Tuesday 30 September 2014

Another Author Is Disgracing the Name of Indie

Signs of a problem: somebody else’s self-published book is very, very, very, very bad.

The symptoms: irritation; superiority; sense of moral responsibility.

A new novel catches your interest and you download a copy. However, the very first word contains a typo. You read on – the second sentence makes no sense. You turn the page – chapter 2 is missing.

Not only have you wasted money on a book that is completely unreadable, but the author is disgracing the name of indie. Many people avoid independently published books precisely because they expect them to be badly written, and here is an author confirming the stereotype.

Stop and think about the situation carefully. How bad is the book really? If it’s just a few innocent typos in an otherwise excellent story, then reflect on where you started out; remember that proofreaders are expensive and consider a polite email to the author asking if he or she would like a list of typos (most authors will be very grateful).

If, on the other hand, typos are plentiful, the underlying writing is atrocious and the reading experience is excruciating, then a typo list won’t save the book.

As somebody who cringes whenever I think of my debut novel, I try to think that no author is beyond salvation; no need to sever fingers just yet.

This author just needs jailing and being taught to write. However, the police don’t take crimes against literature as seriously as they should. Therefore, we suggest sabotaging the author’s broadband connection. Ascertain the author’s address (see ‘Another Author Plagiarises Your Zombie Heptathlon’), break into their house and cut their phone cable with some wire cutters. Next, mug the author for their mobile. Watch YouTube videos until you’ve used up the data allowance, then post it back through the author’s letterbox. Whilst these measures won’t close all internet access avenues, they will pose a sizeable obstacle to publishing.

Note: whilst the police don’t take crimes against literature seriously, they take a hard line on vandalism, breaking and entry, and theft. Proceed with care.

I am in the process of setting up an indie charity. We collect money from successful self-published authors who want to protect the field. Then we spend our funds on dictionaries and grammar manuals for authors less fortunate than ourselves. Once my charity is registered, you will be able to look up details of how to become a stealth dictionary delivery guy.

Monday 29 September 2014

Another Author Plagiarises Your Zombie Heptathlon

Signs of a problem: a zombie heptathlon blurb other than your own appears before your eyes.

The symptoms: prickly face; fury; disgust; fear.

You’re just about to publish your book about a team of the undead competing to win a zombie heptathlon. You’ve been working on it for years and you know it will be a hit because every time you mention it, zombie-athletics fans wet themselves with delight. However, just as you are about to complete the eBook upload process, you receive an email. To your horror, the email is an advert for a book called Zombie Olympics.

You look at the sender’s name and feel your blood boil – it’s another member of the online forum where you first announced your intention to write a zombie heptathlon story. Angrily, you navigate to the forum. The treacherous author didn’t actually comment in the thread about your book, but you know he read it; your idea was too unique, too brilliant and too personal for another author to have come up with the same idea independently. Why, you had that idea back when your Auntie Maud died whilst training for a steeplechase. How many other authors would have had inspiration like that handed to them on a plate?

This is an insurmountable disaster. How will anybody believe that you had the idea first if your book is launched after your competitor’s? People might deem you the thief.

Firstly, relax – don’t forget how brilliant you are. Somebody may have stolen your idea but it is unlikely that he has the talent to execute it the way you can.

Next, sign up for a fake email account and write to the author pretending to be a local television news correspondent planning to interview him at his home. He will bite. Ask him politely for his address. Next purchase a small, cardboard treasure chest. Carefully cover it using shiny tissue paper and sparkling sequins. Now, squat above it and fill it with a poo. Once you are satisfied with your deposit, close the chest, wrap it in cellophane then brown paper. Send your gift by courier to the author of Zombie Olympics.

Do not be tempted to sign your offering. Do not be tempted to brag about the gesture online. Do not publically react to the copyright theft. It won’t be long before others start noticing the similarities between your books. Those who saw your earlier discussions about the content will put two and two together. At which point, you can stroll in and say, “Similarities? How flattering!”

You end up looking cool and confident and make the author of Zombie Olympics look like a sad wannabe.

Sunday 28 September 2014

A Competitor Gets a Publishing Deal

Signs of a problem: competitor becomes an insufferable hypocrite.

The symptoms: jealousy; anger; hypocrisy.

One moment your competitor is banging on about how proud he is to be an indie author. The next thing you know, he’s accepted a three-book deal with a major publishing house. You’re outraged – how could that sly hypocrite turn his back on indies and, more importantly, why did it happen to him and not you?

Take a moment to think this through. You are an indie author during the height of the indie book boom. You have full control over your content, your cover, your pricing and so much more. Do you really want a publisher messing with your hard work? Do you really want a publisher taking a tidy cut of your profits?

If the answer is still yes, then perhaps you don’t deserve to be a totally splendid hotshot author. You need to believe that you and your trusted band of freelancers have what it takes to woo the world. If you feel you need a mainstream publisher to do that for you, then you have lost your mojo.

Yes, publishers have their advantages – covering set-up costs, having existing relationships with bookshops and having contacts in the press, but they are not the be-all and end-all.

Remember, you are an awesome book-making machine. You don’t need an endorsement from a ‘big five’ publisher to validate your talent.

Your competitor has simply proved that his work fits what his publisher happens to be looking for right now. Often that means a book is about a fashionable topic, can be easily classified into one genre and is the right length for mass production. Yes, getting a publishing deal suggests that your competitor’s work is of a certain standard, but that doesn’t mean that your work isn’t.

Now that your self-esteem is returning, let’s get on to what to do about the smug and smarmy competitor.

Firstly, do not let him know that you’re jealous. His sense of superiority depends on being envied by others. Repeating your indie ideals may look resentful. You must congratulate him whilst expressing no opinion on whether or not you would like the same fate. You need to find the balance between “Each to his own, mate” and “Wow! You’ve reached the Holy Grail.” I suggest, “Well done. Hey, did you see the game last night?”

That will drive him mad.

Saturday 27 September 2014

A Competitor Asks You to Review His Painfully Bad Book

Signs of a problem: competitor starts sucking up to you; a book gets thrust into your hands.

The symptoms: despair; fear; embarrassment.

A pleasant but misguided fellow author has written a book called, Fast, Frightening, Ferocious and Fancy. It had a good cover, an exciting blurb and a selection of five star reviews. How were you to know that it would be a seventy-thousand-word, ill-disguised paean to his penis?

You agreed to read said book before you realised that it was the biggest load of tosh that your eyes would ever have the misfortune to look upon. This error of judgement means that its author knows that you’re reading his work and therefore is eagerly awaiting your feedback.

What can you do? You can’t tell him that his work is absolutely dire without causing offence but dishonesty can dig you a deeper hole. If, to be polite, you tell said author that you loved his work, the next thing you know, he could be asking for a review.

If you post a review online claiming that a typo-ridden, nonsensical celebration of a cock is a literary classic, you may as well take your career, punch it in the goolies and string it up to dry. If you post a review pointing out that the author has taken ‘vanity publishing’ to a whole new level, you will make a sworn enemy. It is important that a totally splendid hotshot author has no enemies – jealous seething competitors, yes; enraged nemeses, no.

There are a few solutions to this problem. You could claim that you have a strict ‘No reviews’ policy. Some online bookstores discourage authors reviewing other authors’ books anyway, as they could be considered ‘direct competition’ or part of dishonest review exchanges.

Another option is to pretend that you have RSI in your fingers and are saving your few remaining key presses for your masterpiece novels.

Finally, you could try the old favourite, ‘I don’t feel qualified to comment on something so different from my usual reading material.’

It is an overreaction to assassinate somebody for inadvertently compromising your integrity as a totally splendid hotshot author, but if he writes a sequel about the misadventures of his bollocks, anything goes.

Friday 26 September 2014

You’ve Got Writer’s Block and Your Sister Just Survived a Zombie Attack

Signs of a problem: sister looks tired and clawed.

The symptoms: concern; excitement.

