Saturday, 24 November 2012

Overcoming writers' block, snivelling wimpishness and why you should never give up, by Emma Haughton

Today I am handing my blog over to my lovely friend, Emma Haughton, to tell us about her road to publication. She has just signed a two book deal and her first book will be published in 2014.

The road to publication.

I get an image of a yellow brick road when I think about the journey to publication. Long, windy, and full of steep learning curves, though like Dorothy, I’ve made some great friends along the way. When I set out, I envisioned one of those nice efficient trunk roads that take you quickly and simply from A to B. I’d been a journalist all my life. I’d written a picture book and had it been picked up by the first publisher I sent it to. Writing a piece of longer fiction – how hard could it possibly be?

Cue many years of frustration, self-deception and disappointment. I wrote a YA book. It was undeniably flawed, though I couldn’t see that. I sent it out to a few agents, collected a number of rejections. Since I hadn’t yet integrated the idea of writing being a process, something you learn to do better, I reacted to the no-thank-yous with a mix of ‘Bah, what do they know?’ followed by several years of sulking and a lingering sense of hopelessness about ever being a ‘proper’ writer.

I became deeply, almost irredeemably, blocked. I couldn’t even look at any of my fiction files in Word without feeling nauseous. I shoved the desire to be a novelist into the deepest recesses of my mind, where it festered away like a canker sore, never quite disappearing and slowly forming layers of ugly scar tissue that blighted my deepest sense of self.

Emma Haughton
In a last ditch attempt to motivate myself, I booked an Arvon course. I met other people who both wanted to write and daily confronted the same fears. I heard stories of countless rejections from the successful novelists who tutored us, absorbed their exhortations to never give up, went home, started another novel, ran into a few obstacles, and promptly gave up.

Another Arvon course a year later. Gradually I began to recognise that my anxiety around writing was actually a bone fide block – I thought I was just endlessly procrastinating. I went back to the novel I’d started. Decided the idea still had legs. I developed a strategy for facing the terror by listening to relaxation music and setting a timer on my laptop to go off in 30 minutes. Just open the Word file, I’d tell myself, open it up and tinker around with it for half an hour, then you can stop.

Initially, I could barely stand that long. It was agonising. I would hanker after the sound of the chimes that told me the time was up. Then, gradually, I got caught up with the story. I also read loads of books on writing, and found a fabulous online course that showed me – graphically – some of the ways I’d been going wrong. Within a month or two, I was ignoring the timer’s bell. I was carving out a first draft. And then a second. I was even enjoying it.

This time, submitting to agents, I was more prepared for the inevitable rejections. I’d grown a slightly thicker skin and finally understood that they weren’t confirmations of my utter crapness as a writer. I got requests for the full. I got pretty close with one or two agents. I got discouraged.

Then one agent put me in touch with a freelance editor, who did an in-depth analysis of everything she felt still stank about my book, but at the same time told me she really believed in it. I sulked. I didn’t agree with many of her points, and anyway I couldn’t see a way round them. So I shelved it.

Some months later the editor got in touch. I confessed I’d given up. She told me to ‘PULL MYSELF TOGETHER AND JUST BLOODY GET ON WITH IT’ and offered to re-read the revised version free of charge. I felt so chastened by her generosity and guilty for being such a snivelling wimp that I decided to have a go. I had absolutely no expectation of success, but I sat down and learned how to revise a novel. Discovered it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. I could come up with ideas, alternatives, solutions. I didn’t do everything the editor suggested, but I did a lot of it, and the book emerged stronger.

This time I sent it out to about eight agents at once, tired of waiting for the slow trickle of responses. Got a number of requests for the full. Then, in one utterly surreal afternoon, I had offers of representation from three of them.

A tad more revision for the chosen agent, and out it went on sub again. This felt considerably worse than submitting to agents, because I knew if all the publishers rejected it, I was at the end of the road. The only way I could cope was to simply pretend it wasn’t happening. I threw myself into writing another YA novel, finishing it just as my agent was getting some initial interest back from publishers. So in the end both books went out on sub together. There was a flurry of meetings in London, and a couple of weeks later I was accepting an offer for both books.

Writing all this down, I remember how firmly I believed that I would never reach this point. Writing novels seemed impossible, a fanciful dream. Not helped, probably, by an English degree from one of those universities that regarded anything written after about 1954 to be just so much flummery. It was a long, hard and very windy road to realising that talent is only part of the equation – and not even the most important part. That passion, resilience and perseverance ultimately counted for a lot more. That writing is a craft - not an inborn gift – and something you learn to do better by trying and failing and trying again.

