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!



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!


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!


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!


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!



Is it January …

… or is it MUD? Anyone?

Seriously … I can’t see because there’s thick goo weighing on my eyes and brain; moving forward is really hard work and I have a distinct sense of needing to fight against a strong downward pull just to stay upright. So: is it mud (maudlin, unwieldy and dark)? Or January?

Despite feeling like I’m walking through sludge, outwardly nothing seems any different. There has been progress – it just doesn’t feel that way. Maybe because it’s been a fortnight of two halves, with most forward movement and arrow-sending having happened in the first week. But that can’t be blamed on January (or mud) because there have just been other things to get done. Still, book-wise this is what has been going on:

– The Chatterbooks event took place on January 10 at Chelsea library. Only two kids (brother and sister) showed up but that was ok because I’d been worried nobody would come. Turns out it’s hard to get bodies through library doors – especially in mud, I mean, January. The library bought 5 books plus one copy sold on the day.

– Had a book reading and “author chat” at a local school for one class of Year 5s. Great fun – and I was blown away by how SMART and engaged the kids were. No mud (sorry, fleas) on them. One boy was close to finishing UMA & IMP and was really enjoying the read, which is encouraging. Left feeling like I’d fluffed my “closing” because I didn’t explicitly say where the book is for sale. It wouldn’t necessarily make a difference but still worth getting into the habit of swapping the Author Hat for the Publisher Hat at some point during a visit.

– Booked a one-day event for World Book Day at a Cambridgeshire school – woohoohoo – and have had great fun dreaming up a theme for the day. Having learnt from the “author chat” event, I’ve broached the subject of book selling ahead of time – once the workshop ideas had been approved with enthusiasm.

– Registered with Skype In The Classroom. Will be speaking to the organiser on Monday re logistics, etc. This is about experience and exposure rather than sales.

– Heard back from the two independent bookshops approached early Jan. No go from both.

– Have started snooping for school Spring and Summer Fairs where I might get a space.

– Contacted a local hospice with a view to getting involved in their summer fundraising event as an author.

– Sadly none of the independent reviews that are in the pipeline have come through as yet. Guess I’m not the only one wading through mud.

– So far this month 9 books have sold. Not Jacqueline Wilson, but pretty good bearing in mind ‘nobody’ knows my book or me.

Written out like that, things sound more ‘flow’ than ‘sludge’ but it’s taken a ridiculous amount of time to write this very short post. So maybe I can’t blame January … ah well, they say mud is cleansing …

Next time (in February!!) I’ll be posting an interview with Krysten Lindsay Hager talking about promoting her indie-published book TRUE COLORS.

Thanks for reading!


New Year’s Dissolution

As someone who is more Stalin than St Nikolas in the personality stakes, the challenge of juggling work, family life and now the many and varied bits of a writing life can prove a particular, well … challenge.

My basic nature is to be organised and compartmentalized. Sound a little rigid? Well, just call me ‘plank’. On top of that, like many writers, I really just want to be left alone to scribble and dream. Add those together and you get an approach to writing that involves carving out and religiously guarding “writing time”, then getting really stressed (and resentful!) when this time is encroached on by something else – and there are always plenty of something else-s, right?

The thing is, by publishing UMA & IMP I’ve opened a door. One that leads onto a long corridor of promotion, school visits and, perhaps most importantly of all – more books. That is, books I’m supposed to WRITE. But how? And when?! There just aren’t enough compartments in my life to fit in a whole new book!

So the compartments have to go. And I’ve come up with my New Year’s Dissolution, which is to melt the boundaries and see everything as a whole. I’m no longer a mother and a writer and a translator and a sister and a friend and a … Nope. I just AM. Sometimes I write, other times I cook, or translate, or … Spot the difference? No?! Well, in my mind’s eye, I see myself sitting at a big wooden table spread with a (non-food) smorgasbord of all the different bits of ‘doing’ in my life. And I see myself calmly taking up separate bits then setting them down – as needed – to move on to something else.

