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.

Advertisements

New Author Interview 


 I was recently very honoured to be the first author asked to do an interview for Soulla Christodoulou’s new series, A Cup of Conversation. I talk about my inspirations, writing routine and favourite snacks! You can read it here

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. 

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! 

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? 

5 Ways Not To Start Your Novel


 Earlier this week I posted the first line of my work-in-progress to Instagram, with the comment that I knew I was breaking a rule by starting my novel with the main character waking up. I asked what everyone thought and the general consensus seemed to be that I was breaking the rule well enough for it to be good. But not everyone knew that this was a rule. So, in the spirit of learning the rules so we can break them, here are some ways that my obsessive reading of articles written by agents and publishers about what gets their attention has taught me not to start a book… 

1) Waking up
It seems like such a natural place to start. Your character gets up in the morning and goes through their daily routine until something happens that throws them off. Great. Except this is a big turn off for agents and publishers. They read countless versions of morning routines. It’s boring and cliched. It doesn’t grab their attention. All is not lost though. Delete all that stuff about them waking up and agonising about their first day of work, school, interview, date, etc while they brush their teeth. Start the story at the point in which they actually do that thing instead. 

2) Dreaming 
 Starting with a dream is a lazy technique that just makes the reader feel cheated. For example  ‘Sonia teetered on the precipice, knowing she couldn’t save herself, didn’t even want to. She took a deep breath and jumped. The wind knocked the breath from her as the ground rose to meet her… Then she woke up.’ 

 See? Promising beginning that’s then ruined by the fact that, oh yeah, it’s not actually happening. And the other problem? The real beginning is actually the character waking up, which we’ve already discussed. 

3) Prologue
 Writers love prologues and readers hate them. I’m both so you can hopefully trust me when I say that prologues are an old fashioned device and generally serve no purpose other than to confuse the reader. When I see a prologue my first thought is that the writer has put it in in the hope of showing me that things will get exciting soon. Which usually means that the beginning of the actual story is slow. 

4) Onomatopoeia 
 Bang! Crash! There’s your originality going out the window.

 I was taught this method as a way to start a story when I was at school. The problem is that it still sounds childish. Particularly if it’s something like- Briiiiing, Briiiiing went the phone on that fateful morning. ‘I wonder who that could be?’ said Harry to himself. Little did he know etc etc. Just tell us that the phone rang. You can even say urgently if you must. 

5) Setting the scene

  You’ve probably seen this done more often in films. We get a few minutes of an idyllic setting before everything goes horribly wrong. It’s a lot quicker an easier to do this in films, though. In books no one is going to be gripped by your description of tea at the vicarage or a picnic in the park. Especially not an agent or publisher, who’s attention needs to be caught at once. So cut right to the action and trust the reader to fill in the blanks. We can. If you show us a rumpled blanket on the grass with an overturned basket then we will grasp that your protagonist was having a pleasant picnic before disaster struck. 

Breaking the rules- 
 So, now we know the rules we can work out how to break them! For instance, The Hunger Games starts with Katniss waking up and going out to hunt- as she does most days. If I Stay begins with a, rather stickily sweet in my opinion, scene of the protagonist’s family interacting happily. And no doubt like me you’ve read plenty of books that start with a prologue. So the rules aren’t hard and fast. But you need to know them so you can break them well enough to get away with it. And if you can do that then that in itself may catch an agent’s or publisher’s attention. 
 I hope you found this post helpful. And if you’re curious about my rule-breaking first line mentioned at the beginning then check out my Instagram

Victorian Natural Beauty Tips


Look gorgeous for summer- the Victorian way. 


 For much of the Victorian era, using any kind of cosmetic was frowned upon. This was partly because they believed that the skin breathed oxygen through the pores, so anything covering them up, such as face powder, was unhealthy. It was also held that trying to look better than you actually did smacked of deceit, and that only prostitutes wore face paint (though in fact there seems little evidence to support this). But women were not so very different and the desire to look their best was strong. Natural remedies were popular and didn’t hold the same stigma, they were also cheaper and often more gentle than the typical Victorian soap. Here’s a couple of easy, pleasant recipes for Victorian beauty: 


Rosemary Water

 This was used for washing hair as that practice increased in popularity. Rosemary is astringent, so it’s better at removing grease than plain water, but has none of the rather harsh properties of the soap that would have been available, which could end up imparting an odd greenish tinge to your hair if you weren’t careful! All you have to do is soak several handfuls of rosemary in a bowl of just boiled water for a few minutes. Then strain the rosemary out and use the water for washing your hair. (Check the temperature has cooled enough first.) 


Elderflower Water

 I’m going to try this as soon as the elderflowers come out near me! We all know that they make an excellent wine, but did you know that, because they contain glycerine, they make an excellent body scrub? Simply add a fairly generous amount of the flowers to your bath water as it runs and use the flower heads to scrub yourself down. Apparently it leaves the skin beautifully soft and silky. 


