Where am I?

Even though I may seem to have dropped off the blogger-sphere, I am still here … and though I could, without lying, say the school summer break well and truly got the better of me, that’s not the whole picture.

The main reason I haven’t posted is the fact of not having anything useful to share. At the moment, encouraged by positive feedback from readers, my focus is well and truly to write Book Two. I am still doing certain things to promote Book One but have a real sense of being distracted and not  on top of the things I could be doing. For once in my life, however, I’m not beating myself up. A couple of future school visits are in the diary, I have decided to, finally, join ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors) as I way to learn more and become engaged in what is out there, and I will plan a Goodreads giveaway for the upcoming UMA & IMP book birthday in November.

Yes – book birthday! That means it’s been just over a year since I first started the process of producing the physical book-version of UMA & IMP with all the excitement and decisions on illustration, design, paper type, etc. And all of that seems so much longer than a year ago because aside from the awesome-ness of creating the book and hearing from children that have become absorbed in the story, my feelings about the process and about writing have completely changed. More than anything, the benefit of having self-published (and I’m still not recommending it as the best way to go!!) is a sense of perspective and calm that I simply didn’t have before. Self-publishing has allowed me to let go of the angst around finding an agent/publisher, worrying about the success or failure of a book because it will determine my next publishing contract. It’s hard to explain but this experience springs to mind …

… while I was writing draft 486 of UMA & IMP, family-in-law kindly agreed to read the ms with their class of 6th grade kids. The kids loved the story but I was advised not to mention this in submissions to agents because it wasn’t considered to have real value as kids are more likely to say they like a book when they have a connection to the author – even if it is tenuous. I didn’t understand that – not really, because it seemed to me that feedback is feedback, enjoyment is enjoyment. And yet … having published and had “anonymous” feedback from kids unconnected to me in any way, I suddenly “get” the difference. There is a very unique kind of validation that comes from someone you have never met loving your book. And I think that is what has created a real shift in my approach to writing. Well, that and gaining a much deeper understanding of how publishing works and the challenges/realities involved. Finally, my pace has shifted and although before I was saying (and even believing) that I was in it for the long haul, now I really know what that means and also FEEL it in my very being. Not only that but I’m living it too. I have no sense of rush about finishing my next book. I have a goal, of course, that’s sensible, but there is no pressure attached to that goal. Same with sales – I will continue to do what is possible to get UMA & IMP out there and I have lots of goals or ideals on that front too … but, again, no pressure attached to those goals. So really THAT’S where I am …

For now, my commitment to blogging is going to extend only to sharing when I have something of real interest to say. Probably, my next post will be about ALLi and the benefits of joining. So many indie authors rave about the organisation that I’m eager to see what the enthusiasm is about … will get back once I know more!

In the meantime, thanks for reading,

LarisaUma&ImpCover

Tough Luck

What IS PR exactly? How does it work? DOES it work for self-published authors? To me PR has always been one of those weird mysteries in life, like the reason flies dart around in endless square shapes.

So for a long while I’ve wanted to get in touch with a book PR person to see what-is-actually-involved and how whatever-is-involved would work for a self (or trad)-published author. Finally, finally I made the call, fully expecting to be asked to drop an email … that would likely never get a reply.

Tony Mulliken, one of the co-founders of Midas PR, happened to Chair a panel I attended at the London Book Fair – he seemed like a switched on, friendly sort of chap, so I thought Midas would be a good place to go. Also, in October Midas ran a PR Masterclass with The Guardian all about useful things authors can do PR wise – how to write a press release, present your book to journalists, social media, etc. It sounded awesome – open to trad and self-published authors – and the kind of event it was a shame to have missed.

Unbelievably, my call was put straight through to Fiona Marsh, Midas New Business Director who was astoundingly helpful and spent something like 40 minutes chatting to me about what Midas do. This is a sum up of the conversation:

– Publishing is a minefield and it’s very tough out there right now: whether trad or self published

– There is no ideal way to get published (trad or self) as each way has pros and cons

– It is very tough to make any money in publishing, whether as an author, publisher or otherwise. You need income from somewhere else in order to survive as an author

– Distribution is key to selling books as any PR is wasted unless the distribution network is in place

– PR is about building discoverability

– Midas tailor PR campaigns around what is new/different about the author and/or their book to create buzz and interest

– Self-selling works (i.e. at school or other events)

– Whether self or trad published, it’s a long-term game with PR focused on building an author brand … so book PR is actually author PR

– It’s tough to get a review from a national paper, especially for children’s books. Many nationals do round-ups or focused lists (e.g. Summer Reading; Christmas gift lists; Best Books of 20XX)

– Whatever your PR strategy you will need to keep ‘feeding the beast’

– For children’s authors PR can also include lining up a series of school visits (I would love someone to use their contacts and do this for me – seems to be the best way for a children’s author to get exposure and sales)

– Effective PR is based on the PR person’s network, market knowledge and contacts

– Not all PR is directly reflected in sales. It’s tough to know what will work for any particular book

– There are many, many books out there and it’s tough to get noticed

– Midas usually run campaigns that last 4-6 months and start work 3-3.5 months ahead of publication in order to set things up for the book’s release date. Midas charge around £2,000 per month of the campaign

– In response to the growth of self-publishing, Midas recently set up an independent, non-trad publishing house called London Wall. Unlike the vast majority of non-trad publishers they offer a full PR service with their publishing packages

OK, OK, I could have used different words rather than just repeating the word ‘tough’. You know, like hard, challenging, difficult but the thing is … it’s tough. Even with a PR engine behind your book, it’s tough. And it’s definitely tough without one.

