Sunday 31 August 2014

Your First Book Contains Four Chapters of Your Second Book

Signs of a problem: eBook ends with the progress bar at only 70%; critical reviews stacking up.

The symptoms: frustration; concern; regret.

You’ve just finished writing your second book and you’re determined to make sure that everybody who’s read your debut novel picks up the new one. So, you open your old manuscript and paste in the first four chapters of the new book.

A poor, unsuspecting reader is happily enjoying your tale thinking she has many chapters still to go, when Splat! ‘The End’ assaults her eyeballs. The remaining pages are devoted to something she might not want to read, especially as finding out what happens will almost certainly mean parting with more money. She did not sign up for this.

If your goal is to maximise return readers, your second book should appeal to the same target audience as your first. You don’t have to stick to one genre but it helps. However, even if your books do appeal to the same demographic, they should not include four teaser chapters from other works. A quick survey suggests that over half of readers prefer not to find any sample chapters at the back of a book, in favour of a brief blurb. Traditional publishers might do it, but that doesn’t mean readers like it.

Imagine going to a theme park for the day and getting chucked out half way through the afternoon so that you have an hour free to look at pictures of the rides at other theme parks.

Some authors have taken things further by publishing purpose-written short stories to advertise their new books, then bunging chapters at the end. Whilst writing a short story linked to a novel can be an effective marketing tool and provide welcome extra material for dedicated readers, devoting half a book to free chapters is particularly poor form and will annoy many people.

In the case of paperbacks, including unnecessary pages will make a dent in your profits, as printing costs depend on page count.

Rather than include chapters of your next book, write a compelling blurb, custom-designed to appeal to people who enjoyed the first book. Then provide a link to a webpage that contains a sample.

Saturday 30 August 2014

Your Character Speaks Igbo But You Don’t

Signs of a problem: Igbo dictionary starting to look tatty.

The symptoms: frustration; eye-strain.

Despite writing for a British audience, having no contact with south-eastern Nigerians and not knowing a word of Igbo, you decide to create a chatty main character who only speaks Igbo and, in order to maintain realism, you decide to write all of his dialogue in Igbo.

This is a mistake. Do not write a character who only speaks a language that the vast majority of your readers cannot decipher. Yes, there is a place for bilingual books, but it’s not here.

Unless your character is in some way disadvantaged so that the only words of Igbo he ever speaks are, “Hello”, “My name is Madu”, “I am eighteen”, “Where is the swimming pool?”, readers are going to give up trying to understand what he’s saying and, more than likely, give up on your book.

Of course, you could translate Ada’s dialogue, but that would significantly slow the pace.

If you really are determined to write a main character’s dialogue in a foreign language, find somebody who is fluent in the language, instead of trying to work it out for yourself using a dictionary or, God forbid, online translation.

For example: take the typical English phrase, “I am a wizard with a fondness for tasty witch titties.”

Translated into Igbo and back to English using an automatic online translator, it becomes:

“I am a professional and I enjoy the sweet witch Levy.”

Such a translation disaster puts me in mind of a joke I once heard: a man, wanting to explain why he was leaving his Russian lover, typed the phrase, ‘You have a beautiful body but a mean spirit’ into an online translator. Instead, the girl received, ‘Meat’s lovely but I don’t like vodka’.

If none of your readers understand a word of Igbo, your translation mistakes will probably go unnoticed, but it’s always a good idea to aspire to writing a novel that’s not vulnerable to errors.

Friday 29 August 2014

You Want a Photograph of Audrey Hepburn with Mick Hucknall’s Hair, Skydiving with Adolf Hitler

The situation: perfect image in your mind; no such image on screen or paper.

You feel: frustration; disappointment.

You’ve just finished your novel about a ginger Holly Golightly on an extreme sport holiday with Adolf Hitler. You know that the most appealing moment is the scene where they go skydiving; it has intrigue, drama, fear... It’s perfect for a cover. Unfortunately, your cover designer does not agree.

“Are you sure you don’t want a drawing of Audrey Hepburn with Mick Hucknall’s hair skydiving with Adolf Hitler?” she asks, optimistically.

“No, I want a photo-realistic portrait.”

Whilst Photoshop can do some incredible things, it is extremely difficult to create a photographic representation by splicing components that either don’t mesh or, worse still, don’t exist.

If you think that capturing Mick Hucknall’s hair and simply pasting it on top of a photo of Audrey will work, then you are mistaken. There’s lighting, angles and complexion to consider.

If Mick is lit from the left and Audrey from the right, the resulting image will look fake. Similarly, you can’t just paste Hucknall’s hair taken from the front onto a picture of Audrey in slight profile.

Then there’s Mick Hucknall’s complexion. Audrey’s skin tone and eyebrows are suited to dark hair and a sudden ginger replacement will not look natural.

As for Adolf Hitler skydiving, there are a finite number of photos of Hitler available, and none with an expression commonly associated with skydiving. Yes, expressions can be altered but to do it realistically, your illustrator might have to spend hours with warps and brushes.

If you want a ridiculously complex image then it’s better to commission original artwork such as a painting or ink drawing than to expect an illustrator to piece together a monstrosity from unsuitable photographs. Short of dressing models as Audrey and Hitler then sending them on a skydive, a photo-realistic image is likely to be beyond your grasp.

If you insist on going ahead with the bad idea and end up with something that doesn’t look good, your illustrator’s reputation might take a hit for no fault of her own.

Added to which, does your illustrator really wants to be associated with a depiction of a foul dictator having fun with a highly regarded movie character? You might know that your book is a hilarious satire that ultimately challenges dictatorship but people who glance at the cover might see it as an affectionate homage to Hitler. Does your illustrator want her name beside something that could be so easily misunderstood?

I’m not saying don’t write about bizarre or risqué topics, but do spare a thought for your cover designer.

Thursday 28 August 2014

Your Editor IS Shakespeare (But You’re Too Proud to Listen)

The situation: your manuscript comes back covered in tracked changes and comments.

You feel: rage.

You’ve paid somebody to edit your book and you’re expecting half-a-dozen minor suggestions and a pat on the back. Instead, your returned manuscript reveals that you can’t spell, punctuate or construct sentences. In fact, it’s a wonder you passed GCSE English.

At this point, there are two attitudes you can take:

- What a wanker! I know best.

- Wow, that editor did a lot for his money.

You tell yourself that you have a better command of the English language than he does. You tell yourself that your unorthodox sentences are part of a creative rebellion. You rant online about editors being too big for their boots.

I’m sorry, but unless you’ve been really unlucky with your editor, he probably does have a better command of the language than you do. His entire job revolves around understanding spelling, punctuation and grammar, whereas yours includes storytelling and other skills that dilute your attention to linguistic accuracy.

Whilst it’s okay to occasionally bend the rules of the language in the name of creativity, you must first demonstrate that you know what the rules are.

Accept that you may be the book’s author, but that doesn’t make you the expert on its finish. If you genuinely think your editor is over-editing or plain wrong, get somebody else to look over the document for a second opinion.

Do not sack your editor in an angry rage. Do not trash your editor’s reputation on the internet. Do not add an introduction to your book excusing your illiteracy, e.g.

‘Don’t bother reading if typos happen to be a pet peeve of yours. Perhaps someday I will be able to afford an editor who isn’t up his own arse. But then what can you expect from someone whose pathetic pernickety excuse for a life involves placing commas in necessary locations, excising extraneous ones, and fixing spelling errors.’

Insulting people who care about literature isn’t a great start when you’re trying to sell a book. Consider switching to a career path designing emoticons.

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Your Editor Thinks He’s Shakespeare

Signs of a problem: manuscripts come back with errors introduced and creative ‘suggestions’.

The symptoms: frustration; disappointment; embarrassment.

Your book needs an edit. You think you’ll cut corners by hiring an English Literature undergrad who’s never done any editing before but swears hiring him will be the best pint of beer you ever spend.

However, when your manuscript comes back, it’s full of unwelcome additions. Where you first introduce your unconventional, short, tubby, chain-smoking detective, your editor has put a note in the margin that reads, ‘I would be more likely to put my faith in a tall, dashing chap with meticulous personal habits.’ Where you introduce your quirky, intellectual female sidekick, your editor comments, ‘Are you sure you want to make the woman sound smarter than the man? This could put off male readers.’ When you write, ‘Honestly, I laughed until I was tickled red!’ the editor points out that the expression is ‘tickled pink’.

A good editor knows when to stick an oar in, and when to respect your personal style. A proofread involves correcting spelling and grammar, and checking punctuation and formatting. A line-edit includes reading for style, continuity, plot and narrative inconsistencies. Unless you agreed on a full critique, an editor shouldn’t be suggesting changes to Bob Barrrowroot’s appearance and personal habits. Under no circumstance should an editor make plentiful suggestions on how to bring your manuscript in line with his or her personal preferences.

