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

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Is there Life without Amazon?

For the most part, everyone createspace-published that I have read or spoken to, has been happy with the final product. Really sadly, I’m not one of these people.

When the proof copy of my book arrived last week, I was big-time disappointed. By now the world knows I’m a horrible perfectionist, so maybe this isn’t a surprise. Mostly the problem was the cover. Createspace only offer a gloss laminate, and for the cover I have this doesn’t seem to work well at all. Combined with paper that is nothing like the kind you would normally find in a paperback, and the US (rather than UK) standard size I was, well, gutted actually.

Obviously, the non-standard size was something I knew about when setting up the account. Neither createspace nor IngramSpark offer UK standard children’s novel trim size in cream paper. Using white paper for fiction screams self-published I’m told, so trim size was a compromise I had to get my head around. But the glossy cover? Not possible. And createspace don’t offer the option of matte laminate.

So I’ve closed my createspace account, and won’t be printing through them.

Not such a radical choice when you know that IngramSpark distribute through Amazon – and also have the option of a matte cover. IngramSpark paper is less shiny, more paperback-ish too (by a touch). But I have yet to receive a matte cover proof, so my mind has gone to what would happen if I published only through a regular (non POD) printer without a direct route into Amazon – ?

As an indie author the lines to readers are pretty limited. Independent bookshops MIGHT stock your book, the biggies are unlikely to do so unless there is prior, established readership interest. People buy books either online or in store and although indie authors often sell through their own website that only works if people know where to find you. Everyone knows where to find Amazon.

Realistically, there is no Life without Amazon – not being available through them would be instant sales (and exposure) suicide.

So is there another way? Well, you could sell direct. The process itself sounds pretty straightforward: you put your book on the site, someone buys it, Amazon passes on the order, you ship the book and get paid via Amazon. But what about the sums?

Without going into what all the different charges are (‘cos whatever they are called each charge boils down to money off revenue), on a kids’ book priced at 6.99 it goes approximately like this:

Credit on Item Sale
Item Sale Price £6.99
Domestic Shipping Credit £1.65 (my estimate)
Total Credit on Sale £8.64
Amazon Fees
Referral Fee – £1.00 (this is 15% of item price)
Per-item Fee – £0.75
Variable Closing Fee – £0.43
Total Amazon Fees – £2.18
VAT (15%) – £0.33
Total Credited to your account £6.13

From this £6.13 you need to pay book production costs and p&p, which in my reckoning come to somewhere between £4.15 – £4.85, depending on your printing costs (more in next week’s post) and based on 1st class postage. This would leave between £1.28 – £1.98 revenue, which is pretty healthy compared to the £0.81 left from a POD sale. And super healthy compared to what you’d get through a bookseller.

If you’re an optimist (and you would probably need to be in order to go down this road) then you could also pay a £25 monthly fee instead of the £0.43 per-item cost. The first 3 months are currently being offered free

Amazon also have a service where you supply stock and they ship on your behalf, but I’m not going to get into that option because it doesn’t seem cost-effective unless you are doing major sales. But if you want details, check out http://services.amazon.co.uk/services/fulfilment-by-amazon/features-benefits.htm.

So – is anyone else’s head spinning?

Yeah, I thought so.

For now, I’m still waiting for a matte cover proof from IngramSpark – and hoping for the best. Although the sums for selling direct via Amazon seem good, selling POD via IngramSpark gives you distribution via Amazon as well as giving your readers the option to order a book direct from their local bookstore. And selling direct through Amazon would be either a lot of work if selling lots of books, or a waste of time if not selling many.

For now, I’ve put off ‘book launch’ until November. Next week I’ll be looking at getting books via a regular offset printer.

Maybe next time take an aspirin before starting to read this blog!

LarisaScreen Shot 2014-10-02 at 11.49.49

 

Mrs Armitage and the Big Book Cover

If you’re planning to design your own book cover, then I have no advice. Cover design is well beyond my capabilities – hats off to you!

However, if you are planning to get someone else to do your cover design, you might learn something from my experience – ? Like how not to do it?

Things did not go according to plan over here

I guess, the more ‘loaded’ something is and the more we want it to go a particular way, well … yes, you all know what I mean! Not quite pear-shaped … but tortured. Difficult and stressful rather than a creative breeze. And let’s face it, when it comes to authors there is nothing more loaded than the book cover. Because authors are usually big readers and KNOW that we ALL judge the content by what’s on the outside. Isn’t that the whole point of a cover? It does mean a prospective buyer is judging years’-worth of work based on a cover that may have been created in the space of a few hours. Tricky.

First off I went with a small start-up company made up of a small team of graphic designers and illustrators. They have great client testimonials and an impressive portfolio with a large range of styles. Their approach is to hear the client’s remit then come up with a couple of draft ideas and finesse until the cover is just right. My contact was a very personable graphic designer who seemed to listen. But the first two concept sketches I got back were exactly what I didn’t want. No problem: I made suggestions of specific things that could feature – and what I got back was a cover with exactly those things on. A part of me already knew that I’d been hoping for a more cooperative approach with real creative input from the illustrator, but instead I tinkered to try and get the cover I wanted – which is where MRS ARMITAGE AND THE BIG WAVE comes in. If you don’t know or remember the story, check out http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1999-06-13/news/9906250363_1_armitage-breakspear-mrs. It’s too brilliant.

Anyway, things got very:

“That’s very busy, what I really need is … less elements on the cover …”

“That’s square what,  I really need is something less computer-generated … “

“That’s baby-ish for middle grade … what I really need is … “

And so it went until I realised that what I needed, what I really, really needed was … a new illustrator. Someone I could speak to directly and who had their own definite style.