The conversation with Fiona Marsh got me feeling an odd mix of elated and appalled. Elated because it’s always a buzz to talk books and publishing … appalled by the randomness of it all. During our chat the word “luck” came up – how there is an element of luck involved in having a book succeed. And it’s something editors and agents have said too. Yes, there’s all the work writing, editing, creating a finished product, getting out there but somewhere in there it helps to get a lucky break.

It seems PR is another way to create luck. And if you don’t manage to get lucky well … tough?

Thanks for reading!

Larisa

Plodding On

Radio silence the last month here, not on account of falling into a pit of despair or having secretly jacked in the self-pub project but because, er … last month I decided to space out my posts more and forgot to mention!

Lately, the focus of this blog has been author interviews and the London Book Fair so this time I’m playing catch-up by reporting on what has (or hasn’t?) been going on

For the most part, my time has gone to the ‘day job’ and little has gone on marketing/ PR. No surprise then that sales slumped from the March high of 66 to April’s 7 and May’s all-time low of 3. Oops. So the grand total of books sold since launch is 310. Not exactly best-seller levels but four events are coming up in June so that figure is set to improve before, presumably, a major tank over July and August.

As threatened, tinkering has been going on with the book jacket. Pointless effort bearing in mind the (small) number of sales and ‘reach’? Maybe. But I’ve felt seriously bugged by having lost sight of the blurb layout when the very first (aborted) design went off track. Also, at sales, people often seem to look at the back of the book then turn to me and ask what the book is about … hmmm … am hoping the NEW, IMPROVED version does better. This is the back cover (though not for copies sold through Amazon):

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 16.08.11

And the slightly altered front, with new tag-line (again, not for the Amazon version):

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 16.08.24

Apart from writing to quite a lot of people to get into those school fairs, I also had the very good news that Waterstones Piccadilly are stocking my book, and will “consider” rolling it out depending on how sales go. This is a highlight of the whole journey so far. Waterstones being willing to stock UMA & IMP is the reason why I’ve tried so hard to get the ‘look’ right … The bad news is that they’ve only got ONE copy, so not much shelf space! Hard to see how anyone will notice the poor book! Still, as well as changing the jacket, the new copies are also printed on slightly bulkier paper, which makes for a bigger spine. Maybe those extra two millimetres will help!

The first 2016 World Book Day school workshop is booked for next year (one of more, hopefully). And another school is due to schedule a visit in the autumn term.

So overall, the theme is very much: Plodding On.

Things I haven’t done:

– Encouraged more people to review UMA & IMP. A couple of kind souls have done it without encouragement (thank you, thank you!) but well … it could do with a push from my part, something that doesn’t seem to come easily. Could be something to get on top of over the quieter summer months.

– Developed my social media strategy. In fact, I’ve well and truly gone the other way and embraced the quiet side. It just isn’t ‘my thing’ or where I want to put my energy.

– A million other things.

I AM still plugging away on book 2. And the most awesome thing is that so many of the kids that have read the first book are keen to read what happens next. Their enthusiasm keeps me going! That and the fact that, although there is slim hope of “success”, I am really enjoying the journey. Not that I would recommend self publishing – no!! Getting traditionally published must be way more fun, but as I’m here …  I’ll just keep on plodding!!

Until next month – thanks for reading,

Larisa

Show Me the Money

Following on from Wot I Lurned at LBF, this week’s post is on crowdfunding.

In a very vague way I have considered going down the crowdfunding route as a way to raise money for some PR support (more on that another time). So on the basis of vague interest and wanting to know more, I attended a crowdfunding seminar at London Book Fair.

What I discovered is that crowdfunding has more benefits than just getting investors. In fact, if done properly, there is a good case for arguing that the money is just a side benefit. Never mind raising money for PR – a crowdfunding project IS PR!

How it works is that you set up a fundraising page on one of the crowdfunding sites. Actually, it’s much like a JustGiving campaign except for a creative project. So instead of offering to run a marathon (as if!) you offer investors something connected to the project itself.

The first thing, is to decide how much you need/want to raise. Then you decide on incentives or rewards to offer any potential investors. These are calibrated to the value of any donation, e.g. if you give £10 then you get a signed bookmark, for £20 you get a teatowel (?!), if you give £50 you get a limited edition hardback copy of the book. All investors could be offered a thank you in the back of the published book. Some people offer dinner with the author (presumably this works best if you are ‘known’. I usually pay people to have dinner with me). Ben Galley, a speaker at the seminar and ALLI crowdfunding advisor, ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise £4,000 to publish a graphic novel. He used draft illustrations amongst his rewards, as well as the incentive of being ‘drawn into’ the graphic novel as one of the characters. The trick is to make the reward appealing enough that people you don’t know will want to part with cash … although the BIGGEST trick isn’t the rewards but setting up a page that is an effective platform for your project and inspiring enough to generate the investors you need.

Probably the best way to figure out how to create a good page would be to check out other successful campaigns and apply a serious dose of imagination and originality … because you haven’t already done enough of that during the simple process of writing a book! Most crowdfunding sites encourage/require you to create a pitch film – so creating a campaign really takes the self-publishing learning curve to a whole new level. Alternatively, there are people willing to help create campaigns for a fee on sites like Fiverr.