As a new author, it can sometimes be difficult to stick to your convictions when faced with a more experienced person making contradictory suggestions. However, it is your book, your vision and your career on the line. If you wanted to give somebody else the final say, you’d seek out a publisher.

Always review an editor’s suggestions. Some authors blindly accept them all and that is a mistake. It’s very easy not to notice you’ve written an ambiguous sentence when you know what you meant. Editors are not mind readers and yours may assume a different meaning, which could lead to editorial suggestions that will alter your meaning. Consider each recommendation individually.

If your editor is treading on your toes frequently, or simply does not gel with your style of writing, then look around for a new one – perhaps one who insists on two pints? Working with an editor who continually pulls in the opposite direction will do nothing to improve your work.

No matter how frustrated you feel, you must not shoot your editor. If you decide to part ways, you may wish to recommend him to an evil rival at some future point.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

By Nick Metcalfe

Ego and the Editor

Ego. Everyone has one. For a writer, it’s important to have a sense of self-esteem and a belief in one’s writing. An editor must know what he or she is doing and have confidence in his or her abilities. But when there is a clash who gives ground; who backs down and accepts that the other is ‘right’?

As a writer I know that I have much to learn—particularly having chosen to self-publish. One thing that I have learned is that editing is an essential component of the book production process. I don’t mean proof-reading (don’t get me started on that pet peeve), or copy-editing. I mean an examination of the text that will lead to modification, change and rewriting—the process that can attack the ego of the writer and, with each accepted modification, can add to the otherwise considerable ego of the wrong ‘type’ of editor.

I write non-fiction. My first book was a long-term project that had been on the go, on and off, for a decade before it got to the editing stage. I had lived with the opening paragraph of the opening chapter for almost that long. I had read it and reread it countless times. I was happy with it. It made me nod and silently agree that it was a great start. Then I sent it to my editor. The very first email that I received back read: “Chapter 1, page 1, paragraph 1, line 2: You say ‘....’; this doesn’t make sense.” She explained why and suggested that I rewrite it. I cannot describe the flare of irritation, the blow to my ego and the feeling that this would be a torturous process.

I learned fast that my editor had a canny knack of knowing when something wasn’t quite right but that her lack of detailed knowledge of my subject meant that she knew she had to tell me the reason that she thought so, leaving me to craft a new way of telling the story. This approach boosted my ego and made me feel that we were improving my work.

If your editor’s ego leads them to think that they could have improved on Shakespeare’s drafts and if your ego is big enough to think that you could give the bard a run for his money, you are not likely to get the best out of the relationship. Finding an editor that you trust and who can offer honest and objective criticism, and to whom you are willing to listen, is vital if your precious work is to have any chance of success.

  • Believe in your writing but know that your ‘finished’ draft is flawed.
  • Trust your editor but put your foot down when you want the deckchairs rearranged your way.
  • Know that a good editor and a talented and energetic writer will make a great team—where there’s no place for over-inflated ego...

Tuesday 26 August 2014

Your First Book Goes Straight to Number One

The situation: your book has a ‘1’ next to it; no books appear above it in the chart.

You feel: excitement; pride; delight; smugness.

If, despite being a complete newcomer to self-publishing, your book gets to number one in a bestsellers chart, well done! Give yourself an enormous pat on the back, buy yourself a drink and tell your friends all about it. Brag on social networks wherever you like – you just did something amazing.

Do not, whatever you do, join a forum used by experienced writers and immediately start a thread doling out advice on how to write a number one bestseller.

Such behaviour will not do you or your reputation any favours. Your thread will be read by two types of people – those who have already had a number one bestseller and those who are working hard to write one. Neither of those groups will appreciate a young whippersnapper cruising in and trying to tell them how to achieve success.

Although you may think that you’re being subtle, there is nothing delicate about the words ‘I thought I’d start a thread to help other authors. Let’s use my book as an example.’ Self-promotion has a strong, unmistakable odour.

A more appropriate response would be to join the forum and introduce yourself. Next, get involved in a few discussions that you didn’t initiate yourself and that are not centred around your own book.

Take a while to assess the book market and gauge how significant your success actually is. Yes, seeing your book at number one is a big achievement for you, but has it really rocked the publishing world? How many other authors have topped the charts? Which chart did you conquer? Was it the overall paid chart at a major store or a particular genre in a tiny obscure online bookshop that only features books set during WW2? You’ll look like something of a numpty if you waltz into a forum announcing that you’re the next big thing after your number one hit, only to find that that yours is the only book in the category Children’s Fiction -> Erotica -> Golf.

Once you get to know forum members, they will jump with glee when you get a number one hit, but cruising in and immediately announcing yourself a runaway success will just make you look like a number one wazook.

Monday 25 August 2014

Your Glorified Book Excerpt is Rejected by Drabble Enthusiasts

Signs of a problem: a polite email tells you that your drabble has not been selected for inclusion in a newsletter.

The symptoms: embarrassment; fury.

You hear that writing a drabble (100 word short story) for a daily newsletter is a great way to showcase your writing talent. So, you rush straight to your novel and look for a chunk of text that looks roughly the right length. Excitedly, you copy and paste the chunk into a drabble-request-form and tidy it up until it fits the required length.

You wait, excitedly, for the newsletter to feature your work. Instead, you get a polite email from a moderator, telling you that the drabble slot is reserved for complete and original stories, not excerpts from books.

“But, ah!” you think, reaching for your laptop. Cunningly, you copy and paste the blurb for your latest novel into the submission form. You even add a sentence so that it has a tidy conclusion.

You wait, once again. Incredibly, the moderators have rejected your work a second time, telling you that the drabble slot is reserved for complete and original stories, not blurbs from books.

Your knee-jerk reaction is one of anger. How dare somebody reject your drabbles? They each took four whole minutes to construct. How much time are you supposed to spend writing one hundred words?

As it happens, significantly longer. The drabble’s brevity creates the impression that it’s an easy form to master. In fact, as any seasoned drabblist will tell you, there’s an art to telling a story in exactly 100 words.

Whether or not you appreciate the time and thought that goes into drabbles, it is never a good idea to respond to any email with: ‘I think my rejection was an error. I am easily the most accomplished author around here. Your moderators must be jealous of my success.’

If you really are the best drabblist in town, the most effective way of showing people is to write a kick-ass drabble. People will soon acknowledge your superiority and moderators will see your name as a symbol of quality. Show, don’t tell.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

By Jonathan Hill

This is definitely a case of quality not quantity, size doesn’t matter etc … Drabblists sometimes spend several hours on a single drabble. Not all take this long to write, of course, but there is nothing more frustrating than seeing a drabble cobbled together from existing work. If you value your life amongst other drabblists, do not do this!

So why write a drabble, aside from featuring in a shiny newsletter which you can print and wave in the faces of your friends and family? Producing such concise fiction is actually an excellent writing exercise. It forces you to focus on what really drives a story, what elements are essential to move and shock a reader. There is no room for padding here, and if you find you’re having to pad out your story to reach 100 words, maybe you need to choose something other than ‘My Breakfast Cereal Bowl’. Writing a drabble well can be most rewarding and if you manage to pull off a twist at the end, you might even find you impress someone enough to start a relationship.* Having trouble moving from one book to another? Try writing a drabble, the ultimate palate cleanser.

*link between drabbles and sex not yet proven

Sunday 24 August 2014

A Reader Notices a Typo

Signs of a problem: sudden awareness of a typo that didn’t seem to be there yesterday.

The symptoms: frustration; anger; devastation.

It may feel like having your insides ripped out through your nose, but having a specific typo brought to your attention is actually a good thing. Proofreading costs money and if a reader has been kind enough to alert you to a typo that can be fixed, then you should be thankful.

On rare occasions, however, a reader might leave their feedback in the manner of a one star review titled ‘Full of Sodding Mistakes!’ without being even remotely specific. On such occasions, murderous thoughts are acceptable, so long as you do not act on them – remember, always the humble, grateful author on the surface. Keep the sadism hidden deep within.

You must not, under any circumstances reply to the reader with the words: ‘Ya mamma is full of sodding mistakes.’ That could make you seem ungrateful. What? Yes, I know you are ungrateful, but you must promote a feedback-rich environment if you are to improve and be taken seriously. A reviewer might be a useless waste of space, but if you get a reputation for being prickly it could deter feedback from more constructive sources. Also, you’ll look like a censorship pillock.

Some people believe an author should never comment on reviews, but I think it’s good practice to thank reviewers, provided they haven’t said something so horrid that a few words of thanks will look sarcastic.

It is not difficult to update an eBook, so you should do this regularly if typos are brought to your attention.

If, however, somebody finds a typo in a print-on-demand book, it might cost you money to update the manuscript. You must think very carefully about whether or not to correct the mistake. Although it can be tempting to want to pay whatever it takes to make your baby perfect, updating your manuscript too frequently is a slippery slope toward empty pockets. A bit like getting your baby’s ears pinned and then deciding that you don’t like its nose. Decide on a minimum threshold for updates – it could be a number of typos, a number of copies sold or a period of time. Once the threshold has been met, then take your baby for its plastic surgery.