For the last month, you’ve been unable to write. You’ve been bashing your head against your keyboard and efhguyefbhejferhrfb feiohefnd uisdffhysdf was better than anything your mind came up with, yet still not quite right. You’ve tried all the tricks in the book: having a break, having another break, exercise, clarity tea, listening to music. Nothing worked.

Then your sister comes running in, clothing in tatters. “Zo-om-bieeeeeeeeeee!” she cries.

“Where? Where?”

“It’s okay. I cut its head off with my pendant, the one with special significance because that friend who fell into a volcano left it to me,” she explains.

As your sister retells the details of her zombie clash, you find yourself grinning. This is perfect material for a book. It’s got a beginning (sister goes out for a packet of frozen peas), a middle (zombie pops out of the shop’s freezer) and a happy ending (sister comes home safe and sound, with all the ingredients for a delicious pea soup). You can’t wait to start writing.


This is your sister’s story, not yours. What if she wants to use it? What if you writing the novel keeps traumatic memories at the forefront of her mind? She may be happily raising a pan to the boil right now, but what about in six months’ time, when the flashbacks have really taken hold? She could be just starting to move on from the heinous attack when Bam! she sees your book cover and it all comes flooding back.

What about your sister’s reputation? Suppose she was going for a job and the interviewer, a die-hard member of the zombie protection league, recognises her from your book. You don’t want to let one zombie murder ruin an otherwise fruitful career.

Do not base fiction on your own family unless you are certain it’s what they want. You wouldn’t like it if your mum published a story called, ‘The Time My Daughter Fell Off the Toilet.’

Thursday 25 September 2014

Your Friend Hates His Cameo Appearance in Your Book

Signs of a problem: calls to your buddy go to voicemail; your buddy’s social network profiles mysteriously disappear.

The symptoms: sadness; rejection.

You’ve written a hilarious crime thriller about a bunch of self-published authors. It’s like a Jonathan Hill Maureen book crossed with Andrew Barrett’s award winning The Third Rule. Authors bump each other off left, write and centre. You’re convinced it’s the funniest novel ever written. “What,” you wonder, “will make it even better?”

Then you remember your best buddy. You talked him into considering publishing an eBook, and in five or six years, he might very well get round to it. You have a light-bulb moment. If you mention your friend in the most hilarious crime thriller ever written about a bunch of self-published authors, it will really help his potential, eventual book launch.

Obviously, you’re not going to name a main character after him – Damien Knickerwhistle suits neither a hero nor a villain. Instead, you use his name for a bakery assistant. You smile to yourself when you remember that, whilst a small part, the bakery assistant administers the poison that sets all the conflict in motion.

The next thing you know, Damien is furious with you. He didn’t want his name in a book. Now his estranged father might guess that he’s still alive and trace him to Peckham. It’s getting complicated, like David Wailing’s Fake Kate but with fewer red-heads.

Naturally, you had no idea that your best mate was in hiding, like a character trying to escape a David Haynes villain. However, it’s always worth checking with people before using their names. You never know who might be hiding a deep, dark secret. Seek permission just in case somebody doesn’t want to be associated with a character who sprinkles arsenic onto cupcakes. If you’re a children’s author like award runner-up Nils Andersson, you might want to avoid links of a murderous nature altogether.

Be careful about overusing author cameos, otherwise it could look like you’re just trying to show off all your celebrity connections.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

You Meet a Woman on the Train Who Writes Dinosaur Erotica

The situation: mouth open, staring with horror at your smartphone.

The symptoms: fear; revulsion; quiet amusement.

You board the train from Reading to Penzance. Alas, there are people everywhere – in the aisles, in the vestibules, on laps… Then you spy a free seat next to a casually dressed, middle-aged lady. You imagine her companion must have nipped to the loo or buffet car, but decide to ask about the seat on the off chance that it’s free. The lady smiles and moves her handbag.

A few minutes later, you bond over fruit pastilles. She likes the green ones (freak) and you like every other flavour, which makes her the perfect sharing partner. Eventually, she tells you she’s an author.

“Me too!” you coo. “What sort of things do you write?”

“Fantasy. My main focus is dinosaurs,” she explains. “I like to play with reality and imagine a planet on which dinosaurs and humans live side by side.”

You’re excited by this idea. You know it requires a vast stretch of the imagination, but your mind starts to conjure potential scenarios. The lady passes you her business card; it’s an elegant affair: ivory with just her web address. You tell her you’re training to become a totally splendid hotshot author and give her a bookmark.

When the lady pops to the loo, you can’t resist looking up her work. However, when your phone finally loads the page, what should pop up but a CGI depiction of a hot blonde straddling a pterodactyl. You blink a few times. Did you really just see a human straddling a pterodactyl?

A review quote jumps out at you, ‘Probably the best human-pterodactyl erotica I’ve ever read.’

You find your mouth laughing but your brain whizzing, as you study the dinosaur spread wings-down on a grassy lawn. How would that even…

The lady returns and you see her in a whole new light. This isn’t your regular fantasy writer. You start to blush and hide your phone behind your back. Must not let her know I know about the huma-dactyl sex.

She looks at the highly suspicious arm reaching behind your back (why didn’t you do something less conspicuous?). “Were you looking up my books?”

“N-no…” you stutter.

At this point, you have three options:

1. You can admit that you were researching her writing and try to keep a straight face while you debate how dinosaurs and humans could possibly mate.

2. You can pretend that you weren’t looking up her book and carry on the conversation as if you’ve not just seen a pterodactyl beak attempting to caress a nipple.

3. You can get up and move to another part of the train. (Suddenly, it’s abundantly clear why your seat was the only empty seat in the whole carriage.)

Do not ask if she happens to have any signed paperbacks on her for sale. Very bad people like to snap photos on trains and then upload their stolen moments to stupid, privacy-invading websites called inane things like ‘Spotted – Boys Who Look Pervy on Trains’ for nasty people to snigger at. Nothing would bait a spotter more than noticing somebody fingering a book sporting an illustration of a T. Rex mounting a bikini-clad nymphomaniac.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

You Ask a Friend to Create a Portrait

The situation: You’re scrolling through your friend’s portfolio, imagining your own portrait sitting amongst the sunsets and bumblebees.

You feel: excitement; vanity.

There comes a time in every totally splendid person’s life, when she needs a portrait of herself. It may be a photograph for the dust jacket of a first hardback, it may be a cartoon for the cover of a self-help book, or it may be an oil painting to mount in a downstairs toilet. Whatever the reasons, you must think long and hard before you ask somebody you know to create a portrait.

If you work with an illustrator, then she is the obvious first port of call. However, stop to consider how important your relationship with your illustrator actually is. Do you need to work with her again? Do you value your friendly-professional relationship?

No matter how skilled an artist, everybody has preconceived ideas about what they themselves look like, or what they’d like to look like. What if you’re in denial about the size of your nose and your illustrator draws it accurately? Once you’ve seen the drawing of your beaky nose, will you ever be able to work with your illustrator again without your Concorde popping into your head?

Everybody has a friend who’s into photography. If it’s a photo you’re after and you’ve exhausted the potential of the selfie, then a friend with a shiny DSLR is the natural next progression.

But does your photographer friend know your best side? Does he know that you like your head angled very slightly to the left to distract from your wonky eyes? Does he know that you like your face elevated to avoid looking double-chinned? Does he know that your hair needs to be parted so that it falls over your sun spot? These are all questions you need to ask yourself before enlisting your friend’s support. Otherwise you will either have to sound like a vain pedant or risk getting presented with a photo in which you look fat, wonky-eyed and sun-damaged. What will you say when your friend asks why you didn’t use his picture?

On the other hand, your photographer/illustrator might capture you so nicely that even your eternally critical inner self can find no fault (especially once you see the justice she did to your awesome white boots)

Monday 22 September 2014

Your Baby-Spamming Friend Moans About You Promoting Your Book

The situation: sarcastic remark beneath your latest cover upload.

You feel: annoyance; self-reflection.

