Pitching your story

for-sale-cropped

Yesterday evening ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors) organised a very enlightening meeting with film director and writer Charles Harris on the thorny topic of how to sell your story.

jaws_in_space_3d
(charles-harris.co.uk)

He was referring specifically to the film industry of course, where busy producers expect writers looking for a commission to grab their attention in one sentence, or preferably one phrase, as in ‘Jaws in Space’, which is apparently how the writers sold the idea of the film that turned into Alien, and the title of Harris’ latest book.

Of course if you are an author, and specifically an indie, you will not necessarily be verbally pitching a story in order to get a commission. But what you will be doing is trying to grab readers’ attentions on online retail sites like Amazon, so the same principle applies to your blurb.

In my family history workshops I encourage participants to write a blurb for their book there and then, and then to read them out to the rest of us for our comments: did those few sentences make you want to read the book?

It’s fiendishly hard as we all know. But there’s another thing: if like me you get some way into your story and think to yourself why did I start to write this book in the first place? it helps if at some point you have already written down the answer, in other words what it was that fired you up in the first place, which is to say, the blurb. The blurb can change, it undoubtedly will, and that doesn’t matter. But as Charles mentioned last night for all writers when it comes to pitching an idea, the most important person you should be targetting is yourself.

It can also be a useful unblocker, when you feel yourself grinding to a halt, to take a break and write down, in no more than three sentences, the essence of the story you found so exciting all that time ago.

Thanks to Charles Harris for the talk, to Helena Halme for organising it, and to Waterstone’s Piccadilly for providing the premises (and a few bottles of wine).

If you are interesting in attending meetings like this then it’s worth joining ALLi (click on the logo on the right).

Patsy Trench, London
November 2016

 

Exercises in marketing 2

Self publishing is not free.

It’s true you can upload your book onto the Amazon site and to Smashwords for free, but if you want a professional job done you will have to pay for parts of it.

Barney and books
Barney the book salesman

At a rough estimate it costs at the very least £500 to self publish a book, to include editing and cover design and other odds and ends such as fliers or postcards, review copies etc. (The dog comes free, bribed by biscuits.) If you’re hiring help with creating your paperback and converting to ebook that will bump the costs up; and if you’re publishing through Ingram Spark there’s a small fee to upload your book, plus £144 for ISBNS (sold in a minimum of 10).

It’s also a good idea to set aside something for marketing. I had my first go at promoting The Unlikely Adventures of Claudia Faraday at the weekend using an online site called ebooksoda. You register, upload your book details, blurb and price, and choose a category – historical romance in my case – and in return for a fee of $15 (£10 or so) they promote your book to their subscribers by email on one specified day; though the book remains on their site, further down the page, for a few days afterwards. It’s good to offer a discount, so you need to make sure this is in place on the day of the promotion. Amazon changed the price almost immediately, Smashwords likewise except for Nook, which took around 24 hours. (NB The price on the amazon.com site was showing up as $3.03 in the UK, but $2.99 in the US, for some reason.)

Result? Zilch. No sales whatsoever.

However, when I emailed ebooksoda to tell them I had registered with them but not received any emails or made any sales they responded swiftly, pointed out a blip in my registration and refunded the fee, even though there had been some click-throughs apparently. So thank you ebooksoda.

As I said before however each author, each book, each day is quite different. My next promotion is with bargainbooksy later this month. Better luck this time hopefully.

 

Exercises in marketing

You’ve written your book, rewritten it, rewritten it, had it edited, cover designed, beautifully produced and published, it looks gorgeous. Nobody is buying it.

Neglected book with border
Sketch by Anna de Polnay

I have been self publishing since 2012 (only 3 books so far) but surprisingly maybe I’ve never before had to find a marketing stategy, perhaps because my first two books are non fiction.

I have however read everything there is to know about marketing, becoming an entrepreneur, building a platform, creating your brand and all those other ghastly business-oriented terms. I have also discovered some useful things, such as:

  • Marketing that works for one author doesn’t necessarily work for another.
  • Marketing that works for one kind of book doesn’t always work for another.
  • Non fiction is easier to market than fiction.
  • Above all it’s vital to find a strategy that you are comfortable with. If you are physically unable to accost people in the street or tell everyone you come upon from bus drivers to checkout people about your book (as am I), then don’t. Think of something else.
  • Try and make it fun.