Avoid pretending that the typo was intentional. ‘I meant “grisly” not “grizzly”. Little baby Peaches is gruesome!’ just won’t wash.

Do not criticise reviewers for making typos in their reviews – readers don’t have to be able to spell; you do.

Never take the attitude that you’re an indie, so accuracy doesn’t matter. If you want to be taken seriously as a totally splendid hotshot author then you need to behave like one, and totally splendid hotshot authors strive for perfection.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

By Chris Bailey

As a first time author, I have gone through the heartache of discovering a typo several zillion times! They seem to be everywhere, spreading like a virus and no matter how many times you read your manuscript, there is a stupidly high chance you’ll still bloody miss them.

So you’ve got a proof reader? Get four (thousand) or more. You’ve proof read your book ten times? Try ten more times. You finally give up, broken and hating your work as much as a childhood nemesis who stole your lunch money. Get up and move past it; there’s always help out there.

You find a genius editor; he’s smart, notices things you didn’t even consider. Though you’ve never met him in person, you’re 200% sure he smells of roses. He performs a line-edit on your book and you’re grinning like Garfield on lasagne day.

The big book release … first review is good. Reviewer however notices typos! How did this happen? You want to crawl into your bed and hide … All that time, effort and they’re still there.

Relax; releasing a book you have put so much time into is a wonderful achievement. You should be proud! Even a robot can’t pick up on everything. You’ve been lucky enough to have the typos pointed out to you, so go and celebrate your first good review and come back to those typos later.

Saturday 23 August 2014

You’ve Only Got One Review

Signs of a problem: review count says 1; ‘refresh’ key looks worn.

The symptoms: impatience; fear; disappointment.

People prefer to buy books that have numerous reviews, but how do you get reviews if people don’t buy your book? It can feel like a catch-22, but there is a way forward.

Whatever you do, do not fake a review. You may think you’re being clever by signing up a new account under the name Hermitrude Winklebottom … You may think you’re throwing people off the scent by including a mild negative comment … You may think that spelling your pen name wrong adds authenticity…

Faking reviews is immoral, dishonest, unfair on your fellow writers and could come back to bite you in the arse when you’re rich and famous.

In fact, if you fake reviews, they could come back to bite you in the arse within days. Genuine critical reviewers are likely to go to town on you if your reviews don’t match the quality of your book. ‘WHAT?’ shrieks Mrs Amazon Top 1000 Reviewer, ‘Thirteen five star reviews? They must be fake. It was as entertaining as watching a wing mirror de-mist.’

Then there’s the reaction when potential readers notice that Hermitrude Winklebottom, Hedrik Globber and Melicity Booblemocker have each only reviewed one book, and one book alone (none of which are verified purchases).

You might get away with faking one or two reviews but pulling off a large-scale undetectable review fraud campaign would involve so much effort that even a duplicitous swine with no conscience would find it easier to go down the ethical route.

I do understand the temptation. I once faked a review for an entire hour. I had a book rapidly climbing the charts and then an early reviewer gave it two stars. I panicked and rushed off a quick review. Immediately, it started eating away at me – guilt, prickles, fear… I tore it down in a red-faced hurry and resolved to redeem myself by taking a more ethical approach from thereon.

Some authors believe it’s acceptable to use a subscription service to get reviews. Authors pay a website to hook them up with reviewers who enjoy books in the relevant genres. The reviewers aren’t paid, just the intermediary. This is a tricky grey area. Paying people to review your book is certainly considered unethical, but in this case, you’re not paying the reviewer but the middle man. This reduces the likelihood of reviewers feeling obligated to give a good review. However, it is still exchanging money for reviews. Often authors can cherry pick reviewers, only agreeing to provide free copies to those who consistently award four or five stars. In my opinion, it’s best to steer clear of any review scheme in which money changes hands.

It is, however, deemed acceptable to offer complimentary review copies in exchange for honest reviews. Publishers have been sending free books to newspaper columnists for decades. Join a few forums and search the web for review blogs that deal with your genre or the themes in your book, then politely ask if anybody would like a no-strings review copy. It’s best not to send books without prior arrangement as you could waste resources and annoy the reviewer. You might think your sex-filled crime thriller has universal appeal but the author of ‘Sister Sarah’s Christian Fiction Selection’ might not. If your book is appealing enough, it shouldn’t take you long to gather a dozen or so reviews.

In my opinion, it is acceptable for a small percentage of your reviews to have been written by people you know, provided that they’re honest opinions. When you start out, almost all your readers will be friends, family and colleagues. However, you should refrain from letting too many pals post reviews, certainly discourage anybody from lying about reading or enjoying the book and never, under any circumstances, let anybody sign off ‘Love, Mum’.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

By Jim Webster

There are ways to cope with this, some work better in person. When mingling with other literati, whether in the flesh or on forums you have to affect a yawn and in a world weary voice say, “Reviews? Why they’re so passé, they’re so yesterday. Nobody worries about reviews nowadays.”

As you can see, this works better in the flesh, few people can convey the yawn without excessive use of html.

Another option is to play the battle hardened survivor. When asked about your lack of reviews, just shrug and say, “Flame war, long story, courts won’t allow me to talk about it, but at least that troll isn’t going to lurk under my bridge anymore.” Then change the flow of the conversation before anybody tries to get enough detail out of you to enable them to check your story on Google.

But perhaps you want more reviews? Well at this point you have to realise that if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing properly. If you’re going to set up a false persona to review your book, as has been mentioned above, this is going to be rapidly spotted. So the obvious thing to do is to set up your false persona before you even start writing.

Okay, so it’s a little late now, but we can still do something. Firstly get that persona created and clock up the reviews. Avoid just reviewing books, or people will soon spot that you’ve reviewed one thousand four hundred and twenty two books, all of which you have apparently read in the same six week period. Review everything. Books, cordless drills, cardboard cut-outs of celebrities, sex toys, miscellaneous white goods. Get them reviews written. Then, after a year or so of hard work, with your writing style perfected through constant practice, write a book under the pen name of your new persona, and that way you can do a review of that book under your own name without anybody becoming any the wiser!

As an aside, once you get a reputation for reviewing stuff other than books, companies will start sending you things for review, and selling them off online will help fund your writing career.

Finally, you could always do what the big names do. Just give the job of writing reviews to the company interns.

Friday 22 August 2014

You Get Drawn Into a Forty-Eight Hour War With a Troll

Signs of a problem: a stranger is attacking you for no particular reason; you can’t work out how you got into the row in the first place; you are using an unmoderated forum.

The symptoms: exhaustion; despair; confusion.

In myths and legend, trolls are ugly, uncouth monsters. This is also an adequate description of the internet troll. Internet trolls are people who like to cause trouble and upset others for sport. Unmoderated forums are particularly rich in trolls, but they can be found in every corner of the internet.

Although not technically trolling, there can be occasions when you get into a row with a very opinionated person who genuinely believes their side of an argument is the only possible viewpoint; such folk will remain intractable whatever you say. Though more respectable than trolls, they need dealing with in a similar way for the sake of your own sanity.

Most internet forums allow anonymity and so people often say things they wouldn’t dare say to your face, or add things for effect, rather than as an indication of what they actually feel. It is important to realise this and not take forum exchanges to heart.

Whatever you do, do not engage with a troll. If you do, arguments can go on for hours or even days. Exhausting for you but exhilarating for the troll, by continuing an argument, you are conceding a win. Your strongest weapon is to walk away.

A typical scenario: you are a naïve newbie who doesn’t realise that eBook-promotion is not allowed in a particular eBook forum. You saddle in and start a thread called ‘My Sheep-Farming Thrilla is da best’. You grab yourself a cup of tea and when you come back, you find six messages scolding you for self-promotion, two messages saying that the sheep on your cover looks like a tampon, and one message telling you to die in an unfortunate shearing accident.

Do you deserve to be the victim of an onslaught of abuse? No. It is not unreasonable to assume that eBook authors would be allowed to promote their books in an eBook forum. You made a common newbie error. The users who insulted your sheep drawing are punishing you for a minor faux pas by hitting where it hurts.

Do not respond by telling them that your book is so good that they should be truly grateful to have been informed about it. Do not ask the troll if it could do better. Do not redesign your cover to include a less tamponesque depiction of a sheep. Do not walk into a pair of shears. Do not let the trolls have any impact on you whatsoever.

If you walk away now, the sheep comments may niggle for a while. If you argue with the troll, you could be stuck at your computer for days arguing your sheep’s case.