You once had a good, attentive friend you enjoyed spending time with. Now, you’ve got a baby-obsessed monster with no appreciation that the world doesn’t revolve around her little pug-nosed goblin. Every day she uploads dozens of photos of her darling child: goblin eating baked beans, goblin eating baked beans with head rotated by five degrees, and so forth. Yet the second you upload a cover for your new book, she responds with, ‘I’m sorry, is this another book advert?’

Imagine her horror if you had been so disparaging about her darling child.

You’ve mentioned your new book three times during its launch week; she uploads baby-related matter at an average speed of three times per hour. When she’s not waffling on about her baby, it’s her husband. ‘I have the sexiest hubbie in the world!’ If that’s true then why is she on Facebook posting about him and not in bed enjoying his prowess?

Do not respond by telling your friend that her baby looks like a cabbage patch doll, unless you want her to never speak to you again. Do not stop telling your friends about your books just because one person has a problem with it.

You are trying to sell a product that may interest many of your friends. It’s not a mortgage, or tiaras or obscure pieces of computer equipment; you’re selling a book. More importantly, you need to sell copies to earn a living.

Your friend does not need to sell her baby. She does not need to market her husband. Her family is something she has regardless of whether or not the rest of the world think they’re amazing. Whereas you need to promote your books in order to pay the rent.

Provided that you write interesting, varied and engaging Facebook posts most of the time, there’s no harm mentioning your book occasionally. The same can be said for offspring.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

Chris Bailey

We all have that one person who constantly uploads pictures of literally everything. “Here’s the dustbin looking lonely.” “Here’s my tea made by my gorgeous girlfriend.” If my gorgeous girlfriend made me tea, I’d be scoffing it down before it went cold, not taking a photo of it.

You will try your best to limit your posts on your chosen social networking site, but there will always be those people that are so self-absorbed, that they genuinely believe you’re the one spamming them, despite their constant sharing of pictures of a horse or philosophical quotes when you know damn well they don’t have a philosophy degree!

You may feel the urge to hunt this person down for making an unpleasant remark. Don’t do that; simply ignore him/her and move on. It is a constant struggle promoting your work. I would suggest, make a start on creating a network of like-minded people. Work on projects together and reap the rewards of the exposure it brings.

By Jan Hurst-Nicholson

I have come up with a wonderful strategy for when friends produce pictures of their offspring or grandchildren. I now keep copies of my book covers in my bag. I whip them out and explain, “This is my first, now three-years-old and sold 17,000 copies and 52 reviews. This is my second ....” And finally, “This is my newborn. Less than a week old and with two reviews.”

Sunday 21 September 2014

Your Elderly Uncle Puts Your eReader in the Toaster

The situation: smell of burning plastic; elderly uncle licking his lips.

You feel: despair.

You wake up to the smell of burning plastic. You hurry downstairs wondering if your elderly uncle has put the TV remote under the grill again. Then you realise that it’s not the TV remote you can smell but your eReader!

No matter how tempting it might be, do not reach into the toaster without unplugging it at the wall. Although this basic safety precaution may result in a few seconds of extra eReader toastage, it’s better to have a fried eReader than a fried self. Once the toaster is unplugged at the wall, pick it up, turn it upside down and shake it, being sure to reserve one hand to catch your eReader as it shoots out.

It’s highly likely that your precious eReader is cosmetically damaged. However, there is still a chance that it may be functional. Determine the extent of the damage by trying to open an eBook. Do not open one of your own creations as this could add to your distress, especially if the screen has warped.

Now, take a little time to mourn your eReader’s former health. If it has passed away, I suggest wrapping it in a cloth and burying it in the garden. Plant a tree.

Now, it’s time to deal with the elderly uncle. I suggest a home. It may take time but you will eventually find it in your heart to love a new eReader. You cannot risk it ending up in the juicer. Get out the yellow pages, find the nearest nursing home and ship your uncle out pronto. This has the added bonus that having to send an elderly relative into residential care is excellent material for a bittersweet novella about loss.

Saturday 20 September 2014

Your Forum Friends Suggest a Gathering

The situation: new thread appears suggesting a gathering.

Year feel: intrigue; excitement; nagging concern.

You log onto your favourite online book forum, only to find that a junior member has suggested a gathering. At first, this seems like a good idea – a chance to put names to faces, a little social fun, perhaps the chance to big up your book … However, do not forget that whilst you may talk to your forum buddies more often than to your local friends, they are still internet friends, with all the risks of meeting people on the internet.

Yes, Melody Lovemuffin may seem like a harmless young creative type with a charming sense of humour and a penchant for knitting, but for all you know, ‘Melody Lovemuffin’ could be the alias for a fifty-year-old ex-con who knows that his real name, ‘Skinhead Ironbutt’, won’t sell many romance novellas.

What if one of your internet friends is an author groupie? Such people trawl the net for authors and then groom them for private readings. They sometimes hunt in packs. Only last year, an organised gang of six groupies captured Matthew Drzymala and forced him to read a chapter of Bittersweet at knife point.

I’m not saying never meet your internet friends but do proceed with caution. Meet in a well-lit area. Do not consume much alcohol. Tell your friends where you’re planning to go. Make sure that you have a mobile signal. Under no circumstances should you agree to attend a booze-filled camping expedition in the middle of nowhere, no matter how appealing it might sound.

However, do not let your forum friends know that you have the slightest qualms about meeting them alone in a dark alley. Respond with optimism and excitement. Say, “Yay! I’d love to go on a vodka-fuelled caving expedition with you.” Then lay the groundwork for a family bereavement fib. Foreshadow with “My elderly Uncle Jimbob is very foolish.” This will add credibility when you later say, “Uncle Jimbob put his wet hand in the sandwich toaster whilst having a bath. I’m just gutted that I’ll miss the forum caving expedition because of his funeral.”

If, after much consideration and pepper spray acquisition, you decide that you will attend a forum gathering, then make sure that you are armed with plenty of promotional bookmarks.

Letting people know that you plan to market your book is a major faux pas. Remember: a totally splendid hotshot author must pretend that she is in it solely for the love of writing. Even if you need to feed seven kids, you must not admit that you have any financial interest in selling books. Therefore, you must pretend that you’re at a gathering purely for the love of gatherings. Empty your bag, crumple the edges of some bookmarks, and put your other belongings on top. That way, when somebody asks about your book you can say, “I might have one or two bookmarks kicking around in here.”

Similarly, remove the silver-plated fountain pen that you carry especially for giving autographs, and replace it with a cheap biro. That way, nobody will suspect that you are expecting to promote your book.

To get the most out of the gathering, identify your greatest rival among the group and buy him drinks. Hopefully, if he gets drunk too early he will disgrace himself automatically. If he’s one of those irritating buggers who just gets more and more sociable then nip into the loo and leave him a bad review comparing him to an illiterate hippo. Return to the gathering and subtly suggest that he checks his reviews on his smartphone (he will have a smartphone). Although many authors can perfect a graceful reaction to a negative review online, it is very hard to fake an elegant response to an illiterate hippo comment in person. Steam will come out of his ears as he rants and raves. If you’re lucky, he might smash a few items of furniture.

Once your main rival is down, it is time to shine. Refer to your phone for witticisms written earlier in the day, and reel them off as original thoughts. You will soon have your forum buddies eating books out of your hand.

Friday 19 September 2014

A Newspaper Awards You a Prize then Rants About Your Book

The situation: your book is listed as a prize winner on a major newspaper’s website.

You feel: shock followed by excitement followed by more shock.

You enter your beloved manuscript in a self-publishing competition run by a national newspaper. You get on with your life, occasionally wondering what the judges thought of your book. Then, to your utter astonishment, you learn that you have won!

You’re stunned. You imagined the prize would go to one of the bestselling self-published books. You hurriedly navigate to the news article featuring your book. However, instead of a positive article listing its merits with one or two suggestions for improvement, the article is a badly-veiled attack on self-publishing.