It’s like juggling but without the panic. There’s nothing to keep in the air, there are no balls to drop, it’s all just a continuum of Being sprinkled with various types of Doing. So far it’s working and I feel much less fractured and torn than usual. Let’s see if it holds!

On the subject of Doing, there was almost no book-selling or promoting going on over the Christmas period. After the flurry of launch, a smattering of publicity and all those Christmas fairs, this phase has felt like a strange dead zone. And my Amazon number has tanked to the levels of someone who isn’t selling any books because, well, I’ve shifted only two copies in the last few weeks. Oops. Still, it isn’t all bad news because some excellent reader feedback has filtered through, and a first piece of fan e-mail (from an 8-year-old girl, addressed to Uma and Imp) plus an awesome review posted by the girl’s dad on Goodreads.

And it’s January now … time to start sending out more arrows.

“Stuff” so far this year:

– A phone chat and photo-taking with a local magazine was scheduled then cancelled because of a post-code issue of just not being ‘local’ enough. Ah well.

– Sent a press release to a properly local magazine to see if I can get something in there. Let’s see. Never heard back from the other properly local magazine approached in November.

– First library visit is on Saturday. Need to prepare. Thank you Dawn Finch for your awesome (and, for me, timely!) post on what School (and other) Librarians hope to get from an author visit.

– First class visit on Tuesday. Need to prepare!

– Penciled in a school visit for World Book Day. Fingers crossed Senior Management will approve my fee!

– Did a start-of-year books-sold tally: smidgen over 200 copies flogged between the launch on November 6 and December 31! Awesome.

As I get down to the nitty-gritty of sales and marketing over the long term, this blog is reverting to a bi-weekly affair: hopefully there’ll be news a-plenty to share!

Thanks for reading – and Happy 2015!!