If you want to discuss books, find yourself a moderated forum. You will have to familiarise yourself with rules about self-promotion and will always need to be vigilant about getting drawn into pointless rows, but moderated forums can be friendly, wholesome places to hang out, as well as invaluable sources of support for the new author.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

By L K Jay

Trolls Just Want to be Loved

I apologise now for my liberal use of the word arsehole. Or if you’re American, asshole. You see, this is what I like to call trolls, because essentially, that is what they are. I’m a down to earth person who likes to call a spade a spade, or a troll an arsehole.

I’m an indie author who’s written a few novels and novellas and quite possibly, made the odd punctuation error in my time. When I first started self-publishing, I made a few schoolgirl errors, such as over long paragraphs or the odd extraneous adverb or two. But a few kind people pointed that out constructively, thus I’ve developed my writing style and I’ve improved. They are normal people who have a balanced opinion and a life away from the keyboard. Trolls on the other hand are arseholes. Trolls do not want to want to enter into a healthy debate, or offer some useful advice or comment about a story they’ve just read, they just want to be mean because that’s their raison d’etre. Cool, that was a bit of French, that was!

So, may I reiterate the stellar advice offered by Rosen? Ignore them because if you respond to a trollish comment on a forum, or to a silly one star review or nasty comments on your blog, then you are giving the troll what he or she wants. Arguments and upset are what feed these creatures, it’s their amber nectar. If you ignore them, then you have the satisfaction of knowing that without their food you are making them shrivel up and die. You see, trolls hate rejection, and by ignoring them, you are rejecting them. In fact, when I find myself trolled, I’m happy in the knowledge that I’ve written something that has annoyed someone so much, they felt the need to comment on it. After all, the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. By hating you, they are giving you attention, which is an emotion in itself. That emotion is otherwise known as jealousy, my friends. They want a reaction because they want the attention, they envy you because you had the nerve to do something they probably didn’t: write and publish a novel. Trolls just want to be loved! Doesn’t mean you have to date them though, bleugh.

Have you ever met a troll in real life? I have. He’s a local man that I had the misfortune of having a drink with once. In real life he’s a bit pathetic, weedy, lacks social skills and fortitude; I felt a bit sorry for him. Then I realised that he thought of himself as a bit of a keyboard warrior. It’s the only way he could feel powerful because he wouldn’t have the nerve to say nasty things to me in real life. Mostly because I’m a 3rd Dan in taekwondo but also because he knows I’d call him an arsehole to his face and that would make him cry.

So remember fellow indies; trolls are arseholes. You already have one, so there’s no need to have another in your life. Ignore, ignore, ignore.

I’m probably going to get trolled now but I offer a free trolling defence absorbance service because quite frankly, I couldn’t give a monkeys.

Thursday 21 August 2014

A Reviewer Calls You ‘A Talentless Fuck’

Signs of a problem: your book’s rating suddenly plummets; your review count increases; your latest review stinks.

The symptoms: devastation; humiliation; anger; suicidal thoughts; homicidal thoughts; extreme hopelessness.

Bad reviews happen to even the best of writers and your first one will hurt like nothing has ever hurt before. Will you ever get over it? Probably not. However, with time, training and extreme self-discipline you will reach a stage where you can leave a polite note of thanks and laugh about it with your friends.

The first rule of handling a bad review – do not argue with the reviewer. Even if the reviewer said that your erotic romance between two mountain goats was the most contrived piece of crap he’s ever read, you must appear respectful of the reviewer’s point of view.

No matter what your peers say in public, no author, in the history of the world, has ever been grateful to read, ‘I wanted to stab my own eyes out just to be sure I would never read another description of goat hanky-panky’. However, we must appear appreciative of all feedback, no matter how much it hurt or how unhelpful it was. It is not becoming of an author to express a response to a negative review honestly.

However, the veneer of appreciation is only necessary in the company of readers and potential readers. We can say what we like to our friends – vent, vent, vent! This brings me to the concept of the review buddy.

A review buddy is another writer with whom you can share your bad reviews and honest opinions about readers. Every time you want to tell a reviewer exactly what you think of his or her inane opinions, you desist and call or write to your review buddy ridiculing the reviewer (‘Did you see how she missed a comma?’). Your buddy then writes back ‘Come on dahling! You know what reviewers are like – bad eggs, the lot of them. You’re so talented.’ In return, you do the same for your buddy. The more review buddies you have, the easier it is to ease the pain of negative reviews.

Note: never cross a review buddy; he or she could destroy your career in a screenshot. Always make sure there is a mutual exchange of angry rants that you can use as insurance.

You will quickly find that all writers get bad reviews and no matter how mature an author may seem in public, he or she actually wants to track down every single negative reviewer and leave big, smelly poos in their beds.

As you progress towards becoming a totally splendid hotshot author, your total review count will increase and the significance of each individual review will, in turn, decrease. Eventually you will be able to look at a bad review and say to yourself, “So OpinionSpouter69 didn’t like Goat Back Mounting; fifty-seven people did!”

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

By Lucas Bale

Your debut book is a genuinely terrifying prospect. No matter how much you treat it like a business proposition – hiring an editor, filtering it through beta readers, arranging the design of a professional cover, spending hours on your jacket spiel (I hate the term ‘blurb’) – the psychological safety net beneath you, your emotional insurance against the dark abyss of failure, seems woven from some diaphanous silk which couldn't possibly hold you if the readers who choose to buy it, then hate it. You’ve slaved over it and allowed it to occupy your every thought for months, if not years; edited while other saner members of your family slept; and now, here it is, staring back at you with its own Amazon listing. Taunting you. People can buy it now. And they can hate it.

Some will.

Get used to it. No matter how good your book is, no matter how compelling the characters and how tightly written the plot, someone will leave you a shitty review. Human beings have bad days and say things they don’t mean to vent – the feelings, or career, of some self-published author they don't even know will not be uppermost in their minds. They might, six months ago, have even loved your book, but trouble at work or at home may have skewed their perception, or they just wanted something different. And trolls prowl the internet too – curmudgeonly people with nothing better to do than to criticise and verbally flay the efforts of others in lieu of their own meagre accomplishments and to hide their own failings.

Never engage a negative reviewer. Be professional. Some authors say, if the reviewer is factually incorrect, you can correct them. Don't. Just leave it, go get a glass of wine and sit in the sun. Act like an author. People are entitled to their opinions – it’s called freedom of speech and too many of our ancestors died protecting it.

Or, they may have a point. There might be something fundamentally wrong with your book you might want to take a look at. But remember this: those reviews will not go away with your second book either. Or your tenth or your fiftieth. Every writer gets bad reviews because writers, and readers, are human. Variety is the spice of life and not everyone will pick up what you've written, no matter how good it is, and like it. The trick is to remember that the good reviews are people you have reached – people who have loved your book. That is special.

Wednesday 20 August 2014

You Hear the Words ‘Vanity Publishing’ and Go Apoplectic with Rage

Signs of a problem: smug know-it-all is talking; your skin prickles.

The symptoms: fury; resentment.

We are not ‘vanity publishers’; we are indies. Vanity publishing is a term for the process by which an author pays somebody to publish his or her work, historically because he or she couldn’t attract a traditional publisher. Although vanity publishing still happens, it has been largely replaced by cost-free self-publishing. Not every self-published author wants a traditional publisher.

Many authors actively choose self-publishing so as not to deal with traditional publishers. This means we have ultimate creative control over our work and a larger share of royalties. A publisher once told me that my book about a virgin didn’t have enough sex in it to sell. I refused to undermine the whole premise by stuffing it with sex and thus failed to attract a book deal. That’s not to say that traditional publishers never enhance a book – just that we mustn’t be fooled into thinking that conventionally processed books are inevitably superior.

Self-published authors do not buy their success. We do not pay for somebody else to publish our books. We put our work out there using widely available online resources, much like recording artists who publish music online. Readers choose what becomes a success.

All users of the phrase ‘vanity publishing’ should be locked up, taken to a secure location and shown copies of some of the greatest indie works of all time. They should then be forced to listen to a speech by an indie champion such as myself. Once these smug morons have been enlightened, they might then be released back into society.

However, in the absence of an organised kidnapping regime, I suggest putting a sack over the offender’s head, dragging the miscreant into your garage and putting The Twilight Saga audio books on full blast. After listening to all four novels, your prisoner will be desperate to read an indie title.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

By Andrew K Lawston

You’re a splendid hotshot self-published author. Perhaps you even call yourself an Indie author, because you’re a bit pretentious and the label helps you identify on some level with Jarvis Cocker, circa 1995. You’re writing the good write, and putting out books that the Man doesn't want the People to see, because you’re writing the truth. And they can't handle the truth. In your face, Random House. Stick it in your ear, Hachette.

But suddenly, a cloud appears on the horizon. It might be on a blog post, or it might be in a conversation in the hairdresser’s, or it might even be the nasty little doubting voice that lives in a dark pond at the bottom of your head. In any case, the words ‘vanity publishing’ are mentioned in connection with your writing. And you lose it, of course.