‘Desperately needs a traditional publisher’ reads the opening paragraph, before launching into a haughty list of all the worth an editor could bring to the project. Editors correct repetition, editors improve pacing, editors help you vary language ... yadda yadda yadda yadda yadda yadda yadda blah yadda.

It seems incredible that a national newspaper would pick your book to win an award, if they didn’t think it a good example of a self-published book, yet you have to look very hard to find an unqualified positive remark in the whole review.

You begin to think, “Oh heck! I’m doing it all wrong. I need to remove my eBook from sale and go back to sending hundreds of speculative letters to literary agents.”

No, you don’t.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that your book is badly edited. Perhaps you neglected to hire enough editors, or got one that you didn’t gel with. Let’s say your book could be improved with a deep and thorough edit.

Why then, is the journalist’s conclusion that you should go out and find a traditional publisher? You can already publish. That’s not the issue here. The issue is that you need a new editor. You could go through the long, laborious process of trying to find an agent who might get you a publisher who would then hook you up with an editor. However, it would be much easier to simply hire your own. Many traditional publishers use freelance editors anyway – the same freelance editors that you can hire yourself.

Do not take the newspaper article to heart. Realise that newspapers and journalists have agendas too. Does the journalist have a traditionally published book out, per chance? If your book was chosen, then clearly your writing has merit. You might not have mastered the whole package yet, but with the right team of freelancers, you’ll get there. You may have to stump up a few hundred pounds for one-off costs, but the advantage is that you’ll get to keep substantially higher royalties than you’d get from a conventional publisher.

Thursday 18 September 2014

A Bookshop Manager Calls Your Book a Monstrosity

Signs of a problem: manager looks an infuriating blend of annoyed and smug.

The symptoms: agony; defensiveness; violent urges.

You had decided to take the plunge and create a Print-on-Demand version of your definitive manual on bottom jokes. You unwrap your proof copy with delight – the cartoon cover featuring a teenage boy farting into a phone is hilarious. Excitedly, you trek over to the local bookshop to inform the manager that BooksULike will be the first store to stock the next big thing.

What does the manager do about your generous offer? He turns his nose up and walks away. He doesn’t even look at your cover. You explain that the eBook version of your baby has sold 300 copies but the bastard simply does not want to know.

“Another vanity-published monstrosity, no doubt,” he mumbles as he moves off.

You simply cannot believe his rudeness. He didn’t even read your hand-out detailing the sheer quantity of bottom jokes packed into your manual.

What you need to realise is that the bookshop manager sees dozens of self-published authors every week and he has no idea that you are the one guest who really does have what it takes to become a totally splendid hotshot author.

Do not call him a knob (to his face). Do not make fun of his toupee. Do not, under any circumstances, get your arse out, even if you are wearing jogging trousers.

Instead, walk out with your head held high, devote yourself to making your book an international success, then return in twelve months’ time with ‘told ya, sucker’ inked across your butt cheeks, and then get your arse out.

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Your Over-Zealous Housemate Franks You

Signs of a problem: unexpected Facebook activity; friend trying to stifle giggles.

The symptoms: irritation – this is your career!

You’ve created a brilliant Facebook page for your totally splendid hotshot author persona. It contains a gorgeous photo of you sporting a new sexy goatee, faux ‘candid’ photos of you hanging out with some indie celebs and a few of your most over-written quotes. Then, while you’re in the bathroom, your delightful housemate grabs your laptop and posts, ‘I like to wear women’s knickers.’

It’s not that you have anything against cross-dressers, it’s just that you’re not one (or perhaps you are, but it’s not part of your author brand). Plus, getting franked looks totally unprofessional.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term ‘frank’, it’s a contraction of ‘Facebook’ and ‘prank’ and is used to describe an occasion where an individual takes control of somebody else’s Facebook account and posts something whilst pretending to be the logged in individual.

Franking is more commonly known as ‘frape’, a contraction of ‘Facebook’ and ‘rape’. However, if ‘frape’ really were the Facebook equivalent of ‘rape’ then rape would be writing ‘I cross dress’ on the forehead of a sleeping friend, and not an abhorrent and violent criminal practice. Therefore, I’m using the lesser known but much less disgusting term, ‘frank’.

As a result of the frank, half of your fans think you wear ladies’ panties and the other half know that you’re the sort of author who has friends who can’t be trusted. This is not good.

What options do you have? You could delete the post and make another one thanking your friend for reminding you of the importance of security on social media, you could respond by leaving a witty remark beneath the frank showing that you’re both aware of your friend’s indiscretion and able to take a joke, or you could get revenge.

As appetising as it may seem, taking revenge is an example of what not to do. You could respond by uploading a photo of your housemate having just walked out of the shower, but do you really think the brains behind, ‘I like to wear women’s knickers’ is going to let it stop at that? He or she will take counter revenge and raise the stakes once again. Before you know it, your readers will think that you’re a baby-eating, thong-wearing, sexual deviant from one of the lesser known Celtic nations.

Yes, a discreet response may be boring, but you are on your way to becoming a totally splendid hotshot author now, you have to protect your reputation. A true friend will not seek to destroy your career but pranks can rapidly escalate out of control.

Of course, revenge your friend never finds out about is fine. Instead of responding with a public prank, why not get it on with his mum?

Tuesday 16 September 2014

A Website Visitor Searches for Photos of You Naked

The situation: your website statistics list the search term ‘[your name] naked’.

You feel: embarrassment; confusion; concern; fright.

Anybody who’s ever monitored the visitor statistics for their website will tell you how addictive it can become. Your statistics tell you your visitors’ country of origin, which browsers they use, how long they stay for and, most intriguingly, the search terms they use to arrive at your site.

This information can be extremely helpful. It tells you, for example, which of your books are the most searched for and the sort of keywords that draw traffic to your site. However, sometimes there can be such a thing as too much information.

You’re trawling through your statistics, looking at various misspellings of your name, and suddenly you see the terrifying words: ‘[your name] naked’.

You freeze. Why on earth did you call yourself ‘[your name]’? Beginning a forename with a square bracket is a disgrace, not to mention your lack of any capital letters.

You wonder who could possibly be looking for photographs of you naked? Are there naked photos of you online? Have you ever done anything to suggest that there might be naked photos of you online?

Relax. The internet is full of perverts. It is true that nowadays almost everybody uses the internet, but the perverts had a head start. Yes, when taken at face value these search terms seem alarming. However, in light of all the internet traffic out there and the number of search terms involving the words ‘naked’, ‘sexy’ and ‘drunk’ it would be statistically implausible for you to compulsively monitor your web stats without seeing the occasional alarming combination of keywords.

Anyway, there are many explanations besides a reader hoping to get a peek at your bits: perhaps the visitor misspelled ‘named’, perhaps the visitor was looking for photos of somebody else with the same name as you, perhaps the visitor felt that a character in one of your books laid herself bare…

Whatever you do, do not register this as a calling to publish nude selfies. If a reader searches for ‘Has [your name] written any short stories?’ then perhaps you may wish to take that visitor’s request into consideration. However, you must keep a discerning eye when it comes to responding to the requests of anonymous web users. We will return later to the subject of author integrity in relation to sexual content. For now, all you need to remember is this: clothes on; cameras off.

Monday 15 September 2014

You Consider Serialising Your Novel to Increase Exposure

The situation: counting your gold before it hatches.

The symptoms: greed.

Cheap eBooks sell better than expensive ones. The more titles you have out, the more exposure you get. On paper, it seems like splitting your novel into six parts will sell more copies and earn more money.

Sadly, many readers hate this. If you read the critical reviews of serialised novels, you will see people who rated the first part one-star simply for being part of a serial.

In one case, I wrote a novella that was a self-contained story with a tidy conclusion and a plot I never intended to continue. However, it was more popular than I expected so, as an afterthought, I wrote a follow-on novella. The publishing of a sequel did not affect the content of the initial story, yet the very existence of book two led to a negative review on Goodreads, describing it as, ‘Yet another serialised novel.’