To this end I am for the first time trying some online promotion sites for my 1920s novel The Unlikely Adventures of Claudia Faradaybeginning tomorrow, December 19. I’ll be blogging about my progress.

Patsy Trench
patsytrench@gmail.com

 

The Oldie workshop

To the gracious people attending The Oldie workshop on 22 October on writing Memoir and Biography here is the gist of my brief talk on self publishing, with some recommendations of people who can help you along the way.

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If you are deciding to self publish it is important to arm yourself with as much information on  the process as possible from the start. Even if you intend to hand over much of it to other people you need to know exactly what it is you are asking them to do. The better armed you are the less likely you will fall under the spell of the sharks (excuse the mixed metaphor).

shark

Suggestions and recommendations for reputable service providers are below.

The pros of self publishing:

  • You get to control everything: what kind of book you write, its length, the look of it, the cover, when you are ready to publish, how it is priced and marketed.
  • You get to keep a good percentage of the royalties yourself: with Amazon it’s 70% for ebooks, in most countries.
  • If you are not aiming at a mass market then marketing need not be too much of a headache.

The cons of self publishing:

  • You get to control everything: with no necessary prior experience of publishing you are turning yourself, an individual, into a publisher. You are taking on the work of an experienced team of professionals.
  • Marketing for self publishers is a challenge. Without a publishing house behind you you are less likely to be reviewed or interviewed in the national newspapers, or to be able to sell your book in major bookshops. (Though neither of these is impossible.)

1)         What does self publishing involve?

  • Write your book. Rewrite it. When it is as good as it could possibly be
  • Find an editor. (Suggestions below.) This is crucial for all writers, no matter how experienced or talented. Hunt around to find the right editor, who understands the genre you are writing in and respects your style without wanting to rewrite your book. This could be the biggest financial outlay in the whole process (it was for me) but it is worth it.
  • Have the book proofread. An editor is not necessarily a proofreader, so it’s important to find someone – a close-eyed friend is fine – to read your book and spot the typos. There are bound to be some no matter how many times you checked.
  • Choose a cover. Unless you are an experienced graphic designer it’s best to hand this to a professional. Print and ebooks have different requirements although both will appear on online retail sites in ‘thumbnail’ size, so make sure the wording is legible.
  • Write the blurb. Online retailers usually ask for a short description of your book (up to 400 characters) and a long one (up to 4000 characters). This is a selling tool – along with the cover it could be the difference between someone deciding to buy your book or not. Basic guidelines are:
    i)  Write in the third person present tense.
    ii)  Don’t try to tell the whole story.
    iii)  Write in the style the book is written in. (ie Comic if your book is comic, punchy if your book is likewise, etc.)
    iv)  Including extracts from reviews is fine.

As with the book cover, it’s a good idea to spend time in a bookshop looking at books and analysing why some make you want to pick them up and read them and some don’t.

  • Create your book interior (paperback): you may want to outsource this too (although it is not difficult to do yourself). It is useful to use a published book you like the look of as a template, and copy the design. You can choose your own font and font size, page (trim) size, margins and chapter layout. Alternatively you can buy ready-formatted templates from the likes of The Book Designer: http://www.bookdesigntemplates.com/
  • Convert your manuscript into ebook form: this basically involves removing hidden codes embedded in your word processor and creating internal links. Click here for details.
  • Submit your book. There are currently two main options:
  1.  AMAZON. https://kdp.amazon.com Whatever you think of their business practices they have opened up the self publishing business and made it possible and simple for independent writers to upload their books onto their site. Submission is free: they provide you with their own form of ISBN. The submission process is extremely simple, just follow their clear instructions.
    Amazon have a print ‘arm’ called CREATESPACE:www.createspace.com/ Again this is free and easy to understand.
    Amazon is for Kindle ebook only of course. For other e-devices use
    SMASHWORDS. www.smashwords.com Again the submission is simple, and free, and they will convert your Word manuscript into the correct formats for Kobo, Nook, Apple and so forth.