5 Shades of Green

Every (almost every?) author wants the validation of a publishing contract – an affirmation of talent from industry professionals willing to invest in their career. Since starting this self-publishing process one of those niggling, shadow parts has expected me to wake up one fine morning … covered head-to-toe in green, unable to hold back that twisted, Gollum voice any longer: “why not me?”; “I want one too”; “is it too late?”; “what must I do to get one?”. Yep, green with envy at other authors who’ve managed to secure those contracts that seem to be ever more difficult to come by. Bizarrely, the exact opposite has happened. One of the rationalisations I used for self-publishing was a vague awareness that publishers’ investment in authors doesn’t necessarily extend to a marketing/PR input. I told myself that if promotion was going to be left to me anyway then I might as well just get on with the job. But that was a vague awareness. Since going down this road I’ve come across SO MANY more stories of traditionally published authors getting little (or no) sales support. A week ago at a school Christmas fair a lovely YA author and parent bounced up and told me how she had zero marketing support and barely sold any copies of her book at all – then was dumped by her publisher a year in for not making enough sales. Grim. Because despite having three new manuscripts and the support of an outstanding, enthusiastic agent after twelve months of looking she still didn’t have a new publisher. The grass is far from greener on the published side. Another reality check has been this whole Zoella thing … not the fact she used a ghostwriter (how is that new and different from what has been happening for years and years?!) but the fact of once again witnessing that if you have an existing media profile getting a publishing contract is no biggie. A point further confirmed by a friend working in a creative industry where a string of publishing contracts for celebs are currently in negotiation. It’s enough to make any struggling writer who has spent years developing his/her craft turn Hulk green with rage and frustration! More … yesterday, I got round to reading an interview in Publishing Talk with Kit Berry, self-published author of the STONEWYLDE series. Having built up a huge fan-base Berry changed tack and signed with a traditional publisher. The article is a great insight into one self-published author’s marketing strategy … in it she also says: “Having spent so much on acquiring Stonewylde, I’m amazed Gollancz has invested so little in promoting the series.” So are publishers just getting lazy about marketing? Or has marketing become overly difficult and expensive? Personally, I have no doubt that publishers are doing what they can – while simultaneously trying to stay afloat. Publishing margins are tiny. Breaking even on a debut author is very hard. It might seem logical that promoting a book will increase its chances, but it costs bucks to promote a book – bucks that will make it even harder to break even. Conversely, publishers need the big hitters to keep the company going because otherwise they would sink. Or am I being overly naïve and green? As well as cash, good PR and marketing needs creativity. “Author Writes Book!” isn’t exactly an attention-grabbing headline. So every time a book is published (trad or otherwise) to stand out you need some kind of media ‘in’. Or a lot of hard work … which is where, I’m afraid, the author comes in. One of the biggest rationales I hear from authors who have shied away from self-publishing is “I want to spend time writing, not promoting”. Even though I’ve found the process incredibly liberating, in no way would I recommend self-publishing over a trad publishing contract … it’s just that these days anyone who wants to make a living as an author won’t be able to get away from the graft of a large amount of marketing work. Where in the past school visits were an important way for new authors to make ends meet, they are increasingly becoming a key means to getting your book out there, as well as social media – or any other tactic an author can come up with. But you will be expected to come up with something. If there are any trad published authors reading this, thinking ‘oh no, that’s not my experience at all’ – I would LOVE to hear from you!! Because I’m sure there are exceptions – and can think of a couple of books in the last months that seem to have had a lot of publisher instigated PR … In terms of UMA & IMP’s progress, this week I was at two Christmas events and sold a total of 27 books. Even though according to IngramSpark none sold through Amazon, my number did have a big spike so … go figure! Otherwise, the Wimbledon Guardian sent round a photographer to get a pic for an article due to run this week (next??), and I’ve sent out more school visit and review arrows – no hit so far! So, this is my last blog before Christmas as there probably won’t be much happening – but I’ll be back in January. Have a great holiday and best wishes for 2015! Thanks for reading, Larisa

Buzz and Bust

This week I have sold zero copies of UMA & IMP through Amazon. Yep, zero – and that’s not to mention the sorry state of my Number. It’s quite distressing in an overly ambitious, megalomaniac sort of way.

On the other hand, I’ve done two sale/signing events so between those and other ‘flogging’ efforts, a grand total of 47 copies have been sold. And that’s what this week’s blog post is about – the other hand …

… the buzz of getting a Chatterbox reading event at Chelsea library two weeks ago – supported and organized by a super-enthusiastic team of librarians … tempered by the bust of getting less than the tiniest miasma of interest from Battersea library.

… the excitement of getting a mention in the local paper (again a couple of weeks back) … contrasted to the flop of not having any other print publicity success despite getting a few seemingly interested (well, a little bit interested) journalists on the end of the phone.

… the grind of calling, then writing to, numerous schools about the possibility of doing author workshops only to get NO response from ANYONE … balanced by the breakthrough success of scheduling workshops for next term at my daughter’s school.

… the thrill of knowing that a couple of copies of UMA & IMP found a (temporary?) home in my local independent bookshop … followed by the reality check that, at best, they will take a couple of months (!) to sell. Cripes.

… the fantastic opportunity of being able to get into school Christmas fairs to sell the book … juxtaposed against the dawning realisation that Christmas madness has officially descended and this is a terrible time of year to try and approach people about something as tenuously positive as a self-published book by an unknown author who has not even the faintest claim to fame.

And such is life. Good and bad. Positive and negative. The last ten days seem to have been more bust than buzz but hopefully the balance will shift the other way soon too.

Last week I noticed a slow down in my marketing efforts, and this week things have ground to a near halt. The run-up to Christmas isn’t a great time for the stimulation-challenged and I’ve felt myself retreat … because (buzz!) it is a great time of year to hunker down and relish staying snuggled and still on cold, dark nights.