Some serialised novels will do better than others; for example those that were always intended to be sold in parts (as opposed to sliced up later), those clearly marked as incomplete sections, those where the additional parts are reasonably priced, and those where each part contains a self-contained story. A few loose ends to tease the reader are common sense, but only if the reader knows beforehand that what he or she is reading is not going to be the full story. Nobody likes to invest hours of their time reading a book, only to find they have to pay an additional £10 to see how it ends.

However, you should not let the vitriol against serialised novels force you to go too far in the opposite direction. Do not start your blurb with ‘This is a full-length book with a tidy conclusion and a happy ending.’ Firstly, this looks totally unprofessional; secondly, it wastes your valuable opening sentence; thirdly, you’ve just spoiled the ending.

If you really need to get across that a book is self-contained (for example, you’ve written an optional sequel), then mention this in your blurb after your synopsis. A simple ‘This book can be enjoyed as a stand-alone read.’ will do. There’s no need to tell readers, ‘Whilst a secondary character does die, I’m sure you’ll be happy with the outcome for your favourite characters.’

Sunday 14 September 2014

The Only Blog Post People Read is the One About Grannies Who Do It in Rubber Gloves

The situation: you receive yet another email notification of a blog comment about Marigolds.

You feel: despair.

You’ve written hundreds of varied and fascinating blog posts. Yet whenever you check your web stats, they reveal that 99% of your traffic comes from people searching for various combinations of ‘granny does it in rubber gloves’.

The pattern’s not entirely without justification. As a product of writing a comedy called My Granny Writes Erotica, you have had cause to blog about older people who write naughty books. One post includes a book extract in which your writer protagonist is thinking through her next plot whilst doing the dishes.

You know that anybody expecting photos or videos of a pair of grannies going at it whilst wearing rubber are going to be bitterly disappointed when they find a text-only post about how many books Jackie Collins has squeezed into her life so far.

On the other hand, traffic is traffic. Many porn-lovers have a sense of humour. Perhaps a visitor might come along looking for some saucy stimulation but get side-tracked by your novel.

Do not edit your blog post to read, ‘Looking up porn? You should be ashamed of yourself, young man.’ Do not cater to visitors’ demands by writing a saucy short story called ‘Grannies Wash Up’. Such behaviour could have long term effects on your brand. If you have a reputation for writing OAP bonkbusters, readers might not realise that My Granny Writes Erotica is humorous fiction rather than erotica.

Saturday 13 September 2014

Your Quote About Dog Turds Goes Viral

The situation: social networking activity in overdrive; swarm of Goodreads notifications.

You feel: frustration.

You’ve written a modern masterpiece recreating the style of Jane Austen. It’s full of witticisms, wry observations about life and romantic prose. The book is truly overflowing with catchy phrases and quotable slogans. Yet, for some reason, the predominant sentence that people seem to enjoy quoting involves poo.

Everywhere you turn, somebody else has quoted, ‘It weighed down on me like a rucksack filled with dog turds.’ Even your mum has written it to you in a text (although admittedly the predictive text equivalent, ‘It weighed down on me like a rich sock filled with dogtooth,’ doesn’t quite have the same punch).

You’re in two minds about this. On the one hand, 2,000 people retweeting a line from your book is a good thing, on the other hand, dog turd analogies hardly capture the essence of your literary romance.

It is important not to let this one quote alter the course of your career. On this particular occasion, people were amused by the juvenile quote, but that does not mean that you should jack in literary romance writing in favour of coining phrases about excrement. Likewise, you should not replace the rose petal imagery in the sequel with a simile involving cat piss.

Avoid ordering bookmarks, coasters and banners featuring the slogan about turds. Viral internet sensations are often short lived, and you don’t want to be left with a living room full of placemats about poop – especially as they make poor presents.

Instead, recognise that the internet is a chaotic and unpredictable place in which some things go viral and others do not. Keep faith in what you do and do not let passing fads knock you off course. Write more books, continue to fill them with quotable phrases and hope that the embarrassing poo quotation will be displaced by one of your more prestigious quotes.

Friday 12 September 2014

You’re Offered a Chance to Talk About Your Book on Children’s TV

The situation: TV contact on the phone relaying good news.

Your feel: excitement; anticipation.

It’s every author’s dream: you’ve been offered the chance to appear on TV. Thanks to a generous friendly acquaintance, you have been granted four and a half minutes on ‘Woofy the Doggy’ to talk about your book.


Yes, but only if you’re a children’s author. Authors frequently put a great deal of effort into marketing their books, only to pitch their adverts at the wrong demographic entirely.

Do not go on children’s TV to advertise your gritty horror about little boys’ heads turning up in dustbins. Do not go on children’s TV to advertise your erotic tale of a field mouse falling in love with a poodle, even though there’s a dog in it.

You need to understand who your target audience are. This doesn’t mean ‘everybody’ even if you would like the masses to read it. The chances are that 90% of your readers will fit a typical profile. Yes, tell anybody who’ll listen that your book is out there, but when you invest long hours or hundreds of pounds on promotions, make sure they’re aimed at the right people.

I’m not a fan of gender stereotyping, even in advertising – where it’s arguably effective. However, you don’t necessarily need to focus on gender to reach your target audience. If you find a hobby or interest that’s likely to appeal to your readers, you can home in on those people. For example, pitch your non-fiction book about steam engines at train spotters. That’s an activity predominantly enjoyed by men, but by targeting the field rather than the gender, you’re also incorporating women who might be interested in your book.

Children’s books are unusual, in that your marketing efforts can be focused on a different demographic from your readers, i.e. parents.

However, the converse is not true. Do not go on children’s TV and ask kids to tell their parents about Numo the Nympho Prossie Killer.

Thursday 11 September 2014

A Promoter Turns Down Your Title About Whacking Women’s Arses with a Stick

The situation: tart rejection email.

The symptoms: shock; failure to comprehend.

When you market an eBook, one of the first things you learn is that there are dozens of websites running daily listings of book offers. Some are more useful than others. eBook Listings are frequently used to announce new releases and price drops.

Fuelled by the belief that newsletter administrators will be delighted by your half price deal, you submit Wanda Whacked Against Her Will. You feel the blurb really captures the essence of the book: boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy captures girl in a large net, boy hits girl’s arse with stick, girl asks boy to stop hitting her arse with a stick, boy hits girl on the arse with a bigger stick, girl falls in love with boy.

You’re amazed when you receive a response that reads: ‘We’re sorry, but we’ve decided that Wanda Whacked Against Her Will is not suitable for our catalogue.’

The first thing to remember is that book promoters are real people and a large proportion of real people do not condone whacking women’s arses with sticks.

Ask yourself: “Is my storyline an example of consensual adults acting out a fantasy?” If you are unsure, go and chat to a few victims of abuse, meet some adults who enjoy consensual S&M, and if you still want to share Wanda Whacked Against Her Will, don’t expect help from promoters.

Book promotion websites make decisions based on a variety of other factors, including quantity and quality of reviews, attractiveness of the cover and blurb concision.

‘Buy my other books for super, super cheap prices: Stephie Smacked Against Her Wishes / Penny Paddled Against Her Better Judgement half price NOW!’ is widely considered a spammy start to a blurb. Similarly, having to scroll through dozens of quotes to get to a synopsis irritates administrators who are trying to get to the facts and run a tidy website.

Some promotion websites ask for money in exchange for advertising your book. As with pay-to-enter competitions, you should proceed with caution. Many eBook listers don’t publish their referral data, and those that do sometimes use misleading statistics. For example, an organisation may have 40,000 followers, but that doesn’t mean that 40,000 people will see your advert. Often links posted to social network are seen by less than 5% of a page’s total followers. Similarly, some websites use deceptive measures of central tendency to inflate the apparent magnitude of sales. I’m not saying never pay for a listing on a third-party website, but research other authors’ experiences before you part with your hard-earned cash. Do this by actively inviting opinions from forum friends rather than searching the internet, as false testimonies are easy to plant.