At this point I started losing sleep. Was I being too fussy? Expecting the impossible? Chasing the elusive? But hold on! Would Mrs Armitage ask these questions? Of course not.

So off I went to find someone whose style matched what I was looking for, so that she/he could take over the creative process and come up with images that would make marketing the book less (not more) difficult.

And I totally lucked out by finding exactly the person I was looking for in a young freelancer called Mimi Alves, working in LA. If you ever want to find a freelancer, go to Elance (www.elance.com) – it is an amazing resource full of talented people either starting up or setting out as freelance. If you’re wondering why I didn’t use the amazing resource that is SCBWI, the answer is: funds. Bearing in mind my budget, I wouldn’t be happy approaching someone on a speculative basis without knowing what that person expects to earn. And I would always assume that person is way over my budget.

The good news is that having found Mimi everything went swimmingly. She is enthusiastic, creative, quick and easy to communicate with. If you want to find her on Elance, look under Amelia Alves.

Finally I asked the amazing person doing my interior design (more in next week’s post) to also do the outside … and now have a cover that I’m REALLY excited about – and one that will help me feel more confident about getting out there to sell my book.

For those interested in the bottom line, I paid Mimi $120 (6 hours work at $20/hour) and the graphic designer $40 (2 hours work at $20/hour). With the £-$ exchange rate as it currently is, that’s within budget.

So my advice for anyone thinking of farming out cover design: find an individual illustrator whose style very closely matches the kind of look you want (this will likely involve a large amount of trawling), then hire a graphic designer separately. No doubt there are companies that work well as a team, but unless you know this for a fact, it is better to get two different people with two different skill specialisations that you can work with directly. Them’s me pearls!

And here are a couple of (not saved to print-quality!) sneak peeks:

uma_and_imp_cv_11_180914  imp_flat

Thanks for reading,

Larisa

Avoiding Ankle Sprain and Letting Go

Using a photograph on the front cover of a middle-grade children’s book is a bit like jogging in stilettos – it can be done, but isn’t generally recommended. Certainly, you wouldn’t expect to win the London Marathon. And much like challenging Priscah Jeptoo whilst sporting Manolo Blahnik, I wouldn’t want to be the first to try … so I’ve found myself an illustrator.

There are, I’m sure, gazillions of ways to find an illustrator: through SCBWI – both British Isles and International; through friends; agencies; by checking out illustrators on already-published books; through illustrator or other sites like deviantART and Elance. I was completely overawed by the amazing talent out there … and ended up having a surreal moment of experiencing what it might feel like to be an agent. Really.

It happened after I posted a job on Elance and found myself going through proposals from 66 illustrators in places as diverse as Kazakhstan and Costa Rica. And after the first 20 there I was, scanning and declining submissions in a matter of seconds – like the best of ‘em! Turns out that what I’ve always heard is true: the high level of competition meant I considered only the illustrators whose style reflected EXACTLY what I was looking for … and once I already had a few strong contenders, I was looking for reasons NOT to like something. To top it off, when really inspired, I found myself writing the occasional email along the lines of “I really loved your work but it’s not what I’m looking for right now” … er … anyone heard THAT before??? It felt freaky to be on the other side of that message and has definitely got me looking at my (many) rejection letters in a new and more positive light. Every cloud, eh?

The main benefit of checking out lots and lots of illustrators’ work is that it gave me clues about what I did and didn’t want. A few times I sloped off to Waterstones or headed online to look at the different styles that are out there, trying to work out what I wanted to achieve, and whether what appealed to me would appeal to middle-grade readers. You could say that, for the first time, I really properly looked at book covers … and some way into this process it dawned on me that a book cover needs different skill-sets, and I had, wait for it …

OBVIOUS (to anyone else) REALISATION NO. 2:

A kids’ book cover needs an illustrator AND a designer.

Of course. Because the illustrator does the … yes, the illustration … but you need a designer to decide on fonts, where the blurb goes, how the title and author name will be laid out, etc., etc. In fact, a very kind SCBWI BI member informed me that in publishing houses, the designer will first make all the decisions on layout and fonts, then get the illustrator to provide artwork to fit around the design.

I’ve been lucky enough to find an illustrator who can also do book design. For a novice this seemed like a good choice, because it means I have one less person to factor into my incoherent ramblings about what I’m looking for … which brings me to the other thing: communication. As the person commissioning and instructing the illustrator, the challenge is to convey a strong, clear sense of the book and characters, because this informs the illustrator’s work. So unless you speak fluent Kazakh, that illustrator in Astana whose work you liked, well … he might not work out.

SO, for anyone who has wondered what could possibly be the upside of going-it-alone to publication, setting the ball rolling towards getting a cover for my book will likely be one of the highs (and yes, it may be the one and only upside).

Usually authors don’t have much input into how their book ends up looking, which is in some ways very sensible, because we’re writers, not visual artists (apart from you lucky and brilliant lot who do both). And bearing in mind we all absolutely do judge a book by its cover, this is second in importance to The Manuscript on a list of ‘bits you really need (to at least try) to get right’.

Speaking of which: as well as signing up an illustrator, I’ve also commissioned an editor to advise on the state of my ms. This means I’m now facing a new challenge – letting go … letting go while trying not to imagine what is happening to my ‘baby’. To take my mind of it, I may take up jogging … in trainers.

Thanks for reading. Next week I’ll be looking at the different platforms for Print On Demand. Hope to see you then.

Larisa x