2) INGRAM SPARK. www.ingramspark.com/ Ingram have been around for centuries but only recently opened up to make it easy for self publishers to submit their books. The advantage over Amazon is a) they are not Amazon (bookshops don’t hate them) and b) their global distribution of print books is better. Also c) they offer more print options, such as colour, page size, hardback etc. The disadvantage is the submission process is less customer-friendly and you have to provide your own ISBN. (Of which more later.)

  • Marketing
    This is a whole different ballgame and may not be relevant if you are only planning on distributing your book to family and friends. However if you want a broader reach, first
    i) Define your target audience
    ii) Try for reviews in family history/memoir magazines, or in the local press
    iii) Approach your local independent bookshop and ask if they will stock your book, or even help you host a book launch
    iv) Social media is an important part of marketing, including author websites

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2)         How can I go about it?

There are three main options:

  • Do it yourself (apart from editing and cover design).
  • Get partial help with, for instance, cover and interior design and converting to ebook.
  • Hand the whole thing over to a service provider. There are things professionals can do that we can’t. But BE VERY CAREFUL who you deal with and make sure you know what you are paying for, and that you hang onto your rights.

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RECOMMENDATIONS

Generally tried and tested, some by me and others by ALLI (The Alliance of Independent Authors).

Cover and/or interior print design:

Editors

The following are recommended by ALLI.

Averill Buchanan: www.averillbuchanan.com/
Katherine D’Souza: www.katharinedsouza.co.uk/
Sally Vince: www.editorsal.com/
Alison Shakespeare: http://shakspeareeditorial.org/

Cornerstonses and The Literary Consultancy are manuscript assessors and they also offer some editing services.

Full help

The following two companies are consistently held to be efficient, honest and trustworthy:

You can buy in part service from them (ebook conversion only for instance) or full service.

Ebook conversion

If you do decide to do the whole thing yourself take a look at my self publishing pages. Or buy my book (available on Amazon at £1.99)!

Digital book thumbnail

Self publishing may seem daunting, and is, but the more research you do the more sense it makes. It is a fantastic resource for memoir writers.

If you are serious about it you might consider joining The Alliance of Independent Authors. If you click on the logo on the sidebar of this page it will take you directly to their site.

GOOD LUCK with your publishing enterprise. And If you have any other specific questions on things I haven’t covered please email me at

patsytrench@gmail.com

 Recommended books

Choosing a Self Publishing Service, published by ALLI

 

Self publishing for family historians part 2

What to look out for before contacting a self publishing service.

  • DO be clear exactly what you are looking for
  • DO make sure you hang onto the rights to your book
  • DO make sure the royalties come straight to you and not through a third party

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SUBMITTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT ONLINE

The online market leader is Amazon/CreateSpace, but there is also Ingram/Spark and Lulu. I have no direct experience of these last two, but I do know that while Amazon/CreateSpace charge nothing to upload your book or to re-upload later amended versions of it, Ingram do charge for both. The advantage of Ingram is that I believe they offer different qualities of, for instance, paper, and the shipping may be cheaper as they have an outlet here in the UK, and in Australia.

CreateSpace is the print arm of Amazon and their website is very user-friendly.

https://www.createspace.com

https://www.ingramspark.com

Once you’ve uploaded your title and chosen your dimensions and page colour you will be taken to a Pricing page. You can price your book in US$ and the other currencies will calculated automatically, if you wish. (Or you can adjust this.)

The ISBN is provided free through CreateSpace but not on Ingram. You can buy your own ISBN which then belongs to you no matter who you publish through. CreateSpace also have a forum, or ‘Community’, where you can post queries and with a bit of luck someone will get back to you pretty quickly, especially if you post in the afternoon when America has woken up.

Categories and keywords: we didn’t get to discuss these in the workshop, but they do help to sell books if you get them right. Amazon/CreateSpace offers a selection of categories to choose from, and you can pick your own keywords (up to 7, if I remember correctly).