If you want to be featured on a book promotion website, be sure to read the site’s individual guidelines as each one varies. Many mainstream promoters reject erotica by default and separate sites have arisen to deal with the demand. If you must promote Wanda Whacked Against Her Will, then look for sites that allow it.

Wednesday 10 September 2014

You Email Your Link to Everybody You’ve Ever Met

The situation: email open with ‘to’ field crammed and pleading mantra in the body.

The symptoms: guilt combined with a burning desire to hit ‘send’.

You published your book forty-eight hours ago and so far you’ve only had three sales, one of which was your own test copy. Why aren’t people buying your book? You’ve updated all the social networks and even your online dating profile. So what did you do wrong?

Then you remember email. You haven’t emailed anybody yet! Email is more direct, harder to ignore …

You soon find yourself in front of an email addressed to everybody you’ve ever met. Your finger is hovering over the send button.



Sending a mass, unsolicited email advertising a product could be considered a bad idea. There’s a very good chance that some recipients, especially the ones you don’t know particularly well, will see a mass marketing email as spam.

Whether you send a bulk email notifying your contacts about your book depends on your bottom line. If the bottom line is that you don’t want to annoy anybody at all, don’t do it. If the bottom line is that you want to make sales, then an email notification is not such a bad idea, provided it’s legal in your country. Many of your friends will be delighted to hear that you’ve published a book, even if they don’t feel it’s quite their cup of tea.

I once started listening to a podcast because some people I went to uni with put me on their mailing list without asking. I loved the podcast and still listen to it. It’s now an award-winning success. However, it’s unlikely that their success hinged on their email activity and this method could have backfired horribly.

If you decide to send the email take steps to make your message as informative and targeted as you can. Don’t send a blanket email to everybody you’ve ever met. You’ll be amazed how many contact details an email address book can hoard over the years: former lovers, parents of former lovers, tutors of parents of former lovers, employers of tutors of parents of former lovers, your GP surgery … Do you really want the person who examines you for piles knowing that you wrote a book called NHS Mysteries #1 – Murder of a General Practitioner?

Glance through the list of recipients and if there are people who definitely won’t be interested in your book, remove them.

Make sure you put email addresses in the Blind Carbon Copy (BCC) field, as this prevents people’s personal details being shared. It also means that if somebody chooses ‘reply all’, their response doesn’t go to your entire mailing list. Your aunt doesn’t need to know that your mate thinks your book is ‘Fucking awesome, man’.

Don’t use a deceptive subject line. ‘Long time, no see. How are you, chicken?’ is a deceptive subject line.

Now look at the body of the email. Do not launch into ‘BUY MY BOOOOOOOOK!!!!111’. Start by saying hello and then politely explain that you’ve written a book and you’d like to tell people all about it. Do not pretend that you’re not trying to sell your book. Do not make it sound like you’re writing to an individual. These things will be noticeably insincere and put people’s backs up.

Make sure you include details of how to unsubscribe. Write a brief footer saying words to the effect of, ‘This is a bulk email and if you’d prefer not to receive any more book notifications, please reply with the word “unsubscribe”.’ Then gracefully accept unsubscribers’ decisions. Make a note of people who opt out and never send them another book advert. I once tried to unsubscribe from book notifications sent by a passing acquaintance three times. On the arrival of a fourth email, I wrote back threatening to report him to the ICO.

In my experience, emailing 100 acquaintances results in approximately ten congratulations, five sales, two unsubscribes and one self-righteous rant.

If you wish to take a softer approach, you could put details of your book in your email footer. That way people you keep in contact with will read about your book without the intrusion of a dedicated email.

Please note: whilst it’s important to promote your book, emailing your stalker could void that cherished restraining order.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

By Richard Martinus
Richard on amazon.co.uk

If you’ve considered emailing everybody in your address book then the chances are that you’ve also considered the drive-by-promo technique.

The drive-by promo is one of the most powerful marketing tools in your armoury. It comes in a variety of forms:

1. The standard drive-by promo: write up a lengthy advert for your latest masterpiece and blitz every reader and writer forum you can locate with it. Don’t feel you have to hang around to answer questions or show an interest. People in these forums do not expect you to contribute; they’d far rather you were busy writing your next book with which to regale them. In any case, if we’re being honest, they’re generally a boring bunch of bastards and you don’t want to waste your precious time on them.

2. The slo-mo drive-by promo: this is where you precede your drive-by promo with a series of daily teasers. Fifty is the minimum recommended number. Be sure not to let on what it actually is that you’re promoting. (That’s why they’re called teasers, duh!)

3. The J-Lo slo-mo drive-by promo: as above, but illustrated with pictures of eye-catchingly proportioned Hollywood actresses.

4. If you have any images to illustrate a J-Lo in Jell-O slo-mo drive-by promo, please send them straight to me.

Tuesday 9 September 2014

You Buy a Book Called ‘How I Sold One Squillion eBooks’

The situation: eBook purchase confirmation email; new book on Kindle.

The symptoms: excitement; ambition.

Many successful authors have released books letting us into the secrets of success. Some contain practical advice and some simply brag about the things they think they did to bring about their success. Are they useful? Yes. Should they be considered biblical? No.

First of all, there is a luck component to any author success story. Somewhere along the line, somebody with a bit of influence happened to happen upon a book, then another key person was looking right instead of left, and so forth. You can give yourself the best possible chance, but there are some factors you cannot control. By nature there will be people at the top of any game, even roulette – which is based on pure luck.

It’s very easy when you’re doing well to look at your success and pinpoint positive decisions, but that doesn’t mean that the thousands of people following virtually identical paths will enjoy the same outcome. People don’t always know why things happen, but if you ask them, they’ll almost always come up with some explanation.

Secondly, what works for one author might not work for you. Jimbob Bobbleton might drop into the ocean with ‘Buy My Book’ written on his parachute, but if you’re scared of heights and can’t swim, that course of action won’t work for you. Some extremely lucky authors will tell you that all they did was put a book out there and it took off, but the tens of thousands of books that lie dormant are testament to the fact that publishing a book is only a very small part of the battle.

Motivational books like to say things like ‘Anyone, no matter what their background, could write a novel in six months.’ Whilst super claims empower some, they leave many people feeling demoralised. Go ahead and spend your whole life writing one book, if that’s what it takes. Different people write in different ways. It isn’t a race.

If you buy one of these guide books, look through and cherry pick the advice that suits you. If a suggestion is expensive and/or time consuming, think carefully before acting on it.

The worst thing you can do is blindly follow the ‘secrets’ of somebody else’s success, making investments left, right and centre. Bestselling Barry Boggins may have woken himself up every morning with a coffee enema, but that’s probably not why his novel was featured on Richard and Judy.

Monday 8 September 2014

Real Life Clashes with Your Author Brand

The situation: a professional contact wants to meet the real you; author biog doesn’t match truth.

You feel: fear; shame.

In the days of digital selling, brand is everything. Self-published authors rely heavily on their online persona. Readers are more likely to read your book if they like you. And when I say ‘you’, I mean a carefully processed version of yourself – a better you – a you that you would trust.

Branding can be as simple as being photographed with your pets – a dog on the lap can make even the most hostile person look lovable. Branding could extend further, such as offering publishing consultancy for £199 per hour. You don’t actually have to have clients to offer a consultancy service, but it doesn’t half look impressive in an email footer.

Then, suddenly, worlds collide and there’s a discomforting moment where real-you and author-you overlap. It could be a reader wanting to meet you, or going along to a newspaper interview and finding that you play football with the journalist.

If branding is done well, then your author persona will fit over your real life like a piece of tracing paper. It doesn’t contain as much detail as the original; neither does it embellish what is there. It’s the truth but not the whole truth, and that’s fine.

However, once in a while, you might ‘tweak’ your author persona. Supposing you write cosy mysteries set in the Lake District, you might occasionally photograph a fisherman and post it to social networks, despite being a strict vegetarian with an inability to keep quiet long enough to fish. You never said you like fishing, you just implied it.