Because vanity publishing is a scam for gullible dreamers. Scribblers who funnel their life savings into badly-printed collections of poems about their dead pets, which end up packing out their garages (the books, not the pets), and which are eventually used to construct the author’s funeral pyre when they finally pass away, unread and unmourned. Vanity publishing is something you first heard about in the 1980s on the BBC consumer rights show Watchdog, probably shortly before Lynn Faulds Wood screeched “It's a DEATHTRAP!” Vanity publishing is not cool.

Self-publishing is totally different, oh yes. As a self-published author, you’re circumventing the staid conventions of an archaic establishment specifically designed to keep your writing genius hidden from the world, and if the first dozen people who read and review your work happen to share your surname, that’s just a striking coincidence. A vanity press author is someone who is doing much the same thing, but in a sort of naive airy-fairy way that is completely different. Look, it just is.

So of course you home in on the poor unfortunate fool who uttered the VP words, and you put them straight. And just to make sure there's no misunderstanding, you put them straight at the top of your voice, or in ALL CAPS, with righteous flecks of spittle spraying over their faces or your keyboard.

Puffed up with rightness, and quite possibly angel dust, you strut into the sunset. You imagine the carnage of torpedoed misconceptions that you’ve left bleeding mixed metaphors in your wake. You have fixed publishing, perhaps forever.

In fact, most of those who witnessed your tirade will be doing some sort of variation of putting their hands on their hips and chorusing: “Oooh! Somebody's tired!” And, more importantly, quietly erasing your books from their mental To Be Read pile.

Self-publishing, vanity publishing, small presses, traditional publishing; these are all nuanced versions of the same publication process that have little traction with mainstream readers. Mainstream readers categorise books according to whether they can buy it in Sainsbury's or whether they have to log on to Amazon. However much you work your marketing plan, you are not a successful author in the eyes of many readers unless your book is available in airports, along with a cover quote that says something like: “Perfect for pretending to read on the beach!”

Whether the person accusing you of vanity publishing is a clueless civilian or a disparaging author, it’s all just splitting hairs. Your chosen publishing model has about as much bearing on your book’s content as your choice of mobile network has on the contents of your text messages.

Perhaps we should even reclaim the term ‘vanity publishing’. Because all published authors are essentially motivated by vanity. The mere act of writing down your thoughts and insights, in any form, and then presuming to share them with the world, is just about the most vain and presumptuous thing you could ever do. Everyone has thoughts and daydreams, but in foisting our own on to our readers, we are all really audaciously narcissistic on a near-industrial scale.

If none of the above convinces you to take a large dose of chill, then think about Star Trek fans. We all call them ‘Trekkies’, but sometimes they’ll tell you they preferred to be called ‘Trekkers’.

Now, put your hand up if, as a result of their stated preference, you’ve ever honestly started calling them anything other than ‘Trekkies’ apart from perhaps ‘pedantic Trekkies’). You see? You don’t get to choose your own nickname, now rise above it all and get on with writing the next book.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

You Want to Charge £14.99 for Your eBook

Signs of a problem: calculator warm; piles of money in your imagination.

The symptoms: greed; ignorance.

You spent years writing your novel and therefore believe it the best novel ever. Therefore, you decide to set the eBook price at £14.99. You do the maths and are excited to note that, even after the vendor takes its cut, you will only need 1,000 sales to make £10,000.

Believe me when I say that, at £14.99, you will be very lucky to sell ten eBooks, let alone 1,000.

When deciding how to price your book, you must forget completely how long it took you to write, how much it cost to edit, and how truly brilliant it really is. Instead focus only on the value of similar-length eBooks by unknown self-published authors.

It is my sad duty to inform you that most debut novels by indie authors are priced between £0.00 and £1.99, with the gross majority costing less than a pound.

Your friends and family may buy your eBook no matter how much you charge, but if you wish to attract strangers then you need to give them a reason to take a chance on you – a low price can be a very good incentive.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

By M T McGuire

Select your price carefully, choose your outlet carefully – if you’re nervous about getting flamed in a major online store then maybe start out giving customers an option to donate a price for your book. Some smaller/independent online stores provide this option. You could couple it with a donate button on your website. Start off small and grow your confidence. Choose your strategy, are you going to write a series? If you do, you can always give the first book away free.

Monday 18 August 2014

You’re Unsure What to Put in the Illustrator Field

Signs of a problem: long, agonised looks at the input box.

The symptoms: mental exhaustion.

Your book hasn’t been illustrated. Nobody could mistake your cover (white text superimposed over a clipart cloud) for art. So what is so difficult about filling in the ‘illustrator’ field?

If your book hasn’t been illustrated, surely it stands to reason that the illustrator field should be left blank? Yet hundreds of authors fall at this hurdle, feeling the need to claim that their book was illustrated by ‘bestselling book’ or edited by ‘crime thriller’.

If your blurb and marketing efforts are so bad that you need to stuff every field available with misinformation in order to boost your book in search results, then perhaps your book isn’t ready for sale.

All you will achieve is to look unprofessional and risk getting banned from online bookshops. Plus, some smug competitor might write a sarcastic entry about you in a semi-humorous, non-fiction handbook.

Sunday 17 August 2014

You Feel the Need to Put Brackets in Your Title

Signs of a problem: title over 100 characters long; title sounds like a blurb.

The symptoms: false sense of superiority.

If your book is called Grubby Pants, when you upload it to your chosen eBook platform, it is still called Grubby Pants. At no point does your book title change to Grubby Pants (An Action Adventure) or Grubby Pants (By The New Stieg Larson) or, God forbid, Grubby Pants (Proofread).

You do not need to put your genre in your title – that’s what categories are for. You certainly don’t want to include gushing praise or make bold claims comparing your talents to the greats (not least because a true totally splendid hotshot author would never be content being anybody else’s successor). As for mentioning that your book has been proofread – it will only draw attention to the fact that you’re an amateur.

There are only three acceptable reasons for putting brackets in your title: disambiguation, title continuation and to denote a series.

For example, there are over one hundred titles on Amazon including the word ‘Titanic’. Should you wish to publish yet another book called Titanic, then it would be sensible to call yours Titanic (A Fish’s Perspective).

Or, you might want to call your book Memoirs of a Lingerie Designer but feel it’s not catchy enough. In which case, you can pick something snappy and put the longer title in brackets, e.g. Grubby Pants (Memoirs of a Lingerie Designer). It is sometimes acceptable to put ‘Boxed Set’ in the title, because without it ‘[your name] Boxed Set’ doesn’t make any sense.

If at a later date you write a sequel to Grubby Pants then it is perfectly agreeable to go back and change the title of your first book to Grubby Pants (Book 1 of the Dirty Lingerie Series).

If, even after our compelling arguments, you decide to proceed with blatant title abuse, do be prepared for promotional websites to put your title through the mangle (that’s if they feature you at all).

There’s a reason why we don’t have books called Wuthering Heights (a moor top romance featuring a tormented alpha male), Animal Farm (a book with more than one layer) and The BFG (By the new Enid Blyton but with a completely different writing style and plot structure).

Saturday 16 August 2014

You Want to Call your Book Johann Gambolputty (etc) the Antidisestablishmentarianist

Signs of a problem: sitting in front of Photoshop weeping.

The symptoms: despair; regret.

In a homage to Monty Python, you decide to call your book Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern-schplenden-schlitter-crasscrenbon-fried-digger-dingle-dangle-dongle-dungle-burstein-von-knacker-thrasher-apple-banger-horowitz-ticolensic-grander-knotty-spelltinkle-grandlich-grumblemeyer-spelterwasser-kurstlich-himbleeisen-bahnwagen-gutenabend-bitte-ein-nürnburger-bratwustle-gerspurten-mitz-weimache-luber-hundsfut-gumberaber-shönedanker-kalbsfleisch-mittler-aucher von Hautkopft of Ulm, the Antidisestablish-mentarianist.

You’ve announced to the world that your book will be called Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern-schplenden-schlitter-crasscrenbon-fried-digger-dingle-dangle-dongle-dungle-burstein-von-knacker-thrasher-apple-banger-horowitz-ticolensic-grander-knotty-spelltinkle-grandlich-grumblemeyer-spelterwasser-kurstlich-himbleeisen-bahnwagen-gutenabend-bitte-ein-nürnburger-bratwustle-gerspurten-mitz-weimache-luber-hundsfut-gumberaber-shönedanker-kalbsfleisch-mittler-aucher von Hautkopft of Ulm, the Antidis-establishmentarianist and you’ve even taken out an (expensive) ad in your local paper. But now, it’s time to create your cover, and you’re having serious difficulty trying to arrange the text.

One thing to bear in mind when creating a cover is that many people will first encounter it in thumbnail form. A standard paperback is about 13cm wide and most eReaders are smaller again. Very few people will ever see the high resolution version of your book cover. Therefore, even if you manage to squeeze an exceptionally long book title onto a cover image, the text is likely to be unreadable without a magnifying glass.