The Wonderful Publishing House of Oz 
Sure, some people find a shortcut to literary success and seem to arrive at point B in record time, with barely a deviation. But most of us have to trudge every step of the yellow brick road with just a dream to sustain us, and three words tattooed in capital letters right across our foreheads: NEVER GIVE UP.

Monday, 12 November 2012

How to get noticed…

"But, Officer, I am just
promoting my book..."

... Self Publishing is Publishing - Part 3
Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to win a place at the Writers & Artists Yearbook Conference, Self Publishing in the Digital Age. It gave me lots to think about and although I could have blogged off the back of this conference for a year, this post will be last one.
To recap … Read Part One HERE and Part Two HERE
... So, you've written your book and you've published your book. How are you going to sell it? Apart from the obvious proviso - make your work as good as it can be - Amazon's tips to help you sell more books are;

  • Make your work discoverable by adding the metadata (tags, photos, reviews, etc).
  • Books with a ‘search inside’ facility sell more than books without.
  • Update your author page regularly, with as much information as you can (biography, twitter name, your blog/website links, bibliography, appearances, videos, pictures, etc)
Beyond Amazon, getting yourself noticed is the key. Marrying a celebrity, streaking across Twickenham or winning Britain’s Got Talent will all help with publicity, but generally speaking we are talking about Social Media. Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn led a very useful session on developing audiences for your writing, and Joanna Ellis from The Literary Platform  talked about online writer and reader communities. (Basically, developing audiences is another term for marketing, except it's much more fun!) The contacts you make over months and years, on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linked in, blogs and so on, are the contacts who may help to sell your books. 
KNOW, LIKE and TRUST are the key words for social networking, so if you haven't yet established an online presence, start building one now. These things take time.
And then it was the turn of the authors. Ahhh, the authors; those wonderfully lucky people who have already made a success of self publishing… Louise Voss & Mark Edwards (the first 100% indie writers in the UK to top the Amazon charts), Nick Spalding, and Ben Galley. These writers are all now signed up with major publishing houses, having demonstrated not only their earning and writing ability, but also their marketing savvy and media awareness. Their websites are full of useful information for the wannabe published writer and I can't recommend them highly enough.
Here are some of their top tips for getting noticed and selling books.
1. Design a great cover
2. Put your book on as many retail platforms as you can.
3. Do free offers - either the first book in a series, or have free days when your book is available at a cost of £0.00.
4. Engage with readers on a social level (social media, thanks for reviews, acknowledge supportive emails etc).
5. Take advantage of any offers to guest blog, do an interview, and promote yourself.
6. Tweak and change your book blurb, to reflect page visits and conversions to sales.
And finally, there was another mention of that little nugget about self published authors being happier than their traditionally published counterparts, (read Alison Baverstock’s excellent blog post about this here ). As a writer in charge of your own destiny, you are involved in every stage of the book creation process and you get much better and more immediate access to your sales stats, giving you the power to change things which aren't working, and even to improve the things that are. If I wasn't already sold on self publishing as a process, this would have been my turning point. 
So there; that’s about everything. I could go on, but hopefully I have given  just enough information for you to start the ball rolling on your own publishing career. I personally got a huge amount of knowledge, ideas and confidence from this conference, but if you follow my links, you have access to all the same information, for free. Happy writing, publishing, and marketing!

Self publishing is liberating.
Self publishing is here to stay.
Self publishing is publishing.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

And then there was Amazon...

... Self Publishing is Publishing (Part 2) 

To recap - 2 weeks ago, I was lucky enough to win a place at the Writers & Artists Yearbook Conference, Self Publishing in the Digital Age. I won it with a piece of Twitter flash fiction.. It was a day in London, and a day which gave me lots to think about. Read Part One Here

This is part 2 - …and then there was Amazon. 

Although there are other service providers out there, there is no doubt that in the UK at the moment Amazon is the busiest and biggest marketplace for your books. Createspace Director, Jon Fine talked not only about how to publish a book on Amazon, but also the benefits of independent publishing solutions in general. The thing which really got me excited was that thing he said about control…

As a self-publisher you control:
  • the rights to your work
  • the content of your work
  • the cover design
  • the price
  • the distribution
  • the speed at which you move
And for someone who has had more near misses with mainstream publishers than hot dinners (well, almost) and who is terminally fed-up of waiting for emails, phone calls, contracts, and even signs of life, the notion of ‘control’ was very appealing.

Who do you trust in the driving seat?