Here’s an example of a successful campaign: Bob’s World Cat Cafe Fund

So broadly, that’s the nuts and bolts. To find out more it’s best to investigate the various platforms. The most commonly used sites are indiegogo, Kickstarter and gofundme. Lately, specialist book publishing sites have been set up, the biggest being Pubslush and Unbound. Watch out for terms though – Kickstarter run on the basis that if you don’t reach your set target then you don’t get funded at all, i.e. the donors aren’t asked to part with cash and you get zero for all your hard work.

According to both Ben Galley and Miranda Fleming, the other panelist at the seminar and indiegogo UK head honcho, around 30% of donations should come from people within direct reach, i.e. friends and family. And before launching, it’s important to line up those friends and family to donate as soon as you go live because potential investors are less likely to donate unless they see that other people are already “in”. Money attracts money, as the saying goes.

If 30% of donations are coming from friends and family that leaves 70% that has to come from “outside” investors. So not only does your page have to work hard but you also need to reach out through social media and in any other way possible. Some of that will happen through the site itself (hopefully) but a lot is down to you. And this is where the magic lies … because every investor you get – or even approach – is another potential contact/reader. Someone for your (hopefully growing) database that you can keep abreast of latest releases, future funding campaigns, requests for reviews, etc. That sounds somewhat mercenary but according to Ben Galley’s experience there is a lot of dialogue that happens between author and investor … so you do actually build a connection, therefore a network. And it’s global. In the words of the seminar Chair: “these days network is wealth”.

In a nutshell, crowdfunding has a dual advantage: getting funded and building a fan base. It’s nothing less than a form of digital marketing. Cool, huh?

Except nothing comes for free – and crowdfunding does involve a huge amount of work. Campaigns usually run for around four weeks with the first week being the most important and the most intense. Ben Galley spoke about spending literally 12 hours a day in front of the computer for most of that period … as well as the run up.

Although the benefits are clear, for now at (very) least, I’m not rushing off to set up a campaign. So don’t worry, friends and family, you are all safe! But I have come away with the impression that if I had to use social networking as a way to seriously promote my work, this would undoubtedly be the way to go. It’s clear (gimme money), targeted (you must like books otherwise you wouldn’t be on this page!) and mutually beneficial (because there are people out there who enjoy supporting creativity) … maybe something to consider ahead of the launch of book 2? (?!?)

Thanks for reading!

Larisa

LBF OMG! Wot I Lurned

As someone who is easily overloaded in new, crowded, high-sensory environments, I was expecting the London Book Fair to be a bit of a ‘mare. Actually, it was a blast.

I went along on two fronts – as a writer and as a translator, so pretty much spent my time heading back and forth between the Author Hub and Literary Translation Centre. Except I have the orientation skills of a novice Girl Scout strapped upside down in a Topple Tower, so think less back and forth, more ricocheting erratically. If you’re wondering how many different stairs you can take on a simple, direct route – it’s a lot. The main ones are colour coded, which should (didn’t) help but there are all kinds of back stairs too. Who knew?

So, here is my random list of Wot I Lurned at the 2015 LBF

– The publishing industry really is chock-a with people who are PASSIONATE about books. This is so inspiring and the buzz of excitement through the LBF halls was amazing. Not only are people passionate, they are also open and happy to reach out. Mind you, that doesn’t mean you will come away with lots of juicy contacts and contracts because, after all, LBF is a business opportunity for the Pros to network and make deals.

– Unless you’ve made appointments ahead of time your only hope of speaking to someone directly is by cornering them after one of the seminars. And there will be lots of other people there trying to do just that, so it’s unlikely to prove useful. As you might expect, it’s tough to pre-arrange meetings unless you have something somebody really wants and, by implication, a Profile!

– Arrive early if you want to try and speak to an exhibitor. The halls were pretty quiet from opening to around 10 or even 10.30.

– Expect to spend £3 for a cup of coffee.

– LBF has a wide range of really awesome seminars to attend, panelled by top industry professionals who are there to share what they know. In writing terms, I attended seminars on Crowdfunding, PR, Selling to Book Retailers, and What Journalists Want. Even if you’re not published (trad or other) it is, in my view, never too soon to start thinking in terms of what is involved in helping get your book out there.

– If you’re self-published watch out for sharks. I got somewhat fleeced by paying to have UMA & IMP on the PubMatch bookshelf. A couple of emails had come round about how the PubMatch bookshelf is organised in conjunction with LBF and is open to trad and non-trad authors to showcase books that are available for Foreign Rights – I figured ‘mad not to get in there’. In fact, PubMatch is used only by self-published authors, and the organisers (handily) have “no figures” on what kind of deals come out of the platform. Call me cynical, but I would be stunned if anyone sold Foreign Rights in this way – after all, the quality of the majority of self-published books is still low and the market is over-flowing with publisher-produced crackers.

– National newspaper reviews are the Holy Grail for ALL authors: whether trad published, self-published, debut or long in the tooth.

– If you have any kind of money for PR, use it on promos run by Goodreads. Not something I’ve looked into yet but it’s on my post-LBF-bloated research list.

– The difference between marketing and PR is that for marketing you actually spend money, for advertising, etc. There are many PR things you can do for yourself, especially with social media, social media, social media.

– Crowdfunding is hard work but has multiple benefits. I will be doing a separate post on this one, maybe next time.

– The following titbit was repeated through all the different book seminars – we all know but sometimes lose sight of this when self-publishing: do NOT underestimate the importance of your book jacket!

– Another one we “all” know is – get your opening chapters right. It was most amusing to hear Cathy Rentzenbrink of The Bookseller tell the story of how she’d set a book aside after failing to get drawn in (and being distracted by the very large pile of still-to-read books), then had a follow-up call from the book’s publicist. When Cathy explained that she’d read as far as Chapter 3 without being taken by the story, the publicist said “oh, but it gets much better after that”. Sorry but, ha ha ha ha plonk.