Long words like ‘Antidisestablishmentarianist’ are particularly problematic. In order to fit in the width, the text will be tiny unless viewed on a poster-sized cover.

Do not be tempted to hyphenate long words on a book cover so that you can split them over multiple lines. This is a standard cover-design faux pas and can make your book look unprofessional. Yes, rules are there to be broken but a flagrant breach of cover experts’ advice screams arrogance.

However, whilst you should be mindful of cover design when naming your book, it is important not to pick a weaker title just to improve your thumbnail. Whilst Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern-schplenden-schlitter-crasscrenbon-fried-digger-dingle-dangle-dongle-dungle-burstein-von-knacker-thrasher-apple-banger-horowitz-ticolensic-grander-knotty-spelltinkle-grandlich-grumblemeyer-spelterwasser-kurstlich-himbleeisen-bahnwagen-gutenabend-bitte-ein-nürnburger-bratwustle-gerspurten-mitz-weimache-luber-hundsfut-gumberaber-shönedanker-kalbsfleisch-mittler-aucher von Hautkopft of Ulm, the Antidisestablishmentarianist might cause cover-design frustrations, Politically-Minded Bob definitely doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Friday 15 August 2014

You Decide to Use a Photo of a Brick Instead of a Cover

Signs of a problem: thirty insipid photos of a brick in your smartphone camera roll.

The symptoms: chronic laziness, delusions of grandeur.

You don’t know how to use Photoshop and hey, it’s the age of publishing diversity, so you convince yourself that a pixelated, out-of-focus photo of a brick is a worthy substitute for a cover. You look at your insipid brick photo remembering the chapter that has a wall in it, and tell yourself that it’s perfect – this simple representation of your story is all readers need.

You are wrong.

Perhaps, if you were a trusted author, people would call your decision ‘daring’, ‘intentional’ and ‘unique’. But you’re not the artist formerly known as Prince; you’re the wannabe author currently known as nothing. Early in your career, people will just assume that you don’t know what you’re doing.

Your cover should include, at the very least, the title of your book and your pen name. It should look good as a thumbnail and at full size.

Picture editing software is easy to come by and so are friends who know how to use it. Offer a friend a copy of your eBook and a sugary treat in return for a lesson.

Once you’ve learnt the basics of manipulating photos, adding text and filling backgrounds, you are ready to design your first cover. Now that your eyes are open to the simplicity of basic but professional-looking cover creation, do you still want to use your insipid photo of a brick?

If your book is about the daily trials and tribulations of being a brick, then maybe, just maybe, there is an argument for incorporating a photo of a brick within a wider cover design. However, make sure it is the best brick photo you can find. If your own photography skills are lacking, you can buy some excellent royalty-free photos online or you could ask a skilled friend to take a photo for you (in exchange for a copy of your eBook, naturally). If your budget allows it, you could hire an illustrator to depict the perfect brick to represent your story.

Once you’ve created your cover, check you haven’t fallen into any newbie traps. Do not use text that is the same colour as its background. Do not obscure your artwork with text. Do not include an image of some ginger pubes bursting out of Swedish-flag boxer shorts.

Once you’ve checked your final draft, show it to some friends and ask for feedback in exchange for a free copy of your eBook.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

By Katie W. Stewart

In the early days of indie publishing, many of the self-published books were easy to spot. A pixelated photo of a brick would actually be an improvement on what some people used for covers. Papyrus or Comic Sans font on a graduated turquoise background was a dead giveaway. These days, self-published books are getting harder and harder to pick, though Papyrus and Comic Sans do still occasionally rear their amateur heads. Why have things improved? Has everyone mastered Photoshop (in which case, Adobe must be getting very rich) or is there another reason?

Well, yes, some authors have a talent for doing their own covers. Not all use Photoshop either. I’m told there’s a free program called Gimp that does much the same thing. The fact is though, that along with the growth of the indie publishing industry has come the growth of the book cover design industry. Type ‘book cover design’ into your search engine and you’ll come up with a gazillion sites, all offering to create your perfect cover. Indie author budgets are tight though. That’s probably why you were thinking of using that photo of a brick. (Go on, admit it, you know it’s true.) One look at some of the prices quoted on these sites will send you straight back to your brick. The truth is, though, that it is quite possible to get a very decent cover for not a huge amount of money.

Type ‘pre-made book covers’ into Google and you’ll get just as many sites offering you covers already made. For nothing extra they will put your name and title on the one of your choice. Most are quite cheap, little more than you’d pay for a good new shirt. Of course, you may not be able to find exactly what you had in mind for your book. I’ve never actually seen a pre-made with a brick on it. However, if your artistic skills stopped developing in kindergarten, you may find the time spent looking through these sites is far more advantageous than the time spent trying to master a program like Photoshop. You may even find a few covers that inspire further novels. It has happened!

You’ve written a great story, right? If you hadn’t, you wouldn’t be publishing it. So why put a second-rate cover on it? Would you spend years doing body-building to get into great shape and then go around dressed in old sacks? Dress your book in the cover it deserves. Whether you make it yourself or get a professional cover, make sure your book looks as good on the outside as it is on the inside.

Thursday 14 August 2014

Your Start-Up Capital is 20p

Signs of a problem: empty pockets.

The symptoms: quote from editor causes hives.

Many websites will tell you never to publish a book without an editor. Some authors will tell you that professional cover design did wonders for their sales. If you’ve got a few hundred pounds lying around, perfecting your book’s interior and cover will certainly improve its value. If, however, you are struggling to make ends meet, then it is very bad advice because you may not be able to recoup those costs with your first novel. Editing is important; feeding your children is vital.

You will find that many readers expect you to stump up the cost of editing yet are not prepared to pay more than 6p for a book. Don’t be bullied into going without food so that a bunch of opinionated, greedy bastards can pay less than the price of a condom for many more hours of entertainment.

You have to believe that you’re capable of writing a bestseller, but you must also be realistic about the likelihood of your first book taking off right away. Most self-published authors sell fewer than one hundred copies of their first book. My debut novel sold only eighteen copies in its first year. Unknown self-published authors often find they have to price a novel at less than a pound to attract any sales at all. This means that, unless you can guarantee a great deal of exposure, it is not cost-effective to hire a proofreader, a line editor and a cover designer.

Cost is not the only consideration, of course. Many authors would be horrified to think that a sloppy version of their work could be found on eighteen eReaders, and would be happy to take the financial hit in the interests of getting it right.

Indeed, I regret not getting my first books professionally edited. After they were proofread my ratings improved by as much as one star. If I’d known I would eventually make enough money to cover editing costs, I would have done things differently. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

If you can’t afford to pay a professional editor, there are other ways to help polish your book. Firstly, re-draft, re-draft, re-draft. My books aren’t usually ready for my editor until draft five or six. Once you’ve finished redrafting, get somebody, anybody, to read your novel and point out mistakes before you publish. Now’s the time to respect that pedantic friend who always interrupts your anecdotes to correct your grammar. Another method is to pair up with another author and proofread for each other. Local writers’ groups are a great way to improve your work and iron out problems.

You can make a surprisingly effective cover using basic photo editing software. Something as simple as text on a textured background can look professional if done well.

Another way to save money is to visit an online skills marketplace such as those that list services people will provide, in exchange for a fiver. However, be careful what you pay for. If you’ve written a serious non-fiction title about becoming an Olympic trampolinist, don’t be surprised if a cover designer charging £5 delivers a photoshopped monstrosity of a barefooted man in a kangaroo suit.

If you do decide to hire freelancers, make sure that you pay a reasonable wage. Whilst you might love your novel so much that you’ll work at a loss, you can’t expect others to share your commitment. If a trainee editor gives you an introductory discount and you’re happy with the results, stay loyal. You’re likely to get better results if you work with editors who are familiar with your writing style. Also you don’t want to get a reputation as a discount sponge.

The eBook publishing process itself usually costs nothing. Online stores take a cut of sales. So, if you don’t sell, you don’t pay. Some organisations will offer to publish your eBook for a fee; treat these with scepticism as the process is very simple.

Do not be tempted to use a Print-on-Demand (POD) service with a budget of 20p. POD is a type of paperback that is literally printed whenever it is ordered. Although in theory POD can be free to set up, in practice it is not. Some services charge extra to enable distributors to sell books through a shop (usually known as an extended distribution package).

If you publish an eBook with typos in it, you can easily upload a corrected version. If you publish a paperback containing errors then many services charge to upload a new edition. Readers who have already bought your book can usually get an updated version of an eBook for free; the typos in a print edition are permanent.

Some people have experienced success using crowd-funding websites to cover costs. The added bonus is that attracting benefactors also advertises your book. However, crowd-funding costs time and money. You need to provide incentives, create an appealing video and pay listing fees. In some cases, you do not get paid a penny unless you reach your target.