Lemons

 Lemons were used for a number of beauty treatments, usually involving an attempt to fade freckles and blemishes. Hands were particularly important to any Victorian women who wished to be considered a lady- clean, white, blemish free hands were a mark of wealth, meaning you didn’t have to work. Hands therefore, had to be looked after and most ladies followed a regime like this every morning- hands were soaked in warm water for several minutes, then half a lemon was used to scrub the nails. This helped clean and bleach them. Then she would soak her hands in the water for a few more minutes, before trimming and filing. Apparently, rubbing your nails against your scalp will then condition them using the natural oils in your hair. I can’t say I noticed much of a result with this, but then my hair tends to be quite dry. The lemon certainly left my fingernails feeling smooth. Just make sure you have no cuts first! 

 Please let me know how you get on if you try any of these. But, obviously, do not try them if you are allergic or think you might be allergic to any of the ingredients.

Like this article? It originally appeared in my monthly newsletter. If you’re interested in learning more fascinating and intricate details from the Victorian era then you should sign up! Just fill in your first name and email address in the form on the contact page. I never share your details and never spam. 

Making Endless Lists

Day two of the seven day writing challenge with Joanne Fedler. 


 Day two’s exercise came as rather a surprise to me. I’m an avid maker of to do lists, but I’d never heard of making random lists within the context of writing a novel. The purpose of it, Joanne explained, was that it would help us come up with starting places for plots and themes. She said that writing is haphazard, and therefore we need to become good at putting pieces together. 

 I admit I was slightly skeptical, because personally I don’t feel my writing is particularly haphazard, but I was still ready to give it a go. So I made two of the lists she’d suggested. The first was things from history I wish I’d witnessed. The second was things I am witnessing now. I found the first one particularly difficult and finally came to the conclusion that I either know too little or too much about history. The only ones I could think of also came with the probability of death or, if one was lucky, disease. Mind, when it came to making the second list some points from our present world were just as scary! 

 So, it was a fun and interesting exercise. Did it help with my writing? I have to be honest and say I don’t think it did really. I cannot see how a list of historical events could be turned into a coherent novel that didn’t involve far too much time travel! Am I taking it too literally? Perhaps. But that’s just the way my mind works. However, this method may be a revelation to you, so if you feel like giving it a try, don’t let me put you off. And there is one aspect of novel writing in which I can heartily recommend making endless lists- outlining. Make lists of characters, family trees, character traits, backstories, scenes, whatever the heck you want. That will definitely help you write your novel. 

 Below are some of the suggestions Joanne made for possible lists: 

10 things you lost
10 things you can’t live without
10 objects with special meaning to you
10 books that changed your life

 If you try this then do let me know how you get on. Did it work for you? 

Why Aren’t You Selling More Books? 

A lesson in not comparing yourself. 

 We hear so many success stories about indie authors who have sold such a huge amount of books that they’ve ended up with huge publishing contracts, film deals or enormous salaries, that it’s easy for many of us to wonder why we can’t seem to sell more than a handful of books a day (or week). We might even become discouraged, thinking our writing obviously isn’t good enough. We ignore the fact that the sales tactics/marketing campaigns employed by most of these authors may simply be beyond our reach. 

 For example, I recently read a news article about an indie author who was now a bestseller with a five or six figure salary (I know there’s a pretty big difference in that extra zero but it’s all relative right?). Pretty cool, I thought. Then I read how he did it. I’m not saying he isn’t a great writer, but that’s not really why he’s so successful. It’s because when he brought his first book out he spent a couple of hundred dollars a day marketing it online. A day! 

 Well, that’s great if you can afford it, but sadly most of us can’t. Nor can we afford to quit our day jobs and churn out six books a year, which is the other method of many commercially successful indie authors. At the same time, it seems everyone wants to charge us for our dream. Magazines charge submission fees. Competitions charge entry fees. Book promotion services charge. Editors charge. Cover designers charge. Of course, these people do have to earn a living. But for a beleaguered writer it can seem like everyone wants a piece of us and the returns are rarely enough to make a living on. 

 So what do we do? Well, there’s not much we can do. Though I do make it a rule never to submit to anywhere that charges a fee. Magazines are supposed to make their money out of their readers, not writers. But the reality is that unless you have a big budget for marketing your book, then you’re probably going to have to do it the old fashioned way- with excellent writing and the gradual building of a dedicated fan base. And who knows, maybe one day you’ll write that book that will get you a five figure advance. But even if you don’t, never allow something as sordid as money to detract from your pleasure in your art. Riches or fame are unlikely for most of us. And we can’t really do anything about that. But there’s one thing we can all control. We can be great writers anyway.