– In any publishing industry forum you will witness the two, still-evolving camps on the subject of self-publishing. Those who see innovation and a self-determining new market that makes the most of the vast array of tools available to self-publishers … and those who see a burgeoning sea of ‘great unwashed’ polluting the shores of an industry already in flux. Personally, I get both sides. It’s up to every individual self – (or indie) – publisher to decide which ‘camp’ s/he wants to feed.

Back on the UMA & IMP front, April is shaping up to be by far the toughest month so far, with very few sales. I’m putting this mostly down to the Easter break, and a little down to World Book Day hangover. Post Christmas was grim too, which means I have only a few weeks before a mega summer slump … getting those skates out!

Thanks for reading!

Larisa

Star Fighting

In what is set to be my final fellow-author brain-pick, I have an interview with SCBWI-BI renowned Benjamin Scott.

Benjamin Scott has written eight books for the book packager Working Partners. He is the lead author on the ghost-written Star Fighters series (having written 5 books as Max Chase) and is a contributing author to another successful series for 7 to 9 year olds. He is the co-author of a career guide for graduates and currently has a gritty YA fantasy, The Song of Freiya, out on submission with his agent. After graduating in History at UEA, Norwich, he worked in advertising as an account manager before making the unusual transition to becoming a copywriter. After going freelance, he has devoted more and more time to fiction writing as well as sharing his passion for the written word.

No doubt working on Star Fighters for Working Partners was a great learning experience in writing terms. But did you learn anything about marketing through the process?

One of the most important things I’ve learned is that marketing starts with the original concept of a book. As well as being passionate about stories, Working Partners are very commercially driven. From the very start of each project the idea of the market is always there – who is the target reader? Why does this series stand out from any other? And the answer is never simply ‘because it’s one of our books’, but always a reason integral to the whole story. As someone who used to work in a planning–led advertising agency, the idea of identifying niches and target areas is second nature to me. I’ve tried to bring the same approach to my newer projects, thinking about how an idea works in terms of being able to market it – a clear concept and an exciting hook make life so much easier (both in terms of writing, submitting and promotion). It’s a good reminder that marketing is creative and hard-nosed.

What about PR and promotion?

I’ve also been published before in the student/graduate market. It was a valuable lesson in the realities of publishing: you get what you get in terms of support. This isn’t to say publishers aren’t supportive, but there is a realistic limit to the time and money they can spend on any one project. PR and marketing teams are small with a finite budget. So, the biggest champion for any book should be its author, regardless of how it’s published. A PR manager will have a list of contacts, but that doesn’t guarantee success – and there’s a lot an author can do when looking at opportunities to promote their work. An author might also take more risks to see what will happen.

Have you been directly involved in promoting the Star Fighter books, or do you use promotion as a way to get exposure as a writer?

I was very lucky as when the Star Fighter books were launched I was invited by Working Partners and Bloomsbury to help promote the books as the series lead-author (in most other series the ghost-writers stay below the radar as much as possible). Because of the strange nature of the ghost-writing relationship I’m not directly involved with the publisher and their marketing efforts, although it’s great to see what they’ve done and how well they’ve worked.

My personal focus is going into schools to talk about the books – I have a highly developed Star Fighters assembly routine which is so much fun and brings the world of the books alive. It’s not a sales pitch, but selling the excitement of the Star Fighters’ universe. Personally I get very put off by very thinly veiled (if veiled at all) book promotions, however I get sucked in by an interesting premise or world. So I constantly look at how to bring the words on the page alive for my audience. With Star Fighters, because it’s such a cool premise, it’s pretty easy to bring alive.

Can you say, on average, how much time you spend on marketing/promotion?

This is where the lines get blurred for me because when does socialising become networking, or when does being on social media become promotion? Promotional work that has a specific target probably takes up an afternoon a week averaged out. Events are a form of marketing, I’m looking to create a positive experience of me and the books when I visit schools, and hope that it will create some form of Word-of-Mouth marketing off the back of it. Making one excited and engaged reader is worth much more than making a sale.

Things may change when my name is on the cover of a book, but my marketing strategy at the moment is focused on the school visit aspects of my work and my ‘brand’ as an author. I’m selling the concept of me as a Writer (and to some extent my editing services and creative writing teaching), rather than a specific product or book.

How would you expect this to change once The Song of Freiya is published?

I think there’s going to be lots of pressure to change, both internal and external. Two things will change if The Song of Freiya is lucky enough to find a home with a publisher. Firstly, my strategy is going to shift to focus more on secondary schools and fantasy-related events. Secondly, I’m going to want to make it all about the book – and this is an area I’m going to have to think hard about. Once people know even a bit about the story, most marketing messages are going to start becoming repetitious, so I’m going to have to work hard to find new angles to discuss book related topics.

In terms of sales, what do you think is the most effective marketing tool or initiative? What about in terms of getting school visits?

It’s hard to say without more sales data, which I don’t have access to, but the best day for sales I ever had was when I headlines a reading tent at a school fete: lots of parents around expecting to spend money and I got the kids buzzing the day before with an assembly.

With regard to school visits, my results have surprised me so far. About half of them have come through friends or Word-of-Mouth, I’ve been very fortunate that a couple friends of mine have been keen to have me visit schools they’ve had relationships with. I’ve also had a couple schools who have heard about my visits through other schools in their cluster. The other half have come almost entirely through Contact-an-Author which is a terrific resource and tool. It takes a while to build one’s confidence, so I’m only just beginning to push doing the visits more proactively – I have a plan, but we’ll see what results it yields!