In summary, if you want to sell a professional-quality book and/or progress to print, pay for a line edit and at least one separate proofread (preferably two or three). If you have a shoe-string budget and want to dip your toes in the water, publishing an eBook proofread by a pedantic friend is an ideal baby step.

Many publishing experts would chastise me for encouraging you to publish without an editor, but everybody has to start somewhere. If every poor person was denied the chance to get a foot in the door, a lot of excellent books would have never seen the light of day.

Do not take out a high interest loan. Do not rob a bank. Do not kidnap an editor and demand a proofread at gunpoint. Sarcastic remarks from reviewers are hurtful but so is being jailed.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

By M T McGuire

Going on my own experience, you’re not going to feed your family on your earnings from writing for the first few years ... er hem ... if at all.

People advise spending money on editors because it is hard to edit your own book. However, you can improve your editing abilities if you wait a couple of months and then read your book again. You’ll pick up on lots of things you missed. Suddenly it will be glaringly obvious that Character A cannot be snogging Character B if she is supposed to be at the other end of town at the same moment, killing Character C with a magic fireball. The more honed you can get the book, yourself, the less the editor will have to do and therefore the cheaper editing will be, if and when you can finally afford it.

Understood, you are young and eager and you find it impossible to watch the eBook revolution exploding from the side-lines while you sit on your offering (phnark). You may feel that the world is passing you by and you want to get it out NOW! Hold back, my Padawan learner. Quality is a big factor if you’re writing to earn money.

To avoid wasting money, learn everything you can about anything remotely related to book production. Research the market and take note of what is selling like hot cakes in your genre of choice. Try to find the next big thing while it’s still obscure or cutting edge. If you are trying to get cash back you’re going to have to write something that sells. Otherwise, no matter how low the price, you’ll have trouble covering the cost of ... well... anything. If you’re starting with twenty pence, knowledge is your superpower.

Networking is cheaper than advertising and arguably more effective. Cultivate contacts and gather all the expertise you can. There are hundreds of authors out there online and most of them will be happy to help you out. Offline, try to find a writers’ group that works for you. You will find that you make many friends.

You will be amazed how much feedback and advice friends can give. The more feedback you can get the more of an idea you’ll have of what you want when you come to spec a professional cover. Your forum friends – readers and authors alike – may offer to help you with beta reading, give you marketing ideas or even point you in the direction of a cheap editor or cover artist.

Value your cyber-buddies, Grasshopper. Don’t be a leech. Share, my youngling, do not endlessly blag stuff off your friends, let your friends blag stuff from you in return. Do not go round announcing your book on every forum in existence. This will undo all your good work. If forum rules allow it, you can start an author thread for yourself. If your network is big enough by this time just telling your mates can make for a fair amount of publicity.

Patience Grasshopper: remember that behind every apparent overnight success is at least five years’ hard work.

Wednesday 13 August 2014

You Fancy a Tasty Author Photo But You Look Like the Back End of a Bus

Signs of a problem: camera lens cracked; small children crying.

The symptoms: frustration; despair.

If you found yourself at the back of the queue when looks were handed out, do not fear – you’re a writer not a model. All you have to do is look appropriate in one photo, preferably leaning on a fist (your own) looking pensive.

An author’s appearance can influence sales, but you don’t necessarily have to be conventionally tasty-looking to have a positive effect. In fact, there are many genres for which looking a little rugged can be helpful.

Stereotyping leads us to expect our well-written crime thrillers to be penned by middle-aged men with strong jaws and our romantic comedies to be written by visually-appealing women in their thirties. However, do not be tempted to pick a genre to suit your face. Books then looks.

Thanks to modern photography and editing software, you can make any face match any requirement. Naturally, I have never employed cunning techniques. I definitely do not overexpose my selfies to hide my wrinkles. I certainly don’t change the aspect ratio to slim my figure. I absolutely do not take one hundred photos then delete ninety-nine or them. The blueness of my eyes in pictures is entirely natural and certainly not the effect of a saturation-enhancing filter.

Photo fraud will catch up with you if you ever do a book signing or attend an indie convention, which is why you should never change any features – only subtly enhance.

If, on the other hand, you plan to promote solely through the internet, then you can change as much as you like, or, better still, ask somebody else to pose for you. Nobody ever need know about your unfortunate bus-like appearance.

Be wary of choosing your author shot from websites selling stock photos. You don’t want to select a lovely, blonde temptress only to later find that an author of donkey-on-dinner-lady erotica picked the same image.

Avoid the trap of asking a stranger to pose. If your career is to develop then you will need photos of ‘yourself’ growing older. Do you have a good-looking older sibling or former school friend? This may be a good starting point.

Always check the health of your stand-in before enlisting their help. You don’t want your model popping his clogs two days before that big interview with a Sunday supplement.

Tuesday 12 August 2014

You Can’t Conjure a Sixth Adjective for a Little Toe

Signs of a problem: squinty face; brain cogs clunking.

The symptoms: frustration.

You’re writing the chapter where your protagonist puts on his shoes. You’ve already described his little toe twice (‘like a grubby, squidgy nipple’ / ‘as soft and pink as a baby peach’). What could you say this time without repeating yourself?

Stop right there. Why on earth have you devoted a chapter to a character putting on his shoes? Unless you’re rewriting the Elves and the Shoemaker in excruciating depth, there is no need to embellish the shoe activity. A simple ‘he put on his shoes’ will do.

It’s a common misconception that the quantity of adjectives correlates with the quality of writing, and that you need adjectives at all in simple sentences. Some genres lend themselves to poetic phrases more than others, but it is possible to overwrite any book.

Some passages, known as ‘purple prose’, can be so extravagant, ornate, over the top, unnecessary, poetic and flowery as to dramatically smash the calm, river-like flow of otherwise song-like text and draw excessive attention to the gratuitous writing style rather than the crucial content necessary to convey the message in a non-long, rambling manner.

Also, why isn’t your protagonist wearing any socks? Think continuity.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

By David Wailing

As a freelance editor,  when one of my clients breaks the rules of writing, I am legally empowered to punish them in horrible ways. This usually involves going round to their house, putting their face on the griddle, pulling down all their curtains and smearing jam all over their cat. (And don’t think I won’t. Nav Logan’s cat Fluffy had to have her name changed to ‘Sticky’ under the Trade Descriptions Act.)

You might think that the scenario Rosen describes above breaks so many rules of writing that I’d have to set up a direct debit with my local jam emporium.

The truth is that purple prose is usually not seen as breaking the rules. In fact it’s seen as normal. That’s because there is an enormous number of published novels out there clogged with unnecessary adjectives. (Stephen King knows he is guilty of this – he claims to suffer from ‘literary elephantitis’.) As writers, we naturally absorb a huge amount from reading other people’s books. So gradually we develop this assumption that our own writing has to be the same. We start following that pattern of embellishing every single thing.

Fight it. Fight this tendency. If you ever want to stroke your cat again, fight it. It’s much easier to waffle than to write concisely, so coming up with six adjectives for a little toe is actually the path of least resistance. It takes more effort to write fewer words. It takes practice. Get practising.

As a useful tip, imagine that people are reading your book on top of a ticking time bomb, which will fire a spike up their bottom if they don’t finish before the countdown ends. (This is also a service I can provide.) Most people read quickly, because they have a load of other books to get on with after yours. They don’t have time to absorb and appreciate your lengthy, drawn-out, extended, long-winded, thesaurus-wrangling, oh for the love of god get on with it prose. Get your readers to the point, before the bomb goes off and the point gets to them.

Finally, for those clients of mine who don’t own cats, spouses work just fine and are usually a lot more fun for me too.

Monday 11 August 2014

Your Debut Novel is 20,000 Words Long

Signs of a problem: word count modest; enlarged font and widened margins as you struggle to resist the truth.

The symptoms: exhaustion; self-deception; naive optimism.

You’ve just finished writing your book. You’re exhausted. It’s taken you months. Your tiredness levels suggest that you’ve written an epic trilogy. However, when you check the word count, it says 20,000 words.

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but 20,000 words is not a novel. Yes, it’s a big achievement. Yes, you should be proud. But what you’ve accomplished is not writing a novel.

There’s nothing wrong with publishing a 20,000 word eBook – in fact, eBooks are perfect for stories of previously unorthodox length – but you must not call 20,000 words a novel. If you try to call it such, you will receive abuse from angry reviewers who feel duped. It’s best to avoid enraging reviewers – especially early on before you’ve had a chance to grow your thick skin.

Although definitions vary, a rough guideline for labelling your book is as follows:
1-99 words – micro fiction.
100 words exactly – drabble.
101-999 words – flash fiction.
1,000-7,499 – short story.
7,500-17,499 – novelette.
17,500-49,999 – novella.
50,000-109,999 – novel.
Over 110,000 – epic.