Ordering copiesWith Print on Demand unit costs of printing are very reasonable. My 318-page book costs $4.64 to print out, per copy. There are various shipping options but as a guide, Expedited Shipping (3 weeks or so) costs $7.99. Obviously shipping costs per book are less per item the more you order in one go. You can also order copies to be sent direct to other people, all round the Globe.

DIY: 

If you do decide to do it all yourself (and if I can do it anyone can) I have produced a book aimed at the technically challenged, available on Amazon.

Digital book thumbnail

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MARKETING

This may not be a priority for the family historian but it’s worth mentioning.

Social media is an option obviously, but has to be handled carefully (ie no constant hard selling). What is a good idea is to have a website with a recognisable family name as a title as this will lead other family members to you. Mine, named after my ancestress (marymatchampitt.wordpress.com), has introduced me to several distant relatives with interesting tales to tell.  It’s also worth considering a website and Facebook page dedicated to your book.

Reviews are also worth going for, especially from family history magazines.

‘Who do you think you are’ magazine also has a feature at the back called ‘My Family Hero’, and they are often looking out for people to fill it.

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EBOOKS

Why not? It doesn’t cost much to have your manuscript converted into the suitable formats for Kindle, Kobo, Nook and whatever other devices there are out there. For some reason self publishers tend to sell more ebooks than paperbacks. In my case 90% of my sales are ebooks.

FINALLY (almost):  An update on cover design

It’s worth taking a look at this site:

http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2015/08/e-book-cover-design-awards-july-2015/

Joel Friedlander is a book cover and interior designer (he also offers page templates). This is the result of a competition where writers submit their covers and he comments on them and chooses winners. It’s useful as you can compare your opinion with his! (And comment if you want to.)

Which reminds me:

USEFUL WEBSITES on self publishing:  (or to follow on Twitter)

http://www.thebookdesigner.com

https://www.janefriedman.com 

Frances Caballo:  http://www.socialmediajustforwriters.com

Joanna Penn: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/

And if you are looking for advice on everything to do with self publishing you could consider joining ALLi (The Alliance of Independent Authors). Click the ALLi logo on my site. Their subscription fees are £75 for a published (self- or otherwise) author. ALLi have also produced some useful books on self publishing such as:

Blank white book w/path

That is really it. Good luck with your various projects, and please email me on patsytrench@gmail.com if you have any queries (or interesting tales about your self publishing experience).

Goodbye!

 

Pitches and pigeonholes

I was thinking about pigeons and the holes they live in (do they?) yesterday, as I was watching The Pen Factor, the last event in The Literary Consultancy’s annual conference ‘Writing in a Digital Age’.

The Pen Factor, which takes its name from The X Factor, features a group of brave writers who are given a limited time to pitch and read extracts from their books to a panel of agents, who are themselves given a limited time to respond, and all this in front of an audience.

There seemed to be a preoccupation on the part of some panel members with genre: ‘Is it really a psychological thriller?’ said one. ‘It doesn’t sound like a thriller setup to me.’ Bearing in mind the limited time allotted to both writers and agents you might think this was a distracting waste of time, as did TLC’s founder, Rebecca Swift. ‘Don’t try and define the genre’, she admonished from the audience, ‘it’s a beautifully written, idiosyncratic book, not necessarily of majority appeal but a beautiful book nonetheless.’ The writer of it admitted agents had told her before they found it ‘hard to place’, so what did she do? She self published it.

Journey into the Interior, by Sylvia Moody
Journey into the Interior, by Sylvia Moody

Before coming down too hard on the agents however it’s worth remembering that when they take on a book they too will be given a few minutes perhaps to pitch it to a publisher. So if they can use that time to say, ‘It’s a thriller with Sci Fi elements, a mix of suchandsuch (insert appropriate bestselling title/author here) and suchandsuch (ditto), rather than, ‘it’s about a woman who after a mystery illness receives odd visitors and communes with vases and the supernatural and some of them are imaginary and some real and it turns out they’re all part of her in the end and it doesn’t really fall into any particular category’, their job is somewhat easier.

So hello self publishing, where while a book has to fit Amazon’s (or Smashwords’) categories to some extent nobody is going to turn it down because it isn’t strictly a thriller or a romance or crime or even a literary novel. I’m about to face a similar problem myself with a period romance that contains elements of erotica. Were I to market it as erotica it might sell quite well but it would disappoint a lot of readers expecting whips and leather and wall-to-wall fornication, if that’s what readers of erotica expect.

