fedler’s 7 day writing challenge. 

 The idea was to describe a emotion. But we weren’t allowed to name the emotion, rather we had to describe it. I chose guilt and came up with this: 

 The heaviest emotion of all. It crushes, blocking the way forward like a giant grey boulder, hard, cold, and slick with salty teardrops. Underneath it is the darkness of grief and disappointment. And in those shadows hide insidious thoughts, like woodlice, squirming and burrowing with their ‘what if’s’ and ‘if only’s.’

 This was a really useful challenge for me, because I was recently told by a publisher that drawing the reader into the story by using the senses was something I needed to look at. 

 Because we always describe what a character sees and hears. But we often forget to describe what they smell, touch and taste. So a brief exercise like this in which we choose something to describe using those senses is a great way to train us to write our scenes with them in mind. Though I realize I didn’t use them all. I’m working on it! 

A Simple Way to Show, Not Tell

 

 Just a short post today, but I absolutely have to pass on to you this great tip from author Joanna Fedler! (I’ve decided to just bring out the points that really helped me from her writing course, rather than taking it day by day.)
 
 Showing, not telling is one of the hardest things for us writers to grasp. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. Let’s face it, it’s far easier to say, “it was raining really hard” than to say “the leaves streamed with water and puddles formed within moments.” And sometimes we have no idea we’ve done it. We write ‘he made her so angry’ without even thinking about it. So here’s Joanna’s tip: 

 Start the sentence with telling. Write ‘he made her so angry.” 
 Then add “that…” 
 For example, “he made her so angry that her eyes blazed and her voice shook.”

 Ok? Now delete “he made her so angry that”, and you’re left with “her eyes blazed and her voice shook”- a sentence which shows, not tells.

  You can use this trick to show all kinds of things. “It rained so hard that…” “he loved her so much that…” “the house was so old that…” You get the idea! 

 This is definitely going to be a big help to me, I hope it is for you too. 

Thoughts on Reading My Old Writing

 Last weekend I was clearing out a cupboard and found two old manuscripts of mine. The first (pictured above) I wrote at about age 13, the second 15/16. No doubt if you have kept your old pieces you’ll understand that perusing them again was in equal parts pleasurable and cringeworthy. 

Let’s start with cringeworthy… 

 There are a lot of exclamation marks. Now, I know I use plenty still when commenting on social media and do on, but I have learnt to limit them in my writing. But not by this point. And, worst of all, I even spotted a double one!! 


The dialogue is often stilted.
Since I brought myself up almost exclusively on Enid Blyton, there’s a certain old-fashioned formality in the speech patterns, which would have been okay had I set it in the same time period. But sadly I didn’t. 

 I didn’t know how to edit. I evidently went back over the story I wrote at 13 and added some little clauses and sentences to improve it. They are almost invariably worse. I’m adding unnecessary details rather than removing them. Oops. 

 The motivation’s are weak. How can they be otherwise? Both are mystery stories, but I had no real understanding of human nature at that point in my life. Characters act in odd ways for inadequate reasons. 

 And finally, and very embarrassingly…  I didn’t know what double spacing meant. In the manuscript I wrote at 16 I appear to have thought double spacing was between words, not lines. Therefore  each  sentence  looks   like  this. It must have taken me ages! I think I sent it out afterwards to a rather prominent writing competition. Hide me, please. 

 Now on to the good things. And there were a few! 

 Let’s start with the first story, the one I wrote at 13. It’s called The Mystery at the Forest Hotel. 

 It’s not at all self-conscious. I never really intended anyone but family to read this, so I’ve not second guessed or censored myself at all. The result is some surprisingly grown up sentences. I had a good vocabulary even then, I must say.  

 It’s funny. In a sort of angsty teenager way, but amusing for all that. 

 The characters are diverse. Some of them are caricatures, but that could easily be fixed. 

 I hadn’t any high flown ideas about descriptions. It’s short, blunt and to the point. I’m uninterested in vistas, architecture and clothing. And it’s all the better for that in my view. 

Now for the one I wrote as a 15/16 year old. 

 This one is called Model for Murder and I have to say that the concept is good. I tell the story from the alternating perspectives of twin sisters, who see the world very differently. I could have executed it better, but it’s a pretty cool idea, don’t you think? 

 I seem to have grasped the idea of a circular ending. This is the first line: ‘I’m a very ordinary person.’ And this is the last one: ‘I don’t feel just “ordinary” anymore, because I share my life with someone who will always think I’m special.’ I had no idea I was using a solid literary technique here, but I was. 

 Summing up, to my astonishment, I feel that both these stories are eminently salvageable by the more experienced, 30 year old me, and could actually become quite good. With lots of work of course. I’ll let you know how it goes. 
Have you ever furbished up some old pieces?