In terms of exposure, what has been your most effective marketing tool or initiative?

Most of my exposure in the children’s book world came through my volunteering for SCBWI. I didn’t realise it when I started but it was probably one of the smartest moves I’ve made in my life. Despite the long hours, I received lots of positive exposure and through the supportive network of SCBWI I’ve gained some opportunities that I’m not sure I would’ve otherwise. So my advice is, don’t limit your idea of exposure to be directly related to the book you’re promoting, giving something back (although it might sound cynical) also works to increase exposure.

I used to have lots of arguments with co-workers about what is a brand. Ultimately, I think it is about what we expect from a company and how they behave – their reputation. I try as much as possible to be the person I want to be and live by the values that are important to me (these are often reflected in my own writing – so it does make sense from a marketing viewpoint too). This might seem somehow a different topic than ‘marketing’ but as an author, I am my own brand. I need to be my own brand ambassador. Everything I do might be considered marketing as the world is interlinked in complex ways – here’s an example, I was chatting to the people who I normally hire cars from about my school visits, just being friendly, and they took a business card to give to their wife who works as a teacher in a local school.

I should also mention Contact-an-Author has definitely been the best marketing website I’ve used so far in terms of actual contacts and enquiries for school visits.

What advice on marketing and promotion would you give to someone starting out?

Five Key Tips

1) Learn how to draft a decent Press Release and what makes marketing copy work. There are lots of excellent books on marketing and promotion (i.e. Teach Yourself Copywriting or Teach Yourself Imaginative Marketing), make use of them.

2) Remember that you have limited time and a limited budget. Be selective in what you choose to do in terms of promotion, but also take occasional risks. It’s okay not to do everything at once and to break down tasks into stages – I often create personal timing plans so I can keep on track with my tasks.

3) Watch what other people are doing, but evaluate it for yourself. There seems to be a lot of people marketing ‘marketing’. Always think about whether what someone is trying to see it fits in with your strategy, your target market and your products. It’s easy to be seduced by the big new thing or marketing glitz. I sometimes feel nervous when I see other authors using certain sites and a voice at the back of my head starts asking whether I should be on it too (then I remember tip 2!).

4) Keep a list of what you’ve done and results you’ve achieved – keep evidence of your successes for rainy-days and moments of doubt. I find I forget what I have done and what I did achieve, so having a reminder works really well to raise my spirits.

5) Get a decent selection of photos of yourself. Find a friend who is keen on photography and try to get a range of places and expressions. It’s always helpful to have them on file for when you need a new profile picture.

Is there anything you have learned that would make you do things differently when it comes to promoting The Song of Freiya?

Being a ghost-writer complicates a lot of things because the relationship with the publisher is far more removed and as passionate I am about the books, they belong to someone else. So for The Song of Freiya (or whatever it might be called!) I want to have a closer relationship with the publishers’ marketing and PR team so I can add to their effort with what I’m doing. For example, if the publishers are going to do a print of bookmarks, I’d probably ask if I could add to the budget to take advantage of better economies of scales. I’ve calculated that for an extra £100 you can turn a 1000 bookmark print run into a 4000 bookmark print run – saving £300 if you reprinted that original print run three times.

I am also going to be more proactive in contacting schools and bookshops as soon as I have a publication date, especially now that I have a better sense of what I’m doing through trial and error. I’ll probably end up re-focusing my online efforts to be in the places where readers want to engage with me. At the moment, I tend to target sites where fellow authors and teachers hang out. With Freiya being for Young Adults, there’s an opportunity to engage directly with the target audience online which is an exciting prospect!

Thank you Ben! Those really are incredibly helpful answers. Lots to digest there.

In fact, next time’s blog I’m going to review the interviews in terms of my own marketing strategy – see if pulling together different ideas provides a new focus.

Thanks for reading!

Larisa

Taking Stock

It’s been stocktaking time over here at Fort St Uma. Having had a rush on over 50 copies of UMA & IMP on World Book Day (major woohoo), my stash is running low. With nothing big in the calendar until June there’s no real urgency but nevertheless the prospect of a second print-run brings up lots of questions like, should I …

– use a different paper? Something more creamy and bulky?

– add a tag line to the cover?

– add some reviews, either to the cover or inside? Except I don’t have any “big name” ones and maybe you have to be David Walliams to get away with listing reviews from kids … Thoughts/advice anyone?

– and finally, the critical question: how many copies should I get … ???

The first three questions can be struck off with a – no need to make a change just yet, best wait until Book 2 is ready for print because at that time I may need to make big cover changes and can also review the paper question. You know, don’t fix if it ain’t broke.

The ‘how many’ question is trickier because it’s about confidence … In the almost five months since launch I’ve sold close to 300 books and though this feels like a huge achievement, in the scheme of things, it’s a drip in the ocean. More to the point, my best bet on sales so far has been getting in front of kids either through visits or sales. But with only one event in the offing, plus looming summer break, the question becomes: can I sell another 300 books before Book 2 is ready (some time early 2016, maybe)? See what I mean? Not exactly oozing confidence here!

Of course, seen differently, if I weren’t such a fusspot, there’s actually no need to offset print at all – I could just get all my books through Print On Demand …

So … do I somehow get a confidence turbo-boost or … stop being a fusspot … ?