Besides it’s hard to know which agents would be likely to handle such a book. As the panel showed it is vitally important, if you are looking for an agent, to find the right one. Not necessarily the biggest or the most successful but the one who is most likely to really love your book and to put time and energy into promoting it. Researching them online is all very well but for most writers this isn’t enough.

Yet another reason to self publish?

The London Book Fair

I was more or less warned off going to the London Book Fair by other writers who said ‘It’s really not for authors’, but I went along anyway on the offchance.

Earls Court

Entering the massive space of the Earls Court Exhibition Centre is daunting. You feel as if you’re in the cosmetics section of the biggest department store in the world. You stroll past the glossy stands of Chanel, Estee Launder and Clinique (Harper Collins, Hachette and Bloomsbury), and the cheap-and-cheerful counters of Bourjois, Olay and Max Factor (the smaller publishing businesses) and on through the digital solutions bit, and there tucked away right at the back is the Author HQ. Here you can attend back-to-back seminars, mostly but not entirely about self publishing, many of which bore little or no relation to the schedule I had painstakingly downloaded from the LBF website.

Author HQ

Thus I found myself this afternoon accidentally sitting in on part of a seminar called ‘The Write Stuff’, where brave authors can pitch their books to a panel of writers’ agents. They have two minutes for their pitch and the agents have two minutes to comment. As expected, the ones with the brilliant sales strategies weren’t necessarily the ones with the best product, and vice versa, which only goes to confirm my concern that in the self publishing world it’s not your writing that matters so much as your marketing skills.

On the Tuesday I bumped into Becky Swift from The Literary Consultancy who told me they have developed relationships with Amazon, Kobo, Nook and the rest, all of whom are looking to them for product that has the TLC stamp of approval (which is not easy to get), which means they are acting as a kind of useful filter.

Seminar

Upstairs in the rarified virtually author-free zone of the IRC (International Rights Centre), where I was stopped at the gate and quizzed about my intentions and only let through when I said I was visiting an agent friend and promised not to misbehave, agents sit in rows of stalls doing deals with publishers. News from there was gloomy – in an uncertain market the larger publishing houses are increasingly reluctant to take on new and untried writers (nothing new there). Which  means of course it makes even more sense to self publish. As one (self published) speaker said earlier, ‘Why wait months for an agent to turn you down and several more for publishers to do the same when you can submit your book now?’

Alternatives to Amazon

I’ve already blogged about Smashwords, which distributes ebooks to all outlets, including Amazon, but I also wanted to check out alternatives to Amazon’s CreateSpace, their print-on-demand ‘arm’. I’ve published through CreateSpace and found it miraculously easy, efficient, quick and free (to upload). But if you want to avoid Amazon there is a company called printondemand-worldwide.com. As far as I can tell they print and distribute your book, just like CreateSpace, only they have outlets in the UK, thereby in theory reducing shipping costs. I haven’t investigated them properly yet but it looks as if, unlike Amazon, they have startup costs. They handed me a couple of impressive-looking brochures so if you’re thinking of publishing something where quality and colour are paramount, they may be worth checking out.

Or there’s Ingram, which I knew as LightningSource, which I looked at when I was publishing my Australian book as they have an outlet in Australia (as well as here in the UK). The lady at the counter however, who was in charge of ‘transportation’, told me postal costs within Australia are so high it’s cheaper for Aussies to buy from the US, which is rather astounding. Again they have startup costs (I believe), but if you are expecting to sell a lot of books in the UK they may be worth checking out at ingramspark.com.

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Other interesting things I learned:

  • children are really into ebooks (perhaps not surprisingly).
  • the best selling book in the Australian charts is The Book Thief, written by the Sydney-born writer Markus Zusak. (Good to see the Aussies celebrating their own.)
  • the Guardian is introducing a prize for self published authors.

Was it worth going? Absolutely, if only as an excuse to get out there and connect with other writers and anyone connected to the writing and publishing business. Which as indie authors we have to do!