My instinct is to pull back on contacting reviewers, newspapers/magazines, bookshops until January descends. Everyone has their plates full. But all is not lost because I still have a few sale/signing events lined up – four to be exact. Two of those are more about exposure than sales, but I’ll take what I can get!

This week, apart from the sales, I have:

– Put out feelers for some more independent reviews and managed to secure one (yey!).

– Got my Associate membership for the Society of Authors through ( … today. I still need to go through the ‘bumpf’ so that I make the most of it, because at the moment apart from liking the sound of being a member, I’m not too sure what the tangible benefits are.

– Written an Imp interview as ‘guest blogger’ on Victoria Addis’ The Hermit’s Progress. It was fun!

Despite selling a decent amount of books (just call me Zoella!), I’m a little panicked and feeling like I’m not doing enough … saying it will be a long haul seems to be easier than actually being ok with it being a long haul!

Thanks for reading,


A Numbers Game

Apparently EVERYBODY looks at Amazon Sales Numbers … and yet, until three weeks ago I had – somehow – managed to wander through life without ever having heard of them. What ignorance! And how times have changed.

My (traditionally) published brother-in-law, Gregory Murphy, opened my eyes to this magic figure and since then I’ve been following UMA & IMP’s Number with the fervour of a WAG hunting down Hermes’ newest handbag.

Officially called the Amazon Bestseller Rank, the Amazon Number is basically an indicator of how well a book is selling (through Amazon). The lower a number, the more people are buying a book. Writer nirvana is to reach the top 100 …

UMA & IMP’s post-launch Number was incredibly (strangely) high. At one point the book was ranking around 7,500 though that was just for a fleeting moment. The low was around 325,000 and at the moment the book is trolling around 260,000.

But who cares? At least (sorry Greg) that was my thought when I first heard about all this.

But care … because it can matter.

Two weeks post launch I applied for inclusion on a register of authors available for school visits … and was rejected … not for being self-published (as I’d expected) but because my Numbers were too low … grrrr, gnash …

Up until that point, I’d been very happy that most of my book sales had come through either the ImpPrint Books website or direct. Suddenly I was wondering whether it might have been better to encourage everyone to buy through Amazon – even though the revenue margins are, of course, way lower. This storm of madness passed. If someone’s getting the book I’m (more than) happy, regardless of how it’s bought.

And then I realised something else … nobody really understands HOW the Numbers are set. Well, ok, someone must know, but not anyone I’ve spoken to. One sale can bump UMA & IMP’s number from over 200k to 50k but yesterday, randomly, 16 copies sold through Amazon and the Number hardly moved AT ALL.

Ah well. I’ve never been a numbers person, so no change there!

So, apart from number-tracking, this week I have also:

– Got some independent book reviews following the Goodreads giveaway. Two 5* raves and one 3*.

– Had a meeting with my daughter’s school and been signed up as their Writer-in-Residence (unpaid but will give me experience and confidence to approach other schools for paid work).

– Had a moment of publicity glory in my local newspaper

– Had a meeting with a local charity about doing a workshop for local kids. They found me through the newspaper article, so that worked!

– Visited an independent bookshop and was told a gentle ‘no’, though the owner said UMA & IMP’s production quality is very high, so that was good.

– Written to a few more local papers and magazines to see if I can get more print exposure.

– Signed up to do a couple of readings at a Santa’s Grotto for a high end London private members’ club. Not sure how many books will sell, but it’s all worth a go.

– Sold a surprising 30 books. I’m thinking the 16 that went yesterday must be one of my more flush friends getting books for every child they know – ?

Although that sounds like a lot of stuff done, my impression is that I’ve sent out less arrows this last week. Maybe it’s just in the last few days. Still, I’ve got a few book signings/sales coming up now ahead of Christmas so hopefully will shift some copies that way too. The first is tonight – wish me luck!

Thank you for reading,