On balance, the sensible thing is to hold off making a decision until I’ve had another go-round of looking at what sales possibilities I can come up with over the next few months. Truth is, I’ve been totally preoccupied with preparing for World Book Day and Skype visits so have lost sight of other strategies … Guess it’s time to take stock of what to do next.

Next time posting I have another interview! This time with the awesome Benjamin Scott, former long-running SCBWI-BI ARA and co-author of adventure series Star Fighters, who is currently in the process of getting his YA novel The Song of Freiya out to publishers. I’m very much looking forward to hearing and learning from Ben’s experiences.

PS: I will never stop being a fusspot.

Thanks for reading!

Larisa

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A Jacqueline Wilson Moment

Well, maybe not EXACTLY Jacqueline Wilson but still … World Book Day saw me running a full day of workshops at a Cambridgeshire school and at the end there was a signing that felt somewhat Jacqueline Wilson-ish. OK, so there were no entertainers on hand to keep the crowds busy by making balloon effigies of my characters, but there was a queue and a huddle, lots of excitement and a definite forward thrust of the table that dug into my waist as the (small?) huddle pressed forward. In fact, the whole day was a blast. The kids were engaged and interested, the staff incredibly friendly (one had even read and enjoyed UMA & IMP!), and my contact person was on hand at every turn when I needed something – IT support, paper, pens, help collecting wads of cash that had me feeling and looking like Fagin on market day … My first World Book Day on the Author side of the table. It involved a ridiculous amount of preparation and a tension headache the day before – but here’s hoping for many more to come!

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This week I’m very excited to post an interview with Pat Walsh, much-acclaimed author of THE CROWFIELD MYSTERIES. As you likely know, THE CROWFIELD CURSE, was shorlisted for The Times/ Chicken House Prize, and for the Waterstone’s Children’s Prize. It was longlisted for the Carnegie Medal and was on the shortlist for the Branford Boase award. In 2014, Pat published THE HOB AND THE DEERMAN through the Amazon White Glove Programme and then independently. Clearly she has a lot to share! Here goes:

Could you describe a little about the White Glove Programme and how it works?

The Amazon White Glove Programme is agent-assisted self-publishing, available only to agented writers. It is Amazon’s way of adding a level of ‘quality control’ to self-published books. As part of the package, Amazon uploads the formatted text and creates the cover, either using an image provided by the writer or sourcing an image themselves, but apart from that, the process of creating an ebook or print edition is the same for both WGP and non-WGP self-publishing.

What were the plus points of the programme?

Amazon offers certain marketing and promotional extras for your book: a month’s rotational placement on the relevant genre page, and on the Digital Exclusives page on Amazon.co.uk. These are in addition to the usual benefits of being part of Kindle Direct Publishing; inclusion in the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, and access to promotional tools including Kindle Countdown Deals.

Ultimately, what made you decide to go down the self-published route?

It was mostly curiosity, to begin with. I’d read other people’s experiences with self-publishing and I wanted to try it myself. The idea of having control of every aspect of a book appealed to me and The Hob and the Deerman was not something I felt would hold an obvious appeal for a traditional publisher. At that point I had an agent, so we discussed the White Glove Programme. I had reservations from the start about taking this route to self-publishing, but decided in the end that having an agent involved would make the whole process less daunting. I have since moved on from my agent and as a result, the book was removed from the WGP. I then had to start again, opening a new account with Amazon and uploading the book from scratch to Kindle Direct Publishing and Createspace – the ebook and print edition platforms. The whole process was straightforward and the Amazon helpline was always there for advice. It was interesting to compare the two routes – the WGP and self-publishing. With the WGP, the agent deals with Amazon and has exclusive access to the account page, and therefore the sales figures, promotions etc. This was something I was not at all happy with. Also, with the WGP, Amazon has six months’ or one year’s exclusivity, during which time your agent cannot sell the English language rights of your book anywhere else. This isn’t the case with self-published books.

How do you go about marketing and promoting your book?

This has been the hardest part. I write mid-grade fiction and children in that age range (8-12) still tend to read print books, bought from book shops and borrowed from the school or local library. With self-publishing, distribution to the library and school market is a huge stumbling block. The Hob and the Deerman is only available through one distribution channel – online, via Amazon. Older readers, from YA upwards, are more used to browsing for books online and tend to buy their own books and ebooks, but mid-grade readers often have books bought for them and are guided in their book choices by parents and school librarians, who source books from a variety of distribution channels. Bookshops stock very few self-published books. You might get your local branch to take a few copies of your book but that’s about all. If you did manage to persuade independent bookshops to take your book, the discounts they would want would most probably wipe out any profit you might make.

Promoting the book has been very hit and miss; I contacted a number of reviewers and bloggers to ask if they would be willing to review the book, and several agreed to do so, which was very generous of them, but quite a few blog and review sites have submission guidelines which clearly state that they don’t accept self-published books for review. I think there is still a perception that self-published books can be very poorly written and edited, and unfortunately this can be the case. Several reviewers found my book by themselves and wrote very positive reviews, for which I’ll be eternally grateful! But the hard truth is, whether you are traditionally or self-published, you have to be prepared to get yourself out there, make sure you have a website, be on Facebook and Twitter, maybe have a blog – do whatever you can to raise your profile. It’s hard work and time consuming, and not everyone enjoys or feels comfortable putting themselves in the limelight. The harsh reality of self-publishing is that you are just one tiny figure waving from the middle of a vast crowd and it’s hard to get noticed. And nobody is going to buy and read your book if they don’t know it’s out there.

Has this changed much from when you were exclusively published by Chicken House?