I’m not knocking anyone here. I understand I am in competition with thousands of other wannabes. I understand that agents need to earn a living, have other clients to support and cannot devote all their time to me. I understand that editors have lots of books to read and cannot drop everything to read mine. I understand that these same editors and their bosses and their acquisitions teams all have to be 100% committed to my work in order to get behind it in a very competitive market in which they also need to make a living...  I understand all that and more. It’s just that whereas a few months ago I thought I had to endure this process, to grin and bear it, I now realise that I don’t have to.

A friend of mine has just been signed with a publisher, and I couldn't be happier for her.
Another friend of mine has just published two books on Kindle, and I couldn't be happier for her. 
But which one am I jealous of?  I’m jealous of the second one. She is in control, she is happy, she is involved with the process and has been from start to finish. Her books are out there now, getting read and earning money. And while we’re on the subject, she’ll be getting higher royalties than my other friend...

Instead of an 8% – 15% royalty from a traditional publisher, (payable only after your advance has been paid back by sales) Amazon, for example, will give you 35%, 70% or 80% depending on your publishing package. (Kindle, Kindle Direct Publishing or Createspace Publishing on Demand.  )

I don’t need to sell Amazon to you because plenty of other people are doing it. I’m just telling you how all this made me feel; which was, in a word, EMPOWERED.

Jon showed us an impressive graph which proved how Kindle sales have surpassed printed book sales in the last year, proving that more people are reading more. So if there has ever been a good time to self publish, it’s now. And personally I can’t see this changing.

All this, and we still hadn’t had lunch. Read part three here; How to get noticed…

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Self Publishing is Publishing - Part 1

I have never wanted to be a publisher because I always felt it would take me away from writing. Having to think in terms of content creation (writing), content management (editing) and disintermediation (getting rid of the middle man), and seeing books as products rather than my babies (!) was never on the agenda. But, having failed to meet market requirements and find a traditional publisher willing to take a chance on me, an unknown, publishing my books, myself, is becoming an increasingly likely prospect. Frankly, I am getting tired of hanging around waiting for someone else to take me on.

"The sounds of freedom. Tap tap she wrote.
Snip snip she cut out the middle man. Kerching she published. And she was happy."
And then last week, I was lucky enough to win a place at the Writers & Artists Yearbook Conference, Self Publishing in the Digital Age. I won it with a piece of Twitter flash fiction; see picture caption. It was a day in London, and a day which gave me lots to think about.
Effective self-publishing, like all publishing, is most evident when absent. You only notice when things go wrong or are done badly. If I was under any illusions that this would be an easy route to literary success, this conference put me right. But what it also put me right on is that taking control can be intensely rewarding, and self-published authors are generally happier than those published by others.
The first speaker to talk about self-publishing was Alison Baverstock. She gave a very interesting overview of the changing industry and has published  The Naked Author - A Guide to Self Publishing  bursting with very relevant information and advice which covers everything from what to write about to marketing the final product. She mentioned two very useful resources for authors who go it alone - The Society for Editors and Proofreaders and The Alliance of Independent Authors. Have a look at their websites if you are interested in self publishing but need a little encouragement; you will see that help is out there!
The next speaker was the very lovely and entertaining editor, Cressida Downing,  who described editing as making something beautiful out of something raw. Amongst her many pearls of wisdom, she suggested that professional editing can increase sales by 35%. Professional formatting apparently makes little difference to sales, but cover design makes the most difference. She quoted as her source, Taleist’s survey of self-published authors which noted demographics, how long respondents had been writing, how many books they’d self-published, where they got outside help, and how much they were earning, along with a multitude of other information. If you want to look at this, go to the Taleist Blog for more information.
So, once you have written and edited your book, you need to find a service provider. Kindle, Kindle Direct Publishing and Create Space are the Amazon biggies, (more on KDP and Create Space in Part 2) but also at the conference were representatives of Kobo Writing Life, Blurb, Troubadour/Matador and Acorn who offer either e-publishing or print on demand platforms for your book. There are many more, of course, and each one will offer something slightly different. But the general advice is to do your research, and then think about your reasons for self-publishing, what kind of help you need, what kind of marketing you want and where your readers are most likely to be found. Your answers should help narrow down your search. As a golden rule, avoid anyone who showers you with praise, tells you your work is amazing and then charges you a small fortune. If you are in any doubt or want further help, Mick Rooney’s excellent website, The Independent Publishing Magazine , will give you plenty of information about service providers, as well as a treasure chest of other useful knowledge.
All this information, and it wasn't even lunchtime... 
By this point, my interest in self publishing was becoming more a goal, and less a fall-back position. But I'll write about that in part 2 ...