Suddenly, a reader with whom you’ve exchanged dozens of messages suggests meeting for a spot of fishing. You feel your forehead prickle. Is your web of deceit going to cause your world to crumble around you?

If we’re talking about fishing, your world probably won’t collapse. All you need to do is admit that you’re more interested in watching fisherman than actually being one. You’ll have to be careful how you word it, but a reasonable reader will understand.

If fishing is a euphemism for something much bigger, such as forwarding your erotica career by pretending to be a young beautician when you’re actually an aging headmaster, you need to think very carefully about your plan of action.

Some people have false author personas that you’re supposed to take with a pinch of salt, such as children’s authors with blurbs that report that they live in castles in the sky. Others present realistic false personas, sometimes with good reason. If you’re a headteacher then your job will almost certainly be compromised if the PTA hears about your erotic sideline.

If you’re caught out lying, the best thing you can do is lay your cards on the table and explain why there are discrepancies between your author brand and the truth. If you haven’t been caught out, then you need to decide what is more important, meeting your readers or preserving the truth. Whilst the notion of meeting someone who thinks you’re great is appealing, what if she doesn’t think you’re quite so great in real life, and publishes the truth online?

Do not presume that you can trust a person simply because he or she enjoyed your book. Respecting your total brilliance is an important quality in a friend, but trust comes close behind.

Sunday 7 September 2014

You Declare Yourself a Self-Publishing Expert

Signs of a problem: you find yourself talking for the sake of talking; you feel compelled to offer advice on things you know little about.

The symptoms: delusions of grandeur.

One month after publishing your first novel, you begin to realise the depressing fact that unknown indie authors are treated with less respect than a large dog turd smeared over three paving slabs.

“What,” you ask yourself, “can I do to make people respect me?”

Then, suddenly, you have the answer: proclaim yourself an expert on writing and publishing. If you tell everyone that you know what you’re talking about, if you provide an answer to every single forum post ever written, if you change your screen name to ‘Super Self-Publishing Guru’ surely people will trust you enough to buy your book?

The problem is that after one month of writing, you are not an expert. Spouting opinions as fact may wow people for an hour or two, but then somebody who’s been self-publishing for two months will point out the flaws in your advice and you’ll be exposed for the fraudster that you are.

I’m not saying don’t offer advice – indeed the indie scene is based on peer-to-peer support. What I’m saying is don’t herald yourself an expert until you actually are one. Even then, it might be a good idea to exude some modesty. Authors who’ve been in the game for several years don’t take kindly to somebody breezing in and having an unshakeable opinion on absolutely everything.

Later, when you actually are better than everybody else, you may wish to consider publishing an ironic self-publishing self-help book, but personally I think that’s a bit lame.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

By Lucas Bale

I first decided to self-publish in January 2014. I can’t remember what the catalyst was for that decision, but it wasn’t a hokey New Year’s Resolution. I recall weighing the options: I could write dozens of letters to agents and paper my toilet with the rejections as Stephen King suggested in On Writing; then wait for my agent to pitch to publishers who would themselves need to pitch it up the line to the various departments within their own company that need to sign off on a new book. Then, my book would then need to find favour with a distributor. It would have four weeks to sell well enough to be kept on the shelves and not pulped. I would have no say in the cover design or marketing and I’d get a much smaller proportion of the royalties (if my book earned enough to even pay back the advance, if I got one).

Or I could self-publish. One click and my book is online. No agents, no publishers to convince – just get it out there. I get 35% or 70% royalties. I have the freedom to choose my own covers and the manner in which I market and the book stays online, forever. Sounds like an easy choice, doesn’t it?

It’s not. Traditional publishing companies have experience I don’t. They have contacts I might never have. They know the business of publishing. Successful self-published authors consider themselves both authors and publishers, so I need to learn it too. I picked up a book on the area, read it and found it was out of date already – the main thrust of the marketing was the power of free-runs in Kindle Select, but then Amazon changed their algorithms and the whole landscape changed. I read another book, Write Publish Repeat by Johnny B Truant and Sean Platt, and found it tremendously useful. I dipped into blogs and forums, and read more books. Every self-published author had an opinion – they sold 250,000 books in two years, and were living the dream, and they knew exactly how I should do it. Most of them were romance or erotica authors for whom the game is very different – they can release short books quickly and they have a high-turnover audience. Not every tactic fits every genre. What I found most was that there was a wealth of material which was overwhelming. And every self-published author seemed to think that teaching others how to write was the best way to get readers – that blog posts or tweets on writing was what their readers were interested in.

Aside from producing an excellent product – a well-edited, intelligent, gripping story with a great blurb and an eye-catching cover – you need to get people to see it. You need to promote it, market it and make it discoverable – you need to engage in the dark arts and the skulduggery that people associate with selling. And there are dozens of ‘experts’ willing to tell you how to do it. Some are good (Rosen Trevithick, for example, and I also like Joanna Penn), some not so much. Most are rehashing old ideas and not keeping up with the lightning-fast sea changes happening in publishing. The key is having a stable platform of your own that you control – a website no one else can take from you is a must. The second essential ingredient is a mailing list of fans who will give every new release a push. The rest is all about you – how you connect with your readers, how you think you (as a reader) might discover your own book, and what you enjoy doing to promote your book. And keeping your expectations realistic – none of us are experts, we are all learning the trade of publishing and we always will be.

Saturday 6 September 2014

Your Book Gets Pirated

The situation: a website is claiming to provide your masterpiece for free.

You feel: fury; fear.

There are few author frustrations as maddening as finding out that your book has been stolen by pirates. Sometimes, just to rub salt into the wound, you get a notification from a search engine announcing that a new webpage mentioning you has been indexed. When you open it, it’s a link to an illegal copy of your debut novel.

There you are, carefully running a half price promotion, and somebody else is giving it away illegally for free. All your hard work stolen and distributed without your permission – you have every right to be cross.

However, having your work pirated is not the disaster you may think. There is very little overlap between people who are prepared to pay for books and people who steal books. If thieves can’t find an illegal copy of your book, they’ll probably download something else for free instead. Readers who are happy to pay for books don’t generally go looking for free alternatives.

Having your work pirated gains exposure, yes among knobheads, but knobheads are people too – people with friends and family who are only partial knobheads, who have friends and family who aren’t knobheads at all. Piracy is bloody annoying, but it can lead to sales.

If you wish to fight the copyright theft, first try to contact the owner of the site that’s illegally sharing your work and politely ask him or her to remove it. If that fails, you could send a cease and desist letter threatening legal action. The next step is to initiate legal proceedings. However, unless you can prove substantial loss of earnings, I recommend stamping your feet a few times and moving on.

Do not let the pirates ruin your day. If you decide to blog about your experience, you could take a selfie whilst dressed up as a pirate. Dressing up as a pirate brightens any day

Friday 5 September 2014

You’re Invited to Enter a Short Story Competition Costing £100

The situation: advert in magazine jumps out at you; checking bank balance.

Your feel: excitement; ambition.

You know you’re just one break away from becoming a totally splendid hotshot author. If only there was something you could do to get noticed. Then you see it, ‘Really Rather Prestigious Romantic Short Story Competition’ advertised in a writing magazine. You’re a romance writer! A really rather prestigious award is just what your career needs to take it to the next level. Sure, it costs £100 to enter, but you won’t notice that £100 when you’re a millionaire, right?

Unfortunately, ninety per cent of authors believe they are one break away from becoming a bestselling author. Many competitions that cost money to enter are scams that prey on authors’ ambitions and offer very little exposure in exchange.

Yes, competitions have running costs, but very few are so expensive to run that they need £100 per entrant. In many cases, fees are used to line the pockets of the organisers rather than promote the winners. This would be more palatable in an industry with more money to go around, but authors make precious little money as it is, without blowing their meagre royalties on false optimism.

All too often the middle man makes more money from authors than authors make in royalties. Boards that claim to accredit indie books for a fee, magazines that make you pay to be reviewed, and websites that charge to list books, are other examples of organisations that might try to exploit your ambition in a way that makes you invest a lot more than your likely return.