Yes indeed. It’s easy to undervalue just how much a good publisher does for a book. My first book, The Crowfield Curse, was put forward and shortlisted for various awards, including the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and the Branford Boase Award, and was chosen for the Booked Up scheme. Chicken House worked hard to get the book out there and they sold the foreign rights to a number of countries. They understood the market and made the whole business of selling the book look effortless. I still had to do a certain amount of promotion, interviews and talks, which I found very daunting at first. As I said earlier, it doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and I had my share of nerve-shredding moments.

And from when you were published through the WGP?

The Hob and the Deerman was part of the WGP for just four months, during which time I found it hard to gauge how the well Amazon’s promotions were working. As I mentioned, I didn’t have access to my account page and had limited feedback on what was happening. Since going it alone, I have a much clearer idea of how the book is selling. I suspect my biggest marketing tool has been the fact that the book appears on the Amazon pages for The Crowfield Curse and The Crowfield Demon, and is set in roughly the same world. In that respect, the new book already had a readership.

Can you say, on average, how much time you spend on marketing/promotion?

It varies. It might be a few hours a week, or it might be a couple of days. I’m busy writing the next book, so I’m not spending as much time on promotion and marketing as I should. There are writers out there who work tirelessly to market their work and it really pays off for them.

In terms of sales, what has been your most effective marketing tool or initiative?

Goodreads is a great site to have your book listed and reviewed on. There is an option to have an author page and a blog, which allows you to reach out to potential readers. Goodreads also gives you the option to have a giveaway – people can enter a draw to win free copies of recently published books, and the Goodreads team pick the winners after a set period of time. I found this brought in a lot of potential readers and I saw a big spike in book sales. I also approached several book bloggers to ask if they would host a stop on a blog tour and that resulted in a rise in sales.

In terms of exposure, what has been your most effective marketing tool or initiative?

My website has been useful, mainly because it gives readers a way to get in touch, and that’s when you find out what they really think of your stories and characters! You’ll also receive invitations to do talks or appear at book festivals, all great ways to meet your readers. I have Facebook pages for each of the books but for me, these have been of very limited use.

What advice on marketing and promotion would you give to someone starting out?

I would strongly urge anyone starting out as a writer to have a website. Keep it up to date, keep the content interesting and consider starting a blog. Make sure you use your Author Profile page on Amazon and on Goodreads. Make it as easy as possible for people to find you and get to know a little bit about you and your book. Approach reviewers and bloggers – they are enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and will give you a fair and honest review. If you’re lucky they might even offer to interview you or host a stop on your blog tour. It all helps to get your name and your book out there. There are plenty of people who have gone down the self-publishing route and many of them have written about their experiences on their websites or blogs, so read and learn as much as you can before you start out.

Is there anything you have learned that would make you do things differently when it comes to promoting your next book?

Self-publishing The Hob and the Deerman has been a steep learning curve. I wasn’t prepared for how much work was involved or how hard it would be. If I self-publish in the future, I will spend more time on marketing and promotion in the early stages of the book’s life. There are always new marketing avenues to explore and I suspect there are quite a few I haven’t tried yet. But I think the best advice I can give to anyone considering going it alone is, write the best book you can and have it edited professionally. All the marketing and promotion in the world will be for nothing if your book is not the very best it can be. And good luck!

Thank you, what a great set of answers. And not only is all this going on but Pat is steaming ahead with completing the next book in THE CROWFIELD MYSTERIES, which is due for publication later this year. Way to go! (says the person only four chapters into her next book. Sigh.)

This post was a little late going up because of World Book Day shenanigans, so see you again in a little less than two weeks.

Thanks for reading!

Larisa

Going Nowhere Slowly

Everyone knows that self-publishing is a long haul. Of course. As a self-published author you’re ‘nobody’ and there’s no handy track record to fall back on (not your own, or a publisher’s). Except, as it happens, knowing self-publishing is a long haul is a bit like knowing what people mean when they say having a child “will change your life”. Fact is, we’re all clueless until the first flying diaper launches across the room.

Publishing of any kind is a tortoise’ game. Writing is a slow craft. Yet on a cellular level I’ve always been a hare … manically emptying my email inbox, whizzing through items on my to-do list. My piano teacher called me a speed merchant. But hang on a minute … it took seven years to write UMA & IMP. Maybe not such a hare after all?

In case anyone thinks I’m building up to an insight here – be warned: I’m actually building up to a cliché. Thing is, my hare nature WAS frustrated by how long it took to properly finish UMA & IMP. And since the beginning of the year I HAVE been frustrated by the prospect of a grindingly slow eking out of book sales. But what I’ve realised is that the reason I was a speed merchant at piano is because I hated lessons and just wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. Similarly, when I get frustrated about writing or self publishing it’s because I’m not enjoying the process and am getting hung up on outcomes.

Contacting schools and not hearing anything back has been a real challenge to the ‘outcomes focus’. For a while there, I was judging my productivity not on what I was doing but on whether there was a result. But down that road insanity lies – and I’m starting to give myself a pat on the back for getting things done – regardless of the outcome. This proved particularly important after I’d trundled into a library about doing another Chatterbooks event. The librarian was very positive but the phone call that followed with a (very polite) more senior person was spoken in a tone of astonished ‘why would we want you to come in? why?’. Ouch.

Fortunately, there has been movement on the Skype in the Classroom front. Lots of enquiries and so far, I’ve signed up three schools for sessions.