Children’s books, however, are allowed a lower word count than comparable books for adults. 30,000 words is an acceptable length for a children’s chapter book.

Due to wide variation between definitions, it is always a good idea to put a word count at the bottom of your product description when selling an unusual-length book. You don’t want to give your reader any nasty surprises.

If you are certain that you want your story to be a novel, then you obviously have the option to re-draft. However, getting from 20,000 words to 50,000 is quite a leap and you could seriously mess up the pacing of your story (as well as other things). Padding is usually detrimental.

Yes, you could expand ‘Maud looked at Graham’ to read, ‘Lovely, buxom Maud (who was autistic and born in France) regarded chunky, rude, stubborn Graham (who was twenty-five and hated roast pork) through her blue, magnificent pair of eyes (eyes are what we use to see)’ but readers may consider that some elements of the re-draft break the flow.

Don’t write a novel for the sake of writing a novel. One of the many benefits of eBooks is that they are a means to deliver stories of any length.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

By Jonathan Hill

It is a truth universally acknowledged that novels appeal more to readers than novellas and short stories. But that in no way means anything other than a novel is inferior to a novel. If you've written a bloody brilliant short story, market it as a bloody brilliant short story. If you've written a masterpiece of a novella, don't be afraid to make it clear it’s an amazing novella.

When you upload your book for sale, it may be listed with an estimated page count to give eBook-buying-but-normally-paperback-reading punters an idea of your book’s length. If you’re a few words short of a novel, you might want to run a search in your manuscript for ridiculously over the top hyphenated phrases; a quick rewrite might push you into novel territory.

The page count and the word count, should you choose to include it in the blurb, can be swayed by one chief factor – what you include in that word count. A novel isn't a novel if you reach 50,000 words by including your copyright terms, extensive bibliography, review quotes from your granny and the first 20,000 words of your next book. Readers hate padding - if your story finishes at 63% on an eReader, you'd get a more favourable review after shooting their cat.

Be honest with your word count. It's unlikely that your average person will take the time to count each word, but the Law of Sod dictates that someone pedantic might. It pays to be truthful.

Remember that short stories and novellas can rock as much as novels. Writing shorts might even ease you into the publishing world and be a useful stepping stone to your first novel. The novel isn’t the be all and end all of writing.

Sunday 10 August 2014

Your Debut Novel is About Ancient African Scissor Collecting

Signs of a problem: people glaze over when you mention your novel; your research took you to an obscure library floor infested with bats.

The symptoms: isolation; loneliness.

There’s a lot to be said for writing about things that inspire you, and perhaps ancient African scissor collecting really cuts it for you, but will anybody buy it?

Perhaps you could write your historical stationery masterpiece for your own benefit. Writing a novel can help you relax, improve your writing skills and get scissors out of your system. Then, once you’ve mastered the basics of novel writing, you could apply your skills to a more marketable product.

Publishing a book that nobody reads is unlikely to directly harm your career, but it may damage your self-esteem. Imagine excitedly running down to your study every morning to find that, yet again, your sales reports are empty. How will you maintain blind faith in the face of such damning evidence?

Yes, indie publishing is all about diversity, self-expression and breaking away from the market trends that drive traditional publishing, but there are limits. If becoming a bestselling author is your goal, then research your target audience before putting pen to paper, or indeed, fingertips to keyboard. A book with no audience will still be a book with no audience, no matter how well it is written.

If you are determined to keep the scissor-collecting component, consider broadening your story. Perhaps your protagonist’s scissor collecting is a quirky hobby that leads him to uncover a body, spurring a vast investigation that results in the suicide of the oldest scissor collector of all time – the only man with the key to unlock the chamber of answers. Yes, I have just turned your unique story into a cliché, but I’ve also suggested something that might be bought by somebody outside your PhD field.

Once one of your more mainstream books has hit the headlines, then you can teach the world about the history of third world cutting devices.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

By Alex Roddie

I’ve been guilty of everything mentioned above. Five years ago I found myself in bat-infested libraries more than once, and I’m talking literally here: one of the archives I visited had recently been flooded and bats had moved in. I thought I was as cool as Indiana Jones and even had the hat to match. This feeling lasted until I, too, starting making people glaze over, and that’s when I realised I had a problem.

My particular brand of Ancient African Scissor Collecting is mountaineering — specifically, alternate history with strong mountaineering themes. It’s actually a fascinating topic, but the problem is that most people don’t know this, don’t care, and immediately think this isn’t for me. Let’s face it: the average reader doesn’t know the Matterhorn from Bidean nam Bian, has never heard of Edward Whymper, and has absolutely no interest in pitons.

I had no luck pitching my great idea to traditional publishers. Mountaineering fiction is a tiny genre, and mountaineering alternate history is just about as niche as it gets.

I cut, rewrote, re-branded, and re-thought huge swathes of my work. I put a lot of effort into making my ideas appeal to historical fiction readers. The result was The Only Genuine Jones, a novel about how radical change affects a small community of sportspeople in the late 1890s. It’s marketed as adventurous historical fiction and the climbing is more or less incidental.

I refined my approach with my new Alpine Dawn series. My work is now historical fiction first and foremost. I haven’t lost my focus on mountain culture, but I have learned how to insert these themes into my books in a more subtle way. The results: greater interest, increased readership, and better sales.

If you have an obscure subject you want to write about, I’d urge you not to sacrifice your dreams — passion is important, after all — but you are going to have to compromise if you want your book to sell. Listen to advice, examine the market, and think about how you can make your idea appeal to a broader audience.

Saturday 9 August 2014

You Need a Pen Name and Shit-Hot Rod Is Already Taken

Signs of a problem: web browser open on baby names; another tab open on search results for ‘Shit-Hot Rod’; you’re surrounded by practice autographs.

The symptoms: confusion; strain; feeling overwhelmed.

Your first problem was hoping to call yourself ‘Shit-Hot Rod’. Remember what I said about modesty? In addition to making you look unfashionably arrogant, if you choose a first name like ‘Shit-Hot’ you are setting particularly high standards. Yes, you must believe that you are shit hot, but it’s best to let the reader conclude this for himself. Unless you have start-up capital, you might not be getting your debut novel professionally edited, so it’s best not to hand sharp-eyed readers opportunities to be any more smug than is absolutely necessary. A macho name matched with a typo is just inviting mockery.

The next thing to do is consider the genre in which you wish to write. Picking a genre and sticking with it (at least at first) has been shown to help build a following with more speed than having an inconsistent style. Snaring readers with Hearts and Devotion – A Love Story, then bringing out The Whore Killer – A Gritty Crime Slasher could confuse, not to mention alienate, your existing readers.

Once you’ve picked a predominant genre (or genres), select a pen name that goes with it. You might get away with Dick Bullet if you write old-school crime thrillers, but such a name might have the wrong tone for a romantic title. Similarly, Tiffany Feathers might not inspire confidence in a writer of political, action-packed war novels.
Book stores often filter words. The blacklist for reviews can be different from the blacklist for book details, so even if you can persuade stores to let you call yourself Shit-Hot Rod, reviewers might be banned from using the pseudonym, thus creating an extra barrier to collecting ratings.

Another thing to consider is the length of your pen name. Whilst something individual will help you get noticed in online stores, you will soon tire of having to type Camellia-Rose F. Monroeberry-Smith Junior, not to mention the struggle you’d have keeping tweets to 140 characters.

Having chosen a pen name, make sure that you check the web for namesakes. It’s true that ‘Draco Malfoy’ is a popular search term, but people are unlikely to come upon your book when there are hordes of wizards to sift through first.
It’s also worth checking that the domain name and Twitter handle for your pen name are available. A URL like does not inspire confidence.

Have you chosen your pen name? Good, now you’re one step closer to becoming a totally splendid hotshot author.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

By David Wailing

Lots of good advice there from Rosen. I would add a simple question: do you really need a pen-name? What’s wrong with your own?

As a young writer, I was a bit embarrassed by my surname, since it literally sounds like someone crying out in pain. Or firing a harpoon into a sea mammal. So I announced my pseudonym would be ‘Damien Wade’. It sounded so mature, so snappy, so dark and dangerous! I visualised how cool it would look on an embossed hardback cover. Publishers and readers alike would love Damien Wade much more than silly old David Wailing!

Only once I was a proper grown-up… this would have been, ooh, a couple of weeks back… did I realise what a pretentious nob I was. (Just saying the word ‘pseudonym’ out loud in public should have been a giveaway.) It’s the quality of your writing that people care about, not what you’re called.

Plus, sometimes having a slightly bonkers name can work in your favour, as Rosen Trevithick will surely agree. It certainly helps if people are Googling you. Don’t you want your old school mates to discover you’re now a totally splendid hotshot author?

Rumours that I’m considering using the name ‘Drake Howler’ to write erotica about sea mammals are completely unfounded.