Of course, there are reputable resources that will help you promote your book in a way that’s mutually beneficial. Many competitions are legitimate and widely recognised. However, consider anything that asks for money very carefully.

How long is your short story? Are the judges paid? If so, how many judges have they employed? What is the competition prize? Has anybody sponsored the competition? (If so, why is it so expensive to enter?) Is the competition reputable? Has it been mentioned in any newspapers?

If the prize is small, the fee exceeds what a reasonable person would charge to read your story and the only press coverage is adverts bought by the organisers, then it’s likely that the competition is not the big break you’re looking for.

Instead, look for competitions that have a time-proven record of boosting careers, and competitions that are free to enter.

Invest your money in more concrete opportunities such as professional editing and cover design. Seek freelancers through recommendations rather than responding to adverts. Avoid anything that bills itself as ‘Really Rather Prestigious’.

Thursday 4 September 2014

Your Wallet Hears Erotica Calling

The situation: erotic books mentioned wherever you go; fantasising about being out of debt.

Your feel: excitement; confusion; fear.

There’s a debt collector knocking at your door, you’ve reached your limit on seven credit cards and the bank is foreclosing on your mortgage. You can’t afford to send little Johnny on school trips and baby Jenny has no bonnet. Times are hard. To make matters worse, nobody is buying your beautifully researched literary masterpiece about Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Instead, everywhere you go, people are banging on about some erotic trilogy featuring a nasty bully whose only redeeming feature is owning a helicopter.

You look back over your romantic history. You know a thing or two about sex. It wouldn’t be too hard to cobble together 50,000 words of bonk-busting delight based on your personal experiences. You could publish it under a false name and the bitches at the school gates will never know that you are anything other than the perfect mother.

The first thing you need to realise is that for every erotic novel that sells 10,000 copies, there are thousands that sell less than 100. Buying erotica is popular, but so is writing it. I recently had to sift through thousands of books deciding which ones to long-list in a competition. There were more erotic novels without a single review than books without reviews in any other category.

If you still want to go ahead, ask yourself how much you actually know about sex. The majority of mainstream erotica readers like to think they’re enjoying something really kinky, without actually being exposed to anything that genuine BDSM culture would consider darker than a vanilla sundae.

If your sexual repertoire involves two or three sex acts repeated on a loop, the chances are your sex-life memoir will bore the majority of modern erotica readers. But if losing your virginity involved nipple clamps, suspension and suffocation, you’ll still lose most of your readers by chapter two.

Then there’s the potential defamation suit, should any of your former lovers recognise themselves in your book. The chances are that the ex who liked to be swathed in butter wrappers and tied to a chimney is the only person in the world who has ever liked being wrapped like that and tied to a chimney. He might not be happy with your chapter about him cheating on his wife.

As a general rule, sex memoirs are a bad idea.

What about erotic fiction? Admittedly, that’s less dangerous territory, but still a risk. If your book does well, journalists will not be happy to let you relax behind a pseudonym. Do you really want little Bobby to know that mummy wrote a story about punishing a burglar with a courgette? Imagine getting him to eat his greens after that.

Wednesday 3 September 2014

A Fan Mistakes You For Stieg Larsson

The situation: Millennium trilogy being waved under your nose.

The symptoms: seething rage, disappointment, embarrassment.

You’re signing books at a local arts fair and it’s all going well. A fan approaches and tells you he’s your greatest fan. With wonky hair and absent teeth, he looks like he’s been dragged through a hedge backwards whilst having a fight with a rabid lawnmower. You hope he isn’t your greatest fan, but you do like the attention. When he tells you he already has three of your paperbacks, you whoop inwardly. Then, he gets out his copy of your first book and it’s not your first book at all but Girl with the Frigging Dragon Tattoo.

You have two options: point out the reader’s mistake or let him believe that you are actually Stieg Larsson.

If you pretend to be Stieg, you’ll get to sign a book (albeit not your own). This option also avoids embarrassment. However you will be storing up problems for the poor reader later down the line, when he realises that Stieg died in 2004.

Tuesday 2 September 2014

You Feel the Need to Design a 3D Cover Image for Your Boxed Set

Signs of a problem: 3D editing software open; eyesore on screen.

The symptoms: frustration followed by unwarranted pride.

You’ve now written three novels – look at you! Tired, and unsure when you’ll next have time to write, you realise that the easiest way to release another title is to create an eBook boxed set. You get to work trying to create a 3D mock-up of your box.


Most 3D mock-ups look dreadful, due to the average person’s lack of experience with 3D imaging. Secondly, there are no standard specifications for 3D boxed sets, meaning that if you put a number of boxed set images next to each other, they’ll all be displayed at different angles, which looks untidy. Thirdly, as mentioned before, book covers are often viewed in their thumbnail form. Thumbnails are so small that you need to capitalise on every pixel. If you use a 3D mock-up the cover will be even smaller than a flat image because much of your thumbnail will be taken up with background and spinal graphics. Some 3D mock-ups show the front cover at an angle, which makes most text illegible at many sizes.

If you wish to bundle three books together, it is far better to have one professional flat cover that brings together the essence of three original books than a bad 3D mock-up. Even many DVD manufacturers, who have physical 3D products, provide flat images for online stores. A three-stripe technique can be very effective, with each horizontal stripe depicting a different book from the set. Or you could have one cover containing a new graphic that encompasses elements of all three books.

The term ‘boxed set’ has been widely accepted as a term for a collection of eBooks, but also consider ‘trilogy’, ‘collection’ or ‘omnibus’. If the books are short stories rather than novels, ‘anthology’ might be more appropriate.

Monday 1 September 2014

Somebody Read Your Book and Hasn’t Reviewed it Yet

Signs of a problem: an individual mentions having read your book; ‘refresh’ key is wearing out.

The symptoms: frustration; impatience; concern.

When your former teacher’s sister reads your book, you couldn’t be more delighted.

“She loved it!” says Mr Squib.

Later that day, you rush to your computer and excitedly open your product page. Your heart sinks. There are no new reviews.

How could this have happened? You specifically told Mr Squib that your life – ok, career – depends on reviews and yet here is somebody who could write a review but hasn’t.

Do not track down the reader and stare at her in an intimidating fashion. Do not call Mr Squib and mention that the review does not yet exist. For all you know, the reader may be planning on leaving a review and your impatience could put her off.

Instead, engineer a chance encounter with Mr Squib. Work out where he does his shopping (easily done by following him home from work and surveying his house). Then, hang around in the foyer of his preferred supermarket until you see him enter. Then, casually stroll over and pretend that bumping into him is a total surprise.

Do not mention your book straight away. Ask about the weather. Enquire about his sister’s piles. Then mention how much your book needs reviews in order to reach its full potential.

If, after 48 hours, still no review appears, repeat the process with the reader herself: Mr Squib’s sister.

If, after a further 48 hours, no review appears, try to be adult about it and quietly move on to securing the next review. Do not post jars of bees through letter boxes, do not let down any car tyres and do not turn up at their places of work dressed as a giant, inflatable arse.

Remember, Mr Squib is a teacher – there’s nothing like terrifying a few hundred children to really dent an author’s reputation.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

Chris Bailey

The truth is, for a self-published author, your work is never really over. And unless your readers are other authors, they may never understand how important reviews are to you.

Reviewers will forget, they will take longer than expected to read your book and you do need to keep at it. The best way is to keep that friendly exterior going, no matter how much you want to scream. Yes, they will make you wait whilst they upload pictures of their tea or their children on the potty.

You will also worry that a review from a friend of a friend is biased and it will eat away at the corners of your brain. But have faith. I recently reviewed a book by someone I know and have a great respect for. Was my review biased you ask? Was it buggery! It was a damn good book! If you enjoy someone’s work, show your support and they might just do the same for you.

You have to start somewhere. Your book is entering a bookstore filled with millions of books, the reviews will come but you have to wait, as much as it kills you.