Could be winter, could be age, could be settling into a groove, either way over the last few weeks I’ve happily adopted a tortoise’ pace. So far this month, I’ve sold 8 copies. Who knows where the self-publishing malarkey will go, whichever way, I’m chewing on a flower, plodding along, one foot in front of the other because, after all, it’s not a race … **cliché fanfare** … it’s a journey!

tortoise_and_hareNext blog, I have another interview coming up. This time with Pat Walsh, awesome author of the CROWFIELD MYSTERIES, and THE HOB AND THE DEERMAN. Pat is in the singular position of having been published traditionally, through the Amazon White Glove Programme and self-published. I’m looking forward to sharing her incredible insights.

Thanks for reading!

Larisa

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A Voice of Experience

As promised, I’m posting an interview with Krysten Lindsay Hager this week.

For those who don’t know, Krysten is the author of TRUE COLORS published as an e-book by small independent Astraea Publishing. The idea for an interview followed on from a conversation about guest-blogging … it didn’t take me long to figure out that what readers of this blog would really want to know is – WHAT is involved in getting sales when post publication? No doubt there are as many answers to the question as there are authors but here is an insight into Krysten’s experience!

How did you get your publisher?

I was in a freelance writing group while I lived overseas and two of the women in the group had mentioned they also wrote books and named their publisher. I guess I sort of filed the name away and years later when I moved back to the United States, I decided to send my manuscript to that publisher.

How have you gone about marketing and promoting your book?

I was a journalist and essay, short story, and humor writer before I got my book published, so I had begun to make connections with people and gain an audience. I think it’s key to start that before you get a contract.

Can you say, on average, how much time you spend on marketing/promotion?

No clue! I’m not a structured type person, so you’ll never see me with a schedule that says this time is devoted to xy or z. I’m sure people who do live their lives that way get way more accomplished in a day than I do, but I don’t do well that way. I’m too much of a free spirit to say, “Okay, ten a.m. it’s yoga class, then I’ll deal with emails, then lunch.” Nope, that’s not me at all. I try to get my emails out of the way before I write, but that’s about it.

In terms of sales, what has been your most effective marketing tool or initiative?

Writers always say you never know what it was that you did that made a sale. I always thought, oh they must have a clue, but nope, you really don’t. I try to stay away from focusing on sales and that side of it because it really zaps the creative energy.

In terms of exposure, what has been your most effective marketing tool or initiative?

Making connections with people well before you ever get a book contract. Going to conferences and workshops beforehand is crucial. Learning as much as you can about the business is so important. And you have to start before the book comes out.

What advice on marketing and promotion would you give to someone starting out?

Make sure you get other work out there well before you sign a book contract so you already have people aware of what you do. People need to see what you can do before they’ll consider investing in your work. If people hadn’t read my articles and essays before the book came out they wouldn’t have known what my writing style was like. It’s kind of like how you wouldn’t buy a car without a test drive first.

If you wanted to become a doctor, you’d go to med school. The same is true of writing and publishing. If you want to be successful then you’ve got to learn how to do it—take classes, go to conferences, workshops, read, read, read. There are no shortcuts.

Is there anything you have learned that would make you do things differently when it comes to promoting your next book?

I was so busy the day the book released that I didn’t have time to enjoy the “book birthday.” People kept asking how I celebrated and I didn’t celebrate at all—I was busy ALL day. I wish I could go back and just appreciate that moment and not get caught up with all the rest. You only get one big debut birthday and really, I missed it. I had one moment at about one in the morning where somebody said it had become an Amazon bestseller and it was the first time all day that I just stopped for a minute (basically because I was falling asleep) and I thought, oh wow, but by then the exhaustion had kicked in because I had been awake over 22 hours! Oh yeah, there’s another tip for ya—get some rest the night before!

Thank you Krysten!

Though … nothing at all what I’ve done. Ah well.

Back on the coal face, in the last couple of weeks my main focus has been reaching out to schools ahead of World Book Day because I realised that, surprisingly, not all schools had yet got themselves sorted with author visits. So far I’ve sent out something like 20 emails … but I’ve not heard a sausage back, even though much effort went into honing my pitch. Anyhoo – there’s still time to hear, so fingers crossed! Other random progress has been:

– Contacting Dulwich Books. Although the person on the phone was very nice and gave me an email address, my impression is that I will have to write a really good letter if I want to get anywhere. As if by magic, someone very handily posted this on the SCBWI FB page: http://dulwichbooks.co.uk/independent-authors-tops-tips-from-a-bookshop/ Couldn’t be more useful … but I haven’t quite got round to putting fingers to keyboard.

– Being contacted by the Agency for Legal Deposit Libraries for 5 copies of UMA & IMP to be kept by such illustrious bodies as the Bodleian Library. It cost me postage and the price of 5 books and yet … I was chuffed. It is standard for publishers (reminder to me: yes, I am one) to send a copy of every publication to the British Library, which I did but had half been expecting them to send it back so being asked for more seems positive … very illogical, I know.

– Completing the registration for Skype in the Classroom. And already receiving one enquiry from a school in Virginia.

– Registering with PLR (Public Lending Rights) because, after all, there are now a grand 5 copies of UMA & IMPh in the Chelsea Library. Small acorns and all …

– Writing two chapters to the next book (woohoo).

– Receiving a glorious bunch of Thank You cards from the class I visited early in January. Really touching and made my day.

And that’s it – doesn’t feel like the most productive fortnight but hopefully some of this will bear fruit in the weeks to come!

In terms of sales, through the whole of Jan, 12 books sold plus 14 going through Amazon, though that’s a bit of a puzzle, more about which at another time …

Thank you for reading!

Larisa